Dating 101

Dating can be a fun way to get to know someone and decide if you want to keep spending time together. There are lots of different reasons why people might date. Many relationships begin through dating. Dating can lead to friendships, short-term relationships, or even long-term committed relationships.

In this section, we will discuss:

  • Crushes
  • Flirting
  • Asking people on dates
  • Going on a first date
  • Second dates
  • Being in a relationship
  • Ending a relationship

It is important to remember that dating does not just have the single purpose of “finding your one true love.” Not everyone is looking for a “soulmate” or someone to date long-term, and not everyone you go on a date with will be someone you want to continue spending time with. Dating can be a fun way to get to know people, experience new things, and learn about yourself.

 
Disclosure of Diagnosis

The decision of whether to disclose being on the autism spectrum while dating is always up to you. If you don’t want to tell a partner that you are on the spectrum, there are still ways to communicate your needs. Whether or not you choose to disclose, explaining what you need to feel comfortable while dating is a good way to start the conversation.

Examples of disclosing while communicating your needs:

  • “I’m on the autism spectrum, so that may impact how I feel and interact with you when we go on dates. Noisy, crowded restaurants are unpleasant for me – would you mind if we had dinner at my place?”
  • “Because I’m autistic, I might have trouble expressing myself verbally when I’m overwhelmed, so it’s helpful for me to have extra time to process my feelings. Could we sometimes have conversations about our relationship over text instead of face to face?”

Examples of communicating those same needs without disclosing:

  • “I don’t really like noisy, crowded restaurants. Could we have dinner at my place instead?”
  • “I sometimes have trouble expressing myself verbally when I’m overwhelmed, so it’s helpful for me to have extra time to process my feelings. Could we sometimes have conversations about our relationship over text instead of face to face?”

Good partners will want to make sure you are comfortable. They may want to ask questions to make sure they understand your needs and boundaries.

If you tell someone that you are on the autism spectrum and they try to make you feel bad or ignore your sensory or communication needs and boundaries, that is a sign that they are not respecting you. They are probably not someone that you want to date.

Partners With Versus Without Autism
What Is a Crush?

A “crush” refers to when a person really likes someone and thinks that person is special, often in a romantic way.

Crushes don’t all feel the same. What you feel and what you want with one person you have a crush on may be different with a different crush.

Alex’s Crushes

Alex has crushes on three different people. Alex likes to spend a lot of time with Brian. With Joaquin, Alex really wants to cuddle and hold hands. Finally, Alex likes to see Cooper, but he doesn’t really want to be close to Cooper’s body. Each crush might feel different, but each one is normal.

Crushes can make people feel a lot of intense emotions, so they might be confused with being “in love.” Feelings, crushes, and being in love can all be complicated, but love usually develops after getting to know someone over a long time. Crushes, on the other hand, usually (but not always) last a short period of time. Because of that, some people treat having a crush on somebody like it’s not a big deal, while other people think it’s very serious. It depends on the person and the situation – everyone is different!

Why do people get crushes?

People may start getting crushes when they are kids, and might keep getting them even when they are adults. They can be fun, but sometimes they can be confusing, overwhelming, or make people sad. Crushes are part of growing up, and it’s completely normal to have a lot of crushes, only a few, or none at all.  

Here are a few of the many different reasons why you might get a crush:

  • You want to be friends or close friends with a particular person
  • You admire somebody or want to be like them
  • You want to get to know a person in a romantic or sexual way

Your crush can also be a combination of these reasons! A lot of people think crushes are only romantic or sexual, but that’s not true. Brains sometimes use crushes to experiment and learn what traits and kinds of people they are interested in. This is especially true for young people who are still forming their identity and their ideas about what they do and don’t like. Remember, different crushes can feel different, and some people want different things from a crush.

How do I know if I have a crush?

You are the only person who knows what you feel, both physically and emotionally! That said, there are some common things that lots of people experience when they have a crush, so this list might help if you are not sure.

When you have a crush on somebody, you might:

  • Feel shy or nervous around them (also called having “butterflies in your stomach”)
  • Imagine/daydream about spending time with them
  • Want to spend a lot of time with them
  • Want to tell them a lot about yourself and hear a lot about them and their life
  • Want to give them gifts or make them things
  • Want to comfort them if they are sad or hurt
  • Want to be physically close to them or touching them

Remember that crushes can all feel different, so try not to worry about what you “should” be feeling, whether you experience some of these things, all of them, none of them, or something different that is not on this list.

