We often think of emotional intimacy as a reward for commitment. One of the great benefits of being in a committed relationship is the certainty you have about your partner’s feelings. But emotional intimacy should be nurtured early because it makes commitment much more likely to develop. When it doesn’t, you’re able to recognize a mismatch early on.
Here are ten ways to create emotional intimacy in the early days of dating:
1. Give positive indications of your interest.
If you’re enjoying a person’s company say so. “I had a great time tonight” is a good way to end a first date. When you find yourselves laughing together, take a moment to express “I have so much fun with you!” And don’t hesitate to smile and say “I like you” at any old time.
2. Be visibly immune to attention from others.
When you’re on a date or with someone you like, focus on your date exclusively. Have your blinders on. Never stare at, make eye contact with or God forbid – flirt – with someone else. Let your date know they have your full attention.
A male client once texted me proudly that he’d gotten another girl’s number while on a first date. He thought this would increase his value in his date’s eyes. Reading it, I groaned so loudly my husband worried that something terrible had happened. You might as well wave a banner saying “Don’t come any closer.” (And also: “I don’t know anything about women.”)
Another no-no is telling a date what celebrities you find hot. The minute you say how you have such a thing for Ryan Gosling, your date will immediately feel deflated unless he’s Ryan’s twin separated at birth. You like tall, slim guys with blue eyes? Then why are you with me, a stocky guy of Asian descent?
3. Share resources.
Give generously of your time, effort and yes, money. Doing so makes clear that you are investing in the relationship to move it forward.
4. Be trustworthy.
Be reliable and dependable. Say what you mean. Do what you say you will. Be someone who can be counted on. No one wants to lock it down with someone who is flighty, flaky and unpredictable. In terms of investment, you want to be a Triple A bond, not a penny stock.
5. Share your other relationships.
Introducing someone to friends, family and colleagues sends a message that here is someone you expect to be spending time with. None of us wants to introduce a promising date to friends, only to have to explain two weeks later that it didn’t work out.
6. Share your feelings.
Sharing emotions is a no-brainer in terms of building emotional intimacy. It’s true in all kinds of personal relationships, but especially true in dating. When you open up and reveal yourself, you’re taking the risk of becoming vulnerable with another person. You’re declaring in a way that they have the power do hurt you, but you trust them not to.
You’re also signaling that the relationship is special to you, because we don’t (or shouldn’t) share our innermost thoughts with people we don’t feel close to.
7. Demonstrate physical affection.
Touch is a very important way of showing that you care for someone. Human beings crave touch, because the physical connection speaks volumes about the emotional experience we are having.
Set aside special time for cuddling and other non-sexual ways of connecting physically. Hold hands, give spontaneous hugs or kisses on the cheek when the impulse strikes you.
If you’re having sex, don’t go home to your own place afterwards – sleep in the same bed. These gestures make us feel cared for, not just desired.
8. Invent your own language.
Tease playfully. Affectionate teasing is a way of saying, “We know each other well enough now that I can play with you a little.” Teasing is a way of testing someone’s compatibility with us – can they laugh at themselves? Are they good-natured? Do they have a quick wit?
Inside jokes or nicknames also foster intimacy because you’re the only two people who share them. They’re a way of shutting out the rest of the world while the two of you get to know each other better.
9. Be transparent.
Be open about your intentions, your history, and your lifestyle. I once dated a guy who would drop me off at midnight and continue on to a “meeting.” Or he’d say he had to be somewhere a half hour away at a certain time and could meet up afterwards. He was a pretty straight arrow, so I didn’t suspect he was dealing drugs, but I became convinced at one point that he was funneling guns to the IRA. I know it sounds crazy, but his mysteriousness really creeped me out. It had “red flag” written all over it. Uncertainty makes people anxious, and they tend to exaggerate what’s going on. For all I know, he was tucking his grandmother into bed.
Needless to say, affecting a sense of mystery or being vague about your feelings or intentions is slimy and manipulative. Hiding the truth always destroys intimacy.
10. Show up during hard times.
When we’re seeing someone who suffers a setback, it can sometimes be helpful to listen and empathize. But that requires the other person to spill their emotions, which may feel particularly risky during a crisis.
You can’t go wrong showing up with chicken soup during a bad cold, or offering a hug or back rub when someone has had a really hard day. Make the effort to give without any expectation of reciprocity.
Being generous is a way of saying that you care and are sorry to see another person suffer.
Think of each one of these examples as a “micro-commitment.” These small gestures and personal revelations are what emotional intimacy is made of. In contrast, aiming to appear as the person who cares the least ensures that emotional intimacy will never take hold.
It can feel scary to go out on a limb, and it’s important to keep in step with the other person. If you try any of these and feel rejected or your date responds in a distancing way, by all means stop! That’s an early sign that feelings are not mutual. When they are, your partner will meet you halfway (at least), and the early emotional intimacy you work hard to build will strengthen your new relationship.
What have I missed? Are there things you’ve done that have successfully made you feel closer to another person early on?