sir isaac newton’s law of relationship momentum (well, kind of anyway….)

Tonight I am thinking about love and relationships and momentum.  Sir Isaac Newton would be so proud.

There is a law of physics (conceived of by Galileo and later formulated by Newton) that says (basically) that objects in motion tend to stay in motion and objects at rest tend to stay at rest, absent some external force or propulsion.  Today, we refer to this as momentum. In other words, if something gets going, it will keep going unless something stops it, and, once stopped, it will stay stopped unless something intervenes to propel it forward.

Now, I never took physics in high school, but I’ve always found this theory fascinating, particularly as it relates to human relationships.

Because it does relate to human relationships.  Definitely.

Relationships need momentum — they need forward motion — particularly when they are new and fresh and young.  Once stalled, it is incredibly difficult to get them moving again.  And, it seems, the newer the relationship, the harder it is to regain lost momentum….

My friend Annie had a short-lived flirtation recently with a guy she met on  They exchanged emails, had some great phone conversations, and a really nice first date.  On that first date, however, he explained that he was a member of the “take it slow” club, and that he wasn’t in a hurry to rush into anything.  She agreed, but then discovered, in the days to come, that his idea of “taking it slow” amounted to nothing at all.  Minimal contact, no date for another full week, pretty much nothing of substance to follow the great first date.  And, not surprisingly, her interest in him plummeted. Indeed, she canceled their second date and moved on.

Some people will read that and immediately assume that she couldn’t have been THAT into him if her interest in him cooled that quickly, and there may be some truth to that.  But I talked to her immediately following the first date, and she was definitely interested.  That wasn’t the problem.  The problem was that the fledgling relationship lost momentum almost before it got started. Or, put another way, he stopped watering the seedling before it had even completely sprouted.

I think that new relationships — of any kind — need nurturing.  Just a little bit of attention to keep things moving forward.  Maybe those are emails or texts or phone calls or stolen coffee breaks or whatever, but some kind of contact that continues to build a connection and explore the possibility of real intimacy in between actual dates.  Romantic relationships fall into this category for me, but so do friendships — how many times have we met someone and thought, later, that we could have been really great friends, if only we’d had more opportunity to spend time together, get to know one another, etc. etc.?

Over a few margaritas recently, Annie and I were musing that, in terms of momentum,  romantic relationships are a lot like sex:  the best ones start out with some playful flirting, move on to some more intimate communication (foreplay) and then fall into a steady rhythm that feels good (like intercourse) and then climax into the head-long fall into love (like an orgasm).  Plenty of relationships get stalled at foreplay, and others progress to intercourse, but most don’t carry you all the way to climax.

There are, of course, lots of reasons why relationships don’t climax into a head-over-heels love, and most of them are very good reasons — lack of attraction, or compatibility, or integrity.  An awful lot of my relationships stall out in the “intercourse” stage…. moving along just fine but then…. no more forward motion.  No love, no butterflies, no… anything.  No climax.  And usually, once stalled, they don’t naturally and spontaneously begin moving forward again, just as Newton’s law assures us.

I think a lot of relationships die due to a lack of momentum.  I think those relationships are the ones we look back on and qualify as having had “bad timing” — they looked really good at first, seemed to have all the right ingredients, but never quite got off the ground, for reasons that seemed external to the relationship.

One guy I dated after my divorce  has re-surfaced in my life multiple times, but we have never, ever been able to regain the traction our relationship had the first, short time around.  It kind of sparks with some promise, but then fizzles very quickly, like a faulty firework on July 4th.  I have no idea or means of measuring whether that is indicative of the fact that we are not “meant” for each other, but I do know that I cannot imagine us ever having enough momentum to be anything meaningful to each other, beyond the friendship we now have.

My guy friend, K.C. strongly believes in the momentum theory and uses it to his advantage, but from the reverse angle:  he makes sure that he doesn’t spend too much time with or attention to a new girl, lest she begin to fall in love with him and “complicate things.”  He aims for only the good, steady rhythm phase and intentionally doesn’t allow it to progress beyond that.  It sounds impossible, but he is truly a master at this technique.  And, maybe not surprisingly, after a little while of lukewarm attention from him, the girls typically do settle into a comfortable relationship of limited intimacy.  It is exactly and precisely the opposite of what I’d find fulfilling, but it seems to work for him.

