Let’s face it. The dating scene can be a confusing one to navigate. You might find yourself wondering where you fit in or trying to understand where your last fling ended. Well, every relationship has it’s unique points but most move through these seven stages of dating.
By familiarising yourself with these stages and understanding that there’s no rush to move from one stage to the next, you can take some of that pressure off your shoulders to get into a serious relationship as soon as possible.
Instead, enjoy the process. Every stage has beautiful aspects, though we can admit that they aren’t all super fun… we’re looking at you “first big fight”. By getting to know these phases, you’ll recognise them as they’re unfolding and can open yourself up to truly enjoying them.
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Normal Progression of Dating
In general, relationships follow this pattern and these stages, but it cannot be stated enough that the stages below aren’t the only way to have a successful relationship.
Some people might start with physical intimacy while others may wait until they are exclusive with one another. Some couples may never choose to be exclusive, but still foster an unshakable, deep connection of intimacy and trust.
Some people might take a year or more of casual dating before finding the time and emotional availability to move into the much more involved ‘Honeymoon Phase’, while others might become infatuated with each other right away.
The moral of the story is that all relationships evolve uniquely and we urge you not to fall into the trap of feeling like you’re “doing it wrong” if your dating relationship looks different than what we’ve outlined below or what you see on Netflix or social media.
The 7 Stages of Dating
The First Connection
The first stage in the dating process is that first connection. It’s what happens when you lock eyes with the barista at the coffee shop or decide to message someone you’ve matched with on Tinder.
It’s the first time you establish a connection.
In most scenarios, this is a very short phase, but in the event of a one-sided, long-term crush, it can be a lot longer.
While generally short, this stage deserves its own title because of the uniqueness of it. You are going from not knowing someone to making an active decision to have someone in your life. Even if it doesn’t result in anything, there is a “before” and an “after.”
This stage can be really stressful. Many people report that they find it hard to meet others or take the first step when they do come across someone they are interested in.
We always advise on being honest and upfront when introducing yourself. If you feel too nervous to approach someone in person, dating apps and online dating are a great way to get that first connection out of the way.
If you find yourself being respectfully approached by someone (even of it’s not someone you’d normally be immediately interested in), try to be open and genuine. It takes a lot of guts to walk up to someone and say hi, so keep that in mind when responding.
It’s really easy to dismiss someone who takes the chance to make conversation with you. Receiving attention can feel quite embarrassing, but try to be open! You might meet someone you really like, and if something romantic develops out of it, that’s a bonus!
Do They Really Like Me
Once you’ve established that first connection, the second stage of dating is figuring out if you are actually interested in each other. Take them out for that first date. Send them texts in your free time.
In this phase while you are dating casually, you’re also subconsciously putting each other through their paces, trying to figure out if they’re someone you’d like to spend more time with.
This stage is as likely to feel like a blink of an eye as it is long and drawn out and for some dating couples it can last quite a long time. There doesn’t have to be an immediate spark to get through this phase, but beware of leading someone on that you aren’t actually interested in.
The Honeymoon Phase
The most talked about phase of the early stages is stage three, the honeymoon stage. This is because it’s an exciting butterfly inducing phase, the phase in any new relationship where you just cannot get enough of one another.
You’re still both on your best behaviour and oxytocin is being released to help you each form a really solid attachment as you get to know each other. You may even start to feel “in love,” even if you aren’t ready to say those words yet.
Physical intimacy tends to come easily, and many couples can’t keep their hands and eyes off of each other.
You may find yourself staying over all the time or joking about having a week-long date. If you do see your friends, they will be able to tell there’s something different about you.
Any quirks the other person has seem adorable instead of annoying.
Holding yourself back from texting all day so you can get normal life things taken care of can be a challenge.
If any red flags do appear, we tend to look past them, or in some cases even embrace them.
The First Big Fight
Once in a blue moon, you hear about couple that says they’ve never had a fight. Fine. We’re telling you that’s not normal. And not just that, but a big disagreement is actually an important marker in the evolution of a relationship.
You learn an immense amount about one another, and you’ll see how you work with each other to overcome disagreements. An argument could make you realise how much you care about the other and each others’ happiness.
But often, a relationship isn’t strong enough to make it through this phase, and that’s ok. A fight can be a great litmus test for how you feel about each other and if it’s not quite what you thought or if you have differences that cannot be overcome, it is a good time to break up.
Some couples may hop back into the honeymoon phase after their first big fight, but at some point, reality will set in and bring us to our next phase.
Note: In fights, we often say things we do not mean that need to be apologised for later. However, domestic abuse is a hard no and should be a boundary that is never crossed, no matter how heated the argument gets.
The Reality Check
At some point the glitter and rainbows of the honeymoon phase will wear off. Sometimes this happens after a fight, and other times it just occurs naturally over time.
However, if you continue to move forward with dating, reality will set in and you’ll settle into more of a routine than you had been in previously.
This “Reality Phase” is where the shiny newness of the relationship has been replaced with an everyday normality of getting used to each other. It gets a bad rep and a lot of relationships end here because it requires more work.
Since you’re used to the passion of the honeymoon stage, the realness of this next phase may make you might feel like something bad has happened in the relationship, when it actually has not. You might find yourself wishing you could “go back” but this stage has its laurels as well.
You’ll learn about yourself while learning about each other. What’s really important to me? Is this someone I want to integrate into my life? My family?
