Dear Carolyn: I'm 24 and in my third serious relationship, and I recently asked my boyfriend for a break. Basically all three relationships seem to have followed the same pattern: me being very affectionate and loving toward my boyfriend; his being less affectionate, interested or loving toward me; then over time, after issues and arguments, my feelings dwindling while his seem to increase. It's not like I don't communicate issues, either. I always discuss things after a disagreement, so they're truly understood and put to rest. I always tell my boyfriends I want them to be more affectionate, but usually it doesn't happen until way too late and I've slowly gotten over the relationship.

My first two were worse in the sense that their greater affection later on only hurt me, because it felt like, "I would have been way happier had this happened months ago."

It ends after I'm fed up and my boyfriend is more in love, more affectionate with me and I can't return it anymore. What's wrong with me, and why is this a pattern?

— Want to Break the Cycle

Want to Break the Cycle: This is not intended as a substitute for the advice I’m going to steer you to afterward.

But: It sounds to me that you go all in right away with your affection, before you know these men well, while they’re following a slower get-to-know-you trajectory — and so they’re naturally less affectionate at first and more so later. They’re enjoying your company, sure, but they don’t really know you yet, haven’t fallen for you yet, so the intensity you want from them upfront is something they’re not capable of giving you sincerely until later.

If this is true, then you haven’t had three serious relationships with three men. Instead, you’ve had one intense on-and-off relationship with romantic novelty. You’re “on” when someone is new, and you switch “off” when familiarity creeps in.

Whether that’s a good guess or a terrible one, your problem is begging for some sessions with a therapist. It hits the top three qualifications: 1. You have a pattern; 2. You don’t understand it; 3. You’re unhappy with it.

A couple of things to consider. I routinely advise writers in this space to be wary of people who have their big feelings upfront instead of building up to them. That’s the problem I’m talking about above, where you’re more excited about the idea of something serious than about really knowing the person you’re with.

But I also routinely warn writers of people who are invested in a relationship only when you lose interest in them. Let’s say the pace of your attachment to them was healthy all along, in all three relationships — but you became desirable to them only when, to put it in material terms, you acquired more value through the sudden scarcity of your interest in them. That would say the problem is instead with the type of men you’re drawn to.

Either way, some time out of relationships and in the business of finding pleasure in your own company, with or without therapy, can help you get your sense of self on straight. Better connections with others always start with ourselves.