Relationships can be tricky, but the time period before becoming boyfriend and girlfriend might be even worse. This is because pre-dating is an extremely foggy, indefinable, and indefinite area. But there is one phase that can be taken advantage of time and time again: the “talking” phase. It can be a guy’s best tool and the wrench in a girl’s side. Of course we all need to talk to get to know each other, but lately I’ve been noticing countless months devoted to simply “talking.”

There is debate over whether “talking” is actually a phase. Some may argue that there is no such thing as a “talking” phase — guys, in particular, who argue against this also happen to be the ones who are not afraid of commitment (things to keep in mind when scoping out future boyfriends!). Others “talk” to soon-to-be girlfriends daily until finally, at around one or two months, they ask out. This “talking” includes daily texting, occasional dates (hopefully), and hooking up. Meanwhile other guys just let this “talking” stage drag on. And on. And on. Once when I felt enough time had gone by for me to ask where I stood with a guy, I asked what we were and he responded with, “We’re romantically talking.” Um, what?

Whether you call it “talking” or not, there is a preliminary stage in which two people get to know each other. It’s obvious that you need to learn a few things before jumping right in, and some people take advantage of this. When this happens, “We’re just getting to know each other” turns into “I don’t want to commit but I don’t want to lose my hook-up buddy.”

“We’re talking” translates to,  “We may be together at some point, but we’re not official yet.” Keyword: may. “It used to be that if two people liked each other, they would just start dating,” explains Eva, 20, a student at Syracuse University. “But today, if you’re interested, you talk first. This gives you a feel of one another before you jump into commitment.”

No matter what “talking” is, once some time has gone by and you feel like you’re ready to go to the next level, never be afraid to say something. Tell him what you’re thinking and ask if he’s ready to start dating. If he does not give you a straight answer or you think you’re getting an empty promise, don’t be afraid to let him go. Why? Because he’s probably not worth it if he’s taking his nice sweet time. “Talking” can last a few months — and by a few months, I mean one or two — but once you start getting annoyed that you’re not official yet, you need to ask yourself if it’s worth the time, effort, and attachment to your phone. And by the way, there is no such thing as “romantically talking,” so don’t let him get away with that one.

The guys who really want you will snatch you up and not leave you feeling strung along. If he wants you, he wants you. He’s not going to let some preliminary getting-to-know-you phase get in the way of what he wants. If he’s being wishy-washy, you really don’t need to continue on an emotional spin cycle.

I want to hear what you think! Does “talking” exist? Is it a cop-out to avoid commitment but still keep a girl? How long should the pre-dating stage last? Sound off in the comment section and let’s start…talking!