Surviving NRE Affliction

The guide for those of us who dislike NRE but sometimes need to deal with it.

In a previous post, “NRE Bystander Survival Guide,” I wrote about how to survive New Relationship Energy (NRE) as a bystander when many of your friends are affected. But writing the article left me thinking about the question, “How do I stay logical and sensible when I am in NRE?” I contemplated my feelings, strategies, and thoughts, and I promised that the next time I fell into the clutches of NRE that I’d write about everything I do to endure it.

So here I am. I’m in NRE, and I loathe it.

Wikipedia defines NRE as “refers to a state of mind experienced at the beginning of sexual and romantic relationships, typically involving heightened emotional and sexual feelings and excitement. NRE begins with the earliest attractions, may grow into full force when mutuality is established, and can fade over months or years. The term indicates contrast to those feelings aroused in an “old” or ongoing relationship.” I think this feeling is often referred to as “the honeymoon” period in new monogamous relationships. But I think it’s a misnomer because people can experience this honeymoon period way before marriage. Even right now, in my current NRE situation, I have barely started talking to this new person via text message, and whoa, I’m already feeling it.

I’m convinced there are two types of people, the ones that love the endorphin high from NRE and the ones that hate it. Yes, I can say with conviction that I’m in the latter category.

In my younger days, NRE was my favorite feeling in the world. I succumb to the emotional high and felt it fully, deeply, and completely. I believed that NRE meant everything in my relationships was off to a good, stable start. But now, as a thirty-six-year-old adult, I can look back on years of highs and lows, love, and heartbreak, and I no longer see NRE as an indication that things are on the right path. Instead, I see NRE as merely an emotion that takes over my brain, often prematurely, and I don’t feel I can really feel stable in a relationship until this fog clears for me.

I recently heard about “relationship attachment theory” on a radio show. I realized I might have changed my views of NRE when I transitioned to different relationship attachment styles throughout my life.

According to “What is Your Relationship Attachment Style?” an article by Psychology Today here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201507/what-is-your-relationship-attachment-style,

based on the works of Bartholomew and Horowitz, etc., there are four adult attachment styles: Secure, Anxious-Preoccupied, Dismissive-Avoidant, and Fearful-Avoidant. Most people have various degrees of the four attachment styles, which may change over time.

As a young child and into my early adulthood, I had a secure attachment style. My parents were awesome, attentive, and available, and I always felt safe and protected. I felt confident sharing my affection with others in my early relationships, and I’d invest energy and effort into healthy relationships. I was maybe a bit anxious because I generally struggled with anxiety, but I felt positive about forming intimate relationships. I feel like I had a pretty healthy relationship with my ex-husband until the last five years, when his mental health declined, and he became physically and emotionally abusive.

During my separation and pending divorce, my security and world fell apart significantly, so I developed an anxious attachment style as I struggled to find some stability. My mental health wasn’t in a good place, and everything around me was collapsing, so I tried to cling on to the few people left in my life. I damaged or ended many of my relationships during this period of my life.

Fast forward fifteen years, and I realize my relationship styles have changed due to the trauma I have experienced in my life. I’ve been in and out of polyamorous relationships that I thought were healthy, only to find that my partner wasn’t actually polyamorous. Now I closely identify the dismissive-avoidant or fearful-avoidant relationship styles. The dismissive-avoidant part of my mind quickly finds reasons to dismiss people. I’m self-sufficient, and often I’m better off on my own, or I know everything is temporal, so I want to avoid both the extreme peaks and valleys of romantic bliss. I work two demanding jobs right now, in education and fitness, so I also assume no relationship will work in my schedule. I treasure my autonomy, and I will not tolerate any relationship that jeopardizes my freedom. In the fearful-avoidant part of my mind, I crave but concurrently resist intimacy, which wages a constant risk and benefit analysis in my mind. Are the benefits of having a new intimate relationship worth the attached energy and emotional risks? Often my answer is, “No” and I give up before I am too invested.

NRE is one of those signs that I am starting to get emotionally invested with someone. As I mentioned earlier, I have a proclivity to feel my emotions passionately and deeply, and precipitately. Right now, NRE is starting to hit me even though I’m only texting this interesting individual every few days. I’m not even in a relationship with this potential new partner, and I’m already feeling the tinges of NRE. I find myself smiling when I read their messages or when we engage in friendly banter across text messages. We are already making plans to meet for theater projects, board game nights, online gaming, and karaoke. We share many of the same obscure common interests and hobbies. Considering how strange I am, this is so exciting, and I haven’t felt this way in a long time. Way to go, brain!

