6 Defining Moments In Every Relationship

It’s a pretty good bet that you have, at some point, saddled up to the bar with a new flame and wondered, “Are we on a date, or are we just ‘grabbing drinks?’” That’s because not only is today’s dating scene exceptionally ambiguous, but it can also last for quite some time. According to Pew Research Center findings released last year, the median age at first marriage is 27 for women and 29 for men, up from 20 and 23, respectively, in 1960. And the extended time spent unwed means we’re dealing with a whole different set of hard-to-navigate moments than our parents did.

What’s more, studies show that those of us born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s have varying definitions of what a relationship is. Friend with benefits? Cool. An open, “let’s see where this goes” thing? Sure. But the questions arise: Are you committed enough to keep a change of weekend clothes and your standby Clinique products at each others’ places? What about extending an invite to be the plus-one at your best friend’s 30th birthday party?

Though there is no one route to happily coupled, knowing how to steer through these six key moments can help things along.
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In our swipe, like, and wink world, many find putting a stamp on a budding connection is crucial to getting on the same page. “A lot of couples make the mistake of jumping into a relationship without outlining some of the realistic expectations,” says Yue Xu, a dating advisor at Singlefied.com. This might include explaining an upcoming busy period at work that will limit seeing each other to weekends or asking to talk by phone for a few minutes before bed every night. "Managing expectations makes it much less likely that you'll be disappointed after the honeymoon period ends,” she says.

When it’s time to talk, avoid playing games and own up to what you need. Do you believe you should both delete your dating apps and erase your profiles? Would you like to see each other three to four nights a week? What are some deal breakers? From there, proceed.
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Forget worrying about what to wear, what to bring, or what to say. You’re a pro at that. But there is the question of the when. If you have a history of messy breakups, with your folks being almost as torn up as you post-split, you may be a bit gun-shy and opt to wait until you’re sure your flame is more than a fling. Or you may be ready to integrate your significant other into your family before he or she is ready. Your best bet here is to go with your gut, regardless of whether you’ve been dating for three weeks or three months. If you decide to introduce your significant other to your family, keep the first meeting brief — think dinner instead of a weekend-long visit — to reduce stress levels all-around.
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“The first 24/7 time you spend together will reveal quite a bit about not just your partner but also how you are as a team,” says Xu. “Who takes the lead? Who’s more organized? How is your partner under pressure? How much space do you need? What kind of activities will satisfy both of you?

In order to return home with your relationship intact, play to your respective strengths. If your partner is more type A, let him or her choose the airline, arrange the rental car, and buy the weekend’s museum tickets. If you’re a foodie, take him or her to lunch at the waterfront lobster-roll joint and make a reservation at the line-out-the-door sushi spot.

The oft-forgotten key to making this work is being on the same page about budget. Before you leave, agree on how much you will spend each day, and on what, and if it’s easier to spend from a joint bucket or assign areas like food and transportation to one person or the other.
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“There's something really key about a combination of family and friends meeting a significant other, and seeing how that person holds themselves as they interact with chaos, babies, cousins, and activities in every direction,” says Hannah Brencher, founder of More Love Letters. Your best bet for navigating this one is to remember (or at least try to remember while your aunt tells her favorite not-so-PC story yet again) that every family is different and go from there. Are your folks cool with phones at the table? Your hosts may not be, so take your cues from them. The same goes for sleeping arrangements. If your significant other is used to sleeping alongside whomever he brings home, but your parents wouldn’t think of it, respect that when you’re under their roof and go for the single beds.
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After months of dragging a change of clothes to and from work and back again after a sleepover at his or her place, you’ve brought up needing a spot to stash your stuff. Now it’s time to make sure you’re strategic about using it — otherwise, the possibility of fighting over the very thing that was supposed to simplify routines looms. Even if you’re not naturally a get-undressed-and-hang-it-up girl, try to keep your wardrobe somewhat organized, rather than tossed on an armchair after a late night. What may work in your studio isn’t as easy when you’re sharing space.

One thing that does come naturally is your beauty. So maximize a probably already-small bathroom by paring down to a few low-key makeup items that enhance all you've got going on. We like compact, foolproof Clinique Chubby Sticks, which can be easily swiped on eyes, lips, and cheeks when you’re competing for valuable mirror space before work.
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Your denim has migrated to a (neat!) stack on the floor of your partner’s closet, and your shoes are lined underneath the bed. That, and the fact that you are now spending six nights a week together, means it may be time to get a place of your own — together. “The majority of couples now live together before they get married, and almost every long-term couple will eventually face a decision about whether or when it's right for them,” says Galena Rhoades, PhD, research associate professor, Department of Psychology at the University of Denver. When making this decision, fall back on your DTR skills and be open about what moving in together means. What if you break up? Who’s responsible for fixes if something breaks? Do you expect to get engaged in a certain time frame? These conversations aren’t necessarily fun, but they will start your new chapter on the right foot.