Listen to this story from New York resident John Parker, 27, and see if you have an a-ha moment: “I had been dating someone for a few weeks when we went on a beach vacation with a group of friends. We didn’t have much time alone there, and each night my partner claimed to be too tired to fool around. I felt rejected and broke things off when we got back to the city.”
Think John made the right move? Well, listen to the next installment of this saga: “When I ran into my ex a few months later at a bar, I overheard this person talking about much fun our trip away together had been — how relaxing it had been to hang out with me and my best friends, which really brought my ex’s guard down. This person was now sorry things hadn’t worked out for the two us. I was wrong about the whole thing… argh!”
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Relationships are filled with many milestones that can be confusing — even to the point of leading to a breakup, like John’s did. Read on for an expert take on this and four other mixed-message relationship signs:
Sign #1: You’re not as physically affectionate as you used to be with each other
What you think it means: The thrill is gone. Time to break up!
What it might actually mean: You’ve found the real thing with this person, not just a short-term fling.
Anyone can have a hot, steamy instant connection with someone new, says Kitty Stuart, who’s served as relationship mentor for Oprah, but most of us have experienced the horror of rolling over and realizing there’s nothing but awkward silence coming from the other side of the bed. She recommends taking it as a compliment if your partner actually values you from the neck up, too (as long as the other parts of your bond are growing stronger and you’re truly talking about building a relationship with each other in the future). “This type of intimacy is a sign that your relationship is becoming deeper and more nurturing,” says Stuart. After all, few relationships can maintain the intense passion of the first few months of dating, so don’t let your insecurities lead you to misread this as a sign of rejection by your partner.
Sign #2: Your date drops the “L word” early on in your relationship
What you think it means: You’re obviously soul mates.
What it might actually mean: Your partner rushes into things without thinking them through first.
There’s no formula for the exact time and date when someone should profess his or her love to you, and having someone say it very early on can be flattering to your ego. But it can also be a red flag for a litany of relationship-killers, like codependence, insecurity and neediness in a partner. Stuart recommends putting aside your personal baggage and taking any love talk with a big grain of salt. “Hopefully it will prove true as things progress further down the road, but it could be a sign that your partner is more interested in finding someone to blindly shower with affection than in specifically getting to know you,” says Stuart.
Sign #3: Your sweetie stops getting spruced up for date night
What you think it means: Your partner doesn’t care about impressing you anymore.
What it might actually mean: Your partner trusts you with the “real” him or her, not just the facade.
“Maybe this person’s just lost the will to shop for new clothes,” says Michael Alvear, author of Not Tonight Dear, I Feel Fat, “but what is much more likely is that your sweetie is simply showing you how comfortable he or she feels around you now.” Alvear points out that while most people dress up to impress dates, they dress down to decompress when they’re at home. If your relationship seems to be going places, you want to be with someone who you can kick back and relax with, too. “What your partner is essentially saying is, ‘The fact that I’m with you is more important than what I look like right now,’” says Alvear. “And there’s no bigger compliment that that!”
Sign #4: Your date wants to go literally everywhere with you
What you think it means: This person must be majorly smitten already!
What it might actually mean: Your date has some not-so-great issues with setting appropriate boundaries.
Meeting someone who wants to spend every waking moment with you can be a real confidence-booster — at first, anyway. But if your new partner doesn’t want to let you out of his or her sight, it’s a sign that this person doesn’t feel valuable without you around (or worse, has jealousy problems in any relationship). “This generally means that there are trust issues at work that have nothing to do with you,” says Stuart. You need to make it clear that you have to spend time apart in order to have a healthy relationship and a balanced life — and also so you both have something to talk about when you are together again!
Sign #5: Your partner stops offering to pick up the tab on dates
What you think it means: You’re not important enough to be taken care of anymore by this person.
What it might actually mean: You’re becoming a major part of his or her life, not just another generic “date.”
This one might be actually be a good thing, since it’s an important (if painful) moment in your relationship, regardless of whether you are male or female. “Next to sexual compatibility, discussions about financial responsibility can be some of the most anxiety-producing relationship issues,” says Barbara Rubin, Psy.D., an Atlanta-based psychologist. “But the positive side is that these changes in financial habits can often reflect unspoken changes in expectations between romantic partners.” Rubin says that if you can tackle this sensitive issue openly and without making it seem like a personal attack, your bond will become stronger almost immediately. Doing so results in more equal footing between the two of you, which is essential for long-term success as a couple. Not such a bad sign after all, right?
Caroline Stanley is a New York City writer who has contributed to Twist, CosmoGIRL!, Quick & Simple, and Harper’s Bazaar.