What Is New Relationship Anxiety?

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We talk a lot about New Relationship Energy in polyamory, that feeling of euphoria you experience when you start a new relationship. Colors are brighter. Food tastes better. You may have a decreased need for sleep, for food. These cognitive shifts cause you to feel like your new partner can do no wrong. They’re perfect. You spend every waking moment thinking of them.

NRE is pretty great — except it can be rather inconvenient, and you have to be careful you don’t neglect important responsibilities.

But other than that, NRE mostly gets good press. (Unless you happen to be a more established partner feeling a little left out watching your partner date someone new.)

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to piece out the timeline of NRE. Research has demonstrated that once it starts, it typically lasts anywhere from 6 months to 2 years on average, before those feelings mellow out and graduate into those mimicking long-term companionship. Sometimes people refer to this time as “the honeymoon period.”

And that’s interesting — to know that timeframe… but it doesn’t address another question that I find quite gripping: When does New Relationship Energy start?

A lot of the material I’ve been able to find presumes it starts upon first meeting. Or when an initial attraction develops. But I do find myself wondering about this.

In discussions about NRE, it’s often described like this: You meet someone you think is cool. They clearly feel mutually, and you fall into a state of insta-NRE, right?

No, not so much. It doesn’t actually seem to work that way for me. Certainly not all the time. And if I’m being honest, it rarely seems to work that way.

Instead, there’s a kind of purgatory that I often find myself in, between the initial meetup and the falling in love.

I like to call this New Relationship Anxiety or NRA, which forms an appropriately menacing acronym.

What Does New Relationship Anxiety Look Like?

Perhaps not everyone experiences New Relationship Anxiety — and perhaps not with every relationship, but it certainly happens.

In this state, you find yourself not blissed out but instead worried about this new relationship and semi-preoccupied with this worry. These worries can be far-ranging, but here are a few common ones:

  • Concern that the other person doesn’t like you back or doesn’t like you as much as you like them.
  • Worry about if you can manage to fit this new person into your life, i.e., whether you have enough time, attention, or other bandwidth to take on this new relationship.
  • Dread of dealing with any interpersonal strain having a new relationship might look like. In monogamous individuals, this can be dread of dealing with a family member’s views on the relationship (for example, a parent who either doesn’t want you to date period or would be prejudiced unfairly against this new partner for some reason). Folks in polyamorous relationship systems might dread the stress of adding a new relationship that could cause their existing partners to feel insecure (and any difficult emotional work that would shortly follow).
  • Fear that the person you’re interested in is too good to be true, lying to you or misrepresenting themselves in important ways, and/or that you might be making a terrible mistake in dating them.

How Long Does New Relationship Anxiety Last?

This is more of a question I’d throw to you, readers, if you have any input, but it does make me wonder how long a state of New Relationship Anxiety lasts, when present.

Personally, I can think of times when it was rather brief, and I fairly easily got on with building a fulfilling relationship (and yup, fell into that yummy NRE).

But I can think of other times when it endured — and if I’m being honest, I’ve had at least one relationship where the new relationship anxiety lasted as long as the relationship did. So in a sense, it never went away (we just broke up).

But I’m open to your thoughts and would love to hear from you on this topic.

I think it’s something we really don’t talk about when we talk about NRE — and certainly something we don’t talk about enough. And I will say that my preference to deal with NRA as little as possible is likely part of why I generally prefer ORE to NRE.

Thank you in advance for any insights. As always, if there are enough, I will write a followup post.

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Books by Page Turner:

Psychic City, a slipstream mystery

 

Non-Fiction:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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7 Comments

  1. I feel like new relationship anxiety lasts af long as it takes to build trust and debunk our anxious brain chatter. A person with high anxiety like myself needs a partner with great communication skills. Talking through something my brain/feelings can’t grasp usually debunks my anxiety, thankfully I’ve found some good partners that don’t mind a great talk over coffee or a meal.

  2. I don’t have the anxieties you listed, but I loathe NRE. It feels like I’m high on drugs and I don’t trust my own feelings for the person because I know I’m seeing them through rose colored glasses. It’s an all-consuming feeling that inevitably pulls my attention away from my duties and responsibilities. NRE feels amazing—just like drug addiction. With withdrawal symptoms to boot. Not yummy. Hard pass.

    I’d rather not date and stay sober than be filled with this terrible push-pull cocktail of oxytocin, dopamine, cortisol and adrenaline for what is often years at a time. Chemistry obscures compatibility, leading to terrible decision making. I never start to relax in a relationship until we’ve had our first fight, so I can see who they really are. I’d skip the honeymoon for the ORE anytime.

  3. I totally understand this. I think I had one relationship that was constantly filled with new relationship anxiety for me and I was never able to pinpoint why that person had that affect on me. I think the communication piece about understanding where they stood would have helped me a lot.

  4. I have brief moments of new relationship anxiety but I’m finding it lasting longer with someone I met about 2 months ago. I recently came across relationship imposter syndrome and it really spoke to me. I found it helpful to review my communication with this person and once I looked over it, it was clear they are into me. It also exposed how guarded I’ve been.

  5. Hi Page,

    I’m a new reader to your blog but I love your writing! I wish I had found your blog earlier as your experiences with polyamory and perspectives on love and life resonate so much with my own.

    Anyway, I have definitely had the experience of NRA lasting as long as the relationship itself (i.e. over a year). It manifested almost as like an existential angst. It didn’t help that the relationship was long distance. I think the NRA was interwoven with NRE but ultimately the constant anxiety and preoccupation got the best of the relationship and things ended.

  6. Hi,

    Long time lurker, first time commenter. This has triggered a self analysis of me going into relationships. A really interesting flow of thoughts for me to unpack.

    The outcome!? NRA is very freal I’m feeling it now with a partner. I’m going to use it as a time to grow. In doing so, I’ll change. They might not like the new me, but I will always 🙂

    Thanks

    ☺️

  7. If I get NRE it’s generally subdued these days, but NRA happens later, once I start feeling like I want a relationship to continue. Because of this the first 2-3 months are pretty relaxed and then the stress kicks in. I don’t think I ever worried anybody was too good to be true, or false, but after a long term relationship with a compulsive liar, that worry has certainly introduced itself into the mixt, but it affects NRE development as well as NRA.

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