There's nothing more exciting than when a new relationship is going well. You're spending a lot more time together, and you're growing closer every day. You might be wondering if it's time to become official, but how do you really know? Is there a set number of dates you are supposed to go on before getting that designation? And even if you are sure it's time, how do you know your partner is on the same page?
For help answering these questions, we turned to Sarah Kahan, a licensed clinical social worker in Brooklyn who helps individuals and couples navigate relationships. While there is no set rule for when any relationship should become official, she suggests signs to look out for that might show you are ready. She also provided advice on how to go about the transition.
Meet the Expert
Sarah Kahan is a licensed clinical social worker in Brooklyn who helps individuals and couples navigate relationships.
How Many Dates Should You Go on Before Your Relationship Is Official?
There is no real answer to that question, says Kahan. "It is so varied and so individualized," she shares. "There is no real number that I can give." But there is at least one general rule: you can't have this conversation after the first few dates or even in the first few weeks. After all, it takes time to see if a relationship has the ingredients to be something more serious. "In the beginning, you want to see if there is commonality, if you enjoy each other, if you are attracted to each other, and that takes time," she explains. "Then it gets deeper and you start to share more personal things, more emotional things, and you want to see if the other person has the emotional depth to match yours."
"Finally, you need to feel like you can get vulnerable with that person," offers Kahan. "Getting vulnerable is scary. You have to go slow and test the waters, like putting your toe into the cold water and testing it out. That also takes time to see if you can do that." For these reasons, you can't be official after the first few dates.
Signs You Are Going from Casually Dating to an Official Relationship
While there is no hard and fast rule about how long it should take to go from casually dating to an official relationship, there are some signs to look out for that show your relationship is entering the next phase. The first sign you might be ready to be official is if you have solid communication, says Kahan. "It's about the ability to really hear each other, to not jump to conclusions, to be able to listen and to be open-minded, and to be able to put yourself in the other person's shoes and vice versa," she adds. "If you can understand how the other person feels and really be able to express yourself, that's what a couple should be working on."
Another sign you are ready to be official is that you both have incorporated one another into your lives fully. "It's about how much space the other person is taking in your brain," says Kahan. "Do you want to be narrow-minded in terms of focusing on this relationship as opposed to being curious about other people? That is a clue that you are getting serious."
Before getting serious you have to prove you can overcome adversity and tell each other how you really feel. "If you tell your partner something, and you don't like the reaction, it's not necessarily a deal-breaker," she admits. "It's about seeing if you can work it through as a couple. You have to be able to say, 'This was hard for me to share, and I was hoping you would react in a certain way, and when you didn't I got hurt.' Then the other person can say, 'Oh wow. I didn't realize that. I am so sorry.'"
She adds, "If you can talk, and the other person hears you, and you feel heard, and the other person wants to understand you, those are good, healthy signs."
How to Make Your Relationship Official
So you've decided your relationship is strong, and you are ready to make it official. How do you go about doing it?
Kahan says no matter how tempting technology is, the most important thing is to have a face-to-face conversation. "It's never ok to do it over email, phone, or text," she says. "Serious conversations about where we are going and what we are doing should really be done in person."
If you feel nervous about what to say, gather your thoughts and write them down before having an in-person conversation. Or practice what you want to say with a close friend or confidant.
Kahan adds that if you are feeling nervous or vulnerable share that with your partner up front. "Some people are more comfortable being straight up and bringing it up, but other people are not so comfortable," she says. "You can say to your partner, 'I am uncomfortable. I am a little hesitant. I am a little nervous.' If you give someone a heads up that you are about to do something that isn't easy for you, it can be a nice way to prepare them."
It's often the case in a new relationship that both people are not on the same page at the same time. Somebody can really like you and want to keep dating you but not be ready to make it official. If you bring up "the conversation" to your partner, and he or she isn't ready to make it official yet, ask yourself how much you can really tolerate. Can you be patient or do you really want to be exclusive right now? "For one person,n a deal-breaker can be, 'Well, we are exclusive, this is what I want,'" explains Kahan. "Other people have more of a high tolerance for ambiguity. It really depends on your personality how you want to go about it."
The most important thing, whether you are initiating the conversation about being serious or responding to it, is to be honest. "The more a person is emotionally healthy or psychologically healthy, the less they are willing to let it coast along and say, 'It's ok, it's ok,'" says Kahan. "A relationship needs to really feel good. You can't lie to yourself."