As far as I’m concerned, there are only three stages of dating: dating, committed, and married. Anything outside of those three categories is nothing more than a friendship.
Recently, a new phase has surfaced called “the talking phase” of a relationship. Ever heard of it?
Nobody I talk to seems to understand what exactly the talking phase of dating really is; however, everyone can agree on one thing: it is the most confusing thing added to the dating game.
It can be hard to determine the official stages of dating — especially in a world that’s constantly changing with new social norms — so let’s start with what we know.
First, we start “dating” — connecting and hooking up. Whether this happens over an app or on a few initial dates, when two people start seeing each other, they go out together at decent hours of the day, they get to know each other, and they start actually hanging out outside of the house (not just hooking up). There is not really a title, and at this stage, the two may even be “dating” multiple people.
The purpose of dating around is to have fun and figure out if two people in a relationship are a good match for a romantic relationship — or if they should just remain friends.
Next, when two people are committed to each other early on in dating — often referred to as “being exclusive”, “social-media official” or “Insta-official” — they are pretty much doing the same thing they were doing when they were just hooking up, except now there are no other people involved. They are exclusive, everyone knows about it, anniversaries are celebrated and they may even be planning a future together.
Once things get serious, things move fast after that. Often when we are exclusive to someone for a while, people automatically assume it’s time to get engaged, and soon enough marriage is right around the corner.
Marriage is a lifetime commitment that involves all aspects of dating and being exclusive, except now is the part where two lives become one — couples move in and live together, they are joined by legal documents, pledge to love each other eternally and eventually they have kids and grow old together (if all goes well and according to plan.)
If all of these stages are already (sort-of) defined and cover all bases of the dating game, what is this new “talking” phase we keep hearing about? Nobody has a direct answer to that question which, to me, is red flag number one.
Let’s admit something here: nobody knows what “we’re talking” means when it comes to dating, yet everyone seems to be doing it.
From stories I have heard to things that I have experienced myself, talking is a way to experience all of the beginning dating phases at once without any real accountability. Two people who are “just talking” hang out during regular daytime hours, talk to one another every day and tell each other that there is nobody else yet — somehow there always ends up being someone else who enters the picture and feelings get hurt.
But there’s a catch: when the other person finds out about that “someone else,” they aren’t allowed to be upset because there is no official title or agreement to be in a committed relationship. Remember: we’re just talking … not dating.
If you’re in the “talking phase” with someone, you and that other person spend a lot of time together, occasionally buy each other gifts, have fun and spend nights with each other — maybe you even talk about future plans — but as soon as one of you inevitably “catches feelings” the other says they aren’t ready for a relationship and you decide to go your separate ways.
If all of that information gave you a headache, you are not alone. I have “talked” to someone one time in my life and that one experience was all I needed to decide I would never do it again.
The confusion, gaps in our communication, and feeling like I had no right to ask questions because we never officially established what we were doing was entirely too much for someone as emotional as I am.
Were we friends? Were we about to start dating? At what point am I crossing the line if I start to go out with other guys? Is there even a line drawn for me to cross in the first place?
These questions ran through my head almost every time we interacted and I never felt comfortable enough to ask them because I did not know and still do not know what “talking” is when it comes to dating. Or not dating.
These days, those of us who are emotional beings and decide that we do not want to waste our time waiting for answers to questions we don’t even feel like we have the right to ask are told that we need to just “go with the flow.”
People claim that the “talking” phase is just for fun, but you can have fun without all of the unnecessary confusion and eventual hurt attached to “talking”.
The “talking” phase of dating is merely a way for people to have access to people they believe will be good partners when they are finally ready to settle down — IF they are ever ready to settle down.
There is no need to be loyal during the “talking” phase — or to even claim that you are “talking” to someone. It’s a way to put the good ones on the back burner so you can have a good time at others’ expense.
So keep this in mind next time you’re thrown back into the dating pool: if someone wants to be with you, the “talking” phase isn’t an acceptable place to stay. Until it is established that you two are committed to each other in one way or another, you are only friends with friendship boundaries.
Sarah Jones-Smith is a writer who covers relationship, zodiac and women’s lifestyles topics.