Our first date was Thursday. I was instantly smitten and the feeling was mutual. Our date lasted 12 hours, then he asked if he could whisk me away for the weekend. I said yes! After our romantic getaway, we were talking about wedding rings by Monday. After I came back down to earth, I realized we were completely incompatible!
– Susan | Los Angeles
Have you ever mistaken intensity for intimacy?
If you’ve ever dated someone and it felt like an episode of The Bachelor, you’ve probably experienced this phenomenon. There is a reason the hotel room on The Bachelor is called “the Fantasy Suite.” The entire premise the show is built upon is a fantasy: candlelit dinners in Paris atop the Eiffel Tower with the man of your dreams…who you just met weeks ago! (And who, by the way, is dating 20 other women.)
The most recent Bachelor, Arie Luyendyk, spoke of his experience while filming the show:
It’s hard because I have these great dates, you know, with Becca (Kufrin) for example… and I was like, ‘OK, I could see her at the end of all this’…And then I had a date with Bekah M. and said, ‘These feelings are so strong, I can’t negate them.’ Then after my date with Tia, I could see our lives together.’
Arie fell victim to mistaking intensity for intimacy, leading him to propose to one of the women (Becca). But once he was away from the lights, cameras, and excitement of romantic dates around the world, he realized that he had made a big mistake.
One of the questions I get asked most frequently by my clients is how soon they should… (have sex, say the “L” word, share about a personal struggle, etc.) The thing that all these questions have in common is that they are the markers of a certain stage of intimacy in a relationship.
Knowing how to navigate the stages of intimacy (both emotional and physical) while dating is a critical skill to develop. It can save you a lot of confusion and false starts early in the “getting to know you” process.
Here are 3 tips that will help you have a better and more delectable experience on your journey from first date to great love.
Tip #1: Don’t Mistake Intensity for Intimacy.
A lot of the dating process has to do with sorting through potential matches in informal, low key meet and greets for coffee or drinks. It gives you the opportunity to practice dating, to tune in and listen to your own feelings about the dating experience, to notice if any of your old patterns surface, and to gauge who feels like a “yes” and who feels like a “no.” If you are duty dating, chances are you will not experience a significant amount of attraction with most of these men. This is why when you meet someone who lights you up, it’s easy to go ALL IN too quickly.
The hallmarks of instant chemistry (be it physical or emotional) include a primal desire to be with that person all the time — or for long swatches of time. Even when you’re not in their presence, your brain is in a beautiful haze of fixation and everyone else gradually disappears into the background.
First things first. I’m ALL for magical conversations, butterflies in your belly and getting hot under the collar. (Wait, or is that a hot flash?!!) Physical attraction is a wonderful part of dating.
The problem is not the beautiful hormones flooding your body it’s the unchecked behavior that follows after…
The 3 Stages of Falling in Love
In order to experience attraction, and not let it ruin our odds of making a good match, we need to understand the three stages of falling in love: infatuation, bonding, and familiarity.
Infatuation is that first rush of excitement you get when you feel chemical attraction to someone new. The hallmark of infatuation is projection. You don’t really know much about this person, but that is of little importance because your brain automatically fills in the details: He’s so perfect! We finish each others sentences… I know exactly what kind of wedding dress I want to wear.
Bonding happens later, once you have been able to fill in more details with actual facts. Your attraction isn’t merely based on your projection of who you think they are, it’s also based on the cumulative experiences you’ve share with them (fueling your need for more, more, more!) The hallmark of the bonding stage is you bore your friends to tears talking about him. (If they are good friends, they will pretend to care as much as you do!)
Oxytocin (a bonding hormone) is in full effect, and you are mentally planning your wedding, even though you don’t yet know when his birthday is.
Familiarity, is the stage where you are still in love and highly attracted, but your level of anxiety about the permanence of the relationship has subsided. You feel safe and securely attached, and the little quirks about him that would grate on your nerves if your brother did them, only make you love him more.
Circling back to pacing intimacy when dating, when we first become attracted to someone new, we are in the infatuation stage and can easily mistake the intensity of our feelings for intimacy. We may assume all sorts of things, but in all likelihood what we are experiencing is a simulation of intimacy that may lead to premature attachment to the wrong person.
Healthy intimate bonding takes time to establish, and I don’t mean time as in a marathon 10-hour long date where you start out with a triple shot of espresso in the morning, and end up blissfully entangled in a heap of 400 thread-count sheets at midnight.
You have to get through this hormonal haze, to figure out who is really in front of you.
