Have you ever had the experience of meeting, falling in love, moving in, and making future plans together at lightning speed? Have you said ‘I love you’ in the early days of a relationship? Have the sparks that have flown between you and someone you just met consumed your life and mind with a strength reminiscent of a drug addiction? If so, you know how indescribably thrilling and intoxicating it can be to have your life turned upside down and inside out by an attractive stranger. Relationships like this are often the stuff of fairy tales and romantic comedy movies…And as a society, we idealize this kind of love. But are those really the kind of relationships we should seek to emulate? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but our answer is a firm no.
Very few of the relationships that start out with this intense, obsessive passion are sustainable. Sure, some of them really do lead to long, happy, healthy relationships and even marriages–but those are the exception, not the rule. Unfortunately, relationships that start fast often end faster and more dramatically than relationships that start out less intoxicating and at a more moderate pace. That doesn’t mean these couples never experience an intoxication phase (otherwise known as the ‘honeymoon phase’), it simply means that they don’t often start out by catapulting headfirst into ‘can’t eat, can’t sleep, reach for the stars, world series kind of love’. (Yes, that’s a quote from a Mary Kate and Ashley movie. Deal with it.)
Disadvantages of Jumping in Too Fast
-You are probably falling in love with a fantasy: This is true to some extent in all relationships, because we are all on our best behavior at the start of a relationship, and at the same time we see our new partners through rose-colored goggles and fail to fully comprehend their shortcomings. However, in relationships that start extremely fast, this phenomenon is further amplified such that the person one is in love with (the fantasy) may have very little in common with the actual human being who will be visible once the fantasy subsides. The more intense the intoxication, the more consuming the fantasy and the less likely you are to actually be falling for a real person rather than a projection.
-If you do end up breaking up once the intoxication phase ends, it’s going to be a lot more emotionally taxing: Consider these two possibilities:
Scenario 1: You meet and begin dating someone who seems rather promising–you have a lot in common, and oh my gosh, that little flyaway curl by their left ear…*squeel*. You fall head over heels in love at warp speed, completely neglect your other relationships and activities, and start planning your future together. You’re going to take a van trip around Tuscany next summer, start a permaculture garden together, and you’re pretty sure your kids are going to be INSANELY cute. But then, with startling rapidity, the relationship suddenly deteriorates. The infatuation gives way to disillusionment and heartbreak. You’re left in pieces without solid ground to stand on, reaching out for support to friends you’ve largely been ignoring.
Scenario 2. You meet and begin dating someone who seems rather promising–you have a lot in common, and oh my gosh, that little flyaway curl by their left ear…*squeel*. But you don’t get too carried away; you go on dates a couple of times per week and retain your normal social life and other activities. You beam when you tell your friends about this person, but your life isn’t derailed. After a few weeks or months of dating, you slowly come to the realization that you and this person are not actually as compatible as you once thought, and it’s probably best to move on. You’re disappointed, but it’s not earth-shattering and you get on with your life.
In our opinion, scenario 2 is far healthier than scenario 1. If you notice that scenario 1 is playing on repeat in your love life, you might benefit from asking yourself whether you’re addicted to love. Love is indeed like a drug, and just as it’s possible to abuse or become addicted to a drug, so it is with love.
–You substitute rushed commitment for really getting to know each other: Therapist Maria Baratta has listened to many a client divulge stories of things she thinks they shouldn’t have said or done early in a relationship (Baratta, 2021).
“Here’s the key to my apartment” (on a second date)
“Let’s take a trip to Europe together” (on a first date)
“Let’s buy a house together” (after one month) (Baratta, 2021).
Rushing, she contends, is the absolute #1 thing that derails new relationships. It’s ironic, considering that your enthusiasm is aimed solely at securing a long-term bond with this lovely new flame, but unfortunately rushing is much more likely to have the opposite effect (Baratta, 2021).
Getting to know each other well is something that simply cannot be rushed. It happens over a period of time. To truly get to know another person takes a certain patience and calm that are usually not present when you jump in too fast. This very patience and calm also plays a big role in laying the groundwork for a healthy relationship (Baratta, 2021). While couples who spend a lot of time together from the get-go may get to know each other more quickly than most in some ways, there are some things that usually need to play out over a longer timespan in order to truly know.
For example, it takes time to discover one another’s conflict management styles. It takes time to discover how the other person responds to stressful time periods in their life (or to more peaceful time periods, if you meet during a time of increased stress). It also takes time to discover how you weather difficult times together as a couple. It takes time to discover firsthand (over a series of encounters, not just one) how this person interacts with other important people in their life, such as close friends and family. It takes time to discover what happens when your relationship hits a rough patch. We could go on, but you probably get the point.
Spending a lot of time together and making quick commitments and future plans may give some new couples the illusion that they’re getting to know one another very quickly, but there are some things that you won’t be able to discover about one another until the fantasy goggles come off and you’ve been in each other’s lives for a longer duration of time.
“Instead, when rushing into a relationship full speed ahead and demanding time, attention, presence, commitment, and intimacy way before it can manifest itself organically, a paradoxical situation emerges which makes it difficult to go forward. The “appearance” of a relationship doesn’t mean it’s a relationship. It is like eating batter before a cake is fully baked—might taste great but it’s not a cake. In a desperate race to call the beginning of a relationship more than it is, it would be skipping over the steps that are necessary in making a good decision about whether that person is right for you” (Baratta, 2021).
Some successful relationships were indeed started in a rushed, intoxicated fervor. However, far more potential relationships have been ruined by rushing (Baratta, 2021).
