A new normal for modern dating is the “talking phase,” the stage of a relationship where you’re still getting to know each other before you officially begin dating. The “talking phase” is made possible and perpetuated by dating apps and texting – two people can talk all the time with physical safety and without much effort or commitment. They can get a basic level of knowledge about each other without actually being in each other’s presence or spending money on real dates. At face value, the “talking phase” sounds like a good idea. The problem is when the “talking phase” isn’t just a passing phase, but stagnates and falls into a situationship.
If you’ve found yourself in a situationship, my best advice is to get out. It’s easy to let your attraction to someone blind you to what’s going on, but don’t let yourself fall into the trap of “talking” to someone forever. Ask yourself, “Why aren’t we in a relationship yet?” And “At what point will we go from ‘talking’ to boyfriend and girlfriend?” If there is no clear path in sight, then realize that the man you’re talking to doesn’t like you enough to claim a relationship with you, but he’s using you for all the benefits of a relationship. Don't you deserve better than that? Though this is common in modern dating, it’s toxic, and you should avoid it.
Dating in Previous Generations
It may feel like the dreaded talking phase is inevitable because it seems weird to go from not dating someone to being in a relationship, but “talking” wasn’t a thing until this generation. Many years ago (in the early 1900s and before), dating consisted of courting someone. Courting is dating with the clear intention of marriage as the end goal. A guy and girl would start spending time together (their families would help orchestrate it), and if things were progressing well, they would get married. In some cultures, this is still the case.
As the years progressed (mid-1900s), courting started evolving into a less formal, but still intentional event. Men and women could go out in public together and date, but the men still initiated this by asking for the woman’s father’s permission. Even after this started to fizzle out, men would still ask the woman to go on a date, and she knew it was a romantic thing. There was no confusion as to whether it was just “as friends,” and marriage was still the end goal. The closest thing to “talking” during this time was when the man would literally call the girl’s home and ask to speak with her. And it was shortly after this that they would go on a date.
The Toxic Intentions of the Talking Phase
“Talking” is viewed as the phase before being in an official relationship, but what is it really? Many couples that begin talking end up doing everything that someone in a relationship does, but there is no commitment, exclusivity, or label. And what’s worse is the introduction of hookup culture which often means that you don’t know if the person you’re talking to is sleeping with or “talking” to other people. Some people view this as feminist empowerment or freedom, but it really just gives men (and women) a pass to be promiscuous and reckless. Are you really being respected and treated well if someone is using your body simply for their pleasure?
Another reason the talking phase is so toxic is because it leaves both people in the relationship in a weird, confused place. Unless you both have shared with each other what your intentions are, how do you know if this talking will go anywhere? You don’t. This means that the person you’re talking to might have no goal in mind. He might just be talking to you because he’s bored, or maybe he likes sleeping with you without having to commit.
What you allow will continue in your relationships. When you start seeing someone, you are setting the standard of how you expect to be treated. So if you allow yourself to be in limbo with a guy, you can’t really get mad that the relationship is confusing or stagnant. You haven’t given him the impression that you expect clarity or faithfulness.
And this goes the other way too. If our culture is attacking masculinity and scrutinizing men for taking the lead in relationships, what motivation does he have to be chivalrous and intentional? If men are told that there should be no gender roles, then why is it his job to label the relationship? As women, if we expect a man to take the lead, be loyal, and treat us with respect, then we should act in a way that deserves respect and faithfulness, and find a man who fits that standard.
How can we avoid the “talking phase” but still get in a relationship? Life is different now than it was in the 1900s, so we have to adapt to the times, but that doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice a healthy relationship. It’s obviously natural for there to be a phase before the relationship where two people show interest in each other. But don’t let that phase turn into the toxic rut of talking forever. When you start getting to know someone, be upfront with them about your intentions and ask them for theirs. It might feel awkward to be forward, but if a man is serious about getting to know you, then he won’t mind giving you clarity. Keep marriage in mind as the goal, and don’t waste someone’s time if you don’t see things long-term with them.
Another thing to keep in mind during this pre-dating phase is to avoid physical intimacy. If you’re sleeping together before you even officially date, you're giving him all of the benefits of being in a serious relationship without actually committing. I would even encourage girls to save kissing for a real relationship. You don’t owe him anything, and if he truly sees a relationship with you, he will be willing to wait for the physical things. If this is a dealbreaker for the guy you’re seeing, then he probably isn’t marriage material anyways.
Keep the pre-dating phase short and sweet. It doesn’t take very long to see that someone makes you happy, shares some of your values, and has an interest in you. So if that’s the case, start dating for real and see if they could be the one. Guard your heart, and don’t allow yourself to be used or strung along.
This generation hates defining things. We can’t define the difference between men and women, we don’t want labels in relationships, and everything is viewed as a social construct. We are the most “free” generation there ever was, but we’re also the most unhappy. Business Insider reports that “More young people of all ages are thinking about suicide, attempting suicide, and dying by suicide. Even though suicide rates are going up in nearly all age groups in the U.S., the trends that are happening in people under 26 are unique, according to a new study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.” This isn’t to say that depression and suicide are completely thanks to the way we date, but having no boundaries or commitments is only contributing to our unhappiness.
Rather than being frivolous, let’s use our freedom to be intentional, so we have a stronger foundation for our relationship. If your goal is to eventually have a marriage and family, don’t waste your time with a man who doesn’t want to commit to you. Pick a man who is proud to be with you and shares your values. Be clear with him about what you’re looking for, and if he isn’t on the same page, then he isn’t the one.
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