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Wellness > Sex + Relationships

Help! I’m in the Talking Stage.

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Vanderbilt chapter.

For the first time in my life, since romance was put on my radar, I find myself content being single. Sure, I refer to every guy who so much as looks in my direction as my future husband, but I really do like my independence. I’m alone, but not lonely.

I never thought this day would come to be honest—I’m a girlfriend girl. I’m such a girlfriend girl that I re-read Kiera Cass’s The Selection every six months and cry every time I watch The Notebook. But here I am, studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, making lifelong friends, and finding myself truly happy being single. 

But you know what they say: You find love when you stop looking for it.

In my case, “love” is a bit drastic. I’m in the talking stage—we’re walking back from class together, not down an aisle. But admittedly, there’s this guy I have a wee bit of a crush on. I promised my suitemate, Sophie, that I wouldn’t catch feelings for him, and then one morning she caught me giggling at his texts. He called me beautiful and I choked on my water. There’s a line between playful flirting and waiting for his reply, and I’ve crossed it.

Before I go any further though, let me start by addressing the elephant in the room, because I can hear your thoughts from the other side of the world. Bold of me to post this on the internet before we’ve made any serious commitment to each other, right? What if he reads this? What if I scare him off? Well, think of it this way: If he can’t handle being the subject of my Her Campus articles, he isn’t the boy for me. You think Travis Kelce started dating Taylor Swift and thought, “I’ll be the one she doesn’t write a song about”? No, because that would be outrageous. Love me or hate me, this is who I am. 

That’s the worst part of the talking stage though, isn’t it? The insurmountable fear that, as they get to know you, they’ll learn something that’ll make them lose feelings for you. You know what? Fuck it. Why don’t I just air out all my red flags right now? If he still has a crush on me after reading this then we’ll figure out where to go from there.

I live in Arkansas. Should I just end the paragraph now? I also tend to interpret medical care as if it’s a suggestion and have been known to “take matters into my own hands.” I may or may not have cut two warts off my right hand with kitchen scissors a week before flying to Australia. If A Quiet Place were real I would just scream as loud as I could; I have whatever the opposite of a survival instinct is. I have a finsta that is a mixture of a shrine and a meme account of me and my friends. I spend more time curating those posts than complaining when it’s any temperature below sixty degrees, and I do that a lot. I have simply atrocious taste in music. Up until my junior year of high school, my most listened to playlist was a collection of Disney songs. My Spotify is still recovering. I hate wearing sunscreen, even though I’m so white I glow under a black light. I know every word to Jake Paul’s It’s Everyday Bro. I’ve never tried seafood and never will try seafood, but will assure everyone that I don’t like seafood. And I start listening to Christmas music in October. In the grand scheme of red flags, I know I could be worse, but I’m still not sure I’m worthy of being let off the hook.

The talking stage isn’t just when we hide our red flags, it’s also when we fake our green flags. You know what I’m talking about—when we all become pathological liars. Or maybe that’s not the right wording. Let’s go with personality chameleons. The person you have a crush on likes country music and all of a sudden your top artists are Tyler Childers and Zach Bryan. You’re a Gilmore Girls, Harry Potter, Outer Banks girly watching Get Out because he likes horror movies. You’re actually paying attention to the score of a Patriots game, even though you couldn’t possibly care less about football because he said Tom Brady is his man crush (Update: I have been informed that Tom Brady has, indeed, retired. That one’s on me). Don’t judge. I know you’ve done it too.

There’s just so much pressure to be perfect in the talking stage, especially when it comes to looks. It’s a nightmare. I saw this Pinterest post a while back that said, “If you can’t handle me at my Te Kā, then you don’t deserve me at my Te Fiti”—a reference to the goddess in Disney’s Moana that’s both a lush, life-giving island and a fiery, volcano monster. I relate heavily. I have curly hair, and some days it makes me look like a Barbie princess, and other days I look like the misunderstood witch in a children’s movie that was neglected as a child.

Side by side of the two version of my curly hair - pretty and crazy looking
Original photo by Margaret Dunn

I asked my friends what they consider to be other universal talking stage experiences and Sophie said, “Trying to come up with a good response to ‘wyd?’” How is it that society went from promenading in the gardens with an eligible suitor to staring at each other’s Bitmojis while Snap texting three letter acronyms? The laws of communicating during the talking stage will never cease to amaze me. My least favorite is that you can’t respond quicker than they do. If they take 30 minutes to reply, you take 31. When they go low, I go lowER.

Maybe all of this would be worth it if every talking stage led to a happy, healthy relationship, but Gen Z doesn’t work like that anymore. You could text someone everyday for weeks, divulging your deepest secrets, greatest fears, and biggest aspirations, and then find yourself a stranger again on a random Tuesday afternoon…or worse…in the words of Ken, a “long term, long distance, low commitment, casual girlfriend.” There’s a reason the title of this article starts with “Help!” 

But, for all these very valid reasons to be scared of the talking stage, there’s also something kind of exciting about it—about the attention to the little things. When you’ve been in a relationship for months or even years, each individual touch, kiss, and hug begins to mean less on their own. But, when you’re in the talking stage, a mere glance warrants a four-minute voice memo to your best friend, holding hands has your entire friend group on the floor of your bedroom deliberating the consequences, and a kiss might as well be a marriage proposal. It’s beautiful the way everything gets romanticized.

And as much as I hate to condone playing mind games, there’s also something kind of exciting about the chase—in the limbo between together and not. We’re almost able to imagine we’re a main character in a slow-burn romance novel, 200 pages deep, and in a shitty motel room with only one bed. It feels risqué. I send texts with the most mundane, PG compliments ever and then have to throw my phone across the room because the stress of his reply is just too much. “You’re cute” suddenly seems so scandalous. We’re all sick for enjoying the threat of getting our hearts broken, but hand me some Advil because I’m not above the tension.

Maybe the talking stage also earns some bonus points for being a sort of “pre-season” for dating. You know when you haven’t exercised in a while and then you take a hefty set of stairs and find yourself embarrassingly out of breath? Well, it’s been 8 months since I was last in a committed relationship, and I feel like I’m out of shape. I’m not used to the routine of saying goodnight to someone, of having to factor in the preferences of another person when I make decisions, of having to shave my legs so goddamn often.  

And yet, despite being so out of practice, having feelings for someone comes easily to me—like the girlfriend girl within me was just hibernating, waiting for the right moment to reemerge. When I told you all that I was happy being alone at the beginning of this article, I meant it. I really did. But maybe, just maybe, I find myself even happier now that I’m talking to him.

Maggie Dunn

Vanderbilt '24

Hi! I'm Maggie! I'm a senior at Vanderbilt studying Cognitive Studies and Human and Organizational Development. I currently live in Little Rock, Arkansas, but I've lived in 6 others states (NH, MA, NY, CT, MI, and TN). I started keeping a digital diary my sophomore year of high school that evolved to be over 200 pages. That was the beginning of my love for writing. Now I like to tell stories and critique my experiences and the world around me. I'm so grateful to be a part of Her Campus and get the chance to share my writing with all of you! :)