Man and woman standing holding hands on the street on their third date

Third Date: An important milestone in any relationship

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by eharmony Editorial Team - November 22, 2023

They say third time’s the charm and it can definitely feel like that when you’re seeing someone. By the time your third date rolls around, you have a pretty good idea whether you want there to be a fourth, a fifth, or more. This can be exciting but also lead to nerves, because what if the other person doesn’t feel the same? Let’s look at the third date rule, explain why the third date is still important, and offer some third date tips.

What is the third date rule?

The third date rule is a dating maxim that says you should wait until the 3rd date to have sex. It was popularized by Sex and the City, but does it really hold up in today’s dating world. 68% of people say it’s okay to kiss on the first date1 but what then?

  • Waiting three dates can heighten the anticipation. Not sleeping together right away can heighten the tension and make sex better when it does happen
  • A rule that says waiting to have sex is good might carry implied judgements of people who don’t, especially women
  • Waiting lets you get to know the other person better: First impressions aren’t always the best ones. Waiting until the third date gives you time to form a more complete picture of the person you’re with.
  • It adds unnecessary pressure: Having a hard and fast rule about the number of dates you should go on can make people feel like they should be ready for sex by a certain calendar point, which is not always the case.

Every relationship is different – it’s less a question of ‘should’ and more of what feels right for you and your partner.

Why the third date is still important

While the third date rule may not be relevant, your third date is still a major milestone. During the first and second dates, you’re still getting to know each other, with all the awkwardness that goes with it. By the time your third date rolls around, you’re both (hopefully) comfortable enough that you don’t feel so much pressure to be your best self and can start getting to know each other on a deeper level. In fact, by the time you’re on date #3, you should have a rough idea of at least the following:

What both your goals for this relationship are

One of the keys to finding a partner is to be clear about what kind of relationship you want – there’s no point continuing with someone who only wants something casual if you want to settle down. By the third date, the expectations should be clear, on your side as well as your partner’s.

Whether your values are compatible

Disregard the rule that says you shouldn’t bring up difficult questions early – in fact it’s better to discover you aren’t of the same mind about things like children or politics sooner rather than later.

Whether you want to see them again

Chemistry isn’t always instant. However, three dates are often more than enough to figure out if there’s something there. If you’re still undecided, it’s worth giving your potential partner one more shot, but as a general rule? If you can’t see a romantic future for the two of you by now, it’s probably not going to happen. 

Third date tips

If you’ve made it to the third date, congratulations! However, your third date can bring with it all kinds of pressure – even without the third date rule, three dates is still a lot of time to spend with someone. Make the most of it with these third date tips:

Choose your activity carefully

By now, you should have a good idea of what the other person is like. Pick a date idea that works for both of you but that also gives you plenty of time and opportunity to actually talk to each other – think wandering around a museum or a park rather than a movie or a concert. You want to be able to have the deep conversations. Speaking of…

Ask tough questions

If you aren’t aware of your partner’s stances on issues important to you, now is the time to ask. You don’t want to wake up months or even years into a relationship to find out that your partner wants kids while you don’t, or that the two of you fundamentally disagree on politics. Yes, it can be awkward, but better your third date than your third anniversary.  

Let go of any expectations

It’s easy to build your third date up to something far more than it is. Remember – it’s just a date! If it goes well, great. If it doesn’t, you can always ask for a chance to make it up (if you want) or break it off. Reminding yourself that a third date’s meaning is only as significant as you make it.

Be honest

Pretending to be someone you’re not isn’t just unsustainable – it’s also unfair on both you and your partner. If you really like someone, it’s all too easy to adjust yourself to their expectations of you. Resist the temptation – wouldn’t you rather they like you for you?

Be prepared

Let’s be clear, the third date rule isn’t a thing and you should feel no obligation to do anything you don’t wholeheartedly want to. However, if sex on the third date is on the table, be smart about it. Get tested, talk to your partner about what is and isn’t okay and where both of your boundaries are when it comes to getting physical.

Third dates are only as important as you make them

No dating rules are set in stone – what matters is what works for you and your relationship, whether that’s on your first date, your third date, or your 25th anniversary. And if it didn’t work out? That’s what eharmony is for. Our unique Compatibility Matching System pairs you with people who share your values and are looking for authentic connection, just like you. Sign up for eharmony and take your first step towards real love today.

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