New relationship energy – how NRE can be felt across your life and how to enjoy it

CakeMon 28th June 2021

This is part of a series of pieces on conscious relating. Other pieces are on pauses in relationships, crushes and that transition in feeling from ‘in love’ to ‘love you but not in love with you’.

Conscious relating is about bringing awareness and intention to all our connections with others as well as our selves. It’s about noticing patterns and triggers as well as needs and feelings and being able to communicate about these clearly and effectively. It’s also about noticing how all our relationships, especially the one we have with ourselves, are interconnected with our lives. It’s about making choices, as often as possible, with our chosen core values front of mind.

A new hobby, a new job, a new friend, a new place. The feelings that come along with the start of something, commonly known as new relationship energy, can be the same as with a crush. We can feel optimistic, excited, motivated to be our best self, as well as nervous, hopeful, anxious and energised. In a word: alive.

As with game-changers (when we come across a new idea or person that shifts how we think or feel), new relationship energy is often triggered by a person. It can also come up around a new job, hobby or friendship, or by new experiences.

New relationship energy is characterised by a few things, including:

• heightened attention and interest – you’ll bring the subject up in even non-related circumstances, listen to and watch their music and TV recommendations, find everything they say fascinating
• feelings of distraction and excitement and also crippling anxiety and uncertainty
• possible ‘playing it cool’ by one or the other
• setting other things and/or people aside to make room for paying the additional attention to the new relationship (or job, hobby, experience)

What would you add to this?

As with all shifts in feelings, the internal desire and the cultural messaging is usually around rushing ahead, spinning through and speeding up in the connection, putting all our energies into the thing, barely even registering the trail of forgotten friends, other partners, people and hobbies that we leave in our over-excited wake.

Our energies and feelings shift and flow. They’re not static.

And why not? You feel great, they feel great, it’s all new and shiny and wonderful – it’ll pass, so why not enjoy it now? Throw all caution to the wind!

As always, it is possible for us to step beyond the binary of ‘all in’ versus ignore.

Good questions to consider when we are in the flush of excitement are:

  • Is there a corresponding waning in attention / effort elsewhere? What are the effects of this?
  • What hobbies or activities are you spending less time and attention on, and is this a conscious choice?
  • Who are the people that are being neglected as you invest this attention?
  • Are you still spending time on, and with, yourself?
  • What are the stories you’re telling yourself about the new and shiny, and are these feeling at all familiar?
  • What things, people or aspects of themselves are they setting aside to pay this attention?
  • How much time are you spending staring at your phone? 🙂

And, in truthfulness with ourselves, how much of what is being set aside will need to come back, and how might that shift things with the new and shiny? When we give so much of our time and attention to a person or project without consciously acknowledging that we are doing so at the cost of less attention to other things, then we can create an expectation that the behaviour and the self who is being seen right now is what the other person will always have. As and when the other parts of our lives (inevitably) demand even some of that attention back, that can and will feel like a loss, and maybe even a huge one, as opposed to a rebalancing. This is of particular importance and impact if you’re in multiple relationships (see below).

As Lori Beth Bisbey says in this BBC interview: love is infinite, but our time and energy aren’t.

A more sustainable approach is consciously creating space and time for the new while also managing and maintaining the other areas of our lives. Being conscious about the time you’re spending on the new – indulge away, enjoy it, it can feel so great – would mean that we do it in full awareness that it’s being paid for out of an account that will need to be balanced at some point in the future. Without this awareness, this can become one of the more problematic aspects of NRE.

More than this: if we consider, as Meg-John Barker asks us to, what NRE can open up as well as close down, we can see that it’s possible to use the extra energy that feeling excited about developing a new connection gives us to fuel our work and the rest of our lives. We can use it to motivate ourselves to undertake tasks that are out of our comfort zone. And we can make sure that we maintain contact and connection with all the people in our life who are important to us, as opposed to getting too carried away with our thinking and doing what we might normally do in this situation, which is cancel things to make space for the person/place/thing we’re excited about.

The feelings of excitement about a new anything can also blind us to the negative sides of the connection – the old patterns, the old attachment issues, the old ways of behaving that aren’t helpful in the long run.

Rather than asking ‘does this connection feel good or right’, we can ask: does this feel familiar? Ask yourself that question instead and notice what comes up for you, in your mind and body. The feelings of attraction could be to a familiar dynamic as opposed to the individual. Given we know so little about a person in these early stages, we need to be aware when we are filling in the gaps with a story that suits us as opposed to the complex truth of a person and the likely shifting needs and feelings they have. Whilst feelings of attraction can be just that, they can also be showing us what we need, what parts of ourselves could be foregrounded or brought into the light.

