2 Fast 2 Attached
August 19, 2016 4:35 PM   Subscribe

How do you set limits and keep from getting too attached to someone you've started dating?

I have something of an unfortunate pattern when I hit it off with someone on a first date: we'll both act super intensely into each other, talk all of the time, become exclusive really fast, share really personal information, meet each other's friends, etc. We both get into this hypomanic, giddy headspace. Then we inevitably break up, and I end up far, far more down about it then I should be over a month-or-two relationship.

I understand this is a two-person problem, but I don't want to encourage this the next time I get excited about someone, for two reasons -- I think sharing too much off the bat can ruin things, and being so open makes it feel so much worse when it ends. How do grown-up daters set boundaries? How do you act smart when you feel stupid about someone? I wish there was some sort of official template about how open to be with someone when.

FWIW, I'm a woman in my mid-20s who usually dates men.
posted by vanitas to Human Relations (9 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
The hard part to deal with is trying to avoid getting carried away by the limerence phase - that intense part of new romances where your hormones and emotions have gotten you totally drunk on what you think is love in those first few months. Frankly, this is totally the best part of a new romance, and you should totally allow yourself to enjoy it. But you are effectively trying to ride it out, to get past this and really see whether the relationship will have any legs to stand on.

Don't let limerence-drunk you do the driving, because that person is a speed-demon and that's how romances fizzle out fast. It gets to hang out in the passenger seat and entertain you. Rational-you needs to be in charge, not to kill the buzz entirely, but to just apply the brakes a wee bit and do the steering.

Rational-you tries to remind you that you don't have to be desperate and overeager, you can relax a bit - if this person doesn't work out, that's OKAY - you have dated other people before, so you will be able to find someone new. You are worth dating, have confidence in yourself.

Rational-you encourages you to look at it like you're looking for someone who will run the marathon with you, not just a sprint. So there's no rush. Instead of jumping straight into hanging out exclusively with each other every night of the week, confessing every dark and private thing to each other right away, well, you try to spread that out over a few months instead of a few weeks.

Rational-you also knows that the most interesting and appealing version of you has interests outside of this new person, and keeps up with her friends and activities during the week. And Rational-you is also a bit protective of yourself and your privacy - you feed bits of information and introduce the person to only a few friends at a time as a test, until you see how things play out, how they reciprocate and react - then you give them more. This person has to earn their access to your inner thoughts and social circle.

Limerence-drunk you will get super-excited that this new person likes the same things as you or seems to connect with you strongly on certain points. It is ok to let yourself enjoy this, but Rational-you knows that liking the same band/book/movie is not enough to make a relationship. You need more evidentiary support, more time to see how things roll out. Where are the red flags, what have you learned from previous relationships that are bad signs?

You are waiting for the limerence-drunk to wear off so you can see this person without the rose-colored glasses. You are intentionally making an effort to hold your emotions and expectations in check, and trying not to get completely attached. A break-up could happen, and it is not the end of the world if it does. Even if the other person seems totally attached as well, you have to wait for the limerence to end to know the real relationship potential.

So, how to take things slow - a rough schedule:

During the first few weeks of dating, you might see this new person like once or twice a week, giving a few days of space between visits. Texting/messaging, again don't spend all your time doing this.

As the new person seems to be checking your boxes and you feel like things may have potential, you step it up a little bit - maybe hang out a few more times a week or over the entire weekend, add some hang-outs with friends like at a party or at a bar. You're still spending time apart from this person between visits, but maybe texting a bit each day just to keep in touch.

If things seem to be going well, you are still busy with other stuff/people apart from this person, but you make time for each-other, and start planning things further down the road like a few weeks away.

Around the 3-month mark (give or take), it may be time to have "the conversation" and see where things are going - whether you both feel like this has potential, or not. Around this time is when the limerence starts to fade so you're not drunk on this other person... but you should have been spending just enough time together now to figure out whether there's something real between you.

Note I left sex and overnight stays out - the timing of those are entirely up to you, whether it's early on or in a few weeks' time.
posted by lizbunny at 6:41 PM on August 19, 2016 [16 favorites]

I struggle with this too and I think lizbunny's advice is good.

