Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, which means candy hearts, hard-to-get dinner reservations, and possibly a powerful urge to leap into a relationship, stat. After all, with so much love in the air, it’s hard not to think about getting serious with that special someone you’ve been seeing. But before you get ahead of yourself, take a pause. Here are a few things relationship experts suggest you consider, to avoid committing to the wrong person.
Does he or she fit the bill?
It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of a new flame. At the start of a romance your brain is flooded with feel-good chemicals—which have the potential to cloud your better judgment. That’s why it’s important to take a step back and consider your own non-negotiable values, says Terri Orbuch, PhD, author of Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship.
“Similarity in those key life values is what really predicts having a successful long-term relationship,” she says. Think the importance of religion, family and children, or health and fitness.
She also recommends writing down 15 qualities that you’d like in a partner. Then ask yourself if the person you’re dating has those qualities. While they don’t need to possess every single one (no one’s perfect!), they should have around 12 or so. “If this person doesn’t fit any of the qualities, or they clearly posses some deal-breakers, they may be fine for the short-term,” says Orbuch, “but this probably is not a good candidate for a serious, long-term relationship.”
How do I feel when we’re together?
Picture the last time you were with this person. How did you feel? Were you comfortable being the real you?
“I think a healthy relationship challenges and supports us to be better versions of ourselves,” says Kate Appleman, a relationship expert and clinical director of the Primary Care Men’s Program at Caron Treatment Centers. She says many people rely on relationships to “complete” them (thanks, Jerry Maguire). But rather than hoping for another person to make you whole, consider someone who encourages and amplifies everything about you that’s already awesome.
Do I accept this person exactly as is?
It’s also important to consider if you’re happy with your boo, flaws and all. “We have to ask ourselves, honestly, Can I live with this person as they are today?” says Appleman. If so, that’s a positive sign for relationship success.
Am I still hung up on my ex?
But if you do find yourself thinking about things you’d like to change about your romantic interest, it’s probably a good idea to question why. Namely, do you wish he or she could be more like your last partner? If you’re emotionally connected to an ex (say, thinking about that person frequently, or still feeling upset about the breakup), then you’re not ready to dive into a new relationship, says Orbuch.
Am I open to caring about another person?
Even if you are 100% over your ex, it’s also crucial to consider whether you actually want to be with someone else right now. “You have to ask, Can I really care emotionally? Like, listen to this person’s troubles or bad experiences and offer them support, as well as celebrate their triumphs,” says Orbuch. “It’s not negative if you’re not ready to care, but you have to ask, because it determines whether you’re really ready to move forward or not.”
Am I a consideration?
If you’re really thinking about taking the next step, notice how much your potential partner incorporates you into his or her life. Have you been introduced to his friends and family? Do you know where she works? Do you actually know his last name?
Also, if the person you’re dating has any big decisions to make (like moving to a new city, or applying to graduate school) does she connect with you about it? While it may be too early for you to factor into his or her decision, simply discussing a big change shows you’re part of his or her support network, Orbuch says.
Is there talk of the future?
While conversations about moving in together or having babies are a bit premature at this stage, you do want someone who sees you in their future, at least in the short-term. That could mean chatting on a Monday about what you’re doing the next weekend, for example. Or buying tickets for a concert a few weeks away.
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Am I paying attention to red flags?
It’s important to be attuned to the words and behavior of the person you’re dating: “So many times there are red flags that come up early on, where someone is telling you they’re not ready for the commitment you are,” says Appleman. “But we don’t want to hear that, so we continue on in a way that fits our own agenda.”
Am I truly ready for this?
Say your love interest’s actions and words broadcast that he or she is 100% onboard for a commitment. You should still take a moment to double-check with yourself. “Are you ready to trust this person with parts of you that are confidential, sensitive, and intimate?” asks Orbuch.
“Many times the idea of being single results in the belief that ‘I am ready for a relationship,’” says Appleman. “Instead of making a conscious decision about whether or not it’s best to be single.”
So rather than jump right in to the first potential relationship that comes along, Appleman suggests making a commitment to yourself—to slow down and really process what’s happening, “both within [yourself] and with the person [you’re] getting into a relationship with.”