The best way to create a healthy foundation for true intimacy is to limit the amount of sexual contact between you and your partner, and to allow time (length of encounter) and space (frequency of encounters) to build gradually. If you’re seeking a committed, intimate partnership leading to marriage, the 3-date rule may not be the best plan when it comes to timing sexual intimacy. Slowing things down until a foundation of intimacy has been established may be more supportive of a long-term partnership.
This kind of pacing is not game playing. It serves an important purpose:
The more frequent, short exposures you have to an individual, the more objective your opinion of them becomes. You have the opportunity to observe how they walk in the world. (Are they kind to waiters and people who can’t talk back? Are they able to maintain eye contact above your collarbone? Do they follow up consistently after a date? Do they call you to hang out during daylight hours?)
Each stage of falling in love is a rich and delectable process, so don’t rush to prematurely bond with someone who hasn’t earned that right to occupy that space in your heart and mind.
Tip #2: Don’t Share Sensitive Info Until You Have Established He Has the Emotional Capacity to Hold It.
Over sharing is another hallmark of rushed intimacy that you should avoid. Whether it is you or he doing it, there is a tendency to feel more attached to someone when you know intimate details about their life. But make no mistake about it, knowing intimate details and having a healthy intimate connection is not the same thing.
The pacing for sharing intimate details of your life should increase with the number of times you meet up. With coffee dates keep the conversation topics light. You don’t have to talk about superficial things, or subjects you have no interest in, but sharing about your health challenges, financial situation, or crazy exes isn’t doing you any favors. Instead, talk about hobbies, trips you taken, or just take the opportunity to tease, flirt and find out more about the person sitting across from you. (Ahem, inquiries about “marriage”, “credit scores” and “where do you see yourself in 5 years” are also off limits during early days.)
If he asks you questions that you feel are a little inappropriate given the length of time you’ve known each other, simply say: “Thanks for asking, and I’d love to share about that stuff a little later, if we decide to keep seeing each other.” (Say it with a flirtatious gesture like a quick eyebrow raise, slight smile, or knowing wink). And if on the first date someone asks you why your last relationship didn’t work out, it’s perfectly acceptable to say “We didn’t want the same things” without going into further details.
Tip #3: Dating is a Team Sport, Not a Contact Sport.
Despite what many an amorous gentleman might have you believe, dating is something that you should be doing serially, and with as many suitors as you feel a basic spark with (note: fireworks are not necessary).
Even if your ultimate desire is for a committed, monogamous relationship, or marriage, the way to get there involves dating multiple men, simultaneously, and gradually narrowing your pool of available suitors down until you are in a explicitly and mutually agreed upon exclusive relationship. Placing your focus on generating intensity, chemistry, and intimacy with one man as soon as possible, will lead to all sorts of unsavory dating “war stories.”
A woman’s rush for emotional intimacy bears similar results to a man’s rush for sexual intimacy: it’s a superficial experience that leaves somebody turned off.
Guidelines for Pacing Intimacy when Dating
I’m not one to give hard and fast rules about how many dates, or weeks or months one should wait before traversing traditional signposts of intimacy, but I do think having general directions can be helpful, so in that spirit I offer the following:
Pace intimate acts (sharing, touching, sex) according to your own personal history of attachment. If you are generally an open, free spirited gal who falls in love quite easily, wait a bit longer before engaging in more intimate experiences. Intimacy happens on a continuum (so kissing on a first date can be grrreat!!), but if you are still projecting unrealistic expectations upon your date (i.e., you can only see their good qualities), chances are the hormonal haze has not lifted enough for you to engage in more “adult” intimate exchanges. You may want to focus on getting to know the person better first, which may provide a more positive dating experience than you’ve had in the past.
On the other hand, if you are a reserved and guarded person who takes time to warm up or feel safe with someone, honor that need, but let the person know in advance that you like to “take things slow” especially when you really like someone. This will make him feel good and avoid awkward conversations later that can be taken personally and end things abruptly. (Plus it weeds out men who are looking solely to hookup).
Pacing physical intimacy during the dating process allows you to practice healthy boundary setting. Think of it as an auditioning process. Assess who this person is and how he treats you over multiple dates. The more you get to know someone, the more solid your foundation of safety becomes. You can begin taking more risks to express and share yourself vulnerably, including your precious body temple when you feel you’ve found the right leading man.
Enjoying the 31 Flavors of Dating
The term “Duty Dating” may seem like a necessary evil to endure until you find “the one” but I prefer to think of it as an adventure, like a fun trip to the ice cream parlor. There are so many delicious flavors to sample (one small taste each please!) before you commit to that delicious two-scoop treat that you happily leave the ice cream parlor with.
Do you have a question or need extra support around this topic? If so, click here to download my free Sexual Attraction Report.