Dating is fun...for unneurotic people who earnestly say things like “I wonder who we’ll meet at this party!”—as if introducing yourself to a stranger and successfully keeping up a conversation is preferable to finding the nearest cat to pet in order to avoid making eye contact with anyone.
So, for people as anxious as I am in wanting to know if this second date is a waste of time, here are 19 very scientifically backed, totally universal stages of a relationship that every couple goes through. It might not be in this exact order, but a truly successful couple will tick off all these boxes.
1. Realising they exist as a romantic option.
This is the “Huh, what if???” stage. Maybe they’re a friend who texts you something so sweet and considerate that you straight-up DK why you aren’t already dating them. Maybe they’re a coworker you feel stutter-y around and you don’t know why until your work wife points it out. Maybe they’re a dating-app match who doesn’t make you want to chuck your phone into a sewage-filled canal. Whatever it is, hey, now you know: This person is in solid “maybe” territory.
2. Sending texts like “So, how’d your weekend go?” back and forth.
You may occasionally text each other a joke or, depending on your personal level of bravery, something boldly flirty. But for the most part, your brain is in “DON’T BE WEIRD YET” mode. So you’re popping off the tame version of your texting game when really, you want to send them the hot-sauce-covered tacos instead. In time, friend. In time.
3. Stalking them on social media, duh!
Before you get more invested, you have to do a quick scan of their socials to make sure they aren’t a sociopath. A light glance at their Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, or (my personal favorite) LinkedIn can reveal if they have bad political opinions or refer to themselves as entrepreneurs.
4. Finding their college track team photos from 2013 and their high school girlfriend.
LOL, as if you’d stop at their tweets from two years ago! No, baby, you’re in deep—squinting as you try to find them in their collegiate sports team photo. You hate that you know that their two exes look like each other (but not at all like you) and more so that you have no idea what that means. Step away from the iPhone, bb.
5. Going on a first date that you barely remember because you were so nervous.
You know: They were funny, you ordered one sparkling drink that you hardly sipped because your stomach was in knots, and your lips touched. What you don’t know: how it felt other than “nice.” You have a mini crisis about it with your bestie the next day.
6. Dissecting their messages with the group chat.
They said they want to hang out but it took three hours to hear back. This is a case for the F(riendship)BI, who (if your crew is legit) will hopefully talk you out of full-on panicking so early.
7. Shooting them an edgy meme to see if they truly get you.
Now that you know they also watch YouTube Vine compilations, you feel safer sending them the depraved nonsense you love on Twitter. Loving the same fun garbage you do is high-key romantic.
8. Going on more dates where you feel comfier.
Your nerves have subsided enough for you to process that you’re currently outside at a super cute picnic and that dark red is a really good colour on your maybe-boo. Good job!
9. Realising that they’re crumb messy while you’re clutter messy, and you’re just gonna have to make peace with it because GDI, they’re cute.
You leave stacks of papers on random surfaces, which annoys them beyond belief, but at least you’re not a crumb cretin who is somehow okay with tiny specks of Oreo debris on your coffee table. *SIGH* This will never change, but you like snacking with your total snack too much to ever break up.
10. Digging for deets on their past relationships to confirm they’re not a monster.
You know they dated someone more than a year ago and it ended mostly amicably...but why? Was it due to natural, neutral differences or their being a noncommittal, flaky fool who also always neglects to wash the bottoms of dishes? You gotta know!
11. Introducing them to another human to further confirm they’re not a monster.
Be it your besties, your family, or your work buds, this is crucial to know if the person you’re dating is an acceptable person to have hang out with the people you’re closest to. If they make your BFF genuinely laugh, the case is closed and you are to be wed stat.
12. Getting into an objectively dumb fight because your feelings are outta whack rn.
It could be as ridic as them zoning out for a second during your 44-minute Ted Talk on the genius of Taylor Swift’s Lover album, where you accuse them of never being into you and ah, why don’t you just break up now? Chill, beb. They like you and you like them, but the lack of clear certainty is obvi scary!
13. Planning a slightly ambitious trip together and surviving.
You want to test the solidity of your bond by going camping, but also, you’ve always wanted to go to the Finger Lakes. What is a relationship even for, if not this!
14. Finally realising you’re official official.
Traditionally, this comes from the classic “What are we?” talk, but sometimes it’s as simple as one of you saying “boyfriend” or blurting out a spontaneous “I love you” to really drive home the fact that, whoa, you are in this.
15. Continually vibing and growing closer (rather than apart).
Armed with a newfound feeling of stability, you keep hanging out, enjoying each other’s company like 80 to 90 percent of the time, and dealing with little pesky changes along the way. This is the rainy-Sunday-morning-bagels-and-Friends-marathon equivalent of your relationship—it’s not the most exciting or trying, but damn, it’s cozy and GOOD.
16. Having a legit, recurring fight that makes you question the relationship.
Hope you enjoyed step 15, because 16 is here to mess with you. This varies from couple to couple and problem to problem, but generally, this is a larger issue you keep dealing with that you either fully work through (you always being 20 minutes late everywhere) or realise will always exist and you’ll have to navigate (their weird mum who keeps wanting you to get hitched).
17. Missing the chase sometimes...
Occasional thoughts about other people doesn't count as cheating unless you’re acting on them, because we’re not built to be monogamous in our thoughts.
18. Going through some big change, like moving in together or going through a rough time that brings you together even more.
Moving cities and getting a puppy are all things that will truly make or break you.