What are the signs NRE could be a problem?

Photograph of two white people holding hands, background out of focus.

New relationship energy is so intoxicating that it can take over your life. The person you just met can feel like the love of your life. “The One”. Someone you can’t live without. Parting from them can be intensely painful. A few of their words can brighten your day or week. You can have trouble eating and sleeping because you are so absorbed. It feels amazing. All that is great, and I’m all for people enjoying a nice burst of NRE. Unfortunately, there can be too much of a good thing. Getting carried away with a new relationship can also cause major disruption to your life and damage your ability to look after yourself, your relationships and your work. Here are just a few warning signs that NRE might be damaging for you:

1) You have lost interest in and stopped participating (or drastically scaled back your participation) in your passion or favourite hobby.

People frequently experience reduced interest in their hobbies and passions when they are in NRE, but that doesn’t mean that you should stop doing it altogether. Having interests and passions outside your relationship is life sustaining. Losing hobbies and passions from your life can mean you are putting a huge amount of focus on your relationship, which can add pressure and reduce the resources that you have if it ends.

2) You have less than half the contact you previously did with your closest people (and no, sleeping in the same house doesn’t count as contact)

It is completely normal to want to find more time in your schedule for someone new and exciting. That will pretty much always mean reducing time for other things and other people. That said, drastically reducing time with friends, family and other lovers can reduce your support network, create resentment and mean that you don’t have balance in your life. While 50% is not a hard and fast rule, it has been a useful guideline in my experience. Experiencing such a big drop in contact with others might indicate you’re in an unsustainable amount of contact with your new sweetie, and when that starts to return to more ‘normal for you’ levels it can cause upset if the other person is still in NRE, or expecting your NRE heightened level of communication to become the ‘new normal’.

3) You have stopped doing the things you need to in order to make your life function

There have even been songs written about this. “The Very Thought of You” (lyrics by Ray Noble) is a great example:

“The very thought of you

I forget to do

Those little ordinary things

That everyone ought to do”

If you do start to find yourself so sucked into NRE that you stop showering, cleaning, eating regularly or managing work or education, it is likely time to stop feeding the NRE before your life implodes.

4) You have massively changed your life so that your schedule accommodates them – even if that means major disruption to other things like your sleep schedule or work commitments.

The desire to be in contact with partners often drives behaviour change. These changes may be about dropping or rearranging when you have work, education, time with friends, exercise or hobbies. It might even mean changing when you sleep, for example abandoning your early mornings in favour of being around when your new sweetie goes to bed at night. If your sweetie lives far away it might be reducing your working week so you can squeeze in more long weekends. Lots of people pull out of social commitments to create more opportunity for connection, often without talking about these changes with their new person.

This kind of schedule change can affect your mental and emotional health. It also impact on your routine, sometimes making it more difficult to eat and sleep properly.

5) You are using the majority of your most productive/creative/focused hours to be in contact with them rather than to study, work or pursue other interests

Even if you aren’t in contact ALL THE TIME, making time at those times of the day that you are most productive, creative or focused can still cause you problems in the other parts of your life. Most people have a period or periods in the day when they get the most done. Sometimes the early morning, sometimes late at night, and the occasional person right in the middle of the day.  Whenever it is for you, try to make that time mostly about the really critical stuff in your life that needs serious focus or creativity. It is completely normal for some of it to be taken up with NRE, but if it starts to take up a lot of useful time in your day then some alarm bells should sound.

6) If you *do* see your friends you can’t help but mention your new sweetie frequently, even when they are only tangentially relevant and/or your friends have started rolling their eyes when you mention them.

I was introduced to the ‘peas’ metaphor for NRE when I was just starting to get into a new relationship a number of years ago. I thought she was relevant to pretty much any conversation I was having, and had the subconscious belief that other people would find my mentions of her just as fascinating as I found her. WRONG! After a number of these interjections, my girlfriend turned to me, gave me a knowing look and said, “We know, she likes peas too”. Nearly everyone likes peas. It is in no way remarkable that a person likes peas. Nevertheless, in NRE it can feel important to bring your sweetie into every conversation, even sharing the totally uninteresting fact that she likes peas. Since then it has become shorthand teasing when someone is in NRE to say “we know, they like peas,” or “Do you want to tell me about their peas?”. Somehow being explicit about the fact that the other person is gushing about someone new makes it much easier to listen to their monologue – especially if it means you can talk about something else after hearing all about their new sweetie.

However much the object of our affection might be fascinating to us, they are going to be much less interesting to everyone around us. Especially existing partners, as well as friends, with whom shared time is getting squeezed as you expand the time available for your new squeeze. Just noticing how often you mention your new person is a good start to managing your desire to talk about them to all the people in your life.

7) You have made non-negotiated changes to how much time you spend with partners and the quality of that time together, possibly including changes to the frequency of sexual contact.

Even people that manage to keep the quantity of time with a partner the same when they are in NRE can often find that the quality of time they are spending with people declines. This can be seen in how much they take their phone (or ipad or laptop) out to check for messages, how effectively they are able to be in the moment with the other person and how much they want to talk about the aforementioned peas of their new sweetie. If you start to notice that the quality of time with partners (and other close people) is declining, it is time to start considering whether that is working for your life.

8) You are making life-changing commitments to the new person because they feel like the most important person in the world, even though you have only known them 3 days/weeks/ months. On a related note, you have, or have seriously considered, breaking existing commitments because of how drawn to the new person you are.

This is a really important consideration. Polyamorous relationships are, in many ways, similar to monogamous relationships, and the start of any new relationship involves a lot of emotional risk. When you’re in NRE, the object of your affection can feel like ‘the One’ and your feelings for them can eclipse the emotions you have for your existing partner/s and everyone and everything else in your life. No matter how amazing it is in NRE, those feelings and that urgency of desire to change everything for them is very likely to shift over time. It is nearly impossible to see red flags or future issues with a new person in the first flushes of NRE.  Even if you can see ‘flaws’ these are unlikely to be a big issue for you at first. If you are making, or contemplating, changes that just a few months ago would have seemed ridiculous, that should be a really big indicator that you are getting swept up in NRE. Life-changing commitments include getting married, buying property together, moving in together, making big changes to financial arrangements, committing to changing cohabitation or co-parenting arrangements and introducing someone new to your children (especially young children, especially if their other parent/s object).

9) You are lying to your partner/s about the degree of your connection and/or your intentions with a new person

Telling the person that you have just started seeing one story, and existing partners a completely different leads to all kinds of problems. It means you aren’t being authentic with someone – and that often ends up feeling awful and affecting all of your relationships. If you are tempted to lie, it is likely that you aren’t keeping to the spirit of your agreements with your partners, even if you are keeping to the letter of them. Even if this isn’t breaking an explicit commitment, it can damage both/all relationships. It is a big sign that you are being led by the chemical burst of NRE down a dangerous path.

I’m sure there are many more flags you should pay attention to, but these are a few that I have encountered either in person or by proxy. If you find yourself doing one or more of these things, you might want to consider taking a small step back to give yourself some perspective. You might also want to stop feeding the NRE. The next article will give you some suggestions to do just that.

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