We thank you, Lucy, Carol, Ellen and Kate for every inspirational triumph of the spirit.
What is New Relationship Energy?
You’ll know it if you’ve had it, because it makes everything glow. It’s a surge of dynamism, the vigour that suddenly gets you out of bed at 6am without complaint and the beautiful phosphorescence that vibrates around every little raindrop on a dismal winter’s day. It’s an expansive sense of potential, an increased sense of resilience, of openness and optimism; everything will be ok and, if it’s not, who cares? You’re falling in love / lust with someone beautiful. Everywhere you look there are rainbows. If you could kiss the sky, you would.
And that’s all really great, isn’t it, unless you’re not the person experiencing the NRE. If, like me, you’re in a relationship and living with someone who’s experiencing it, instead. Oh what a complex poly-web we weave…
Before things get too confusing (haha..) I think I ought to give some context. My spouse, B and I, have been together eleven years – living together for ten of those and Civilly Partnered for nine.
In the last three years we’ve been entrenched in the muddy business of transitioning from (supposed) monogamy to consensual non-monogamy. I am almost three years in to a relationship with my girlfriend, A, which I suppose isn’t really ‘new’ but certainly still feels very novel and exciting much of the time in ways that might even qualify as NRE without the N, but more on that in another column). More recently, B met J and B entered (as she herself calls it) her ‘chemical madness’… the buzz of new relationship energy.
And guess what? I found myself feeling jealous. I know, I know, it’s not rational, or even fair. Of course, given that I too am in another loving, sexual relationship, I shouldn’t feel jealous of B and J and all their new-fangled romantic antics. But that’s the thing about emotions, isn’t it? They don’t always / hardly ever follow logic. Also, in my defence, it isn’t easy to watch a flush-faced beloved constantly smirking at their phone, floating around the house with headphones on as if they’d just rubbed a load of MDMA crystals into her gums and knowing it wasn’t you that caused it.
"But then a thought emerges: why don’t I make her giggle like that anymore? Why doesn’t she drop everything, like that, for me?"
Seriously, I would love to feel compersion (see R11 separate post on that here) and, in fact, I have, though never for longer than minutes at a time. I have enjoyed the happy atmosphere B brings into our home, and the way her arms wrap warmly around me when she walks in, overjoyed, from having seen her new boyfriend.
But then a thought emerges: why don’t I make her giggle like that anymore? Why doesn’t she drop everything, like that, for me? All those things that she’s now doing because he’s encouraged her, those are things that I have gently suggested she do too. But she didn’t listen to me, did she? Because I’m not new. I’m not him. I’m just… me.
Me, me, me. Oh dear, does it all come back to me? To the way I feel about myself in our relationship? Hello ego! What caused such terrible, purple bruising? This whole consensual non-monogamy thing is a rabbit hole, I tell you. NRE may well illuminate a person’s life in a good way but, in poly relationships, it also shines a light on all the cracks in their existing relationship(s) as well.
This NRE between B and J is forcing B and I to look and see all the dust that’s gathered around the edges of the ageing entity that we call ‘us’. We are like a treasured bonsai tree that hasn’t been clipped with enough due diligence. In fact, if I’m honest, we’ve probably never been as well tended to as required and it’s pretty amazing we are still growing – testament, I’d say, to the humour, kindness and intellectual bond we’ve always shared. But still. We have both realised, I think, that we have to do some work to do on our relationship, to slash some rotting branches that need cutting, and to trim back some wayward leaves.
First things first, we have finally truly admitted together that this is tricky. Acknowledging in this way that we are in a bit of trouble has been helpful for me, I think, because for a while I felt that I was protesting alone, screaming objections into a cave whilst B stood beside me looking out yonder, in the direction of whoever was her current attraction / love interest. Just now, it feels like she’s hearing me, and consequently I can quieten down. I know she is trying to be more present during the time we have together, and be more vocal about her love for me. On the flip side I am working on my insecurities, to come from a place of abundance (polyamory = many loves), and really hear the loving things she says to me without automatically belittling them with a ‘yes but’.
Needless to say we are both learning a lot, about ourselves, about each other. And there is healing in this too. Yet there’s another thing that’s helping me and that’s a change in perspective. I’ve started to consider NRE as (underneath all the fluffy pink clouds and sexy icing) a kind of hypnotic mirroring.
"This makes us feel… invincible: almost impossible to resist."
Maybe NRE, at its core, is not just about falling in love with someone new as it is adoring the way that new person falls in love with us. It is the narcissistic stage of love – the bit where, more than seeing all these wonderful qualities in another, we are drawn in to the experience of being fallen in love with, of having another person see all our qualities.
Yes, we love being with them but a lot of that is due to the way we feel about ourselves when we are around them – the way they look at us, talk about us, touch us, like we are an exotic delicious fruit. We don’t appear to this other as the cracked human we really are but more an extraordinary luxury – a treat for all their senses. This makes us feel… invincible: almost impossible to resist.
Perhaps we might consider NRE, however important and enjoyable a stage it may be, to be less about deep and lasting kind of love for another, and more of a simulated experience of enhanced self-worth: what life would or could be like if we truly loved ourselves. Looked at this way we can understand the pull of NRE and the way it can make us a little bit insensitive to the needs of our existing partners, family members or friends, just a little bit obsessive and inattentive. After all, who amongst us wouldn’t love to like themselves more?
Clearly J is a special and beautiful man. Can I find it in my heart to be happy for B, and to allow her to enjoy this experience of being appreciated, the way she cannot yet appreciate herself? More will be revealed, as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous. More. Will. Be. Revealed.
So, readers, ask yourself this: what steps would you / do you take to keep your existing relationship galvanised against the ravages of NRE when one or both of you meet someone new? What might help you in my position? I’d love to hear from you!
Featured Illustration by kaneda.it / @kaneda99
What's your take?