How do I know if someone has a crush on me?

People act in different ways when they have crushes, so it can be difficult to tell if someone has a crush on you! Some people become nervous around their crushes and ignore them, while some people pay more attention to their crushes and flirt with them. You can learn more about flirting later in this section.

Sometimes flirting looks a lot like being friendly, and that can be confusing. It can be hard for both neurotypical people and people on the autism spectrum to tell if someone is flirting with them. If you are not sure, it might help to talk with someone you trust about it.

Another option is to ask the person you think may have a crush on you if they actually do. You could ask, “Are you flirting with me?” or even, “Do you have a crush on me?” It helps to point out a few of the reasons why you are wondering if the person is interested in you. For example, “You frequently wait for me after class and you like listening to me practice the piano. Do you have a crush on me?” or “You smile at me in the cafeteria every day and you sometimes touch my shoulder when you think I’ve said something funny. Are you flirting with me?”

How to Handle Crushes

Crushes can cause a lot of strong emotions! People can’t always control who they have crushes on, but they can control how they act about the crush. Just make sure to respect what you and your crush both want.

Especially when you’re a teenager, it’s normal to get crushes on lots of different kinds of people. You might get crushes on people you know from school or work, teachers, therapists, or even people you have never talked to, including celebrities or characters in books or movies. These are just a few examples.

It’s totally natural to get crushes on all these different kinds of people! But it’s important to remember that there is a difference between having a crush and doing something about a crush. If you want to do something about your crush, like asking the person on a date, that crush should be someone who is about the same age as you in order to lead to a healthy relationship. Crushes on teachers, therapists, or bosses might be fun to think about, but they should stay just private thoughts – they should not lead to relationships, dating, or touching.

If you are an adult, especially if you are 21 years old or older, you should not ask a minor (someone younger than 18) out on a date.

Talking about it:

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You might want to tell others who you have a crush on. It’s your choice! Talking about crushes can be fun, and other people might have advice on what to say to your crush or ideas for how you can get to know each other.

You may hear people asking, “Do you like that person or do you like that person?” or “do you like that person or do you like like that person?” The emphasis on the word “like” or use of the word “like” twice is meant to show that feelings are romantic instead of just friendly.

Some people don’t want to share that they have a crush, and that’s fine, too. Sometimes, especially if you are in school, people get teased about their crushes, and it can be hard to keep crushes a secret. If you are worried about being teased, you might want to start off by only telling someone you trust.

Getting to know your crush:

Getting to know your crush may look different, depending on how well you know the person. Remember to have realistic expectations and be patient. If you have never spoken to your crush before, it might take a long time to become friendly enough to spend time together, especially one-on-one. You can spend more time with your crush during social activities or at gatherings with mutual friends.

Part of getting to know your crush includes talking to the person about topics they enjoy or topics that you both enjoy. Possible topics include movies or TV shows, musical artists, sports, or pets. If you go to school with someone you have a crush on, you could talk about school events or any classes you have together.

Talking about other people’s crushes

Lots of people get nervous or embarrassed about having crushes, so they may not want to tell anyone about their crush, or only tell a few people. If someone tells you they have a crush on someone, don’t tell others about it unless you are sure the person who has the crush is okay with it. Even if someone doesn’t directly tell you that it’s a secret, you should assume that they don’t want you to tell anyone. Try not to tease people about their crushes or make them feel embarrassed. Crushes are personal, so if a friend has trusted you to keep his crush a secret, you shouldn’t tell anyone about it.

Keeping Crushes Secret

David told Oscar that he thought Jai was really cute. Oscar thought that they would make a really cute couple, but kept David’s crush a secret anyway. Oscar encouraged David to get to know Jai better and offered to listen any time David wanted to talk about his crush on Jai.

If you are worried a friend’s crush might be unsafe, then the rules about telling people are different. It is okay to tell a trusted adult about a crush or relationship that you are worried might be unhealthy or unsafe.

Remember that there is a difference between having a crush and acting on a crush. For example, Marcia told her friend Sloane that she thought their teacher, Mr. Davis, was cute. This is okay, and Sloane can keep this a secret – it is normal for some people to get crushes on teachers, as long as they don’t act on them. But, if Marcia told Sloane that she and Mr. Davis were kissing, that would be unsafe. Teachers should not be romantically or sexually involved with students. In such a case, Sloane should tell an adult she trusts to get help.

