How cool! You’re in a “relationship.” And, as you proceed down this road, spend some time figuring out if you’re heading up the hill toward Relationshipville (Population: twosome) or down the rocky path toward Dumptown (presided over by Mayor McSee-Ya). Either way, you’re going to pass the same progress-markers. How you anticipate, handle, and learn from these sure-to-happen moments can tell you a lot about your fellow traveler—and keep you rolling through to the next passion pit stop.
Here’s how to ace all of these important moments.
Let’s face it: You’re going to remember that smackeroo for the rest of your days, which really puts the pressure on. However, high expectations are the very thing that ruin many first kisses, since you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment. So try remembering these wise words from a dating coach: “Don’t expect the first kiss to be the best kiss. You’re not used to the person yet. The 10th or 11th should be the ones where you’ve figured out what you both like.” So, save the really passionate stuff for later on. Keep your first kiss short, sweet, and not too slobbery. Don’t try so hard. Years later, if you’re still together, you’ll think back to how simple and perfect that moment was—and what could be more romantic?
The exclusivity talk
No doubt about it, it’s never easy to put yourself on the line this way. Saying out loud, “I like you and don’t want either of us dating other people” can seem daunting, but hey, you’ve got to do it sometime. Only when? For many, the obvious time is right on the brink of physical intimacy. But even then, you’ll want to look for cues that the other person feels the same way. “Your relationship should speak for itself in a certain way,” says Robin Gorman Newman, author of How to Marry a Mensch. “How you feel between dates is as important as how you feel on your dates. If you’re nervous, unsure, don’t hear from the other person when you thought you would, or when that person said he or she would call – you might want to prepare yourself for the worst.” On the other hand, “if you feel exclusive, you probably are, and it’s safe to have that talk.”
To take the edge off if you’re nervous, remember that exclusivity is not engagement, and it’s certainly not marriage. In fact, it’s nothing to be scared of. It just means you’re starting to trust each other, and you can still work out what, besides not having sex with other people, “exclusive” means for you. “You can put it this way,” says Catherine Cardinal, author of A Cure for the Common Life. “You can say: ‘I’m the kind of person who doesn’t have sex with someone unless I know it’s exclusive, and I want to know if that’s the kind of person you are, too.” That way, you put it in terms of your self-respect, not the other person’s possible misbehavior. Either way, don’t have this talk in the middle of a heavy-petting session when you’re both at the mercy of your hormones. Because at those moments, all sorts of thought-scrambling can go on.
The first time you have sex
Speaking of hormones… the first time you do the deed can have so much riding on it that it can be a disappointment if everything isn’t absolutely perfect. To avoid driving yourself crazy, keep sight of your goals. “What is this about?” asks Newman. “If you’re dating seriously and not just playing the field, then this is more than just a roll in the hay. It’s about bonding and intimacy.” So, rather than obsessing about whether your technical skills are up to snuff, focus on more touchy-feely aspects that’ll help you bond, which can be simple as kissing a lot and maintaining eye contact (trust us, it can be harder than you think). Do that, and your close encounter will feel, well, close—and that’s as, if not more, fireworks-worthy than any swinging-from-the-chandeliers sex session.
Your first fight
It’s not like you can plan for this and say, “I’m comfortable with you. Let’s fight!” It’s going to happen in its own time, and if it sneaks up out of nowhere, know that it was inevitable. You can’t avoid it, so may as well see how you do at resolving it. “How you communicate during and after a fight, and whether you can accept the other person’s perspective and feel yours is accepted—that can be crucial,” says Newman. We’re not saying you need to convince your partner to see things your way (yeah, right) or capitulate your own views—it’s all about accepting your differences and still liking each other in spite of them. So, whatever you do, don’t breathe a word about how this could spell the beginning of the end of your budding relationship. Avoid phrases like, “If that’s how you feel, why are we even together?” since doing so will only make the fight worse rather than better. Keep your argument focused on the issue at hand — whether that’s how it hurts your feelings that she’s often late or that you were embarrassed when he was rude to the waitress — that’s right, always lead with “I feel…” to start a respectful and productive dialogue. While you might not reach a solution, you’ll at least know you understand where each of you is coming from. With a foundation like that, you should eventually be able to accept each other, flaws and all.
The first time you meet his/her friends
This can be more intimidating than meeting the family: After all, you may well hate half your family, but you love all your friends. But perhaps since your pal’s opinions can have such an impact, suggest holding off a little longer than usual. Get to know each other and enjoy each other first. Once you feel stable and comfortable as a twosome, commence with the mingling—that way, you’re introducing your new significant other rather than forcing him or her to interview for the position.
“For the first meeting, don’t make it a rigid situation, like a dinner party with assigned seats or, even worse, a wedding,” says Cardinal. “A circle situation, like a group dinner where people can swap seats, makes it less intimidating—you’ve got multiple people carrying on conversations.” What works best? Something larger than dinner with one other couple — where your mate will feel like an outsider — but smaller than a ginormous shinding where it’ll be easy to get lost in the crowd. If you’re the one who’s being introduced to your amour’s friends, getting them talking with questions like, “So you knew Bob back in college. Got any wild stories about him for me?” or “So you and Mandy work together. It sounds like the deadlines get really intense—how do you two deal?” People love to share a personal story, and the more you let them talk, the higher regard they’ll hold you in. Plus, you’ll get to collect valuable background data on your one-and-only… what could be a better use of your time?