Dating is when two people who are romantically or sexually interested in each other make time to be together. A couple may go on dates to enjoy each other’s company, assess their compatibility for marriage, or simply to have sex. It can be a formal or casual process depending on the culture. So long as everyone respects each other’s needs and boundaries, there isn’t really a right or wrong way to date.
Stages of Dating
In general, dating relationships tend to follow a pattern.
People who want to find a romantic partner usually begin by exploring the field. This usually involves meeting a lot of different people and going on dates with those who seem interesting in order to narrow down potential options. They might then choose to go on additional dates with the people they feel most attracted to.
When there’s a strong connection between two people, they might talk about dating less casually and seeing more of each other or beginning a relationship. If they both prefer monogamous dating, they might talk about commitment or dating each other exclusively. During this period, many people begin sharing vulnerabilities, emotions, and personal histories. This can help strengthen the developing bond.
In the early phases of the relationship, people typically feel a strong attraction to each other. They might:
- Idealize each other
- Experience intense sexual chemistry
- Want to spend as much time as possible together
- Find themselves spending less time on other relationships or hobbies
- Feel “head-over-heels” in love
This is pretty common in new relationships. Over time, people who truly want to commit to each other generally experience a decrease in this intensity. They might begin experiencing less passionate but deeper feelings of love. A serious relationship may seem a little rockier or more challenging than the earlier stages of dating, but this too is normal. Partners realize they have to put work into the relationship to keep it going strong.
Dating patterns can vary, of course, depending on individual dating needs. For example, some people don’t want long-term or permanent relationships, so they pursue hook-ups, friends-with-benefits situations, or other types of casual dating. It’s also best to make sure everyone involved is open about their relationship goals (or lack thereof). This can prevent miscommunications where one person only wants a casual sexual relationship and the other person hopes to build a lasting partnership.
Teens and Dating
Feelings of physical attraction generally begin to develop during the teenage years. Youth usually show the first signs of interest in dating in middle and high school. Older teens often begin experimenting sexually.
No matter how much interest teens have in the people they’re attracted to, the process of dating can still seem intimidating—to teens as well as their parents. Parents might encourage their teens to spend time together in groups rather than alone. Many teens, particularly younger teens, might find this a good way to get more comfortable with dating, and relationships often flourish in friend groups.
The teen years involve a lot of emotional fluctuation and change, so dating can involve a lot of ups and downs too. Mild conflict and off-and-on relationships are normal.The brain is still developing in the teenage years, so most teenagers aren’t fully aware of what they’re looking for in a long-term partner. This is normal. Teenagers generally don’t know themselves well enough yet to know what they need from someone else. It’s perfectly reasonable to look at dating in the teen years as a way to get to know peers better and enjoy each other’s company. Most individuals don’t end up marrying the person they date as a teenager, so there’s no need to try and find “the one” right away. It’s best to spend time with supportive, positive significant others who don’t try to limit time with family and friends.
Teenage relationships can feel intense, especially as teens develop their sense of self and establish firm values and goals for the future. The teen years involve a lot of emotional fluctuation and change, so dating can involve a lot of ups and downs too. Mild conflict and off-and-on relationships are normal. So are strong, almost overwhelming feelings of passion, attraction, or even frustration. It’s important for teens to keep an eye out for potential red flags and talk to a trusted adult if they need help.
The Impact of Dating Apps
For better or worse, free dating apps like Tinder and OKCupid have had a significant impact on dating in recent years. Before dating apps began to flourish, most people who wanted to date needed to rely on real-life introductions. They might have dated a friend of a friend, a coworker, or someone they met at a singles event. If they didn’t know anyone with single friends, they’d have to hope for an encounter “in the wild”, so to speak—the gym, grocery store, dog park, and so on.
Dating apps helped by vastly increasing the ability to meet people outside a friend group or zone of daily operation at no cost (unlike earlier dating sites that charged a subscription fee). Apps that rely on in-depth profiles, questionnaires, or bios also make it easier to find people who share common interests. They can also help make dating seem less daunting for some—putting the first encounter in cyberspace can make it less intimidating, and chatting with someone through text can help people note potential red flags or incompatibilities early on. Many people also find online communication can help ease first-date tension.
Many LGBTQ+ people, especially those who aren’t out of the closet or live in an area where they worry about safety, primarily use dating apps to seek out potential partners. Dating apps can also be extremely beneficial for people who don’t get out much or who have a hard time finding people to date in their daily lives.
However, dating apps do have some drawbacks. The so-called “swipe culture” of Tinder can make it easy to prioritize attractiveness over any other qualities. There’s nothing at all wrong with wanting to date someone you find attractive—it’s pretty difficult to feel any chemistry without physical attraction. But if their personality or emotional characteristics aren’t the best fit, this can lead to disappointment again and again for people who aren’t prioritizing these traits in their search.
Because dating apps are somewhat anonymous, they can also make it easier to behave inappropriately. People using dating apps frequently receive unkind messages about their looks or sexually explicit photos they didn’t ask for. Another unpleasant scenario, ghosting, happens when a dating partner completely cuts off contact with no explanation. Any of these behaviors can be upsetting.
Frequent use of dating apps can also make it harder to get out into the world and actually date. People who spend a lot of free time swiping or chatting to multiple potential partners miss out on actually meeting up with these people and getting to know them in a real-world context. It’s also become the case that asking someone out on a date in person has become somewhat less of a norm, even surprising at times.
Tips for Finding a Long-Term Partner
Romantic relationships can be fun, and dating is often an enjoyable experience. However, people who can’t find what they’re seeking, especially when they’ve spent a long time searching, often experience frustration and loneliness.
There are plenty of ways to date, so if one thing doesn’t work, don’t hesitate to try something else. Here are some tips to consider:
Know what you’re looking for
Identifying personal values, relationship goals, and potential deal-breakers can help you narrow down the dating field before you begin. While you might worry about limiting yourself, you’re really just creating a more promising group of people to consider.
Be willing to try new things
Maybe you’ve tried dating apps, and they just don’t appeal. Instead, you might try spending more time in social settings. Doing something you enjoy with other people can make it a lot easier to find someone you might connect with.
It’s also helpful to check for events in your community. Remember, other single people are probably doing the same thing with a similar goal in mind.
Keep your eyes open
Real-life encounters can still happen, so it helps to pay attention to the people around you. Try to make eye contact and be prepared to chat with people you feel drawn to. There’s nothing wrong with saying hello and showing respectful interest when you find someone attractive.
There is a risk that they may lack a similar interest (face-to-face rejection can be harder to handle than never matching with someone who seems like a perfect match). But it’s also possible they could agree to a date.
Optimism isn’t always the key to success, but having a positive outlook can help you notice opportunities you may not pay attention to otherwise. Thinking “I’ll never find anyone” can set you up for failure. Negative thoughts can impact your mood and make you feel less like spending time trying to make a connection. Instead, try to focus on helpful strategies for improving your ability to make connections with others.
If you have a hard time getting to know people, aren’t sure what you want from a relationship, or feel distressed or depressed as a result of loneliness, talking to a counselor can help. Mental health professionals often work with single people to offer guidance and relationship skills development. Begin your search today!
- Fetters, E. (2018, December 21). The 5 years that changed dating. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/12/tinder-changed-dating/578698/
- Healthy relationships. (n.d.). Love Is Respect. Retrieved from https://www.loveisrespect.org/healthy-relationships/
- What healthy dating and relationships look like. (2019, May 28). United States Department of Health & Human Services. Retrieved from https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/healthy-relationships/dating/what-relationships-look-like/index.html