Ready for Launch – The First Months of a Relationship

The first meeting was a success, leading to further dating. You likely ended up in bed together and this was to your mutual satisfaction. It’s clear that there is potential for more than just a flighty affair. So now what?

Fragile
A relationship in its earliest stages can very easily derail. Because you and your date don’t know each other particularly well yet, misunderstandings lurk around every corner, easily leading to fights. If a big one occurs, it’s tempting for one of the partners to run off, as there is no strong connection yet. This is made even more tempting by the fear of commitment a lot of men have ingrained in them; the possibility that their life would end up interwoven with that of a partner, leading to all sorts of responsibilities and dependencies, feels like a big weight on their shoulders. The opportunity to form a complex and profound bond with another man is not seen as an emotionally rewarding adventure, but rather as sacrificing freedom and limiting opportunities with an untold number of theoretical future lovers.

Insecure men may be afraid that someone will see their ‘true self’ and that they won’t be accepted when they open up emotionally. They don’t trust that someone will be able to love them to their core. Getting rejected would hurt too much, and because of that, they avoid letting anyone too deeply into their heart and mind.

On top of that, not everyone is suited to a traditional 1-on-1 relationship; someone may have had painful previous experiences or have concluded that he is bad at monogamy or maintaining a relationship. He may prefer to go no further than sex and superficial contact: a sort of fuckbuddy with a whiff of romance. This might be enough for you if you have a similar attitude, but can be frustrating if you want more depth and exclusivity.

Unfortunately, these reasons to not deepen your relationship can also be brought up as an excuse when the real reason is that he has secretly already decided that you don’t match well enough to go any further. Because he does not want to be alone, he may be stringing you along until someone comes along who seems more appealing. The difference between being unable to be more intimate and unwilling to be more intimate can be hard to tell if someone is vague about it. In these cases, if there is no progress, you will have to keep your bullshit-detector running on the highest setting.

You can be understanding if your date seems hesitant to move beyond the occasional dinner or lovemaking session and try to steer him through any anxiety by making it clear repeatedly that he is in good hands and that you care a lot about him, but if he remains distant and isn’t prepared to start sharing more with you, let him go. You’re not a psychiatrist and don’t have to sacrifice years of your life to convince him that a relationship with you is worth the effort. This also prevents you from putting a lot of time into someone, only to watch him run off with someone else, who apparently did not trigger his fear of commitment.

“Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your heart or burn down your house, you can never tell.”
– Joan Crawford, actress

Rose-colored glasses
When you are getting to know a prospective partner, it can be hard to look at him objectively the first couple of months. Because of a rush of happy hormones, you are likely to only see his positive characteristics and ignore anything negative about him. This isn’t necessarily wrong, and it can be very nice to let yourself get carried along on a wave of tremendously good feelings for a while. However, before you submit to him heart and soul, move in with him or give him the keys to your place, you will have to make it a point to evaluate your situation rationally.

For starters, do you both have the same ideas about the nature of your relationship? Are your shared interests mostly located in the bedroom or are there other areas in which you get along famously? Are you dating exclusively or do you have plans to start doing that? In short, are you a couple, primarily fuckbuddies or a misguided one-night stand? Your plans for the next year or so are important, there’s no need to look further ahead than that, unless there is already a change on the horizon that would greatly affect your potential as a couple. For instance, is he moving back to his own country or is he getting a divorce and will his kids be coming to live with him? Keep the tone breezy when directing the conversation towards future plans and try to keep track of where you’re at by casually dropping small probes into the conversation.

Don’t rush. If you’re just a few weeks in, don’t start asking if he can imagine the two of you, cozily sitting side by side on rocking chairs. Something like that may make him anxious. Or you yourself may end up regretting expressing this premature vision of the future, if you realize you can’t deliver on it, or no longer want to. Be wary of spontaneous exclamations that could lead to unwanted consequences, like “Living together with you would be so cool!” or “Oh my gawd, I could marry you right now!” Passionate statements like “I’ve never loved anyone this much, I never want to lose you!” are also not wise at the very beginning. Even the simple, less over-the-top variant “I love you” is best avoided at first. Of course you should show your feelings and appreciation, but limiting yourself to positive descriptions for a while is better: “I think you’re handsome.” or “You’re sweet/ hot /smart /funny.” It’s good to “care a lot about” or “be crazy about” your new boyfriend for a while before you tell him that you really love him.

“I love you,” is best said when you have gotten to know him fairly well, are sure of the truth of the statement and have little to no doubt that the feeling is mutual. In a situation like that, the phrase will carry more weight. If you drop the L-word within a week or two, it can misfire, it may activate his fear of commitment or make you less believable. It may seem as if you are not able to distinguish between butterflies in your stomach and a deeper form of connection. “I love you” has to be earned, though it will feel fantastic once you can utter the words from the depths of your soul and see the full impact. Don’t use the words to manipulate: to force him to say the same thing or to get him to do something for you. “I love you” is meaningless unless it is said passionately, with conviction and without any ulterior motive.

