Things are getting real, and you’re ready to push your relationship a little further — whether that means planning an international adventure together or working up the courage to meet each other’s parents. But how do you know for sure when it’s the right time for the next big leap?
Every relationship is different, so every timeline is going to be different. While age, location, financial circumstances, and overall values definitely play a part, figuring out what makes sense for you really all boils down to one thing: asking the right questions — and taking the time to answer them.
Taking A Trip
“Traveling together is a true test of a relationship,” says Marissa Geraci, LMHC. That’s because often times, trips and excursions happen as soon as three months into a relationship, the point at which many couples are really getting to know each other’s quirks and deciding if they want to move forward. “Being completely inseparable for an extended period of time, sharing a hotel room (and bathroom), and having to make decisions about where to go and what to do can be a lot. But you’ll learn pretty quickly how well you communicate — or don’t,” Geraci says.
For many couples, it’s all about starting small and building up. Jake and Erica, both 24 and from Indianapolis, have been dating for three years and found this method worked best for them. Before taking trips with each other’s families or spending extended periods of time away together, they opted for lighter test runs.
“I think little weekend getaways here and there are a great way to get to know someone early on,” says Erica. Once they laid the foundation with several weekends away together, they were able to build up to bigger and better things. But it took time. Not until two years in did they take their first extended vacation, a week-long trip to Memphis, Tennessee.
“A longer trip was definitely easier at that stage of our relationship because we knew how to read each other so well, making potential conflicts and differences easier to work through and figure out,” she says.
But before you head to Expedia or map out a full itinerary, make sure you have your ducks in a row by addressing a handful of simple questions: Have you spent more than 24 hours at a time together? Are you comfortable staying over at each other’s places and sharing space regularly? Are you at a place in your relationship where it’s appropriate to discuss finances for the trip? Have you dealt with stressful situations and problem-solved as a couple before?
If you can’t answer these questions, you may need to give it a little more time.
Meeting The Parents
For some, meeting an S.O.’s parents is a low-key event that happens naturally. Connor, 25, from Chicago, introduced his girlfriend (and now wife), Annie, 26, to his parents after just two months. While this may seem too early to some daters, the level of comfort was there, and the visit was Annie-approved.
“When Thanksgiving started to get close, we started talking about plans, and I invited her to my spend it with my family as a spur-of-the-moment decision, knowing they would be more than OK with it,” says Connor. His quick decision paid off.
“It went well,” he says. “That was one of my first opportunities to see how diplomatic my wife can be about political subjects while still making her position known.”
Geraci says the current trend seems to be to introduce someone to your ’rents within the first six months, but this depends on how close you are to your parents (in proximity and relationship), age, and the seriousness of a relationship. Especially for those who are a little older and have already been through a handful of relationships, when and whether to meet the parents can be a more calculated decision.
“We still haven’t met each other’s parents,” says Jenna*, 28, from Elmhurst, Illinois. She and her boyfriend, Tyler*, 29, who she met at work, have been dating for six months. “We have both been in serious long-term relationships, so we are trying to take things slow. I am hoping to introduce him to my parents in the next two months.”
Experts agree that jumping the gun can, more often than not, lead to heartbreak. If it feels rushed, wait it out — time is on your side. “Big mistakes are definitely moving too fast for the wrong reasons and not enough communication,” says Geraci. “I see so many people miss out on enjoying just being with the person that they love because they are always assessing where they think they ‘should’ be.”
Once you both agree that you feel comfortable enough to meet each other’s loved ones, be proactive about asking each other how you’d like to go about it. Where will the meeting happen? Are you going to make a trip across state lines? Will it just be a quick dinner and drinks, or you will you stay over at their house? Who’s attending? Just the parents? Siblings? Aunt Jean? Are there certain things your partner doesn’t want you mentioning right out of the gate? Are there sensitive topics within the family?
Keep in mind that despite all the preparation, the first meeting may not go down as flawlessly as you imagined it would — and that’s OK. Something doesn’t have to be perfect to represent a step forward.
Moving In Together
“I recommend that couples cohabit before getting married or engaged so that they can adjust to
sharing physical space with each other,” says Racine Renee Henry, Ph.D., LMFT. “There’s nothing wrong with doing things the ‘traditional’ way and not living together until marriage, but I find that adds a layer of tension to the relationship.”
Moe and more people seem to agree. In 2016, around 18 million U.S. adults were in cohabiting relationships, up 29% since 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau data. Roughly half of these people are under the age of 35.
Jake and Erica are planning to join their ranks next month. “We decided the time was right because we love each other and we’re around each other so often that if we were going to annoy each other, it would have happened by now,” says Jake.
Even though they’ve just scratched the surface of sharing a space, they’re learning that doing so is all about compromise and open communication. They’ve started making more decisions as a unit, like picking out furniture and decor for their apartment, while also dealing with the not-so-fun stuff, like divvying up finances.
Henry agrees that when it comes to deciding whether to share a space, communication is key. This includes discussing up front how and why you and your partner want to move in together. “A good way to address this would be to have each partner write down what moving in means and doesn’t mean for the relationship on separate pieces of paper,” Henry says. “Exchange those lists and discuss the discrepancies and similarities.”
Talk about your living habits, who would take responsibility for what chores, how you would decide on a place to live, and how long you see yourselves living in your new home. Disagreement is to be expected, but if you can’t have a (somewhat) calm and productive discussion, consider it a sign you shouldn’t commit to living together, at least not yet.
No matter what you decide, when it comes to other peoples’ expectations or trajectories, don’t feel like you have to stick to the status quo. “Thankfully, I am seeing more couples who don’t choose to follow the ‘popular’ timeline,” says Geraci. “There is no right or wrong if you are both happy.”
*Names have been changed to protect innocent daters everywhere.