This week on the podcast we unpack New Relationship Energy NRE: How it differs from a crush, what it closes down, and what it might open up – if we think about it differently.
NRE and crushes
NRE refers to the kinds of excited, fizzy, loved-up, kiddy, somewhat obsessed, feelings we can have at the start of a relationship: usually a romantic and/or erotic relationship. It’s similar to the ‘honeymoon period’: the sense that the early days of a relationship might be particularly loving, romantic, passionate, and easy, compared to the rest. ‘Falling in love’ might capture something similar to NRE: the idea it is a crazy time of hot, rollercoaster emotions.
The difference between NRE and a crush is that crushes aren’t necessarily reciprocated or requited, whereas NRE – by definition – happens in a relationship. Often both/all of the people in the relationship feel it together. However, it’s possible for one person to be in NRE at the start of a new relationship and the other/s not to be.
NRE and crush experiences can be quite similar in the way the other person takes up a lot of our mental time and energy, our feelings towards them are generally highly positive, and it may be quite idealised or objectifying given it’s often based on not knowing the person very well.
NRE and crushes are also both biopsychosocial: a complex combination of the cultural messages we’ve received about how love works, our own personal experiences of relationships during our lives, and the brain chemicals and bodily processes that kick in when we have strong love experiences.
What NRE closes down
As always we’re cautious about anything that privileges one kind of love over other kinds. The cultural script of how NRE works is restricted to romantic and erotic love, often assuming those always happen in the same place – which of course they don’t.
As with all cultural scripts this can set people up to fail: those who don’t experience NRE may feel like they are missing something, or letting down a partner if that person is experiencing NRE or really wants to. There’s also a cultural bias here to a western model of love: dating rather than arranged relationships, for example.
Those who do experience NRE may be carried along by this cultural script in ways that aren’t good for them or others – for example idealising their partner rather than seeing them as they really are, or drifting away from the other close people in their life, or failing to see signs that the relationship might not be a good one for them. Also, the NRE script can set people up to find the rest of the relationship a disappointment after the early, heady days when everything seemed perfect. NRE can be part of the relationship escalator, meaning that we feel we have to keep following the culturally normative stages of a relationship if it started that way.
In NRE we can be searching for things that are missing in ourselves from the other person, or latching onto kinds of love we yearned for – and perhaps didn’t receive – in childhood. This is one of the reasons it can feel so enticing and wonderful, but also requires caution lest we put too much pressure on this person or relationship to heal all the wounds of the past, to be The One perfect person, or to prove we are loveable when we struggle to believe it ourselves. Reading about relationships and exploring our own relationship patterns can be helpful here.
There’s a risk too that NRE happens partly because we are only showing certain sides of ourselves to a partner – and vice versa. It feels so perfect because we’re not being real. While NRE might then give us the sense that we’re a wonderful, loved, desired person – this may be a fragile state if it’s not based on showing all sides of us, or being real.
What NRE could open up
Following on from this point, NRE if you are being very real with a new person in your life can be an extraordinary, validating experience. What might it be like to be open, vulnerable, and honest about the whole of who you are and still have somebody reflecting back how awesome that is? This is by no means easy, of course, and it’s wise to build trust and intimacy with new people in our lives. Such openness can also help us to figure out where we’re on the same page – and where we’re not – rather than trying to follow a cookie cutter approach to the relationship (check out our zine Make Your Own Relationship User Guide for more on this).
We might also think about inviting NRE into other relationships in our lives: friends, family, colleagues, etc. instead of restricting it to romantic/erotic relationships. Can we rewrite the script of when NRE happens? Might there be periods of renewed energy of all kinds throughout a relationship? Relationships over time often go through cycles, rather than starting energised and becoming less so, especially if we’re open to that.
When in NRE what happens if we intentionally draw on that energy instead of losing ourselves in it? For example, we might allow it to crack us open – the way major experiences like love, grief, and surviving a crisis can. We might find ways to allow ourselves to open to more of our feelings through the experience of NRE, or use it to go back to love feelings in the past and reflect on our relationship patterns and how we want to do relationships in the future. We could try to look at all the people in our life through the lens of NRE: what if everyone was as precious as this new love of ours? Friends, strangers, and the people we find difficult.
© Meg-John Barker & Justin Hancock, 2019