The Relationship Hype Cycle

Thankfully I am happily married and am no longer in the dating world interviewing potential candidates for the role of Mrs. Jake.  I was first married when I was 27.  That self-destructed and I found myself divorced and dating as a mid 30’s adult.  It was interesting.  Despite the fact that I and the women I was then dating had matured, the process still remained VERY similar to when I was dating as a young 20 something stud.  I’m writing on this topic because I have several friends that are post-divorce and back in the dating world and a sad few that for a host of reasons are still, (bless their hearts) perpetually stuck in the game.

I was talking with one of these friends yesterday (a new divorcee) and he was telling me about the woman that he’s’ been dating and how she seems to have “changed” from when he first met her.  This particular friend was not familiar with my theory of the Relationship Hype Cycle so we ended up having a discussion about it.

A “hype cycle” is a term coined by Gartner, Inc. They are an information technology research and advisory firm headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut.  Hype cycles are a graphic representation of the maturity, adoption and social application of specific technologies. Since 1995, Gartner has used hype cycles to characterize the over-enthusiasm or "hype" and subsequent disappointment that typically happens with the introduction of new technologies. Hype cycles also show how and when technologies move beyond the hype, offer practical benefits and become widely accepted. 

The cycle is comprised of five stages:

  1. Technology Trigger
  2. Peak of Inflated Expectations
  3. Trough of Disillusionment
  4. Slope of Enlightenment
  5. Plateau of Productivity

These five sections are mapped to a chart which visually shows the progression and the five stages over time.  Make sense?  Ok now let’s apply it to relationships & dating… 

When first I saw the hype cycle concept many years ago, I immediately recognized its relevance to explaining the conundrum of dating and relationships.  In fact, even the five stages were mostly accurate, with only two needing modification.

  1. Technology Trigger became Sending A Representative
  2. Peak of Inflated Expectations had  No Change
  3. Trough of Disillusionment had  No Change
  4. Slope of Enlightenment had  No Change
  5. Plateau of Productivity became  Plateau of Happiness

Let me explain…  

Sending a Representative

When we first meet someone, we are typically very attentive, courteous, polite, responsive, sensitive and most of all patient.  Truth be told, it’s all an act.  If you think back to some of your initial dating experiences you know exactly what I’m talking about.  We are literally on our best behavior.  I call this the “Sending a Representative” stage. (Also known as Sending an Ambassador).  It’s still you that shows up, but just the best parts of you at this point.  But keep in mind, the same goes for her.  She’s also sending representation.

While “Sending A Representative” everything is fun and exciting because it’s a zero Bullshit stage in the relationship.  You like each other, you’re just getting to know each other and you don’t want to screw it up. So naturally both of you play nicely, flirt like teenagers and focus on just having fun. 

There’s plenty to be said for first impressions for sure, and one of them is that what you see, is often mostly window dressing. 

Peak of Inflated Expectations

At this point you start to think that maybe this one has “potential”.  You’re starting to wonder where her flaws are because she seems too good to be true…almost perfect in fact.  Don’t be fooled.  You’ve reached the Peak of Inflated Expectations.  The time it takes to reach this phase will vary based on how often you see each other and communicate but inevitably you get here.  Enjoy it while it lasts because unfortunately, it’s all downhill from here. 

Trough of Disillusionment

Finally, unable to sustain "perfect", she starts showing her ass (and not in a good way).  This begins the downward spiral into the Trough of Disillusionment….also known as "The Bitch went crazy" phase.  She is officially no longer sending representation.  Congratulations. You've just met the REAL [Insert Name Here].  For most relationships this is the killer.  We get pissed, we react badly, we use phrases like "WTF!?", and we scratch our heads wondering what just happened.  This is a normal step in the process.  Don’t react or get emotional in response, the thing to pay attention to here is “How bad is it?”  Really?  Which brings us to the next phase.

Slope of Enlightenment

Let’s be honest, everyone has baggage.  It’s just a fact of life…especially if you’re dating as an adult or worse if you’re divorced and now back in the game.  In my experience, the process of going through this phase is more art than science.  Since everyone has baggage, the trick is to determine if that baggage is a carry-on and will fit in the overhead bin or if it needs to be checked.  If it’s just a carry on, then you need to figure out if it’s something that you can deal with or not.  As I mentioned earlier, I have several friends that are still in the game and a few of them have some pretty unrealistic expectations in my opinion.  They’re looking for a relationship that hovers around the Peak of Inflated Expectations phase indefinitely.   I love them but they’re being stupid.

Plateau of Happiness

If after your “enlightenment” you determine that her baggage is not a show stopper, and you can figure out how to work through the bullshit when it surfaces, then and only then can you progress to the final phase;  the Plateau of Happiness.   At this point if you were asked the question “What if this is as good as it gets?” and you can honestly say “I’m good with that.” then you my friend, have arrived.  Congratulations.