Dating In Your 20s: Expectations Vs. Reality

How You’ll Meet:

Expectation: You bump into each other in the coffee shop, they spill a latté on your shirt, you laugh it off with a witty hahaha, they offer to make it up to you by taking you out to dinner, and you live happily ever after. Alternatives: Your dogs become BFFs at the park; you both belong to some awesome after-work intramural group and just click; or at the very least, our eyes meet across a crowded bar, you steal away for a late bite somewhere, chat into the night, and promise to see each other sooner rather than later.

Reality: Maybe a friend will suggest you get together — but they forget the key component that there is a very big difference between being friends with two people, and being friends with people who are perfect together. You’ll gravitate to each other slowly at parties thrown by mutual friends, and only after about 3 years’ worth of cat-and-mouse, you’ll decide to take “this thing” steady, without so much as an actual first date.

Going on dates:

Expectation: They pick you up from your place at 7 or you meet up at some cute little bistro or fun activity. You spend the rest of the night laughing over the most witty conversation; stroll hand-in-hand as you eat some sort of dessert and altogether be the picture-perfect version of a “date” that Sweet Valley High books would have salivated over.

Reality: Text message sent at 7:05 pm: “What are you up to tonight? Drinks?”

You will then get drinks.

Becoming “Official”:

Expectation: You won’t even feel the need to have what was sure to be a very mature, very adult conversation of “so, what are we?” One of you will just say that the other is their boyfriend or girlfriend, your heart will swoon, and it’s just like, yeah, that’s what we’ve been all along. High five, Facebook status update change!

Reality: The conversation is going to be very drunk (for liquid courage), very nervous (because you like-like this person, and what if they don’t like-like you, too?!) and very, very messy. You might not survive it. You might actually break up over it, which is silly because you didn’t even know what you were and then all of a sudden there’s cold feet over a label and what, wait, why are they calling you their baby to one of their friends? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!

Your social media presence:

Expectation: It will be tasteful. An anniversary post here, an artsy shot of the two of you doing something wonderfully adult together there. You, shove #mancrushmonday and #womancrushwednesday down everyone’s throat every day? Never. It will be the unsaid, and whenever you do show up on Instagram together (always with a classy caption) it’s because your friend tagged a candid pic of the two of you being cute. These photos will elicit all of the “awww”s in the known universe.

Reality: Either you are too chicken to actually Instagram them for fear that it’ll be “coming on too strong” or… yup. You spiral into the world of overload, with all the kiss-‘n-cuddle pictures in the world — but like, you’re in love. If people don’t want to see your happiness, they don’t have to look. (Or so you tell yourself.)


Expectation: Semi-yearly getaways to beautiful beaches or some scenic rented house will be your regular. You both pack just enough and unwind for a few days of bliss and adventure. Day trips are spontaneous, and you hop into the car and explore things just outside your city limits, coming back refreshed and even more together than ever.

Reality: “Look, if you want to brave my family reunion with me, you are more than welcome to, but we can’t have sex in the childhood bedroom my mom will put us up in. That would just be a little creepy.” Maybe you’ll go to a different brunch place than your go-to one Saturday. There. That’s adventurous.

Moving in together:

Expectation: It will happen gradually, and just make sense. First, you premeditate when you’re staying over, and bring clothes for the next day accordingly. Then, you keep a toothbrush there, and then you get a whole drawer to yourself, and then you look at each other and realize that you’re spending all this time with each other anyway that it just makes sense to split the rent and the Brita filter and get a dog together, doesn’t it?

Reality: One of you will have to leave your apartment for God knows what kind of traumatizing reason — creepy Craigslist roommate, creepy super, unable to afford the lease renewal, the walls crumbling down around you — and you promise to stay with them for a month or two, tops. And then you wind up never leaving, your stuff a clashing mix of tastes and sensibilities until you bite the bullet and travel to the ultimate in relationship tests: IKEA.

How you communicate:

Expectation: You call each other! Really, you do! You spend hours on the phone talking, hearing each other’s voice, laughing together and growing closer. As for dealing with the “big talks,” you do it maturely and rationally, with a little humor, and even when you do fight, you can admit when you’re wrong and apologize accordingly.

