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NRE is Quite the Drug

New Relationship Energy (NRE) is the phenomenon of “the honeymoon phase” of a relationship - the rush of “this is new and wonderful and I can’t stop thinking about them.” It’s limerence, the phase of romantic attraction that includes obsessive thoughts, uncertainty about levels of reciprocation, and putting the object of your attraction on a pedestal. It’s AMAZING. There’s electricity hanging around your life when you’re caught in NRE.

For some people it’s wonderful - it’s the best feeling in the world. They can do anything. Their mood is improved, they have happy, bubbly, sexy, full of possibility thoughts all the time, they’re building castles in the air (with or without the new partner), and they may be spreading that energy out over their existing partners when they aren’t having time with the new one.

For others that electricity is anxious - it’s your heart palpitating when you’ve had too much caffeine, it’s the attempt to maintain control when your emotions are trying to drive, and it’s fighting off the negative obsessive side of limerence - not spiraling on the good into castles in the air, but spiraling on the bad into “Oh shit, I like them way more than they like me.” (Pro-tip: it’s somewhere in the middle. It’s not that you’re the only one falling in love, and it’s not that you are the deepest soul mates one week into flirting, most of the time.)

BUT, it will probably feel like one or the other. NRE is a brain chemical cocktail that acts like a drug, and whether it’s a good trip or a bad one, generally, for you, you’re going to have to figure out how to manage that. That might include a babysitter (a partner who volunteers to listen and help you remember to use psychological techniques to calm the heck down), or a commitment to bring yourself back to earth with journaling or with spreading out the energy across multiple outlets, or with talking early with the potential partner about realistic limitations on the relationship. These techniques let you keep NRE from spiraling out of control - on the positive end, from running off a cliff into commitments you’ll regret later; and on the negative one, keep you from sabotaging a relationship before it can make it into the glorious positives of deeper love.

I’m unlucky enough to never know which one I will get. Sometimes, I’m glowing, my partners are getting bathed in overlap of all these positive feelings, I am suddenly the best flirter in the world with everyone, and the whole world shimmers around me. I need to make sure I don’t idealize my new partner, say I love you two weeks in, run off the metaphorical cliff and expect to be caught by a net, and do the wild things that get me into trouble when the chemicals fade and I’m left looking at reality. The times where, “oh, shit, now I say I love you,” is a thought I have three to six months in when the chemicals start to fade.

And then, other times, it’s jittery, and I’m not sure if my feelings are reciprocated, and I would jump off those cliffs at the slightest provocation, but there is none. What does it mean? They said they want to date and it’s just a matter of scheduling but now every set of text ellipses or being left on “read” is hellish. It is the sheer definition of modern limerence and yet… from the interactions we do have I am deeply infatuated. There is a text! My 3 best friends get copies to analyze it. I’m 19 again. I throw my phone across the room when I realize that I have double texted and then gotten a crappy answer. On a day where I believe in horoscopes, I ask my gemini Venus to kick in and let me flip to the other NRE instead of leaving my Aries rising and Mars in charge of how I feel about these responses, because impetuous and a little too quick to anger isn’t a Good Look; and on a day where I don’t I get out a journal and try to turn this into a good side or remember the great things I do have in my life, regardless of if this goes somewhere deep. Reminding myself that connections can be casual but meaningful, and a quick conversation at a party can change my life just as surely as a years-long connection, helps me get back to something approximating balance, until the relationship steadies or ends.

Sometimes, NRE is all there is. It was an infatuation, a mutual crush that went a step too far. And sometimes, that means the breakup is mutual and calm and you’re friends and the transition feels natural. But there’s a lot of social conditioning that says it isn’t possible, and, even more, people are more or less sensitive to the NRE drug. Some people feel it for 3 weeks; some for 3 months; some are in a ‘honeymoon’ for a year or more, dipping a toe in the ocean of the starless sea as they dance and build a relationship there. (If you haven’t read The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, go get it as soon as you finish this. It’s worth it.) And if you feel it differently, one of you may realize positive NRE on both sides was all there was, sooner, and that will hurt both of you - the one who hadn’t realized yet, because it’ll take them weeks or months to realize the other is right; and the one who realizes, because they have to hurt someone they care for, but not the way they thought. Withdrawal from NRE hurts.

Whether your NRE is a bold entrée into the sweetest relationship of your life, or a trick of your brain chemicals, it’s a hell of a drug. May you be lucky enough to get it lightly but positively, and to balance your behavior out along the way, no matter how carried away your heart and brain are.

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