Also, you can date several people/keep going on dates. This certainly doesn't mean you have to sleep with, or even have any physical contact with others...but I think it's good to keep going on dates with other guys after that initial date with the one you really like. Just talking to other men in a casual setting will help to balance things out and help you see what else is out there. When I get too attached to someone, it's often because I am focusing too much only on them. Also, besides dates, hanging out with friends helps too.
posted by bearette at 7:11 PM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, you can take more time before becoming exclusive, and contact the person less in the beginning.
posted by bearette at 7:13 PM on August 19, 2016

I suggest you watch a bunch of romantic comedies. They typically have drama surrounding some "secret" that boils down "you two fools just met and do not actually know each other as well as you think."

The reason you are getting breakups like that is because both of you are committing to a facade. Neither of you actually knows the other that well. It is all smoke and mirrors.

You set boundaries by give the Spock eyebrow to their excessive early enthusiasm. You keep your focus on "I have been down this road and I know where it leads and it is nowhere I like." When they say stupidly gushy things to you, you call them on their crap and point out that they barely know you, it takes time to get to know each other and there is no getting out of that reality.

I am an older version of you. I have been burned, repeatedly. I just remember all the burn scars and say "no thank you" to getting limerance drunk. We can get limerance tipsy maybe, but the super excited shit makes me suspicious and scowlly and I start asking pointed questions of the "what the hell is wrong with you?" variety.

I am not as mean about it as those comments might sound, but I just let men know that, no, you aren't in love with me. We just met. That is nonsense. Love takes time.

I also actively probe for the deal breakers. The list is long and the odds are against it working it out.

Basically, I am a skeptic. I expect it to fail. Then if it surprises me and doesn't, it is a pleasant surprise.
posted by Michele in California at 7:23 PM on August 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

Trying to think of the name of a book I read about this. It was in the late 1990's, maybe early 2000's. About the same time that horrible book, "The Rules," came out.

It was written by a pair of psychologists, and the name of the book was unfortunate, because it did have some valid points.

The gist of it was this:

1. The first 3 months, you are trying each other on. If it doesn't work after 3 months, move on and consider it done.

2. Months 3-6 are for getting to know each other, you've moved beyond the honeymoon phase (what they call limerance, as stated above). You both know you like each other. Establishing a dating pattern, such as get together on Friday nights, separate and do your thing on Saturday morning, party with friends Saturday night, brunch Sunday morning. You are developing as a couple.

3. Months 6-9 are for deeper involvement, such as family introductions and perhaps being invited to outings and family holiday gatherings.

4. Months 9-12 are for looking at your relationship and deciding if you want to continue on. This involves commitment from both sides. Typically, in our Western culture, it's a female waiting for her boyfriend to propose on a special day, like a winter holiday or Valentine's Day, etc.

5. If any of those periods don't work out, you are to part ways and go back to square one, no hard feelings involved, because the first year is a period of getting to know someone, and "trying them on," so to speak.

There was a lot of other stuff, but that was what I remember. It was something like "how to get a man to marry you," but the actual text was more like a Psych book, unlike some of the utter crap that was out there at the time.

So I would say you are not getting past the 1-3 month stage for a very good reason: you haven't met the right person yet, in order to get to the 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and then the commitment stage, thereafter. You are still trying people on. That's okay!!! Can't tell you how many people I dated, one or two times, or 3 or 7, and it didn't work out. Some I did for a year or more, and then realized they weren't for me, as I am not a casual dater, I want to date one person and be committed to them (and eventually married), and not all guys that I dated took that seriously, of course. They weren't ready, I wasn't the right one, and I gave up my heart too easily, because I was pretty gullible and didn't know any better.

I naturally set boundaries with people who I didn't jive with, but there were some who I did overshare with, I guess. I tend to be enthusiastic and I even get like this with my current husband, "oh! Look! Blah blah blah blah blah!!!" And he loves it. He loves that about me, it's part of my personality, and he will sometimes chime in, but he never puts me down for it.

We met in college, years ago, and we hit it off right away, then drifted apart. We met again online, 25 years later, and we exchanged over 1,000 emails in one month. Plus long romantic phone calls. No boundaries. This year will be our 10th wedding anniversary.

