Short- & Long-Term Relationships Look The Same In The Beginning, Study Finds

When it comes to relationships, do you know right off the bat what you're interested in: long-term or short-term? It might be easy to say, retrospectively, that you always knew something would be a fling or you always knew you would end up with a partner for the long haul, but that might not be the case. According to new research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, long-term relationships and short-term relationships aren't as different as we think — or at least, they're not in the beginning stages. According to the research, when the relationship begins, there's virtually nothing separating a short-term or long-term connection.

The first interesting thing researchers noticed is that there was a wide range of what people considered "short-term relationship". "I was surprised by the diversity of sexual experiences that people tended to classify as a 'short-term relationship,'" Paul Eastwick, an associate professor of psychology at UC Davis who is the lead author, tells Bustle. "Some of these experiences indeed fit our lay conceptualization of a one-night stand — people would describe meeting someone, having sex once or twice, and then not seeing that person again. But most times, these short-term experiences tended to be among well-known acquaintances who had technically known each other for quite a while before anything became sexual. They seemed to like each other 'just a little' — enough to hook up here and there, but not enough to want to date each other in a serious way."

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

But what was really telling was how similarly short- and long-term relationships began. The researched surveyed over 800 people and had them do a "relationship reconstruction" where they would reproduce the events and experiences they had had in both long-term and short-term relationships. What this study did that set it apart was looking back to the very beginning of meeting someone, rather than just when they started dating. And what they found was that, at the beginning, our romantic interest increases in pretty much exactly the same way, whether it turns out to be a short-term or long-term relationship in the long run. Eventually, of course, the short-term relationship starts to plateau and the decline, while the long-term relationships keeps growing. But at the start, they look identical.

So why do we think of short- and long-term relationships as so different? "Well, I think they are different in many ways — people feel much more attached to their partners and have much stronger positive feelings about them in long-term than short-term relationships, for example," Eastwick says. "But I think it’s easy to forget that those feelings of attachment and positivity aren’t usually there 'in the beginning' — that is, in the early days, weeks, or even months after you met the person. So I think we think that short-term and long-term relationships are quite different because these are labels we put on the relationships later, once we see how things shake out."

This research is also important because it shows us that even if you don't have a lightening bolt moment, that doesn't mean you won't end up with this person. What seems like a fling can turn into a long-term relationship, what seems like it could go the distance could turn out to be a fling. It's good news for anyone who has a tendency to doubt a relationship at the beginning — you can be rest assured that it can still turn into something powerful.

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

"Even if you’re deeply in love with your partner, it’s perfectly normal to occasionally question your relationship," Jonathan Bennett, Dating/Relationship Coach and Owner of The Popular Man, tells Bustle. "Everyone has doubts from time to time, whether it’s about the future of the relationship or if your partner truly is 'The One.' As long as the doubts aren’t lingering and constant, they're normal and even healthy."

It's nice to rewrite history and pretend that we always knew we'd end up with our long-term partners, but it's really not that simple. At the beginning, it's totally healthy for romantic interest to build, even if it never turns into anything serious. All the more reason to just take your relationships as they come — que sera, sera,