You’ll always remember falling in love for the first time, that first moment when your heart speeds up and you feel like you’ve just opened your eyes for the first time. You lose focus constantly; you can’t sleep at night because you’re too busy thinking about the object of your desire. It consumes you. You know immediately, without a doubt, that you’re in love, and you want it to last forever.
It’s harder to pinpoint the moment when you know you’re in your first serious relationship. No one reminisces about how they blushed when they first split the check or how they tingled with desire when their partner started leaving the door open when they peed. It’s a more nuanced transition than falling in love, and it can come with more complex emotions — love mixed with trepidation or comfort mixed with fear. Since it’s so difficult to figure out when they begin, serious relationships are still a foreign concept to many young daters now. If you aren’t sure whether you and your partner are committed or are considering defining your relationship, read on to see what a serious relationship entails — and for signs that you might already be in one.
What does it mean to be in a serious relationship?
A serious relationship exists between people who imagine a shared future. For many people, this means imagining that they and their partners will be together until they both die; it may also mean marriage, moving in together or planning big trips. Although not all serious relationships are healthy or worth continuing, it’s still important to recognize a serious relationship for what it is in order to understand how it makes you feel to be joined to another person.
What’s the difference between casually dating and being in a serious relationship?
Nowadays, in a post-hookup-app world brimming with casual dating opportunities, serious relationships may seem scant. Hookups are becoming the norm in today’s dating scene — which isn’t everyone’s cup of teal the American Psychological Association cites a history of hookup regret in 78% of women and 72% of men surveyed. Although it seems like a majority of your peers are participating in hookup culture and loving it, the statistics suggest they’re not having as much fun as they pretend. Since individuals in committed relationships more frequently experience successful and enjoyable sexual encounters, some researchers posit that the human being tends toward serious relationships and monogamy — however, this conclusion may be biased, coming from a generation that venerates the “golden age” of marriage and is unwilling to accept societal change that allows for different, unrecognizable forms of love such as polyamory.
The vast popularity of the hookup scene has led some dating experts, such as Helen Fisher, author of Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray, to claim that younger generations are participating in “slow love.” The phenomenon of slow love entails testing potential partners sexually, fiscally and socially before committing to a more serious relationship. Although older generations are appalled by it, slow dating is not necessarily a bad thing, Fisher argues, because it lays the foundation for more solid, lasting relationships; however, it also creates a blurred line between casual dating and serious relationships. As a result, it can be hard to determine whether you’ve found yourself in something casual or something not-so-casual.
10 signs you’re in a committed relationship.
1. You obsess less.
People who had recently fallen in love reported thinking about their partners over 85% of the day, according to a 2016 study linking romance and substance abuse. Daydreaming about your partner in the early months of your relationship can certainly feel like an addiction, but the addiction will naturally pass when you leave that puppy love stage and enter a more serious stage of the relationship. You won’t need to worry whether your partner has seen your text, because you’ll feel assured that they are committed to you and will eventually respond. (However, if you don’t wonder how your partner is doing at all, chances are that you’re not that interested in them — in which case, you probably shouldn’t be in a serious relationship with that person.)
2. You reach out to one another equally.
Reciprocity of gestures — whether that means asking each other out to dinner or just sending a sweet text at the end of the day — is indicative of equality of interest in your relationship. If you notice that you’re always the one reaching out to your partner, that can mean that your partner is less invested in your relationship, which implies that your relationship might not be as serious as you thought.
3. You’re less interested in other possible partners.
When you start seeing someone with whom you imagine a future, your interest in other potential mates can diminish. Tunnel vision is not a bad thing, and the fact that you no longer start sweating when Daniel from accounting says hello doesn’t mean that you’re losing touch with attraction in general. When you lose your desire to chase after other people, it just shows that you’re devoted to making your partnership work.
4. You’ve met your partner’s friends, and they’ve met yours.
Meeting your partner’s family has always seemed like a huge deal, but with the changing mores of the dating world has come a shift in who is most important to impress. Now, getting approval from trusted friends is hugely important to the slow-dating process. If you don’t get along with your partner’s friends, that could be a deal-breaker, so make sure to treat being introduced to them as a big deal.
5. You can talk about anything.
At first, when you’re hooking up with someone, it can be difficult to have real conversations. There’s an implicit competition, conferred on us all by hookup culture, to seem like you care less than your partner in any sexual situation. This fear of being the more vulnerable member of the relationship can prevent individuals from discussing things like their hopes, dreams, financial situation, problems, parental relationships, past sexual relationships or feelings. Luckily, when you’re in a committed relationship, fear of discussing things that are important to you will slip away.
6. You can be together without having sex.
Depending on your own personal sexual drive, constant sex might be something you need from a partner. Even if that’s the case, you should think about how often you’re doing it. In a casual hookup relationship, sex is the most important part of the relationship and can be used as an excuse to hang with your partner; in a committed relationship, partners want to be together regardless of whether or not sexual activity is on the table for the night. Plus, if your relationship is built solely on sex, it will be hard to sustain as you both grow older and your libidos begin to recess.
7. You feel comfortable around them.
There are easy ways to tell if you feel comfortable around your partner. When you’re hanging out with them, what do you wear? If you’re spending more time than usual putting on a full face of makeup or dressing to impress, it shows that you’re not entirely sure their feelings for you aren’t physically sourced. Once you’re brave enough to invite them over when you’re in your pajamas — not the matching silk set, the enormous-T-shirt and boxer shorts — then you’ll know that you really feel comfortable around them.
8. You split the check.
Although the (heteronormative) expectation for men to pay for their date’s dinner is entirely outdated, there are still many people who try to impress their partners by paying for meals. People in a serious relationship realize that this is unnecessary and split the check. This concept applies both literally and figuratively: you’re in a serious relationship if you’re being honest about your finances and thoroughly considering each venture together, whether it be a new home, a new dog or Indian takeout versus pizza.
9. You hope they succeed.
In a serious relationship, one partner’s success should translate to joy for both. Although it can be hard to avoid jealousy if it seems like your partner is moving forward in the world while you’re remaining stagnant, you’ll know you’re in a serious relationship when your hope that your partner succeeds is just as powerful as your own desire for success.
10. You know they’ll be there tomorrow.
Maybe it’s because you made dinner plans or maybe it’s because you both sleep in the same bed. Either way, you’ll know things are serious when you’re sure that your partner will be there the next day, and the next, and the next. If you have any doubt in your mind that that is the case, you’re not in a committed relationship.
How to avoid getting serious with your partner.
There are easy ways to avoid getting serious — avoiding your partner’s questions about exclusivity, for example — but these methods often can come across as hurtful. Nobody wants to be ghosted or to ghost someone they care about. If you care about the feelings of the person with whom you’re sleeping but are not interested in an exclusive relationship with them, it’s important to address that, even though these conversations are never easy. Of course, there’s a good chance that you’ll end up breaking it off if you want different things, but this is actually a positive result because it means no more wasted time on someone who isn’t capable of meeting your needs — for both of you.