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Too Fast Too Soon?

Q: I just got dumped by my girlfriend a couple weeks ago. It was a short relationship (3 months) which started out slow but gradually ramped up in intensity as we started spending more time together. Things seemed to be going great right up until she dumped me. We were making plans together for the future - trips we were going to take, dates we were going to go on. She seemed very much as "into" the relationship as I was - sending loving texts and buying me gifts. Then all of a sudden, as if overnight, she got cold and distant, and then she dumped me the next day.

I was totally blindsided and heartbroken by her actions. How can someone seem so into you in one instant and decide they don't want it in the next? And how come this hurts just as much as a breakup of a long term relationship, even though we were only together for a few months?

A: I am so sorry to hear about the dramatic change in your relationship. Break-ups, as you know, are not easy, especially when the relationship seemed to be going so well. You are asking essentially two questions here: 1) why she would have a change of heart so abruptly, and 2) why such a short relationship could hurt like a much longer term relationship. Here are some of my thoughts...

Given what you describe about your ex’s behavior, it is possible that she terminated the relationship because of having an avoidant attachment style, meaning that she is fearful about entering and becoming too close to others.1 People with avoidant attachment styles are more likely than people with other styles to end relationships when they start getting too intimate2 and to use indirect strategies to do so, such as avoiding direct communication about the real problems that are leading to the break-up.3 In other words, she may have been holding back negative feelings. As relationships become more interdependent, which happens at about the same time she broke things off with you, avoidant types tend to back off and end it.

An alternative, but less likely explanation might be that she has an anxious attachment style, meaning she may have had clingy behaviors and mood swings due to feeling uncertain about your feelings towards her. People with this style are oftentimes torn about their feelings and do not know how to handle them. As a result, she would have appeared ambivalent; hot one minute and then cold the next.4

As for why it is painful, you might benefit from reading some of my earlier posts (links appear below). In a nutshell, the initial feelings of attraction that you experience in the early stages of a relationship have a strong biological basis. So, when the relationship ends, it is like going through physical withdrawal from a drug. Due to increased interdependence, you may also have been starting to feel like a couple in the short time you were together, which means that you may have started seeing your identity as “we” rather than “me.” When the relationship ends, it is hard to go back to “me,” regardless of the amount of time you were really together. 

I know it is not easy to make sense of things when they end so quickly, especially given the lack of a rational explanation for why it ended as it did. It sounds like you began with good intentions to start the relationship slowly, but you may want to take it even slower with your next relationship. You may also want to try out being sort of a “mystery man.” Many women prefer dating partners who are not very obvious about their feelings at the start of the relationship because it violates their norms about what it means to be “manly,”5 and they like them even more when they are mysterious than when they are positive early on.6 In the long-term, warmth and responsiveness are good, but keeping it low-key at the start cannot hurt.

If it makes you feel any better, she may feel guilty or bad about rejecting you, as rejecters oftentimes feel as bad about ending things as the person who was dumped.7

Interested in learning more about relationships? Click here for other topics on Science of Relationships. Like us on Facebook to get our articles delivered directly to your NewsFeed.

1Cassidy J., & Shaver, P. R. (2008). (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research and clinical applications (2nd ed.), Guilford, New York.

2 Feeney, J. A., & Noller, P. (1992). Attachment style and romantic love: Relationship dissolution. Australian Journal of Psychology, 44, 69–74.

3Collins, T. J., & Gillath, O. (2012). Attachment, breakup strategies, and associated outcomes: The effects of security enhancement on the selection of breakup strategies. Journal of Research in Personality, 46, 210-222.

4Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P. R., Bar-On, N., & Ein-Dor, T. (2010). The Pushes and pulls of close relationships: Attachment insecurities and relational ambivalence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 450-468.

5Birnbaum, G. E., & Reis, H. T. (2012). When does responsiveness pique romantic interest? Attachment and sexual desire in initial acquaintances. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, X, 1-13.

6Whitchurch, E. R., Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2011). He loves me, he loves me not… Uncertainty can increase romantic attraction. Psychological Science, 22,  172-175.

