How many dates are the best? Have you gone through the ‘three stages of dating’ yet?

In a previous post, I shared what I’ve been learning in relationships about ‘why you shouldn’t enter a relationship too quickly’: after a few quick ‘crashes’ into relationships, I’m learning to try to slow down and really get to know someone before deciding whether or not I want to enter a relationship.

But then some of my friends started to wonder, “How many dates is the right number of dates? How do you really get to know someone? What are the processes that one goes through before confirming a relationship?

I would like to borrow the concept of “three stages of dating” mentioned by Dr. Henry Cloud in his book “How To Get A Date Worth Keeping” and share it with my own experience:

The first stage of dating before dating: Fun

Get to know more people, don’t set too many limits, focus on “experience” and enjoy the dating process. In a sea of people, you may be interested in more than one person. When you have the opportunity to get to know each other and get along with each other, that is the beginning of the “Fun” stage.

We can experience three things to our heart’s content:

  1. Experiencing this person is like meeting a new friend, you will slowly get to know his work, life, perspective on the world, etc. This time is always full of surprises and resonance. It’s always a time of surprise and empathy, as if you’ve discovered a new world.
  2. Experience yourself in this relationship, observe your own reaction, feel your own feelings, what do you look like when you are with him? Do you like this version of yourself? If not, what are the reasons?
  3. Experience the “experience” of dating itself. Enjoy the new horizons and new ways of interacting that this person brings to you, and ask yourself if you like these experiences. Would you want it to go on forever? Or just simply enjoy the novelty?

In addition to the experience, another key to this stage is to not date ‘just this person’.

I’m reminded of an interesting experiment I read in a textbook when I was taking social psychology in college:

“When people spend more effort or time to obtain, even if it is the same thing, the higher they will rate it; for example, if we spend an hour in line and only ten minutes to buy the same item, we will rate the former higher than the latter.”

Why? Because you have already spent so much time and energy, of course you don’t want your efforts to be wasted, so you will convince yourself that “this thing has a certain value and is worth spending more time and energy on”.

I guess it’s the same in relationships! In almost all idol dramas and love storylines, it’s the hero and heroine who meet, start dating one-on-one, enter into a relationship, and end up happily ever after.

That’s why my perception of relationships was deeply affected at first. I always thought that once you start dating someone, you shouldn’t go out with other people, or else it seems like a form of infidelity. So I spent more and more time and effort on this person and convinced myself, “This must be the one”.

It’s like the result of that psychology experiment, I’ve spent so much time and effort, this person must be worth it, even if he’s not so good, I have to believe that he’s so good.

However, this often leads us to enter into a relationship with our objective judgment clouded, and in the end, even though we find that the reality doesn’t match our imagination, we still feel “unwilling” or fall into the cycle of past relationships again.

So, don’t limit yourself. If you meet someone you’re interested in while dating someone, try to get to know them and get along with them. Because if you want to get to know yourself better in different relationship situations, you need to spend time with “enough people” to understand what you are looking for in a relationship and what is right for you.

The second stage of pre-dating: Interest

Focusing on a few people, getting to know each other more consciously, but still retaining yourself. Although we are interested in more than one person at the same time at the beginning, our mental capacity is limited, and at a certain stage, we will choose a few of them, wanting to get to know this person better, understand more about his world, and participate more in his life. At this point, we enter the “stage of Interest”.

There are three keys to this stage:

  1. Maintain your independence. You don’t need to say yes to all the invitations, you can say no appropriately to let the other person know that you have other arrangements and need your own time. If the other person really likes you, they will know how to respect and accept you as you are.
  2. Consciously determine whether your attraction to each other is “healthy”. There are many reasons why two people are attracted to each other, such as sex, appearance, the other person can satisfy some of your emotional needs, the other person has a part of you that you are not confident in yourself but desire, the other person has the opposite qualities of your last person that made you suffer, etc. Some of the reasons for attraction are healthy, and some of them are not. Some reasons for attraction are healthy and some end up being dangerous factors in a relationship. Stop and be honest with yourself, is the ‘chemistry’ healthy at this point? Are you accidentally repeating patterns from the past? Can he really make you better?
  3. Instead of rushing into a one-on-one relationship, it is advisable to keep a little distance at this stage so that you can see each other more clearly. If you make it clear to your date that you have no intention of entering into a one-on-one dating relationship, but they want you to have one-on-one time with them, then they may not be the best person for you.
  4. The third pre-dating stage: A Closer Look

Focus on the special one and get to know him for who he is and the serious but important keys to the relationship. After going through the second stage, there may come a time when you can visualize the days ahead with him by your side, and it should be reassuring and comfortable.

At this point you may be in a one-on-one dating relationship, but not yet officially ‘committed’ to a relationship. The key at this stage is to get to know as much as you can about the other person’s attributes, nature, values, and those important aspects of relationship management, such as their ability to love, maturity, and life plans.

A long-lasting relationship needs to be built on a solid foundation. It’s not about looks, wealth, how nice he is to you, how well you talk to each other, because all of these things can change or suddenly disappear. What you should be looking at is the essence that is not so easy to change, the things that “if you take away anything, it’s not him anymore”.

In addition, at this time, because you have been together long enough, you can also check whether his words and actions are consistent, as a way to judge his nature, to confirm that the two of you can have a foundation of trust.

If you think you’ve got it all together, then you’re ready to enter into a solid relationship. Because these processes will give you the building blocks to face the storms of life together in the days ahead.

There’s a great analogy in the book: ask yourself, would you give a stranger a key to your home and let him come in, wander around the house at will, and go through your stuff? I think the answer for most people is: no way.

But the funny thing is, in love, we very often let someone we just met live in our hearts very quickly, blindly believing that he is the right person, and end up leaving ourselves scarred and disappointed in our relationships.

Because I have been through such a traumatizing process, I have also, as the book says, taken one step at a time, starting from dating more different people, slowly limiting myself to meeting a few specific people, then getting to know one person well, and finally, deciding to enter into a relationship, which lasted for about half a year, and the relationship did make me feel solid. So I really agree with Dr. Henry Cloud’s three stages.

Of course, everyone has their own interpretation of love and definition of relationship. I think these three stages are just a way, a reference. How long each stage lasts and where the boundaries are may vary from person to person. But I think the most important thing is what the author wants to remind us:

The key is ‘enough time’.

From my experience in several past relationships, it does take time to get to know someone well. Don’t be in a hurry, a good relationship is worth the wait, and that time, can greatly reduce your chances of being heartbroken or disappointed in love again, and greatly increase your chances of stepping into a really healthy, stable relationship.

The key to allowing me to wait patiently and not rush things was my decision to ‘cherish myself’. I don’t want to be scarred anymore, and I want my love to be treated well by another person. So I waited, and waited to find the one who could truly cherish me and this relationship through longer time together and getting to know each other.


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