Read the Healthy Relationships section for more information on how to tell if a situation might be unhealthy or unsafe.

Talking to your crush

Before you decide whether to ask your crush on a date, consider whether or not they person has shown an interest in you. While it is not always a guarantee, there are various ways to tell if your crush has any interest in you.

Communicating either by using technology or in person has different advantages and challenges. Texting or using other online formats can allow for more time to process information and more time to respond appropriately. However, it doesn’t allow for you to necessarily tell how somebody is feeling, because you cannot see their physical reactions or hear the tone of voice used.  

In-person signals that someone may be interested in you:
  • Smiling a lot and blushing when talking with you
  • Standing closer or leaning slightly toward you
  • Standing in “open stance” (arms uncrossed, looking directly at you, relaxed).

Note: If someone is slumped, arms crossed, looks away or seems uninterested, they are probably not interested in you.

Online/texting signals that someone may be interested in you:
  • They respond back in a timely manner
  • They are consistent with communication
  • They spend lots of time in conversation with you
  • They share details about themselves
  • They ask you questions and give you time to share about yourself
  • They talk about things beyond basic interests and likes

This is not an exhaustive list of signs that indicate someone may be interested in you. These are also not a 100% guaranteed way of telling that someone likes you, as they may be just being friendly. The only way to know if someone likes you for certain is to ask them. This usually means telling them that you are interested in them.

Telling someone that you are interested in them can be tricky. Before telling, most people try to interact with their crush as friends to see if they get along and enjoy spending time together. If the person seems open to spending time with you, a common next step is to try flirting and carefully observe how your crush responds.

What do I do if my crush doesn’t like me back?

Sometimes, when you try to talk with your crush in a friendly way, flirt, or tell your crush that you like them, the person might not be interested. If your crush doesn’t like you back, you might feel sad, embarrassed, or even angry. It’s normal to feel these intense emotions. Remember:

  • Your feelings are valid, and having emotions is okay.
  • It takes time to work through feelings.
  • There is nothing wrong with you if someone doesn’t like you back.
  • You have to respect your crush’s wishes and boundaries. If the person doesn’t want to spend time with you or talk with you very much, you shouldn’t keep trying to hang out with or start conversations with the person.
What is flirting?

“Flirting” is a way of communicating that shows your interest in someone.

Why do people flirt?

People flirt for different reasons:

  • For fun, as a positive way to connect with someone
  • To show interest in dating or sex – flirting doesn’t always mean that someone wants to date or have sex, so it can be complicated
What kinds of flirting are there?
  • Smiling or winking at someone
  • Laughing or giggling with someone in a good way
  • Teasing someone in a lighthearted way
  • Moving closer to someone or leaning in to talk with them
  • Playfully copying someone’s body language or way of speaking
  • Listening intently (for example, nodding, looking into someone’s eyes)
  • Using sexy language
How can I tell if someone is flirting with me?

It’s not always easy to tell if somebody is flirting with you. Just because someone smiles at you doesn’t meant they are necessarily interested in you. If they are interested, they will probably try a few different ways of flirting. If you are not sure, but are interested in the person, try flirting back and see where it leads. Finally, you can also ask if someone is flirting with you. Just make sure to ask in a private and respectful way. For example, you could ask when you are alone walking down the hall, but don’t ask in the middle of a class.

*This section has been adapted with permission from TeenHelathSource “Flirting Fundamentals

How Do I Flirt?

Flirt in a way that is comfortable for you. Here are some tips that may help.

  • Be yourself. Let the person know who you are from the start. If the person doesn’t like you for who you are, you’ll know right away.
  • Smile often. Smiling at someone is one of the best and safest ways to show you are interested in them.
  • Make eye contact. Making eye contact can help you express interest in someone. However, do not stare at or ogle someone!
    • If eye contact isn’t comfortable for you, you don’t have to do it. Remember, it’s important to be yourself – getting to know someone new should be fun, not uncomfortable!
  • Chat. Having a casual chat is a good way to tell if someone is interested in you.
  • Be aware. Some people avoid eye contact or are not comfortable with flirting.
  • Don’t expect too much. Flirting doesn’t always lead to something.
  • Don’t worry. If the person isn’t interested or isn’t respectful, move on and don’t spend any more time on it.
Flirting Don’ts
  • Don’t use cheesy pick-up lines. These might be funny, but they usually aren’t very effective.
    • For example: “Are you tired? Because you’ve been running through my mind all day.”
    • Some pick-up lines can accidentally offend people, or even be considered harassment.
  • Don’t pout or sulk if you don’t get the other person’s attention.
  • Don’t make fun of the person.
  • Don’t touch someone without asking.
Flirting Appropriately

When you are first getting to know someone, it’s a good idea to “err on the side of caution” to make sure that everyone is comfortable. Communication is really important, especially when you first start spending time with someone. After you spend more time together and have built trust, you will probably know more about what that person is comfortable with.

