It’s easy to get caught up in the butterflies and excitement of a new relationship, but is it the start of something long-term or is it destined to fade out? In other words, how can you tell if it's a fling or the real thing? Recent research offers some clues to solving the mystery:
- How similar are you?This is easier to ask than to answer, because romantic attraction (liking someone) can cloud your judgment. Recent evidence actually shows that people actually like dissimilar partners more—but only when those relationships are short-term (Amodio & Showers, 2005). For long-term relationships characterized by high commitment, greater perceived similarity (not less) is what predicts romantic liking. So, ask yourself some tough questions about how similar you and your new partner really are, in terms of values, goals, leisure preferences, open-mindedness, etc. It might give you some good insight into the potential staying power of the relationship.
- Have you met his or her friends, and vice versa? If the person you’re datingis open to a long-term relationship, friends and family typically get involved. This makes sense: People tend to want to integrate significant others into their social networks. Indeed, friend approval may be a key factor in the relationship’s long-term success. Evidence suggests that the more friends know a buddy’s romantic partner, and the more they approve of him or her, the less likely it is that the romantic relationship will end (Felmee, 2001).
- Is your new partner still checking out other prospects? When people are in exclusive relationships, a fundamental shift occurs in how they unconsciously manage their attentional resources. When an attractive potential partner walks by, research on implicit cognitiveprocessing suggests, committed partners automatically inhibit their attention (Maner, Gailliot, & Miller, 2009). If your love interest doesn’t have eyes only for you, it could be a sign that this is really just a fling: People who consider themselves single heighten their early-stage attention to other possible attractive partners.
- Are you afraid of being single? It can be tempting to view a new relationship as an ideal match, if you are especially concerned about being alone. Evidence shows that people who fearbeing single don’t say that they have lower partner standards, but that they behave in ways that suggest they’re more apt to settle for partners who are less desirable (Spielmann et al., 2013). For example, they might express the same amount of romantic interest in uncaring and inconsiderate prospects as they do in people who are caring and understanding. Being choosy remains important if you’re seeking the real thing.
- How does your new love interest react to the idea of commitment?If people want a short-term relationship, and only a short-term relationship, they often employ clever tactics to maneuver out of any situation leading to commitment. People can employ a variety of behaviors to avoid commitment (Jonason & Buss, 2012). They might avoid contact—say, by not responding to texts or messages—or steer clear of intimacy, by avoiding affectionate behavior outside of sex and refraining from “relationship talk." And forget about meeting the friends and family; such activities signal commitment and are often intentionally avoided. People avoiding long-term relationships might even behave in hurtful ways just to stop any relationship progression. If this sounds like your new love interest, the relationship isn’t showing signs of permanence.
There are many factors that can influence whether a new relationship transitions into a long-term connection. The above-cited research provides a starting point for evaluating any new relationship’s potential for enduring love.
Amodio, D. M., & Showers, C. J. (2005). ‘Similarity breeds liking’ revisited: the moderating role of commitment. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 22(6), 817-836.
Felmlee, D. H. (2001). No couple is an island: A social network perspective on dyadic stability. Social Forces, 79(4), 1259-1287.
Jonason, P. K., & Buss, D. M. (2012). Avoiding entangling commitments: Tactics for implementing a short-term mating strategy. Personality and Individual Differences, 52(5), 606-610.
Maner, J. K., Gailliot, M. T., & Miller, S. L. (2009). The implicit cognition of relationship maintenance: Inattention to attractive alternatives. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(1), 174-179.
Spielmann, S. S., MacDonald, G., Maxwell, J. A., Joel, S., Peragine, D., Muise, A., & Impett, E. A. (2013). Settling for less out of fear of being single. Journal of personality and social psychology, 105(6), 1049-1073.