At this point in your dating life, you assume that most people you meet on apps or in the real world have probably been through the wringer as much as you have. You both have plenty of relationship experience under your belts, which should theoretically mean you’re on the same page about the big stuff. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. So, how do you go about dating someone who’s never been in a relationship? It may pose some unique challenges, but it can work.
Challenges when dating someone who’s never been in a relationship
- They may not realize they need to put in effort. Relationships take work. It doesn’t matter how in tune you and your partner are or how compatible. In order to keep things healthy and thriving, you have to put in effort. Someone who’s never been in a relationship may not understand that — at least not the reality of it. Try to be patient with them, to a degree.
- They might struggle with proper communication. When you’ve never had to work through issues in a relationship or explain yourself and your feelings to someone else, you’re likely going to struggle to do it. When you’re dating someone who’s never been in a relationship, it might take them a while to get into the habit of healthy communication. Practicing this with them regularly is the best way for them to learn.
- Their expectations might differ from yours. You’ve been around the relationship block many times now, but they haven’t. Because of this, you might have different expectations. You’re done dating for fun and you’re looking for a life partner. Maybe they’re not. If you’re their first relationship, they may not be thinking long-term. That can present some serious issues.
- They could do things perceived as more selfish. If you’ve never had to consider how your words and actions affect someone else, making that shift can be tough. It’s not that they don’t care about your feelings or desires, it’s just that they’re not used to considering anyone’s needs but their own.
- They might get cold feet or be more hesitant about commitment. They really like you and are enjoying getting to know you. However, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily ready to put a label on things. If they haven’t been in a relationship before, they may want to keep dating casually for longer than you’d hope.
- They may have trouble establishing or respecting boundaries. When you’ve never been coupled up with someone, knowing how to navigate one another’s boundaries is pretty impossible. They may unintentionally (or intentionally) push or cross your boundaries. They may also fail to recognize the importance of setting their own. This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker so long as it’s dealt with early on.
How to ensure your relationship is as seamless as possible
- Be honest and straightforward about your expectations. Just because they may not have relationship experience doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hold them to certain standards. “Make sure you’re both on the same page regarding your commitment level, communication style, and other essential relationship aspects,” licensed marriage and family therapist Kalley Hartman, LMFT, tells Bolde. “This will help create a healthy environment and ensure that both of you are comfortable expressing yourselves. Doing this will also prevent possible resentments from both sides since you’ve agreed on what to expect going into the relationship.”#
- Hear them out and make sure their needs are met. They may not necessarily know what their needs are immediately, so it may be a work in progress. Nevertheless, listen to them and be sure to communicate to ensure they’re feeling good about how things are going.
- Be patient and allow for trial and error. Because you’re dating someone who’s never been in a relationship before, there are bound to be some hiccups. Try to be understanding. “Dating is a learning process; it can take some time for both parties to figure out what works best in their relationship,” Hartman advises. “Being willing to make mistakes, learn from them, and try again will help you build a strong foundation of trust and understanding.”
- Appreciate the little things they do. When dating someone who’s never been in a relationship before, it’s important that you don’t just point out the bad. Instead, focus on the good. If they do something that makes you feel loved and appreciated or that shows growth in the relationship, tell them. Encourage them to keep doing more of the same. No one likes feeling that they’re being taken for granted, so assure this doesn’t happen.
- Lead by example. You have to treat people the way you want to be treated in all walks of life. This is especially true in romantic relationships. If there are things you’d like the person you’re dating to do or ways you’d like them to go about things, put it into action yourself. They may pick up on what you’re putting down and start following suit.
- Don’t be condescending. Yes, you have more relationship experience than them, but that’s no reason or excuse to be cocky or condescending. Don’t belittle them for their lack of experience, and don’t treat them as if they’re emotionally unintelligent or lack basic skills just because they haven’t had a girlfriend or boyfriend before. It’s rude, untrue, and just makes you look like a jerk.
- Recognize that it’s not a competition. Licensed clinical social worker Steph Tuazon tells Bolde: “If one person has ‘done more,’ it doesn’t mean the other one is ‘behind.’ It’s not a competition or a race. Something I see happen in these partnerships is a default to ‘oh, well it’s because they just don’t know how this works.’ When we start to bring in this comparison, we’re emphasizing a type of standard or normalcy in relationships that doesn’t have to be true. A lot of the ideas we have of what a relationship is supposed to be is supported by examples in our lives or through the media. More often than not, it’s a very stereotypical cishet standard of relationship, this idea that someone should ‘just know’ and be able to predict how to be romantic or sway someone.”
Dating someone who’s never been in a relationship before can be challenging, without a doubt. It will require patience, understanding, and communication – even more so than normal. However, if you’re truly compatible and want the same things, there’s no reason it can’t work out.