Dating Chemistry

Allow me to apologize for the fact that my first real blog post is nothing more than a re-post of an old entry from another site, with some minor edits and an addendum.  I needed to get something on here to get the ball rolling… and that other site, being a paid membership site, is soon going to have one less member.  I felt the need to preserve some old ramblings.

Originally published November 22, 2004:

My “wasted” years at UC Davis studying biological sciences elicited little more than an unreasonable fear of hydrochloric acid and a passionate distaste for scan-trons. I spent three years taking as many liberal arts classes as I could enroll in just to keep my GPA up, before it finally occurred to me that I’d simply be better off changing majors.

I’m a stubborn fuck.

Always one to make the best out of any given situation, I have recently revisited some of my college coursework. Some quarters were less mind-numbingly dull than others. You won’t be privy to any eight-year-removed insights into paleobotany (easily the worst class I ever passed), but you are about to benefit from this little life-changing revelation.

Chemistry is the science that binds the universe together. And while my laboratory experience unraveling the mysteries of various reactions and grasping the intricacies of the periodic table yielded the largest margin of error reporting in undergraduate history, my real-life investigation into the chemistry of human relationships has proved to be slightly more spot-on.

We often hear talk of the “chemistry” between two people. How well two people click in a relationship is entirely analogous to the laws of chemical bonding. Atoms bind with other atoms to form molecules with distinct properties. Two people in a relationship are always different than they might be as separate entities.  They are not, however, necessarily greater than the sum of the parts.

There are basically three types of bonds: covalent bonds, ionic bonds, and hydrogen bonds.

The covalent bond occurs when two atoms, in an effort to balance out their valence shell charges, share electrons. So an electron, instead of hovering around just one nucleus, zips around two nuclei. The happy electrons share. They have something in common.

In an ionic bond, one atom that has lost an electron (positive charge) finds an atom that has an extra electron (negative charge), and they electrostatically bond together. Positive is drawn to negative. Opposites attract.

The hydrogen bond… um, involves hydrogen.

So I don’t know a whole hell of a lot about hydrogen bonds other than they have to do with hydrogen atoms already bonded covalently to another atom sharing a partial electrostatic charge with another atom. Hydrogen bonds are prevalent, but not very strong and far from permanent.

Now observe:

You’ve heard the expression that opposites attract. The idea is often applied to two people in a relationship. Happened to me. A few times. I was drawn fast, and hard. Magnetic.

I should have checked my chemistry notes. Ionic bonds snap together very easily, for the same reason. Magnetism. What they don’t do is last very long. The strength of the average ionic bond (now I’m cheating by flipping through an old textbook) is roughly 10 kcal/mol. That’s not very strong. And the reason there are so many positive or negative ions floating around in the universe is because they keep looking for that perfect polar opposite that will keep them happy for a long time.

And that ion just doesn’t exist.

The covalent bond? The relationship that “shares” interests, personality traits, and electrons? They have an average strength of 80 kcal/mol. Eight times stronger than your average opposites-attract bullshit (I took a math class or two as well).

Hydrogen bonds are the one-night-stands of the chemical world. They serve a purpose, but are then over before you knew they happened. They have no future prospects, and both ends of the bond are already looking for something more interesting before breakfast. Less than 5 kcal/mol for those of you keeping score.

So what did we learn?

I’m a stubborn fuck.

It took me a long time to give up on ions.


3 thoughts on “Dating Chemistry”

  1. you know who is a stubborn fuck?
    Mr. (I think writing is work and won’t join my friends in filling the interweb with Idle Time fun) Howell. I’ll keep working on him. We’ll get him here some how. Great post, btw! I heart science!

  2. Hahahaha OMG, loveeeeeeeeeeeeee it!! Im going use your examples with my students! Sure they will understand very quick. SO funny……….

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