Texts suddenly stopped? New guy just disappeared? Don't panic; it's totally fine.
Finally, a great connection! You've never felt so in love. The colors are brighter and the intimacy is growing in your new relationship every day. You can't stop talking about him to your friends, even when you see their eyes starting to glaze over. You can pull up that cute picture of him on your phone in two seconds flat. And then, one day, perhaps after a fantastic weekend, meeting your friends, or engaging in a more serious talk about the future, the frequent texts and calls slow down, or stop cold.
You panic. You wonder frantically: Is it over? Why is he suddenly being cold? What did I do? Why is this happening? What a jerk!
Most likely, he's in what I call "The Pullback". I call it a pullback because, like a rubber band, the expansion of love has stretched him far out of himself and maybe even his comfort zone, and he is now pulling back into himself.
What most women do at this point, and it's probably the worst thing she can do in that frenzied state, is contact him repeatedly in a panic and/or rage. Anyone who has ever done this knows that horrible feeling of out of control texting, or hanging up after acting like a crazed person, replete with accusations and tears, only to be met with further silence.
The other reaction women may have is to retaliate and break-up with him, or punish him in another way, such as posting cryptic or hurtful social media status updates. Although there may be legitimate reasons to discontinue the relationship, breaking up in response to a pullback is usually premature. But something must be done with the intense feelings his pullback creates. Let's start with some understanding.
Understanding The Pullback
Occasionally a pullback is an act of mean-spirited or immature behavior, but most often, a guy will pull back as a healthy way to manage the following state of feelings:
- Overwhelm: His feelings for you are putting him in touch with the fact that his life will change. Being in love and committing to the relationship is going to require a different focus of energy and create what feels like restrictions on his life and being. He is coming to terms with whom he needs to be in order to take this next big step. And he'd rather wrestle with the enormity of it alone.
- Loss: He doesn't know how to articulate it, but he is afraid he will lose his autonomy — his ability to live life on his own terms. He will pull away from you not only because he sees you as the cause of this loss, but also because the loss itself is hard to deal with. You are not the cause. Change is a part of life and we all make sacrifices in a variety of situations to create room for new and wonderful things. But he might not be able to see it that way. He may need to cast you in the role of "freedom snatcher" and reject you for a bit while he assesses and manages the loss.
- Shame: At the deepest part of some men whose hearts are very tender and equally armored, there may be a secret desire to completely give over to the relationship. This desire is in dire contrast with what he has been taught about being a man, and he will feel an unnameable inner conflict that may inspire him to temporarily reject you. Compassion is in order. Women are acculturated to be more accepting and expressive about their desires for love.
If, in fact, the pullback is instead a complete blowoff, then I hope you can find a way through the upset to see it as a blessing. A guy who is that scared and unable to considerately express himself is not worth that much energy, so remember, you're not really crying about him, but about the lost opportunities for love.
Leading Yourself Through The Pullback
- Expect it: If you are falling in love or in a new phase of a relationship, keep in mind that a pullback is probably coming. It may be subtle, or it may be jarring, but being prepared for it will help you to recognize it, recover more quickly, and to immediately take some of the following actions.
- Give time and space: Instead of chasing after him, which is the natural response, pull back as well. Let him simmer. Allow him to move back towards you in his own time. "But what about my needs?" You might wonder. Your needs are important, but when you give him time and space, you are serving the needs of the relationship. When he comes back, if the pullback was rough, sudden or harsh, you can let him know the impact of his actions on you and discuss some possible ways of dealing with it differently next time.
- Lean on others: If you are feeling panic and frustration, take charge by taking care of yourself. Lean on a professional or a few good girlfriends who understand the kind of painful feelings of abandonment and rejection that may be surfacing. The best scenario is to connect with someone who will be compassionate towards you and him, and who will not rail against him on your behalf but will support you in loving him by pointing out his good features and helping you give him time to come back.
- Stay playful: One woman I know was in a relationship in which her new boyfriend of eight weeks went from calling her everyday to zilch—four days in which she didn't hear a peep. She decided it had been too long and she was sad and worried, so she called him. When he didn't pick up, she left this message: "Hi! I'm calling because I'm afraid aliens might have abducted my new boyfriend. Do you know anything about this?" The cute message also contained a reference to a story he had shared about a woman he dated who believed in aliens. He called her back as soon as he got the message, apologetic and appreciative of her lightness and humor.
- Pass the test: A client was so excited about how things were going in her new relationship of three months until her new beau told her he would be traveling for business for one whole month. Her natural disappointment was augmented by the fact that the trip was largely elective, so she felt he was choosing it over her, evoking feelings of rejection and abandonment. Luckily, she understood the value of the separation for the stage of the relationship, and she saw his choice as an unconscious test of their relationship — to see if she would be supportive of his work or bitchy. She followed steps one though four, sharing her distress with compassionate friends, but staying supportive and positive with him. She was prepared for him to really disappear, but instead he called or texted everyday, and when he returned from his trip, he gave her a lovely necklace, expressing how grateful he felt to have her as a touchstone throughout his travels and how much he missed her.
A man's need for space to manage his emotions may be a recurring theme, but a major pullback in the early stages while he adjusts to the idea of being serious about you is pretty standard. When you respond to the situation in the above ways, you are engaging in an act of leadership by helping move the relationship forward instead of tying it up in an emotional knot.