How Long Should You Date Before Making It Official?
You meet a new guy, and he’s everything you hope he could be. You’re anxiously anticipating every text and phone call or doing silly things like writing your initials together to see how they’d look on the wedding glasses. You know you’re supposed to play it cool, but cool is the last thing you feel.
OR: He’s giving hints, but you don’t feel like you know him well enough yet to make a commitment. You might feel a little guilty about ignoring his bids for a declaration of love and devotion, but you’re just not there yet.
For most people, this is challenging territory. Like hitting on a 17 at the blackjack table, there’s an inherent risk either way. If you like a guy, you probably don’t want him to be dating other people. Maybe you are worried he’ll move on if he doesn’t get an enthusiastic response from you. On the other hand, none of us wants to be classified as “needy.” We may also agonize that if we rush things, we’ll scare him off. Where’s the sweet spot for a confident, actualized grownup?
- Understand what being “official” in a relationship really means.
- Discover how long you should wait before making a commitment.
- Know when to cut loose any man who hasn’t asked to be your boyfriend.
- The Love Haze Phase
- Timing Is Everything?
- Define “Official”
- To Name It Is To Claim It
- How To Know You’re Ready
- How To Know if He’s Ready
- Tips When You Don’t Trust Your Feelings
- When to Wait
- The Best Policy
The Love Haze Phase
For starters, let’s be clear: most people at the beginning of a new romance are just a little bit crazy. The potent cocktail of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine pack a powerful punch. These “love hormones” pump in a heightened libido, a longing to be close, and an overall feel-good energy that ramps up whenever you think of your new prospect. These chemicals are literally changing your brain to make connections with him. Interestingly, oxytocin surges in men can increase their anxiety and aggression, so he may have a slightly different reaction to this cocktail than you do.
This honeymoon phase can last 6 months or longer – sometimes up to 18 months. If you have a history of a long string of short-term relationships, it can be because you expect the heady euphoria of those early days to continue. You may think that’s what love really looks like. Then when those first feelings start to change as you enter the new phase of a relationship, you can think that you’re no longer in love.
But if you’re high on hormones, does that mean you should wait to make any declarations? How long is too long to date without commitment?
I would love to give you a hard and fast rule about this, but it doesn’t exist. Every person, especially every combination of two people, results in a different chemical reaction. But there are a few guidelines that may help you make a more informed and rational decision.
Timing Is Everything?
In scouring the research and polling the masses, I’ve found that most people seem to agree that somewhere between 1 and 2 months is a socially acceptable time frame in which to declare that you’re officially in a relationship. It’s not about the number of months, per se, but rather, about how many dates you’ve gone on, and how he’s followed up afterward. If he’s engaging in boyfriend behavior – calling every day, seeing you multiple times a week, taking down his profile, talking about a future, and you feel like he wants the same kind of relationship you do in the long run, you can absolutely focus on him.
Contrary to what many say – that it may take 3-6 months until you’re a couple – you should absolutely cut loose any man who hasn’t asked to be your boyfriend in three months. That ambivalence is a bad sign for a partner, and if he’s too busy or unsure if he wants to be with you in that time, you’re better off finding a more enthusiastic partner who’s on the same page.
By the 2-month mark, you’ve been in a number of different situations together. You’ve probably seen how he deals with the waitstaff in a restaurant, how he handles shared expenses, and how he communicates. You may even have had your first argument.
You’ve also seen whether or not he shows up. Is he indicating that he wants to spend time with you? If he’s lost interest, chances are that he’s not pursuing more time together. It seems basic, but when you’re in the love haze, you can ignore what might otherwise seem to be easily readable signs.
The other piece of this is what we mean by “official”. For some people, it simply means having “the conversation” about defining the relationship. For others, it may mean an open declaration – to one another, to friends, family, etc. It’s often said that to have a reasonable discussion, you must define your terms and make sure your man is using the same definition.
Now, you may not want to be in a committed relationship that’s exclusive. You may not want to have a long-term relationship. That’s perfectly fine, especially if you’re recently out of a relationship and are focused on having fun and being single. But eventually, it’s wise for both of you to have a discussion about where, exactly, it is that you are and what you want.