Even though some of the passion might have worn off, the deepening intimacy and comfort you find in each others’ presence as your relationship grows is a more than worthwhile tradeoff.
It’s important to remember that after the honeymoon stage, feelings ebb and flow and you might not feel as passionately in love as you did before, even if you still care deeply about the person.
However, a new kind of love may be starting to emerge; an unconditional love. This is the love that most couples think of as the goal for a lifelong companionship.
It’s ok to question your relationship here. Stay here awhile or even end it if that feel like the right thing to do, because the next stage requires a huge step of emotional trust.
The Decision to Commit
If you’ve made it through the test of the real life phase, the next logical step is to commit. This doesn’t need to be an engagement or even an announcement of an exclusive relationship (though many couples will chose to be exclusive at this point if they haven’t already done so).
It means that you are both committed to sticking it out. To stubbornly not giving up on each other even through bumps. And there is a profound comfort in knowing you’ve got your person and they’ve got you.
Couples experience that in healthy, long term relationships, communication, flexibility, kindness, and stubborn commitment are key factors in making a relationship successful. That, and the acceptance that relationships are hard work, but so worth the effort.
The Final Stage of your dating journey is deep intimacy. In this deep intimacy stage, most couples practice exclusivity, and all practice some form of commitment, even if it is unlabelled.
Arguably the most rewarding phase of a relationship, this is where you get to know each other on such a deep level that you truly are a team. Your lives have most likely entwined in a profound way and in a healthy relationship you experience unconditional love.
This phase comes with its challenges too, of course. You will need to constantly work on yourself and relationship so you can keep showing up for each other. Stay in any relationship long enough and you’ll question your love and devotion.
By this point though, you’ve also learned that those moments are temporary, and a day will come again soon that you can’t believe you get to wake up next to your best friend.
Steps to follow when dating
- Be open to meeting new people. You never know where that first connection is going to come from.
- Be open and honest about what you are looking for.
- Have realistic expectations for what is involved in a long-term, healthy relationship.
- Remember it’s ok to butt heads and argue occasionally.
- The honeymoon phase doesn’t last forever, but it’s after that you develop the deepest human connection
- Do not take the decision to commit to someone lightly.
- Not all relationships are supposed to last forever. Even if you are committed, there still may come a time when one, or both of you would be better off if the relationship ended and that’s ok.
How long should the dating phase last
If you’re dating someone right now you are probably wondering how long before you should take the step to become an official couple. Well, there’s no simple answer.
We cannot stress enough that all relationships look and move through these phases differently and in different orders. We know some couples that became an item immediately and others that took years to feel comfortable with the term significant other, and everything in between.
That said, you’re here for advice and so advice we will give! If you are both interested in exclusivity, there’s nothing wrong with moving from casual dating to being an official item around the honeymoon stage.
It’s a natural stage of blissful attachment and therefore would be a reasonable time to communicate that you’d like the relationship to have a more official status.
How to take the next steps after dating
If you want to take your relationship to the next level but aren’t sure how, we recommend always finding your way back to good communication and honesty.
There’s no better way than just talking. Tell them. Talk about it. Maybe they are also ready. Maybe not. But having the conversation will shine some light on where you both stand and if and how you’d like to move forward.
Regardless of where you are on your dating journey right now, we hope that this overview of the stages of dating was helpful as you seek love.
Lauren has written articles for Autostraddle, This Colorful World, Them., and more. She has given talks or made appearances at the ELLA Festival in Mallorca, Velvet Ibiza in Ibiza, and Propel in Graz.She started working with LGBTQ+ visibility as a “baby gay” in Los Angeles, filming and editing YouTube shows like “The Real Enough L-Word” and “Unicorn Plan-It” for Autostraddle. Other notable shows and videos include Calling in Drunk, Hacker Girlfriend, and Lesbian Answers.
She created Button and Bly’s Queer Travel Show, which was the first high quality LGBTQ+ travel show on YouTube. The show’s aim was not to educate LGBTQ+ people about specific destinations, it was to show LGBTQ+ people (especially women and non-binary people) that they could travel safely.
On her travels, Lauren met Lisa through a friend in Stockholm. She essentially Uhauled herself to Sweden a few months later to be with Lisa. They ended up getting married and having a beautiful life, so ya know, it was all worth it.
In 2015, Lauren and her wife Lisa started This Colorful World, a Youtube channel that celebrates their life and travels. This is where Lauren got more into writing and discussing the finer points of queer dating and relationships. She wrote vlogs with topics such as, “Do soulmates exist?” “What is Love?” “Tips for Communication in a Healthy Relationship” and “How to Fight Fair,” among others.
Publishing videos through This Colorful World fostered a loving and thoughtful community which inspired Lauren and Lisa to create an online course about how to be your true self. It’s called the Permission Experience.
Through her saga of mixed media content creation, Lauren has been funny and lighthearted as well as deep and insightful. It’s a perfect mix for her when she can use both voices in her writing and create something meaningful while putting a smile on someones face.
So while Lauren can definitely bring a tongue and cheek tone to her articles, she will also always come from a place of kindness and helpfulness.
She is currently living with her wife and son in on their farm in Sweden. She’s also got a dog and some chickens. In her free time (which is very little) Lauren likes to go fishing, hang out in the woods, cook up tasty meals, and do farm renovation projects.
Lauren is gender non-conforming and doesn’t really care which pronouns you use.