We’ve all been there – the first few dates with someone new have been electric and we can already picture the what the rest of our relationship with this person is going to look like.
We just know how it’s all going to play out, how they’ll treat us and the ways they’ll act.
And out of seemingly nowhere, it ends – and even though our time with this person was brief, it hurts an insane amount, because how they behaved doesn’t align with our personal version of them.
‘They were respectful, reliable, hard-working and loving’, you might think to yourself, but were they really all those things?
The truth is, you may have just been the victim of your own ‘projectionship’.
A projectionship involves projecting qualities that we want in a partner onto someone we’re dating when there is no real evidence that they actually possess those traits.
Losing the relationship with the person you’ve projected onto doesn’t just hurt because it’s a breakup, it’s even more painful because you’re also grieving an idealised future.
Jessica Alderson, co-founder and relationship expert at So Syncd, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘The danger with projectionships is that they create a barrier to building a deep, authentic connection because in order to do this, you need to see each other, then accept each other, for who you really are rather than an idealised version.
‘One of the main causes of projecting positive qualities onto potential partners is that we are hard-wired for connection.
‘We want to believe that this is the person with whom we’re going to have an unparalleled bond. We can end up getting completely carried away with these overoptimistic expectations.’
If you’re in a projectionship with someone, maybe you’ve thought about how this person is perfect, that they’ll understand you like no one else ever will – however, in reality it’s highly unlikely this person would have met every single one of your expectations.
But then why does it hurt so much more than a gradual ending of a new relationship that’s fizzled out?
While being hopeful for a new relationship is healthy, projectionships are a different ballgame altogether, and projecting onto a person who isn’t right for you can lead to a whole lot of misery.
‘It hurts so much when we break up with people we’ve projected onto because we are losing our idealised future,’ Jess explains. ‘We grieve the loss of something that, in our heads, would have been a perfect relationship.
‘Even if you’ve been on just a couple of dates with someone you’ve projected onto, a breakup can be devastating.
‘This is because you are mourning the potential of what could have been rather than what you actually had with that person.
‘In some ways, if you’ve projected onto someone, it can sometimes be more painful to breakup after a short, fleeting romance because it all comes crashing down at once. Whereas if you date someone for a while, there is a gradual revelation that this person doesn’t live up to your ideals.’
But how do we make sure we don’t partake in this harmful dating behaviour?
While it’s great to try and see the best in people, it’s crucial that we’re realistic about the person we’re dating based on the behaviour they’ve already shown us – rather than block it out with our hopes for them.
‘The best way to break this cycle is to consciously remind yourself which qualities the person you’re dating has shown you,’ says Jess. ‘When you catch yourself imagining how amazing they are, take a step and ask yourself whether their actions so far have indicated that they have the qualities that are important to you.’
For example, maybe you want a partner who is reliable but so far into dating they’ve cancelled and not shown up when you’ve need them to – then it’s time to be realistic and remind yourself that maybe they don’t have this trait that you need.
‘Even if they have planned three dates in advance and turned up on time for each one, it’s a good sign, but it’s still early days,’ adds Jess.
‘In this case, you should remind yourself that these are all positive indicators but you shouldn’t jump to conclusions. It takes time to build trust and for people to reveal their true characteristics.’
Projectionships can also make us forgive someone’s red flag behaviour in a bid to keep an idealised relationship going – according to Jess a good litmus test is to think how you would feel if a friend treated you in that way.
Instead of projecting onto the person you’re with, maybe it’s better to be healthily hopeful that the next person you date might be better suited to you.
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