1. Focus on the present, not the past
It’s natural to bring your fears and negative experiences to a new relationship; after all, it’s a survival mechanism to prevent getting your heart broken again. But even if old fears and insecurities may prevent heartbreak, they can also prevent you from truly being happy in a new relationship. For example, if a past partner was unfaithful, don’t distrust your new partner just because of what an ex-relationship was like. Focus on the qualities that make your new partner different. If they’re trustworthy enough to date, that means you should trust them.
Likewise, while the “dating history” conversation will be an important one eventually, don’t rush into it. Spend the first few dates getting to know your partner’s likes, dislikes, dreams, and personality traits, while they’re getting to know yours. There’s no need to explain what went wrong in your last relationship on the first date or find out about their dating past before you know the names of their siblings and where they grew up.
2. Talk about the future early on
While you shouldn’t focus on the past, you should focus on the future, at least somewhat. Of course, you don’t need to (and probably shouldn’t) ask how many kids they want before the salad course arrives on date #1, but you don’t want to wait until after one year of dating to find out that they never want to get married if marriage is a non-negotiable for you. It’s not always fun to talk about things like life goals, religion, marriage, politics, etc., but naturally work your deal-breakers into the conversation to make sure you’re at least on the same page, as soon as you start to see a future together. Also, whether you’re looking for a long-term relationship or are looking for more of a casual fling, communicate it.
3. Make sure you’re attracted to the person, not the idea of a relationship
Sometimes we want to be in a relationship so badly (dating is exhausting) that we don’t even realize we’re more attracted to the idea of a relationship than the person we’re in a relationship with. If you’re so focused on finding Happily Ever After, you run the risk of pushing other people into boxes that they don’t belong in (or don’t want to be in) or forcing a spark. You overlook flaws or red flags because your mind has already convinced yourself that this has to work. Instead, take your partner at face value. Assume they’re not The One. Would they still be someone you want to spend your time with? If you enjoy their company so much that you’d want to be with them whether or not they were “The One,” then you’re likely attracted to them, not just a relationship.
4. Don’t skip the sex talk!
This should go without saying, but if you’re not comfortable talking to your partner about sexual health(including STD testing, history, etc.), then you’re not ready to be intimate (or maybe they’re not someone you should be intimate with). Discuss your likes, dislikes, and what you are (and are not) comfortable with, while listening to theirs without judgment. Oh, and don’t forget that the “right time” to be intimate is different for every couple (screw the “three date rule” or any other bullsh*t guidelines), and remember that just one partner feeling ready is not enough.
5. Meet each other’s friends
Since the relationship is new, you may be tempted to keep it all to yourself. However, meeting friends early on is crucial. The way you interact with each other’s crew can give insight into your partner and what the relationship will be like. For example, if all of your partner’s friends are huge douches you would never get along with, you might not know your partner as well as you think you do (who chooses to hang out with douches if they’re not a douche themselves, ya know?).
Likewise, having your new partner around your friends can illuminate potential red flags. Your friends might see something that you don’t, or your partner might not get along with them as well as you had hoped. If you both fit in seamlessly with each other’s group of friends, that establishes a mutual friendship, meaning you won’t have to choose between hanging out together or with friends when you all get along swimmingly.
6. Don’t have important conversations over text
Texting is a modern-day blessing when it comes to regular check-ins and sending funny memes to make your partner laugh while they’re at work. However, texting should not be used for anything deeper than making plans or LOLing over TikToks. Discussing your feelings for one another or getting in disagreements should always be done in person. Not only can texting make in-person feel awkward, but a lot can be lost in translation and cause more misunderstanding. If you feel an argument coming on and you’re in a situation where you can’t at least talk over the phone, let your partner know you’ll discuss it when you can talk it through together.
7. Be yourself
OK, so this one sounds so cliché, I’m embarrassed to even write it. But I would have saved young, single Josie from a lot of wasted time if I had been 100 percent myself on every first date and at the beginning of every new relationship. I get it: you try to be all “chill” and “cool” at the beginning. You pretend you watch horror movies instead of the Hallmark channel, and you tell them you like their artsy music even though you only listen to Taylor Swift’s first three albums on repeat. Even if you’re still at the phase of shaving your legs before every date (ah, more innocent times), be honest and upfront with your likes, dislikes, and who you are. Not only will it save you time and heartbreak with the people who aren’t a good match, but it will help the right person find you.
8. Actually enjoy it
Another personal story coming at you: I can look back at the beginning of every relationship and remember all the times I worried about how my hair or makeup looked before going on dates or reading into all the little signs out of worry they didn’t like me as much as I hoped they did. But the beginning of relationships are so special: the “new relationship bubble” has yet to pop, the honeymoon phase feels like it will last forever, and you’re smiling, like, all the time. It’s normal to feel scared or reluctant to be vulnerable when your heart is on the line. But no matter how scary a new relationship can feel, don’t forget to enjoy it. Notice all the little moments, try new things together, and make sure you’re having fun.
9. Don’t worry about labels (to a certain extent)
With Bumble, Tinder, and Facebook winks (that’s still a thing, right?), it can be incredibly confusing where you are (“Talking?” “Dating?” “Hooking up?” “FWB?” “Wifed Up?”). If ambiguity still lingers over where you two fall on the relationship scale, don’t panic. Different people have different timelines for when they feel ready to take each relationship step, so different timelines don’t necessarily mean you’re incompatible or that they don’t like you.
However, you should have clarity about whether or not you’re both seeing other people, and you should know if you’re on the same page in terms of keeping it casual or looking for something serious (always be open about what you want). But otherwise, the “girlfriend” label does not necessarily mean what it did back in kindergarten when it only meant “I like you,” so don’t sweat it if they haven’t popped the G-word yet. Oh, and if you run into that awkward introducing-them-but-don’t-know-how-to-refer-to-them situation, just call them by their name. You don’t need to clarify what they are to you, and it might cause a lot more confusion if you try to guess.
10. Red flags aren’t suggestions (and aren’t going to go away)
If you catch them in a lie, they’re rude to the waiter, or they say something mean about a friend, guess what: it’s not a “one-time thing,” and they’re not going to change. Red flags are gut feelings that are telling you something isn’t right, so listen to them. Ignoring red flags can only prolong the inevitable demise of a relationship and make the eventual breakup harder for both of you. Nobody’s perfect; you might judge your partner and they might make mistakes. If it’s simply a judgment or mistake, you’ll be able to talk it through. If it’s more of a gut-feeling that “this isn’t right,” or an inexcusable behavior more than a mistake, run for the hills.