Some things to remember:

  • Know when to back off. If the person you are trying to flirt with doesn’t seem to be enjoying it or doesn’t flirt back, this may be a sign to stop flirting.
  • Be careful with physical touch. Some people don’t like being touched by someone they don’t know well. It is important to ask before touching someone.
  • Choose the right time and place. If you are in the middle of a crowded movie theatre or in front of someone’s parents, it is usually not the best time to flirt.

The images below show two different pairs of people interacting. In the images to the left, with a green checkmark, both people in the interaction are flirting successfully. In the images to the right, with a red “x,” one person is trying to flirt, but the other does not look interested.

Look at the top row of images. In the image on the left (green checkmark), both people look interested in talking with one another. They are facing each other, making eye contact, and smiling. They are flirting! In the image of the same pair on the right (red “x”), one person is turned away, has her arms crossed, and looks like she is trying to “escape.” She does not look interested in flirting.

Now look at the bottom row of images. In the image on the left (green checkmark), both people look interested in talking with one another. They are making eye contact, smiling, and leaning towards each other, even when being touched on the shoulder. They are flirting! In the image of the same pair on the right (red “x”), one person is moving away from the other and does not look happy. That person does not look interested in flirting.

OAR_Flirting_Sketch_1_COLOR EDIT

Note: This section has been adapted with permission from TeenHealthSource “Flirting Fundamentals

Asking Someone Out

If you want to ask someone out, the first step is to try to find out whether the person you’re interested in is also interested in you! One way to do this is by flirting (and seeing if the person flirts back). If flirting seems confusing to you, just try talking with the person, looking for signs of whether or not they want to keep talking. If the person seems uninterested or shows signs of wanting to be left alone, don’t ask the person out. But if the person seems interested in talking with you or is flirting back, those could be signs that you should ask to go on a date.

You don’t need to be 100% sure that someone likes you before asking someone out – lots of people aren’t sure at first, including neurotypicals. To make it even more complicated, even if someone does like you, that doesn’t guarantee that they will say “yes” to a date. Sometimes, it is a good idea to ask a close, trusted friend what they think about the situation.

How Well Should I Know Someone Before Asking Them Out?

The answer to this question can vary, depending on how old you are, how you know the person, and what is common practice in your community.

You don’t need to keep an exact count of how much you have talked with someone you like. Most people usually don’t go directly up to a stranger who they have never spoken to before and ask them out. If you want to ask out an acquaintance (for example, someone in your class who sometimes borrows a pen from you), try talking first about something that interests you both. This will give you both a chance to decide if you enjoy spending time with one another beyond being in the same class.

Sometimes, people who are at social events like parties or bars have a conversation with someone they have never met before and, after talking for a few minutes or a few hours, ask them out. That mostly happens if the two people know many of the same people or have mutual friends.

Asking out a stranger is much less common if it happens in a place that is not meant for socializing, like a grocery store or on the street. If someone asks you out in a setting like that, and you don’t know them or have any mutual friends, that may not be a safe person to go on a date with.

When and Where Should You Ask Someone Out?

If you want to ask someone out, it can be tricky to know how to do it. The following are some general guidelines for when and where to ask someone out.

  • When the two of you are either by yourselves or somewhere where other people are not listening to your conversation.
  • When you sense the person’s mood is good. If someone is crying, angry, or having some other type of negative emotion, it is probably not a good time to ask.
  • When you are in a casual setting. You wouldn’t ask someone out during class, during a meeting, or while something is happening that you should be paying attention to.

It may be okay, though, to ask someone out before or after, like if you are walking out of class together.

Finding the Right Time

Sam wants to ask Leila out. After school one day, Leila was standing at her locker with a few friends. Because Leila was in a group, Sam did not ask her out. The next day, Leila was at her locker alone after school. The hallways were still busy with people packing up, but because Leila was not in a group, Sam went up to ask her out.

