Ideal benchmarks/prerequisites for relationship stages

What would you say either in general, or for you specifically, are the ideal benchmarks/preresequites for relationship stages? In other words, what would you say are the major transitional stages in a relationship of two people from stranger to life partner / coparents, and what do you think the prerequisites are for advancing to the next stage?

I’ll give my own example, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily correct or ideal, which is why I’m looking to you all, especially those with a lot of relationship experience, for your input.

I don’t mind those whose relationships are a little unconventional from chiming in about their polyamorous situation or whatever, because that’s very interesting and is even helpful in giving perspective, but I am hoping to get the majority of input from people who also feel like a sexually monogamous life partnership is their ideal ultimate outcome for them personally. I either case, I’m looking more for what you feel would be the ideal pathway, rather than whatever pathway you happened to actually take, though feel free to include anecdotes in service of supporting either by good or bad example why you feel a certain way.

Here’s my first draft!

Stranger >Acquaintance

Merely requires meeting someone and either communicating with them or participating in the same activity, more than once.

Acquaintance > Friend

Communicate with and participate in activities with on a regular basis.

Friend > Best friends

Be honest and open about values, past, etc.

Best Friends > Casual Dating

Have mutual physical attraction, decide to start dating casually, decide methods and level of physical intimacy

Casual Dating > Boyfriend / Girlfriend (Committed Relationship)

Decide to be mutually exclusive, take STD tests before having sex, discuss the nature of sexual intimacy, confirm that you share similar goals with regard to the future of the relationship in terms of marriage, kids, career, etc.

Committed Monogamy > Live Together

Discuss financial aspects, time together and apart, etc.

Live Together > Engagement

Decide on a mutual desire for a more permanent committed relationship, reconfirm relationship and future goals, reconfirm shared values, resolve any lingering conflicts, discuss and decide on financial responsibilities, decide what to bring to and expect from the marriage, meet families, discuss method of future conflict resolution.

Engagement > Marriage

Reconfirm everything above.

Marriage > Renewal

Reaffirm commitment, resolve any unexpected new conflicts

Renewal > Parenting

Discuss parenting methods, values, beliefs, and responsibilities with regard to having children.

I’ve been a little vague in parts, definitely would love to hear what other people think needs to be negotiated and decided during the various stages.

Wow, that’s uh, a lot of buildup. Mine is usually along the lines of:

  1. Date
  2. Sleep together
  3. Build friendship, become emotionally intimate
  4. Become exclusive, discuss long term goals
  5. Integrate daily life, bring friend groups together, meet the family
  6. Start talking seriously about marriage. affirm mutual goals, pre-engagement or engagement
  7. Live together (not a fan of living together without a concrete plan)
  8. Get married

I’ve never had a relationship that progressed from “friend” to “romantic interest”. Or one that went the other way, come to think of it.

Strangers --> Acquaintances. Meet through a shared group or online dating site. Start doing the courting dance.

Acquaintances --> Lovers. Go on some token dates to make sure you like each other one-on-one. Jump in the sack.

Lovers --> Commitment. While I’d never take the step to Lovers if I didn’t think it was going to be serially monogamous, the “Commitment” phase involves becoming fixtures in each other’s lives rather than just sleeping together. You are a couple now, people invite both of you along.

Commitment --> Engagement. As far as I’m concerned, as soon as you both agree you want to get married, you are engaged. Announcements and rings and parties are just formalities.

Engagement --> Cohabitation. Now that you’ve made the emotional commitment to stick together, it’s safe to let him use your blender. You need to practice living together before taking the next step to…

Cohabitation --> Marriage. Make it legal so you have the right to pull the plug on each other.

Marriage --> Stabilize. Now let your lives stabilize. Get used to living together if you aren’t already. Make sure you continue to like each other. Pay off troublesome debt. Get steady employment and living arrangements. Then you can…

Stabilize --> Breed. Have kids.

I don’t need to be best friends before I can begin a romantic relationship with somebody. And I don’t really do monogamy anymore. And I don’t want kids. Also, I’m not entirely sure whether I even ever want to get married. So my own path is a lot less structured than yours. It’s been a while since I embarked on a relationship, though–due to my own mental health issues, I’ve done the dating world a favor by opting out of it entirely.

