How do strangers become romantic partners ? Some people find it easy to fill this gap, while others wonder: what exactly should I do?
Research on early relationships suggests that anyone who wants to start a relationship needs to go through 6 steps. By identifying these stages, scientists provide a framework for initiating relationships. In other words, what often seem like unique social interactions actually have commonalities in what people think, how they feel, and how they act. Consider the steps proposed by Davis (1973) to describe the essential tasks of initiating a relationship:
- Step 1 : Is this person worth it?
The first step in initiating a love relationship is to assess whether a person has the “qualifiers” that make them worth approaching. In modern terms, qualifiers are thresholds of attractiveness. Is someone physically attractive enough or nice or smart enough? In other words, are we so attracted to this person that we want to put in the effort to start something?
- Step 2: Is this person available?
We then try to assess whether someone might be open or available for a relationship. People may seek wedding rings or the presence of a significant other. This step helps us determine how much of a person has basic potential to reciprocate our interest.
- Step 3: Get her attention.
The next step is an opening that get that person’s attention. This gives you, the initiator, new information: Is the person still interesting to you after a brief interaction? The response to your opening also helps you understand the potential for mutual benefit. Often a friendly overture or inclusion of someone in a conversation is often enough to see if there is chemistry potential.
- Step 4: Maintain commitment.
Once you have the attention of an attractive person, the task is to to keep it. Davis (1973) suggested coming up with an integrative topic, a topic of discussion that entertains you as well as the other person. You can ask questions, make witty observations, or see in other ways if you have common interests. Similarity breeds attraction, as does familiarity: the more you engage with someone, the more likely they are to feel connected to you.
- Step 5: Strategic self-introduction.
Initiation conversations are difficult because not only are you gauging the other person’s interest and trying to maintain it, but you are also trying to present a desirable version of yourself. It can be a calm and intelligent self, an exuberant self, a powerful or high-status self. Depending on who you are and your goals, and depending on what you think the other person is looking for, you might highlight the particular side of yourself that you think will be most attractive in this encounter. .
The final task of the relationship is to make the current conversation not the last conversation. What Davis (1973) called the next meeting could be a later meeting (“meet me for coffee tomorrow so we can talk more”) or an extended evening (“I’ll walk you home”).
Can you consider how well your last connection with someone followed these steps? Where was the problem?
Why do some relationships fail to start?
Initiation of a relationship is a fragile process: at any point in these stages, the process can turn sour. Sometimes the beginning of a relationship fizzles due to aspects of the potential partner. Maybe the other is already in an exclusive relationship, doesn’t have the energy, or doesn’t have the desire to give you the attention you need to showcase your attractive features. Maybe the other is stressed, concerned, or just in the mood to meet someone new.
Other times, the situation is to blame: maybe the music is too loud, the place is too crowded, or the opportunity just isn’t there to start a conversation or express interest. . Friends may get in your way, or you may be in a setting that just doesn’t allow you to present your best self (e.g., you’ve just worked out; you’re in your pajamas at the grocery store because you don’t have more coffee).
And of course, it is ourselves who bear the responsibility for a failed start. It’s not easy to juggle the cognitive strain of self-presentation while being a charming person. We could be clumsy in a thousand different ways. Here’s what my mom would say, “If it’s meant to be, it will be” – but I might suggest practice helps. Social skills during possible romantic encounters can be acquired. We can practice, in low-stakes situations, mindfulness as a way to reduce theinstant anxiety and reminding ourselves that being ourselves is the approach that will ultimately help us make a real connection.