The first flush of a relationship can be super exciting. You both dig one another, so you start spending a ton of time together — weekend trips, standing Friday night dates, and constant text messages abound. It feels like you've known each other forever. But then you come up for air and realize that things have moved at an intense clip in a short amount of time. This kind of aha moment might be followed by the need to regain a little independence.
How can someone tell if their relationship is moving too fast? Of course, that's something you really have to decide for yourself, says Megan Stubbs, EdD, a sexologist and relationship expert based in Michigan. "People are always looking to do the 'right' thing, especially when it comes to pacing," she explains. "But it's a very individual experience." The "aha" can manifest in a bunch of different ways. A person can realize that they're not spending as much time with their friends. Or they might wake up and realize their partner has moved a toothbrush in to their bathroom — a step they didn't realize would create such an emotional response.
Keep in mind that it's easy for these feelings to appear. "The idea that a relationship should just be able to grow spontaneously is one of the fallacies that society has created," says Kelley Johnson, PhD, a clinical sexologist based in North Carolina. "Relationships take work, so it's important to set boundaries from the get-go... You should be upfront with a person, and let them know what your expectations of the relationship are." Those boundaries can really run the gamut, from not wanting to be exclusive off the bat to how often you'd like to text. "It might seem like work, but healthy relationships do take work," she adds.
Even if you haven't set boundaries from the start, you can still put in some retroactive guardrails; it just requires a bit more delicacy. "Make sure you're having this conversation in a neutral location, and don't bring it up before you go to bed or after sex," Dr. Stubbs says. "You want both parties to feel comfortable speaking their peace." From there, letting your partner know that you still like them and want to spend time with them can help blunt the pain or rejection they might feel; it's all about getting on the same page.
Remember that in these situations, it's important to match actions with words. "A lot of things get confused when someone is acting one way but saying they want something else," Dr. Stubbs explains. "Say something like, 'You say you don't want to move too fast, but we're spending every single weekend together. What's going on? What are you thinking?'" Pointing out any discrepancies to your partner doesn't mean you're being confrontational; it shows you want to move forward in a way that works for both of you.
While they can be terrifying, sometimes hard conversations are necessary in order to make sure the relationship is still on track, says Dr. Johnson. "Talking about [your boundaries] early on and making sure your partner is on the same page and has an understanding of who you are is so important," she says. A relationship works best when both parties are happy — especially with the pacing. So if a toothbrush in your bathroom freaks you out, don't be ashamed. But also don't be afraid to speak up.