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We all know the process—meet, date, relationship, marriage.  It’s simple right? Or is it?  As we consider relationships, and how they get started, there seem to be many paths that lead to marriage.  Back in the day, people did what was called “courting”, which involved sitting on the couch in the living room or parlor for two hours, once per week. Courting is still practiced among teenagers in homes where the parents are “old school.”  But for adults, what is the proper way to date? When considering this question, we identified two areas of interest that affect the dating process:  Age and expectations.

Age plays a huge part in our dating process.  The twenties are generally a time of self-discovery and preparation when dating is fun, casual, and exciting.  Finding love just adds to the experience of learning and increasing in wisdom.  If mistakes are made, usually, we recover and seek love again.  In our twenties, age isn’t much of a concern–there’s plenty of time left.  Once we reach our thirties, if we’re single, finding love becomes more of a concern.  Most are established in a career, working on or finished our educational goals, had and lost love, and feel ready for a committed relationship and marriage.  Many have children by this age, so creating a family is the goal.  We’re hopeful and optimistic in our early thirties, but once we reach mid-late thirties, if we haven’t found a suitable mate, we may view our situation as very serious.  If we reach forty, and are single, dating takes on a whole new sense of urgency and priority.  On one hand, we’re older, wiser, and know what we want.  On the other hand, the pool of suitable candidates is smaller, and we feel both internal pressure (biological clock) and external pressure (family/society) to hurry up and settle down.  As we can see, age can greatly affect our attitude during the dating process.

Just as important as age, we have expectations that affect the dating process. Our expectations develop from many contributing factors such as culture and religious beliefs, to name a few.  Let’s look at each of these.

Our culture plays a huge part in our expectations during dating.  Throughout the country and world, dating practices vary greatly.  For example, in traditional Middle Eastern cultures, marriages are arranged, so dating is non-existent.  In many European cultures, dating is random and frequent—more of a social activity.  It is accepted that both men and women will date more than one person, casually, without commitment, and with no expectations until they’re ready for a serious relationship.  Dating among people of color varies greatly as do our expectations.  Therefore, it is imperative that we discuss our cultural differences and how they affect our expectations during the dating process.

Religious beliefs also play a part in expectations during dating.  Many Christians struggle to find a balance between the spiritual boundaries of their faith and the acceptable dating practices of our society.  This struggle, very often, tests the faith of Christians, and they may find themselves rushing into relationships and even marriage as a way of avoiding temptation.  As a result, many marry too quickly to either avoid sinning, or to “make it right”—meaning to get  married because they have already started having sex and don’t want to live in sin.  Most religions have some parameters regarding pre-marital sex and marriage, which can definitely have an effect on their relationships during the dating phase.  For most religious people, expectations during dating are defined by the tenets of their faith.

Now that we have examined some of the issues that can affect dating, let’s look at the phases of dating.  We have not assigned a timeline to any of these stages, however, Dennis and Jill Franck, in their article entitled “Five Stages of Dating Relationships”, suggest that couples date at least a year before deciding to marry.   “Going through the 4 seasons (spring, summer, fall, winter) allows a couple to observe and evaluate each other through many different situations, circumstances, emotional challenges and hopefully, absences from each other,” says, Franck.

Following are the phases that we have observed in our sessions.

  1. Phase 1 – Getting to know you – During this phase, each person is free to date multiple people, without commitment.  Significant physical contact will be limited.
  2. Phase 2 – Friends with benefits – During this phase, a couple may have identified one person with whom they decided to engage in significant physical contact. They are still free to go out with other people; however, significant physical contact is limited to that one person.
  3. Phase 3 – Monogamous Dating – During this phase, two people have decided that they want to pursue a relationship and end all other dating.  During this phase, the foundation of the relationship is established, introductions to family takes place, and the beginnings of commitment and accountability are established.
  4. Phase 4 – Pre-Marital – During this phase, the couple will engage in exercises that deepen their level of intimacy. Communication is key. Expectations are established, goals and dreams are discussed, and the future of the relationship becomes visible.  Remember, at this phase, what you see is what you get.  If things aren’t right at this phase, they won’t get better on their own.
  5. Phase 5 – Marriage – The commitment is made, roles and responsibilities are established, and the work of the relationship begins.

Dating is a process that, if done properly, can lead to a loving, lasting relationship.  Relationship Counseling during phases 2 & 3 may be necessary in order to reach the higher phases, especially if significant problems arise such as insecurity, mistrust, infidelity, immaturity, emotional withdrawal, anger issues, and or abuse.  All problems can be worked through with patience, and love, and the help of professionals. So, if you run into problems when in the early phases of dating, don’t end the relationship, ask for help.

Sophia Avery, MA and Donavan Sterling West are a dynamic Relationship Counseling team!  If you’d like further information, discussion or a Relationship Counseling session, please call us at visit our website at AND  become a fan of the Avery-West Counseling team! Visit our page on  FaceBook  at

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