In the last two years, dating in your twenties has gone from grabbing drinks after work to quarantining with your Tinder date for two weeks. When the world feels uncertain, it’s no wonder that we’re treating our relationships the same way.
The newest trend in dating to emerge from the deep recesses of TikTok are talking stages. Of course, the talking stage has existed since courting began, only now we have a name for it.
A talking stage is the earliest point in a relationship when you’ve both expressed a mutual romantic interest and are willing to get to know each other on a deeper level. It’s the gray area of dating that Gen Z’ers created for ourselves because we just love everything to be complicated, don’t we?
However, talking stages can be a fun way to learn new things about a crush - texting until three in the morning about your favourite music, go-to thrift store locations, and essential bagel spots in the city.
But it also can be the most high-stakes point of a new relationship. In a talking stage, you start to collect all these tidbits of information about each other, until one day you’re ghosted. Now, you’re onto the next Hinge match, once again asking: “So, what do you do for a living?”
Upon first glance, talking stages seem like a vicious cycle of disappointment. The hashtag #talkingstage is 361m views deep of TikTok users sharing their most shocking talking stage experiences. “When you was loyal during the talking stage then find out he wasn’t,” says one video. “When my best friend talks about how perfect her boyfriend is and I just got over another failed talking stage,” says another.
Why is it that the preliminary, inevitable stage of getting to know someone is the most painful? It seems like the end of a failed talking stage stings more than the end of a year-long relationship. Perhaps it’s because we’re putting too much pressure on talking stages when there doesn’t need to be.
Catherine Emond had a self-identified quarter-life crisis at the age of 25 when she ended a three-year relationship. In the year since her breakup, she moved into her own apartment in Boston and began posting relationship advice on TikTok for fun. That is, until she gained 56,000 followers on the app. Now, she’s continuing the conversation on her podcast - talking situationships, living with ADHD, and the importance of muting your ex on Instagram.
Emond compares the talking stage to clothing. In a talking stage, you try on different versions of a person, but don’t be surprised if you try on something that doesn’t fit.
“I think that a big deal with dating is understanding that all of us, as people, always change,” Emond told The Independent. “We are always getting to know a different version of ourselves every single day.”
That means trying on people who might not have the same career goals or expectations as you. But let’s not confuse differing timelines with red flags.
Being open-minded is the first rule of dating. Sure, you may not have the same music taste or compatible birth charts, but these aren’t deal breakers.
Deal breakers, or red flags, in dating can be defined as something your partner does that indicates a lack of respect, integrity or interest towards the relationship. Poor communication and long response times are baseline signs in a talking stage that they’re just not interested in you.
But according to Hannah Stella, a lifestyle content creator on TikTok, red flags in the talking stage are totally dependent on what it is that you’re looking for.
“You could be at a place in your life where your career is taking off, you’re travelling a lot, and you’re not sure where you’re going to live a year from now,” Stella acknowledged. “You’re looking for somebody who either has a lot of flexibility, or isn’t looking for something super serious. For somebody who just bought a house and is ready to settle down, those aren’t red flags but that’s going to be a bad match.”
Recognising the red flags - or possibly just incompatibilities - early on is key to making sure you don’t waste five months getting to know someone, only to end up getting the ick.
In fact, five months is way too long to be in a talking stage. Lindsey Metselaar is the host of “We Met At Acme,” a podcast about the difficulties of dating as a millennial in New York City.
For Metselaar, a talking stage should last no longer than three months. “I think three months is like the absolute longest for a talking stage,” she told us. “And if it’s over three months, then you might want to look into what’s going on here.”
For some, dating without purpose is a waste of time, and feeling like you wasted your time after a failed talking stage is part of what makes it hurt so much when it’s over. But if you free yourself from the mindset that time spent is time wasted, the talking stage is sure to go from exhausting to enjoyable.
“You’re never wasting your time,” Emond pointed out. “I think getting to know other people can reflect to you what you want in a partner. If you start talking to somebody and you realise after talking to them it’s not going to work with either of you, that’s not a wasted time.”
Still, the end of any relationship where you invested time, energy, and emotions is bound to sting a little, even if we pretend it doesn’t.
Situationships hurt more because they hurt deeper. “Very often, whenever people first meet somebody or are in this talking stage, they fall in love with a version of the person that they are talking to that they’ve created in their minds,” Stella explained.
However, even if a talking stage ended, you can still consider yourself one of the lucky ones; you didn’t date them long enough to hate the way they dress or how they drive. “You only saw the parts of you that got along with them,” Emond said. “It doesn’t hurt to remind yourself that there are so many things that could have been great with you guys, but also there could have been a lot off.”
In the age of dating apps, there’s a considerable amount of pressure to get back on the saddle the minute a relationship has ended, whether it was a talking stage or something more long term.
But just because you’re single, that doesn’t mean you need to be dating. Maybe we call it the talking stage because we feel if we’re not forming an emotional connection with anyone at any given time, that makes us less desirable people. “I think when we talk about the talking stage, we use it to put relationships on a scale of validity,” Emond said.
Ultimately, we think the talking stages need a rebrand. By defining terms like “talking stage” or “situationship,” we’re creating arbitrary benchmarks of a relationship, and only setting ourselves up for disappointment when we don’t meet them.
Save yourself from the heartbreak of a failed talking stage and remember that a talking stage is just a verbiage we use to put a name to the awkward yet exciting part of getting to know someone.
“We can define these terms into oblivion,” Stella said. “But you can’t define yourself out of your feelings.”
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