“Love is like quicksilver in the hand. Leave the fingers open and it stays. Clutch it and it darts away.”
– Dorothy Parker, writer

Impure motivations
You don’t have to be paranoid about the reasons that someone likes you every time you start a romance, but it it’s a good idea to be aware of potentially impure motivations. Is your partner looking for someone who will take care of him? Is he after your money? Is he looking for a residence permit or a place to stay? Does he only want you for your body or for your personality too? Don’t jump to hasty conclusions. If your new boyfriend makes a lot less money than you, it doesn’t automatically mean he expects you to support him. And if he happens to be looking for a new place, staying under your roof isn’t necessarily a major motivation to be with you. If you are wealthy, have a great dick or an impressive home they will likely be seen as nice bonuses, but they generally won’t and shouldn’t be the main reason he is with you.

If you have had bad experiences with people just being interested in a single aspect of you, then you’re better off keeping quiet about it in the beginning. Don’t hint at your chalet in Switzerland; go to his humble abode rather than to your palace, and keep your awe-inspiring dick in your pants for the first few dates. It may be tempting to try to lure someone you like using these kinds of assets, but it increases the chances of someone hanging out with you for other reasons than sincere interest.

Having said that, a relationship which started out with superficial, unromantic motivations for one of the partners, may evolve into one that is genuinely based on sincere love. It’s a gamble you can take if you are head-over-heels for someone whose intentions likely aren’t pure. Be very careful in these cases, and don’t merge your lives too much for a good, long time. Don’t open up a shared bank account, and don’t let him move in straight away. If your caution is reason for him to break things off, then your hesitation was warranted and you’re better off without him.

“That first period is nerve wracking but also overwhelming and fantastic. You keep discovering new things about each other, but are always a little bit afraid that something will come to light you really weren’t looking for. Is there a red rose in the present you’re unwrapping or a dead mouse?”
– Tristan

Getting personal
After a couple of months of being strongly hormonal and hopefully shagging like rabbits, you may have been through many pages of the Kama Sutra and realize that you are likely to run out of positions at some point. Sex and hormones will not be enough to carry a relationship for years, so you will have to engage each other’s minds as well. As you both slowly descend off cloud nine, the next big challenge awaits: the daily grind. Will you be a good team to face it and share your daily lives for the long haul?

There is no magic formula to predict if you will be driving each other crazy in the long term, but observations made over a couple of months will give you an idea of the hurdles that will have to be dealt with. There may be practical issues affecting the relationship from the outside or differences in personality. Many issues are often happily ignored while the hormones rage, reasoning that love will conquer all. But these same factors are often what ultimately kill a relationship if not properly addressed, assuming the relationship is not a lost cause.

Deal breakers are anything concerning your partner you can honestly not see yourself living with in the long term. Obvious red flags are mental and physical abuse. If someone makes you feel bad about yourself or even slaps you around on occasion, you should not be with that person. Then there are practical considerations. Do you ultimately want to move in together? If he is from a different city or country, would either be prepared to move at some point? What are the viewpoints on raising kids and on being monogamous? Of course someone’s attitude can evolve over time, but it is important to see if you are on the same page at the beginning. You can’t predict the future, but having a good idea where things are headed helps.

To prevent activating the fear of commitment that a lot of men — maybe including you — are suffering from it’s best to bring up these important topics casually. If you’ve been seeing someone over a period of weeks or longer, you should have enough opportunity to bring them up. In general, try to avoid having to sit down and have a “let’s really talk about the future of our relationship” conversation. However, this may still be necessary if casual probing has brought to light cracks in the foundation of the relationship, or if things are unclear. At this point subtlety is no longer sufficient, and issues will have to be handled head-on, even if that is a little painful and results in friction for a while. Problems have to be addressed and options to tackle them discussed.

Differences & disputes
Having a similar background can make it easier to understand each other and to make a good team; chances are better then that you share certain interests and opinions. This can make living together easier, but also can lead to boredom. If you weren’t raised in similar ways or if you come from a different culture or era, you may have a tougher time communicating on the same wavelength, but you may also challenge each other more, keeping the relationship exciting and dynamic with less of an effort. Neither of these two situations is very pleasant if taken to its extreme. Too much difference can lead to conflict, but if two people are too similar, that can lead to rigidity and a lack of passion.

Ideally you will share enough interests to be able to entertain yourselves together, but you will differ in ways that complement each other. One may prefer to cook while the other prefers to clean up. Partner A isn’t fazed by taking care of the finances, while partner B is handy with a tool belt. The exuberant spontaneity and creativity of the one, is properly channeled and put into motion by his more pragmatic partner.