Hmmm. Mine went something like:

  1. Meet 12 years ago, but she’s involved with someone.
  2. A year or so later, she’s available but I’m involved.
  3. A year or so later, I’m available, but she’s involved.
  4. Lose touch for several years, but wonder whatever happened to…
  5. Open a rarely used email account, largely to clear out pages of spam.
  6. Somehow manage to spot an email from her in the midst of mass deleting.
  7. Respond to said email.
  8. Chat on phone for hours, rekindle old flame.
  9. Book romantic mountain cabin for several nights over New Years weekend.
  10. Meet her at cabin, boink like bunnies, realize old flame is now a raging inferno.
  11. Propose old-school style, on one knee, outdoors on deck of cabin on New Years Eve.
  12. Announce to friends/family with amusing email in the style of a grand jury indictment for “Conspiracy to Commit Matrimony in the First Degree”
  13. Shack up for a few months
  14. Book casino for huge wedding.
  15. Watch casino get destroyed by epic flood.
  16. Studiously reject said flood as an ill omen
  17. Cancel huge wedding we really couldn’t afford anyway
  18. Get married by a local judge, with parents present
  19. Lose the job I’d held for 10 years due to budget cuts, live on unemployment and wife’s income.
  20. Otherwise adjust to married life/look for work for months/find nothing
  21. Start private practice
  22. Live happily ever after? I dunno…I’m still at step #22. But things are going ok so far.

Well, the OP asked for “ideal”, not actual, so here it goes:

Starting from single:
Establishment of a romantic relationship: Within 3 meetings. That is to say, you meet a girl and strike up a conversation. If you are hitting it off, you should ask her out on a date right there. If, for some reason, you puss out, you have 2 more chances to ask her out before she thinks you aren’t interested and puts you in the “friend zone”.

First kiss: This should happen on the first date. In fact, it may have already happened as part of your first meeting. Again, if after 2 dates you haven’t kissed, she will probably wonder what your deal is.

Sex: This is a difficult one. If it happens on the first date, she’s probably “booty call” material and nothing more. If it doesn’t happen by around the third date, I’d start to wonder what her deal is.

Declared Exclusivity: Probably after a month of regular dating, you want to have it firmly established that you aren’t seeing other people.

Meet the friends: After two months (one month of exclusive dating). You can always bring a date to parties and stuff, but you probably want to wait until you have been exclusive for a month is when you can finally include each other in smaller private gatherings with other couples.

Meet the parents: At least six months.

Engaged: One year. It seems fast, but what the fuck are you waiting for? Unless you are waiting until after some other important life milestone like graduation or saving up for a ring or whatever, you should know if you are ready to get married and if now is the time after a year. If it isn’t, nows a good time to end it so you both can move on. Otherwise, “inertia” sets in and it just becomes too convenient NOT to break up.

Move in together: After engagement. I think it’s a mistake to move in together until you are actually on the path towards marriage. Again, intertia sets in and you can fall into the “where is this going” trap where it’s just easier to ride the train to hell than get off.

Wedding: 18 months after engagement, plus however many months until the date you want to have the wedding at. The first six months you are just seeing how things are living together. You haven’t put any money down yet, so if things are terrible, you can just break it off without much financial loss. If after 6 months, you are still ok with it, a wedding will take about a year to plan.

I find it interesting that no one else likes the idea of friends first. Do you all think it’s unnecessary, are you just eager to get to the sex, or do you think it’s actually counterproductive?

I’ve had my share of casual sex, but I find it harder to transition my mind from physical intimacy to emotional than the other way around.

I think it’s usually unrealistic. You’re probably never actually just friends, because the whole time you’re probably both hoping it will turn into more, and that hope will color the whole friendship.

Because two friends going on for years with “will they / won’t they” sexual tension is largely a plot element of sit-coms used to drive the story season after season. As an adult, you know if you want to date/have sex with a woman. And she knows pretty quickly if you are someone she wants to date/have sex with. So how long does it take for the two of you to actually get comfortible with each other to the point where you can act on those feelings? I’m guessing it doesn’t take months and years.

We went through all the stages in one weekend (though in a different order). And we’re still together, almost 25 years.