How to find your chat tempo with a new love
Tips from a therapist on getting into sync with a new partner — and why it sometimes isn’t worth it
The dance of love, to some extent, must be learned anew with each new partner. And the first steps can be made even more awkward when partners don't share the same natural rhythm of communication and affection. Some people like to be in touch all day, sending a thousand texts and memes, and then get together every night. Others prefer more independence, and favour occasional in-person meet-ups. Falling out of step can lead to tension and hard feelings. Janna Comrie, director of The Comrie Counselling Corporation and frequent CBC Life advisor, suggests four important tips for getting into sync with a new romantic partner.
Tip #1: Start the relationship how you want it to be
How soon and how frequently should we contact new love interests? Should we demonstrate our interest with frequent texts? Or keep our distance to avoid seeming too eager? Must we always wait for them to reply to every text, or is it ok to send two or three in a row?
According to Comrie, you shouldn't be even be asking these questions. There is no "right" amount of calling or texting, only "right" for each individual. Preferences for continuous or sporadic contact are both valid, and shaped by personal taste and circumstance.
Comrie advises: "Set a pace that works for you, and let them set a pace that's comfortable for them." You can adjust to each other's signals, but Comrie advises against going beyond what's comfortable for you. You are setting a precedent for the future, so you should always try to "start the relationship the way you expect it to be."
Tip #2: If you're unhappy, examine your feelings and the evidence
If you don't naturally fall into step, you may start to feel uneasy. Comrie advises that you take a moment to identify how you're feeling. Are you feeling rejected because your love interest has not texted you back for hours? Acknowledge that.
But before you react, Comrie says you should consider the evidence about whether your feelings are warranted. "If you're putting yourself out there and getting one-word answers, or you're asking when you can get together and they're being vague and eluding you, that's pretty concrete evidence that they're not into you." On the other hand, if they are attentive and affectionate when you're together, that may be evidence that they really like you, but dislike or are bad at texting. Either way, weigh the evidence on both sides before you before jumping to conclusions about what they other person is thinking.
One very common mistake that Comrie warns against is assuming that "if you're not talking to me all day, you must be dating other people." Of course, that might be true. But the bare fact that they're replying less quickly than you'd prefer provides no basis for that assumption.
Tip #3: Raise your concerns openly and honestly
If you find that differing love tempos are becoming a problem, verbalize that. Comrie comes across a lot of people who think that their partner should already know what they want and need, but this is a mistake: "Your partner can't know what to do unless you say something."
Explain how your partner's actions are making you feel, how you are interpreting them, and what you might prefer ("You're texting me a lot, and it makes me feel anxious when I see three unanswered question marks after 'What's up'. Can we use texts more for planning and talk in person?"). However, Comrie advises against trying to change them too much, which is ineffective and causes resentment. That's why just saying "You need to text me more" is unlikely to be a good long-term solution.
Also, avoid raising the topic sarcastically. Sarcasm is ambiguous and can feel like an attack. Honest and straightforward communication is best in situations like these.
Tip #4: If they're unhappy, clarify your intentions
If your partner has expressed concerns about your communications tempo, you may think you're being misunderstood. For example, they may take your 24-hr turnaround time as a sign of indifference whereas you believe it is a reasonable and efficient way to conduct personal communication. In this case, Comrie says you should clarify the intentions behind your actions. If you explain that you are very busy, and text them only when you have time to chat, maybe three hours of silence will begin to look less like a rejection. As Comrie put it, "Perception is everything. You have to be very careful when you recognize that the way someone is perceiving your behaviour is not your intent." However, there is only so far you can go. "You can explain your intentions. You can reassure them. But if they are asking you to change the way you do things so that they can feel more comfortable, then that's a really dangerous thing. They might have unresolved issues, or they just might not be compatible with you." This brings us to…
Tip #5: Don't be afraid to walk
While all relationships involve some degree of clarification and compromise, Comrie warns strongly against changing your natural communication rhythm too much, especially in the early stages of a relationship. Early on, you should be trying to find someone with compatible preferences, not attempting to smash a round peg into a square hole. Some people like staying connected from their morning shower to when they share a toothbrush at night. Some don't. Both are valid.
Comrie's advice is to know what you want and need, and to trust yourself. A lot of people avoid voicing their concerns because they're afraid of hurting the other person or hurting themselves or ending a new relationship. That only prolongs an unhappy situation, so try to worry less about those things. If two people want different kinds of relationships, it's better to figure that out earlier rather than later. "People are so afraid of starting over. Dating is hard, and if you put 2-3 months into someone, you don't want to call it because you'll feel like you wasted your time. But it's not that big of a deal. If you're just figuring it out 2 or 3 years in, then you're in a really awful place." Be honest with yourself and your partner about what you want, and trust that you'll be able to find someone who wants to give it to you. If your current partner doesn't, ending things doesn't mean either of you are bad people. It gives both of you the chance to find relationships you can be happy in.