For years, our generation has lived with the talking stage, an undefined yet legitimized part of modern dating life. Everyone seems to know what it means to be “just talking” to someone else, but there are no guidelines on how it works and there are no expected outcomes. What is the talking stage, you ask? This stage of dating is fragile, and many are convinced that one does not owe anything to the person they’re just talking to, especially since the relationship is in such a gray area. That’s probably the most frustrating part of this pre-dating trial.
Those of us who “talk” experience a package of confusion, stress, anger, love, torture and overthinking, and we tolerate the emotions in hopes that we’ll find someone worthy of actually saving their phone number in our contact list. OK, and it wouldn’t hurt if this person earned an official relationship title. So, basically, we're going through the struggle of a relationship without the official relationship. In some ways, the talking stage helps us protect our pride. If we never officially dated, then we never officially broke up, either. Not sure that it really protects our feelings though. The ugly truth of the talking stage is that it sucks, and here are seven reasons why.
The Talking Stage Is Hard To Explain To Others
People know what the "we're talking" line means, but every talking stage in a relationship is different. They may want to know exactly what yours is. Questions abound about your new fling: Do you hang out regularly? What do you guys do together? Is it moving toward something serious? How much do you like this person? Plus, your parents will never understand why you're only "talking" to someone.
“If the people you are introducing your date to press you for more info or make you feel embarrassed, you can change the direction of the conversation,” relationship and etiquette expert April Masini previously told Elite Daily. “You can say, ‘We’re comfortable with these terms and I hope you’ll get comfy with them, too!’ And that puts the burden back on the other person, and away from you.”
The Talking Stage Has Unclear Boundaries
You hear a rumor that the person to whom you're talking was seen leaving with someone from the bars; do you bring it up? Because you two are talking, are you allowed to have an opinion on what this person does when you aren't there? If the expectations you have for your relationship are unclear to the other person, then clear them up.
As certified dating coach Damona Hoffman tells Elite Daily, “If you get into a situationship with the goal of turning it into a relationship, and you don't voice what you ultimately want, you're going to end up resenting that person, or being upset with yourself that you couldn't find your voice.” By telling the other person what you want, you could be strengthening the relationship in the long run.
The Talking Stage Has Unspoken Social Media Rules
You took a total Instagram-worthy selfie with your not-so-significant other. But do you post it? And if you do, do you tag them? What's the caption? Should you even acknowledge you were together? What if people comment thinking you're a couple? Before you post a pic of you and your kind-of-sort-of boo, you should ask them for their consent first, the way you would ask your best friend if it’s OK to post a hilarious video of them from the night before.
“You're free to post whatever you like as long as the other person(s) are in compliance," author and relationship expert Susan Winter previously told Elite Daily. When it comes to photo protocol, Winter suggested you make sure the person you’re talking to is comfortable with being flicked up. "Rather than counting the number of dates as a barometer to correct behavior, ask your date directly. 'Do you mind if I take a photo of us?' If they seem hesitant, don't push it,” she added. “Respect their boundaries and judge the correct protocol as time goes by.”
The Talking Stage Gives Your Partner Zero Responsibility
Think about it: One day, you two are in the full-on talking stage (which means you're talking 24/7), flirting, laughing and planning, then the next day, complete silence. This has been normalized as the rhythm of this type of relationship, but that doesn’t mean it’s right or it feels good. You may think you don’t deserve an explanation, nor that you have any right to get upset. Basically, you're playing a game with this person. You're trying to discover as much as you can about one another — without getting too serious.
Hoffman disagrees with the idea that you are owed nothing in the talking stage, but there’s a catch. “In the talking phase, I believe you are owed common courtesy and clear communication,” she says. “However, I believe that you cannot claim someone or expect exclusivity unless you have had a conversation in which you decide that together.”
The Talking Stage Forces You To Ask, “What Are We?”
In the outcome of talking, you'll either end up as a couple, or you won't. You can be stuck in thought, or you have a conversation with this person and inquire about what you two have going on. According to Hoffman, getting caught up in the ambiguity can distract you from pursuing a more serious relationship. “You’re depleting your energy and your relationship drive,” she says. “Instead of trying to avoid disappointment, seek clarity and understanding.”
Bringing up the "what are we" conversation is scary, so drop hints or try some trickery to figure it out. If you're in the talking stage, you should be able to be rational adults and tell each other what you see coming for the two of you. Otherwise, how would any sort of healthy relationship form?
The Talking Stage Doesn’t Guarantee Exclusivity
You have zero idea who else this person could be talking with, so technically you also have the right to talk to other people, if that’s what you want to do. But it’s possible that you already feel like you two are together even if you haven’t given the relationship a title. If you like the person enough to be in the talking stage exclusively, you probably like them enough to move the relationship to a more serious stage. Maybe it feels like a lot of pressure to ask for exclusivity, but it doesn't have to be a big deal.
“Asking for exclusivity simply means that you are deciding not to date other people, asking for monogamy, and/or defining the rules of your partnership when you were previously two independent individuals,” says Hoffman. “It's not a marriage proposal.” If you're sleeping with the person you’re talking to, they should be able to communicate to you if they’re having sex with other people, for health and safety reasons. Bringing up those questions can be nerve-wracking and, frankly, you might not want to know the answers. But if you're sexually active with your talking-stage lover, then you should be emotionally comfortable with talking about things like that.
The Talking Stage May End Without Warning
Probably the biggest negative (or positive, depending on what your situation is) aspect of the talking stage is that you don’t feel closure when things fizzle out, as you never had a “real” relationship. All of the emotions you’re experiencing still exist, but you may feel invalidated because of the obscure status of your relationship. Hoffman says your feelings are valid. “You can absolutely hold someone accountable in dating, but what are you holding them accountable for?” she asks. If you feel hurt, disappointment, or doubt in the talking stage, you should be able to express it the same way you should be able to tell the person that you feel happy and excited to be talking to them.
The talking stage is just a sucky spot to be in, though it may be inevitable in today's world. If you find yourself in a talking stage, give yourself a time limit to figure out what you want. This way, you save yourself and your potential partner the unnecessary pain.
April Masini, relationship and etiquette expert
Damona Hoffman, certified dating coach
Susan Winter, author and relationship expert
Editor's Note: This story has been updated by Elite Daily Staff.
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