Do You Even Know How To Date?

The number of dates you’ve been on has nothing to do with whether or not you know how to date – you just might be going about dating all wrong.

By Keelia Clarkson5 min read
Pexels/Alina Rossoshanska

Millennials were the first generation to dive into the world of online dating through the use of dating apps. Before apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge arrived on the scene, the mere thought of online dating was cringeworthy. The idea that you’d need to take to the internet in order to find someone willing to date you was an embarrassing thought.

Then, millennials changed the entire dating landscape. Online dating became cool. Casual, unlabeled relationships were normalized. Dating for marriage was seen as outdated. Everything shifted. And while millennials thought for a moment that they’d figured out the secret to dating, it became clear over the course of a few years that the majority of millennials were dissatisfied, lonely, and depressed. It turned out that they hadn’t broken the code on dating. And for many, it felt like romance was dead.

Soon enough, it was Gen Z’s turn to enter the dating world, to find a faint pulse in our culture’s desire for love and romance, and revive it. But it seems that Gen Z is just as much at a loss as to how to date as the generation before them. In a viral clip from the Whatever podcast, a Gen Z woman expressed her disenchantment with the modern dating scene. 

The truth behind her words was overlooked by many due to her overuse of the word “like,” but she nonetheless expressed a very real issue for women her age. Voicing disdain for something called the “talking stages” of a relationship, she shared: “Like, that…is so annoying, like, the whole, like, and just, like, the inconsistency in them, like, I literally, like, hate that…I don’t know how to word this…Like, in, like, in talking stages and it’s just, like, you’re, like, labeled that and it’s, like, people, like, are considered, like, you can’t, like, you’re just, like, confused.”

Gen Z, it seems, is just as lost, confused, and dissatisfied with the dating scene. Like Millennials, they don’t know “how” to date. They ghost each other, get tangled up in situationships, have a whole roster of people they’re “talking” to, and many of them aren’t even interested in romance at all.

What even is dating anymore? How do you know if you’re actually dating or just on a long list of other girls he’s talking to? Can you learn how to date in a culture that’s so disillusioned with romance? Do you know how to date?

Know What Dating Isn’t

Before you can assess whether or not you know how to date, or learn about the art of finding romance, it’s necessary to get clear about what dating even is in the first place. So let’s talk about what dating definitely isn’t.

If you’re just talking, texting, or exchanging DMs, even if your conversations have become more frequent and in-depth, you’re not dating just yet. This is more of a pre-dating phase, where both of you have a chance to assess what it might be like to be in an exclusive relationship. You’re talking, but not an item yet.

The same goes for hanging out, whether that’s getting a cup of coffee or going to see a movie. If the hangout wasn’t clearly identified as a date, don’t make assumptions. Allow an obviously romantic connection to build between both of you (over the course of more than just one date) before you think of yourself as “dating” someone.

In order to consider your relationship with him a “dating” relationship, a clear-cut label is a non-negotiable.

What else doesn’t count as dating? Situationships. Whether you’ve gotten tangled up in a FWB situation, an “Are we or aren’t we?” relationship, or you’re the girl he has in his back pocket for when his latest relationship doesn’t work out, you’re not dating – and the likelihood is that he doesn’t intend to change that.

If there isn’t a clear label on the relationship that both of you are aware of, you’re not dating. Maybe you will be soon, but in order to consider your relationship with him a “dating” relationship, a clear-cut label is a non-negotiable.

Know What a Realistic Relationship Timeline Is

Part of knowing how to date entails knowing what a typical relationship timeline looks like. How long should it take before you’re exclusive? How do you know if there’s potential for exclusivity? How can you tell if you’re expecting too much too soon, or letting things drag on for too long?

First, think about how long you’re willing to “talk” through a dating app or on social media before meeting up. While it’s advisable to go back and forth for a few days before thinking about meeting in person (both for safety reasons and to give yourself time to assess whether he’s someone you could see yourself dating), waiting too long to set up a date doesn’t bode well. If you’ve been exchanging messages for more than a week with no sign of actually hanging out, there’s a good chance it won’t end up leading to anything.

Similarly, when it comes to the actual number of dates you go on, have a realistic understanding of how quickly a relationship becomes exclusive. Without getting too hung up on numbers, think about how many times you’d like to have gone out with a guy before you decide to keep going out with him, and how many dates feel right to you before bringing up the “What are we?” talk. 

