I get asked a lot what healthy pacing & investment look like in a new relationship. Here it is.
I talk a lot about interest vs. investment, and why it’s important to calibrate your level of investment as you’re first getting to know someone new.
One of my most frequently asked questions when I talk about this is, “Okay, interest vs. investment — got it. But what does that actually LOOK like when you’re getting to know someone?”
Fear not. I care about you so much that I’ve written it all out for you in 5 easy steps.
Behold — my guide to navigating the tricky world of dating pacing, in one practical, easy-to-read guide.
Never say I don’t love you.
Commandment of Healthy Pacing Number 1: Chemistry is a red flag.
At best, chemistry is an unreliable indicator of a relationship’s potential; at worst, it’s a red flag.
You know when ELSE you’ve felt “butterflies”? When you’ve been anxious, stressed, or afraid.
If you have a history of dating partners who can’t meet you emotionally, it may be the case that your brain is wired to feel that intense initial “chemistry” feeling only with people who are unavailable to you for one reason or another.
No, you shouldn’t feel REPULSED by a potential love interest, but, if you want a healthy relationship, neither should you feel like fireworks are exploding all around you from the moment you lock eyes.
By contrast, the kind of chemistry that’s healthy is accompanied by a different feeling. It’s slower to develop, and needs time to be nurtured — as we get to know somebody new OVER TIME.
Commandment of Healthy Pacing Number 2: Prioritise compatibility.
So if we’re not going to look for chemistry on a first date (or even the first FEW dates), what are we going to look for, then?
I’m going to propose that instead of looking for chemistry in the beginning stages of dating, what we look for instead is CURIOSITY.
As in — how CURIOUS do we feel about getting to know the person sitting across from us better?
Are they interesting? Pleasant? Kind? Attentive? Might it be nice to have another conversation with them?
When I’m talking to my clients about how they should feel on a first date, I like to tell them to use the “Venice Test.”
I tell them that, on a first (or second) date, they should feel like they’re interested in getting to know somebody better — but they aren’t ready to drop everything and fly with them to Venice at a moment’s notice.
Moreover — instead of filtering new romantic partners in based on chemistry, filter them in based on what relationship research has shown are the factors that lead to lasting, fulfilling romantic partnerships: shared values, similar life vision and goals for the future, compassion, kindness, mutual respect, commitment to the relationship, and similiar beliefs about the “big” topics: money, religion, family, work, and children.
Commandment of Healthy Pacing Number 3: Stop romanticising strangers.
Instead of romanticising potential partners early on, take your time to really get to know people.
Healthy, secure pacing means that we allow ourselves to get EXCITED about new partners without assuming that we know them better than we actually do yet.
The truth is: we don’t know the people we date until we actually KNOW them.
Even when we have strong FEELINGS for somebody new, much of what we’re initially feeling is what psychotherapy calls “projection”: in other words, we’re given an outline of a person and we then fill it in with our hopes and dreams.
Obsession is a distraction from ourselves. If we’re projecting a fantasy onto a stranger, we aren’t looking at who they actually are and deciding if we can live with that.
Really knowing somebody takes more than a few dates — it takes TIME.
This means that in the first few months of getting to know somebody new, we need to focus on getting to know their values, what they’re like in everyday situations, their goals, and whether they are who they say they are before we jump into a relationship with them.
Commandment of Healthy Pacing Number 4: Commitment comes from alignment, not from anxiety.
In healthy relationships, the partners move forward because they recognise alignment, not because they’re rushing a commitment out of anxiety or a desire for reassurance.
I know you’re going to hate me for saying this, but this means: Stop with the marathon dates and the “seeing each other every single night for two weeks” thing.
This is how we bypass getting to know new people in our headlong rush towards union.
Likewise, it can be wise to remain open to getting to know a few people concurrently while you’re in this process of evaluating new connections.
I know, I know, dating multiple people at the same time "feels like cheating" — but it isn't.
Keeping our options open in the early stages of dating isn’t disloyalty; it’s a form of self-discipline.
The idea is that these early-stage dates should be a casual process of sussing out alignment: if you’re spending your first couple of dates getting so close to a stranger that you’d feel disloyal having lunch with somebody else, you’re doing it wrong.
Commandment of Healthy Pacing Number 5: Start with YOU.
Healthy relationships require an awareness of our own needs, desires, and patterns, and how they influence who we choose to date.
They require taking an honest look at ourselves, and getting curious about why we may be choosing people who can’t meet our needs.
They also require a willingness to try new habits if our old patterns aren’t serving us.
When we find ourselves caught in a cycle of blaming everything OUTSIDE of us for why our relationships are unsatisfying, what we are really avoiding is ourselves.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, we always play a role in choosing the relationships and the experiences in our lives.
Therefore, the only way out of these experiences is through getting deeply, intimately familiar with ourselves.
Through our willingness to critically look at our pasts, we create both power and agency over our futures.
Here's what I know to be true:
From working with and observing thousands of people of all genders and all ages who are dating, here’s what I know to be true about love and relationships:
If we didn’t grow up with healthy models of what love and relationships look like, we’ll tend to choose our partners from our internal love maps, which may very well have been modelled on treacherous terrain.
It isn’t our fault if we weren’t shown how to love and be loved.
AND, when we didn’t inherit a map to the winding and subtle landscape of love, we’ll need to re-learn and to teach ourselves how healthy adult partnerships look and feel.
Until we do, we will continue to meet and to partner with people who fit our untrustworthy internal model of what love and partnership looks like.
This means learning healthy pacing, and proactively going out and looking for the role models of healthy love that we weren’t given in our families of origin.
It means learning the relationship research around what makes some relationships last and stay satisfying over time, and others not.
To create a bright future from our murky relationship pasts, we need to be willing to provide ourselves with the tender loving care that we didn’t receive as children or from our early adult partners.
It’s through treating ourselves as precious objects that we grow to believe that we ARE precious objects, and we then learn to receive the love from others that confirms our new belief.
PS. In order to receive healthy love, we first need to learn how to recognise it — and then keep ourselves from pumping the breaks when we get scared.
Rewiring brains and minds for healthy love is THE WORK I do with my clients inside of my 1:1 coaching.
To work with me 1:1:, get in touch here.