The dating scene can be confusing. You might find yourself wondering where you fit in or trying to understand how your last fling ended. By familiarising yourself with the 7 stages of dating, you can learn what to expect and take some pressure off your shoulders when it comes to finding a serious relationship.
Every stage can present some beautiful opportunities, though we can admit they aren’t all super fun (we’re looking at you “first big fight”). Keep in mind that while many relationships go through these 7 early stages of dating, every relationship also has its unique attributes.
What do I need to know?
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The 7 stages of dating
Below are the 7 stages of dating. Read on to find out more about them.
1. The first connection
The first stage in the dating process is the first time you establish a 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.
While generally short, this stage deserves its own title because of its uniqueness; you are going from not knowing someone to actively deciding to have them in your life. Even if it doesn’t result in anything, there is a “before” and an “after”. This stage might take longer if there’s a one-sided, long-term crush.
This stage can also be stressful, as some people may find it challenging to meet others or take the first step when they do come across someone they are interested in.
To make this step easier, a good strategy can be to introduce yourself honestly and be upfront. If you are nervous to do so in person, dating apps are great for finding that first connection. If someone respectfully approaches you, keep their effort in mind—be kind and remember that even if you’re not immediately attracted to them, it might be the beginning of a great relationship.
2. 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.
While casually dating, you’re both subconsciously considering if you’d like to spend more time together. This stage can take a while, or it might take no time at all if there’s an immediate spark.
3. The honeymoon phase
The most talked-about phase of the early stages is stage three—the honeymoon stage. This is an exciting butterfly-inducing phase, during which you cannot get enough of each other.
You’re both still behaving your best, and oxytocin is being released to help you form a 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 just yet.
During this stage, you may find yourself staying over all the time, joking about having a week-long date, and not being able to keep your hands and eyes off of each other. Keep in mind that any quirks the other might have can seem adorable, so we might look past any red flags.
Balancing this stage with everyday responsibilities might be challenging, but if you do spend time with your friends, they’ll be able to tell there’s something different about you.
4. The first big fight
Once in a blue moon, you might hear about couples that have never had a fight. However, fights are normal, and a disagreement can be an important step in the relationship.
Disagreements can help you learn a lot about each other: you’ll find out more about your communication skills, your ability to work together to overcome a challenge, and how much you truly care about each other’s happiness. After the first fight, some couples may return to the honeymoon phase, but often this marks the beginning of the next phase of the relationship. Occasionally, some couples may not survive this stage, and it’s ok to break up at this point.
Keep in mind that during fights, we might say things we do not mean that need to be apologized for later. However, domestic abuse should be a boundary that is never crossed, no matter how heated the argument gets.
5. The reality check
This is when the honeymoon phase wears off, and the exciting newness of the relationship is replaced by normal routines with each other. Sometimes this happens after a fight, and other times it just occurs naturally over time. This stage might have a bad reputation as it requires more work, and some relationships may not survive it.
Since you might be used to the passion of the honeymoon stage, you may feel like something has gone wrong in the relationship—but that’s not the case, and this stage has its benefits. You are likely to learn more about your needs in a relationship and more about your partner. Your comfort and intimacy with each other are likely to deepen.
This is when a new kind of love—unconditional love—may emerge. This is the kind of love some see as the goal for lifelong companionship. It’s ok to question your relationship here, too. Stay here awhile or end it if that feels like the right thing to do because the next stage requires a leap of emotional trust.
6. The decision to commit
If you’ve made it through the test of the real-life phase, the next step might be to commit fully.
This doesn’t need to be an engagement or even an announcement of an exclusive relationship; it means that you are both committed to sticking it out—not giving up on each other even when the relationship is challenging. There is a profound comfort in knowing you’ve got your person and they’ve got you.
Couples experience this in healthy, successful long-term relationships that can be characterized by good communication, flexibility, kindness, and stubborn commitment.
7. Deep intimacy
The final stage of your stages of dating journey is deep intimacy. This is when some couples practice exclusivity, and most practice some form of commitment, even if it is unlabelled.
Arguably the most rewarding phase of a relationship, in this stage you will have gotten to know each other so well that you truly become a team. Your lives have most likely been entwined in a profound way, and in a healthy relationship, you experience unconditional love.
This phase might also be challenging. You may need to constantly work on yourself and your relationship so you can keep showing up for each other. Occasionally, you might question your love, but by this point, you will have learned that these doubts can be temporary, and you may soon again be thankful for waking up next to your best friend every day.
The 7 stages of dating: FAQs
What are some tips for the 7 early stages of dating?
– Be open to meeting new people
– Be honest about what you are looking for
– Have realistic expectations for what is involved in a long-term, healthy relationship
– Remember that disagreements are normal
– The honeymoon phase doesn’t last forever, but it’s a gateway to the deepest human connection
– Do not take the decision to commit to someone lightly
– Not all relationships are supposed to last forever, and it’s ok to end a relationship if it seems like the right choice
How long should the dating phase last?
There’s no simple answer; relationships look and move through these 7 early stages of dating differently and in different orders. If both parties are interested in exclusivity, it might be time to move from casual dating to a committed relationship. Around the honeymoon stage can be a good time to take this next step.
How to take the next steps after dating?
If you want to take your relationship to the next level but aren’t sure how to do so, try finding your way back to good communication and honesty.
You may find out that the other is also ready to take the next step. Even if they’re not, having a conversation is always a good idea.
The 7 stages of dating: our final thoughts
While sometimes relationships do follow these 7 stages of dating, the stages above aren’t the only way to cultivate a successful relationship.
Some people might start with physical intimacy, while others may wait until they are exclusive. 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.
Keep in mind that all relationships evolve uniquely—you’re not “doing it wrong” if your dating relationship looks different than what we’ve outlined or what you see on the media.
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.