A few years ago a group of social psychologists posed the following question in an article on conversational styles. “What is the source of the ineffable “chemistry” that some couples enjoy? The question is both fascinating and frustrating: fascinating because of its richness and complexity; frustrating because it has defied simple answers. Indeed, precisely why members of some couples get along better than do others has, for the most part, remained cloaked in mystery.”
This is a question that has longed been an interest of mine. In their latest book, Click: The Magic of Instant Connections, Ori and Rom Brafman try to unravel the mystery of this phenomenon. They begin with what is clearly well known to anyone who has experienced this “almost euphoric state.”
Clicking can be defined as an immediate, deep, and meaningful connection with another person or with the world around us…we immediately sense that we can just be ourselves around that person. Things feel right: we hit if off.
Only a very few times in my life have I felt this way. Once it occurs, I think you are changed forever. The experience sets a standard against which you tend to measure all your future relationships. There is a responsiveness to each other that is rarely found with other individuals. You can say something to one person and nothing happens. When you say the very same thing to a person you click with, there is an immediate understanding, an even faster reply, which in turn, gets another and the cycle continues until you both need to stop to take a breath.
“You’re so clever, sometimes, with words, and I’m every so clever when I’m talking to you….You’re appreciative of my cleverness, you laughed at my jokes, you make related jokes back, implying that you’ve heard and actually LISTENED to what I said.”
After discussing a range of conditions in which clicking occurs, Brafman and Brafman describe “five click accelerators—ingredients or factors involved in a click—that show up time and time across different contexts."
The first is the power of vulnerability, the willingness “to disclose to others the kind of person you are, to drop your protective armor....” An example is the way shared adversity can become a key factor in bringing people together.
Proximity is the second accelerator that can make a big difference. This is not the least bit surprising. The likelihood of clicking with someone in Montevideo if you live in Omaha is pretty close to zero.
Similarity is said to be an accelerator. That is also fairly obvious, although far from a necessary condition, as two people with widely different interests often get along just fine.
In 1979 Woody Allen met Mia Farrow and they stayed together for many years. Yet Woody once said. "I could go on about our differences forever: She doesn't like the city and I adore it. She loves the country and I don't like it. She doesn't like sports at all and I love sports. She loves to eat in, early -- 5:30, 6 -- and I love to eat out, late… She can't sleep with an air-conditioner on; I can only sleep with an air-conditioner on. She loves pets and animals; I hate pets and animals. … She would love to take a boat down the Amazon or go up to Mount Kilimanjaro; I never want to go near those places… She has raised nine children now with no trauma and has never owned a thermometer. I take my temperature every two hours in the course of the day."
The Brafmans identify the environment as the fourth click accelerator. Here they speak of shared communities working together for a common goal or to overcome adversity. They mention soldiers who become lifelong friends after fighting together, individuals who lived together on a kibbutz or individuals who worked together in the same office for years.
Finally they say certain personalities simply seem to click more readily. They come almost preset with an open and levity spirit. This, in turn, can often lead the other person to respond in the same way.
Have the Brafman brothers contributed to our understanding of the mystery of connecting with another person? To be sure they have described various components of the relationship and they have done so by discussing a good deal of current empirical research. I view their analysis as identifying some of the key predictors of clicking.
But even when all these factors are present, there is no guarantee the other person will be on the same wavelength. We can disclose all we want but that may only lead someone else to clam up. Similarly, neither similarity nor proximity seems to me necessary for these kinds of relationships to develop. Nor does a sparkling personality absent a shared temperament.
The mystery remains. Of all of the factors the Brafmans identify the one that seems to have the most practical value is disclosing personal details of your life, what they call “the power of vulnerability.” But this is a very tricky matter, as well as a bit manipulative. More likely, that “ineffable chemistry” simply happens or it doesn’t, the gears will mesh unpredictably, uncontrollably perhaps once or twice in a lifetime—if you are lucky. Let it be. No matter your age, your current relationships, your joys or heartbreaks, you’ll recognize it instantly.