I feel moved to write this article because of a dating situation that occurs very frequently but is not explained by the simple rules of dating found in most books. I will use a case example as an illustration.
Henry and Yvonne (not their real names) met online. After a few email conversations they got together for coffee. They hit it off and were soon dating. According to Henry, they were head-over-heels in love, and after six months they got engaged. Then things started to unravel, and Yvonne seemed to grow more distant. Henry wanted to make things better, Yvonne was not sure. However, the thought of breaking up with Henry filled her with dread. Henry had always treated her well, though sometimes it seemed like he wanted more than she could give.
After a year they broke up, but in a month they were talking again. He wanted to feel love like it had been before, and she did not want to lose the best thing she'd ever had. But still she was not sure.
One could say that this problem was due to infatuation wearing off, denial and guilt pushing her into accepting the engagement, and then loneliness bringing them back together after the breakup.
However, this assessment is based on one significant false premise. It assumes that "in-love" and "not-in-love" are black and white concepts, and it assumes that infatuation, if it fades, becomes "not-in-love."
The truth, unfortunately, lies somewhere in between, and it is necessary to deal with this "shades-of-gray" complexity if one is to be successful in life and love.
Henry and Yvonne both felt very high romantic chemistry at the start, but once infatuation wore off her true level fell to "high," while his remained "very high." If her feelings of romantic chemistry had fallen to "medium" or less, then one could say that she had fallen out of love. But in fact her chemistry remains "high" (though not as high as Henry's). This causes her to feel ambivalent. Maybe she can find someone where the chemistry is stronger, but maybe she can not, at least not in someone who treats her as well as Henry does. So she is stuck. She does not know whether to proceed with him or not. She does not want to give him false hope, but she does not want to lose him either. She does not know what to do. This drives him crazy, and he also does not know what to do. Her ambivalence fuels his insecurity which in turn causes him to work harder at the relationship which in turn causes her to feel more confined and more like leaving. It is a vicious circle.
This, or a variation of it, seems to occur all the time, hence the title of this article "The Prevalence of Ambivalence."
So what's the solution? First there must be enough emotional maturity to be able to recognize the problem and constructively work on it. In this example Henry's emotional maturity was a little higher than Yvonne's, and enough to try to get a grip on the situation.
The partner who feels higher chemistry (Henry) must patiently allow time for the ambivalent partner (Yvonne) to sort out her life goals and decide how (or if) this relationship fits into them. This can be very hard to do. Henry needs to work on his own personal growth to be able to handle it. Yvonne will probably need to date other people as a part of her decision process. Therefore Henry will also need to date other people, but for different reasons (his emotional health and self-protection). (No one should date others out of spite or revenge or an effort to make the other person jealous.)
An important part of the solution is to seek advice and support from someone who understands this sort of situation. Friends will often give simplistic views ( "forget her '" or "move on"). This is an ideal opportunity for Henry and Yvonne to get assistance to help them focus on personal growth, which usually means gaining new knowledge about how relationships work. It is also important to gain the ability to apply this new knowledge! My book "Love Is Not A Game (But You Should Know the Odds)" is an excellent source of information about how to measure chemistry and maturity, and how to deal with the issues that arise from an imbalance of these factors.
Copyright 2006, Randy Hurlburt