7Baumeister, R. F.; Wotman, S. R.; Stillwell, A. M. (1993). Unrequited love: On heartbreak, anger, guilt, scriptlessness, and humiliation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 377-394.

Dr. Jennifer Harman - Adventures in Dating... | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr.  Harman's research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.

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Reader Comments (12)

A more likely explanation is that they had sex, it wasn't good for her and/or a turnoff, and she decided to end the relationship.

September 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNik

Obviously the author is well educated.

But I a lot of the psychological explanations (which often amounts to speculation with a bibliography) confuse the issue and make it more difficult for you, as a guy, to know what you did wrong and how to fix it next time around. Because that's really the important issue.

To her credit, her recommendations for what you should do are fairly good, specifically the part about being more of a "mystery man."

Your issue with this woman is actually very common among men. It's simple cause and effect.

Cause: Guy get really into a girl. Guy starts speeding up the relationship.
Result: Girl dumps guy.

You said you started things slow but the intensity slowly ramped up. If you are talking to her about future plans together at month 3, then you, as the man in the relationship are moving way too fast and it will cause her interest in you to decline.

What did you do wrong? You moved to fast. You were too easy. She caught you, she knew it and she moved on. It happens all the time. I've found through personal experience and through the experience of my clients that our relationships are always much more mutually easy and smooth when the guy lets the woman be the one to talk about their future plans, trips and dates, especially in the beginning (3 months is most certainly the beginning). You, on the other hand, play the role of the challenge. Let her wonder how interested you are. If you're talking about a future together then she knows how interested you are.

What can you do next time? Take things a whole lot more slow. See her once a week for the first few months (yes, even if she wants to see you more). Use some self-control. IF she is really the right woman for you, then going slow is only going to help you build a much stronger, longer lasting relationship. If she's the wrong woman for you then going slow will help you keep your emotions in check (and not feel so disappointed) and it will give you the distance to more accurately see what her real feelings towards you are.

While I'm sure there are dozens of psychological studies and theories out there that both support and refute my advice, the only thing I care about is reality. And in reality, regardless of the theories, when the guy takes things slower, and paces himself and his emotions, and doesn't fall head over heels for the girl right from the start, the results are much better for the guy on many levels.

Be Amazing,
Jack D. Serrano

p.s. Situations were the guy is completely into a woman right from the beginning (and lets her know) actually end badly for the guy a lot more than most people realize. Although there are situations where it works out great for the couple, these situations would have worked out well even if they had taken things slowly.

September 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJack D. Serrano

Good points, Jack-

In fact, the "mystery man" approach you advocate is exactly what the scientific research I cited at the end of my answer suggests doing. I agree that this may be the most likely reason she backed off. It might have been him, but without more information, we cannot assume she was also not a big part of this puzzle- there are many avoidant women out there too.

Unfortunately, without too many details provided in the question that was submitted, I needed to outline as many plausible alternatives as possible in my response. Science can provide many alternative answers...but when the question is not specific, neither can be the response. Here is to more specific, detailed questions!

Thanks for reading!

September 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Harman

Another plausible explanation, to this all too common occurance & sudden end to the relationship, could of been, she may have already been in a committed relationship and as a result of guilt, regret and her sense of betrayal (if sex was involved at that stage) and may explain her quick way of ending the relationship asap and couldn`t feel that she was leading him on.

The bad sex notion, is shallow at best, if she thought anything of him and was in any way committed, the relationship would have continued (sex the first time with a new partner is not always earth moving) it gets better with time.

October 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterinterested!

I actually disagree with the "mystery man" approach, popular as it is. I'm a woman, and personally prefer an honest, straight-forward man. I'm aware that 'playing it cool' isn't necessarily dishonest, but for someone like me with certain types of insecurity issues (does he like me? Am I attractive enough for him (generally, not just physically)? Does he truly believe I'm worth pursuing a relationship with? etc etc.) high sensitivity and a somewhat creative philosophical disposition, knowing that the guy likes me from the start is very important for me. If I feel at any point that he might be disinterested or not really that enthusiastic about it, I lose faith (though not necessarily interest) and will resort to building barriers to protect my emotional self, which in turn negatively affects my own response and the way I express myself.

