1. The awareness that you’re being vetted every second you’re together.
Before you become an official couple, you have to endure the process of vetting (and being vetted by) the person you’re dating. Being the best version of your authentic self every time you meet up with someone requires time, energy, and a whole lot of willpower. It’s fucking exhausting, but hopefully the adrenaline rush of starting something promising pushes you through. The good news? If you make it past the six-month mark, the pressure not to burp and fart in front of each other tends to evaporate.
2. Going “number two” and stinking up their bathroom.
No one wants to be associated with fouls smells early in a relationship. You want your new partner to think of you as a bouquet of flowers perfuming their life with a lovely, intoxicating scent. So if holding your bowel movement for an extra half hour affords you the opportunity to go number two at a café or a bar or restaurant or even a friend’s place instead of theirs, you’ll deal with the temporary discomfort. People go to great lengths to avoid producing icky smells during the wooing phase—until romance transitions into reality, and you both realize that the children’s storybook Everyone Poops is totally accurate.
3. What your web presence says about you.
Since incessant documenting is the norm these days, each of us leaves a long, telling trail of content for others (especially potential significant others), to comb through online. Even if you stand by every single Tweet and social media post, thinking about your web presence through someone else’s eyes will probably freak you out. You’ll want to explain certain things—like why you look totally out of it in the middle of the day in that one photo, or why you Tweeted directly at Taylor Swift that one time last Summer—to give the guy or girl you’re dating some context. Or you might just engage in some frenzied deleting and caption editing to curate a more acceptable version of the online you. About six months down the line, you’ll remember that everyone should withhold judgment unless they want to be peered at through the same overcritical lens.
4. Knowing that they dated other people before you.
Before you reach the secure phase as a couple, you will fixate on the people your new partner dated before they were lucky enough to meet you. Until you know someone fully, it makes sense to define them at least in part by the romantic
mistakes choices they’ve made. What does that mean? You will probably ask your new boo direct questions about all their exes under the guise of curiosity and/or a quasi sincere desire to know everything about them. Unfortunately, everything you learn about all those other people they dated will make you highly uncomfortable.
5. What you discover from cyberstalking their exes.
You will probably cyberstalk each and every one of your partner’s exes—an activity that is neither fun nor interesting, let alone confidence boosting. You’ll do it regardless because you just can’t help yourself, racking up a slew of unfounded concerns along the way. The second you stop stressing about your predecessors, you’ll know you’ve reached a new stage of relationship seriousness.
6. How to phrase each and every text message.
There’s a very fine line between expressing enthusiasm about a budding relationship and coming across as overly needy and/or borderline insane. So the simple act of communicating—replying to a text or returning a phone call or commenting on someone’s social media post—takes on new meaning in the early stages of dating. You will read and re-read each other’s messages, trying to extrapolate more hidden truth than so few characters can possibly hold. You might even phone a friend to ask for phrasing advice before realizing that you’re perfectly capable of drafting a reply to “What are you up to this weekend?” all by your grownup self.
7. How much physical affection you can show—without seeming clingy.
No one wants to be the crazy one who gets too attached too soon. But no one wants to be the indifferent one incapable of demonstrating a modicum of affection, either. So you’ll hesitate over every little intimate gesture in the beginning—from holding hands on the way to dinner to upper thigh rubbing during a movie and making out in public. The sooner you figure out just how much physical touch your boyfriend or girlfriend needs to feel loved without feeling smothered, and just how PDA friendly they are, the better.
8. How to get their friends to like you.
If you want the boyfriend or girlfriend slot in someone’s life, you don’t just have to win them over. You have to convince their friends, too. So the first few nights spent double dating or hanging out with someone’s nearest and dearest will be some of the most stressful. It’s one thing to be your best self in a one-on-one scenario, and another to play “definitely worth dating” before a small crowd of your would-be significant other’s biggest fans. Convincing someone’s squad that you’re datable is flat-out exhausting, but you’ve got to do it if you want a decent chance at phase two.
9. What you wear every single time you see them.
Outfit choices matter a lot in the beginning. You want to look put together, clean-cut, and attractive. And you don’t want to wear the same thing twice in a row, or within too short a timespan. At the same time, you don’t want to be seen as someone who cares too much about clothing. So you expend a tremendous amount of effort getting ready before every date, and even more effort feigning wardrobe indifference while taking mental notes about your sartorial choices to avoid future repeats. Hopefully it’s not too long before you’re back to t-shirts and jeans, and turning your underwear inside out to make it last one more day.
10. How to come across as the most well mannered version of yourself.
When dining with someone you’re still getting to know, it’s beneficial to be perceived as polite. Typically, that means being way more mindful of the manners your parents ingrained in you than usual. Napkin on the lap shortly after being seated? Check. Elbows on the table? No way. And even though you desperately want to order the steak (but only if you can swap the home fries for the regular kind), you go with the salmon because you’d rather have your second choice than seem overly fussy for requesting a menu substitution. Luckily, by the six month mark you’ll be freed from pretending to be anything other than your picky, finger licking self.