Many people like to ask someone out in person, but if you’re worried about processing their response or another aspect of asking them out in person, texting is okay.

What Should You Say When You Ask Someone Out?

Most people feel a little nervous or awkward when they ask somebody out for the first time. It can help you feel less nervous if you plan ahead of time what you are going to say and how you are going to say it! Here are a few things to think about to help you decide what to say.

1. Decide if you want the date to be one-on-one or with a group of friends.


2. Decide what activity you want to do.


3. Be clear about wanting to go on a date.


4. Be ready for any answer

 

Asking Out A Crush

Tia knew Carver through chess club at school. She wanted to go one a date with him because she had a crush on him and wanted to get to know him better outside of school activities. Tia decided that a one-on-one date would be a good idea because they could always talk about chess if they ran out of other things to talk about. She had a favorite coffee shop near school that would be a great place to sit and talk. One day after chess club, as they were walking together to the bus, Tia asked Carver if he would like to go on a coffee date with her.

 

Movies and TV shows often show characters asking out their love interests in complicated, dramatic ways, or asking them out while lots of other people are watching. If you and the person you want to ask out are in high school, the way you ask might be different for a big event like prom. Otherwise, most people don’t want to be asked out for the first time in a way that attracts a lot of attention to them – they might be embarrassed by the attention.

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If the response is “yes”

If you don’t have the person’s contact information, ask for it so you can solidify plans and contact the person if things change. Depending on how specific your plan is, you may need to clarify plans, including date, time, and place.

It can be very exciting to have someone say “yes” to a date. You may want to share this excitement with a close friend or family member, but it isn’t something that you should be telling everyone. Additionally, just because somebody said “yes” to going on a date with you, doesn’t mean your relationship with them has changed yet. (Saying “yes” to a date doesn’t make someone your boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner automatically.) Don’t make assumptions about how the person feels about you or how the date will go. Agreeing to go on a date is not the same thing as agreeing to be in a relationship with you, kiss you, or do anything more.

If the response is “maybe”

Sometimes people need time to think before answering “yes” or “no” to a date. They may have things to consider or have trouble processing information right away. You can respond to a “maybe” by saying something like “Okay, you can think about it! I’ll ask you about it in a couple of days.”

If the response is “no”

If the response is “no,” it isn’t necessarily about you! People might say “no” to a date for many reasons. They may already be in a relationship, they may not be interested in dating at that time, or they many feel that they connect better with other people. Whatever the reason is, it is important that you respect the answer. Do no continue asking or trying to pressure somebody into a date. It is okay for you to be friends with somebody you asked out if they would also like to be friends.

Remember, if you are asked to go on a date, you have the right to say “yes,” “no,” or “maybe.” It is completely up to you. You do not owe the person who asked you an explanation for your answer, and your answer should be respected.

Going on a Dateiconmonstr-help-3-240

Once you have agreed to go on a date, there are some logistics to consider. Thinking about the following questions before the date and planning ahead of time can help make your date less stressful.

What Do You Wear?


How Will You Get To and From the Date?


Who Pays?


What Do You Talk About?


What are the Physical Boundaries on a First Date?


How Do You End a Date?
Should there be a Second Date?

After your first date, you’ll want to consider both your feelings and the feelings of your date to decide whether you should ask the person out again. If you enjoyed the date, want to spend more time together, and find yourself thinking about the person frequently, you may want to consider asking to go on a second date.

Before asking someone out on another date, you should also think about whether they still seem interested in dating. During your first date, did your date seem happy, say something like “maybe we should hang out more,” or initiate physical affection in some way? If so, then there is a good chance that the person would like to go out with you again. On the other hand, other signs indicate that your date may not want to go out again. A few examples of these include ending the date early, not engaging in conversation, or moving away from you when you moved closer.

Not all first dates lead to second dates, and that’s okay! That choice is for you and your date to make.

Second and Future Dates

If you enjoyed your first date and it seemed like your date did too, then it’s time to ask the person out on a second date. Before doing that, you can think a little about what specific plans or activities you could suggest. You may want to consider what you learned about the person during your first date. Did the person mention a favorite activity or an interest that could lead to a second date? For example, if your date mentioned really liking the outdoors, you might suggest a picnic at the park.

When asking someone out again, it is a good idea to mention that you enjoyed spending time with them previously and then ask them to join you for a second date. For example, “It was great having coffee with you and getting to know you better. I was wondering if you wanted to come with me to the art museum next weekend?”

