In 2011, a Marist poll asked the question: “Do you believe in soul mates, that is, two people who are destined to be together?” In response, 74% of men and 71% of female answered “belief”.

For many who answered “believe,” these widespread, almost magical romantic notions may be the essence of true love. While others may prefer a more realistic view of love, that true love is a combination of good luck, free will, and hard work in the long run. There is evidence that the latter view is correct. Also, being immersed in romantic fantasies makes it harder to find and keep love.

This is not to say that pursuing a soul mate is wrong in itself, after all, everyone desires a good love. However, we also need to reflect on ourselves at all times, fully and effectively communicate with every problem that arises, and use it as an anchor point for emotional warming. But the question is, are these communications transpositional empathy, or secondary confirmation with inherent bias?

At the beginning of the relationship, there was only fawning and exuberance. You start dating someone a few times – it’s not a problem at this point, and you’re not paying attention. Then you become more and more devoted, spending time with each other frequently in the West Chamber of the Moon. Anyway, it was a good time. Maybe you talk to your mom and she starts gossiping like crazy.

You also know the next thing, it’s like being put on a magic spell by the other party during the sleepover, and every time you see a cute puppy, you can’t help but share it with the other party. Are you in an intimate relationship right now?

Every couple has at some point crossed that creaky, trembling bridge from “informal” to “partnership.” But when we are on the bridge, sometimes we don’t know how to get to the other side safely. You could just step on one bad plank out of a thousand and the relationship will die under the bridge. There may be doubts in your mind: how much does he love me, what does he want, is it too fast to ask him at this time?

The good news is that researchers are looking at just that, investigating how daters know when to “define the relationship” (DTR), and why relationship-defining conversations are so hard to initiate. They discovered that, in the early stages of a relationship, a strange mixture of familiarity and uncertainty is a breeding ground for misunderstanding and a storm that can destroy a relationship. But people did not actively seek the other party’s verbal explanation at the beginning, but turned into amateur detectives, indulging in chasing rumors and talking to themselves.

You may be thinking that a very straightforward solution to uncertainty in a relationship is communication. You just need to say what you want clearly and frankly. What’s so difficult about it?

It’s really hard.

Experts tell me that high-quality communication is the most critical during the transition from casual acquaintance to intimate relationship, but the irony is that at this time we are likely to become extremely poor communicators. “We’re more direct in non-intimate relationships because we have to,” says Penn State media scientist Denise Solomon. Casual friends may not know themselves well enough to read cues; In front of others, we can also be straightforward, because we already know enough.

But people in transition are often ambiguous and hesitant—especially when they feel like they’re going to be rejected. Talking about the relationship itself is even harder. “There is strong evidence that people who are more uncertain about the nature of their relationship are less likely to talk about it,” said Leanne Knobloch, a professor of communications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There are too many risks.”

To make matters worse, people in this stage are more sensitive, prone to negative emotions, and tend to blame the other party for misunderstandings. “It’s one of our protective mechanisms to fantasize about the worst-case scenario when we’re not sure why something happened,” Solomon said.

If our ancestors weren’t sure whether the long, thin, dark figure in the distance was a snake or a stick, it’s safer to assume it was a snake. Likewise, if you’re not sure whether someone meant to hurt you, you might try to protect yourself by assuming they did.

For young couples, these waters can seem too rough to sail smoothly toward long-term love. It’s good for everyone to speak out in situations fraught with doubts and insecurities. But the truth is, a lot of people don’t do that. If they’re not sure if the other person wants to be in a relationship, they usually don’t ask directly. They’re overly wary, or perhaps too strategic, and often judge by various roundabout means, such as observing non-verbal behavior (did he touch my arm in public?), or analyzing variables: dating How long have you been dating, how long have you spent together, and whether you have met your parents.

Lots of people practice what’s known as a “secret test” — whether they realize it or not, measuring someone by small, insignificant details. The researchers gave some examples. Maybe you mentioned a concert in 6 months and will see if the other person’s reaction is based on the assumption that the two are still together in 6 months. If you don’t reply to the other party’s information, see when the other party will contact you next time. The beauty and danger of these little tests is that your judgment is not infallible. You can tell yourself that the other person may just not like the performer, or they may want you to message. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not.

People usually tear through the veil and start a relationship-affirming conversation when they have enough circumstantial information and reach a breaking point. Sarah Varga, a communications researcher at Baylor University, interviewed people in intimate relationships about these kinds of conversations as part of her doctoral dissertation project. She found[1] that 63% of the subjects were very sure about their partner’s feelings for them before they started the conversation. These people are just reaffirming their opinion. In reality, this conversation is not “where the judgment begins, but where it ends,” said Jennifer Theiss, a communications professor at Rutgers University. But it’s still a meaningful marker—a way of finally acknowledging and celebrating previous turns.

This conversation can also serve a meta-functional role: It teaches people to communicate directly, rather than be paranoid and cower for the rest of the day. Research shows that being open and honest about your relationship status increases your partner’s relationship satisfaction, so it’s important to practice this. This points out that the mere willingness to affirm a relationship shows that you’re ready for straightforward communication.

However, in essence, the state of an intimate relationship is not only about the two partners but also affects the social state of both parties. Varga’s subjects reported that after communicating, they stayed with their partners longer than others; they ended up thinking about things in terms of “us” rather than “you and me.” And this will also change the way other people interact with you. For example, you may participate in other people’s weddings or holiday parties, or family dinners as the other party’s family members. Maybe you get this question all the time: How are you two doing? Are you in a one-on-one relationship? Determining a relationship doesn’t just put a label on yourself, it answers.

Needless to say, those labels are not as important today as they used to be. Logan Ury, director of relationship science at dating app Hinge and author of How to Not Die Alone, told me that Gen Zers generally prefer to keep their relationships fluid — such as exploring Open relationships, and steps to break the traditional marriage relationship. But her research also shows that the majority of Gen Z daters still want a “secure relationship” and feel nervous about the relationship conversation. A relationship today can go in many ways, which is a good thing, but it also makes it harder for the person in it to tell if the two are in tune. In a survey conducted by Hinge, 62% of users reported being disappointed with their last “situational relationship” (that is, an undefined romantic relationship).

Even when an intimate relationship is in progress, clear decision points still have value. Unknowingly “slipping” into an intimate relationship may create trouble at some point in the future [2]. Studies have shown that partners who directly talk about relationship turning points are more likely to usher in higher-quality intimate relationships, be more loyal to each other, and are less likely to cheat [3][4].

Of course, not every pair of “determined intimate relationship” couples are happy. Some have silently collected information for months or years, only to find that secret tests, holding hands in public, and meeting friends get carried away. When they finally wanted to talk about it publicly, they found that what the other party wanted was different from what they wanted.

The reason it’s so difficult to start a relationship-defining conversation is often because you can’t control the other person’s response. All you can do is stay true to yourself, and no amount of research will change that. But letting go and speaking the truth is powerful in itself — and maybe even better if you and the other person are drifting apart. Solomon hopes this will encourage “everyone to be a little bit braver”.

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