I am a master of dating too quickly. My last ex and I became exclusive on our second date. Come to think of it, I did the same thing with the boyfriend before that. Were those happy, healthy relationships? Nope. Am I still with them? Hard nope. It's always been difficult for me to know how to take a relationship slow.
In the early days of dating someone new, boundaries are necessary, but they can be challenging to implement without seeming disinterested or freaked out. Asking for time and independence when you start dating someone can sometimes be intimidating, and has the potential to make your partner feel unwanted or unappreciated — but there are ways around this.
Healthy relationships require fully developed, secure people who are in no rush to get anywhere, because they know good things take time. A partner isn't meant to satiate some deep hole inside of you that is desperate to be filled. They should be an enjoyable addition to your life — one that doesn't need to be developed at the speed of light in order to be maintained.
So, take a breath. Settle in. And meet Susan Winter, a New York City–based relationship expert who’s got the deets on how to take a relationship slow enough so that it develops healthfully — you know, the right way.
As with all things in life, Winter says that when it comes to relationships, honesty is the best policy — even if it feels really scary. If you want to take a relationship slow, taking the initiative to be honest about it will not only feel like a huge weight off your shoulders, but it will build trust between you and your potential new partner and show them early on the true depth of your character.
"If you're the kind of person who's comfortable speaking your mind, you may want to tell your partner that your reason for slowing the pace is due to the fact that you like them," Winter says. "Because you have positive feelings about 'who they are' at this point in knowing them, you want to ensure that your relationship has the greatest likelihood of moving forward in a healthy manner."
If you’re anything like me and your past relationships have hinged on the side of co-dependence, Winter suggests making the extra effort to move cautiously and deliberately in your dating life — and to make those needs clear from the very beginning. That way, your new love interest will have less opportunity to take the slow pace personally and instead see it for what it is: a desire to actually get to know them instead of rushing into the relationship haphazardly. And it’s important to find someone who responds well to your clear boundaries and sense of self.
"Who is going to contest the fact that you like them? As long as you're willing to continue to honestly share your emotions and the relationship is progressing forward, you should have no problem slowing down your mate," Winter continues. Consider this a good litmus test to determine if your potential partner can respect your needs. If they take this information well, then you’re that much closer to finding someone worth moving forward with.
Make Justified Excuses
Radical honesty is great and all, but for those of us still working toward that level of emotional vulnerability with partners, slipping in some scheduling hurdles can be a useful tool for slowing down your relationship. As long as you’re not shutting out your potential partner entirely, thereby coming off as disinterested or aloof, feel free to lean on your already full and active lifestyle to quell the flames of your newly burning romance.
"External roadblocks are reasonable excuses for not being able to see each other as much as you'd like on a weekly basis,” Winter says. “This could include going out of town for a meeting, going home to see your family, or finishing up a big project at work. The key to doing this diplomatically is to remember the golden rule: Whenever you take something away, you need to replace it with something else."
Canceling plans without a follow-up is an easy way to make your new love interest feel like they’re cruising along on the Ghost Town city limits. Instead of slowing down your relationship, you might accidentally bring it to a screeching halt. To avoid this, Winter suggests a few easy fixes, such as: “‘I can't see you this weekend. I'm going to a family event. Are you around the following weekend?’" or, “‘Tuesday night's not good for me. I'll be out of town. Could we touch base when I come back and I have a better idea of my schedule?’"
By offering up some strategically spaced out alternatives, you’ll keep your new relationship at a nice, manageable simmer before it gets to a full boil or goes fully cold.
Practice A Little Self-Discipline
It’s natural to want to plow full speed ahead when you’ve just met someone who lights up your world — maybe for the first time or for the first time in a long time. But if your ultimate goal is to protect and nurture this beautiful thing that you’ve found, so that you can see where it might lead, it’s going to take a bit of self-restraint.
"If you can master your mind, you can master your emotions, and you can master your actions," Winter says. "Whenever you feel the relationship getting 'too hot too soon,' slow your own pace of engagement."
When it comes to a healthy relationship, remember, slow and steady wins the race. "This could mean [you] say no to a date one night, but accept another two days later," Winter continues. "It could mean holding off on sex for a while until you have a better idea of who this person is and what they really want. It could also mean thinking through the end result of any action you take (for example, those drunken texts or late-night booty calls)."
It may even be a good idea to establish some boundaries and rules around communication, like no texting after midnight, or choosing not to follow each other on social media until you’ve gotten to know each other well enough in person.
If someone you’ve met asks you on another date immediately, it’s OK to take your time and think it over, even if this is a person you think you might really like — and, if that’s the case, taking your time might actually be the best option. There’s no shame in taking a step back to consider what is actually right for you.
"At the end of the day, it's all about you. You're the one who sets the pace. You're the one who does the filtering in choosing the appropriate partner for your end goals. And you're the one who has command of yourself, your actions, and your emotions," Winter says. "Don't be afraid to use all the skills you have to work for your romantic advantage."
In any fiery new romance, you’re the one holding the match, and it’s ultimately your choice whether you fan the flames or put it out entirely. If you decide that you need to slow your relationship down, then go ahead and slow it down. The right person will be happy to get to know you at any pace you need.
Susan Winter, relationship expert
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