Sometimes a person’s attachment isn’t to the person you really are, but to the idea of who you might be.
By Eleni Stephanides — Written on Jul 03, 2023
Photo: Gorgev / Shutterstock
Flirty comments. Lengthy texts. References to multiple future dates. You’ve been talking to this person for several weeks. Maybe you’ve gone on one or two dates. Maybe you haven’t gone on any yet.
What I once saw as positive signs I now see as “yield signs” (my gentler word for red flags).
Why do I see them as such now? And when might you benefit from treating early and seemingly excessive interest as a yield sign as well?
It’s not always a love bomber who engages in these actions. And often the person doesn’t have nefarious intentions, necessarily. The behavior can be unconscious and can come from a relatable place of wanting love, connection, and safety.
It could mean that the person has an anxious attachment and wants the security and validation of whichever new person they’re talking to — before really knowing if they even fully like them yet (or if the person is right for them).
Author and coach Renee Wade says an anxious attachment style can “can cause you to attach prematurely.” Sometimes this attachment isn’t to the person you really are, but to the idea of who you might be.
For this reason, I call the behavior love dusting — a more benign form of love bombing.
The hey cuties, the future planning, the texting throughout the day: they can feel good. Especially when you consider all those first dates that don’t go anywhere or the messaging that never leads to a meeting or the lukewarm encounters that fizzle out.
Finally, some mutual interest you may think.
That’s why it’s easy to get sucked in.
Here’s why it’s potentially unhealthy though: in my own personal experiences, the two of us are adding fuel to a relationship that isn’t real yet. Rather, it’s a fantasy projection of one — because not enough experiences have been shared.
It then becomes all the easier for one of you to discard the other when you realize the actual person doesn’t live up to the image in your head.
I compare it to putting time and effort into the real estate poster before the house has been built. Frequent texting, flirting, and future planning — all these actions are akin to adding details to the poster.
We might be tempted to add them — because doing so is easier and more fun than building the actual house. There’s more immediate pay-off; a dopamine high, even. But it can come at the cost of, longer term, experiencing greater disappointment and a sense of emptiness when the house fails to come to fruition.
Even though the intentions aren’t nefarious, the “coming on strong then discard” behavior still contributes to an unhealthy cycle. One that may increase the likelihood of disillusionment.
Personally, if someone is showing a lot of interest and affection early on, even when I try not to let it, it gets my hopes up. It tells me our connection is headed somewhere. It raises the stakes.
Our encounters no longer feel like a casual series of “getting to know you” ones. Because hopes and low-level expectations have now crept their way into the picture.
If things don’t work out, it will feel far more disappointing than if the person and I had stayed more level and gradual.
**Also in very extreme circumstances, the professions of quick interest can be a sign of a love bomber or avoidantly attached person, who often put forth signs of interest and investment for several weeks but have trouble sustaining it for longer than that.
I’ve found the best way to navigate this is to set boundaries.
Notice a person starting to love dust? You don’t have to mirror their behavior. You’re not required to go along with it or get pulled in.
You can respond in a way that feels more aligned with the amount of time you two have known each other, and with how solid and real your connection currently and realistically feels.
When they say, “We should watch that show together in [names time period that’s several months from now],” rather than attach meaning to the excitement you may feel in response (thinking it means they must really like you if they’re planning that far ahead) let that initial reaction pass through you, without latching on.
You can say (either to the other person or just to yourself) something like, “November’s a bit far away and I’m still deciding how I feel about you. I’d like to stick to one date at a time for now.”
Some might say this is taking their comment “way too seriously.” I hear that. But to me, this response is a way of gently keeping the other person (and yourself as well) in check.
Above all try to take your time. Remind yourself not to make a character evaluation after one date.
Watch them repeat the positive behavior. Again and again, until eventually, they’ve shown you their character.
Make a point to be observant and deliberate — knowing that it’s through this slower lens that lasting connection — and not just a mirage of it — might eventually come into view.
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Elena Stephanides is a freelance writer and Spanish interpreter whose work has been published in Them, Tiny Buddha, Peaceful Dumpling, The Mighty, The Gay and Lesbian Review, and Introvert Dear, among others.