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Butterflies in the Tummy, Moths in the Fabric of Life (NRE)

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IT’S HAPPENING!!! You’re no longer just roleplaying as polyamorous (or whatever form of ethical nonmonogamy), you have a new partner or metamour. How exciting! Now it’s time to learn about the best and worst part of being poly, NRE. New Relationship Energy, known in the psych circles as limerence, is more commonly known as puppy love, cupcake phase, or honeymoon phase. It is that point in the relationship where everything is new, shiny, scary, amazing, and possible. It stands in opposition to Established Relationship Energy (ERE, it used to be ORE but nobody liked being in the ‘old’ category #LiveForeverYoung #AgeismAtWork). We’ll look briefly at why it seems brains are leaking out of ears and what a responsible polycule can do to weather the storms of frenetic energy that comes with the territory.  

Science of the Honeymoon Phase

Love is a helluva a drug, or rather a cocktail of biochemical processes that start in the hypothalamus leading to the pituitary gland to flood the brain with dopamine, norepinephrine, and phenylethylamine (that’s a brain made METH) which in 6 to 24 months start being replaced with oxytocin and vasopressin. Catch all that?  It’s on the Poly Test you need to pass to get your card, jk. In the first 6 to 24 months you get feelings of euphoria that in some brain scans can be easily confused with the use of hard street drugs. The latter are attachment chemicals that lead to ERE. NRE sufferers get their next ‘hit’ by thinking of or interacting with their focus. Some ways to tell if someone is in NRE:

  • Recurring and intrusive thoughts of the other person(s)
  • Absolute fear of rejection
  • Fantasizing often about the other person(s)
  • Maintaining romantic intensity through challenges
  • Feelings of euphoria (especially if you believe feelings are reciprocated)
  • Idealizing the other person(s)

Unfun fact, ~5% of the population are NRE junkies so watch out for that. Akin to any addiction, while it feels amazing it can be ridiculously destructive. Fortunately, there are skills and practices that can be immensely helpful.


What to do when high on love

Whaaaattt!? You’re not in NRE, pffft. Like how Richard Pryor didn’t do cocaine, he just like how it smelled, it can be difficult to realize how into a state we are… sometimes harder to admit that something that feels so good is so dangerous. As we experience NRE, attacks against our person(s) or the new relationship feel like attacks on ourselves. Our friend ego loathes that. You want to feel accepted, not judged. You want to be free to feel the way you feel, not like you’re supposed to be ashamed and hide… I mean, wasn’t that the whole point of opening up? To freely be who you are, doing what feels right? In the burner world (Burning Man) there’s a concept, “Don’t Divorce Your Parakeet”. As you go through this amazing period, don’t burn your life down. One wise saying is to not make any major life decisions in the first year, like moving, breaking up, getting married, quitting jobs, etc. Here are some ideas that may help:

  • Check in on yourself and the situation. Stay in touch with what matters to you, what mattered to you before NRE, and what will matter after.
  • As best you can, be honest and upfront with expectations and personal limits. Realize these may change as time goes on.
  • Look for red flags, in them, y’all, yourself, and your relationships.
  • Trust takes time, not just feelings. That time will also let your chemicals settle a bit.
  • Get insight from support networks. Friends, families, partners, metas, or communities can give you a not-high-on-NRE insights.
  • Actually listen to and evaluate these insights. Don’t take it personally, weigh them out, be respectful.
  • Be respectful to yourself, your established relationships, and your new partner(s).


As the New Partner

Well isn’t this an awkward factory. You are stepping into a polycule with one or more established relationships and you’re not sure how its going to go. Will they like you or loathe you? Can you be nice enough to not be yelled at? Are you also still in NRE or are you getting lumped in? Can you even believe your partner said that to their established meta? While you may lack experience or authority with your partner and their people, you do have their attention and that can be powerful.

