Love's Clock: When to Move to the Next Level in Love

Love's Clock
ESSENCE.COM Jun, 03, 2009

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Itching for your man to propose after the two-year mark? Wonder when the new guy should meet your kids or when it’s right to spend the night? Relationships therapist Tonya Ladipo weighs in on the perfect times to take your relationship to the next level.

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Good girls are raised not to kiss on the first date, but is there really a perfect time to go in for the smooch?

The Expert Says: “Whenever you feel ready, a kiss is a kiss, nothing more.”

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Busted the windows out your old boyfriend’s car? Had your tubes tied? It’s no fun revealing personal things that could change your new guy’s opinion of you, but they do need to come to light.

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We’ve all felt those tingling feelings to get intimate with your special guy, which can be harder to resist when you really like him. But laying down can mean getting up with more than you bargained for.

The Expert Says: “Before spending the night, you should be comfortable enough to ask them about their sexual history, including number of partners, STD status and what sex means to you. If this is early on, are you emotionally prepared to handle what happens if this does not turn into a serious relationship?”

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The days of “Will you be my girlfriend? Check yes” are long gone, and deciding to be in a monogamous relationship takes an adult conversation.

The Expert Says: “This depends on your dating style. Some date exclusively from the beginning and others like to date several people at a time. Either way, be honest with the other person!”

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Getting to know your inner circle allows other people see deeper into your personality and learn how you spend your free time. If you haven’t made up your mind on where you want things to go, introducing the new guy to the people who know you best may cloud your thoughts with their opinions—or make things crystal clear.

The Expert Says: “This is up to you. It may be the first date at a friend’s BBQ or after you’ve been together for several months.”

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You’ve told your man about the other loves of your life, your children, but you’re not sure when the two should meet. Though every date won’t make it home, Steve Harvey advises not waiting too long for your man to meet the kids so he sees you as a mom. Also, younger children are more impressionable and may become attached sooner.

The Expert Says: “There is no need for your kids to meet all of your “friends.” Introduce your boo only when you see a future with this person.”

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Presenting your best self is part of the fun of a new relationship. But after bonding with your beau you’re ready to wrap your hair at night and inevitably will have to go #2 with your boo nearby. Take a deep breath and remember the more comfortable you are being your true self, the deeper your connection is to the person.

The Expert Says: “If you’re at the point were you’re sleeping over, then let your hair down!”

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You’re itching to use a few vacation days and airline miles. But you’re unsure if you’re ready to travel with that cutie you met at the gym. Don’t be afraid to travel solo, but if you do decide to live on the edge and invite ol’ boy, be safe and give your close friends and/or family a copy of your itinerary.

The Expert Says: “First make sure that you can be in close quarters. Have you been sleeping over for the past three months? If so, go for it! Otherwise consider separate rooms on vacation so you both will have places to retreat to. Also, start small and take a three-day vacation first.”

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It is perfectly normal to want to show off your beau to coworkers and colleagues. Just make sure your boo doesn’t show up in a do-rag and pants sagging off his rear.

The Expert Says: “If you work in corporate America only bring someone if it is a serious relationship. You don’t want the office gossip to be about your many suitors.”

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Introducing your significant other to mom and dad can indeed be stressful. Hopefully your parents are open minded and will (eventually) like your dude as much as you do. But ultimately, it is your life, not theirs.

The Expert Says: “Just like with your kids, wait until it is serious.”

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Giving your man the key to your place (or accepting his) is a big step in most relationships. Make sure you discuss budgets, credit history, insurance and overall expectations before making the step to share your abode with anyone.

The Expert Says: “If you are sleeping over at each other’s places for several months, then exchange keys. However, consider waiting one year before moving in together.”

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Accepting an engagement proposal and jumping the broom are obviously huge commitments not be to taken lightly. Many successful marriages start after just six months of dating; others crumble after a decade of courting. Communication is key here.

The Expert Says: “Wait one year before getting engaged. It is important to go through each season and holiday celebration at least once before making a permanent commitment. Also, get pre-marital counseling before tying the knot. This will address any relationship issues, large and small, prior to marrying.”

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Let’s face it, many children are not planned. But, once they arrive, they will ideally be in your life forever. Try to make sure your partner will be too.

The Expert Says: “Give yourself several years to know and enjoy your partner without the added responsibilities of children. Then ask yourself, ‘Do you share the same values with your partner?’ ‘Do you agree on ways to raise children?’ ‘Do you have a plan to pay for the additional expenses of children?’ Are you ready for this person to be in your life forever?” When you answer “yes” to these questions, then you are ready.”

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Ultimately, not even the best relationship experts can give you a completely accurate timetable for your love life. Follow your heart and God-given wisdom and you should be just fine. Expect to stumble here and there but always learn from your mistakes.

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The Expert Says: “Whenever you feel ready, a kiss is a kiss, nothing more.”

Find out how women are dating at every age »