When my boyfriend and I started our relationship, the one (of many!) thing(s) I loved about him from the start was that he made absolutely no effort to hide his feelings for me, or to avoid seeming as though he was pursuing me. He was always direct, honest, and played no games. It was refreshing. He called me when he said he would, and didn't make me wait a day or two to reply to my texts. For me, in addition to his behaviour creating a safe and secure environment for me emotionally, he also showed me that I could trust him to tell me the truth in the future (believe me, he has no qualms about being honest and direct about less-than-comfortable topics, either) and that I could do the same, and it helped to remove a sense of having to be proud, play power games or be secretive with each other. This has helped to foster a healthy attitude to resolving conflicts (which we do remarkably well) and admittedly is also a result of a combination of some very important, complementary character traits. We are both strong-headed and can be stubborn and proud for example, but we don't feel like we're compromising our self-image or pride or losing face if one apologises to the other, or spontaneously expresses our feelings for the other for fear of seeming too 'clingy'; something which we have both found difficult in previous relationships.

Granted, the extreme does have a very negative impact on the relationship. Too intense too soon stunts the development of a good, strong, healthy relationship - mainly, I think, because high levels of physical intimacy and all the hormones that come with it can be a distraction (the strong biological basis referred to here by the author) to the nature of the relationship itself as it would work in the long-term, given the combination of the two worlds about to come together to create something beautiful - building a solid foundation, friendship, trust, common interests and values, getting to know each other on a deeper level and so on - (although I'm wary of making causal claims) and can potentially be very confusing when that calms down and the reality starts to slowly shine through the cracks.

In this gentleman's case, it seems dangerous to advise him to play the 'mystery man' in future relationships, especially given the context of this last one. "In the long-term, warmth and responsiveness are good, but keeping it low-key at the start cannot hurt": I agree, but it would seem as though he could go too far the other way, and will be riddled with anxiety about seeming too keen, not doing things right, always questioning his own behaviour. It is important, however, to be conscious and aware of your behaviour and in achieving a healthy balance you're comfortable with.

In response to Jack's comment:
"IF she is really the right woman for you, then going slow is only going to help you build a much stronger, longer lasting relationship. If she's the wrong woman for you then going slow will help you keep your emotions in check (and not feel so disappointed) and it will give you the distance to more accurately see what her real feelings towards you are."

Again, I don't entirely disagree: it is important to pace yourself and not let yourself get too far ahead of your feelings - keep your feelings (and hers) in check, by all means. (Falling head over heels right from the start can cause a whole host of problems for anyone involved, even if partly because you don't know someone well enough yet at that point so your feelings are almost disproportionate to the reality - kind of what was said above about the strong biological basis). But do it sensibly, sensitively, and be aware of achieving that balance. I also think that if she is the right woman for you and if you don't want to play the role of 'mystery man' because it's just not you, then don't: if she's the right woman for you, she'll love you for who you are.

I love my boyfriend for who he is, and I love us for who we are together, despite not always being the model of the "typical man" - he is much more honest than that, and that for me is much more important than fulfilling the socially expected standard of being 'manly'. Feeling as though you have to be something or behave in certain ways potentially creates a discord and feelings of disappointment, dissatisfaction and frustration when a feeling is slightly misaligned with that concept. When we feel disillusioned about ourselves and our self-worth, we inevitably translate this into our relationships with others in some way. I've gone off on a bit of a tangent, but I thought this was an important point to make!!

November 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnon

I think the likeliest scenario is that four or more months before this this person met their girlfriend, she was holding a torch for someone else. That someone else finally came around, and she felt she had more invested in them than with the writer.

October 23, 2014 | Unregistered Commenternutmeg

This just happened to me. But it was only a week. 6 days actually. We saw each other every day. He came to my house, stayed the weekend. Everything was going so fast I couldn't register it all. Plus add alcohol on top of that and all the wild crazy sex that took place. I thought I was on drug high and on cloud 9. nothing else mattered.

