Starting a Relationship

See also: Conversational Skills

According to the model of falling in love shown in films, you meet someone and are instantly hit by simultaneous thunderbolts of passion. Or perhaps you feel an initial dislike that you later discover has turned to something more positive. The feeling is entirely mutual and, after just enough problems to fill out the rest of the film, you disappear into a problem-free happy-ever-after.

In reality, very few relationships start this way. Whether you have met on a date, or have become acquainted in the course of work or hobbies, starting a relationship can happen in all sorts of ways and at all sorts of speeds.

Do you want to go out on a date – or further one?

If you are definitely interested in someone, you probably hope that they will suggest coffee, lunch or dinner and you can accept. However, if they do not, it may be up to you to make a suggestion.

Top Tip

Some cultures may have a tradition that men ask women out but, in this day and age, there is no particular reason for this. If you want to ask someone out, go ahead and do it.

If they don't like that, you probably didn't want a relationship with them anyway.

There are a number of possible ways to ‘short cut’ the dating process, or at least the process of discovering whether you are both interested enough to pursue it further.

Some suggestions on how you might do this are included below. Please bear in mind that, if someone suggests any of these to you, they may be thinking of the occasion as a date. You are under no obligation to accept and you should not feel uncomfortable about saying no.

You can sometimes make the process a little easier by having a mutual friend, someone who can tell you about the other person’s relationship status and sexual orientation.

You may also be part of the same social group, which provides you with an opportunity to see the person, but bear in mind that you may have to go on seeing them in future if things do not work out, so it's best to be polite and honest.

Ways to suggest a date

Suggest meeting for a coffee sometime.

Advantage: this sounds very light and neutral, and it is easy for someone to decline without much embarrassment (“Would be nice, I’m just snowed under at the moment.”)

Disadvantage: it is so casual that it may not be interpreted as a date suggestion, just a friendly one, meaning that you still have to make your intentions clear.

Say you have a spare ticket to a film or concert.

Advantage: again, this sounds light on commitment, which is good if they are not keen and you have to see them again socially or at work.

Disadvantage: again, this could be interpreted as just a friendly invitation. It may also be difficult to chat to each other during the event.

Ask right out if they would like to go out for dinner.

Advantage: your intentions are clearer.

Disadvantage: a refusal is a lot less ambiguous too.

Say right out that you would like to be more than friends.

Advantage: this may be necessary if you are already friends and thus spending time together is a given.

Disadvantage: it may make the future friendship awkward if they are less than keen.

On Your Date

Your date may be the first time that the two of you have had a one-to-one conversation, and many people find the idea daunting. It is helpful to remember that everyone likes talking about themselves.

Other tips include:

  • Ask questions and be interested in the reply, rather than just using the time to plan your next question or anecdote. See our page on Active Listening.
  • If you find it hard to think of questions to ask, our pages on Questioning Skills and Techniques and Types of Question may help you. Simple questions, such as “How was your journey?” or “Have you been here before?” can be easy places to start. Open questions rather than closed ones are usually better at getting the conversation to flow, as they invite an unlimited range of responses.
  • Be polite. Rude or inconsiderate behaviour is very off-putting. Our page on How to Be Polite may be a useful reminder.
  • Stick to neutral topics and avoid those that may be contentious, such as religion, politics or past relationships, until you know the other person a little better. If these things come up, do keep an open mind. Voting a different way from you is not necessarily an indication that someone is not your type.

It's also important to not over-plan your first date, try to relax and let the conversation flow naturally. You may also find our page on Building Rapport helpful.

Trusting Your Instincts

There is no fail-safe way to be sure that someone wants to date you and that the occasion will be a success. However, it is important to listen to your instincts.

You can frequently pick up non-verbal cues about what someone is like and whether or not they may be keen on you (for more details, see our pages on Non-verbal communication).

It might also be important to be honest with yourself: are the signals really there or is the whole thing wishful thinking on your part?


Instincts are also vital when you are out on a date with somebody. Always meet in a public place and let someone else know where you are going. If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable during the date, listen to your instincts and get out of there: it is better to risk looking rude than to put yourself at risk.

Guide to Personal and Romantic Relationships

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide Personal and Romantic Relationships

Personal and romantic relationships can be difficult to navigate.

Even those who are highly skilled at personal interactions at work can struggle to translate these skills to their home environment. This book is designed to help you do just that: to take your existing interpersonal skills, understand them better, and use them effectively in your personal relationships.

Special Situations: Starting a Relationship at Work

Work situations may require careful handling.

Some companies have an outright ban on relationships in the office. Most do not, but it is wise to be discreet until a relationship is established. Being the main subject of company gossip after a quick fling that ended badly will be embarrassing and may not help your career.

Asking out patients or clients is to be avoided. Discussing dating whilst arranging a re-mortgage or removing a catheter is definitely not appropriate.

And finally…

They say it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

If you do not at least try to start up the odd conversation, you are more likely to look back with regret than if things do not work out. Failed romantic relationships can teach you a lot about what you do and do not want in future. If you part on good terms, they may result in a lasting friendship through which you might even meet someone else...