It’s easy to be sane and logical about relationships when we’re not writhing in agonizing lust for a person, isn’t it?
Yeah, I bet you know what I’m talking about. We have all been there.
For many of us, it’s easy enough to be witty and charming, natural, to approach a new relationship with light-heartedness and fun, that is, until we become attached to the idea of it working out.
That thought comes in and whacks us out of our regular scheduled orbit: “Oh no, I think I might really like them. I mean, really like them.” And just like that, our poles are spinning on their axes and our compass is going haywire.
That thought is often the beginning of the end.
As a normally self-assured person, It always takes me by surprise how difficult it is to keep my cool when I catch actual feelings for someone. Somewhere inside me, the bottom threatens to drop out and set into motion a slippery slope of weird, neurotic behaviors wherein my usual sense of confidence falters, and I struggle to calibrate my intensifying feelings with the uncertainty of what this other person wants and feels.
Feeling uncalibrated, I start to overanalyze everything. I measure my responses carefully. My natural sense of ease dissolves. I swing back and forth between accommodating and b*tchy 100 times a day, riding my own rollercoaster of reactions to everything they do.
The most comical part is that my rollercoaster has very little to do with the other person. They might be totally open, willing, and keenly interested in me, but if I’m not extremely mindful about what’s going on inside of me, freaking out will still be my default response once I’ve begun considering the possibility I might be really into someone. I know (from talking to so many of my clients over the years) that I’m not alone in this.
When I found myself in this position, I used to deal with it in a completely illogical and knee-jerk, way: I’d try to undo the damage by convincing myself I just didn’t care. Really, this is the least productive plan of action I could take to further a budding connection, but with a desperate sense of pride in the driver’s seat, it’s no surprise any of us would choose this route.
Unsurprisingly, it never worked because “ice-cold” is a world away from “cool and collected.”
The facade only ever drove people away. In hiding my feelings from myself, I would hide my feelings from the other person as well, and that halted our developing connection in its tracks. It alienated them and left them feeling the sparks had gone cold.
I began to understand that there needed to be a middle ground between turning off my feelings and totally letting them run me. The trick is to approach relationships like a boss: with heart and vulnerability while remaining connected to our confidence and value.
What follows is a three-step plan that all of us would benefit from applying to prospective relationships in order to stay solid, yet available, for the connection we all want.
1. Keep perspective.
When our attention zeros in on someone and we start to move through our lives tracking them in our crosshairs, we have entirely lost perspective.
Simply put, no matter how badly we desire someone, no matter how perfect we imagine they could be as our future partner, no matter how intoxicated we are by everything about them, they are not that important. Not yet, at least.
What is important is that we keep our focus on the passions and interests that make us who we are, and that we remember to keep a healthy perspective on how much real estate we grant this new person to occupy in our lives while we’re still only getting to know them.
2. Remember to vet them.
In the case that we do take this relationship a whole lot deeper, we can re-evaluate their importance and their position in our lives, but until that happens, in the early states of forming a connection, we actually don’t know what they are to us. As impressed as we may be with them as a person, we have yet to discover what value they’d actually add to our lives.
Connection isn’t about how impressed we are with someone; it’s about what is created between us. It’s about the depths we can reach together that we can’t reach alone. Until we know someone well enough to see what depths and heights we are able to unfold together, we have no business being attached to the prospect of being with them.
To be attached to them at this early state, is to be infatuated with the idea of them rather than to be inspired by the actual relationship we are creating with them.
So, instead of fretting over whether or not they will like us enough to choose us, we should be vetting them to find out whether they are even someone capable of co-creating the relationship we want. The important question is whether we should be choosing them.
Are they kind to us? Are we intrigued by their interests and passions? Do we have enthralling conversations together? How about electrifying sexual chemistry? Do they handle challenges well? Are they emotionally available for deeper connection with us?
Forget what they think of us. Much more important is what we think of them.
3. Invest wisely.
An investment in a relationship is defined as the amount of resources we put in in hopes of getting a return. We invest resources such as time, money, mental space, energy, and personal development…and hope that the other person does the same so that we get a nice payoff of deep connection and intimacy.
There’s a difference between how much we feel for someone and how much we invest in them. Our feelings are right and valid; there’s really no arguing with them and absolutely no sense in denying them. Being honest about how we feel is not a bad thing. Where our feelings can get us into trouble is when we conflate how we feel with how much we should invest.
One of the most egregious misconceptions in dating is that if we let the other person know how much we like them, we’ll scare them away. This is totally false. The reality is we scare them away when we over-invest in them before it’s appropriate to do so.
Letting others know their impact on us is the single most important ingredient in building connection and deepening intimacy. There is nothing more magnetizing than letting someone feel our desire for them. It’s crucial for developing relationships. But, in the early stages of getting to know each other, over-investment is not only unnecessary; it’s kind of inappropriate and adds a lot of pressure on both sides.
We don’t know this person. We’re still finding out whether they are someone worth investing in and whether our investment in them will provide generous returns.
Our feelings should not necessarily measure how much of an investment we make in a relationship. While it’s perfectly healthy and totally common to feel more for someone than they feel for us, it’s unhealthy to invest more than they are ready or willing to invest in a relationship together.
While we have little control over whether our feelings match, we have full agency over whether our levels of investment are balanced.
Author: Summer Engman
Image: Courtesy of Author/Greta Griniūtė
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Social Editor: Leah Sugerman