A lot can happen in three months. It’s enough time to get settled at a new job, train for a marathon (as an experienced runner, at least), or watch The Sopranos in its entirety. And according to the “three-month rule” of dating, it’s also enough time to get a true sense of a person you’re dating.
“Anyone can say they like you, that they wanna be with you,” says user @annnexmp in one of the most popular TikTok posts on the topic. “But…if they are still saying this, if they’re still feeling this, if they’re still trying after three months, that’s a really good sign.”
But can three months really be enough time to tell you what you need to know about a person? Or conversely, is it worth sticking out a lackluster relationship for three months for the sake of getting a fuller picture? We asked experts to explain their take on the three-month rule.
What is the 3-month rule of dating?
The three-month rule argues that within three months of dating someone, that person’s true personality and intentions come to light. As one sage wrote on Urban Dictionary, the three-month mark represents a potential turning point in relationships: “You have three months to figure out whether or not you see it going somewhere and if you fully want to be with her.”
Experts aren’t sure exactly where this idea came from. but it’s at least as old as a Frisky opinion piece that was republished by CNN in 2010. In her essay, author Ami Angelowicz argued that it takes “at least three months” before you can get excited or invested in the long-term potential of a relationship.
“Regardless of the amount of time [you’ve been dating], it is important to listen to your gut and make the decision that is best for you.” —Patrice Le Goy, PhD, LMFT
“The first three months of knowing someone is a time of illusions. Instead of seeing the person objectively, you see them for who you want them to be,” Angelowicz wrote at the time. “I think it takes about three months to strip away the layers and start to see this person for who they really are.”
“When we meet someone initially, they’re putting their best foot forward,” agrees Gabriela Reyes, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist and resident relationship expert for Match Group’s Chispa. “Keeping up with these pretenses, however, is very challenging and will eventually become unsustainable. As comfort settles into the relationship being built, the ‘real you’ comes to the surface, and that’s when we have a better idea of whether this relationship could work.”
The concept of the three-month rule has persisted since then; Google Trends data indicates that interest in the term has spiked in the past year and a half.
“The history of the three-month rule is unfortunately not something I’m familiar with—but it is not based in any clinical/psychological rooting,” says Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of Confidently Authentic.
Is the 3-month rule accurate?
Experts are split as to how useful the three-month rule is. Reyes, for one, is a fan. “I’ve been encouraging my clients in the dating world to follow something very similar to the ‘three month rule’ for years,” she says. She considers that span of time an appropriate “trial period” that enables you to find out how much effort another person would put into a relationship moving forward, and what they’re like when they’re angry, stressed, etc.
On the other hand, Mazzola Wood finds that the three month rule of dating is an oversimplification. There are cases where someone may hide their true behaviors or identity for a “much longer” period than three months, she says. “What comes to mind is an abusive narcissist who is love bombing,” she says. That person may still seem “perfect” three months in, when in fact they are just using manipulative tactics to hide their more harmful behavior.
The best time to have the “what are we” talk depends on individual circumstances, and won’t always occur right at the three-month mark, says Patrice Le Goy, PhD, LMFT. “For example, if you live near each other and see each other often, you may not need as much time for a ‘DTR’ discussion as you would if you are in a long distance relationship and do not spend as much time in person, going though your day-to-day lives together,” she says.
Is this a dating rule worth sticking to?
Whether or not three months is a valuable checkpoint is up for debate. Instead, the experts interviewed for this story agree that you should allow your non-negotiables (aka your main values and priorities in a relationship) to guide how you decide to progress with someone you’re dating, not an arbitrary marker of time.
“For example, let’s say a person wants to get married and this is a non-negotiable need,” says Mazzola Wood. “If they’re dating someone who otherwise seems perfect but doesn’t want to get married, it’s mentally healthy to end the relationship now, not question your needs or hope that the other person changes their mind. [The latter] is inappropriate.”
At the end of the day, your focus should be on whether the other person fits what you’re looking for, not just how they feel about you, emphasizes Dr. Le Goy.
“I think sometimes we can get stuck on the idea that someone is ‘good on paper’ or that they ‘check all the boxes,’ but that is not necessarily a good enough reason to decide to be in a relationship, even if everything has been fine for three months,” she says. “Regardless of the amount of time, it is important to listen to your gut and make the decision that is best for you.”
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