I think a lack of momentum can be deadly even in a stable, committed relationship.  Because “stable” shouldn’t mean “stagnant.”  Even in a stable relationship — like a marriage — the couple has to nurture it and themselves and constantly be moving the relationship forward.  Maybe not by the leaps and bounds it experienced in the dating phase, but still in small, important increments.  When that forward momentum ceases, the intimacy begins to die.

I am beginning to realize that momentum is so much harder to maintain when you’re dating the second time around.  The magnitude of distractions and obligations can make it hard to devote the time and energy necessary to keep a new relationship alive.  When you’re young and childless and ex-less, you can devote nearly all your emotional energy at your new relationship, channeling all that intent and focus and feeling into that seedling and waiting to see what it grows into.  But the second time around…. it’s a whole different ball of wax, as they say.

Momentum has been on my mind lately because — not surprisingly — it is relevant to my own romantic relationship right now.  My guy and I are being separated at the moment — not by time or distance, but by a few circumstances outside of and separate from our relationship — and it is likely that this separation will last for at least the rest of the summer.  I will see him occasionally, talk to him frequently, possibly share a few stolen moments, but we will have no privacy.  No intimacy.  No momentum.

I saw him tonight.  Sat across the table from him.  Exchanged snippets of conversation about our days.  And missed him terribly, even when he was in arm’s reach.  And I drove home feeling very, very far away from him.

I wonder at our chances now.  This is our third attempt at this relationship.  The other two times we stumbled before we were able to take our momentum and run with it.   And now, just as we were entering the good, steady rhythm phase of the relationship, life has intervened and altered our course.  And I wonder if what we have is strong enough, or good enough, or valued enough to weather the change in course direction that has stalled our momentum.

What will be left of our relationship after weeks on hold?  Once at rest, will we be able to re-start yet again?  Or will we go the way of so many relationships…. lost in the archives of what might have been, if only things had been different… if only we hadn’t lost our momentum…..



Filed under dating, divorce, general musings, personal growth, relationships, single mom

3 responses to “sir isaac newton’s law of relationship momentum (well, kind of anyway….)

  1. Hi!

    I’m surprised that the ‘take it slow’ idea would be considered slow enough to have a second date canceled. There are a lot of women bloggers who have rushed and fallen. This guy wanted to savor the getting-to-know-you and got canceled. It seems odd to me…

    Maybe I’m just looking at it wrong because I’m recently out of a long marriage ..

    • You’re right that there’s nothing wrong with the “take it slow” approach generally, but it can also indicate someone is who isn’t fully ready to be out there dating… who is still emotionally tied up somewhere else or otherwise not really available to that woman. Taking it slow is one thing — radio silence for days is another. If you really like a girl, she needs to know it, and if you don’t, then she’ll know that, too.

      My friend and I really thought that the man in question here was just a little gun-shy, which is fine, except that gun-shy isn’t what she’s looking for, and that’s fine too. Just a bad match, we thought. EXCEPT! After I wrote this post, we subsequently learned that in this case, he wasn’t gun-shy, he was a player with a long history of juggling multiple, unsuspecting women! So, either way, it was a good call on her part to bail out. She had the right instinct, just the wrong reason. 🙂

      Good luck to you. Getting back out there isn’t easy, but you’ll do it. It’s just important to remember that not everyone is where you are. Some are ready for more, and some for less. When we were younger and unmarried, it was like we were all on basically the same playing field, in the same inning. Now, depending on how long you’ve been single again, how bad the marriage and divorce was, what your dating history has been since…. so many factors that muddy the waters and make things a little more complicated than they used to be. But you’ll get there. We all do. 🙂

      • Hi TPG,

        Thanks for the follow-up; it is useful on many levels.

        I’ve decided I agree: slow is one thing, but today ‘radio silence’ is something else. With so many communications tools at our disposal, it’s no longer reasonable to be out of touch for long with a budding relationship that you’re trying to evaluate.

        You’re also right about the out-of-kilter playing field! When I was young and unmarried, we all had relatively little. Now there are kids, standing friendships, careers, finances, and other complications. It’s a wonder ANYONE finds a new mate!!

        Thanks again… 🙂

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