People often talk about the so-called “5 stages of dating,” but what do they mean by that? In today’s blog, we’re going to take a look at these 5 dating stages and what they are generally understood to be. There is some variation, but the five stages are mostly agreed as:
Stage 1: Attraction, aka “The Honeymoon Phase”
Stage 2: Reality
Stage 3: Commitment
Stage 4: Intimacy
Stage 5: Engagement
We’ll take a look at each of these stages, describe what it involves, and how long it generally goes on for on average. We’ll also reflect on which one of the stages can be the most challenging for couples and for individuals.
Stage 1 – Attraction or “The Honeymoon Phase”
The honeymoon stage is invariably everyone’s favorite part of the dating process. “Attraction” is where the spark that ignites the fire of a romantic connection begins. Its first manifestation could be your eyes meeting across the room at a party, a friend introducing you at some event, a random meeting in a bookstore or at a cafe, or even through an online dating website or app. Regardless of how it starts, the spark always comes first.
From that spark, comes a thriving blaze of physical attraction and excitement. The first phase involves the initial meeting, followed by a series of dates where the two people go to different places and engage in different activities together. Perhaps after the third date, the Attraction stage starts to get physical, with kissing, fondling, caressing and even sex on the cards.
Why is the first stage also known as the “honeymoon phase”? The idea is that in the early stages of a romance, just as with the first stages of a marriage, there is a period where one has a seeming inability to find fault in the other person. Their entire relationship is driven by pure attraction, physical contact, exciting moments of romantic ambiguity, and fun dates where no one cares about personality flaws, quirks, past indiscretions and other imperfections. It’s just a state of bliss.
This first stage of the dating process generally lasts for the first 2-3 months of the relationship. If things fizzle out at the end of the honeymoon period, then it won’t advance to the second stage. This can happen if and when initial attraction gives way to reality, which incidentally is the name of the second stage.
Stage 2 – Reality
The second stage is almost like an awakening. As the rush of hormones and sexual desires that fueled your first stage start to subside, that honeymoon period ends and we enter the reality. Don’t misunderstand us here. We are not saying that stage 2 is like waking up with a hangover next to some highly regrettable troll in your bed. Rather, it’s the stage where you start to really get to know your new partner.
The first stage typically goes on for 2-3 months at the start of your relationship. Stage 2 goes on for a further 6 months and will take you close to your first anniversary as a couple if you make it all the way through.
Your talks with your new boyfriend/girlfriend become deeper, and more detailed. You’ll start to notice their quirks, foibles and possibly their bad habits. You’ll see your partner at their lower ebb as well as their highest moments. This is “reality calling.”
As we said, though, the idea here isn’t to “wake up and smell the coffee” and move on to find yourself another honeymoon — although many do, unfortunately. The idea of stage 2 is almost like a test to see if you can fall in love with your other half all over again, but this time while being much more informed. It’s easy to declare your seeming love for someone when you’re just basing it all on physical attraction. Stage 2 is to filter out the infatuations from the true loves.
Stage 3 – Commitment
Reaching the Commitment stage means that you have overcome any doubts that may have entered your mind in the second stage regarding this person’s flaws and shortcomings (and they you and yours). It’s the point where you agree to see each other exclusively and commit to being each other’s full-time boyfriend or girlfriend. There’s not necessarily any talk of marriage, moving in or anything like that at this point, but the idea is likely in both of your minds.
Stage 3 has a little bit of overlap with stage 2, in fact. The agreement to become exclusive is the part that comes earlier, overlapping with stage 2, as it’s quite normal that after 2-3 months of seeing someone, you’d likely have already agreed not to see other people. You know that you are fully in stage 3 after several more months when you have committed to each other and overcome any and all doubts from stage 2 as well.
Stage 4 – Intimacy
Despite the name, the Intimacy stage isn’t really about sex or physical love. As we’ve said, you get into that during the Attraction or Honeymoon phase. Intimacy involves elevating the love and attraction you have built over the past year or so to a whole new level. For many couples, the fourth stage really kicks in after they reach their first anniversary. Such a milestone indicates to both that they are really committed to each other, and that what they have is not just enjoyable, but truly special…magical, even.
Over the next several months, perhaps even another year or so, the couple explores their love in new ways, and might take steps such as moving in together, meeting each other’s parents and other family members, and generally becoming more intertwined in one another’s lives. This is the stage when things deepen perhaps to their greatest extent, save for taking things to the very top level, stage 5.
Stage 5 – Engagement
Once again, the name “Engagement” can be a little confusing here. It doesn’t necessarily refer to a marriage engagement, but rather a confirmation that the two are now committed to building a lifelong relationship, save for some total disaster or romantic force majeure getting in the way. For many, that does indeed mean getting engaged and married, but not everyone does that.
Many couples may commit to the idea of being together in the longer term, but not talk about marriage until further down the line, or perhaps even never. There are plenty of famous examples of that, such as Oprah and her partner Stedman Graham, who have been together since 1986, but never married. British comedy legend, Ricky Gervais has been with his partner, novelist and TV producer Jane Fallon since 1982, but the two have never been married nor have they any plans to.
The Engagement stage is the point where the two of you have really “made it” as a couple. You’re no longer two individuals, but a kind of team that complement and strengthen each other. The agreed-upon feeling between the two of you is that one would be inherently weaker and worse off without the other at this stage.
Which Stage is the Hardest? Should I Always Be Getting to Stage 5?
Obviously you can’t make it to stage 5 with everyone you date, otherwise you probably wouldn’t be able to play the field much to try and find the right person for you. While getting to stage 5 is an incredibly difficult task, we contend that the hardest stage to actually get through is stage 2, Reality.
Why is “Reality” the Hardest Stage?
What makes Reality the hardest stage is being able to move on from the sheer high and joy that is the honeymoon and Attraction stage. That first stage is so fun, exciting, and driven by our most animal and primal urges, that it’s very hard to shake off the desire to keep that high going, even if it means breaking it off with one person and starting the exciting process again with another person.
Breaking that spell and facing the hard real-life situation of another person is hard. You’ve put them up on a pedestal for so long that it can be hard to accept that they are really human, with flaws and even things that make you wince at first. But if you can get through that stage and learn to fall in love with someone despite their shortcomings, then you have a foundation on which stages 3, 4, and 5 are actually quite easy to build.