Here's How Long The 'Talking Stage' Should *Really* Last, Per Dating Experts (2024)

After matching on a dating app, sliding into someone's DMs on social media, or meeting and exchanging numbers in real life, there’s usually a fun period of back-and-forth banter before a first date. In today’s day and age, that period has a name: Welcome to the talking stage.

A brief talking stage prior to meeting in person has its benefits, especially if your new love interest is a complete stranger. You can get more in-depth on the basics, like your careers, families, and hobbies, while feeling out what you’re both looking for relationship-wise. “It’s an early compatibility test to determine if this is someone worth pursuing,” says Rachel Vanderbilt, PhD, a relationship scientist based in Tampa. Plus, “it can build connection and create excitement if you find them easy to talk to, and they’re responsive and engaging.”

What you don’t want is for the talking stage to drag on so long you end up in another, decidedly less sexy stage: pen pals. “As a rule of thumb, I wouldn’t wait longer than one to three weeks to meet if you live in the same location. Why spend time investing in someone you don’t mesh with in real life?” she adds.

But getting to the initial date means someone has to make the first move. So, Women’s Health asked two relationship experts to weigh in on the best ways to move out of the talking stage and, should you start seeing each other, how to broach the next big conversation: “What are we and where is this going?” Read on for their tips.

What is the talking stage, exactly?

The talking stage starts with the first text, DM, or phone call, and lasts until you meet in person. It’s a time for trading information, flirting, and, ideally, being real. “If you posture or pretend to be someone you’re not, you won't be able to tell how this person’s actually responding to you,” says Kathryn Smerling, PhD, a New York-based relationship therapist. “The more authentic you are, the more authentic their reaction will be.” The goal of the talking stage is, after all, figuring out whether this person is worth some actual face-to-face time.

You can also get an idea of someone’s red flags during this stage, says Smerling. For instance, if you’re doing all the listening, you might want to end things before meeting up. “If someone’s only talking about themselves and not asking about you, that tells you something,” she explains. Or maybe, you’ll happen upon a deal breaker, like opposing political opinions or different desired relationship structures.

BTW, there aren’t any rules about what you should or shouldn’t talk about during this preliminary phase. The point is to gauge a sense of shared values, chemistry, and be in sync about the type of relationship you seek. If the talking stage leads you to believe it’s not a match, it’s completely okay to let the other person know politely and wish them the best of luck.

But if the conversation’s flowing, Smerling recommends taking things to the next level: “If it looks like you have common ground or similar interests, it’s without a doubt worth dinner or a drink.”

How do I get out of the talking stage?

In Vanderbilt’s opinion, the talking stage shouldn’t last more than a few weeks. Any longer than that, and the conversation might start lagging, one or both of you may get distracted… or one of you might start talking to someone else. “You don’t want things to peter out and lose steam,” says Vanderbilt.

Smerling agrees: “Letting [the talking stage] go on too long might also be a form of denial. If you’re not willing to prioritize meeting in person, you might not really want a relationship.” In other words, maybe you’re just texting this person for attention, or out of boredom. But at a certain point, “you’ve got to be willing to put yourself out there,” she says.

If you’re interested in a first date, the experts advise being straightforward about it. “It can be as simple as asking, 'How about we get together?' or, 'Are you free this week?'” says Smerling.

You could also use a topic you’ve been discussing, like a restaurant or museum exhibit, as a jumping-off point, and suggest checking it out together. Do they live in another area of town? Tell them you’re interested in exploring their neighborhood. If the interest is mutual, they should meet you halfway in committing to a plan.

If they leave you hanging or try to put off meeting, take it as a sign they may not be as serious as you are about a relationship and move on, advises Vanderbilt.

Okay, we’re dating—but still not a couple. How do we exit *that* stage?

Best case scenario after the talking stage: You start seeing each other regularly. Even better: They suggest being exclusive. If they don’t, it’s something worth taking into your own hands when you feel it’s time, says Vanderbilt. “It can be scary, especially when you’ve developed feelings and don’t want to lose what you have,” she explains. But remember, the last thing you want is to sit in prolonged uncertainty or transition into an unwanted, confusing situationship.

“I recommend having the conversation in person and saying something along the lines of ‘I like you, I want to keep seeing you. I’d like to be exclusive. How do you feel about that?’” says Vanderbilt. “Face to face, you should be able to assess their non-verbal cues right away. Do they seem excited about it or do they look uncomfortable?” If they resist, it’s not your job to change their mind. While it may sting at first, be proud of yourself for not wasting your time.

In today’s digital era, it can be tempting to indulge in cell phone marathons. But if you really want to move a potential relationship forward, it's wiser to be bold, be brave, and come right out and walk the talk.

Meet the Experts: Rachel Vanderbilt, PhD, is a relationship scientist based in Tampa. Kathryn Smerling, PhD, is a New York-based relationship therapist.

Here's How Long The 'Talking Stage' Should *Really* Last, Per Dating Experts (1)

Beth Sobol

Freelance Writer

Beth Sobol is an NYC-based writer who covers lifestyle, relationships, entertainment, culture, and more. Her background includes print, digital, and broadcast media for local and national outlets. A chronic late bloomer, she only recently started to Wordle.

Here's How Long The 'Talking Stage' Should *Really* Last, Per Dating Experts (2024)
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