In the wonderfully complex world of ethical non-monogamy and polyamory, a feeling rings true for many, if not all, participants: new relationship energy. New relationship energy, or NRE, is the endorphin high one experiences when they start seeing a new partner.
Before I completely lose you, monogamous folks, you experience this too, but you generally have it once and call it the honeymoon phase.
In my experience, if you’re already in a healthy relationship(s), NRE can feel even more heightened than the honeymoon phase. A year into one of my current relationships and after about six months of trauma-driven exclusivity, I opened myself back up to dating. As I sifted through minds and bodies, one stood out in particular and I felt the familiar rush of NRE.
This person, so different from my existing partner, inadvertently highlighted what I treasured in my long-term relationship. As a result, an emotional and sexual renaissance swept through the old relationship, which in turn funneled more vulnerability into this new relationship. Compersion, the feeling of joy you get when your partner experiences joy with another partner, set the stage for this positive feedback loop exchange to take place.
My long-term partner also started dating and connecting with someone shortly after this, so between the NRE and compersion, we were all varying degrees of those unsettlingly happy people you quietly hate from a few tables over at brunch. But when you’re in it, you don’t care.
Eventually, my new beau finally connected with a crush … and I initially felt a pang of jealousy for the first time in years. Instead of keying anyone’s car, I thought about why this was happening because 1) I’d been at this ethical non-monogamy game for five years, 2) I prioritize therapy, and 3) I attended a seminar organized by Kidd Bell about jealousy just a few months earlier.
When handled with care, NRE just leads to more happiness in a sustainable way.
The consensus of all these experiences informed me that jealousy often just points to an insecurity, so once I found it, I literally laughed at the reason. The feeling resolved itself in about one sitting of To All the Boys I Loved Before. Though this is rare for me, jealousy is a common reaction from the other side of someone’s particularly intense NRE. A 33-year-old artist and video DJ, who chose to remain anonymous, is currently observing how the downside of NRE is affecting a metamour (a partner’s partner).
“[He] has had to deal with all of the NRE of [their partner] finding someone that she’s infinitely more compatible with on every level,” he said. “And it’s been really hard on everyone.”
No matter how egalitarian people try to make polyamory, the human condition makes us relate to each other in different, often hierarchical ways. To maintain the health of poly relationships, it’s important to foster open communication to assuage any fears and honest introspection to avoid letting NRE consume you at the cost of other relationships.
“The thing about NRE is that if you’re not mindful and strategic, you can sort of blow past important discussions regarding setting healthy boundaries or communicating needs and expectations,” the artist continued. “Maybe [you] even miss some key ways that two people might be more incompatible than either had initially hoped.”
And those conversations are important because, eventually, NRE ends. The real work of the relationship begins and, sure, you’ll still get some tinier fuzzy endorphins, but not if you wreaked complete havoc (ignoring partners, ending old relationships, making huge commitments with your new partner) during your NRE high.
Even if you do everything right, sometimes this new person shows you just how much you’ve grown apart from an existing partner. It’s a heartbreaking way to discover a partnership is already over, but all growth can only benefit you in the long run.
However you approach NRE, you should enjoy it with caution because unmitigated joy can distort reality. But hopefully, when handled with care, it just leads to more happiness in a sustainable way.
I’m still with both partners, approaching one and two-year anniversaries, and I’m rooting for the residual power of NRE. Especially since I have to see about a girl.
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