Fireworks on a First Date? Trauma Survivors, Beware!Sep 25, 2021
Do you look for that spark and intense passion on a first date?
Are you saying “no” to second dates if you don’t feel instant, undeniable chemistry on the first?
Have you found yourself only agreeing to going on dates with someone if he already seems like “your type?”
As a trauma survivor, this is something to pay attention to.
And I would like to start by saying...
If you go on a first date with someone and you find yourself feeling kind of bored, go on another date with him!
“Why would I go on a second date with someone I find boring?”, you may be asking.
You’re going to learn all about that in this blog post.
But let me start by saying this...
I’m not here to tell you that chemistry and common interests aren't important while you're dating. And I’m certainly not telling you to date people who you have absolutely NO interest in...
What I am trying to tell you is that…
If you feel like you’ve been “swept off your feet” or believe you’ve met the love of your life after the first date, RUN!
Feeling like you've met "the one" on the first date might be a sign of an unhealthy/toxic relationship.
Let me explain to you what I mean.
Imagine this scenario.
You go out on a date with someone that you met on a dating app. Before meeting him, he seems perfectly respectful and even lets you choose where you’d like to meet for dinner.
When you arrive, he has flowers.
He tells you how beautiful you are and how lucky he feels to get the opportunity to spend the evening with you.
Over the course of three hours together, you seem to have almost everything in common.
You start to feel butterflies in your stomach and you feel like you’re doing everything you possibly can to keep your hands off him…
Throughout the night, he tells you all of the perfect things.
He tells you that he has never met someone like you. He says that you’re different from other women he’s dated. And he tells you that he is excited for your future together.
Okay… This sounds like the freaking perfect first date, right?
But be aware… When someone jumps in and tells you that they feel like you’re the one from the very beginning, take this as a cue to slow down and take a closer look at what's truly happening.
Perfect chemistry, intense passion, and fireworks on a first date should be considered a red flag… Especially for a trauma survivor.
Past trauma has an effect on who we choose as a partner
As a trauma survivor, we’re more likely to get into relationships with people who are unstable.
Well, to understand this completely, we have to first understand how the nervous system works in intimate relationships.
Trauma survivors, the nervous system, and relationships
As we experience trauma (especially chronic trauma) the nervous system begins to shut down its ability to regulate itself. This inability to regulate itself means that we spend a long portion of our life stuck in fight-or-flight mode, otherwise known as hyperarousal. In hyperarousal, our baseline of feeling calm and secure is much higher than other people’s baseline levels. In other words, things like chaos and confusion are normal to us.
Women who don’t have a history of trauma are more likely to notice when their internal guidance system sends them a sign that something feels “off.” They can more easily pick up signs from another person that makes them feel like something isn’t quite right. And they trust their instinct.
For trauma survivors, their nervous system is already activated. So red flags seem way less “red-flaggy”. We’re more likely to overlook, justify, or not recognize red flags at all.
This is partly because a trauma survivor’s nervous system functions at a different baseline than people who haven’t experienced trauma. So (for example), entering into a relationship with someone who is inconsistent, doesn’t value your needs, or doesn’t provide mutual respect and trust feels normal to us.
And anyone who doesn’t make us feel those ups and downs, we feel like something is missing.
Stable, respectful, consistent partners may feel boring to our nervous system
Our nervous system is so used to living in a state of hyperarousal that we start to unconsciously seek out people and experiences that send us on a wild ride of emotions. Our nervous system is no longer used to stability and consistency.
We begin to crave the ups and downs. Chaos and confusion pulls us in. We become addicted to the push and pull that happens in unstable and unhealthy relationships with others.
These ups and downs in unhealthy relationships can be mistaken as passion. It makes us feel like the person we're dating is “worth fighting for”. The highs start to feel like a drug. And when things get rocky, we fight for the relationship until we can get that moment of passion again.
Aside from the nervous system, here are a few other reasons why childhood trauma survivors are more likely to fall victim to “fireworks” on the first date:
Healthy relationships may never have been modeled to us as children
If we experienced trauma as a child, not only did we likely experience abuse, but we were likely never taught how to have healthy relationships. We never learned the foundational qualities that make up a healthy, respectful relationship. Since we never learned what a healthy relationship looks like (at least from our parents), it can be hard to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationship dynamics.