No couple will have an absolutely perfect connection, so concessions will have to be made to make sure that both partners are happy. Differences mean having to deal with opinions you may not agree with; this keeps your mind flexible because you are forced to take others into account. It is important to try to understand the preferences and point of view of your partner and to not judge them just because you don’t share them. A difference in culture, age or upbringing may be the reason and neither of you may be objectively ‘right’. Ask yourself some critical questions. First: do you understand his point of view and do you need to adjust your own? Second: can his opinion be adjusted if you don’t agree with him even after giving it a good amount of thought? Third: if that is not possible, can you live with his different point of view? Not just you should have a critical look at your habits and ideas, your partner should, in turn, have a close look at his. You should be able to meet each other somewhere in the middle.

If one of you likes to be out at the bars every night, while the other wants to hang out at home and watch television with his boyfriend, you’ll need to find a happy medium. Breaking patterns you have eased yourself into might be healthy. Ask yourself: will you really miss the bars if you stay home a bit more often? And vice versa: isn’t it fun to head out more to meet up with friends instead of spending every night in front of the television? Of course you don’t need to follow your partner in his interests a hundred percent of the time; you’re not Siamese twins. If you want to do something your partner doesn’t, you can do it alone. A healthy couple is a team that gives each other emotional and practical support but also the freedom to pursue individual interests.

“There’s this illusion that homosexuals have sex and heterosexuals fall in love. That’s completely untrue. Everybody wants to be loved.”
– Boy George, entertainer

Baggage
Unless you meet as virgins, you will have one or more exes in your past, from short affairs or from serious relationships. It will be tempting compare your new relationship to experiences from the past. If the past experiences are bad ones, this may lead to generalizations which can work against you when building a new relationship, such as: “all men lie and cheat”, “no one will be able to love me long-term, so why put in the effort” or “love is a temporary, hormonal illusion and we are all alone on this earth”. There may also be a whole list of requirements in someone’s mind that a prospective partner needs to meet, in an effort to prevent things that hurt in the past from happening again. This list of demands can get out of hand and become unrealistic, leading to the rejection of partners before they’ve even had a chance to prove themselves.

Don’t judge your new boyfriend on the basis of things your previous partners did. The dynamic between you and your partner will be different each time and you should try to have a relatively open mind. Surrendering to a new relationship requires you to open up and allow yourself to be vulnerable. The risk of getting hurt is the price you pay for building a bond of trust. However, if you come to the conclusion that you always attract the same kind of incompatible men, don’t blame those men. If your relationships keep derailing in the same way again and again, you need to talk to friends or to a therapist to investigate why the same pattern keeps repeating itself.

Good experiences with previous partners can also lead to issues; the newcomer has to compete against the achievements of his predecessors. Especially if memories are being distorted by nostalgia and lingering affection for a previous partner, it will be nearly impossible for him to meet these expectations. He can’t win when competing against an idealized dream. If one of you exited a relationship not too long ago and is still emotionally entangled in it — because it was recent, because the relationship was a long one or because emotions ran high you need to take that into account. Both expectations and irritations may end up getting transferred from the old partner to the new. If you notice something like this happening, it needs to be exposed and you should be able to talk about it. Once there is enough of a mutual understanding of the situation, and if the new partner feels strong enough to tackle it, he can help with working through the anger and sadness about the previous relationship. But it should not end up being a burden on the new relationship and your new boyfriend should not have to become your relationship counselor.

Friends & family
It’s understandable if a freshly coupled couple withdraws from the world to a certain degree during the first couple of months of courtship. But don’t neglect your friends and family too much, even if you have your head in the clouds. It can harm friendships and come across as a bit overly dramatic, especially if you do it frequently. Your friends may be able to give a more clearheaded estimation of your potential relationship. Assuming you trust their judgement and that there are no ulterior motives — the person commenting is your still-jealous ex, for instance — you should consider spending some time with your new Romeo in the company of friends. By observing the way your boyfriend and your friends interact, you can see if they approve of each other. A lack of respect or interest may indicate that something is wrong. You can also ask your friends for a critical but constructive appraisal. Be aware that anything negative will be toned down, because your friends will want to avoid awkwardness or a fight if they say something too derogatory. And don’t do this check until you have a fairly clear impression of your new boyfriend, enabling you to compare your friends’ viewpoints with your own. In the very beginning of a potential relationship, you will likely be unwilling to listen to other people’s opinions in any case, because you won’t be entirely rational due to raging hormones.

Asking family for a second opinion with regards to your love life can be more problematic even if they support homosexuality, because they will tend to be less objective about this new family-member. Especially parents are likely to retain anything negative you said about your partner and judge him for it even after you yourself have forgotten what the problem was to begin with. If you are close with your parents and know they will always be respectful of boundaries when it comes to your love life, you can ask them for advice. In general, though, don’t air too much dirty laundry to them. If you have doubts, share them with others who are less tied to your relationship. It is advisable to see how your family and you friend get along after a couple of months, but in general don’t ask for an explicit opinion, because you may not like what they have to say. Once said, it can’t be taken back.

“Never judge someone by who he’s in love with; judge him by his friends. People fall in love with the most appalling people. Take a cool, appraising glance at his pals.”
– Cynthia Heimel, writer

Last edit: 13-10-2018 Dutch version here.