What Is the 'Talking Stage,' Really?

While the concept may not be all that new, these days, the "talking stage" takes casual dating and the hookup culture to a whole new level.

Two hands holding phones with speech bubbles and hearts
Photo: Getty Images

If You've Got Mail taught viewers anything, it's that there's something wildly exciting about hearing a little alert from your device indicating that a potential love interest messaged you. And this is especially the case in those early, getting-to-know-each-other days of dating. But what happens if those days turn into months that turn into even more months and you're still just communicating with someone virtually without any idea of whether it'll turn into something more?

This, dear readers, is what many consider the "talking stage," a phase of a potential relationship that's largely characterized by, as the name implies, talking. But is that any different than the early days of dating someone new? Or does this initial dating phase just have a catchy name now? Learn more about what the (modern) talking stage is all about and what impact it has on your relationship.

What Is the Talking Stage?

The talking stage is the stage in the dating(ish) process during which there's talking — and lots of it. In true 21st-century form, a good chunk of the chit-chat happens via text messages; some of which are lengthy and, in turn, allow the people involved to get to know one another, while others are short and just a means to keep the communication going (think: "Almost Friday!").

That being said, the talking stage doesn't consist solely of texting. It can involve occasionally going out for dinner or drinks, spending time together, having sex, sleeping over, and maybe even getting to know someone's roommates — all of which are often considered key components of dating. Right? Right...except for the fact that the talking stage doesn't necessarily mean you're dating. You can just be, yup, talking — no labels as to the type of relationship that's going on or where it might go.

To some, the talking stage can be considered a form of a situationship (a label-less relationship); others, however, might see it as a step before a situationship because, again, there's no solid commitment of a potential relationship.

Plenty of other modern dating phrases have seemingly transcended generations (e.g. my boomer mom recently told me her friend was being "ghosted") and the same is true of the talking stage. After all, the concept isn't all that novel. Just take it from TikTok superstar Christina Najjar or, as you likely know her, Tinx: "I'm not saying that the talking phase is a new thing," she says in a video from earlier this year. "But I do think that it predominantly affects younger people like Gen Z when they're dating."

The talking stage "basically puts, especially young women, in purgatory," explains Tinx in her post. That's because it frequently involves chatting with someone for quite literally months without a clear end in sight or the chance to evolve into something more. Nevermind the fact that it can make some folks feel a deep connection to someone they've never met and may not even ever meet, but the "addiction" to talk to that person is there because of the "false sense of closeness" that's created, the influencer explains in her video. (

So, the gist of the talking stage is that it can be confusing, frustrating, and void of any labels — which can be great if you don't want commitment, but for those who are looking for something — anything other than just hanging out and chatting it up on the phone all night — it can be pretty bleak.

Advantages of the Talking Stage

At this point, you might be wondering, "um, are there any benefits to the talking stage?" The answer is yes, but without attention to your feelings and solid boundaries in place, it has the ability to become, as Tinx puts it in the aforementioned clip, "toxic" fast.

"One of the benefits [of the talking stage] is that this phase allows an individual to assess a potential partner to determine if they're compatible," says Shawnessa Devonish, L.C.P.C., N.C.C., a licensed clinical professional counselor. In this way, as Devonish explains, no one's time is being wasted. You're getting to know each other, as people do early on in dating — except, again, you're not dating, per se. (You may also be wondering what is does 'oystering' mean when it comes to dating?)

"Also, the talking stage is the perfect situation for an individual with an avoidant attachment style," says Devonish. "These individuals feel a sense of safety by maintaining distance with others and not committing to intimate companionship. Yes, they have a natural need for connection and closeness like we all do, but for them, too much intimacy is a huge turn-off since they pride themselves on independence to protect themselves from getting hurt." For these people, the talking stage might be seen as a good thing because it gives them exactly what they need: intimacy and distance, connection without commitment. (See also: What Does It Mean to Be Emotionally Unavailable?)

As any relationship expert will tell you, no matter what sort of relationship you're in, communication is paramount. Talking, chatting, or Zoom-ing are all ways in which people can communicate in the modern era of dating, so the talking stage does serve a purpose and a positive purpose, albeit in different ways, for some people.

