Congratulations! You’ve made it to the next stage of the dating process.
With the first date behind you, the next few dates should be a time to continue getting to know each other. At this point, probably nothing has been explicitly said about where the relationship is headed, but it’s safe to assume there’s interest on both sides. Both of you are trying to process how you feel about the other person, and both of you are trying to read and gauge the other’s interest.
Somewhere around this point, one of three things happens. A) You both like each other and decide to exclusively date. B) One of you isn’t feeling it, so you let the other person know. C) You either get “ghosted,” or you’re the one “ghosting.”
What do I mean by “ghosting”? It’s when the guy or gal just disappears into thin air without saying anything.
As a general rule, it’s best to be intentional, clear, and honest. In some rare cases, ghosting can be permissible — but again, this should be the exception and not the rule.
As a rule of thumb for knowing when ghosting is okay: Respond with as much as you’ve been given. If you don’t really know the person super well, he/she has been somewhat flaky about getting together, you haven’t heard from them in a few weeks, etc., then in this case, it’s probably okay.
If he/she asks to see you, or says something that demands some kind of response, then ghosting is a no-go. Let him or her know that, while it’s been great getting to know the person, you’re not interested in pursuing a romantic relationship.
If, however, you’ve been on a few dates and you’re both still feelin’ it, here are some things to keep in mind:
Keep it casual. Now, it’s true that with each consecutive date, the unspoken commitment level increases. If it’s your fifth time getting together, it’s safe to assume you like each other at least a little bit. But don’t over-formalize things! I once knew a guy who, at a party, introduced a girl he’d gone on a few dates with as “his girlfriend.” That was news to her! Keep the dates casual, and never assume a level of commitment you haven’t mutually agreed upon.
Keep physical touch classy and to a minimum. Pretty much every Hollywood movie ever has taught us that it’s normal to meet someone, fall in love, kiss, kiss a lot more and then have sex all within the span of about a week. But real-life, healthy relationships pretty much never start this way.
Being physical with a gal too soon can muddle discernment, send mixed signals and make her feel used. Keep in mind that what you do with your body matters: Never say something with your body that you haven’t said with words.
For example, many folks wouldn’t think twice about holding hands on a first or second date. But think about what hand-holding communicates. It conveys a level of commitment that you probably haven’t reached at that early stage. It’s saying to the world, “We’re together!” Of course, the same goes for kissing.
Plus, holding off on the physical touch will show her you respect her, as a gentleman.
Be okay with the unknown. This is just a time to get to know someone in a deeper way — and what a beautiful opportunity it is! It’s a little uncertain at this point, but just be open. Be open to being surprised about the guy and about yourself, and take note of all the things you learn during this time.
Practice detachment. This is hard to do, but at this point, no commitments have been made, so be detached from the outcome: “If things work out, great; if not, okay.” This mentality is a struggle to maintain, but it’s a healthy one to fight for. (This doesn’t mean, however, that you should run away from commitment if and when that opportunity shows up!)
Don’t fantasize, and be alert to red flags. On a similar note, this is not the time to jump ahead emotionally. Nothing’s been committed, so keep your heart where the relationship actually is at this point. Don’t fantasize about where it could be headed or what you hope it to be. Keep your head on straight and keep your eyes wide open to major red flags.
Don’t write someone off too soon. Don’t be too picky! Be open to a guy that isn’t your “type.” Superficial things on your “list” really don’t matter all that much. If you seem to have chemistry, a well-rounded attraction, values and some interests in common, give it some time if you still feel unsure! Be open to seeing if someone you didn’t expect is a good match for you, after all.
If you’re interested, respond accordingly. Show him as much interest as he’s showing you. If you show too much, that could turn him off. Basically, if you’re into him, follow his lead in how the interactions go. If he isn’t really leading and seems flaky, this is probably not a good sign.
At some point, have the conversation. It would be nice if the guy takes the initiative to have the conversation about where the relationship is heading; that being said, relationships are a two-way street and there are plenty of ways to subtly ask him where he thinks it’s going. No matter how it starts or who starts it, have the conversation at some point about whether you’re exclusively dating each other, and be clear with each other about your intentions.
If at some point in this process, you realize you’re not interested after all, then be clear, gentle and honest. Let him know. And thank him for the opportunity to get to know him!
This period of dating can be edifying, awkward, exhilarating and confusing all at the same time. If you’re in a pinch, check out our (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) flow chart below to answer the tough question: “What do I do now?”
Tune in next time for some tips on living a committed relationship well.
Check out the rest of our dating series!
- He Says/She Says: Your Utility Belt for Surviving the “Dating Apocalypse”
- He Says/She Says: The Unspeakable “F Word” of Dating
- He Says/She Says: How to Ask Somebody on a Date (and How to Respond)
- He Says/She Says: How to Have a First Date that Rocks (and Isn’t Awkward)
- He Says/She Says: So You’ve Been on a Couple Dates…Now What?
- He Says/She Says: The Virtuous Relationship
- He Says/She Says: How to Break Up (and Keep Some Semblance of Dignity)