While there’s no universally agreed-upon number of dates you have to go on before you’re exclusive, the majority of couples become exclusive after dating (read: going on clear-cut dates, not merely talking) for four weeks. So to sum it up: One date probably isn’t enough to become exclusive, but longer than four weeks of actual dating without any talk of exclusivity may be cause for concern.

Don’t Be Afraid To Take the Initiative

Chances are, the guy you’re exchanging messages with is just as confused about what dating is as you are, especially with so much of today’s new relationships’ early stages taking place over apps and through social media. It’s difficult to read tone over text, and it’s not uncommon for guys to worry about being ghosted for asking a girl out. So be willing to take the initiative if you want things to move along.

Chances are, the guy you’re exchanging messages with is just as confused about what dating is as you are.

If you’ve been messaging back and forth and feel like you have good chemistry, but he hasn’t asked you out just yet, go ahead and take the plunge: “Let’s grab coffee next week. What day works for you?” As much as we ladies love for guys to take the lead and ask us out, potential relationships are a give and a take. It’s okay to be the one to put yourself out there first.

Be Clear on Your Intentions from the Start

There’s a good chance you’ve been advised to play it cool, even hard to get, in the beginning. The voices warn you not to come off too desperate or come on too strong. And so you’ve taken to being coy about what your desires are more often than you’ve been upfront about what you want out of the relationship. 

But it’s this approach that can end up getting you stuck in the “talking phase” only to make the painful discovery that you aren’t the only girl this guy is talking to. Without making your intentions crystal clear from the start, it’s too easy to find yourself playing by rules you never actually agreed to.

Before getting involved in a relationship, even a maybe relationship, know what you’re looking for and what you desire. Whether you’re looking for a guy who is husband material or you’re looking to ease back into the dating world after being away for a while, be clear on what it is you want.

Have Standards and Hold to Them

Maybe you already know what you want, but you’ve found that you get swept up in the possibility and exhilaration that a new romance brings. And before you know it, any intentions you had are out the window. You’d told yourself that you wouldn’t follow another guy into a situationship, no matter how cute he was – yet, here you are, in another confusing casual relationship with a guy you wish would want something more with you.

Knowing what you want out of a relationship is really just the first step in dating well. After that comes having clear-cut standards (like wanting to find a guy who shares your faith or refusing to have a casual hookup) and actually sticking to them.

It can be a challenge to stick to your standards when you’ve never felt lonelier, or when you meet a guy that you’re hoping you can get to change his mind about not being ready for a relationship. However, wavering on your non-negotiables will only lead you to heartache and bitterness when things end up not working out.

Don’t Be Afraid To Have “Awkward” Conversations

Relationships are all about two people building intimacy and closeness, whether it’s emotional, mental, or physical. And in the earlier days of a relationship, a healthy way to achieve this is through having deep, vulnerable, honest conversations. 

While it can feel awkward to bring up “What are we?” conversations and the like, if you’re looking to create a bond that goes deeper than basic physical attraction, don’t be afraid of having the “awkward” conversations. Be willing to be vulnerable, open, and unfiltered – and if he doesn’t seem interested in doing the same, you can take this as a sign that he’s not the right guy for you.

It’s not awkward to initiate more intentional conversations, or to try to take the relationship’s connection to the next level, or to desire something more than a physical connection.

Don’t Play Games

We’ve all heard it said that you’re supposed to wait double the time to reply that he did, or that you can’t be the first one to text after a date, or that you can’t seem too interested right off the bat. But let’s be honest – games are for kids, not adults. And treating dating like a game is a recipe for heartbreak and toxicity. They say “play stupid games, win stupid prizes” for a reason.

Pay no mind to silly texting “rules,” immature dating advice telling you the only way to keep him interested is to make him jealous or to feign disinterest, and the voices that insist that asking for exclusivity will make him run. Be upfront with him, ask for what you want, show interest, and forget about the games you’ve been taught.

Closing Thoughts

While many a millennial and Gen Zer aren’t well-versed in the art of dating, that doesn’t mean you can’t take your dating game to the next level. By getting honest about what you want, being upfront with the guy you’re dating, and being willing to take some initiative, you’ll be much more likely to find what you’ve been looking for.

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