Family allegiances 

Family: a societal term used to refer to a group of individuals connected by DNA, marriage and/or co-residency. No matter how you define it, the bonds of kinship are strong and, in an age where societal norms have expanded on what constitutes family, everyone forms an alliance of sorts, whether that be with parents, grandparents, siblings or children.  In whatever format your family comes, they have a huge impact on your dating life, both for the positive and the negative.

Having a loving and supportive family gives you the confidence to go out into the dating world knowing your worth. Here is a group of people who love you for all your quirks and faults and as a result solidifies the feeling that you’re lovable. This sense of self-worth is imperative to finding a successful, healthy and happy romantic relationship. This is because it helps you seek a partner who will truly love you for who you are, whilst preventing you from accepting a relationship that falls outside the parameters of a healthy relationship. Of course, this sense of self can be found through other means and, in most cases, works in partnership with family, but with family you have a safety net, extra guidance and often a push to follow your heart. 

Family allegiances only become problematic if one person in a new relationship has a stronger commitment to their family of origin than the other or their family don’t understand boundaries. If a couple are continually spending time with one person’s family and not the other – should both partners want to spend more time with their own family - then this can create an imbalance in the relationship.  This is particularly the case if neither of the couple has children and are in the early stages of moving on from their childhood families. Some may still seek to fulfil their commitments to their family without prioritising the creation of a new one with their partner. That’s not to say that someone cannot be an addition to your family - just ensure you become an addition to theirs, whilst moving forward with making your own family unit with your partner. 

This is done by setting boundaries with your family of origin, creating an understanding that your partner is a priority to you and should be accepted into your family under the umbrella of love they show to you.  Even if your family doesn’t grow to love the person you’ve chosen to be with, there still needs to be a level of respect shown from both sides. This is often the case when you move into a new relationship and there are children involved. Again, boundaries need to be established, in which both relationships, the one with your child and your new partner, are made a priority. Clear communication amongst all parties will eliminate a sense of ‘he said, she said’ and will increase a sense of togetherness. Of course, there’ll be times where children need to take precedence but that doesn’t diminish the importance of your partner and shouldn’t be expressed as such. 

It’s imperative that families see new partners as an addition, as opposed to a hindrance, and remain open and supportive. Clear communication, boundaries and understanding will build family allegiances and a healthy romantic relationship and help all involved to move forward. 

Intimacy defence mechanisms – are your standards too high?

Though it may be counter-intuitive, most of us, particularly those of us who have been hurt in the past, defend against the very love we desire. We erect love barriers, or intimacy defence mechanisms, in an attempt to protect ourselves from potential hurt. Rejecting someone before they have a chance to reject you eliminates the risk of emotional pain.This behaviour isn’t limited to perpetual singletons; intimacy-avoiding manoeuvres can be triggered within relationships themselves as couples grow closer and provide a convenient escape route for cold-footed partners.The trickiest hurdle when tackling these maladaptive behaviours is that we may not even be consciously aware of what we’re doing. So how do we figure out if we’re unnecessarily pushing love away, and how do we overcome it?

Intimacy behaviours are learnt through behavioural modelling from an early age and reinforced by relationship experience throughout life. We learn how to connect with others both through observation of role models such as parental figures and experience of childhood attachment to our caregivers. Each experience along the way, from our first kiss to our fourth heartbreak, affects how we behave with future partners. While earlier experiences hold the most weight, the way we love and connect with others is malleable and, if necessary, can be changed. 

The key is self-awareness. Identifying negative thought patterns and challenging them as they arise is the first step to overcoming self-defeating behaviours and changing them for constructive and fulfilling ones. It can be difficult to be objective and unbiased about your own tendency to pull back from someone, and to know when you’re being overly defensive, or justified in reacting to the other person's provocations. Next time you feel yourself pulling back, try to analyse objectively whether you are being reasonable.One way to do this while in a relationship can be to look at what you actually find unacceptable, deal breakers, and compare these with your partner’s present behaviour. If you can imagine becoming involved with someone in the future who occasionally leaves the dishes in the sink, but you’re exceedingly upset that your partner is exhibiting the same behaviour, you may be over-focusing on their shortcomings. Concentrate on their good qualities instead. On the flip side, if you know that there are certain behaviours that you cannot stand, and your partner has begun to evidence them, these could be real deal breakers. 

Another way in which we can keep intimacy at arm’s length is through over idealisation of partners, prospective or current. We can construct vast lists and tick boxes about what we think we need in a partner to make us happy – from personality traits to family background and from height to hair colour. Too often these criteria are ultimately unrealistic and subconsciously, we know this. The bar is never quite reached and so we never have to let anyone in. 

The key to defeating this tendency is open-mindedness. Being open-minded and accepting of your partner’s shortcomings makes way for a compromise, cementing emotional intimacy. Accepting your partner, flaws and all, creates a bond between you that’s stronger than any formed by them meeting all your idealistic standards. If by some miracle, we met someone who did perfectly fit the mould of our fantasy partner, we probably wouldn’t quite know what to do with ourselves. We may argue that some of our standards might seem extreme but are reasonable when taking past experiences into account. For example, if we once dated an unfaithful lawyer, we may find ourselves reluctant to romantically engage with any other law professionals again. While it’s important to learn from your mistakes, it’s also important not to tar all prospective partners with the same brush. 

