One of the most fun parts of dating is right before it starts—when two people first become attuned to each other and start flirting. You tease, you joke, you share links to things. You’ve officially entered the talking stage.
But no matter how fun it is, how carefree it feels and how much it makes you want to tell all your friends about this person, many people are just as eager to know how long should the talking stage last before it turns into genuine dating?
At what point do you need to cut to the chase and admit to some actual feelings? And if the talking stage starts to drag on without anyone making a move, is that a bad sign?
What is the talking stage?
It’s not an official term, but it does describe something that happens for many couples in the lead-up to relationships. Essentially, it’s a situation where two people have a shared interest in one another, but haven’t yet taken the next steps.
“The talking stage is when two people both have clear, romantic feelings for one another, but for one reason or another, neither has ‘made a move,’” according to New York–based dating coach and author Connell Barrett.
According to Barrett, that means “No kissing, no sex, no explicitly putting their feelings and intention on the table.”
In short, people in the talking stage are sort of like nervous kids with schoolyard crushes—they might be feeding off each other’s attention, but they’re closer to pulling each other’s hair than holding hands.
How long should the talking stage last?
According to Barrett, at least, it’s better to err on the shorter side.
“Ideally, the talking stage should not last long at all,” he said. “Assuming both people are single and available and ‘ready to date,’ then it’s best to stop tip-toeing around what they want. Instead, escalate things to real romance—a first date, a kiss or something more than just talking.”
Every relationship is different, which means each pre-relationship stage can be unique to the two people involved. While that means the talking stage may last a long time for some people and be over in less than a day for some others, if it’s stretching out past a few weeks, it might be time to make a move if the other person hasn’t.
What to expect in the talking stage
Again, each relationship is different, so no two talking stages will be exactly the same. But there are some things that are likely to come up and can be used to loosely define the talking stage.
First off, the conversations will feel different from the conversations you have with friends or acquaintances, because you’re each secretly invested in the other reciprocating your feelings.
That can give rise to “long, deep, emotional conversations,” said Barrett, but it might also manifest itself in playfulness. “There may be playful taps on the arm or shoulders,” or lots of giggling and laughing or other forms of flirtation.
“These are ways for two mutual crushes to feel a deeper sense of connection, but without escalating to actions such as kissing, intimate touching or sex,” he said. “The talking stage is like a couple in a rom-com before they get together—everyone can see it and they can see it, but they haven’t yet acted on their attraction.”
What comes after the talking stage?
The shift from the talking stage to something more concrete can take a few different forms, depending on how strong each person’s feelings are and what their expectations are (which can be influenced by factors like age, gender, sexuality, cultural background and more).
While the former might be akin to putting out some feelers and the latter is more serious, in either case, you’re now involved with them in something with an explicitly romantic context.
That doesn’t mean you can’t continue flirting as you had during the talking stage, but now that the secret’s out in the open, it’s likely to change the dynamic, since you no longer have to hide your feelings of attraction for each other.
How to move past the talking stage
There are lots of different ways to shift a talking-stage situation into a dating-stage situation, or even a full-on relationship. Essentially, you need to have a conversation about the one thing you’ve been avoiding talking about with each other—your true feelings.
It can be daunting.
“The biggest thing that stops someone from ‘making a move’ is fear of rejection, or fear of making the other person feel ‘hit on’ or that you’ve done something inappropriate,” Barrett said. “But the fact is, you have to put your cards on the table and risk rejection if you want the chance to move into the next phase.”
Traditional moves, like leaning in and kissing the other person without discussing it first, might not be the best go-to these days, for various reasons, not least of which is that your “talking” might be over text.
A great way to breach the talking stage, according to Barrett, “is to ask them out in a clear way that attempts to move things from ‘talking’ to ‘dating.’”
“Say something vulnerable like this to your crush,” he suggested. “‘I really like you, and I’d love to take you out on a real date. Are you up for it?’”
“This puts your romantic cards on the table, without any risk or fear of doing something inappropriate,” Barrett said. “And hopefully, you’re about to go from the talking stage to the dating stage.”