As described more fully in may article on crushes, taking things a little slower than you would do normally can help you become aware of any distinct qualities to the object of the ‘crush’ that are familiar. Maybe a little too familiar. Pausing, slowing things down and not feeding the feelings with Jennifer Paige lyrics can help create some space around the feelings. Space enables you to look at whether or not it’s a good idea to risk a very wonderful friendship to explore a different type of connection. And to make any changes consensually and consciously, in agreement, and from a place of conscious choice as opposed to being swept up/caught up in an old, familiar dynamic.

Slowing down is not just about creating the space to do the emotional work though. It allows us to hold the energy consciously – to feel it, the joy and excitement, more fully. And that can feel really good. Enjoying it while also taking care to keep some balance is a delicate act, but it can mean that the energy lasts longer. It can also can mean that you don’t vanish down a rabbit hole, forgetting what the rest of your life involves and needs.

We need to work towards being grounded while also feeling the excitement and enjoying the high. It may even last longer that way.

And the energy will shift, it will change, and that’s okay too. If we can move towards seeing NRE as a wonderful stage to enjoy, and not cling to it as a permanent ideal state, that brings us closer to the idea that every experience, person and place can also be enjoyed in the moment, instead of trying to fix something down, thinking we are keeping it secure, when in truth we are losing something precious that only exists because it is in flux.

Making conscious changes in new relationships / whilst dating / in existing relationships

This part is for those who are in open, non-monogamous or other forms of relationships and who are meeting and getting to know new people or finding new passions. Whether it’s a new person, a shift in feelings for someone you already know, or a new project or passion, you’re likely to need or want to make changes in how you relate to the existing people in your life. It’s also about how we make shifts in relationships – taking things up a gear from a drink to a sleep over, an occasional text to every day communication.

NRE can mean that you might need to think about making space in your life for a new hobby, a new friend, a new partner(s) or a new work/study responsibility. Changes in relating can mean different things to different people and the context will have a huge impact too.

The meaning of certain actions such as sleeping over, sex and other forms of physical intimacy, sharing living space, can be very different for people. For me, having someone sleep over is a huge increase in intimacy, but for others I’m close to it is very much not so. They see it as more of a practical thing. Kind of like: ‘Sure, stay over if that saves travelling/paying for a cab’ – and having coffee together the next morning is often more about kindness than evidence of a deepening of their feelings for the other.

Changes such as escalating contact to daily texts can happen ‘naturally’ and can feel good, but they too need to be discussed, negotiated and agreed. The person with the slowest needs sets the benchmark. Slower is almost always better, even if it’s just a little slower.

These conversations around communication intensity, frequency and type, as well as around our time boundaries and needs, are also helpful for managing change later. If we take the story and meaning out of a shift from daily to every three-day texting, for example, we can help minimise the idea that less intensity means less feeling and importance. We don’t need to be in constant contact to assure someone we care. If anxiety and uncertainty feels are triggered, that, too, is an opportunity for deepening our understanding of each other and our needs in relationship.

The key here is to take each step consciously. To take small, discrete steps as opposed to stepping straight on to what is often referred to as the ‘relationship escalator’ and letting that sweep you upwards to a place that maybe you don’t want to go yet, if ever.

If you’re dating more than one person, then changes in your dating or connections with others need to be communicated to them. They need to be communicated as per your agreement(s) about this, and with honesty, authenticity, kindness and respect. Their feelings need to be respected, as do any agreed boundaries, yours and theirs.

One thing that might come up, and be unexpected if you’re new to multiple dating, is how frustrating it can be for an existing partner to see someone they care about and have connection with get into something (an idea, band, TV show) because of a new person, as opposed to when they wrote about/watched it/talked about it… While they may be able to see that it’s objectively a good thing that you’re now in a place to see/hear and understand that differently, or welcome it into your own life, and feel that compersion ( a sense of feeling happy that someone else is happy) and joy, it’s also important to acknowledge that it’s likely to be upsetting too.

We can stay curious about the feelings that bubble up for everyone involved. Let’s do that for longer than we might normally.

Managing changes in any relationship has a lot to do with boundaries, and also a lot to do with taking the time and care to consider needs and feelings prior to making changes. It’s about honouring people’s needs and feelings, being honest and clear about what you can and cannot give at this point in time, and realistic about if, and how, that might change.

Writing and reflecting deeply on NRE has given me a fuller understanding and brought MORE of the joy and fun of it into my relationships. Hopefully it will do the same for you and those you’re connecting with.

Some other great articles on NRE are:

Zen and the art of Whatsapp

Great articles on going slow

If you did want to feed your crush some Jennifer Paige, here’s an in-progress playlist for crushes and NRE :

If you need albums that are NOT about love and relationships so you can keep a cool head, try:

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – David Bowie
Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway – Genesis
Blurry Face – Twenty One Pilots
Lex Hives – The Hives