We blame movies like Titanic. Jack and Rose shared their first smooch on a huge ship with the sunset in the distance. Or Love Actually, where Mark stood on Juliet’s doorstep confessing: “To me, you are perfect… And my wasted heart will love you…”

Now that we’ve been given a glimpse of the ultimate first-timers by pop culture, what can possibly top that? When our first meeting with his parents doesn’t work out, we crumble. When our first anniversary doesn’t come off as planned, we’re dejected. Hello, it’s time for a romance reality check. 

The hype from Hollywood can affect our perception and raise expectations of first time relationship milestones, says Elizabeth Ragen, a psychologist from the Centre for Effective Living. But she also points out that feeling some degree of anticipation and excitement is perfectly normal in these circumstances: “[They] signal something important and key in the romance [as well as] a new level of commitment and involvement.”

Great Expectations
So we treasure moments like the first date or the first gift because they give the proverbial green light that he’s willing and ready to continue investing in this fledging relationship. Red flags are raised, on the contrary, when situations run contrary to expectations. It might be the repeated viewings of The Notebook or constant comparisons with our friends’ relationships, but sometimes reality doesn’t match up: why isn’t he saying “I love you” in return? Why isn’t he as physically affectionate as he should be?

Once again, Elizabeth reminds us, “Feelings are not facts. We listen to a sad song and we feel sad, but that doesn’t mean it’s a sad day.” In the same vein, just because we feel like our actions are not reciprocated, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve been rejected by our partner. Sometimes it’s best to let things take its natural course. If you’re expecting an “I love you” after the first kiss, remember that there’s no rush. You’ve only just begun!

Relationship expert (and CEO of Lunch Actually) Violet Lim attributes this to a difference in perception between the genders. “The two parties may think that different milestones belong to different stages. For example, the guy might think the first kiss is due to attraction. But the girl might think the first kiss means exclusivity,” she explains. Another rule of thumb: everyone expresses their feelings in different ways, so don’t jump the gun by blowing his responses (or lack thereof) out of proportion.

Not So Picture-Perfect
As we learn to manage our expectations, we can’t help but wonder: how should I react then? As a relationship slowly gathers steam, we’re careful about keeping that good impression. After all, we’ve got to hang on to the guy once we’ve snagged him, right? Even after you’ve established yourself as a couple, most of us hold back on our responses. “Relationships are a process of discovery… I know for new couples, they always say ‘I’m so scared he or she will learn this side of me and I don’t want to be imperfect in his or her eyes,” says Elizabeth. “But it is inevitable, and there will be the first time where you are not perfect.” 

In the same way, the time will come where you look at him in a new light and go, “Really? I didn’t expect that of you” (OK, that’s not good). It’s tempting to pull the plug but give pause: if you expect him to be patient with you, then this should be a two-way street.

However, as Violet cautions: “It’s important to recognise signs that might have serious consequences on a relationship. If he resorts to physical violence during a first fight, do not brush it away.”

Everyone has different deal breakers (and issues like abuse, verbal or physical, are universally not OK), but you must discern between an issue that you can work on, and that which isn’t going to change. If you’re unsure if it’s a red flag or a red herring, why not give it a second thought?

Image: ryzhkovoleksandr / 123RF.com
Text: Clara How