‘Let the dog see the rabbit,’ said my friend J. She could have been talking about her voracious desire for wine at 7pm, but she was, in fact, referencing her new boyfriend.
This is because she was still in the honeymoon period. Remember that, the honeymoon phase? Or limerence, if you’re looking for a fancy new word for Countdown.
Definition: intense feelings of infatuation, ecstasy and the idealisation of one’s partner. Characterised by wanting to be in close proximity to them all the time. Preferably naked. And if you can’t be, resorting to behaviour such as wearing their blood around your neck in a vial – if you are Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie back when they were married – or your partner’s T-shirt if you are everyone else.
I thought the honeymoon period was a fallacy. Made up, like unicorns and most of Donald Trump’s press briefings. Why? Well, when my ex-husband and I got together we were 18 and I was too busy being nervous about sex to be all-consumed by it, or even to properly let go and enjoy it. I thought everyone was just bigging up their lust-filled early-day romances to brag.
But now, in the few relationships I have had post-marriage, I have experienced it: desire dialled up to Defcon 1; concentration levels lower than a Kardashian’s neckline. I mean, this is mind-blowing stuff.
According to research from Syracuse University, falling in love triggers the same sensation of exhilaration experienced by people when they take cocaine. In both cases, lots of euphoria-inducing chemicals are released in 12 areas of the brain.
So how long does the honeymoon period last? Research suggests it’s as little as six months. I think it’s no coincidence that’s around the same length as job probation (people can only keep their bad timekeeping or Monster Munch Pickled Onion habit hidden for so long).
In relationships, as the lust wears off, the reality creeps in. You start noticing they click their teeth when they eat or clip their toenails and leave them on the side of the bath. You. might stop shaving your legs every day. And as those rose-tinted glasses come off, it can feel like your relationship is lacking. Some people seem only able to handle relationships when they’re in the honeymoon phase; they need the high-octane thrills to feel alive. But for most of us moving to the next stage is a natural evolution – it means you are entering what psychologist Fiona Murden calls the acceptance stage.
If you want to feel better about the fact that your feelings towards your partner are no longer quite so intense, Emily Nagoski, an expert in sexual wellbeing, says sometimes the honeymoon period isn’t about lust and longing at all, but fear.
She says that kind of all-consuming desire can be about insecurity and control; trying to maintain a connection you are scared of losing.
But what if you are past the honeymoon phase, yet want to feel some of that desire again? Try this three-pronged approach…
- Sleep naked. If you’ve swapped sleeping in your altogether for flannelette nighties, think twice. Not just because cosy bedwear is a sartorial sin, but because you are missing out on the bonding hormone oxytocin triggered by skin-to-skin contact.
- Make a conscious effort to kiss/hug/hold your partner. It’s a cycle – the more we do it, the more we want to do it. Again, physical contact releases oxytocin, and so you are more likely to be in the mood for sex.
- Embrace newness. Desire’s flames are fanned by novelty. In the first stages of a relationship, everything is new. First sleepover, first meal, first Christmas. To keep up the tempo you don’t need to go to sex parties or buy bondage gear. Instead, you can make small changes – send flirty text messages, buy some new underwear, watch a sexy film and switch up your sexual routine. Starting small feels less cringey.