couple on an outdoor lunch date
Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

Falling in love is a magical experience. But for most people, it can also be complicated. One bad date after another can leave you feeling uncertain, unsteady, and wondering if you’ll ever meet someone who wants a long-term relationship. Though it may seem impossible, remember: finding a good match may take time, but it can (and does!) happen. To set yourself up for romantic success, take time to get to know your could-be partner, consider what your future together may be like, and don’t shy away from the scary "relationship talk." The truth is, there are no universal dating rules, and it’s more about your compatibility and shared goals. If you’re wondering how many dates equal exclusivity, take a step back and follow these tips from dating experts on how to make things official: 

Here's why it’s tough to know if you're becoming exclusive. 

Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., a Los Angeles-based psychologist, says it might be confusing to know when you’re in a romantic relationship or not because both of you are going at different paces determining how you each feel about the other. “When people who are looking for a significant other are going on dates, the first objective usually is to get to know each other to see if there is enough compatibility and chemistry to build a relationship from,” she continues. “It can take different amounts of time for each of the people to figure out if they are interested enough and feel ready to declare wanting to be in an exclusive relationship.”

For those eager to be in a long-term relationship and desire a significant other that can go the distance, it may feel stressful to have the same small talk with each could-be companion. After all, your date could be having fun, and your feelings could be growing. In this case, bringing up the relationship talk may be terrifying since you don’t want to scare this person away before they’ve had time to catch up to your emotional level. 

Another reason it may be challenging to know if you are heading exclusivity is because sometimes people confuse being compassionate and caring with romantic love, says Shaina Singh, LCSW-S, a licensed psychotherapist and dating coach. “Maybe for one person, they might be showing up with empathy and compassion, and the one on the receiving end of it might misconstrue it for romantic relationship love,” she continues. “Another instance of being confused is how a volatile attachment can feel like a relationship, especially if someone has attachment wounds from their own childhood that feel familiar.”

What's the number of dates that suggest an exclusive, serious relationship?

When you’re single, and there’s nothing you want more than a fulfilling romantic relationship, you would love to wave a magic wand and—boom!—meet your partner. And if there was a secret recipe, a trick or literally anything you could do to speed up the process, you would do it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, with all matters of the heart, including romantic relationships, there isn’t a specific number of dates that equate to exclusivity. 

Instead, Singh suggests thinking in terms of months rather than dates. By six months — or preferably before — you should know if you’re in a committed relationship. “Counting dates can be complicated because what if you go on one date per month and don't see the other person the rest of the time,” she continues. “Counting months and the measure of quality time together that leaves one feeling connected can be more of an indicator if you're in a relationship with one another.”

Here's how to tell if you are casually dating or heading toward a committed relationship.

You may feel those undeniable butterflies after the first date, but it takes a little longer to transform from casually dating to a committed relationship. We asked romantic relationship experts to discuss the key signs you are a good match and you are ready to take it to the next level. 

You feel secure. 

You matched on Tinder. Your first date quickly became your third date. You can’t deny you’re falling in love — and you want to be in a committed relationship. But while you feel happy and intoxicated with this person, how confident do you feel in your connection? Do you feel secure, especially when you talk about your future together? If so, Singh says this is an indicator of exclusivity, particularly if you feel at ease enough to make plans, without worrying if you will be together or not. “A sign of a romantic relationship is when each person considers one another in decisions they make and consider how it will impact the other person,” she continues. “And, when you're able to imagine the other person in notable life decisions and when you feel proud that they are someone who is a part of your life and you want to be with them often.”

You've spent a lot of time together. 

As we’ve mentioned before, generally speaking, there is no set number of dates before it’s a relationship. Instead, it is a matter of both people taking enough time to discern if there is enough compatibility and chemistry between them to make a relationship from, Dr. Thomas says. The keyword here? Time. It’s impossible to know if a potential partner can go the distance without getting to know each other in different ways. Dr. Thomas says you should explore all aspects of your life, including interests, hobbies, family backgrounds, relationship histories, careers, education, values, and what each person seeks in a significant other and for the future.  

You recognize red flags. 

We all have deal breakers in long-term relationships. For some, it could be having children; for others, it could be certain vices, like drinking and smoking. As you are getting acquainted with each other, Dr. Thomas, it is imperative to learn if any red flags would indicate it wouldn’t be wise to get into a committed relationship. Rather than forcing a connection to happen, it’s better to determine if you are on the same page, want the same things from your future together, and if you see an endless opportunity. 

You both want to go public.

After dating for a few months and falling in love, you probably have little interest in loading up your Tinder profile and swiping for another good match. When you and your could-be partner want to take down your dating app accounts, you’re likely close to exclusivity. Also, Dr. Thomas says if you are publicly posting on social media photos or comments about your romantic relationship, it may suggest a commitment, too. 

You're ready to have the relationship talk.

One of the most obvious ways to tell if you are heading toward becoming exclusive is feeling like you’re ready to have the relationship talk. Though terrifying to be vulnerable, it's a great sign if you feel strong enough in your connection even to consider a discussion. As Dr. Thomas says, chances are likely high they feel the same way if you’ve been spending a significant amount of time together, you get along well, and you seem to be heading toward the same destination. “If you both have discussed the idea of seeing each other exclusively and have agreed to do this, then you both are now officially in a relationship with each other and are ‘off the market,’” she says. “Following this new relationship status as a couple, you both can continue to find out how well-suited for each other the two of you are or not to see if there is quality longevity in this relationship.”