Insight Is 20/20

Exploring the pervasive, and unperceived, patterns that govern our lives

4 Rules for Surviving Dating: How to Find Lasting Love

Slowing down the dating process is necessary - but challenging.

This past weekend, I ran into a friend at a restaurant who has just begun dating someone new. My friend shared with me later just how anxiety-provoking this new relationship has become. After a few weeks, they've officially entered that awkward phase where uncertainty is king, and I'm sure each member of the couple is spending a great deal of time talking about the relationship with their respective friends. Oh, the drama that new love brings!

The beginning of a new relationship is scary because you don't really know the person you're dating, so you can't be sure what you're going to get. In other words, you're investing in a relationship based purely on faith, or your hope that this new person will be good for you. But let's all admit what a risk it is to start falling in love! Can you imagine taking a thousand dollars and putting it into a stock that you don't know much about? If you only knew a few details about the company you were investing in, you'd probably decide not to invest in it. Why? Because it would feel too risky.

Yet in relationships, the pull toward a new lover is so strong that it feels as if you really don't have a choice at all. If you like the person and want to get to know them better, you have no choice but to proceed. The stakes feel so high because you can end up attaching pretty quickly to someone new, even though you don't know that person well enough to know if it's truly safe to trust him or her. The reality is that the process of attaching happens much faster than the process of getting to know someone on a truly deep level. If only we could slow our hearts down so that we could protect ourselves better from potential hurts, right?

But wait - I suddenly got so caught up in writing about new love that I almost forgot that we actually do have control over how quickly we attach to someone new. Sure, hormones are at work and there is the undeniable thrill of the first touch or kiss with someone you're crazy attracted to, but that doesn't mean that we, in turn, have to carjack someone, head to Vegas, and get married in a cheesy chapel on the first night.

Though the urge may be strong to spend all your time with your new love interest and jump in the sack to seal the deal and - finally - alleviate your intense curiosity, we're supposed to be adults now, or highly developed individuals that come fully loaded with frontal lobes that allow us to plan and make good decisions. The real goal becomes slowing down in the midst of the sexual-emotional storm of new love to gather our thoughts and proceed with a healthy caution.

Below, I will give you a few pieces of advice to help you control your anxiety and start a new relationship more cautiously.

Rule # 1: If you breathe the words "The One" in the first couple of months, odds are that you're headed for trouble. Don't even let yourself think this way. You need to relax and keep your expectations as realistic as possible - knowing full well how hard that is to do.

Rule # 2: Don't jump into bed too quickly. For those of you (I'm guessing more than 95%) who aren't waiting for marriage to consummate the relationship, don't get horizontal until you've had, at least, several dates. Trust me: this way you'll figure out how emotionally compatible you are before you let you sex and hormones take over.

Rule # 3: Your friends and family should not meet the person you're dating until a solid month of dating - and dating with no red flags. If you've been dating a few weeks but have noticed some areas of concern, take an extra month to get to know your new love interest better so that you can figure out if he or she will truly make the grade.

Rule # 4: Use what mental health professionals call "self-talk" or what everyone else calls "mantras" to keep your eye on the bigger picture when the burgeoning intimacy makes you anxious. Tell yourself little things (either mentally or on notes you leave around your house) to soothe yourself, such as, "Focus on whether you like him, not whether he likes you," or "If it's meant to be, she'll call; if not, I'll have more energy to look for someone else."

No, relationships aren't easy for anyone and the uncertainty of falling for someone is hard for everyone to manage. But slowing down and giving yourself time to sufficiently interview the person you're interested in will be the best insurance policy you could invest in!

PLUS: Check out my book on how to stop repeating the same old, dysfunctional patterns in your relationships, Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.

Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.

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