stages of dating

Stages of Dating: How to Consciously Recognize and Navigate Them

Knowing you confidently understand the stages of dating ensures the best possible outcomes for you and a potential significant other. Even though dating can feel tricky, confusing, and even risky at times, when we see how the whole process works we can relax and trust the journey, which of course leads to better results. While we obviously realize that dating can’t guarantee we’ll find love, taking a conscious approach to navigating your way through the five natural stages of dating will minimize your challenges, help avoid uncomfortable emotions and situations, and set a solid foundation for any relationship that may develop. 

Many people consider the stages of dating to start when you meet someone you’d like to connect with. Yet, we’ve found that to be a limiting and less effective perspective on the dating process. It’s true, if you’re like most, you’d prefer to get beyond the dating and into the relating sooner rather than later. We simply go through the dating experience so we can find the one (or ones) we want to relate with more deeply. For some, they date to find the one they want to marry. This means that dating offers us a means to an end. 

Wouldn’t you want to take the most effective approach possible to get to that end, to the relationship you desire, and not have to repeat the whole process too many times? If so, you’re invited to be courageous enough, truly wise enough, to look at what you do before you start dating.

We’ll start our exploration with the 3 preparation stages of dating and end with the stage where dating turns into a relationship. When we’re not intentional or conscious in our approach, too often dating and being in a relationship get confused and conflated, creating unnecessary challenges for both people. False assumptions and misunderstandings lead to missed opportunities between want-to-be-partners. So let’s get clear about how to consciously navigate the stages of dating that lead to a happy sustainable relationship.  


The 3 prep stages

Our success at moving through the primary stages of dating with the greatest enjoyment, the most peace of mind, and the least heartache absolutely rests on our willingness to prepare for our romantic journey. It can feel so enticing, especially to an aching heart, to just get on with it. Many want to believe that preparing doesn’t matter, yet those who have prepared have reaped great rewards in love. Those who skip these key steps all too often find themselves in the wash-rinse-repeat, connect-relate-hurt/get hurt-breakup-do it again, cycle of relationships. We simply know that the long term success of any future relationship depends greatly on what happened after the last relationship ended. Even for those who might call themselves a serial monogamist, what happens between relationships matters to the happiness of the next one.  

Let’s look at these 3 important stages…

1) Cleaning – We could call this “house” cleaning, which might also be relevant to your success because you do want to release the energy of your previous relationship from your space. And, most importantly, your dating success depends on how well you clean out the cobwebs in your heart. Lingering heartache, bitterness, distrust, and resentment build walls of protection that may protect you from hurt, but will also protect you from – literally push away – the love you now genuinely seek through dating. 

Unresolved and unforgiven hurts stop you from opening fully, from being genuinely available to move skillfully through the different stages of dating. These hurts, carried forward, prevent you from truly trusting. Yet, real love requires trust. 

The walls and cobwebs in your heart actually dampen your attractive force, casting a shadow over the light of love looking for you. Even if your last relationship ended without negativity, it’s still important to go through complete conscious endings rituals to ensure you’re not carrying your past into the present, disrupting real possibilities of love. 

2) Visioning – It seems obvious that if we start dating that we must know that we want a romantic connection, but what kind of connection? It doesn’t actually take a lot of time to figure out what we want, and don’t want, when it comes to an intimate relationship, but it does take courage. Too often we don’t get honest with ourselves about our needs, wants, and desires when it comes to dating and relationships because we’re plagued by an internal feeling of scarcity – a fear that we can’t have what we truly desire. 

We’re not honest with ourselves because we imagine that if we admit what we truly want, as well as what we’re not willing to tolerate, the dating pool will get smaller and we won’t find our “one”. The fear of not finding a partner sets us up to settle, which by the way, in turn, triggers disappointment, frustration, and criticism of a prospective partner. That leads us, once again, right back to the “Cleaning” stage of dating. If you know your relationship vision and stand by it, you will find your one.

3) Attracting – Once you’ve genuinely completed with your past relationship and you truly know both what you desire and what you’re not willing to accept then you have the green light for conscious dating. The “Attracting” preparation stage simply means you open up your attractive and receptive energies. You turn on your attractive energy by being you. Authentically you. Purely you. Living your life in the way that makes you happy makes you attractive. When you’re living your happiest life you will inevitably find a partner, likely a soulmate, who desires a vision complementary to your own. At the point when you find yourself in the presence of someone who seems to be attracted to you while you feel an attraction to them, you move into the first of the primary stages of dating, “Noticing”. 

