How does dating work? How do people go from being strangers to committing their lives to each other? Forty years ago, there was more structure to dating: a couple got to know each other, then decided to date each other exclusively, there may have been a promise ring, then an engagement ring, and then marriage. During this time period, there were markers for how a relationship was supposed to develop.
Times have certainly changed. We now live in an age when there are no set rules and guidelines for dating. It is now more important than ever when dating to know yourself and set your own guidelines. The following are four guidelines to consider when considering getting into a relationship.
1. Know yourself.
What are your expectations with dating? How do YOU get to know a person that you are considering committing to? What makes you feel safe in a relationship? How secure are you in setting boundaries for yourself? I know someone that decided she wanted to date for a year before she discussed marriage. That created some tensions in her relationship, but now she is at the one year mark and happily discussing marriage plans. She took a risk by setting boundaries, because she had been in relationships before where set the boundaries she needed.
2. Recognize your fear.
People are fearful that if they set boundaries about the timing of the relationship or around sex and affection they will be left in favor of someone who is less “trouble.” When this happens, fear is the main guiding force in the relationship, not the mystery of human intimacy. Setting boundaries always feels like a risk and is scary, but it is one of the pathways to deeper intimacy with our significant others.
3. Get to know one person at a time.
Life is not a season on The Bachelor/Bachelorette. When you meet someone, whether online or in person, consider just getting to know them for a season. This season will end when you come to a point where you think you only want to date them or you don’t want to date them at all. Letting this process take its course involves not hanging out with people that you are considering dating. Sound a bit old fashioned? Perhaps so; but contemporary science sides with taking things slowly. We are built for connection. Intimacy and attachment are built when there is safety in a relationship. And it’s hard to build safety when there is a competition for attention.
4. Allow the relationship to develop over time.
Relationships with quick connection and quick sexual activity are more likely to fizzle just as fast. By taking time to let the relationship develop, time is allowed to let your hearts be known to each other. Ask yourself questions like: does this person practice compassion? are they trustworthy? do they take responsibility for their actions? You can’t find the answers to these questions out in a week or a month. It takes time to figure out, whether or not someone can be trusted with your heart. If you can’t trust them with your heart, then it’s time to start looking for other people.
Donna Durham is a therapist at Sage Hill Counseling in Nashville, TN. As a therapist, Donna nurtures her clients as they work through life’s challenges. Her office is a safe place for struggle, transparency, and healing.