Questions and Answers about the term
"New Relationship Energy"

What is New Relationship Energy (NRE)?

It's the surge of emotional and erotic bonding energies that characterize new relationships and distinguish them from ongoing ones. For more information, see this article from Loving More magazine and then continue reading below.

How and when did the term get coined?

Zhahai coined the term "New Relationship Energy" (or NRE) in the mid 1980's in the course of learning to understand and communicate important dynamics within non-monogamous relationships, especially his own. It helped to have a shorthand and a constructive conceptual framing for what he and others were experiencing in their polyamorous lives (though this was before the term "polyamory" was coined so they didn't call it that).

How did it catch on?

The first wider dissemination occurred in the early 1990s when he began using the term on the "Triples" email list (later renamed the "poly" list) moderated by Howard Landman; no archives of that list are yet available. The term caught on quickly among list members, apparently filling an unmet need.

Zhahai also used the term on the USEnet group alt.polyamory, with the oldest usage which is still archived on DejaNew (now Google Groups) dating from September 17, 1992 (or September 16th, depending on time zone adjustments). He was not very active on USEnet in that period however, and the term more likely diffused into the world mostly via other members of the triples/poly email list spreading it to other contexts, online and off.

An article by Zhahai elaborating on the concept of New Relationship Energy and implications for polyamory was published in 2001 as the lead article of Issue #26 of Loving More Magazine under the title What's All This NRE Stuff Anyway?. The text of that article is available on this website.

Is New Relationship Energy the same as infatuation? or "Falling in Love"?

There are many terms for aspects or conceptualizations of the early process of forming attachments or bonds. Infatuation is usually a disparaging term for foolish, extravagant, and temporary attachments. Likewise "puppy love" or "crushes" have a somewhat patronizing connotation. Saying "my partner is infatuated with somebody else" is more like a put-down or discount than a helpful awareness.

"Falling in love" is closer, since it at least has a positive connotation, but that term too has lots of inappropriate baggage, and lacks the implication of temporariness or comparison with ORE. If you take a typical polyamorous discussion about NRE and substitute "falling in love", it doesn't convey the same distinctions and perspectives.

How about "limerence", is that the same as New Relationship Energy?

Limerence is another coined word (by Dorothy Tennov) for aspects of early attraction, used somewhat within the clinical or academic psychology context. It's more often described in negative terms, even while acknowledging transient euphorias intermixed with the alarming despair in unstable mood swings. It might be summarized as a form of obsessive infatuation that some attractions go through at the very beginning, before the involved parties have discovered whether the attraction is mutual. A colloquial term might be "love sick". It's common and thus normal, but often feels abnormal and unhealthy. It almost always goes away quickly if desires are reciprocated, but could linger on painfully in the case of unrequited and especially secret romantic obsessions. It thrives on secrecy, adversity, blocked communication, and courtship games. Think of an Elvis Presley movie about boy wants girl but doesn't think she loves him back, and he is sick at heart until he knows. When he knows for sure, the limerence is gone (well, if it's not reciprocated, the period of painful heartbreak before the next attachment also seems to be included in limerence.) It is no wonder that we are considered lucky that limerence usually doesn't last long.

By contrast, New Relationship Energy is seen as mostly positive, healthy and enjoyable. It can help greatly in creating emotional and erotic bonds on the way to Old Relationship Energy. It can be high functioning or creative rather than dysfunctional. It thrives more on good communication and shared ecstasy than on adversity and uncertainty. And in particular the time it tends to really blossom is when mutual feelings become known, rather than fading away at that point. So it tends to last longer, while still eventually fading too, which is more often regretted than welcomed. A big conceptual difference is that NRE is inherently contrasted with ORE (Ongoing or Old Relationship Energy), while that comparison is not part of the concept of limerence.

So they are different concepts for different experiences of early attachment or relationship. You could say that sometimes the very first stages of NRE may be accompanied by limerence as well - with unstable moods and anxiety until people overcome shyness and fear to share their feelings honestly. Other times, NRE doesn't begin with limerence, especially for people who communicate openly and well from the start. And on the other side, many times limerence never develops into more than the first hints of NRE.

If it feels more bad than good and goes away when you know its mutual, it's limerence. If it feel mostly good and grows stronger when you know its mutual, it's NRE. You could experience some of each.

Polyamorists tend to spend more time and energy with NRE than with limerence. Partly this may be because the high emphasis on communication in polyamory tends to reduce the frequency and severity of limerence in the first place, while enhancing and prolonging NRE. While both concepts may apply to any relationship style, NRE tends to be important in Polyamory while limerence may be more important in conventional relationships.

Are there other differences?

LimerenceNew Relationship Energy
Temporary, short term Temporary, medium term
Rose colored glasses, highly attention grabbing Rose colored glasses, highly attention grabbing
Often erotically charged in fantasy Often erotically charged in the flesh
Euphorias strongly mixed with painful lows Mostly positive feelings
Secret Longings Shared Pleasures
Dysfunctional, hard to think of anything else Varies, but sometimes stimulating and creative
Thrives on uncertainty and doubt, games Thrives on intimate communication, honesty
Fades when mutuality known Grows when mutuality known
Inhibits openness (shyness, fear) Sometimes fosters brazen sluts
Can be felt towards only one person at a time [Tennov] Can be felt towards multiple people at a time
Happens to many or most people in at least some relationships Happens to nearly everybody in most serious relationships
In poly, could strain patience of existing partners if prolonged In poly, may be threatening to existing partners if prolonged
Advice to those in limerence:
You are normal, others get it too, hang on because it usually goes away quickly. [Tennov paraphrased] (We would add: take some risk and share your feelings if you can; the longer you keep your cards hidden the longer you'll remain in limbo. Get professional help if depression or mood swings persist.)
Advice to those in NRE:
Be mindful that you are "under the influence", things are not quite as rosy as they seem but they may nevertheless be good, keep attention on existing relationships alive, enjoy it while it lasts but know that it eventually fades, if appropriate use it to build lasting closeness and trust
Downsides: depression, suicide, divorce, distress Downsides: may distract attention from ongoing relationships if not handled consciously, may stimulate jealousy or insecurity, may be disappointing if unprepared for clay feet to appear.

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