Are You Guilty of ’Emotional Masturbation’?

Photo: Getty Images/Dean Mitchell
Warning: Embarrassing content ahead.

Before striking out on any first date, I always (without fail) betray my better judgement and mash up my first name with the guy's surname to see what my "married name" might be. The rational part of my brain knows that I have no desire to take my future husband's last name. And yet, as we shake hands and sit down to drinks, I find myself planning our honeymoon and picking out drapes to frame the windows in our harbor-facing home library.

The tendency to imagine far into the future of a brand spanking new relationship is what Betches co-founder and U Up? podcast co-host Jordana Abraham calls "emotional masturbation" in her book I Had A Nice Time And Other Lies. If there's a more appropriate name for the nonsense fantasizing that parades through my head on first dates, I certainly haven't found it. But what to do? Is it okay to indulge my reverie? Or should I ignore my heart-eyed inner monologue?

Abraham believes that contemplating someone new in the future tense is always, always a no-no. "I think it’s dangerous to linger in [the future] for too long because the more you let yourself fantasize about what this person could be like, or what your life could be like together, that takes you away from the reality of the situation," she tells me. "It makes you put that person on a pedestal." Worse, if the relationship doesn't end in a shared address and a house full of cats and/or kids, you'll be doubly disappointed.

"When we are meeting somebody for a first date, we basically are—in some ways—casting a romantic lead." —Alexandra Solomon, PhD

Clinical psychologist Alexandra Solomon, PhD, author of Loving Bravely, looks at the situation in a different light. She agrees that your number one job as a dater is to stay wholly present, but a little emotional make believe can be fun, too. "I think that love is a story," says Dr. Solomon. "When we are meeting somebody for a first date, we basically are—in some ways—casting a romantic lead, sort of like our co-star. We are such story-telling creatures that it makes sense that we take that person and we imagine what life with them would like."

Turning your dating life into a rom-com can help you cope with the stress of modern day dating, Dr. Solomon tells me. "I think meeting somebody is also such an anxiety-provoking situation. There’s so much uncertainty at the beginning that I think we try to anchor ourselves in all kind of ways," she says. At the same time, we need the reality police to safeguard our hearts. "Early on, we actually have no idea where it’s going. Chemistry, attraction, liking somebody, knowing somebody—those things take time. There’s no corner-cutting," she concludes.

"I generally don’t suggest that you plan anything for longer than the period of time you’ve been dating." — Jordana Abraham, co-founder of Betches

To give your lovestruck imagination space to play (but with electric fences around the perimeter, aka "boundaries"), Abraham recommends restricting your flights of fancy to a tighter timeline. "I generally don’t suggest that you plan anything for longer than the period of time you’ve been dating," she says. "So, if you’ve been on one date, you can think ahead to the second date, but don’t think ahead to where you’re going to raise your kids."

Sounds fair enough, right? If you want to, ahem, get off on the headiness of a new relationship, it's better for your heart to fantasize about the fondue you'll be scooping together on your next date. Not what you'll buy them for your 20th wedding anniversary.

Non-emotional masturbation works wonders for your skin, FYI. So grab a vibrator and hop to it.

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