It’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of a new relationship. You easily get swept away in the fun of learning all about a new person and experiencing the “firsts” together – first time holding hands, first kiss, the first time he/she calls you “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”. During this thrilling time of infatuation, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the energy of new love and make an early, premature investment during this foggy infatuation phase, which is strongest in the first two to three months, but for some can last beyond six months.
This tendency is all the more true if you tend to experience anxious or avoidant attachment style or behaviors within your relationships. The type or quality of attachment begins with the bond between an infant and his or her caregivers, and are unique depending on the quality of attachment experiences. These earliest attachments influence a child’s emotional, behavioral, social and neurological development into adulthood. And thus, the quality of your very first relationships, heavily influences your adult romantic relationships.
In a nutshell, anxious individuals have a hyperactive attachment system and create reasons to be seen and heard, which can appear as “drama”. They can seem possessive, clingy, and are preoccupied with a fear of rejection. On the other hand, avoidant individuals typically want to escape or withdraw when a relationship gets heated, vulnerable or intimate. They take pride in being self-reliant and need greater alone time, however, that does not mean they are not interested in finding love.
Unlike those with more secure styles of relating who often have a slow and steady approach, when anxious and avoidant styles pair up, this type of coupling creates the perfect environment for a relationship that moves quickly. Here, we’ll discuss the four key milestones that are best delayed during the early dating phases when your mind is flooded with neurochemicals, leading to emotional decisions and impaired judgement. Those milestones are the following:
1. Spending time in each other’s homes
Sure, it’s comfortable and easy to have someone just “come over” instead of planning dates and coordinating schedules. There is a certain comfort with cooking dinner together and watching a movie, creating a sense of deeper intimacy that happens when someone is in your home. However, sharing the personal space of your home with someone new can lead to a false sense of intimacy, may prematurely halt the courting phase, move the relationship further along physically than is ideal, and sets poor boundaries from the beginning of your new partnership.
The guidance I often give clients is to hold off on sharing this special space with someone for a minimum of six dates or six to eight weeks of dating, whichever is longest. This helps ensure that you aren’t committing to a relationship before you really know the person out in the world and have given yourself the time and space to see how you feel. Not to mention, you don’t truly know this individual yet and if the relationship goes south, having the negative energy and associations in your most sacred space could be difficult to overcome.
2. Having sex
During the early attraction phase, there are surges of neurotransmitters that cloud judgement and cause you to overlook red flags – because you’re hyper-focused on the attractive traits rather than the unattractive traits. While some may say this is a buzz kill to advise singles to wait on sex, it's essential to building the connection and establishing healthy boundaries to ensure that the relationship has the necessary components of a comprehensive fit. Having sex early on can imply complex dynamics like exclusivity and commitment to some and not others, further complicating the relationship status early on. While there is no ideal or recommended timeframe to wait (though you might say at least as long as you wait to spend time at their home), having sex in the early infatuation phase usually causes more harm to the relationship than good.
3. Meeting friends and family
When friends and family are introduced early in a relationship, bonds are formed prematurely with your personal support system. This can result in complications as you evaluate the relationship, and entanglement with your broader life, potentially making it more difficult to break things off if that feels like the right decision.
Friends and family might also get pulled into drama or influence your feelings about your new mate. For instance, if your best friend and your new love interest really hit it off, it might make you stay in a relationship longer, knowing that this important friend in your life approves of your partner, despite other core problems. Or, if you bring this person to a family gathering and all of your family likes this new someone, you might feel the family pressure to continue in the relationship. This can cause discomfort, overlooking your intuition about the relationship, and/or a delay in a necessary separation. While vetting by your friends and family is important once you have established the relationship, keeping good initial boundaries with your wider circle of influence and support will help you stay clear-headed during this amazingly foggy time in your budding relationship.
4. Making future plans
It’s easy to be excited about new chemistry and want to book a long weekend in Mexico or cross something off your bucket list with this new partner. Things change quickly in a new relationship and even making plans a month out is risky. Wait on booking extensive travel, or even casually talking about engagement and marriage during these early phases of a relationship. Even what appears to be harmless conversations about moving in together can be risky when the feelings associated with infatuation are strong.
While it’s important to recognize these key points and milestones that should be avoided in early relationships, it’s equally important to recognize a partner who might consistently push these dialogues – or pull away from these dialogues well past the infatuation phase. Consider it a red flag if the guy or girl you’ve been dating for less than a month is pushing you to commit to a vacation together, coming to a family event, or continues to bring up the subject of a future together. These are all great relationship steps with the right timing and if things are right, they will happen when they should.
How does it go wrong?
As mentioned, these behaviors are especially prevalent in individuals who lean towards anxious and avoidant attachment styles of relating. Those who have an anxious attachment system will fully believe the plans made with their new significant other will come to fruition. They soak in all of the yummy closeness and attention that characterizes the early phases of dating. Because this attachment type so frequently pairs with avoidants, the chance of disappointment is high.
From an avoidant’s perspective, extensive commitment during the first three months or longer will eventually lead to situations full of vulnerability and intimacy that feels uncomfortable. It’s then that the avoidant feels he or she is in too deep, and has the tendency to pull away from the relationship (e.g., texting less, is too busy, etc.), ghost, and/or go into complete avoidant mode. In this classic coupling, the anxious partner will be left thinking, “what happened”, or “how could he/she say all of these things and then disappear?”
In summary, the simple truth is that too much attachment to any outcome in life can lead to putting on blinders, missing important relationship information, and results in emotions including:
Learning to take things slowly starts by recognizing your tendency to reach for key milestones much too prematurely in a new relationship. Setting good boundaries from the beginning will set you up for long-term relationship success. More often than not, these are hard patterns to break and talking regularly with a professional relationship therapist who specializes in attachment theory can be key to changing the tendency to jump in too fast and result in greater relationship success.
Contact the therapists at Center for Shared Insight to learn more about the benefits of working with a psychologist to help recognize and overcome these tendencies.