Chemistry teaches us a lot about the bonds that tie

I think chemistry has something to teach us about valentines. I know this is a little late for whatever trouble you got yourself into last night. That’s the problem. Love always seems to make things more complicated. Sometimes it’s in a good way, but it’s still more complicated. This is where I think chemistry can help. I should clarify that this is my kind of chemistry, and real chemists might not agree. In fact, if you are a real chemist, why don’t you skip to the sports page?

Chemistry is the study of fundamental particles called elements and how they interact with each other to form more fundamental particles called molecules. Molecules interact with each other to form even more complicated molecules called by different names depending on how they interact. These more complicated molecules interact to cause explosions and other, less interesting phenomenon. See? Right there, you can see all kinds of analogies to the world of romance.

The basis of chemistry is how two different elements interact with each other. I am not sure if men and women are different elements, but I am pretty sure they are different. Is that politically incorrect? Anyway, elements can basically interact in two ways. Chemists will tell you that it’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s what chemists always say. Come to think of it, that’s what marriage counselors always say, too. 

One way elements interact is by having an electrical charge that attracts another element with the opposite electrical charge. As everyone know, opposites attract. When these two elements get close to each other, they are attracted in the same way magnets are attracted to each other. They form a magnetic bond called an ionic bond. This is what happens when sodium and chlorine get close together and form salt. 

The problem with ionic bonds is that there are lots of electrically charged atoms and molecules out there. If one with a stronger positive charge comes by, it can pull the negatively charged atom away and vice versa. This leaves the first positively charged atom broken-hearted. Well, at least lonely, until it can find a new negatively charged atom. Anyway, salt is a good analogy.

Then there is the second way elements can bind together. Some atoms have spare electrons floating around. Other atoms often have room for an extra electron or two. Sometimes such atoms decide to share electrons. One atom keeps the electron for a while, then the other atom takes it back. Neither is exactly content all the time, but both are happier than they would have been without the other. 

These are called covalent bonds, and they are much stronger than ionic bonds. Think of it like two brothers who buy a motorcycle together. They constantly argue about who gets it when, but they both get to be cool more often than if they hadn’t pooled their funds. That’s called a brotherly bond. Those two brothers stay close because they share a motorcycle. (At least until one gets drafted and the other sells the motorcycle, keeping all the money for himself.  But that’s all forgotten, and it is seldom even mentioned now.)

The point is, sharing things together makes a much stronger bond than just being attracted. My wife and I share four different wedding ceremonies (I’d explain, but it really isn’t very scientific). That alone would complicate any separation since I suppose we would need four different divorces. Who could afford that? Why else do you think she sticks around? Of course, in addition we share a house, a car (she says the old truck is all mine) and a long history that includes four children, their spouses and 16 grandkids. 

So in general, the more things you share, and the more equal the sharing, the stronger the bond, and the less likely it is to be disrupted. Sounds like romance to me.

Gary McCallister, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), is a professor of biology at Colorado Mesa University.


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