When's the right time to seek approval?Getty Images/iStockphoto

Relationships take lots of hard work, and introducing family and friends into the mix too soon can sometimes upset the delicate applecart, writes RACHAEL SHEARER. As winter creeps in and cold weather wardrobes explode out of boxes in glorious tons of heavy wools, furs and velvets, I begin to indulge in my winter “diet.” As I mentioned two weeks ago, comfort eating is a magical, magical thing, but winter eating is a whole other ball game.

Mulled wine, steaks (because you need that extra iron), baked goods and lashings of cream on everything. Run it all off in the freezing cold for a big bold hit of endorphins and a cool breeze on your face. Or not! The power of sweaters to cover up your entire body is what makes me love them so much.

So, while happily snacking on a stack of pancakes this fine Saturday morning, I chit-chatted with a friend about her new beau. “He’s perfect, he’s tall, he’s smart, he’s funny, he’s bla bla bla.” I struggled to hear her over the maple syrup I was busily drowning in.

However, she got my attention when she refused to let me meet him. “Oh, no. We’re not there yet.”

“There” is a dangerous word when it comes to relationships and can be all too easily applied to absolutely anything. Describing proverbial “places” in which to “be” whether singularly or together somehow changes the fact that you are two humans in an emotional relationship to some kind of teleportation vacation.

So, naturally, I pried. Why did she feel a need to keep this perfect man hidden away? Was she afraid that all her ravenous, desperate female friends would reveal their fangs and claw at him on first sight, snatching him away from her grip?

Or had she just built him up too much and was afraid that he wouldn’t live up to the description? Au contraire.

“I just want to make sure,” she said, “that I’m ready for him to be a part of my life.” And so the penny drops.

It’s a tricky business bringing somebody important in, giving them the grand tour of your nooks and crannies, your dark and twisted brain (not referring to myself here, I swear), your kooky relatives and brash friends. It can be overwhelming for both of you, and it’s an oddly presumed tradition that your boyfriend/girlfriend has to take on the full past, present and future of your life and everyone else in it.

When my boyfriend and I started going out we kept it a secret for a stupidly long time. We were best friends with a lot of mutual friends, didn’t want to make anything “weird,” and wanted to make sure that we knew what we were doing before we told people.

There’s always a fear that it won’t work out and then you have to pick and choose friends in some sort of social-life divorce. Think Monica and Chandler in "Friends," but I’m less neurotic, he’s a lot funnier and we have more than four other friends.

However, we both told our families instantly, and took regular visits to each other’s family homes before we told our best friends. We were excited, and proud, and eager to make those most crucial introductions. Plus the secret was exciting, and sneaking around was fun and it made the whole thing feel infinitely more special than anything else.

Everyone has their circumstances and grey areas that make revealing a relationship – especially an important one – to their friends and family a very scary thing. Having some random dude your dating tag along to a night out on the town is nothing compared to finding someone that you actually envision a future with, and arranging for them to meet the people who love you the most, and want the best for you – because what if they don’t approve? And don’t they know you the best, so surely they know what is right and wrong for you?

One of the best parts about keeping my relationship a secret was the total lack of other peoples’ opinions and general presence in the relationship. Once you invite other people in, you inevitably invite their two cents.

And after long enough, you will have your first fight, and you will want a friend to talk to, and their opinion on what you should do next will influence your next moves. Suddenly you become reliant on those voices to guide you through harder times, and you start doubting your own gut instincts.

Everyone has had that moment where they ask a close friend for advice and then instantly regret it when they will not stop talking. At first, you smile and nod, but towards the end you find yourself developing an internal commentary that goes something like: “Oh my god, do you know me at all? Are you insane? What kind of advice is this?!”

More often than not, it takes someone who is currently in or who has recently been in the exact same situation as you – and that is a rare thing to find.

So, rather than press my amigo to reveal the identity of her secret superman and immediately arrange an interrogation disguised as a dinner party, I sat back in my seat, took another mouthful of pancakes and smiled like a wise old woman as syrup dripped onto my pajamas. I knew what she was talking about. I got it.

The pressure of introducing someone that you have found in this mess of a dating universe who you actually like that much can be terrifying. New relationships are fragile, and when they show promise and hope, you feel vulnerable – like someone could take that feeling away by simply commenting that they don’t like his shoes.

Two years down the line, and I burst with pride introducing my boyfriend to people. I cannot wait for people to see all the things that I love about him and to aggressively agree with every nice thing they have to say about him once we grab a moment alone.

But for those first few months, you do want to keep it to yourself. It’s yours, and no one else’s to share. And once you feel safe enough, and secure enough, you can begin to yell at the top of your lungs that you have found someone.

Then comes the blissful realization that you don’t really care what other people think anyway. Because while that is important, all that really matters is how you feel about each other. Once you get that, you’re invincible.