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Earlier, I needed to make a sentence like this:

For dating, it's important not to get ahead of yourself.

This made me question what "yourself" here is indicating. This expression means, "You shouldn't outpace how your dating partner thinks of you." Then isn't it supposed to be "getting ahead of your dating partner" because the listener is supposedly going beyond their partner's expectation, not themselves? If this is not the case, what is "yourself" this listener is getting ahead of?

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    To get ahead of oneself is a quirky idiomatic usage that can't really be deconstructed. Compare fall over oneself (To expend a lot of energy or effort to do something; to inconvenience oneself). In both cases the peculiar "reflexive" aspect adds a kind of emphasis, but you'll get nowhere trying to assign "meaning" to the reflexive pronoun itself. Just accept that to get ahead of yourself means to proceed too quickly (often, with insufficient attention to essential details). Commented Apr 30 at 12:03
  • In your exact context, the real underlying implication is probably more don't go too fast for your dating partner rather than ...for yourself, but that's just a quirk of the exact context. Normally, getting ahead of yourself doesn't imply being precipitate / over-hasty from the perspective of others. Commented Apr 30 at 12:07
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    @FumbleFingers - I tend to interpret (or intend) getting ahead of yourself (or ourselves) to mean proceeding further along some line of thought or some plan than is justified by the current state of affairs, so that in the context of the question, planning a wedding after one date (or booking a motel room!) might qualify as getting ahead of yourself. Commented Apr 30 at 12:20
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    I note that there are a number of 'physically impossible' idioms involving oneself, e.g. getting ahead of yourself (as discussed), getting above yourself (seeming to have excessively entitled or snobbish ideas or manners), being beside yourself (being very agitated or upset). The 'impossibility' serves as emphasis. Commented Apr 30 at 13:54
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    @FumbleFingers - I wasn't implying anything by mentioning people being up themselves! Commented Apr 30 at 18:54

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It doesn't mean "you shouldn't outpace how your dating partner thinks of you". It means don't rush headlong into a situation before you're prepared for it and things are as they need to be, whatever the situation happens to be.

You could start painting a house before you've cleaned and prepared the surfaces that need painting. Someone experienced in housepainting could advise you, "Don't get ahead of yourself. You need to scrape off the old loose paint first, and sand any rough spots."

So sometimes being prepared for the situation involves making sure that all "parties" involved (here, that's you and the house) are ready. You've got your paintbrush and paint, your eye-protection and gloves, and it's only when the house has been readied for painting that you should begin painting, otherwise you're getting ahead of yourself.

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