And it's not all romance and sweet talk, it's really hard work for both of us, sometimes. But we have some deep underlying connection, even if we are so pissed off at each other that we'd rather sleep in separate rooms than look at each other (and trust me, there are times like that), we somehow made it past the boundary thing, and took a chance, and here we are, still together. I've almost left and/or secretly plotted his demise about 50 zillion times, and no doubt he has mine, but most of the time, we are in love with each other. So I guess my best advice is to keep dating, keep trying people on, and don't settle for less than someone who would allow you to be less than your true self, let those ones move on, and trust that your best friend is looking for you, the same as you are for him.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:39 PM on August 19, 2016 [10 favorites]

This is kind of how it works until you end up in a relationship where you don't break up, no?

I kid, but seriously, unless this sort of thing is happening in the space of a week or so and you're having trouble getting over them and it's an actual problem in your life beyond the fact that breakups suck, I don't think this is something you have the capacity to change.

I spent so long trying to protect my heart. And looking back at it, I think that's something that actually made it harder for me to find someone. Because I would enter relationships in this mercenary fashion, holding back and being afraid to just be honest. And none of them ever lasted, just like the ones where I did get attached and let myself be hurt. And the breakups in both types of relationships hurt me the same amount.
posted by Sara C. at 7:52 PM on August 19, 2016 [7 favorites]

Date other people. And by date, I don't mean 'sleep with', I mean the old fashioned thing they did in the olden days where you actually went out and got to know a bunch of people before deciding on one. That way you don't put all your eggs in one basket, the men put their best foot forward because they know they have competition and they can't take it for granted that you're a sure thing. You also get to see people on their own merits rather than being clouded by sexytime limerance hormones.
posted by Jubey at 6:56 AM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

How do grown-up daters set boundaries? How do you act smart when you feel stupid about someone?

Honestly, the best way to do this is to make sure you're a fully fleshed-out human before you do dating. Have a pretty full life with a little room to share with someone else instead of a huge void you need someone else to fill for you. Have a job, have a volunteer obligation, have friends you're not going to blow off as soon as a guy looks at you, have a craft/hobby or course of study that's important to you, keep your living space clean and organized, and have a routine of physical movement of some kind.

Because then you can feel as goony as you want, and you can talk about that honestly and openly, but you still got shit to do. You can't sleep over five nights a week when you have other places to be, and you can't sit around all Saturday fluttering your eyelashes about him when you've got Food Bank pick-up from 8-noon and lunch with your friends before you go home and shower and pack for your Saturday night date, which'll be all the hotter for not having seen him for several days.

And the upside of this is that when you have a full life, you will attract a higher quality of candidate (someone with a similarly full life) and you're not going to be interested in pursuing a low-quality lead. It will be easy for you to call it on the third date when your time is not an unlimited resource, and it will be easier to see a bad fit right away. (Bonus side effect: the rest of your life and career will also be higher-quality for the effort you're putting into them.) And breakups, if they do happen, don't leave you with a gaping void again. They still hurt, and that's fine, but if you've already got a movie night with your squad coming up, and time set aside to give to people who don't have enough to eat, it takes some of the sting off.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:26 AM on August 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm in my early 30s and think one big factor in modern dating not mentioned yet is the texting. There are definitely people out there who think a couple of good dates means you should then have a 24/7 ongoing text conversation. I think the round-the-clock access to the other person, and the expectation that you will oblige, is a big reason the limerance thing can burn out quickly and suddenly. It's a false intimacy that people read way too much into.

In my experience, setting clear boundaries with the texting is the easiest way to keep a relationship more casual at the beginning. A couple of good dates does not mean you are obligated to be in contact with this person you barely know all the time. Resist the temptation, tell them you're not a big texter / your job doesn't allow you to be on your phone all the time / you only use texting for making plans really / etc. Some people may take this as a sign of "not interested" but those people are the ones who are unable to set healthy boundaries and are encouraging your tendency to become infatuated or codependent early on.

Go live your own life in between dates, and have a real conversation when you're together.
posted by bradbane at 11:53 AM on August 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

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