Reality: Text, 3 days after a huge blow-out fight over what kind of cheese to buy at the grocery store: “Hey u.”

Affection and compliments:

Expectation: They’re going to be cute but never overbearing, genuinely heartfelt proclamations that you look extra nice today, that sweater looks great on you, they believe in you and everything you’re doing at work, etc. Flowers and little gifts here and there are just the cherry on top of your very genuine and mutual affection.

Reality: Well, there’s all of that — but also, they’ll notice that you got a haircut or got a new pair of jeans that make your butt look really great…

… 10 days after you do it.

Saying “I love you”:

Expectation: It will come naturally to you, just like proclaiming your relationship as being official. It’ll be sweet and tender — they’ll be the one to say it first, you don’t need that stress in your life — and you’ll realize that well, yeah, you loved them all along, too.

Reality: Someone puts their foot in their mouth and blurts something out, you go quiet for two days, and then pick up where you left off, now avoiding the 40-ton pink Valentine’s teddy bear in the room.

Hanging out with their friends:

Expectation: You’re just going to effortlessly mesh together in one big, friend-happy group. Your friends will become friends with their friends, and suddenly you’re all booking weekend summer houses together and Gchatting each other regularly for advice, restaurant ideas, and plans for that one wedding you’re all going to together.

Reality: You cannot keep their friends’ names straight, you try to like them but there’s always that one who rubs you the wrong way, and whenever any of your friends asks you to hook them up with someone, you’re like, “I mean, I like them and all but… date-worthy? Um.”


Expectation: You? Let it die? NEVER. You’ll constantly veer toward wanting to tear each other’s clothes off, whispering sweet nothings in their ears, and having that little jumpstart in your heart every time your eyes meet. You’ll go dancing together, wear sexy underwear for one another, and generally be a Hollywood depiction of “sexytime-stuff” come to life.

Reality: It’s 10 p.m. on a Tuesday, you’re both in sweats that could seriously use some solid washing, and finally catching up on Game of Thrones. And you’re like, “You know what? Yeah, I’m good with this. There is nowhere else I’d rather be. This right here is the true romance.” (Because really. It is.)

Meeting the family:

Expectation: Of course you’re going to be nervous, but then you get over that just as quickly because it feels like you’ve been a part of the family forever! Their mom loves you, their dad is silent but tacitly approves, and their siblings give you noogies, too, and spill all of the dirty details of what your significant other was like as a bare-butt baby running around the sprinklers.

Reality: You say one thing wrong at dinner, and worry that their mom hates you for the rest of forever. She doesn’t, but you have the sinking suspicion that she keeps on trying to replace you with her best friend Mary’s grown child. And it’s your awkward baby photos that get unearthed first. It’s always YOUR baby photos.

Your overall timeline:

Expectation: One to three years of dating — during which you never forget anniversaries — a year’s engagement, and then boom! Wedded bliss.

Reality: On and off and on and off and… wait, how do couples even know when they started dating if things are so up in the air so often? Is there a cheat sheet somewhere? Regardless, you wind up wondering if you’ll ever get engaged to this person, decide whatever, you don’t even want to get married anyway, and it’s only when you reach this staunch conclusion that they bring up the idea of marriage. Because of course it is.

And the wedding…

Expectation: It’s picturesque, quaint, classy, understated, tasteful, and fun, with a great DJ and the kind of ceremony that leaves absolutely zero dry eyes in the house. Your years-long obsession with secret Pinterest boards and covertly purchased bridal magazines finally pays off, and everything you do is great and wonderful and you miraculously have the budget for everything it is you want to do.

Reality: $25K, tandem diets, eight different deposits, and five screaming fights with your bridal party into the whole ordeal, you seriously begin to wonder if like, you can just go to City Hall, tell everyone to meet you at a bar to celebrate, and call it a day. (The best day of your life, full of love and family and cake, but still.) Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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featured image – Grey’s Anatomy

About the author

Ella Ceron

Writer. Editor. Twitter-er. Instagrammer. Coffee drinker. (Okay, mostly that last one.)

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