How Long Should You Wait To Define The Relationship? Here's What The Pros Have To Say
Dating today is filled with question marks, unspoken rules, and just a general sense of mystery. We're all tasked with balancing definitive interest with that hard-to-get chase, ensuring that our love interests know we're into them, but not, like, too into them. But then — maybe eight or nine or a million dates in — the question of "Wait, what are we?" starts floating around in your mind. Inevitably, you start to wonder whether it's time to call off that cat-and-mouse game or maintain a chill façade — I mean, how long should you wait to define the relationship?
It's a question I've asked myself on a number of occasions, first as a dazed and confused teenager, and then as an even more confused adult (or whatever it is that I am?). My last "Facebook-official" boyfriend and I dated for a year and a half, but had spent the better part of a year hanging out and making out before deciding to take on official labels (I was feeling very 500 Days of Summer at the time). And yet, five years later, here I sit — a mere four dates in with a new fellow — twiddling my thumbs and wondering whether or not he deleted his dating apps as swiftly as I did after our second rendez-vous.
In other words, I have no idea when or how it makes sense to take that step and ~DTR~ with a new partner, which is why I turned to the experts (as well as some real women who have tackled this question themselves). And, after chatting with six ladies and a couple of professionals, I think the greatest takeaway here is that, well, it totally depends. There's no set timeline, nor a standard relationship yard stick to let you know what's right at what times — you've just got to trust your gut (and your S.O.) and go at a pace that works for you two.
"There isn't a perfect way to do it," said Nicole Richardson, licensed marriage and family therapist. "There isn't a certain number of time or dates or milestones. It's when your partner is showing up the way you need them to to feel safe."
With that in mind, here's how six women knew it was time to define their own relationships — some after just a few short dates, others months in.
These ladies knew within two weeks.
As Richardson puts it, "There are some people who know on the first date that this is the relationship they want to be in." So forget what they say about fools rushing in — these two women knew almost instantly that they were in love, and their partners were just as sure.
After our first date, my boyfriend and I made plans to see each other every day for like, two weeks straight. We were just instantly obsessed with each other. It's all kind of a blur, but I think it was right around that two week mark that we looked at each other one night and said, 'So, we're definitely together, right?' And that was how it happened, we just knew. We've been together for two years now, so I'd say our gut instincts were right.
I knew I wanted to be with my boyfriend after just two weeks. I was so excited by the thought of doing everything with him, and a label was important to me because it felt like we were now this unit rocket-shipping forward. Why not just roll with it despite how soon it was? We both knew from date one that we had no interest in anyone else, and as a jealous animal I made sure that we talked about that aspect very early on so we avoided the 'let’s date but not be exclusive and pretend we are chill about that but actually have enormous reactions if the other person sleeps with anyone else and read their texts while they sleep' phase. Basically, I think you should define the relationship if A.) You both are diving in head first (stop playing games and just be together already!). Or B.) You have issues with the other person or yourself being monogamous — it’s better to have the talk early to avoid being shattered by a situation where you weren’t 'technically' together.
These women needed a bit more time.
On the flip side, "There isn't a certain number of time or dates or milestones," says Richardson. "It's when your partner is showing up the way you need them to to feel safe," which, for some couples, takes a bit more time...
My current boyfriend started asking if we were officially dating after a month, and I was very like, 'We are not dating, stop stressing me out asking about it.' We were seniors in college at the time, and I was wary of getting into a relationship when we would be graduating and moved away from each other soon. That said, after like two months, we were definitely dating. And I'd say after three months you should have that feeling and know if it's what you both want or not.
I've jumped into relationships with a couple of guys and got hurt every time, so with my current boyfriend, I made sure we took our time and went in stages. After a month, we decided to become exclusive and stop sleeping with other people. But we didn't adopt the 'boyfriend'/'girlfriend' titles until we'd been seeing each other for almost seven months. I just wanted to make sure we really knew that this was what we both wanted before I jumped into something and hurt myself again, and I'm glad we took our time.
These women agree they waited too long to 'DTR.'
Whether you're jumping in or taking things slow, it's important to remember that the key to a solid, fulfilling relationship doesn't lie in how quickly you knew someone was the person you wanted to be with, it lies in recognizing that a potential partner really can (and will) give you what you need.
"The number one thing I wish people would do is really listen to what's happening and what [their partner] is saying, not hearing what they want to hear," says Richardson. "A lot of times, we hear what we want to hear and we see what we want to see, and that's when we get hurt."
Way easier said than done, right?
"I have found that in couples where one [person] is waiting and waiting for the other to bring up 'the talk' it is likely never going to happen," adds Lori Salkin, dating coach and senior matchmaker at SawYouAtSinai.com "If you get to a reasonable point in time in a relationship (not three dates in) where you feel you are ready [to be] committed and ready to define the relationship and ... your boyfriend or girlfriend is not acting on the hints ... it [is] likely never going to happen."
It's a lesson that these women (and, like, everyone in the dating world) had to learn the hard way at one point.
I hooked up with a girl at a party once and was pretty instantly in love with her, but she was not looking for a relationship. She'd just recently started dating women and still wanted to explore, which makes total sense, but I kept telling myself that I could make her fall for me. We hooked up for probably four or five months before I had to just step back and say, 'Hey, I can't do this anymore. I need more than just late-night texts.' But she just didn't want the same thing. That took forever to get over because I was mourning something that never really existed. Meh.
I'd been seeing this guy for almost six months. He'd met my friends, I'd met his. We went to concerts and brunch and did, like, couple sh*t together. I didn't really feel the need to put a label on anything because I was just enjoying hanging out with him, and I'd always sort of assumed we were exclusive. It wasn't until we ran into some of his coworkers one night and he introduced me as a 'friend' that I started to feel kind of insecure about it, and then I found out that he'd been seeing and sleeping with other girls the whole time, which really sucked. I think it said more about his character than mine in the end, but I wish we'd had that conversation after maybe three months. I felt so blindsided and hurt in the end, and I could have avoided that if I'd just had one awkward convo.
At the end of the day, don't worry about how many dates you've been on or milestones you've reached. Just focus on finding a relationship that feels safe and satisfying (and exciting!) for you, and you'll be golden.
*Names have been changed. Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.