Second dates are a lot like first dates. The only difference with second dates and any dates that follow is that you are getting to know the other person better. As time goes on and you get more comfortable with the person you are dating, questions and topics in conversation will likely get more personal as you are trying to enjoy yourselves, learn more about each other, and find out whether you are compatible.

Handling Rejection

If someone doesn’t want to go out with you again, try not to take it personally. It doesn’t mean that you did anything wrong or that there is anything wrong with you. It just means that a relationship with that person would not have worked out. Almost everyone has experienced being turned down for dates. Sometimes rejection is direct. (For example, someone might say, “I don’t think we will work out, sorry.”) Other times, rejection might be subtle. (For example, someone might say “I’m busy that day – maybe some other time,” without suggesting another time or responding to messages to reschedule.)

Lots of feelings can go along with being turned down for a date. You may feel sad, angry, confused, or experience other emotions. It’s natural to have these feelings, but it is still important to respect the other person’s wishes. You should say politely that you understand. You could say something like “That’s OK – thank you for spending some time with me the other day.” You shouldn’t keep asking the person out on dates, but you can still be friendly if you continue to see each other at school, work, or in the community.

Feelings after you have been rejected

Sometimes it’s hard for the person who was rejected to be around the person who rejected them. It can take some time to work through those feelings, and that’s completely normal. It can be helpful to talk to a close friend or family member as you work through those feelings and become more comfortable being around the other person again. If you do run into the person, try to be courteous. It’s usually considered impolite to purposefully avoid the person (such as turning around as soon as you see the person). However, it is also not appropriate to follow the person around or pay too much attention to them on social media, for example.

Rejecting others

It’s normal to not want to keep dating someone (or “seeing someone”) after a few dates. There’s nothing wrong with feeling that you and your date are not compatible. If you no longer feel interested, it’s better to be honest than to continue dating somebody. Trying to continue dating someone whom you don’t really like may be confusing and hurt their feelings.

When you tell someone you don’t want to go out with them any more, you should be honest and as kind as possible. You may want to say something as simple as “Thank you for spending time with me the other day. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m interested in going out again.” If the person asks why you don’t want to go out again, don’t feel pressured to explain yourself. If you want to, you can give some of your reasons, but sometimes it’s better not to give an explanation, especially if the reason might be hurtful. For example, you wouldn’t want to say, “I don’t want to go on a second date with you because I think you’re ugly.”

Relationship Escalator

Sometimes, it is hard to understand how relationships move from the early stages to becoming more and more close and serious. The relationship escalator is a way of thinking about relationships that can visually show how relationships tend to progress between two people. This is simply a general outline of how relationships often move – it is not meant to be a set of directions that every relationship must follow.

Most relationships, especially when people are younger, do not go through all these stages. They often stop before Stage 3 or Stage 4, and that’s fine. Lots of people enjoy spending time together, but may not feel they are compatible long term or that they are ready to make a serious commitment.

Every relationship can be different – some people prefer not to have relationships that follow the stages on this escalator, while others find that it works for them. Your own relationships and the relationships that you notice around you may stay at one stage longer than others, move through two stages at the same time, or skip stages.

Keep in mind that the relationship escalator is a tool that most people don’t know about. The names for the different “steps” or “stages” of the escalator are not common knowledge, so you wouldn’t say to somebody, “We are in the claiming and defining stage of our relationship.” If you said that to someone who didn’t already know about the relationship escalator, they wouldn’t understand what you were trying to explain, and it might sound odd to them.