How Fast is Too Fast?
If you’re not sure how to tell whether you might be moving too fast, here are a few signs you might want to slow down a bit.
Your partner is perfect: If you feel that your partner is perfect, you’re probably in an over-infatuation phase borne of excessive speed. Your partner is not perfect, and taking a breath and a little step back might help you to see them a bit more clearly for what they are: a living, breathing, imperfect human with plenty of flaws (Steber & Emery, 2022).
You care more about how they make you feel, than who they are: If what excites you most is how your partner makes you feel (especially about yourself), this could be a sign that you’ve fallen into a drugged-up ultra-fast intoxication that isn’t actually about the person themself, but about the high it gives you. If what gets you excited about them is more about your shared values and interests, that’s a good sign (Steber & Emery, 2022).
Boundaries are nonexistent (Steber & Emery, 2022): Married couples are sometimes all up in each others’ business, right? Well, they’ve been together for a really long time. Also, that’s not necessarily healthy for them, either–it probably depends on the couple. However, if you’re all up in each other’s business from the get-go, you might be moving too fast. It’s natural that boundaries loosen over time as you build trust and gradually share more of yourselves with each other, but acting like you’ve already been through that process is a poor substitute for actually doing it. Slowly. And gradually.
You’ve recently been through a significant breakup (Steber & Emergy, 2022): If you got out of a relationship recently, you need time to process your feelings, internalize whatever lessons you have to learn from that relationship, heal wounds, and reinvent who you are without your previous partner. Getting into a new relationship too quickly is often a way to avoid facing the more painful parts of this process. It’s also unlikely that you’re truly ready or equipped to get into a new relationship before honoring this process. One thing at a time.
There are a lot of grand romantic gestures right at the beginning: Otherwise known as love bombing, many people with manipulative tendencies tend to shower a new partner with overwhelming amounts of flattery, gifts, love, affection, or romance early on. Unfortunately, this often ends abruptly and gives way to manipulative or abusive behaviors as soon as the person on the receiving end has been lulled into a false sense of security and commitment by the magnitude of the romantic gestures, or ‘love bombs’. However, sometimes such gestures are genuine. Even in these cases, they can still be a sign that the relationship is moving too fast. These big gestures signal big commitment and big feelings long before you’ve laid the groundwork to justify them.
What’s a Healthy Pace?
This question is very difficult to answer; it isn’t black and white. While there’s no single guidebook or map that works for every couple, there are some general principles one can follow in order to pace a new relationship in a healthy way.
One good rule of thumb is to wait about three months (or more) before having serious conversations about commitment. That’s about how long it takes for a person’s real behavior patterns to start to emerge (Robb, 2006). This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attempt to gauge earlier on what the other person is looking for and how serious they are about you, but it does mean that you should hold off on committing to a serious relationship for a little while. This isn’t meant to be done with a standoffish attitude, it’s meant largely as a mental discipline. If you allow your fantasies about the future to run off into the sunset too quickly, it’s a sign that you are moving too fast. Both mentally and practically speaking, it’s important to spend the first few months getting to know each other and assessing your compatibility.
It’s also important to check whether you can trust and rely on a new partner before making a serious commitment (in your head or externally). Take note of whether they honor their agreements. If you ask them to water your plants or walk your dog, take note of their reliability in these instances (Robb, 2006). If they walk back on something they’ve said they’d do, take note of whether they show accountability by being forthcoming about the discrepancy, or whether they attempt to quietly shirk responsibility.
Some couples also opt to hold off on physical intimacy for some weeks or months in order to not let the intense attachment it creates cloud their vision (Robb, 2006).
Don’t Jump Into Marriage Without a Prenup
Getting married without a prenup is akin to jumping into a relationship too quickly. In both cases, there are certain bases you need to cover before you move on to the next stage, and skipping steps or rushing into the next stage leaves a relationship far more vulnerable to breakdown. Skipping the prenup and jumping straight into marriage has the same effect: it leaves your relationship with some extra vulnerabilities. For example:
-You will marry without having formally gone through the process of deciding which of your assets will be marital property and which will be separate
-You may marry without having talked in detail about how finances will be managed during your marriage. This leaves you open to a lot of conflict later on; you may assume you’re on the same page or misinterpret one anothers’ expectations. Drafting a prenup opens up in-detail communication about the management of money and can help you to carefully plan and decide together how you’ll approach this very important aspect of your partnership.
-If you do eventually divorce, you’ll be subject to the laws of the state and the discretion of a judge. With a prenup, you decide for yourselves in advance how assets would be allocated.
-If you get married without having gone through the process of full financial disclosure (a mandatory part of the prenup process), you leave yourself vulnerable to discovering surprises (like surprise debt) about your partner further on down the line.
It’s all too easy to get swept up in the moment and end up sabotaging what could be an amazing relationship (or marriage) by rushing into it. Slow down, take a breath, and enjoy the moment without getting carried away by fantasy.
Baratta, M. 2021. Moving Too Fast Can Derail a Potential Relationship. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/skinny-revisited/202101/moving-too-fast-can-derail-potential-relationship
Emery, L. R., & Steber, C. How to Know If Your Relationship Is Moving Too Fast. Retrieved from: https://www.bustle.com/wellness/114917-7-signs-your-relationship-is-moving-too-fast
Robb, A. 2006. What’s Timing Got to Do with It? Retrieved from: https://www.oprah.com/omagazine/pacing-your-relationship-and-making-love-last/all
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