Ultimately, intimacy defence mechanisms stem from a fear of vulnerability. It’s important to realise that there’s nothing wrong with being vulnerable – in fact, it’s how humans connect with each other on a deeper level. Becoming aware of the fact that you feel vulnerable and are acting too critically because of it is the key to understanding this behaviour and changing it. Understanding yourself is important to finding your perfect partner and accepting yourself even more so.  

Knowing where you stand

You’ve made it to the crossroads, the complicated junction, where to go now? How fast to cross?

So many questions, thoughts and perceptions that it can all become a little overwhelming and confusing.  Knowing where you stand with someone you seek a romantic relationship with can feel, at times, unclear. People worry about moving too fast, not fast enough, ‘Do I like them more than they like me? Do I like them enough to label this? What if I tell them how I really feel, and I lose them?’. The one thing that’s certain is that almost everyone’s felt this way at some point in time.

The progression of a romantic relationship fails to change over time; it doesn’t matter if it’s the first romantic connection you’ve ever had, or you’re a mature dater, at some point in time everyone asks ‘Where do I stand in this new-found connection?’.

This is because people’s emotions don’t always develop in the same way or at the same speed as those of the individual they’re dating, and this can be for any number of reasons.  Some people experience intense feelings early on in relationships, whereas others may take time to reach deep connections.  A person’s relationship role models, their previous relationship history and their current emotional state, as well as a wide variety of other reasons, can greatly impact how quickly they commit to a relationship and how they approach the topic of ‘making it official’.  

Instead of focusing on what you think should happen or conjuring up a plan to ask the hotly-anticipated question, the real question should be ‘Does it feel right to progress this relationship?’ - whether it be that you’re already invested in the other person or you’re still at the point where you see potential, it should be about how that person makes you feel and less about the societal or personal pressure of enforcing a relationship on someone. Of course, clear communication is key, but you should also pay attention to the actions of your partner, as quite often we can gauge a person’s true thoughts and feelings through their non-verbal behaviour.

Heed your gut feeling and approach the subject when you’re comfortable you want the relationship to move forward, understanding that your potential partner might not be at the same stage as you, but this doesn’t have to mean the end of things. Giving that person the space and time to grow into their feelings will demonstrate your emotional intelligence and result in a relationship truly wanted by both parties. Naturally there’s a fine line between giving someone the time they need to reach the same emotional stage, and waiting around for someone whose feelings will never catch up. Unfortunately, you cannot ascertain which it’ll be until that point arrives - not even the person you’re waiting for knows - but being honest with one another gives your potential relationship a chance. However, in the famous words of Alfred Lord Tennyson: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”, so keep your hearts open and your feelings honest and you’ll know where you stand, whether that be in a flourishing relationship or knowing it’s time to move forward in your search for the ‘One’. 

The Mythology of Valentine’s Day and the evolution of courtship

Our caveman ancestors weren’t known for gifting their chosen mate with a stuffed bear, selection of sugary treats or bouquet of wildflowers picked from the nearest mountainside on any particular day of the year. So how has Valentine's Day now become such a cultural staple across the globe and how have our patterns of courtship changed since our pre-historic roots?

St Valentine himself was a relatively obscure 3rd century Roman saint martyred on the 14th February. The plethora of handed-down fables and stories-turned-legends that surround him portray him as a heroic character, sympathetic to the hardships of star-crossed lovers in their various permutations, but these tales are hard to prove with any empirical validity. It seems that through a combination of his martyrdom, coinciding with February’s bird mating season, Chaucer’s literary influence in 14th century England and Christian attempts to supersede the pre-existing Pagan fertility holiday of Lupercalia, have propelled him into universal stardom and historical immortality.

Caveman culture was, as far as evolutionary anthropologists can tell, polyamorous and promiscuous. Our ancestors did not mate for life, right up until the last millenium. The invention of modern monogamy and the focus of courtship on one individual made way for the establishment of traditions and rituals that us humans are still so fond of today.

Courtship, even over the last 100 years, has changed so vastly that behaviours which would have been considered scandalous to downright obscene - such as unmarried men and women being alone together - are so commonplace today that it seems laughable to the contemporary Western dating world. Courtship has grown from being a family affair with the express goal of marriage, where first dates were conducted in the parlour of the family home, to today's more casual dinner-and-a-movie format, with future marriage relegated firmly to a list of taboo conversation topics. While cultures differ in their adherence to and maintenance of these old traditions across the globe, Valentine’s Day in the Western world has become an opportunity to woo a new mate or delight an existing one.

The fundamentals of Valentine’s Day appeal to us on the most basic of human levels - the human need for love. We are social creatures, and social creatures that have a psychological need for love and belonging. Affirmation of this love can only be constructive to our self-confidence and rewarding for us and our partners, so it’s only natural that a festival celebrating such has prospered in our increasingly romance-focused society. From the troubadours, poets and bards of history to modern fine dining and luxury weekends away in Paris, Valentine’s Day gives an excuse for lovers everywhere to show each other what they mean to them. In our fast-paced world, excuses such as these should not be taken for granted.