Additionally, childhood trauma and abuse are carried into our relationships as adults. Things like attachment styles and voicing our needs (and getting our needs properly met), are all carried into our dating life. In other words, the same things that we used to survive in childhood are the same things that can get us stuck in relationships with unhealthy people.
We often seek out partners who are similar to our parents
Some psychologists believe that we are more likely to seek out partners that are similar to our parents. This is based on the idea that we get into relationships with people who are familiar to us. So if you had a mother who was critical and harsh growing up, it is not unlikely that you will date critical and/or harsh partners. Not because it’s what you want, but because it’s what you know. It’s what you’re used to. Similarly, if you have a father that was primarily absent, or abandoned the family when you were young, you’re more likely to fall into relationships with men who are emotionally or physically unavailable.
And when a person who (unconsciously) reminds us of our parents on the first date showers us with affection and love, and makes us feel like the most special woman in the world, we’re more likely to jump into a relationship with that person too soon.
We may unconsciously be trying to heal old wounds
Some psychologists say that we unconsciously seek out relationships with partners who are similar to our toxic/abusive/absent parents so that we can try to make things “right.” The idea behind this is that, if we find someone who resembles our father who abandoned us when we were young, we can hopefully find someone who reminds us of him and convince him to stay. Our belief that we can make this man love us is our way of trying to repair that old abandonment wound.
When we’re adults, we have an intense desire to heal those wounds we’ve carried throughout our life with us. So what do we do? We seek out someone who will help us fill those old wounds. Someone who will help repair all of the damage that has been done.
This all happens on an unconscious level. And--spoiler alert--this usually doesn’t help us heal those wounds. When we try to repair old wounds with someone who has similar characteristics to the person who hurt us in childhood, we’re more likely to become re-traumatized… And to get stuck in unhealthy relationships.
Again, these relationship dynamics can all come out later down the road after feeling like you seemingly found “the one” on a first date.
We’re more likely to be attracted to people who seem familiar to us--like our past abusers
I remember the day I sat in my therapist’s office and she told me about a study that she read about. (I haven’t personally been able to find the study, but I will update this post and include it here if I ever do).
Here’s what she told me:
A study was conducted where there was a party being hosted with a large number of guests. One of the guests at the party was a woman with a history of trauma. At that same party, there was a male with a history of being a perpetrator/abuser.
Out of all the different people and personalities who attended the party, the woman with a history of abuse and the man with a history of violence managed to connect with each other. Throughout the entire night, they talked with one another--hardly leaving one another’s side.
This study shows that there’s something about victims and abusers that attract one to the other.
This may be partially because it’s familiar to them. The victim has experienced abuse in the past (physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually, financially, spiritually). And the abuser is used to having a partner who will justify his toxic behaviors. (Side note: all sexes and genders can play the role of a victim or abuser in any relationship)
On first dates, this can easily happen with people with similar histories. If one person has a history of being abusive and another has a history of being a victim, this can lead to unhealthy dynamics from the start. The problem is, these dynamics aren’t always easy to spot. Someone with a history of violence isn’t necessarily going to give off signs of this on a first date. In fact, they will do the opposite. Which is where fireworks come into play.
So what’s the deal with fireworks on a first date?
The problem with fireworks on a first date
We all know those movies where we see instant fireworks on a first date. And that’s something many of us crave.
But here’s the thing...
Fireworks on the first date usually means that the relationship is moving very quickly. And if it’s not already moving quickly, it will start to move very quickly very soon. Fireworks happen when we believe that who we have met is “the one”.
And like I mentioned earlier, these fireworks can be signs of abusers who are manipulating you into falling for them from the very beginning (before you truly know one another). This can make it harder to set firm boundaries (or leave) when their true colors come out down the road.
