It's been 13 years since I've been on a first date.
In truth, it may be even longer than that; I'm not sure that my now-wife and I (Jeremiah Gibson) even had a technical first date. We met in college, and our prelude to identifying as an exclusive couple involved a series of long conversations in my car following a class or a pledging event. I remember being really slow on the uptake in figuring out that she wanted to be more than friends.
Dating in a Christian college in the early 2000s had a completely different meaning and process than dating in Boston in 2017. For one thing, I didn't have a cell phone. I've never used a dating app for my own purposes (unless you include the amazing AOL Instant Messenger, which I used with gusto as a teenager), and have had to teach myself about Match.com and Tinder as a way of connecting with clients. Meanwhile, in 2017, dating apps are becoming more selective around special interests, as the Washington Post reminds us. For instance, check out the recently launched TrumpSingles.
My university was in a small-ish college town in the South. If you stay there long enough, you get to know a decent percentage of the town; I'm continually amazed by this phenomenon when I see random people that I know when I visit seven years later. In a college town, there's higher accessibility to potential dating partners, through fraternity/sorority events, shared classes, dorm/living arrangements, and somewhat similar schedules. In Boston, there's much less time to focus on dating and relationship building; the average commute in Boston is 31 minutes one-way, while the average full-time worker logs 47 hours per week. Online dating caters to our busy, harried lives.
There's also the fact that I went to a Christian school, where dating was almost exclusively a prelude to marriage. There’s a joke on our campus about "ring by spring". Except it isn’t a joke at all, because for many young men and women, the goal is to be engaged by the time you graduate. You’re trying to find someone that you can picture yourself spending the rest of your life with—you know, because when you’re 21, you have the wisdom to make such decisions. There's a good chance that dating means something completely different for you. Perhaps it's about having fun with other people or finding ways to explore your sexuality.
In our first 2017 episode of the podcast Under the Covers, Stephanie Wallace and I talk about dating. We define dating as the period of time between searching for a new partner and defining the relationship either as exclusive or as part of an open relationship. For some couples, that takes a couple of weeks, whereas other couples see each other for months before making this decision. Stephanie and I provide a bunch of dating gems for people looking to explore dating, including the following:
- Ask lots of questions. This is true for the start of most relationships, including the relationships that we, as therapists, create with our clients. The goal is to get to know a person. Healthy relationships are built around curiosity and openness.
- Know what the purpose of dating is for you. And don't be afraid to share that with a partner, be it a long-term relationship, a one-night stand, or somewhere in the middle. And remember, you can only make decisions for yourself, and make requests about the decisions you'd like someone else to make. If there are differing goals of dating, don't try and force it; consider moving on without criticism.
- Know what your "dating ethic" is. Dating is about learning about yourself as a relational person, so ask the following questions: What can a partner expect from you? What are interactions and behaviors from a potential partner that are positive for you? What turns you on and off? What are things that you'll say yes to, and no to?
- Please don't ghost someone. If you discover that you don't want to continue the relationship, have the respect and courage to let them know that in an actual conversation. Texting does not count.
- Let potential partners have some space. It's natural to be infatuated with a partner in the first couple of weeks/months of dating. Be clear about how often you want to talk and see each other, and how often you want to do things on your own. Respect their privacy on social media--don't try and gather information about the person by Facebook stalking.
Dating can be terrifying for many reasons, including the anxiety of getting to know a person. Developing a relationship takes time, and the best daters are those that trust the process and let relationships form, rather than imposing their own expectations on their partners and relationships.
If you'd like help with the dating process, either through individual therapy or couples therapy (particularly if you'd like help deciding how to consensually define your relationship), please give us a call at 617-750-0183. You can also set up an appointment online by clicking the Book Online link at the top of the page.
Under the Covers: The Music of Relationships can also be found on iTunes, Stitcher, and Soundcloud. Give us a listen, check out our cover of George Michael's Faith, and if you have any questions or ideas for future episodes, reach out to us.