Why you should date someone long enough before falling in love

Take time to know who you're dating before you decide who they are.

Dating isn’t always fun and it isn’t usually easy, especially when your goal is to find the right person. You’re not just out there for kicks. You’re on a mission. You want to find “the one.” You’re not messing around.

Which means you evaluate each date with intention, with an eye on the long term. And, if you’re being smart about it, you ask your date a lot of questions, because to make the right choice you need information.

But traditional dating constrains our ability to gather information well enough to make the right choices. Our dates are usually at restaurants or coffee shops, or maybe on walks. We aren’t seeing our dates in their natural environments, doing their usual things. We can only learn about them by asking questions, and when we do, we’re stuck relying on their self-reported data: information that your date is saying is true about them.

Self-reported data is not always super reliable – not in academic research and not on dates. People don’t often do what they say or say what they mean, even when they try to. People are also way more dynamic than they think they are (according to research, our preferences can change depending on the situations we’re in, who we’re around, or the emotional experiences we’re having).

People are also poor at self-assessment. One research study found that, for example, many who say they’re sociable in reality don’t talk much. Many who say they’re popular in their social group really aren’t that popular when you ask their social group. We don’t see ourselves too accurately a lot of the time, so even if your date is being totally honest with you, you can’t be sure that what they’re saying is the absolute truth. They can’t even be sure.

So how can you ever find the right person if you can’t rely on what they’re telling you? By taking the time to know the people you’re dating.

Too often we jump too quickly to a conclusion about people based on what they tell us in the first few minutes. We decide to believe them because it feels like the healthy thing to do, and they could be completely forthcoming – but none of this means we’re being fully well-informed. Solid information – the kind that leads to solid decisions – requires suspending judgment until you’ve gathered enough data. It requires patience as you gather that data. And it means keeping your heart in check as you learn about the other person, because if you let yourself fall too hard before you’re properly informed, you could get too attached to the wrong date, making it so much harder to pull away when you learn that you need to.

Love is exciting. Passion is a drug. I get why people fall fast and fall hard. But diving in for the fix comes with hefty risks, and if long-term partnership is what you’re after, those risks aren’t usually worth it.

So, slow down. Take your time. Gather information by observing, not just listening. In other words, gather observational data as well as self-reported data. Understand that even the most self-aware people are inconsistent, so open yourself up to the full picture. And then you’re your choice when you know enough.

Finding love shouldn’t be rushed. There’s no race. You’re looking to get it right over the long term. So do the work to make it count.