Q. Sometimes women find themselves in a situation where they are deeply attracted by the man they are dating and due to the intense chemistry and attraction, things may progress too quickly.
Can you explain the dangers of a relationship progressing too quickly and share tips and insights on how to slow down a relationship without ending the relationship or breaking up?
A. Physical and chemical attraction is hardwired into our brains.
Infatuation, being sexually attracted to someone, and even falling in love are biological processes that drive us in one direction, to date, mate, and procreate, although the last two may be in reverse order.
Why are we programmed to do these things?
Why, to produce offspring to perpetuate the human race and to give that offspring the best chance of survival by having two parents to care for it. When Elvis sang, “I can’t help falling in love with you,” he was crooning the truth.
In spite of this physiological imperative happening rather automatically, we do have some say about who we love, commit to, and stay with. Unlike other mammals, we have the ability to think rationally and make mating choices that will be in our best interest. Unfortunately, we don’t always use logic and reasoning to choose mates, but ideally we could and would.
On top of biological reasons to couple up is the pressure that society, peers, and family put on people to enter mate.
Maybe your parents keep nudging you to get engaged because you’ve been seeing someone for nearly a year. Maybe you see your friends pairing off and feel left out now that you’re the only one in the gang who doesn’t have a significant other. Maybe coupledom seems appealing because you’ve been single for years or decades and you want to see life from the vantage point of two people looking out at the world together.
At times, we’re not that into the other person and move the relationship along at a comfortable clip for ourselves with no objections heard. However, sometimes we can’t help getting caught up in a whirlwind romance. We’re head over heels and experiencing every other cliché we can think of before we know it.
How do we make sensible decisions about what’s going on now and where we’re headed?
How do we know we’re doing what’s best for ourselves when we feel like a kid again and the adult us seems to have wandered off and is nowhere to be found?
And, anyway, why not jump in with both feet when the water’s so inviting?
The danger is that by coupling up too quickly, you don’t get to know someone before you’re in too deep, maybe even making a commitment to forsake all others and date exclusively.
You don’t get a chance to see someone in all sorts of situations—around both of your families and friends, on a vacation when you’re rubbing up against each other night and day, in stressful environments like layoffs and crises, through thick and thin—in order to learn all the things that time with someone teaches us about them.
Maybe the sex is great or you’re bowled over by a person’s intelligence or wit or social or financial status. Unless you slow things down, you won’t see how someone wears over time.
The best way to address the pace of the relationship is to use the most direct and honest approach: either bring up the subject yourself or ask your partner how the pace feels—too fast, too slow or just right.
If things are barreling along too quickly for you, the second way can be a more gentle lead into a discussion about slowing them down a bit.
When you have this discussion, make sure to describe in detail all the reasons you like or love your partner and to be very reassuring about wanting to continue the relationship. With that said, you can then be specific about how you might slow down a bit: seeing other people, decreasing frequency of dates, phoning/emailing/texting less often, or not moving quickly toward whatever your natural next step might be.
If you’re still dating other people, continue.
If you and your partner have already decided on exclusivity and are talking about moving in together or getting engaged, postpone that happening with an explanation of why you don’t want to rush into anything more permanent for the time being. If you’re already living together and you’ve been talking about marriage, ask for more time with the relationship as is. Of course, if you’re already co-habiting, you may be in more deeply than you wish to be if things have been moving at warp speed.
Just remember, if you feel pushed or rushed into a relationship and something doesn’t feel kosher, you have the right and, indeed, the obligation to yourself, to slow down the pace considerably to be sure you are with someone that you want to be with for life, or at least for a good part of the future.
The best way to progress in any relationship is to check in with yourself every step of the way, which means with every decision that pulls you more deeply into commitment.
About Karen Koenig
Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed., is a licensed psychotherapist, eating coach, motivational speaker and international author of seven books on eating and weight who has specialized in the field of compulsive, emotional and restrictive eating for 30 years. She received a B.A. from Boston University, an M.Ed. from Antioch College and an M.S.W. from Simmons College School of Social Work. She lives, teaches and practices in Sarasota, Florida.
She is a co-founder of the Greater Boston Collaborative for Body Image and Eating Disorders and a former member of the Professional Advisory Committee of the Multi-service Eating Disorder Association of Massachusetts. To learn more about her, visit her website at www.karenrkoenig.com.