Watching love stories unfold is always so fascinating.  After the first few dates, if someone is true partner material, s/he will start getting introduced to friends. Assuming all goes well on that front, people will start committing the person’s life story to memory, and there are always some tell-tale signs that things are indeed serious, such as:

1. You start seeing each other every weekend, or on a a regular basis that works with your schedules;

2. You admit that you are an “exclusive item” abandoning all other options;

3. You buy your partner a tooth brush and s/he gets his/her own towel at your place;

4. You clear out a dresser or make room in your closet for the other person’s clothes;

5. You start shopping for things the other person likes when you are at the grocery store;

6. You give that person a set of keys to your place;

7. You start “playing house” spending so much time together, you practically live together;

8. You go on vacations together and coordinate holidays;

9. You introduce that person to your family;

10. You start talking about forming a life together.

If there are kids in the mix, this whole situation is a lot more complicated. For parents that are dating, I suggest waiting at least 3 months before you introduce your kids to someone you are seeing, and you need to carefully consider the consequences of having someone move in without being married because there is really nothing worse for a child than forming a bond with someone, and then suffering a loss because things did not work out between the adults.

As a general rule, I think everyone should at least get through an entire year’s worth of holidays, birthdays, vacations, etc. so you can have a pretty good sense of the viability of the relationship, but for those in their 20’s I would double this timeframe because you are still in the process of figuring out so much regarding your career, what you want in life, who you are, and where you are heading.  No matter, be prepared for the fact that people change once you start living together 24/7– that is because there is no longer a place to escape to on your own when things get tough, you have to now coordinate your social calendars as a couple, and most challenging of all you are now merging your finances– at least by identifying joint expenses and creating some type of joint savings.

In the end, a healthy relationship progress a natural pace– it should not feel forced. Women, much more than men, have a tendency to set deadlines, put pressure on labeling the relationship, talking about where things are heading– and that is not necessarily a bad thing– but I would encourage men to be more forthcoming in sharing their true opinion on these topics rather than go along with things to keep the peace.

When it is worthwhile, it won’t feel like a sacrifice to “settle down.” With the right person, you won’t worry about losing your independance, rather you will feel lucky that you have found a team-mate to help build a life.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.