As soon as I he left my house and I had a chance to breath....I went into full anxiety mode. I thought to myself, I want a relationship. I long term loving relationship. NOT a whirlwind move so fast I have whiplash. Plus he went from wantting to see me everyday to "we will figure something out this week" and from hot to cold or so it felt.

When I told him I need to back off, not sure I could do this. I think we need to slow down. Come at this with a slower approach. This is all happening so fast I am getting a litle scared.

He never spoke to me again. He called me needy, clingy, and some other coloful words. Hurtful words. I got so wrapped up in the moment that I lost site of my boundaries, what I wanted in a relationship, and I lost respect for myself. And again, add alcohol to all that and you have a train wreck. It was over before it begin. He told me he was looking for a relationship. In reality I got played and he was looking for a good time.

Now I am licking my wounds and picking up the pieces. Completely humiliated, ashamed, and disappointed in myself. I did not mean to pull away but i also didn't expect this to go so damn fast.

I am trying to forgive myself and move on.

February 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

This just happened to me as well. I met this girl in class and there was an obvious connection between us, flirting, the occasional glance at each other and a smile. We started hanging out and we had so much in common, I ended up falling for her very fast. She had been in a long relationship with her last boyfriend, (5 years) and I could tell she was a bit hesitant of starting something new.

Flash forward a few weeks and she's spent the night a few times, we did things together that you would see couples do, holding hands as we walked in the park, watching our favorite shows together, and texting / flirting over the phone when we couldn't meet. She has a busy schedule, almost working 40 hour weeks as well as a full time student. At one point she was very blunt with me, about taking things slow, and that she might not be looking for a relationship after all. This hurt obviously, and it showed. She told this to me on the way back to my place, and dropped me off. As i was walking to my back door she got out of her car and ran to me, hugging me from behind, worried that she was going to ruin something because of what she said.

We dated for about 4 months, and my feelings for her only grew as we spent more time together. There was a time frame of about 2 weeks where we didn't get much time to hang out. The day we finally had a break, I got into her car and gave her a kiss, but it didn't feel right. I looked up at her, and the expression she had was a sad one. She then said she didn't feel a spark when we kissed anymore.

Of course I felt it, but it wasn't mutual. Since then It's been a roller coaster of emotions. I am constantly thinking what I could have possibly done wrong (even though I treated her with utmost respect and care) and unfortunately I have been beating myself up over it. What a horrible feeling. It's like someone took a cookie cutter and made a hole in my chest right where my heart is. I've never felt so strongly about someone after such a short period of time. We talked about it, and she even saw me shed a manly tear. I wonder now if that wasn't the right move on my part, showing her too much of my emotions.

She wants to continue being friends, but that is a tricky situation to be in when obviously I want more than that. She texted me saying that she looks forward to watching movies, walking in the park, learning how to make certain foods together, passing random notes in class.. and those are all reminders of why I fell for her to begin with. I couldn't possibly say those things to someone I just broke it off with, especially after telling them it wasn't meant to be. I wouldn't want them to get the wrong impression. I'm not sure how to handle this situation now.. I feel the more I try to talk to her the more I will be distancing myself from any chance of working something out in the future. She said what she had was a "puppy dog love". Have I been completely blinded by my feelings?

The most difficult part is that we have classes together, and are working on future projects (outside of school, business related) so she will be around me. It hurts to think about it.

A girls mind is hard to understand. I'm a simple guy who fell in love too soon, and now I'm paying the consequences.

April 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEdwin

Edwin, I too am going through a similar situation with a girl I've dated for an even shorter time... 2 1/2 months. Only thing is that her mom passed away four months ago and she was an only child of a single mom. I completely understand that was the primary reason we didn't work, but she did end things basically four days after I was struck by a car in front of her. I've been dealing with a concussion at the same time as losing her which has heightened my emotions. Talk about timing eh. I was already concerned about our relationship given her mom's passing, and thinking it was too soon. However, when we met to talk, I was so irrationally emotional and probably opened up too much about my insecurities and anxieties. Something that I strongly believe has been a product of head trauma. She too wanted to stay friends but I was unsure as I've never stayed friends with someone that it didn't work out with. However, I've tried and it hasn't really worked as she has simply distanced herself from me. So I've decided to disappear now and worry about myself. I question whether she truly did care for me, and given her mom's passing she most likely is just emotionally detached. Time will tell, and if she does care at least one iota then she will contact me next. Hilariously, nothing I've done since my accident has gone smooth or right for me, and so I need to walk away. I'm simply a step behind.

