One of the strange things about dating is that it is work, right up until the moment it isn’t. The process of making oneself available, of creating and editing your profile on multiple dating websites, of going out when you don’t really feel like it, of sifting through the pain of rejection, disappointment, frustration—that is work. It is often exhausting and sometimes downright hard. We may doubt ourselves and wonder if there is really someone out there for us.
But, when we meet a person who feels like a good match, there is often the sense of everything falling into place. Suddenly, there is the excitement of someone new, the accommodations easily made so that we can spend time with this person, and maybe even the intense ‘in love’ feelings (that last for, at best, two years). Early in a relationship, it typically feels easy. We might go into the office early so that we can have more time with our partner after work, or go three metro stops out of our way to get a desert from the bakery we know they like, but these tasks don’t feel like we’re making an effort because of the sense of anticipation and enthusiasm that shape our perspective.
So, when someone tells me that they have been dating someone for a few weeks, or a couple of months, and it seems hard—hard to find time to see or talk to each other, hard because they don’t quite feel comfortable being themselves around that person, hard because they consistently worry about offending them or hurting their feelings—just hard, however it may be, it makes me a bit apprehensive.
The fact is, nearly all relationships become more complex as time goes on, with the effort required to stay connected with one another, shared practical and financial obligations, managing pets and children and extended families; it is the job of building and maintaining a life together. Healthy relationships deepen in delightful ways, and you learn more about your partner and yourself, but ultimately long-term partnerships become more intricate, more complicated.
As the newness wears off, and the intense emotions fade, the accommodations you made so delightfully in the past take a little more effort on your part. The rest of the world, that often temporarily fades away at the beginning of a relationship, ushers itself back in. You miss going to your girls’ or your guys’ night. You may, particularly if you’re an introvert, miss your solitude. You’re not so eager to go into the office early in order to get an extra hour or two with your partner later on. This is when the ‘work’ of balancing and fully integrating your partner into your life, the ‘work’ that everyone warned you about, begins.
All that to say, if you’re dating a brand-new shiny person, and you or your partner are finding it difficult to connect, to make the effort, it is unlikely that this will improve in the future. In the beginning, the relationship tide is working for you–anticipation, the lure of the unknown, and good old fashioned hormones are typically at their peak. If it feels like work at this point, more likely than not, it will feel daunting later on.
A friend of mine began dating a man a few weeks before he was scheduled to leave for a long term overseas work trip. Because of the distance, she believed the relationship would likely fade when he left. Despite being in different time zones and having different work schedules, they remain in daily communication. For them, it doesn’t feel like work to stay connected—the chemistry, attraction and connection persist, so they make time for each other, in the face of a seemingly difficult situation.
The process of finding someone can be difficult, so it can be easy to think that once you start dating an individual, missed connections and vague plans to see each other are par for the course. However, in both my professional and personal life, the long-term successful partnerships I’ve witnessed have overcome various obstacles to be together and have mutually carved out a space for their relationship. Early on, they had a sense that their partner was worth making the effort for.
If you find yourself at the beginning of a relationship, and somehow one or both of you is too busy to see each other, or you can’t seem to maintain regular contact or [insert dilemma here]—it may be time to ask yourself if this is really worth pursuing. Odds are it is not going to get easier down the line.