My goal someday is to get back to my original secure relationship attachment style, but it’s going to take a lot of therapy to get there. I’m working on it, though.

So anyway, here I am, I’ve surmounted every check and balance in my brain, and I’m still feeling NRE. However, the first step of dealing with NRE is to acknowledge and accept I am feeling it. In the past, I couldn’t identify or generalize these feelings. Today, many years and relationships later, I know this is NRE.

Now that I’ve labeled my current state of being, I can start the following steps to survive.

Focus on the facts about your NRE.

NRE doesn’t last forever. In short, I am experiencing a chemical surge of dopamine, oxycodone, and adrenaline in my brain. I referenced an excellent article with some scientific terms/explanation before, but check https://goodmenproject.com/sex-relationships/chemistry-love-love-brain-bbab/. It’s been ages since I’ve felt this high. In some ways, it’s refreshing that my brain still can load me with dopamine, oxycodone, and adrenaline after all of these years. It does feel blissful, and I can allow myself to enjoy it. However, it is just a phase, like any of the other stages of relationships.

NRE is not a sign this relationship is better than your current relationships because you are excited about a new person. If you have long-term partners, remember that you are in “regulated love” or “long-term love.” Regulated love is the phase where things even out and emotions stabilize after time a few years together. Long-term love is achieved when people share years or a lifetime. You may no longer be feeling the NRE high; however, these two other phases of love feel more logical and stable. The feeling of having a partner in your life that you know is there for you for the long haul, like a best friend that knows all the positive and negative facets about you but still loves, supports, and celebrates your journey through life is what I’d love to feel again someday. But if I don’t, I’m grateful for my friends and family who love and currently fill this role in a non-romantic way in my life.

Be realistic about your new relationship and the way everything is right now.

I always feel NRE way before I logically should feel it. Right now, I’m not in a relationship with this person. We are chatting sporadically over text messages. Both of us want to meet up, but due to being busy artists, our professional work schedules, and coronavirus restrictions, and distance, we haven’t been able to make it happen yet. Yes, the more we talk, the more things we have in common, and there is a mutual desire to meet up as soon as our circumstances allow this month. I am struggling because I cannot help feeling confident we will meet to explore this connection. However, I periodically remind myself that I also accept things where they are, and if we never meet, it’s okay. The sky won’t fall; my world won’t end. I’m in a good place in my life right now, and potentially adding a partner only adds to my awesome life. I’m able to accept that I’m in this emotional limbo for now, and waiting for the future to resolve this situation will not make or break me in the meantime.

If you are thinking of moving, changing jobs, cohabitating, starting a family, or making other major lifestyle changes because of this new relationship, don’t rush into anything right away. Your brain is not able to make logical decisions right now due to the rush of dopamine, oxycodone, and adrenaline in your brain. Take some time to feel these feelings, but stay grounded until you come out of NRE high.

In commedia dell’arte, a style of theater I perform a lot, there are male and female characters called “Innamorati.”These stock characters are young lovers that often barely know each other but swear they are irrevocably in love. The innamorati feel love ardently, and because they have never felt this passionate before, they are convinced their love is true, infinite, and will last forever. These stock characters satirize many of the Shakespearian plays and poetry of the Renaissance that glorify “love at first sight.” Even during the renaissance, love was messy, complicated, and rarely occurred the first time two people glanced at each other across the ballroom floor. There is a significant difference between being in love with NRE and falling in love with a person. Falling in love happens during our journey to “regulated love,” and not during this period of NRE.

No one is perfect, and this new person is not perfect either.

So have you known this new person one day, one week, one month, six months, one year? Newsflash, this is still not enough time to really know the good, the bad, and the ugly about this person. First of all, NRE can last two or three years, depending on the situation, experiences, and time and emotion invested in the relationship. Give it some time, and while on your journey toward regulated love, you will develop a deeper understanding of the ways your partner is amazing and the challenges and baggage they carry too. Even though you cannot see negatives through NRE rose-colored glasses right now, it doesn’t mean these challenges don’t exist. I once believed that a year is a good benchmark to know someone deeply. However, seven years ago, I was in a relationship where it took nearly two years and an accident to uncover that my partner was emotionally and sexually abused. Although sharing the abuse I’m recovering from wouldn’t be a first date topic, I think it’s important to disclose it to my future partners eventually. I’m in a panromantic asexual relationship right now with a partner I’ve known for almost a year; we have disclosed our past trauma. It’s brought us closer, and we are better able to support and understand each other.