It has been a little tough as we often talked about doing awesome little things this summer, and we were both excited for it. She said it moved too fast for her, and I regret not taking a step back. I regret losing her as a friend whom I had so much in common intellectually with, and we shared so much of our thoughts everyday for over two months. Tough void to fill, but one I need to fill. It was the first time in my life that a person's mind enraptured me first, and her esthetics came after. Literally, I wasn't very attracted to her at first, and was actually initially turned off by a characteristic of hers. It showed me however that the mind is incredible, and that right now I miss her mind. As hoaky as it sounds.

For you, you don't seem you'll be able to avoid her. But, can you? Maybe not work on these projects? Are they avoidable? If not, be professional and treat her as a friend. You may need to act a little, but hey what else can you do? I think you have an opportunity with time on your side. If she did just get out of a relationship, she may just need time. Plus you have the chance to spend more time with her to truly see who you are, and that is something that I'm envious of. Because I do not, and I have to take it for what it is worth... another that slipped through my fingers for whatever reason. I feel just as completely blinded as you, and led on. But, she is going through such a traumatic experience that I can't even imagine, and that is why I chalk it down to timing. You too should maybe just look at it as a simple case of bad timing.

May 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMaxwell

My question to every poster is, did you ever reach back out to your other and see if time was the factor that was needed. I am in a similar situation. We have been dating for 2 months and just spent the last weekend together. When she went home on Sunday night, she was quiet for the remainder of the night on Sunday and Monday and didn't hear from her at all on Tuesday. I finally received a text message saying she wasn't able to move forward. I am curious if anyone reached out after a period of no contact and whether things were different. It is just a shock and blind sided me.

June 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterScott

well heres my story, in 47 shes 49 we met and dated for 2 months after 1 month we were telling each othe we loved each other we texsted each other 20/30 times a day she kept pushing me to meet her family and i met her daughter then she told me she would marry tomorrow if i asked kept telling me i was the man of her dreams that she has realised what she has missed all her years, that her heart sinks when I go home, bla bla. i guess weve seem each other about 10 to 12 times , and then she came tomine for a night out we went out and got into one of those meaningful chats about the past shes been married twice and had one long term fiancee all of them had cheated on her, or so she said, the following day she wasnt the same saying she didnt like talking about the past and it was the future we should concentrate on, i agreed and said we would do that again, i agreed to take her and her daughter bowling this friday just come, she seemd tired as had worked all week but i thought we had a nice a time but not the fun she expected, on Saturady she texted me telling me it didnt feel right anymore and thought we should end thing now before we got in any deeper. her reason was she expected fun on the saturday but it didnt happen and she expected the same on the firday but felt it was and was too intense, even though I made a point of not beeing over infectionate as her daughter was with us, talk about being confused, shes said so many wonderful things to me and in all honesty I dropped my barriers and did with her, she not the maturest 49 year old and still like going out to night clubs sometimes until 6 in the morning, even though at 47 thats not my idea of a night didnt have a problem as im not clingy, possesive or a jealious type, but feel very confused as how this became so intense so quick and then she ended it as quick as it started.

July 27, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdajolu

I had this happen to me some years ago. We were engaged and planning our wedding, then his ex girlfriend walked back into his life and he ended up marrying her. I couldn't figure out why he could be so loving one day and then overnight! Goodbye I don't love you anymore, my feelings for you didn't grow, it wasn't meant to be! Wait, wut? I finally figured out I had involved myself with a narcissist. He's on his third wife, so good riddance.

January 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGeekyGirl
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