How do I stop getting too attached to my matches too soon?

by Dr. Neil Clark Warren, Clinical Psychologist and eHarmony Founder

How do I stop getting too attached to my matches too soon?

Dear Dr. Warren, I am trying to be very open to the eHarmony process. But am struggling with not taking things too seriously and getting too attached to matches too quickly. Can you help? Dr. Warren,

We had the most amazing first date, and then we went out twice more that week.  I thought we were building something really special, but now I think he’s avoiding me.  I just don’t understand.

We’ve only been on two dates, and I am head over heels, but I don’t think she feels the same.

— Melissa, OR

Does this sound at all familiar?  Are you the type of person who meets someone and immediately feels a strong bond with the person?  And are there times when you end up wishing you had held back emotionally rather than having immediately jumped into the relationship with both feet?

If so, be grateful that you have a heart that knows how to love and a soul that’s willing to open itself up to other people.  That’s a gift that not everyone has, and this ability to connect deeply with someone will help you experience life and love in all its intensity.
But as you’ve probably already discovered, it’s also important to be smart about whom you offer yourself to and about how to pace yourself so that your attachment to others develops over time.  Often, a person becomes too attached too quickly because he or she has ignored important truths about relationships.  Instead, such people have bought into certain myths that leave them vulnerable to feeling much more emotionally attached much more quickly than is good for them or for a potential relationship.

Here are three myths that, if you believe them, can lead you to become too attached too soon.  With each myth below, we’ve offered a corresponding truth regarding your love and relationships that’s important to keep in mind.

Myth #1: The ideal person exists, and I think I may be having dinner with the person right now. 
When we really think about it, we know that nobody’s perfect.  But sometimes when we’re experiencing the excitement of a first date or a new relationship, we may idealize another person and forget this important truth.  This happens for different reasons: people usually show only their best attributes, or they can more easily hide their less attractive qualities initially.  However, once you get to know them—warts and all, as the saying goes—those traits will be more noticeable. 

There’s not a lot you can do about the fact that new people in your life will always put their best foot forward.  It’s pretty much the nature of the dating scene.  But what you can do is to remind yourself that we’re all human and that we all offer a complex mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Truth #1: There’s no such thing as the perfect person.

As you feel yourself falling under a new person’s spell, feel free to enjoy those good feelings.  But remind yourself over and over again that it’s early in the relationship and that you’re seeing only the best about your date.  This doesn’t mean that you shut yourself off from your date, but only that you should work hard to be smart and to remember that you’re not seeing the whole picture just yet.

Myth #2: This person will give me my “happily ever after.”

Often we become attached too quickly because we believe that we’ve found the person who will help us finally achieve our childhood fantasies about love and relationships.  We assume that somehow, magically, the problems we’ve encountered in past relationships won’t crop up in this one.  But just as there’s no perfect person out there, there’s also no one who’s going to magically make the fairy-tale dream come true.  It just doesn’t work that way. 

Truth #2: You two aren’t Cinderella and Prince Charming. 

A happy and meaningful future is created by two real-life individuals working hard together to blend their lives and deal with the realities of life and love.  There’s no magic castle you’ll move into to suddenly discover the happiness you’ve been missing.  So instead of searching for a nonexistent Disney character, you should try to meet different people and get to know them well.  Look for someone you’re compatible with, someone who’ll be willing to put in the difficult effort of joining two adult lives in a meaningful way.  And it takes time; you won’t find all that out on a first date, no matter how enchanting.

Myth #3: There’s someone out there who can “complete me.”

“You complete me” is Tom Cruise’s key line in an extremely romantic moment in the film “Jerry Maguire.”  But it perpetuates a destructive myth, which has to do with what you expect another person to be able to do for you: to make you whole and help make up for any deficiencies within yourself.  Maybe you’re even aware that this new person in your life has certain flaws — but you still work from an expectation that the new person can rescue you, bring what’s missing into your life, and make you complete.
There’s no doubt about it: a meaningful relationship can bring new joy and enhance your life in countless ways.  It can even bring out some of the best parts of yourself and make you a better person overall.  But even the best person you date will merely enhance what’s already inside you, not completely fulfill you.  When we feel that we aren’t enough by ourselves, we begin to believe that we don’t have it within ourselves to be really happy and experience true contentment.  As a result, we look to others, ignoring their faults and expecting them to offer us wholeness and completion.

Truth #3: No single person can or will ever fulfill all my emotional needs, so I need to look to myself. 
The next time you notice yourself wanting to fully invest in one person right away, remind yourself of this important truth.  Even while you enjoy getting to know this new person, continue to invest in other people and activities that fulfill you: friends, family, your career, service opportunities, exercise, social outings, etc.  Doing so will reinforce the fact that there are many ways to find fulfillment and help you remember the truth that you’re not dependent on only one person to give you what you want and need.  And as an added bonus, this independence will make you more attractive and intriguing and keep you from coming across as needy, since you’ll be spending your time doing interesting things and being with interesting people.

So remember: there’s nothing wrong with becoming attached to someone.  In fact, your ability to open your heart and love another is a strength you should value and appreciate.  Ultimately, it’s the foundation for a meaningful relationship.  But don’t limit that openness and that love to just one person you’ve recently met.  Instead, do all you can to enhance it and to slowly nurture it by investing yourself in other people and in activities and by letting love develop over time. 

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