If you are wondering if your relationship is the real deal, it can be tough to tell when the relationship is moving too slowly, or if it’s something more surface-level that’ll soon fizzle out. In this situation, a couple might take forever to make things “official,” or put off talking about the future — and it can lead to worry about whether or not things’ll work out. But since there are actually quite a few differences between a slow relationship and one that’s surface-level, it’s important not to jump to conclusions.
First of all, keep in mind that slow doesn’t always equal bad. “Some people move slowly because they want to take more time to get to know a new partner and that can work in their favor,” Dr. Jess O’Reilly, Astroglide’s resident sexologist, tells Bustle. “It helps them to feel more emotionally safe in the relationship and this is a good foundation for a relationship that will stand the test of time.” So, just because it’s been a year and they haven’t talked about moving in together, it doesn’t mean a couple is doomed.
There is no right or wrong when it comes to the speed of a relationship, and how quickly it progresses forward. “You need to trust your instincts, as you’re the expert in your own experience,” Dr. O’Reilly says. But, when it comes to slow versus surface-level relationships, it never hurts to be able to tell the difference. Here are a few differences experts point to, when it comes to figuring it all out.
1-There’s Lots Of Communication
Even if a relationship is moving slowly, if there’s plenty of open communication, it’s unlikely to be one that’s merely surface-level. “Relationships that move slowly and are healthy usually involve a lot of communication about the desire to not rush things,” Jonathan Bennett, certified counselor and co-founder of Double Trust Dating and Relationships, tells Bustle. A couple might discuss taking things slow, casually dating for awhile, getting to know each other, etc. — and they’ll be perfectly happy to articulate that.
When it comes to surface-level relationships, these “usually involve very little communication about difficult topics like the future of the relationship,” he says. “Both sides might assume it’s going somewhere, but it’s never really articulated.” That’s usually either due to the fact one person isn’t looking for something long-term, or they’re simply afraid to talk about their feelings. Asking each other is the only way to find out.
2-There’s Obvious Forward Momentum
Most surface-level relationships are full of fun and excitement, but it’s usually the type of excitement that fizzles out once the honeymoon phase is over. A couple might be super into each other for a few months, only to realize that they don’t have anything to sustain them once the initial spark fades.
“Finding time to squeeze a date feels like a chore,” Amica Graber, a relationship blogger for TruthFinder, tells Bustle. “Maybe you have nothing to talk about, and the time together feels stale.” This happens because a couple was only in it for the fling, and not so much for anything long-term.
If it is going to work out, however, that spark won’t be as quick to fade. It may not burn as brightly as it did during the honeymoon phase of the relationship, but the couple will still be happy to be near each other, and will feel excited about building a future.
3-There Are Feelings Of Selflessness
There’s nothing wrong with surface-level relationships, flings, or one night stands. Not every relationship has to go deep, and become official. But being able to tell the difference between something fleeting and something long-lasting sure can come in handy — especially once the partners begin to feel invested.
When a couple is getting serious, they might notice that they feel selfless, and like they want to put their partner first. As Bennett says, “Healthy relationships involve meeting needs … but move beyond that towards interdependence and even sacrifice for the greater good of the relationship.”
4-It Begins To Feel Official, Even When It Technically Isn’t
Even if a relationship is moving slowly, the couple will likely be “clear on the purpose and direction of the relationship,” Lisa Concepcion, Certified Professional Dating & Relationship Transformation Expert and founder of LoveQuest Coaching™, tells Bustle. “You’re both enjoying the present while building forward momentum.”
Usually, this includes a heart-to-heart where both people make it clear that they’re exclusive, and want to be together. They might decide to take it slow at first, in order to make sure they’re both happy. But they’ll do so knowing that things are pretty darn near official, and likely to stay that way.
5-There’s Talk About Future Goals & Plans
Even when a couple hasn’t officially committed to each other, if they’re both on board to be together long-term, they will start to talk about their goals and plans for the future.
As Dr. O’Reilly says, they might begin “making plans for the future (e.g. the summer season).” They might also talk about where they see themselves in five years; all things that just bubble out naturally because they’re so excited to be with each other.
Even without an official talk about the future, conversations like these can be a major indicator that the couple is way more than surface-level.
6-Friends & Family Are In The Picture
As Dr. O’Reilly says, “Research suggests that your friends affect how long your relationship lasts — they may be able to weigh in on compatibility and one study found that their disapproval of a partner is positively correlated with the likelihood of your breaking up.”
In other words, we care about what our friends and family think about our partners. Having everyone mix and mingle is kind of a big deal, which is why these things won’t happen if the relationship is surface-level.
7-Both Partners Are Happy With The Pace Of The Relationship
When a relationship is surface-level, generally one partner will be all-in, while the other sits around giving off way-less-serious vibes. So if someone is left guessing about their partner’s commitment level, there’s a good chance it’s just a fling.
When a relationship is going to stick, however, it’s far more likely that both partners have talked about the future, agreed “on the pace of the relationship and [are] committed to it,” Susan Trombetti, of Exclusive Matchmaking, tells Bustle. “Maybe one of you had a serious break up before and just wants to take it slow.” But either way, “you both care and are serious about each other.”
8-There’s An Obvious Reason Why Things Are Moving Slowly
Sometimes, relationships move slowly for very obvious reasons. As Trombetti says, you might not be “walking down the aisle anytime soon due to … commitments, such as a job or finishing your education.”
When a relationship isn’t going anywhere, however, it might move slowly without such a legitimate reason. “If you have been dating forever but feel the need to give an ultimatum, this [relationship] isn’t going anywhere you want to go anytime soon,” she says.
9-There’s A High Level Of Comfort
Everyone’s different when it comes to letting their guard down around new partners. But typically, a deeper level of comfort — where someone feels relaxed, and like they can truly be themselves — is reserved for meaningful, long-term relationships. As speaker and success coach Darlene Corbett asks, “Is there a comfort level unfolding with the partner?” If so, it could mean that it’s heading somewhere long-term.
Of course, every relationship is unique. So for someone wondering about their future with their partner, the best thing they can do is ask. Is this the real deal? Do they envision something long-term? Everyone can look for hints and clues, but having a heart-to-heart is the only way to truly know for sure