Jewish Journal

Flames You Can’t Put Out

by Tamara Shayne Kagel

March 30, 2011 | 6:14 pm

Until recently, I thought the idea of “chemistry” was somewhat made up – a term people used ex post facto to justify liking a certain physical aesthetic.  Like if a guy went on a date with a brunette and he really just has a thing for blondes, he would say “oh that girl was nice but we just didn’t have any chemistry.”  I mean don’t we all just “feel chemistry” with whomever we like at the time?  But recently, it’s taken on a new meaning for me.  I was telling my roommate about an encounter I had with an ex that had stoked something within me – it’s not that I still have feelings for him or would want to be with him in any way.  It’s just that he has the type of personality that will always be compatible with mine.  Something about our conversation will always keep me drawn to him a moment longer than I would be with someone else.  You guys just have that chemistry, my roommate said.

Some exes are easy to forget.  This is acutely obvious when you date someone at your workplace or graduate school.  If it doesn’t work out, you inevitably will end up seeing them around and have to deal with the many awkward situations that can arise.  I used to think that all of these situations were created equally.  But it turns out, not so much.
I’ve dated two people at my school and I still continually see them around, have classes with them, and though I try to avoid it, sometimes must interact with socially.  But one guy, I don’t even think of as an ex.  I forget anything ever happened between us, don’t have any stirring of emotions when he’s with another girl, and the truth is I can’t even really remember what he looked like naked.  I actually was sitting a seat away from him yesterday, looking at him and he felt like a stranger – no stirring of emotion bad or good.  Just a distant memory without any emotional attachment.

But the other can still get to me.  The other wasn’t in class yesterday and I have no idea why I noticed.  There is something about his personality that will just always be in sync with mine and so even a casual conversation can fire up the chemistry between us.  It’s been two years since we dated and a year since anything happened between us so it’s not like there’s a fresh break-up in my emotional repertoire.  And when I’m not around him, I don’t think about him at all, and even when I do see him I could say with one hundred percent surety that I don’t want to be with him.  In fact when I really do think about it, I remember all the reasons it didn’t work and get irritated about all the cartoons he would watch and angry with him for things he said to the point that I start to think I should never even say hi to him again.  And yet, he has this personality that just clicks with mine.  I ran into him two days ago in the cafeteria and inevitably in just a few sentences he is teasing me or making me laugh and I catch myself wanting to carry on the conversation a little longer.  I looked him in the eye and I was almost surprised at how familiar it felt to return his gaze. 

The thing is, we didn’t have a good break-up.  We didn’t have a terrible one either, but when things ended, both times, there were harsh feelings at least on my end.  And when I compare him to the guy I’m dating now whom I really like, I’m positive I would never want to be in a relationship with this ex – more than that, the thought of it seems terrible.  And yet, and yet, what is it, what happens to my brain that ignites when I talk to him?

The thing is, chemistry is not that hard to come by.  You can feel it with a lot of people – in legal speak they would say it’s necessary but not sufficient.  As in, it’s not enough to build a relationship on but it’s impossible to have a relationship without it.  And of course some exes you end up hating so much, the only chemistry around the two of you is the radioactive waste leftover from the explosion between the two of you.  But there will just always be these inexplicable chemical anomalies, these people who can still positively charge some ions in me, but whom I have no desire to be with. 

But chemistry is completely beyond our control.  Maybe, we shouldn’t even call it chemistry because that implies there’s some scientific explanation for what’s going on between two people.  We really should just call it magic because we don’t understand any of it.  No scientist can explain why anyone falls for one person over another.  And there’s nothing I can do to stamp out the flame that still ignites when I run into this ex as I’m getting my diet soda.

If I remember correctly, (and it’s been a long time), the most fundamental precept in chemistry is the law of conservation of mass, which says that mass or matter cannot be created or destroyed.  So nothing in the world can truly be destroyed.  It can merely be changed into a different form or different types of particles.  So the chemistry you feel with someone, if it really truly exists, can never disappear completely.  Perhaps with the first ex, it feels gone because we never really had it in the first place.  I thought we did because of certain circumstances, or maybe I wanted so much to believe it was there I pretended I felt something more.  But now, it’s easy to see there was really nothing ever between us.  And with the exes who truly break your heart, the chemistry gets converted to the anger and pain that consumes all other emotion.  But for the exes who didn’t quite break your heart, and for whom you know you felt something for, your left with this untransformed chemistry in the air, lingering between you.  Of course the law of conservation of mass only applies in a closed system, a system that is completely isolated, and not to an open system where other types of energy are allowed in.  So maybe what finally makes these lingering sparks go away, is when you open the system up and let an unknown enter the system.  Maybe letting someone in to rock your world – or system rather – eventually can make all the excess matter, all the vestiges of earlier charges, completely dissipate.  And then you’re just left with the strongest chemical charge of all. 

Tamara Shayne Kagel is a writer living in Santa Monica, CA. To find out more about her, visit www.tamarashaynekagel.com and follow her on twitter @tamaraskagel. © Copyright 2011.

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Tamara Shayne Kagel is a twenty-something fixture on the Los Angeles scene currently living in Santa Monica.  Currently, Tamara is a successful freelance writer (just ask her...

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