Picture this: It’s Friday night. You walk into the club, you’re with the squad, and you’re feeling (and looking!) suave af. You just finished an especially tedious and tiring week at the office, and you have been looking forward to this since Monday. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll even meet someone new?
Then, as if the big man upstairs heard your prayers, you see them across the room. You two lock eyes. What do you do?
The beginning of relationships, romantic or platonic, are always filled with mixed emotions and (a tad bit of) overthinking. Should I tell them my feelings? Do they even like me too? Did I forget to put deodorant on? *Sniff* No, you’re good.
Luckily, relationship researchers in the psychology field have got your back. Some studies show that men are more direct and blatant with their intentions when they want to start a new romantic relationship, and that they are more interested in “sexual intimacy” than women are1. The same research found that women are more passive and less direct when initiating such relationships. When it comes down to it though, it is important to be aware of your potential partner’s intentions before you continue.
One book outlines the beginning stages of relationships, and how they morph into healthy, long-term ones. The authors explain that “self-presentation,” “self-protection,” and “partner evaluation” are the Big Three topics in our mind at the start of a new relationship2. While this may seem simple enough, you soon find yourself in a constant balancing act.
We exhibit self-presentation in how we try to make ourselves seem better (more charitable, caring, etc.) than perhaps we really are. We offer car rides or bring them coffee because you just so happened to be at the same coffee shop that is by their house. That way you have low-stakes interactions but still show you care. In that line of logic, one study also shows that higher self-esteem can be indicative of how much we pursue relationships3 (so stay confident about yourselves, my friends!).
We exhibit self-protection as part of our balancing act between self-disclosure and protection from rejection. The more we share about ourselves with others, the more likely we are to become closer to those people. However, in starting a new relationship, we also have a fear that if we overshare and they don’t like what they hear, they will leave. Sometimes taking a leap of faith pays off, sometimes it doesn’t.
Lastly, partner evaluation becomes key in assessing if your partner is right for you. We sometimes become so concerned with acting right for our potential partner that we forget to think about if they are right for us! When it comes down to it though, the intimacy and safety of a healthy relationship can be worth the convoluted feelings once you’ve gotten past the initial balancing act of The Beginning™. So, go for it! You’ve been making eye-contact with this person from across the room for several minutes now… Someone has to do something!
- Clark, C. L., Shaver, P. R., & Abrahams, M. F. (1999). Strategic Behaviors in Romantic Relationship Initiation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25(6), 709–722.
- Clark, M., Beck, L.A., & Aragón, O.R. (2019). Relationship initiation: Bridging the gap between initial attraction and well-functioning communal relationships, 1, 409-425.
- Eryilmaz, A., & Atak, H. (2011). Investigation of starting romantic intimacy in emerging adulthood in terms of self-esteem, gender and gender roles. Kuram ve Uygulamada Eğitim Bilimleri, 11(2), 595–600.