It’s worth mentioning that the attracting phase happens whether you connect with potential partners in social situations or if you are taking an online dating approach. In the case of online dating, you create your profile and explore potential connections in the Attracting stage. Once you start interacting with someone online you’ve again entered the Noticing stage. 

What are the stages of dating once you notice a prospective date?


Beginning stages of dating 

Notice that we said perspective date. The beginning stages of dating actually activate the moment you connect with a potential love interest, whether that be in a social setting or via an online dating app. You enter the first stage of dating the moment that you find yourself paying attention to a particular individual – which is well before you go on your first date.

As we dive in, it’s important to mention that you may find yourself moving through the beginning stages of dating several times before you connect with someone who inspires you enough to move into the later stages of dating that immediately precede a relationship. Similarly, you may move through all the later stages a few times before you transition into a relationship and its stages. This is normal. This is not only normal, it means the dating process is working. If we get into a relationship too soon, without the initial explorations and discoveries of dating, we will usually find ourselves back in unnecessary challenges and heart ache. 

1) Noticing – In the online dating space this would start with swiping on some apps and with direct messaging on other more algorithm-based dating apps. In the real world it could look like smiles and glances or, in powerful connections, feeling the spark of energy light up between you. When two of you notice each other and both feel inspired, you’ll usually automatically experience the first signs of real flirting and playfulness between you. This is when you’ll move to the second stage, Connecting. 

Before we move on to that stage, let’s consider a couple things you want to be aware of at this point. Pay attention to who you notice and to who you sense notices you. Consider whether you have any particular patterns, especially limiting patterns, around those you notice or who notice you. If you catch yourself repeating old behaviors or habits at this stage you can stop and address them before they cause too much havoc. You can even return to the “preparing to date” stages if needed. Taking a conscious approach at this point, the all too common dating challenge “the ones I’m attracted to are never attracted to me” can easily be addressed and shifted. 

2) Connecting – This second stage could also be named “flirting”. Yet that word can feel foreign to some, so we’ll stick with Connecting. At this point in the process you start communicating with each other. In the beginning of this phase, you’ll each share bits of insight into who you are. You’ll start revealing your personality and energies. In particular your masculine and feminine energy dynamics will begin to interplay. As you continue in the Connecting phase, you’ll want to start sharing your purpose in dating and what you’re looking for in a romantic connection.

Yes, at this early stage, it is totally appropriate to talk about your long term desires romantically. It’s even appropriate to check out “must haves” and “deal breakers”.  No, you don’t need to wait until you’ve had a date or three to share these important details. Why bother going on a date with someone who doesn’t want what you want? Why put your heart out to someone who isn’t your match because there is a deal breaker at play or a missing must have? This is how you protect your heart from hurt without putting up walls of protection. Be wise.  

When all goes well and you feel inspired, even a bit excited about this prospective date, you’re ready to move to the later stages of dating where you’ll discover whether the two of you have enough in common, enough alignment, to warrant stepping into a relationship. 


Later stages of dating 

As we explore these later stages of dating, pay particular attention to any ways that you might be confusing and merging dating and relationships. They are truly two very distinct aspects of the romantic journey and you’ll have more success when you keep them separate. Let’s explore stage three, Discovery. 

3) Discovery – Now you move into a process of getting to know each other better. We could call this the “spending time” phase because you begin having focused in-person time together. You have your first date in this stage. 

Here you’ll want to be paying attention to how you feel in each other’s presence. You’ll want to be honest with yourself and each other about how aligned you are in terms of your energies, your desires, your life timelines. This is when you’ll of course notice how much physical attraction you share, or not. Be honest with yourself about how much you enjoy your time together. 

The importance of being honest with yourself and each other can’t be emphasized enough. Authenticity sets a solid foundation for sustained love. Pretending, avoiding, or even trying to win them over will do the opposite. It will sabotage your heart. Authentic relationships are the safest. This is how you protect your heart from unnecessary hurt without protecting yourself from love. With that being said, watch for any part of you that might be overly critical or hold impossibly high expectations, which in itself can be a protective strategy. 

Finally, you’ll want to stay conscious of two things at this stage. First, this is the place of infatuation where you see everything through so-called “rose colored glasses”. You absolutely want to be enjoying all of the ways you fit together. And know that not everything is as it looks at this point. Secondly, once you start going on dates with someone you may be tempted to turn off your dating apps and just focus on this one person, but that would not be recommended. 

