Dear Gentle Butch,
I have been in therapy for all of my adult life, and have been doing my work and making a ton of progress on myself. As a result, I’ve been generally feeling better, and have had the good fortune to meet a new cute person whom I’ve been dating for a little over a month.
Things are going really well, and I feel safer and more solid in this relationship than I have with any in the past. But I am worried about going unreasonably fast, especially emotionally, since I feel like this kind of healthy attachment is new for me.
How do I keep things at a reasonable pace, while still being authentic about how I feel about this new cutie? We seem to be very compatible, and I want to grow and nurture the connection we are building while not engaging in old bad habits or jumping into anything too serious too quickly. Is this just my anxiety talking?
Femme Avoiding the UHaul Stereotype
So now you know: therapy will ruin your life.
You’re going along, all clammed up and bottled and pressured and squished and alienated or clingy or volatile like you liked it and then you start talking and learning and improving and BOOM there are feelings all over the goddamned place.
I mean, we didn’t like life pre-therapy, exactly, which is why so many of us have started counseling (and I can’t speak to why you went) but it certainly is FAMILIAR, this packed-down/messed up/not functioning well way of life.
In all seriousness, I’m glad that you are feeling better, doing the work, and making a ton of progress on yourself. I know how damn hard the work is. And how much the work is SO worth it.
But I also know that being vulnerable after whatever stuff sent you to therapy in the first place can be like bungee-jumping with a brand-new tested cord and you aren’t sure exactly how much slack there is.
So I can see why you would be worried about taking things too fast, and perhaps this rush of feeling and, more importantly, this sense of solidity is — paradoxically —- shifting ground under your feet. An unfamiliar and therefore somewhat frightening sensation.
But you know what? You have worked DAMN HARD. And you have earned yourself some joy, if you can find it. And it seems you’ve found a chance for a certain kind of joy, now. I say go for the feelings, and the time together, and the delicious heady joy of a new relationship.
Certainly exercise good judgment and don’t demand constant togetherness, but slowing things down through artificial means by pretending to be less available than you are, waiting a certain amount of time before responding to a text, and those sorts of well-intentioned ‘putting on the brakes’ moves can come across as manipulative and perhaps like you’re playing games, and that just isn’t a good way to start out a solid relationship. It can feel unsettling for yourself, as well.
So go out with this person. Enjoy their company. Text sweet nothings before bed. Have lots and lots and lots of sex. Become weirdly obsessed and drive your friends nuts talking about this cute person. Shake yourself out of an intense memory of them at an office meeting and smile a secret smile. Do all of these things, as often as you both want, and as heedlessly as you both want.
But it’s not just your anxiety talking when you say you are afraid of moving too fast. Love famously impairs our judgment with dopamine, lowered serotonin, and rising cortisol levels — triggering the most primal parts of our brain, and diminishes access to the frontal lobe. “When we are engaged in romantic love,” explains the Scott Edwards in a Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute newsletter, “the neural machinery responsible for making critical assessments of other people, including assessments of those with whom we are romantically involved, shuts down.”
So: you need to proceed and live your one glorious wonderful life and dance in the rain and sing to them and find yourself almost skipping as you walk down the block, but you also need to remind yourself that your brain isn’t functioning at its highest capacity.
This is why you need to follow a very specific threefold rule for the first few months to year or so. Avoid the three L’s: confessing your love, making life plans, and living together.
You can really jack things up by labeling a new relationship as ‘in love,’ out loud, too soon. This can add pressure to the relationship to take a shape it doesn’t want to take, and perhaps place expectations on it that the relationship itself cannot sustain, yet. So take your time with those words. Don’t go rushing to “I love you” in the first few weeks or even months. You can also scare the crap out of yourself, if you have issues with past relationships (if you are human, I mean).
Making life plans or even vacation plans early on might feel romantic, but having to walk those back later can be pretty anxiety-producing. And yeah that U-haul. No. Don’t sign any leases. Keep your own apartment, even if you find yourselves constantly in each others’ spaces.
Feeling with abandon (as scary as that probably is for you if you haven’t had solid-feeling relationships before) but not signing on any dotted lines, no matter how much you want to, is going to keep you out of the worst trouble that this altered state can bring you.
I am so glad you have this chance to use your new skills in searching for joy, and enjoying it when you find it. I hope you can enjoy it with as much abandon as your heart will give you.
You’ve got this. Go get ’em, tigress.