Why Dating Experts Say You Should Stop Looking for an Instant Spark — and Start Simmering
As somebody who's been searching for that "spark" for the last, well, too long, I know all too well that that's not always a failsafe kind of love. Exhibit A, in my previous relationships there were off-the-charts sparks from the first date to the first kiss. But in the end, the guys were never all that great, reliable, or good partners — i.e., the spark was really all there was to the relationship.
Now enter sweet but spark-less fourth-date guy — as a spark seeker in my past relationship lifetime, I would've called it quits by now. But according to dating experts, a real healthy spark and foundation can take time to build, a.k.a. that love-at-first-sight feeling isn't all that sustainable.
Before you call it quits over a lack of instant chemistry or dive all in with "sparky" suitor, read on for the top relationship experts' opinions on those infamous "sparks" — and why you're probably better off letting your relationship "simmer."
Should I feel a spark immediately?
No! An immediate spark can actually mean very little in the grand scheme of a relationship. In fact, sometimes a spark right off the bat can actually be "dangerous" or even a red flag, according to Hinge's Director of Relationship Science, Logan Ury, author of How to Not Die Alone.
"Some people are just very 'sparky,'" explains Ury. "They're good at making a lot of people feel an instant connection; perhaps they're extremely attractive or best-in-class flirts." Which is all fun and games until you realize they're just really good at getting people to like them. "Sometimes the spark is more an indication of how charming someone is — or narcissistic —and less a sign of a shared connection."
Sure, when someone plays games or makes you chase them, you may feel excitement and what you think are "sparks," but Ury says you likely just confusing anxiety for chemistry. "Sometimes those butterflies are actually alarm bells," she adds.
Many times, a spark can be superficial or what dating expert Susan Trombetti, CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking, calls a 'false start.'
"Think of someone that has a type; it's just someone in the past they liked and that person reminds them in looks of an old love, but it isn't that person," Trombetti tells us. "You project onto them, and then [once you get to] know them, it doesn't always work."
She adds that the older we get, the longer it may take to grow that connection, but that chemistry (a.k.a. a "true spark" and connection) can simmer and burn over time.
Not to mention, you could miss out on a really great person just because you didn't initially feel those fireworks, when in reality, Ury says she has seen many healthy long-term relationships that don't start with a spark because they have a strong foundation.
"Some of the best relationships come from a slow burn rather than a spark," says Ury. "The important thing to remember is that its absence doesn't predict failure, and its presence doesn't guarantee success."
Why does simmering work?
They say patience is a virtue, and that sentiment checks out here. As hard as it may be, both Ury and Trombetti say playing the waiting game can be so worth it. In fact, Ury says it's been proven that familiarity breeds attraction.
"Psychologists call this the Mere Exposure Effect," she explains. "We're attracted to and feel safe around familiar things and people."
And Hinge also has the stats to back up this concept. Ury says that in a survey conducted by their team, one in three (32%) users say they need two to three dates with someone to find out if they're compatible. "It's important to give someone a chance as you build the relationship, even if you don't feel that initial pang of chemistry," says Ury. "The right relationship might take some time to warm up, but it'll be worth the wait."
Trombetti agrees, adding that while first dates in particular can feel awkward and like you need to fill every second with conversation (I know I'm certainly guilty of that), it's important to focus more on listening. And don't feel the pressure to make any decisions after just one date. "It takes time to get to know someone, and people are often nervous on a first date," says Trombetti. "The first date is just for seeing if you want to have a second date and that's it."
To help a relationship 'simmer', she suggests opting for fun, active dates (like bungee jumping if you're adventurous, or even just watching a horror movie) to build the excitement and push you out of your comfort zone. "The adrenaline rush mimics passion and creates that spark."
When is it time to give up on a growing spark?
This answer differs for everyone, but Trombetti suggests giving it a fair five to six dates "as long as the person is respectful to you," of course. Ury agrees that if embodies the qualities you're looking for, but doesn't give you that initial spark, you shouldn't write them off or give up immediately.
While this sounds fair enough, it can be hard to know when to throw in the towel. How do you know when something isn't going to grow into more? Ury developed a list of questions to ask yourself after every date called the Post Date Eight, which can help you determine just that.
"Is there something about them that makes you curious to learn more? Do they bring out a relaxed side of you? Do you feel like your best self around them? If your interest and curiosity increase as you get to know them, this may be a slow burn," she advises. "If not, it might be time to cut your losses and move on."
So next time you go on a date, check in with yourself after and ask Logans' Post Date Eight:
- What side of me did they bring out?
- How did my body feel during the date? Stiff, relaxed, or something in between?
- Do I feel more energized or de-energized than I did before the date?
- Is there something about them I'm curious about?
- Did they make me laugh?
- Did I feel heard?
- Did I feel attractive in their presence?
- Did I feel captivated, bored, or something in between?
Bottom line? "Eff the spark," says Ury. "I've come to see the spark, or instant chemistry, as one of the most dangerous concepts in modern dating. Expecting the spark causes us to miss out on amazing partners because we fail to see their true potential."