4) Aligning –  Building on the Discovery stage, you’ll now continue getting to know each other more and more. You will likely start having longer or more frequent dates. You’ll do things that bring out a bit more authenticity, and ideally vulnerability. You’ll start experiencing new levels of intimacy – in-2-me-u-c – that help you get clear on whether your souls align with each other for a potential relationship. You will likely begin to feel and share a physical connection. 

For some this might include sexuality, and if you’re willing to take it slowly, you may save full on sexual intimacy for after you move into the final stage of dating and first stage of relationship, Commitment. While waiting is of course not necessary, many find that becoming sexually intimate too quickly clouds their ability to recognize true alignment and future partnership potential. Sexual chemistry, which doesn’t mean relationship fit, can make it harder to release someone who is not actually your one. Of course, if you’re looking for a friends-with-benefits connection, this would not apply. 

During this stage you’ll may continue to see the things that may align and bring you closer, but you may not. You will begin to see things that don’t necessarily align. That’s ok. You’re simply becoming aware. Not everything aligns in any romantic partnership. And, for the benefit of both partners, we want to feel into what works for us and what doesn’t. Not having a fit is not a problem. That’s why we date. Some dates we’ll move forward with, some we won’t. When you don’t move forward, remember the dating process and your mastery of the stages of dating is working! 

Right now you are setting the stage for the final phase of dating, so as always you will want to continue with your commitment to honesty and authenticity. Being authentic enables you to take the best care of yourself and the other person. Even if your authenticity means you don’t continue into the next stage of dating. That’s the whole point. Don’t move to the next stage with someone who isn’t truly a fit. That’s the safest way for your heart to date. If you do this consciously you’ll minimize heartache and won’t waste time with the wrong person. 

5) Committing – As long as the two of you have truly engaged in all the previous stages of dating, this final stage can be quite quick. It might happen in moments with just a few spoken sentences. And let’s be clear here, you must take this step together, mutually. You cannot do this step separately. You must name the commitment, acknowledge it, and both agree to it. Otherwise there is no commitment. If there is no commitment the third entity, your relationship, isn’t actually formed. 

To move through this stage well, rest on the honesty you’ve had with yourselves and each other in the earlier stages. This is the time to genuinely feel into whether or not you want to proceed into a relationship with this person.

So, look inward, feel your heart, listen to your gut and decide if you’re meant to move into a deeper connection, into a relationship, with this person. If you’re meant to, it will feel good inside. It will feel exciting. Alignment and “rightness”, doesn’t mean you won’t be nervous or even a bit scared. If it’s a true soul connection, you will almost certainly feel a bit nervous. That’s the way soul connections work. 

But, you may not be a fit. If stepping into a relationship doesn’t feel right for you at this point with this person, that’s ok. You could possibly need more time in the Aligning phase or you may know this person isn’t right for a long term partnership with you. In this case, you want to kindly let them know you appreciate them and the time you’ve spent with them. You want to communicate clearly that you want to honor both of you by not dating anymore, so that you are each free to find the partners who will truly ignite your souls. 

Last but not least, if you choose to commit to each other in a relationship, that commitment will signal that this is the time to turn off the dating apps. Similarly, with a genuine commitment to relationship our romantic noticing of others simply winds down and stops naturally.


As we’re understanding how to consciously navigate the primary 5 stages of dating, let’s remain very honest. Dating isn’t easy. It’s not always fun. It does sometimes hurt, but it doesn’t have to feel harder than necessary. To find love, we must risk rejection, yet if we’re willing to take our time and be intentional, dating can be quite rewarding and even exhilarating. We will be successful.   

Yet, what does successful dating mean? The dating process is successful when it ends before going through all the stages of dating. It’s also successful when you both decide to commit to each other and move into a relationship together. Please hear this. Neither outcome is a failure. When you do date consciously, neither one of you needs to feel any significant pain. You can date with ease, grace, and consciousness. 

On the other hand, the more you skip through the stages of dating, the greater the unnecessary heartache you will feel. The definitive guide to conscious dating offers even more wisdom on how to date well. 

Last but not least, if you find yourself struggling in the dating process, if you want to skip over any of the stages,  feel stuck in a particular stage, or realize you’re in that repeated connect-relate-breakup cycle, it may be worth exploring when to find a dating coach as well as when not to


*At Ecstatic Intimacy, an all-inclusive website for singles and couples, we welcome all sexual orientation(s), gender(s) and relationship expressions. In this article we utilize the pronouns he/she/him/her.

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