New love is the ultimate turn on. In the first moments and days of love, the neuro-chemicals that create feelings of happiness all explode out the starter gate.
But does an explosion of happiness chemicals—one that triggers the thought "I want this person to be in my life forever!"—necessarily mean that you and your new love would, in fact, make good chemistry together forever? Or is what you are attracted to now minor compared to what would later lead to your needing relationship counseling?
Before you make a mad dash to the altar, read on.
Moving Too Fast
Why do decisions to marry that are made in the early exciting stage of love—the stage of infatuation—so often turn out to be a big mistake? I recently read an exceptionally clear explanation.
Chana Levitan is the author of a particularly helpful "Is this the right one for me to marry?" book. I Only Want To Get Married Once explains that infatuation is “the spark at the beginning” that suddenly ignites with a new person or in a situation that has newly switched from businesslike or friendship to romantic and sexualized. Because that spark—that sparkling, delightfully sexually intense feeling when you first fall in love—feels so good, you are likely to want the feeling to last forever.
Alas, it won’t. Levitan explains that no matter how good the match, the strong sexualized draw of infatuation, even in the best of marriages, is only a temporary phenomenon associated with newness and insecurity.
Levitan quotes the research of psychologist Dorothy Tennov who found that the duration of infatuation typically lasts at most “between approximately 18 months and three years.” Circumstances like a long-distance relationship or chronic relationship insecurity may artificially extend the tingling phenomenon, at the cost of delaying the shift either into a departure from the relationship or into commitment to a mature and reliable love partnership.
Infatuation also poses a second trap. It’s easy to confuse loving the feeling of infatuation with the totally separate issue of how loving you are likely to feel toward that person after the infatuation has worn off.
Love is blind while you are in the initial infatuation stage. After that, clarity about reality tends to emerge. Continuing to love someone is likely to depend on how suitable that person is as a partner in the project of living.
Fortunately, it's possible to look ahead even when you are feeling swept off your feet. Your capacity for longer-range vision can help you evaluate if the person you love so intensely today is likely to become a burden or an asset over time. Does your current infatuation seem to be with someone who will turn into a stranger from a strange land or someone with whom openness, intimacy, and a shared lifestyle would be possible? Would that person be a supportive partner or a controlling tyrant?
Levitan offers a handy list of five signs that suggest that an infatuation is not to be trusted.
- The infatuation is the whole relationship. There’s nothing else there. No shared vision or values of the life pathways you both want. Minimal shared interests. Not much to talk about after the initial getting-to-know-you conversations.
- You’re so caught up in the chemistry of initial attraction that you can’t, or don’t want to, see who the person really is.
- You’re infatuated and at the same time know that the person is bad for you.
- You’re moving toward marriage but find yourself thinking about someone you’ve dated in the past, or looking at others you might date in the future.
- You know at some level that you are wasting your time enjoying being infatuated with someone whom you wouldn’t want to marry.
So are all initial strong feelings untrustworthy? Absolutely not. Strong feelings alone do not a good match make, but strong feelings plus good sense can enable couples to make a marriage choice early on that leads to a relationship that proves to be long-lasting and ever-loving. I knew the man I married for less than two months—and was thoroughly infatuated—when we decided to wed. Now, forty years, four children, and fourteen grandchildren later, I’m still thrilled with my choice of mates.
Want further ideas to help you know if your infatuation is trustworthy? See Chana Levitan's video on how to choose, and then how to keep, the one you love. You can also check out also my blog post on the topic: "Can I Trust My Gut to Know If I've Found My True Love?"
Whom to marry is often one of the single most important decisions a person makes in their life. So pick thoughtfully. And once you've picked, make sure to learn the communication skills for marriage success!