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Adult Dating: From Attraction to Commitment (Part 1)

Hooking Up

Attraction can get going rather quickly, often in the first contact, and often in a “split second.” Contact is made and then lost and then reestablished. Eyes meet briefly; smiles are exchanged, as are some anxious, non-verbal courting gestures. Animation increases. Approach is made and allowed. Dialogue follows. Body language becomes coordinated. Rapport is established. Touch is ventured and gazes lock.

The signaling of attraction can trigger anxieties. A kind of “performance anxiety” can interrupt the flow of the “dance” with awkward self-consciousness. The contact can be too stimulating and result in unappealing behaviors; the moments of being out-of-sync can be interpreted as “time to give up.” Also, the initial upsurge of sexual urges can be disconcerting.

A critical transition occurs when the contact moves from visual appraisal and flirty gestures to “talking.” So much is revealed by the tone and conversational style of the other person. The sound of a person’s voice, especially its animation and musicality or lack thereof, is important. The sharing of “conversational turn-taking” and the ability to tune in to the other person are early indicators of relationship prospects and limitations. Speech can reveal a great deal about a person’s background, cultural, educational, and family characteristics, which may fuel or upset the emerging connection. Humor, irony, optimism or pessimism, boasting, or dislike of self —each suggests personality trends that will become important as this potential relationship evolves.

Something More?

The initial connection promises further contact: seeing each other again, long talks on the phone. There is a sense of fitting together: a synchronicity, a matching of taste, and a discovery of corresponding experiences.

This promising connection suggests the possibility of a relationship and this triggers the emergence of fantasies and needs. Larger mental and emotional fantasies evolve, generating a complex landscape of relationship possibilities, both positive and negative. Can a relationship develop?

There is a treacherous gap here. The dance of flirtation may not indicate a “readiness for relationship.” These are two different things.

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First, there is the possibility that the flirtation is all there is. Some people seek out its titillating sense of possibility and adventure. Some people simply enjoy playing the game. Some like the power to manipulate the flirtation signals, to entice and reject without being “caught” themselves. Some people deny the flirtation — “I was just being friendly.”

Second, the prospect of relationship can be felt to be problematic. The attraction, which was initially enjoyable, can be seen to be moving toward a “dangerous” involvement, and this can trigger avoidance or control strategies. The “danger” is most often fantasy- based, deriving from past relationship experiences.

And then there is the arrival of conscious thought: Is there room in my life for a new relationship? How does this fit into the larger picture? Am I ready? Is the other person ready? Is there a current commitment or a continuing complication with a previous relationship? Is the other person “a player” or wounded or scared?

Thinking arrives on the scene much later and is generally colored by developing feelings and fantasies. To actually evaluate what is happening, thinking has to step outside the fantasy, putting its “magic” and emerging feelings on hold.

A Relationship-Fantasy Develops

A new relationship starts off as mostly fantasy, untried by experience. Two people intertwine fantasies about which they are only partially aware. “If I can be her hero, maybe she will be my lady.” “He is so understanding and sensitive that maybe I will be cared for and appreciated.” “She is so sexy and energetic — maybe I could be the man I always wanted to be — cool, confident.”

Hopes and dreams take the lead. “Maybe this relationship will be different.” “Maybe it will meet my needs, will light up my life with love and excitement, and be the basis for a future of togetherness.”

And then deep desires, from all levels of the psyche going way back into childhood, begin to gather around this new possibility of fulfillment. Typically, an underlying “script” is activated which is based on our family experience. This “drama” could be called, “What went wrong in my family, and how can I attempt to make it right?” More than replaying the old family script, in new relationships we attempt to “remedy” the wrong. Was mother unappreciated? Then, I will insist on being appreciated. Was father depressed? Then I will remedy the depression in my partner. Did some “other woman” appeal to my father? Then I will try to be like her. The possibilities are endless.

Adult Dating: From Attraction to Commitment (Part 1)

Robert Stone

APA Reference
Stone, R. (2020). Adult Dating: From Attraction to Commitment (Part 1). Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.