There can be few things more rewarding – and frustrating – as dating when you’re a 20-something. Whether you’re enjoying life and sowing your royal oats in college, post grad and trying to navigate a new city and all that is has to offer or completely removed from the school scene altogether, there’s nothing quite like the nervous, excited anticipation when you’re just starting to learn about the new beau you met. Things are going smooth as you were hoping they would be. You’re gushing to all your closest friends about him or her when the dreaded question arises: “What exactly are you guys doing?”
It’s something you’ve been kicking around in your skull too, though you haven’t breached the subject with your almost-kinda-significant other just yet. Chalk it up to fear of the unknown, not wanting to seem to demanding too quickly or whatever the case may be. You smile and laugh to your friend, saying something coy and avoiding like, “I don’t know, we’re just seeing where it goes!” But you and I both know that there’s #levels to the gray area before you commit to each other.
TL;DR – Here’s a quick and dirty map for the yellow brick road known as a modern day monogamous relationship. No particular order, as we’re all flailing through this equally as blind.
1. Getting To Know Each Other
You’ve exchanged numbers and are now friends on Facebook. After doing the obligatory stalking through his or her profile and discovering that, for the most part, they’re a normal human being, you begin talking on the phone and texting somewhat regularly. Maybe two or three days go by, but you generally share the burden of texting the other one first and so on. You meet for coffee or a casual drink on a Thursday night and to your delight, you still feel that spark you did when you met. You’re still keeping up with conversation, exploring the differences between your majors or jobs, the things you enjoy, the things you wish you had the balls to try out. You’re even trying to convince them that they should check out Orange is the New Black because hello?! It’s the next best thing and they can hop on the bandwagon before it’s cool to hop on it in another two or three seasons. You can even enjoy it together if they catch up before the next one premieres!
Outside perception makes this level murky, especially on a college campus or small town. You’re seen out and about more often, sparking the question of who this new person is that you’re spending so much time with from friends and nosy acquaintances. The key difference, I think, between this level and just getting to know each other is the amount of communication. You’ll check in with him about how his day is going because you know he had a tough presentation he was really nervous about and she’ll call you on her way home from her night class because she doesn’t want to walk across campus in the dark alone. You’re doing things together more regularly and taking care to factor their likes and dislikes when planning things for the two of you. He’s not a fan of scary movies, so you pick a drama that you’ll both be interested in for Netflix night. Compromise!
3. Seeing Each Other
Those damn feelings have begun to surface! You’re having more serious conversations about your lives – where you’ve been, where you’re going. Maybe you’re getting to thinking about titles more often, but hesitating on having “the talk” since you don’t want to push a good thing too fast, but you’re already thinking of how to introduce them to your closest friends and/or family because you’re certain they’ll like them as much as you do. When you get to this point, you’ll still appreciate the beauty of gorgeous people who cross your path, but have no real desire to get to know them romantically, as a little piece of your heart has your boo’s name etched on it. Experts (read: friends in committed relationships) all agree that the best and healthiest relationships are ones that don’t require you to change who you are be yourself as you were without forcing it; you should be able to ease into a relationship and it should be natural. There’s little pressure to put on airs and be on your absolute best behavior in front of him or her. They let you be yourself. Never mind that your crusty toes have had the same bright orange polish on since September – your lover still rubs them with his own sweaty feet as you cuddle at night.
4. Hot And Cold
You’re doing great for weeks – going out regularly, calls and text abound, your inside jokes are epic. You two just mesh really, really well. Until you don’t. Have playoffs for the season begun? Is there a particularly long marathon of the Harry Potter series on repeat that you missed a memo about!? After they disappear for anywhere from two weeks to four months, you’re ready to call it quits and pass your number to the next hottie that catches your eye across the student center, they’re suddenly back like nothing has ever happened. And really, it feels like nothing has happened and you’re right back where you left off. Left up to the individual, this can be a pivotal turning point in the budding relationship. Keep it up as is with the potential of this happening again or have a conversation about where this is going? Scary prospect for some; just the push that some others need.
5. Friends With Benefits
You may have bypassed these other areas completely in your quest for the boo-tay. Or it’s a step down. Whatever. Your communication consists mostly of texts that may read something like this: “Netflix night? (Only after 12:30 AM)” “Nothing good is open after midnight … Except your legs” “Come have sex with me” Y’all know the deal. Can’t tell your friends anything about his or her interests or potentially even their last name, but you can recount all the intimate details of your last hookup down to the minute – because you knocked over the clock with your foot in the midst of it and when you caught your breath, you politely picked it up and put it back on the desk.
You exchanged numbers with a guy/gal that you met at a bar a few weeks ago. You guys were texting, flirting with tons of smileys and sexual innuendos, for two good, solid weeks. Now your cute texts about tonight’s new episode of Tosh.0 and Snapchats of your cat’s curtain climbing antics go unanswered. If you look through your text log and find a very one sided conversation with one word replies sprinkled in from four and a half weeks ago, you’ve probably invented this “relationship” in your head. To your friends, he’s the cute guy that keeps you checking your phone every few minutes because he’s texting you all these wonderfully hilarious things. In reality, you’re checking to see if he’s read your last seven Facebook messages (thanks for that message read timestamp, Facebook!). When it gets to the point where you are receiving phantom text alerts where you see his or her name pop up on your screen only to open it and discover that your heart jumping into your throat was for naught because it’s only your grandpa Bob, asking you to come over to help him set up his new television, then congratulations! This is all in your head. Head to the nearest Pinkberry and indulge as you mourn this loss.