  • Balance the respect for yourself, your partner, and your meta(s). Don’t make compromises that minimize you as a person while also not driving unilateral changes to established relationships. 
  • As best you can, be honest and upfront with expectations and personal limits. Realize these may change as time goes on.
  • Do your best to be aware of established relationship boundaries, limits, and norms. Be willing to offer changes and compromises but don’t expect Rome to get built in a day.
  • You can not control your partner, you can ask that they hold themselves accountable to agreements they have made and support them through frustrations they express.
  • Appreciating your meta(s) expresses itself differently in each relationship. It can help to intentionally negotiate what  level of involvement or interaction is workable.


As an Established Partner

Geez they just will NOT stop texting this week! It feels like you’re not even here, nobody is actually listening to and validating your feelings and fears. Your partner has gone full tilt to dumb land, ignoring every red flag on the way. A good heap of patience and some skills can be helpful. 

  • Remember this is an involuntary state. Their body is doing this to them. In much the same way depression, anxiety, etc. happens to people, so does NRE. That said, your boundaries and feelings are still valid and you don’t deserve to be abused or neglected. Be respectful of yourself, your partner, and your meta(s). 
  • Balance remaining true to yourself and flexible in your relationship. When they mention how great it would be to buy a condo in Brazil to start a llama commune, it is time to have a discussion. First, llamas don’t even live in Brazil. Secondly, you might be allergic. Thirdly, it’s not an agreement or compromise if it’s presented as an ultimatum. If either side ends with, “it’s me or the llamas”, fair negotiations have broken down. Inside the fantasy of a wooly carnivale is a call for something, some project as a polycule or validation… who knows. 
  • As best you can, be honest and upfront with expectations and personal limits. Realize these may change as time goes on.
  • Be prepared to re/negotiate dynamics and boundaries, remain firm where you feel you need to.
  • Take care of yourself. Reaching out to your support network to vent or get a sanity check is a type of self care, and way better than taking frustrations out on your partner and their meta(s). 
  • Appreciating your meta(s) expresses itself differently in each relationship. It can help to intentionally negotiate what  level of involvement or interaction is workable.
  • Remember that NRE doesn’t last forever and in a little while, they’ll be back to normal-ish. Woosah. As frustrating as they are being, you love them.


As a Group

There’s no hard and fast rules here, networks never aired this sitcom, and society doesn’t encourage the relationship style you’re in. You’re going to have to do this yourselves. 

  • One approach I have seen be successful is to come at this like a business entity. How are new board members selected, based on what merits? How can partners be bought out or exit? What provisions or clauses are important enough to discuss, which can you be flexible on, which are hard limits for you? Time, holidays, shows of affection, sexy times, kinks, etc. What’s the vision statement or core goals and characteristics of the enterprise? 
  • Anecdotally, I highly recommend that all relevant members be available for a vote. It has not worked well when two metas decide for a person in NRE what is best for them. 
  • Between any two people, their issues and fights are theirs. Outsiders can offer ears to vent to, but only the two involved can really communicate and process their differences. You can’t just make kittens kiss. If two people establish boundaries, respect them.
  • Don’t let yourself be the monkey in the middle. Going from one meta to the other and attempting to soothe both is beyond difficult. I don’t quote the bible often but this is a good one, no man can serve two masters. If they won’t talk to each other, establish your own boundaries.

New Relationship Energy is a wonderful feeling. Much like the blue ringed octopus though, for as beautiful as it is, it is equally dangerous. Don’t gaslight your partner or yourself by affirming everything is fine and “you’ve got this” and that “it’s fine”. A core tenant of any definition of ethical nonmonogamy is the ethical part. Being truthful with others, and more importantly yourself, is key to happy, fulfilling experiences. Wrap the wild whirlwind in some bubble wrap. As with almost everything relationship oriented, absolutely nothing beats clear, open, honest communication. Enjoy your NRE responsibly.

EDIT: When I find out new things, I like to share them. Research suggests 3rd party mediation can help improve results from difficult discussions between romantic partners. People in your polycule, friends, and family unfortunately do not qualify as that type of unbiased 3rd party.  If you or someone you know are  looking for that type of 3rd party, call or message us below.