Dating can be fun. You may decide that you are Friends With Benefits. You may decide that you are romantic partners but still want to see other people. You may agree to wait on a sexual relationship but be exclusive with one another. It’s the process that’s important, and how you handle the differences between your current assessment and goals.
To Name It Is To Claim It
There are very few of us who are evolved enough to think this kind of conversation is fun. For most of us, it’s a little anxiety-provoking.
But if you are unable to have the discussion, you may want to rethink whether you’re ready for a long-term relationship. One of the hallmarks of a mature, healthy relationship is the ability to broach difficult topics, engage in open and honest communication, and express who you are and what you need. Real life demands courage.
Too often, you casually date for a while, wallow in anxiety about what he’s feeling and either wait too long to say anything or throw caution to the wind and bring up marriage and kids before you’ve gotten the proper signals. While he may want to get married, surprising him with that idea can backfire.
When you have an adult-to-adult conversation with the man you’re dating, you are treating him and yourself with respect. You are assuming he is mature enough to handle the information you’re sharing. You’re not protecting him from the truth. This means that if it’s meant to be, you’re off to the races. If it’s not, isn’t it better to know now, cut ties, and move on to someone who is in sync with what you need? If all you both want is a casual relationship, there’s nothing wrong with that. The only huge mistake you can make is in assuming something about the other person that isn’t true.
Outlining the parameters of your relationship and where you want it to go is a positive step toward a committed relationship. And checking in from time to time to see if you still want the same things is a healthy part of an organic, living, breathing partnership.
How To Know You’re Ready
A recent scientific study examined the timing of the right moment to be seriously involved with someone in a real relationship. They looked at the three primary factors -readiness, commitment, and stability – to determine relationship success. Readiness is just what it sounds like: that you’re ready to have a serious relationship. Interestingly, people who were very ready were more likely to be forthcoming with self-disclosure and less likely to neglect or exit early from a relationship, BUT, they were also more likely to move on more quickly rather than waiting for things to improve. (Thus, the recommendation is to step up or cut bait in less than two months.)
They also determined that people use “perceived partner commitment” to promote closer connection or protect themselves when it looks like their partner isn’t interested in long-term commitment. The problem there is that when you’re guessing at your partner’s state of mind, a lot can go awry.
Here are some questions you may need to ask yourself:
1) Have you processed previous relationships? In other words, are you over your ex or rebounding? Have you resolved any traumas from old relationships?
2) Are you ready to be honest, transparent, vulnerable, and clear?
3) Are you ready for this to be your last relationship, or do you want to still experience other guys?
4) Are you ready to be part of a partnership team, emphasizing “us” over “me and you”?
5) Are you willing to put in the work that the inevitable challenges and reinvestment of energy need to sustain a long-term relationship?
6) Do you truly believe that a serious long-term relationship is possible?
If the answers are yes, then you’re probably ready to commit to another person.
How To Know if He’s Ready
While he may not be completely forthcoming about his feelings – he IS a guy, after all – there are some pretty obvious indicators that he’s comfortable with moving forward.
1) He sees your positive qualities – he may also see some of your negative qualities by now, but he is more focused on the good things. He may even find some of your most annoying characteristics charming.
2) He uses “we” – he is already seeing himself as part of a couple when he speaks to others about his weekend, he says, “we went to the farmer’s market” or “we stayed in,” rather than using “I” sentences.
3) He’s trying to do things you like and meet your needs – When a man likes you, he’s trying to make you happy and be the man you want him to be, even if it means some sacrificing of his old behaviors. He’s also making a real effort to find out who you are and what you want.
4) He isn’t still pursuing others – Sure, everyone may do a double-take on that cutie-pie or hot bod, but he’s not seeking to make contact with them. While he may just have been too busy or lazy to delete his dating apps, he may also have done so already.
5) He’s pursuing quality time with you. He may be proposing future events together or making holiday plans, or he may just be indicating that spending time with you is a high priority for him. If he’s busy all the time and you’re initiating all the dates, that’s a big red flag.
