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  • Amanda Kuehn

The yin and yang of chemistry

Updated: Mar 20

"So did you know right away?" asks one of my housemates. We've been talking about dating and connections and the struggle of sinking into secure attachment.


"Did you think, 'This could be my person'?"




She's asking about my partner (now fiancé) and the day we met six years ago. It was my third meet up that day, and by the time I got to dinner I was tired and ready to snuggle up with a movie, alone. But we'd already made plans and I didn't want to flake on this friend of a friend that might be a date and might not.


I remember thinking he was attractive when he walked in the door. I remember our conversation meandering around the table for hours. I remember walking around Lake Merritt (twice) and writing about it afterward. I remember being excited. But I don't remember being certain about anything.


I tell my housemate that my fiancé and I had started a conversation about neon lights and noble gasses and the bonds between atoms.


"You guys are such nerds," she says, and she may be right.


To put it simply, atoms want completion. They want the number of negative charges in their outer ring to balance the number of positive charges in their nuclei. It's the yin and yang of chemistry. And while an atom may be naturally balanced, as life (i.e., electricity) rubs up against it, sometimes those outer charges shift and the atom becomes an ion with too many outer electrons or too few.


Ions are irresistibly attracted to oppositely charged ions. They long to recover balance, to shift back to being themselves. In the process, they often form bonds.


During that first walk around the lake, my fiancé and I talked about these bonds. We discussed covalent and ionic bonds. We talked about sodium chloride (salt) and hydrogen dioxide (water) and neon. Neon is a noble gas with 8 outer electrons. Neon is stable AF.


"Noble gasses can be coerced into bonding," he said. "But not very easily."

The words buzzed like circles of sparklers. Which was he? I'd wondered. This nomadic humanitarian programmer of a person, was he longing to recover balance? Or was he already fully satisfied?


Humans, I find, are more like ions than noble gasses. We're constantly shifting in and out of ourselves, carrying charges we picked up along the way. We are attracted by invisible forces, sometimes irresistibly.


"No," I tell my housemate. "I don't think the thought crossed my mind."


I'm not the sort of person who believes in love at first sight. I don't want to imply that people "just know" when something is right, or retrospectively commend my intuition too much, but I wonder if I am telling the truth.


I wonder just how strong that first connection had been. As metaphoric atoms in the ether of California, my fiancé and I came together and drifted apart for years. But there was something about that initial connection that was so effortless and good that I wonder if the first bond ever broke, if any of our strong bonds do.


I go back and find a journal entry from the night I first met him—a night I have recounted repeatedly since our engagement.


It is simple chemistry, falling into the forces that had circled our souls as we circled the lake. It is a bond that I don't want to break. Not now. Not twenty minutes later when it grows cold and I am tired. Not at one in the morning, when we start talking about going home...Then it is painful to feel him leave, even just for the night. I am all ions and excitement. I am charged particles and spinning circles. I am happy for the first time in ages.


And there it is: the shift. The shift in myself. The shift back toward balance. It wasn't that this other person had filled my inadequacies or that I had filled his. Being with him didn't make me better, it simply made me more me. And that made me happy. I think our best relationships do.


After spending most of my life single, I'm not really sure what it means to have a person, much less marry one, but this one makes me happy. His presence helps me to be more of myself, and that sort of bond is one I'd like to keep.


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