Feature Archive

Setting Good Expectations


By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson, MD

Are you looking for love but finding disappointment? You may be asking for too much too soon. Five experts shed some light on what to expect from romance.


Part 1: Understanding What You Need
Part 2: Setting Good Expectations


"He's just not that into you." That one now infamous line -- pulled from the legendary Sex and the City television series -- spawned not only a book, but a dating revolution that, for a while, turned many singles' lives upside down. At the core of the shake up: A philosophy that told us if your partner isn't giving you the attention you expect, don't hang around and wait for change - just move on.

But as sound as this tenet may be, it also underscores what experts see as a major problem in relationships today: We frequently expect a little too much, a little too soon. And that, they say, can spell dating disaster.

"People want to rush into a relationship and they want it all to work out right away. They become very concerned if the other person doesn't call them quickly or doesn't want to see them with increasing frequency," says JoAnn White, a relationship expert and psychology instructor at Temple University in Philadelphia. Often those expectations are simply unrealistic.

Many times, she says, one partner simply doesn't want to move that fast. So, tossing away someone simply because they want to take it slow could turn out to be a big mistake.

Psychiatrist Virginia A. Sadock, MD, notes that getting swept up in romantic desire is not, in and of itself, a bad thing, as long as we don't subject our partner to our fantasies too soon. "If there's this kind of desperation to get things moving too fast, it just pushes the other person away," says Sadock, a professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine.

So how do you keep yourself from expecting too much too soon? How do you know when to hold on and when to let go? Experts say it all boils down to just a few old fashioned bylaws of romance:

  1. Don't rush into sex.
  2. Let the relationship deepen slowly over months.
  3. Think about what you bring to the relationship, not what you get from it.
  4. Understand that heady passion may not last, but love does.
  5. Work through problems to have a stronger relationship in the end.

Keep It Light at First

While the wisdom may seem a bit conventional, experts say one of the best ways to win at love is to hold off physical intimacy until you really get to know someone.

"Sex changes everything," says relationship coach and matchmaker Melissa Darnay.

"I always tell my female clients not to have sex until he says 'I love you' -- because if you become intimate too soon you'll be thinking 'Oh, now we're a couple,' while he's thinking 'Oh boy that was sure fun,'" says Darnay, author of the book Dating 101.

The end result, she says is that one partner is playing by one set of relationship rules, while the other may not even be on the game board.

To avoid all these complications, Darnay advises both male and female clients to keep things light and breezy -- and put no expectations on each other -- for at least a few months.


So When Can You Get Serious?

Deepen Your Commitment Gradually

While expecting too much is sure to kill a relationship, the opposite can also be true. Indeed, experts say that when a natural sense of entitlement doesn't rise up and come to the surface of a love affair, it won't last -- no matter how hot the passion.

As your feelings for one another deepen over time, the relationship should progress to reflect that, says Sadock. Both partners should give more of themselves and expect more in return. As such, she says it's reasonable to expect that you will not only begin to spend more time together, but also give more to each other emotionally.

"Ideally, you should expect that you and your partner will feel closer at 10 months than you did at one month," Sadock tells WebMD.

Psychologist Dennis Lowe, PhD, offers this advice to increase your odds of success: Think a little bit less about what you expect from the relationship and a little bit more about what you can bring to it.