In the early stages of dating someone new, it’s easy to turn the other cheek or make excuses for a person’s flaky or otherwise inconsiderate behavior. But should you really be cutting them slack? Or are these actions actually an indication of what kind of partner they’re likely to be down the road?
“A lot of the common advice out there is, ‘It’s just the beginning, what are you so worried about? Give it time.’ That can actually be very detrimental,” said Dr. Amir Levine, a psychiatrist, neuroscientist and co-author of the 2010 book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find — and Keep — Love.
Through his research and working with patients, Levine has found that the way a person behaves and treats you at the beginning of a relationship can actually tell you quite a bit about the kind of partner they’ll be.
He pinpointed five overlapping qualities to look for that create a strong foundation for a happy, secure relationship: consistency, availability, reliability, responsiveness and predictability ― aka CARRP, as he calls it. These closely related qualities are at odds with the idea (however misguided) that we need to be mysterious or play hard to get in order to be seen as desirable in the dating scene.
“It’s the upside-down of what everyone else thinks about how you should do relationships or what you should look for,” Levine said. “People look for the same interests or the same education. But I found in my practice over time that there are couples who have nothing in common. One is a Republican, one is a Democrat. But they actually get along really well and have a really good relationship because they’re both CARRP. And they both really care about each other.”
If you know what to look for at the beginning of a new romance, you’ll be able to better weed out the wrong partners so you can save your energy for the right ones.
To understand the importance of the CARRP qualities, you need to first understand attachment styles.
Your attachment style is the way you relate to others in the context of close relationships. The three styles ― secure, anxious or avoidant ― are based on how comfortable you are with intimacy and how preoccupied you are with the relationship. (You can take this short test to determine yours.)
People with a secure attachment style tend to be warm, loving, comfortable with closeness and don’t worry too much about the status of the relationship. Those with an anxious attachment style crave intimacy but require more reassurance than those with other styles. They’re highly sensitive to potential relationship threats and may be perceived as needy by their partners. Those with an avoidant attachment style are not as comfortable with closeness so they try to create distance in a relationship. They value their independence to such a high degree that they may feel that relying on their partner is a sign of weakness.
If the person you’re dating is exhibiting the CARRP traits outlined above ― they call when they say they’re going to call, they tell you they like you instead of beating around the bush, they make plans for a date and stick to them ― that means they likely have a secure attachment style. The good news is that people with secure attachment styles tend to make the best romantic partners and are generally more satisfied in their relationships overall.
“When a client starts dating someone secure, it’s easy,” Levine said. “They never have to wonder when’s our next date. They never have to wonder where they stand in a relationship.”
Even if you don’t have a secure attachment style yourself, if you date someone who does, you can actually become more secure in the process.
“It’s like having a relationship coach built into the relationship,” Levine previously told HuffPost. “They’re so good at it, they walk you through a lot of potential pitfalls and teach you to become more secure.”
You can gauge whether a prospective partner is CARRP very early on ― even before you meet.
Let’s say you match with someone on a dating app. You’re trying to make a plan to meet IRL and the person starts acting wishy-washy. At this point, Levine recommends staging what he calls a “CARRP intervention.”
“What you have to do is say, ‘My schedule is very busy but I’d like to meet you. I’m free Tuesday or Thursday next week. If that’s not good for you, then suggest something else. Let’s make it happen.’”
The way the person reacts will provide you with useful information you can use to determine if he or she will likely be a good partner.
“You have explicitly sent out into the world a certain expectation or need or request,” Levine said. “And how they respond will speak volumes.”
If they respond well, “that means you have someone to work with and to build a relationship with,” Levine said. “Because in relationships, there’s a lot of give and take and a lot of aligning different needs and wants. And here you’ve already started the first inroad into this before you even met.”
If they don’t respond well (or worse, don’t respond at all), then hey, it’s better to know that sooner rather than later, right? And don’t mistake the butterflies you feel when someone is being hot and cold (i.e., decidedly not CARRP) for excitement or love.
“You’re confusing anxiety with passion,” Levine said, “when it’s really just anxiety. It’s a bad sign.”
And this should go without saying, but if you’re expecting your date to behave in ways that are CARRP, you need to exhibit those traits yourself.
“That’s what secure people do,” he said. “You can’t just expect others to be CARRP.”
Now go forth and CARRP-é diem.