You meet, feel mutual attraction for each other, and things seem to be going great… until your new potential partner professes true love and starts talking about planning your future together — on the third date. You feel flattered to inspire such strong feelings in another person, but if you’re still in the not-quite-exclusive stage and your date is completely head-over-heels, that’s when things can get tricky.

“It can actually be a little scary when one person in a new relationship is suddenly like,‘I know we don’t know each other well, but I think we’re the kind of couple who could wind up married,’” says Dr. JoAnn Magdoff, a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. “There might be potential for that someday, but at the moment, you barely know each other.” In fact, premature declarations of love can add an unpleasant layer of pressure to a budding romance, especially if you’re on the receiving end and aren’t reciprocating those feelings yet. What’s the best way to handle it? Read on as experts and real people weigh in…

How to gauge whether things are moving too fast
Feeling “butterflies” and a sudden need for less sleep is normal in any new relationship, and the last thing you want to do is kill that magic. So how can you tell when your date’s feelings are the normal response of falling in love — and when that person’s simply infatuated? According to the experts, there are definite “symptoms” that your date’s behavior may be unhealthy. Dr. Magdoff suggests one clue is receiving far too many phone calls, texts, and emails. “There is sort of this assumption that you’ll be available to the other person all the time,” says Dr. Magdoff. It’s one thing for a date to show interest, but entirely unreasonable to expect constant, 24/7 communication. “Also be on guard if the person starts asking too many deep questions about you too quickly or is working too hard to please you,” she advises.
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Love coach Rinatta Paries suggests using caution if the person is pushing for intimacy before you’re ready, mentions that you are “soul mates” or starts making long-term plans — which could range from spending the holidays together to mentioning marriage, living together or children — too early on. “I would also be wary if your date tells you that he or she has never felt this strongly about someone before or thinks you are perfect and can do no wrong, as those are signs of being in love with the idea of love more than the real you,” warns Paries.

What’s driving the rush to make you commit to this person so quickly?
Of course, it’s wonderful to be cherished and adored. But when your date starts worshipping you within just a few dates, you may wonder: Are those feelings real? “All feelings are genuine feelings, so you can’t discount them,” says Dr. Magdoff. “But what you must consider is if they’re stemming from something deeper.” For example, Dr. Magdoff says she once dated a man who was ready to marry her almost after their first date, and she soon discovered why after viewing a family photo. “His mother died, he missed her and I looked exactly like her — it was scary,” recalls Dr. Magdoff. Her story raises a good point: Someone’s heightened emotional feelings are often connected to something that’s completely unrelated to the person on the receiving end.

There’s also the “actor factor” — in other words, someone might proclaim adoration as a means to get the other person into bed. “Unfortunately there are quite a few people out there who are very ardent and act very in love at first, but then start cooling down as soon as they’ve spent the night with their target,” says Sam Hamburg, Ph.D., author of Will Our Love Last? So if you feel as though the rush for intimacy eclipses the desire to get to know each other, it might be time to move on.

There’s also the chance that your date is simply addicted to the rush of falling in love, and any new person will do. “In this case, the feelings are not about the person loving you but about the person being into the whole feeling of love-at-first-sight and the physical buzz that it gives,” says Paries. “As soon as your date gets used to you even a little bit, you won’t stimulate that person anymore in quite the same way — and he or she will lose that intense feeling.” Unfortunately, that also means he or she may start looking for that emotional “fix” elsewhere.

And finally, there is issue of fantasy versus reality. Every relationship begins with a little idealization on both sides, but if your date sees you less as a real person and more like a character cast in their love story, you’re unlikely to stay together long-term. “I call this ‘the perfection project,’” says Patrick Raymond, 37, from New York City. “I’m with my dream woman and I’m her dream guy, but we’re not really dating each other. We’re dating the fantasy we each have of our ideal mate until reality wakes both of us up.”

How to set the right pace for getting into a real relationship
So what, exactly, is the “right” pace for a budding relationship? “The bottom line is that if it feels like too much, too soon to you, then it is,” says Dr. Magdoff. “Slow it down — you get to control things that way.” But how can you take a step back without crushing your date’s enthusiasm? “Some people will interpret this slow-down to mean that their date is not really that interested anymore,” says Gregory Schmitt, 34, of New York City. So if you genuinely like this person, make it clear that you do see relationship potential, but want to know each other better before you make any kind of commitment. “Let your date know that you like him or her and hope you’ll be a good match, but that there’s no need to rush into a relationship just yet,” advises Paries. “Remind your date that if you do work out as a couple, you’ll have a lifetime to spend together.”

You can also slow down the pace without sending mixed signals to your date by making firm plans to see each other — far, far in advance. Think of it this way: If this person knows he or she will definitely see you three Saturdays from now, you both can relax and look forward to it rather than stressing over when you should get together again.

No matter how strong anyone’s feelings are now, time will tell if you’re meant to be
While love at first sight does happen, it’s no guarantee that you’ve met The One. “‘Fools Rush In’ is not just a song, it’s also the truth,” says Paries. “Relationships built in a hurry crumble most of the time, leaving at least one person bewildered and devastated afterwards.” So when does early infatuation translate into happily ever after? “Actually, falling in love is like dancing — you have to read the emotions of the other person and adapt to them, or else you’ll end up completely entangled,” says Schmitt. “People experience infatuation all the time, but that kind of love is usually short-lived. Falling for someone’s personality, humor and mannerisms is when you find yourself really in ‘trouble’ — but in a good way.” Letting things unfold naturally over time is the only way to know whether your love’s for real.

Kimberly Dawn Neumann (www.KDNeumann.com) is a popular New York City-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in such publications as Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Redbook, Maxim and frequently online. A certified dating/relationship coach, she’s published two books: The Real Reasons Men Commit and Sex Comes First and is the founder of www.DatingDivaDaily.com.