Tips When You Don’t Trust Your Feelings
Sometimes you think you’re casually dating, and a few months in, you start to have thoughts about a committed, loving relationship. You may not necessarily trust yourself, though, given the information you now have about the course of infatuation. A good litmus test is to introduce him to your friends. They’re not blinded by rose-colored glasses or hormones. Your friends can often see that he’s treating you a certain way, looking at you a certain way, even when you’re a mess of anxious reactivity. I’m not saying you should let other people decide your future, but they can have more objective input. So make those double date nights work for you!
In terms of working your way toward that DTR (Defining the Relationship) conversation, there are also a couple of tricks:
1) Be honest about being nervous. Whether it’s public speaking or difficult relationship talks, I’ve always relied on the trick of telling the truth. When you say you’re a little nervous, it has the magic effect of relaxing you. Give him a heads-up that the conversation is not necessarily an easy one for you to have, but that you value him enough to have it anyway.
2) Don’t say, “we need to talk” though. Somehow this phrase has become code for something unpleasant, especially for men.
3) Don’t do it when you’re angry. Maybe you’ve felt slighted about some perceived neglect. Maybe you’re impatient that he hasn’t made any declarations. This isn’t the time to have the conversation. Go home, take a deep breath, and maybe do a meditation. Coming from a place of calm equanimity is going to work better for you in every possible way. He won’t feel the tension at an intuitive level, and you’ll be positioned for less reactivity with his response.
4) Be open to all responses. The idea here is to gather information that will move the relationship forward. If he says he’s not going to be ready for a committed relationship for another five years, that’s information that’s useful. If he surprises you and says he wants to get married, that doesn’t mean that you have to say YES (or NO). Your job here is to talk about what you want, and to hear what he’s saying, preferably without the filter of what you’d like to hear. Most men are less accustomed to having these conversations, but they can be surprisingly straightforward when called upon.
When to Wait
Relationships are often about timing. Often one of you wants to take it to the next level, while the other one just isn’t ready for a real relationship. Many women will find a partner who is currently not willing to move the relationship forward, and they’ll decide to stick around because they’re certain he’ll change his mind.
While it’s normal for some people to need more time than others, there are pros and cons to waiting. On the plus side, waiting lets him see you’re invested in him. It shows that you care about his needs and that you think he’s worth waiting for. You can use this time to connect more deeply. Some men worry that sexist stereotypes are true – that you’re more flighty and emotional – and they’re waiting to make sure you’re sincere and not just impulsive.
On the other hand, waiting for someone who doesn’t want a relationship at all can be heartbreaking, not to mention a waste of valuable time. If you are the one making a commitment, it can make you unavailable to other guys. It puts you in the romantic limbo of being a single woman in most respects, but with fewer options to be a happily married gal.
If you feel like moving on would be a serious loss and that he just needs a bit more time, give yourself, and him, a time frame in which to decide. You may be a person who is comfortable with ambiguity. Just keep in mind that a man who wants to be your boyfriend will claim that status by his own volition. If he hasn’t pushed to commit in 2-3 months, he’s probably not going to.
The Best Policy
As a long-time dating coach, and as any relationship coach can tell you, here is the best possible relationship advice I can give you: Honesty is everything. First, being honest with yourself about what you want and need. The more you normalize a situation where you’re not content, the more you are sacrificing little pieces of yourself unnecessarily. Healthy adults are able to discern their own needs and express them to others in a calm, matter-of-fact way.
Whether you stay together or not, when you are armed with the truth, you know that you’ve given it your best shot. Only you know what a reasonable amount of time is to declare yourself as part of a couple. With luck, he feels the same way and is excited to discuss future plans. Even if he isn’t ready to commit, he can at least be forthcoming enough to let you know if he thinks he will be in time, or whether he should let you go to pursue another relationship.
Life is too short to stay where you’re not happy.
It’s also too short to wallow in anxiety second-guessing yourself. Rip the band-aid off and have the talk.
The right time to make it official is when you’re both ready and excited about commitment and the possibility of a future. If that’s in place, congratulations, it’s official!