I used to have a really bad habit of rushing into relationships. I'd fall hard and fast, and before I realized what was happening, I had locked it down. So it was probably inevitable that a few months later I would be in a blind panic looking for the escape route, with all the red flags I had skillfully ignored in those early infatuated days now flapping in my face. I never asked myself the questions, “How long should you date before becoming official?” or “How many dates should you go on before starting a relationship?” I learned it the hard way by discovering that taking your time and really getting to know someone before defining the relationship is not only OK, but the right thing to do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a romantic, just one with a bit more patience.
Every relationship is different and moves on its own timeline, so knowing when the time is right to define the relationship (DTR) can be confusing. Are there any hard and fast rules about how soon is too soon? How long should you talk to someone before dating? What are the signs that the time is right? To answer these questions and more, I turned to Alessandra Conti, celebrity matchmaker at Matchmakers In The City, certified dating expert and host of the Dates & Mates Podcast Damona Hoffman, and breakup recovery and dating coach Cherlyn Chong. Here is what they had to say about how long you should date someone before you decide to take the next step and make the relationship exclusive.
How Well Do You Really Know Them?
One of the main reasons I regret rushing into relationships is that, somewhere around month two or three, I’d realize I had no idea who the other person actually was. The front we all put up when we’re first dating someone would drop, and I’d learn belatedly that I didn’t really want to be with that person. Not that they were bad people (though some were), it’s just that the compatibility wasn’t there.
Chong encourages you to wait things out in order to catch potential red flags. “We found that most of the issues happen in the first month of the dating stage,” says Chong. “You should be able to know where this relationship is going, because by then you should like each other already.”
This is why Conti says it’s essential not to be too hasty when you’re first dating. “The goal is to be exclusive with the right person,” says Conti. “The best way to truly learn about another person is to take the time needed to truly get to know them before making a commitment to them.” While there’s no exact right amount of time, she says you should wait anywhere from one to three months before making the relationship exclusive.
What Do You Or Don’t You Like About Them?
You don’t necessarily have to pull out a pros and cons list (although that could help), but start thinking about what makes this person stand out to you. Are they genuinely good company, or are they just available? Consider what makes you physically and emotionally attracted to them, what you admire about them, and if any of those things align with what you might want in a partner. A little analysis could make you more enthusiastic about entering a relationship with them, or it might help you discover that you’re not ready to be with them now.
Ask yourself if they’ve done anything positive or negative that has stood out to you. Hoffman says that if they have already lied to you, for example, it should be a wake up call. “One of the biggest factors in long-term compatibility is trust, and if you feel your partner is dishonest with you, it's impossible for trust to be built,” says Hoffman.
Chong says that while you may be experiencing a very intense and exciting relationship with the person so far, you may not be able to sustain that relationship in the long-term. “When it comes to relationships, comfort over passion is the key thing,” says Chong.
Can You See A Future With This Person?
This is really the big question, isn’t it? Many of the people I dated, I picked for their fun factor. If I had fun going out with them, or hanging out with friends, I would think they were a good match. Only in the sober and solo light of day did I realize that what we had in common was a shared interest in partying on the weekends. That makes weekdays, well, awkward. That was fine for a while, but as time went on and my needs in a partner evolved (i.e., job, security, actual life compatibility), I wanted to be exclusively free from that relationship.
According to Conti, that’s normal because, “once you get into your 20s, the whole boyfriend/girlfriend label takes on a bit of a more serious role. When you commit to being someone's boyfriend or girlfriend, you are saying to them and to the world that you could potentially see [something] more serious come of the relationship.” Which, she explains, is all the more reason to take the time to really figure out if they are a good fit before getting serious.
One way to find out the other person’s intentions, according to Hoffman, is to pay attention from the very beginning. “Usually in the first three dates, they will say what they’re looking for,” says Hoffman. “They will express whether they’re interested or not.” If they don’t tell you outright, feel free to share your intentions and ask if they’re on the same page.
Are You Ready To Be Exclusive With Someone?
Have you spent so much energy trying to look for clues that the person you’re dating wants to get more serious that you’ve forgotten to check in with yourself? I’m definitely guilty of this, but Conti says that before you make the move to a committed relationship, you need to spend some time assessing where your heart and mind are at. She says to ask yourself: Do you get upset at the thought of them with someone else? Do you want them to be a part of your daily activities? Are you excited when you’re going to spend time with them? And, lastly, would you rather go out with them than a random new person from an app? If the answers to those questions are yes, then signs are good that you are ready to DTR.
So, as it turns out, there’s no exact right amount of time you should date before making it official. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy? But no, like all things related to relationships, it’s complicated, messy, and exciting. You may feel a lot of pressure to make the right move at the right time, but Hoffman reassures that the stress is unnecessary. “It’s not a marriage proposal,” says Hoffman. “Putting too much pressure on where things are headed often means that people will wait too long to discuss where they are at and then build up resentment if the other person is not on the same page or if they've invested too much time in a relationship that is not headed in the direction they want.” So, if you know your feelings are strong, don’t hold that in.
The key here is to not rush in with your heart entirely. Give yourself some room to get to know the person you’re dating, to see if you want their future to be your future, and to check in with yourself to see if this is the person who really has your heart.
Alessandra Conti, celebrity matchmaker at Matchmakers In The City
Damona Hoffman, certified dating expert and host of the Dates & Mates Podcast
Cherlyn Chong, breakup recovery and dating coach
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