Past traumas are likely being replayed
When someone shows up and showers you with instant affection from the very beginning, this could mean that they’re trying to make up for a lack that they feel in some way. This may mean that they:
- Have some sort of void that they’re trying to fill through you and the relationship
- Needs that they want to get met through you/the relationship
- Are trying to heal past wounds through being in a relationship with you
But healthy relationships aren’t supposed to be created between two broken people who are searching for “the answer” through a relationship. Healthy partnerships happen when we’re aware of our own wounds, we practice taking care of ourselves, and we don’t seek out “healing” through another person.
Your date may have unclear intentions or ulterior motives
If someone you’re dating is treating you like you are the most magical person they’ve ever met on the very first date, they may have ulterior motives. Your date may be trying to convince you that you’re “the one” so that they can get something from you.
They may be trying to get you into bed or do things that you don’t necessarily feel comfortable with until you know them better. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with having sex on a first date, if that’s what you wish to do. However, if the person is treating you like royalty before you truly know who they are, they may be trying to get something from you.
Try going into a first date with clear boundaries set ahead of time. This may look like choosing to really get to know the person and see how they make you feel before spending the night at their place. Or it could mean that you require a minimum of five dates before you start to envisioning a potential future with this person.
Red flags to look out for:
When we go on a first date, it can be helpful to know what to look out for. How do we know whether a first date is healthy or not? How are we supposed to tell whether what we’re feeling is a true connection or whether we’re being manipulated?
Here are a few things to consider:
Watch out for Love-Bombing
Love-bombing is when someone “bombs” you with love. This might look like doing nice things for you, getting you gifts, and making you feel like the most special person in the world. While this all might sound nice, love-bombing is actually manipulation. While it’s important to look for a partner who prioritizes you and makes you feel valued, doing this right off the bat--and to the extreme--is unhealthy.
Why is love-bombing manipulation?
Because this person is not giving you the time or opportunity that is required to make up your own mind about who they are before beginning a relationship with them. They are bombing you with so much love and goodness that you aren't getting the space or opportunity to decide how you truly feel.
The key is to let someone get to know you before they decide you are “the one” for them. And, more importantly, allow yourself to get to know someone before jumping into a relationship with them.
Be wary of people who make you feel like you’re “the one” after the first or second date
If the person you go on a date with has “swept you off your feet” or charmed you to the point where you are convinced that they may be “the one”, be wary. Remember that strong, healthy bonds take time to build. We don’t know who someone is after a first date. In fact, studies show that we don’t truly start to get to know someone until at least the seventh date. Anyone who is healthy and stable will take the time to get to know you first and build a strong connection based on mutual trust.
Watch out for people who pressure you to move the relationship along faster than you feel comfortable.
Like I said before, a relationship is built on mutual respect and consistency over a period of time. If someone is pressuring you to do things that you feel uncomfortable with doing too soon in a relationship, pay attention. This most likely means that the person is trying to move things along with you so quickly for a reason.
Lookout for people who don’t respect your boundaries
If something feels a little off, voice it. Set a boundary with them and see how they respond. If they’re pressuring you to move faster than you want, let them know things are moving a little fast. Then, pay attention to how they respond. If they are understanding of your boundary, it’s a good sign they have good intentions with you. If they push you or try to make you move faster than you want, consider this a glaring red flag.
Healthy relationships are consistent, stable, and take time to build. If you start dating someone and this person instantly makes you feel like you’re the person they’re going to marry, be very wary. Watch out for people who idealize a future with you before they truly know who you are (and before you truly know them).
Are you ready for the safe, healthy, and fulfilling relationship you’ve always desired?
I know how difficult it can be to navigate intimate relationships after surviving trauma.
Sometimes it can feel like, no matter how hard we try, we just aren’t able to attract the partner that we truly desire and need.
We get stuck in the cycle of dating the same toxic, emotionally unavailable men over and over and over.
Well, that doesn’t have to be the case anymore.
In my Shifting Love program, I teach women like you how past trauma influences your relationships and give you the tools, support, and education that you need to say “no” to bad relationships and open your heart up to the love you’ve always wanted.
Interested in taking the first step with me?
Download my free Trauma-Informed Relationship Assessment to learn about how past trauma is impacting your relationships today.
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