relationship escalator

  1. Meeting Someone– This stage may include flirting, going on dates, and, if desired, physical contact (hugging, kissing, holding hands, etc.).
  2. Dating – This stage may include romantic courtship gestures or rituals like meeting each other’s friends, increasing the amount of time spent together, and emotional investment (“falling in love”). It may include sexual activity, if both partners are feeling comfortable, but not always. (Sexual activity is more common among adults in this stage than it is among younger people.)
  3. Defining the Relationship– This stage is when you and your partner have both established that you love each other. Your friends and family are aware that you are in a relationship. This is often where labels like “boyfriend/girlfriend” or “partner” begin being used. Many people make agreements to be “exclusive,” “monogamous,” or “not see other people” at this stage. Once this step has been reached, any further step (including simply remaining in the relationship) may be considered an implied commitment toward intending to stay together and share your future.
  4. Being A Couple – This stage is adapting your lives to accommodate each other on an ongoing basis. Settling into patterns for spending time together (regular date nights and sexual encounters, spending time in each other’s’ homes, etc.) and communicating (speaking, phoning, or texting when not together, etc.).
  5. Commitment– This stage is discussing, or planning for, a long-term shared future as a couple. Expectations of mutual accountability for where you go and what you do. Meeting each other’s family of origin.
  6. Merging Lives– This stage is moving in together, sharing a home and finances, getting engaged to be married or equivalent. (May happen before, during, or after commitment.)
  7. Formalizing the Relationship – This stage is getting married (legally, if possible) and potentially having children. The relationship is now “finalized,” and its structure is expected to remain the same until one partner dies or the couple “breaks up” or gets a divorce. Some people prefer not to get married and/or have children, but they can still form long-term commitments and share their lives with their partners.
  8. Legacy – This stage is buying a home and having and raising children (if the couple wants children). This stage is no longer as required as it once was, but often couples do not feel (or are not socially perceived as) fully “valid” until they hit these additional benchmarks post-marriage.
What Kind of Relationship Am I In?

Just because you have been going on dates with someone doesn’t mean you are partners. Usually, you need to have a conversation (or several conversations) throughout the duration of your relationship to determine what kind of relationship you are in. (This often corresponds to Stage 2 or Stage 3 of the relationship escalator.)

Most people don’t have expectations of being exclusive or monogamous after a couple of dates. Also, some people prefer not to be monogamous with partners, but may still form commitments that work for them. Once you and your dating partner have been consistently seeing each other for a while, and especially if you have been sexually active, it is typical to have a conversation about your relationship. Do you and your partner feel like you get along well, are attracted to one another, and can see yourselves in a long-term relationship? If so, you may want to establish new boundaries around your relationship, such as how often you want to see each other.

*The Relationship Escalator and stage descriptions are adapted with permission from Amy Gahran’s Off the Escalator project.

Ending a Relationship036-lovelorn-seg-graphic-icon

Relationships don’t always work out. If you have decided that breaking up is the best thing for you, you should let the other person know. Breaking up through phone or text is typically considered rude. It’s more respectful to break up in person, though this may not always be possible, like if you are in a long-distance relationship.

It’s usually a good idea to have the breakup conversation in a calm, public, but not crowded place (such as a park). Having the conversation in public lessens the possibility of you or your partner getting in an argument or becoming visibly upset.

Once you sit down to have the conversation, tell your partner your reasons for deciding to break up in a clear, firm, and calm way. Breaking up is not a time for revenge or to criticize your partner. It’s simply an opportunity to respectfully let your partner know that the relationship is not working out for you.

If your partner puts up resistance or tries to convince you to change your mind, you can say that you are sorry and that you understand that the decision hurts, but that you have made up your mind. If you are comfortable with remaining friends, you can say that. If you decide to continue like that, it is usually best to only hang out together with a group of friends for a while until you both have had time to work through any lingering feelings from being in a relationship.

Many times it’s best to not stay friends at all after a breakup. This is particularly true if you broke up because of major arguments, abuse, or some other very negative reason. But even if you don’t want to be friends, there’s no need to be disrespectful. It can feel strange and even painful to stop being emotionally and physically close to someone you cared about, but it’s a natural part of dating to sometimes experience those feelings.  

Conclusion

Dating is much more complex than just a going out on a date with someone. It spans from having a crush on someone, to going on a first date, to maintaining healthy relationships with a partner. Dating should never be seen as having only one purpose, such as finding a lifelong partner. Instead, dating should be seen as a fun way to get to know someone, have new experiences, and grow as an individual.

Key Takeaways 
  • Crushes are part of growing up, and it’s completely normal to have a lot of crushes, only a few, or none at all.
  • Flirting can be a fun way to show interest or find out if someone is interested in you. It’s important to pay attention to verbal and nonverbal signals and respect people’s boundaries when flirting.
  • Dating can help you gain friendships, learn about what you want and need in a partner, and can potentially lead to long-term relationships.
  • Being in a relationship takes work and effort, and communication is important.
  • Ending a relationship can be hard, but it is sometimes a necessary part of dating.

Dating 101 Quiz

Disclaimer

Information found on OAR’s Sex Ed. for Self-Advocates website, related videos, resources, and links are not a substitute for professional medical advice. All users of the site should consult with a physician or other health care provider to discuss specific concerns if they require further information or clarity.