Going from meeting to dating to being in a relationship is a game of emotional Frogger under even the most ideal circumstances, and I’m pretty sure the only people who experience “ideal circumstances” are women in yogurt commercials. I don’t eat yogurt, so I’m screwed. But so are all of us.

Successfully turning a Tinder date or random party run-in into someone you see regularly is hard enough; inevitably, one of you realizes the other either likes Donald Trump or doesn’t like Broad City and is forced to ghost out of the situation instead of trying to explain why the call to Make America Great Again is super problematic. The good news is that once you get past that stage, things only get harder.

They get harder for a reason, of course. Successfully completing the first transition means that you’re staring down the second one, where the stakes are higher, but so is the potential reward. If you successfully run the Feelings Gauntlet that is the run-up to a full-blown relationship, you’re (theoretically) met with love, support and the possibility of eventually splitting rent on a one-bedroom apartment in a neighborhood with better restaurants than the one you currently live in. That ain’t nothing to fuck with, especially once you’ve lived with the possibility for several weeks or months, and start getting used to the idea.

In the past few weeks, one of my best friends and I have both found ourselves in situations that are barrelling toward the dating-to-relationship transition. Now that we’ve both successfully navigated the treacherous Valentine’s Day period (which is way trickier and potentially more explosive for the newly dating than the newly single, by the way), what’s left in front of us are all the little tests that help you go from spending one night per week with someone to spending three.

Everyone’s vetting processes vary a bit, but there are some common themes. How a man treats your friends is always important, but it’s even more important for transplants in a city like New York, where so many of us have come from hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away and meeting our parents is only a possibility for people we’d consider marrying. Mom and Dad might not know that the man I’m dating exists yet, but Chloe and Nora will clear a night to meet him and evaluate his merits, just as I will do for them, and just as I assume my potential boyfriend’s social circle will eventually do for him. (If they don’t, he has bad friends, and that’s a whole different little test.)

Beyond the approval of the people I love and trust, the rest of the criteria are more subtle. Chloe, who is also my aforementioned pre-relationship compatriot, wants to know what it’s like to shop for and cook a meal with the man she’s dating. One of the biggest tests for me is seeing how it feels to spend a day with a man after going on a date with him the night before, instead of fleeing in time to have brunch with people I know I already like. The man I’m dating passed that test last weekend, so now it’s time to see if he reads the book I recommended and loaned to him the first time he visited my apartment.

Alone, all of those are mundane things that wouldn’t necessarily preclude someone from being a good partner, but taken together, we’re all trying to get a peek at how much care another person will take with us if they become a part of our everyday lives. When you’re trying to make big decisions based on limited information, little things can be reveal a lot about how much a new partner respects you, as well as the skills and difficulties that person has with relationships in general. Riding the subway or cooking breakfast with a man is an effort to watch the movie trailer for your potential relationship with him; ultimately, though, there’s no way to know everything until you’ve bought the tickets and the house lights have gone down.

Illustration by Emily Griffin

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