Disadvantages of the Talking Stage

The whole reason for getting to know someone, at least in your parents' and grandparents' era, was to fall in love and have a life-long partner. But the talking stage takes those hopes and expectations out of the equation — especially if there's more talking than evolving. (

"The talking stage can be harmful if you are not genuine and/or honest with yourself and the person involved about your intentions," says Devonish. "During this phase, someone may continue to carry on a façade that they are satisfied with only 'just talking' when in fact their desire is to have the whole package." And in doing so, they might sacrifice their authentic desires, which, in turn, can potentially affect your self-worth and future relationships.

"The talking stage can produce some very harmful consequences for an individual with an anxious attachment style," says Devonish. "This is a person who is hypersensitive to rejection and/or betrayal due to their past abandonment trauma(s). Because of this, they will do anything in their power to maintain any level of connection with an individual, including sacrificing their needs for an unhealthy person to remain in their lives…they become too preoccupied with the 'arrangement,' which triggers them to experience increased anxiety that impacts their daily functioning, as well as paranoia due to the fear that someone will leave them."

How to Get Through the Talking Stage In a Healthy Way

Don't shy away from difficult (but necessary) conversations.

Look, no one is super excited about having a mature conversation about relationships, especially if it involves putting your heart on the table. It's a risk, and risky stuff is scary. But it's essential for your mental health and your decision-making process, according to Devonish. It's also important if you're the one who's more into the talking stage than the other person.

"It is important for both parties to be honest with each other about the terms and conditions as well as the duration of their arrangement so that things will not get misinterpreted," says Devonish. "This also can eliminate the risk of you preying on someone's vulnerability and unintentionally emotionally harming them." No one deserves to be strung along, which you may be unintentionally doing during the talking stage. (

The best time to have these somewhat awkward and difficult situations is early on — not so early that you profess you're looking for a relationship with someone you've just started chatting up — but once you get a feeling about them. While the talking stage is a good opportunity to weed out people who aren't a match for you, as Devonish explains, it's also not a stage that's meant to last if both or even one party wants more. So when you start feeling like you want to take this to the next level, say something. Sure, you may not get the answer you want, but you'll at least free yourself from the talking stage and move on to the next potential partner.

Set boundaries and stick to them.

All relationships — friendships, familial, romantic — need boundaries, period.

"Become self-aware of what you will accept in these dating situations by being truly honest with yourself about your desires," says Devonish. "Be intentional about writing them down and reviewing them regularly so that you will not risk sacrificing [anything] by starting to settle for less from someone."

When you start talking to someone new, there should be a little alarm in your brain that goes off, reminding you that it's time to recall your boundaries and adhere to them.

While being able to stick to your set boundaries may not be the easiest thing to do, especially if you catch a case of the feels, a list that you turn to regularly may not be enough. Instead, consider amending your boundaries for the situation, but not totally dismissing them. Sure, you may find yourself smitten, so you may want to add a caveat to a boundary or two, but keep in mind that when you let someone step over a boundary you've created for yourself, you lose agency — and down the rabbit hole of loving and wanting someone unattainable, you might go.

Engage with your support circle.

Your loved ones can also provide you with companionship. "Work on utilizing these connections regularly and developing a newfound appreciation for them so that you will not feel tempted to sacrifice your needs to obtain temporary satisfaction by an inconsistent person," suggests Devonish.

Love comes in all forms and doesn't necessarily have to be romantic or sexual in nature to be satisfying. You can get a lot more from your friends than from someone who wants to drag out the talking stage for months on end. Also, your friends and family have a clearer outlook on situations you may find yourself in when it comes to the talking stage. They know you better than most and, as such, can help you navigate the potentially treacherous waters of the talking stage in ways you might've been unable to see as the person stuck in this stage. Listen to them and take their advice and input to heart.

Bottom Line

Navigating dating in the current climate isn't easy. But remember the talking stage takes at least two people. Meaning, you very much have a say in how this period plays out. If you find yourself composing and sharing lengthy texts with someone and it's not going in the desired direction, then speak up. Getting stuck in a toxic pattern can follow you around like a curse; a curse you won't be able to shake until you make your expectations clear. And no one can do that except you — and maybe with your spoken words and not via text.

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