I’m 30 years old and fell in love with a 26 year-old man. Although his age first gave me pause, he is by far the kindest, cutest, most intelligent and trustworthy person I’ve ever met and dated. I honestly feel like I’ve hit the jackpot with this man. I know – it’s cliché but that’s how I feel. We both fell quickly and madly in love with each other and became boyfriend/girlfriend soon after. We have been living together for the past 5 months and will celebrate our 1 year anniversary next month. We’ve had our conflicts, like any other couple, but I’ve never been happier. It feels right and I hope it progresses into something more.
I don’t know if I will sound petty, but I miss all the thoughtful things that couples do for each other when they begin dating. He used to buy me flowers, send me poetry texts, cook me dinner, and surprise me with drinks outdoors. Now, I feel that he doesn’t make much of an effort in these little things anymore. I, however, continue to write him love letters (even if he doesn’t return the favor), cook him nice brunches/dinners, and think about ways to surprise him. My mother and friends say I am being “too good” to this man and that I should hold back a little, or even play hard-to-get. They worry that I am spoiling him and that if I slack a little in the future, he will leave me for another woman. I have dismissed these comments in front of my family and friends, but what they have said remains in the back of my mind.
I feel that when a couple is living together and serious with each other, games of holding back, playing hard-to-get, or mirroring should be over. We should be inspired to be our best with the other person because we love them, right? But is there any truth to what my friends and family are saying? I would love to know what you think.
Thanks for the kind words, Liz. Appreciate your healthy approach to relationships and agree that the answer to successful relationships is not to play hard-to-get. That’s what happens when you get advice from people who don’t understand relationships. Two wrongs don’t make a right and I can’t think of a single instance where I reacted more positively when my wife acted in a negative way towards me.
Over time, we let down our best faces and reveal our truest selves.
So while your instincts about relationships in general may be right, I think we can call into question your instincts about this man, in particular. Before we get into that, let’s take a 40,000 foot overview of healthy relationship pacing.
I’m not going to comb through my archives looking for the studies that validate my perspective, but here is what I learned about the act of building long-lasting relationships
The initial pacing should be moderate and organic.
This does not mean that there aren’t examples of two strangers sleeping together on Date 1, declaring their love on Date 3, moving in together after 1 month, getting married after 6 months and living happily ever after. It just means that there are many, many, MANY more examples of two strangers sleeping together on Date 1 and never talking again.
In my experience, there are two semi-healthy paces for the beginning of a relationship.
- a. The excitement of instant chemistry, where two people can become instant boyfriend/girlfriend in a date or two. Now, just because two people fall in deep like right away doesn’t remotely mean that they’re compatible for the rest of their lives. But it does mean that they’re at least initially on the same page with attraction and the willingness to commit and that’s a good place to start, presuming you’re not too blinded by chemistry. Which, of course, you are.
b. The slower, more cautious, approach to becoming a couple, where you’re a little older, a little more mature, the chemistry is a 7, and you’re trying to assess whether you should focus your energies on just one person. Generally, this approach will involve casual dating and foreplay for 4-8 weeks before both parties have enough clarity to dive into a relationship. Because they’re a little more clear-minded and cautious, my contention is that these couples are starting off on sounder footing than the intoxicated couples who “just knew” on Date 1.
Now that you’re boyfriend/girlfriend, things change. You talk every day on the phone. You see if you’re sexually compatible. You leave your weekends open for each other. You meet friends and family. You become more real, more vulnerable, more flawed, more yourself. You make plans months in advance. You talk about a future. You work on your communication. You see what happens when that initial spark of chemistry wears off and whether you’re left with a healthy friendship and good sex life, or a mere shell of your first month together.
This process takes place over 2 YEARS, at which point you move in together, see what it’s like to be married for about six months, then get engaged.
If everything is still strong, you have a chance at a successful marriage.
The problem is that this is NOT how most people approach relationships.
Most people fall “in love” (another term for chemistry) and either get married or move in together too quickly because it feels good. Then they are shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, that things aren’t the same as they were during the first few months. This is predictable. Over time, we let down our best faces and reveal our truest selves. Which is why I’m a firm believer that nobody should get married before 2 to 2 ½ years together unless the bride is 39 and wants to have kids. In ALL other circumstances, it’s better to wait and see what your relationship is made of BEFORE locking it in.
Yes, I’ve hijacked your question, Liz, as I am wont to do, because it is an opportunity to make a greater point about the nature of relationships. You “fell quickly and madly in love with each other” BEFORE you were even boyfriend/girlfriend. You moved in after only 7 months together. (For a slightly different perspective, I told my wife I loved her at 6 months and moved in together at 20 months). And now, you’re discovering, after one year with your 26-year-old puppy dog of a boyfriend, that he doesn’t have the wisdom, maturity, character or wherewithal to continue to treat you the way he did during those exciting first few months.
Yep. That’s love for you.
It’s about how he treats you over 40 years, not about how much he loved you in the first three months.
So, please, tune out your mom and your friends who tell you to treat your guy worse to get him to treat you better. If anything, have an adult conversation with your boyfriend to let him know how you feel. You love him. You appreciate him. You do your best to care for him. But you’re starting to feel resentment that you continue to do the little things and he seems to have tapered off. Listen to his response. Does he acknowledge your truth? Does he defend himself? Does he shut down? Does he try to make things better?
Because, at the end of the day, all you can do is lead by example, show a man how to please you, and give him positive reinforcement when he does so. And if he fails to please — even when it’s in his best interest — the only thing you can do is to let him go and start all over.
The good news is that the next time you meet a guy, you will probably move a little bit slower, watch him reveal his character over time and not mistake chemistry for compatibility. It’s about how he treats you over 40 years, not about how much he loved you in the first three months.