A Totally Arbitrary Relationship Timeline: From the first date to the end of the first year

I love rules. Where there’s a rule there’s significantly less chance you’ll humiliate yourself when your expectations don’t line up with reality—that’s what I always say. I know it’s not catchy. The one time I tried to sell mugs, I had to truncate it to “Where there’s a rule there’s sig—” and no one knew what I was talking about but my mother bought 12 because she’s very supportive, which explains why I have two liberal arts degrees.

With rules, even if you choose to break one, at least you’re deviating from something concrete, plus you’re a rebellious rule-breaker rather than some clueless neurotic whose friends have started making excuses not to talk to you because they cannot spend one more second analyzing what your new girlfriend meant when she said, “I prefer french dressing to thousand island.” (You: “It’s such an obvious statement, right? So why bother making it? Maybe, she’s really saying she wants to stop seeing me. It makes sense, right? Because one time she said I really seemed to intuitively understand her, so maybe this is a test and—” Your friend: “Look, this is really fun and everything, but I need to go hang out with Michelle Bachman.”)

So for all of you desperate for rules to smooth the road to relationship bliss, I offer this Totally Arbitrary Relationship Timeline. Let’s all just agree to follow it, because seriously, I’m hypothyroid from stress.

First Date: If you like her, you kiss. Minor tongue.

Two Hours After First Date: Whichever one of you a frat boy would point at and say, “She’s the man, right?” texts the other to say she had a good time.

Female couple kissing, standing in front of white background

Second Date: Sex is fine here. It doesn’t mean you’re just a one night stand. There is cuddling, but no one spends the night and no one worries about why no one spent the night. See, this is great, right?

Third Date: If one person has been paying, the other person pays. You’re not yet allowed to sleep over, but you should make sure you both agree on at least one of the following: 1. Jodie Foster’s neck looks old which makes her a brave holdout in Hollywood. 2. Gluten is the devil’s plaything. 3. Swearing to campaign for a pro-marriage equality candidate or volunteer at a soup kitchen is the same thing as actually doing it.

Fourth Date: You can stay over. You can even go to brunch. If you are a cat person, be honest about it. (By “cat person,” I literally mean part cat.) If one of you is not out, this must be disclosed now. If one of you is a Republican, this must be disclosed now. If one of you uses a unicycle as her main form of transportation, this must be disclosed now.


End of Month One: At this point, you need to reveal the kink it will least freak you out to reveal. In other words, if you must to peal a banana before sex and also you’d really like to be slapped with an Am Ex Black Card while listening to “My Heart Will Go On,” reveal the banana thing. Unless she already knows your shit because you met through a kink community, you know, like CareerBuilder.com.

End of Month Two: By now both of you will need to have friended each other on Facebook, gone grocery shopping together at least once (a midnight Liz Lemon Greek Froyo run doesn’t count), purchased new sex toys and made reference to some future, nebulous plan. Example: “For halloween, we should tots dress up as Marty McFly and Doc from Back to the Future,” or “My mom makes a mean pot roast. You’ll have to try it sometime.” Drug addicts and alcoholics, reveal yourselves.


(Note: If either of you have had a birthday prior to this, verbal felicitations only. No gifts.)

End of Month Three: If you are the monogamous types, you’ve now decided not to see other people. If you’re poly, you’ve established rules. When one of you texts, the other MUST reply within three hours. Hang out at least once without having sex. If one of you is a performer, the other must attend one of your events. If she has a favorite book, you have one week from now to read it. Unless it’s Remembrance of Things Past, in which case you have three years.

End of Month Four: You have mutually introduced friends and also mutually masturbated. If one of you has a birthday, a small, useful gift is required. We’re talking travel thermos, not diamond studs. You are now free to text other people when you’re spending time with your significant other. (Prior to this, texting while on a date was allowed only in the case of family illness or lost cats.) Rides to the airport and train station are mandatory. You must have at least seven inside jokes, three of which CANNOT involve sex.


(Note: Between months one and four if either one of you gets a cold, you cannot reasonably assume the other will drop off soup.)

End of Month Five: By now, expect to have spent at least 72 hours straight together. If you haven’t had a fight yet, start one, preferably at Ikea. If you do not live within 50 miles of Ikea it’s fine to fight while eating Swedish meatballs, just try to make sure you’re seated at a table which required assembly. Close-mouthed burps are now acceptable.

At Five and a Half Months: You are each required to supply the other with a drawer or shelf at your apartment. If one of you is dairy free, drinks a certain type of organic coffee or huffs a specific color of spray paint, the other must have it on hand. You may also include emojis in your texts without apology.

End of Month Six: If one of you has a cold, a care package is required. If one of you has the stomach flu, it’s fine to leave the care package outside the door. If one of you has kids, you have introduced them to your significant other. If one of you has ferrets, good luck with that.


End of Month Seven: By now you should have discussed future life, relationship, family and career goals. Also, if you or she is still talking about The L Word, please do not include me in your social circles. If you have not yet been on a road trip, plan one. At this point you may fart within the same city block as your partner. But soundlessly.

End of Month Eight: Got a birthday? A small piece of jewelry is acceptable. No rings. Allow your friends to like each other’s status updates, but only one time out of three. If one of you is a performer, attendance at all events is mandatory. Although discouraged, pet names are now acceptable.

End of Month Nine: Deliver your baby. Just kidding. Unless your baby is Chinese food. But seriously. Exchange keys. Unless it’s understood that you are both way into your privacy, in which case, exchange flannel shirts.


End of Month Ten: You must meet each other’s parents unless 1. They are dead 2. You are dead 3. They don’t know you’re queer. Remember that kink you were scared to disclose? Now’s the time.

At Ten and a Half Months: If one of you is a performer, it is no longer necessary for the other to attend your events.

End of Month Eleven: Admit you use the bathroom.

End of Month Twelve: You may CONSIDER moving in together—for another three months at which point you may submit a query letter, writing sample, blood sample, credit score, and a pound and a half of licorice all sorts to my PO Box. Your requests will be processed in the order they are received. And you’re still not allowed to change your relationship status on Facebook. My rules, people. My rules.