During the pandemic, I’ve found it takes even longer to get to know people. I want to meet people in person, and there was a long period of time it was against CDC advisory to meet people “outside your bubble.” Now a greater number of the population is vaccinated. However, we still have some hesitation and restrictions. I tried to meet this new guy a couple of weeks ago for a hike. He got his COVID vaccination the day before, felt horrible, and had to cancel. This is our “new normal” where we are waiting, what feels like forever, to make progress in the dating world. In the meantime, my NRE is also on hold because I don’t know much, if anything, about this guy. Luckily I don’t have much time to spare right now because it’s the end of the semester, and I’m slammed at both of my jobs, but I find myself in my sparse free time visualizing the fateful day we will finally meet. AND I HATE IT BECAUSE I AM STILL WAITING! I’ll see him Saturday virtually on a ZOOM play, which will probably spike my NRE even more. FML.

Don’t change yourself.

I’ve made progress here, but this is still an area I’m working on. I grew up with some major self-esteem issues from grade school. I generally got along with a bunch of my classmates, but I never developed deep friendships. My first crush in elementary school only responded to my attention because he felt sorry that I was an awkward, muscular, geeky girl. So by default, I spent a lot of my life believing I wasn’t worthy of time, attention, or affection because I’m so weird. I received the “most unique girl” award in my graduating high school class. So for a long time, I believed I needed to become my own Pygmalion and sculpt myself into a different person to be compatible with someone.

Eighteen years later, I’ve ultimately learned that my quirkiness delights the world. I am a beautiful, interesting, artistic, creative, person and I celebrate the plethora of skills I have honed throughout the years. Is my extroverted weirdness enough to scare some people away? Yes. But I’ve also discovered a few like-minded people that appreciate my passion for everything I do and find me attractive the way I am. The older I get, the more I’d rather have those who celebrate me for who I am as friends and partners in my life.

Don’t forsake your friends.

I was an NRE bystander in my previous blog post, and I explained that I felt tossed aside while many of my friends focused on their new relationships. My feelings were valid; however, I also expressed that I needed to give my friends the benefit of the doubt. I know both of those friends, and with that knowledge, I also realized that even though they are both in their late 40s, both individuals have not had many relationships or experience with NRE. So when they were engulfed by NRE, the less experience they identified these feelings and how their decisions affected others, including me. I was sad and excluded from many seasonal get-togethers.

Since I realize that I’m in NRE and know my brain can make stupid decisions, I want to make the conscious effort not to forsake my friends or other partners. Any plans I make in the future with this new person are the lowest on my list of priorities. Often NRE is an obsession, and people crave their dose, so they cancel all their plans with the steadfast people and friends in their life. I will not do this to the people I care about.

Check-in with yourself. A lot.

I’m feeling pretty stressed and crappy this week about a few other things. I’m not a “text all the time” kind of communicator, and I appreciate it when I’m talking with someone else that is the same way. This new guy I’m talking to seems to be even less than a texter than me. But NRE sometimes makes me hypocritical, and I check my phone more or hope for texts, so I can have validation they are struggling with NRE. I’m not getting that this week. I sent a “May the 4th be with you” message and never received one back. I found my anxiety immediately jumping to the worst possible scenarios, “I’m a loser. He found someone more interesting, fun, better to chat with, and I’m being ghosted.” I cried for a while on Tuesday. But I stopped myself and remembered a few things.

  • He’s in a play at the fringe festival Saturday. This is a big deal. As a fellow theater person, I know the week before production is often called “hell week,” because of rehearsals and getting everything ready, these preparations consume your every waking moment. This is a more likely reason that he went from periodic texts to radio silence this week. His passion and commitment to the theater are some of the reasons I’m attracted to this new guy, so I will try again next week to see if he messages me back if I don’t hear from him first.
  • He knows I love Star Wars, but he isn’t aware that May the 4th is an important holiday for me. He might not have even realized May the 4th is Star Wars Day. We don’t know each other well enough for him to realize
  • I’m struggling with other emotions of inferiority that I’m unrightfully projecting into this situation. I had some other issues this week, so I think everything just hit me so hard. I’m also perpetually tired, which leads me to become emotional because I’ve been working so much at both of my jobs.

Once I identified my emotions, gave myself a necessary reality check, I corrected my thoughts and felt a lot better. I still jump to the worst scenario; I need to spend time processing things independently or with a therapist. Working on my mental health will make me a better partner in the long run.

So if you are miserable and anxiously awaiting your release from NRE’s snare, you aren’t alone. Amidst endless but necessary COVID restrictions, I feel my NRE affliction is even worse because I’m craving some affection after being alone for so long. But ultimately, I’m muddling through this mess of emotional highs and uncertainty, and you can too.

I am very passionate about teaching, dancing, and making a difference in the world. Enjoy my philosophical and entertaining musings!

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