The dating process explained.

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Having a clear understanding of the dating process will help you to know what to focus on as the dating progresses.

Even if the whole process only takes a short time, it involves covering a vast emotional terrain – going from complete strangers to planning to spend the rest of your life together. 

Surely, the skills and issues that are relevant at the very beginning of the process are going to be hugely different from those that are important at the end of the journey.

Many people – especially those inexperienced at dating – get unnecessarily anxious and confused, and in some cases make unfortunate mistakes, because they lack understanding of how dating unfolds.

Dating has three main phases, which we explain below:

Phase one: Getting to know each other

You have heard some nice things about the person and the idea seems reasonable, but until you meet you really don’t know. So, the purpose of this phase is to determine that you are interested in and compatible with each other.

The aim of this phase is to allow the mind to take a reasoned look at the suitability of this match, before getting emotionally involved.

The phase has two stages:

Initial screening – Your first one or two dates are focused on answering one key question: Am I interested in getting to know this person? Can I see potential in this date? Do I see a point in investing further in developing this connection?

More specifically, you would hope to be able to answer, at least to some degree, the following three questions:

1. Am I okay being in this person’s company?

2. Do I find basic things in common?

3. Is there some initial attraction?

Your goals for this stage:

1. Determine whether you are interested in pursuing dating with this person

2. Give your date a good reason why he or she should want to continue dating you

Some people come away with a negative impression from the first date, but change their view on the second date. This could be for a plethora of reasons, including because one or both were nervous, were surprised or were not expecting something, or had misunderstood something. Unless you have a very strong negative reaction, a second date is generally advisable – if nothing else, just to be sure.

Data-gathering – You have made an initial assessment that you like the person, but you don’t really know them. Now, you begin to learn about their views, family background, and life experience. In a shidduch setting, this stage lasts around two dates.

At the end of this process, you will want to be able to answer the question: Are we compatible?

Of course, you still don’t know everything about the other person, and many of the more profound aspects have not come forth yet.

Still, you will most likely have covered a great many topics that allow you to assess whether you are on the same page on key issues like values, religious level, life goals, and character.

So, the question may be phrased a little more modestly: Do we appear to have a decent level of compatibility?

Your goals for this stage:

1. Give clear and positive answers to the questions you are being asked

2. To prepare and ask suitable questions about matters that are important to you

3. Make every reasonable effort to put your date at ease

If you are ready to move on from phase one, you will have determined that:

  • You like the person you are dating
  • You are getting along well
  • You share a strong level of compatibility
  • You see real potential

Phase two: Developing the relationship

You don’t want to get your hopes up too high quite yet – after all, you are still both new to each other – but you allow yourself a good level of optimism. Your general attitude is: this could go somewhere.

There are two main aims of this phase:

1. To allow the relationship to develop and for mutual feelings to grow

2. To get to know your date in a much deeper way to be sure this really is a good match

Unlike in phase one, these are not two stages but run parallel to each other. For the most part, those two elements of this phase are inseparable. That is because, the key way that feelings develop is through “mutual self-disclosure,” the process by which we gradually share ever more personal insights into our mind, heart, and soul.

This step-by-step process is different for every person. For some, it comes very naturally and for others, it takes more effort. As you become more comfortable being open, you also generate more closeness. This virtuous cycle results in a growing emotional bond.

While this greater openness creates the potential for a closer relationship, it also results in people finding out things about each other that could raise questions about suitability.

You may hear things during this process that lead you to question whether this is really the kind of person you want. You may be confronted with issues that are not easy to wrap your head around, like mental illness or complicated family dynamics.

Sometimes, significant new aspects open up that you had not given any attention to, and you may need to return to stage two of phase one and explore those issues, before deciding whether to resume the phase two process. 

Typically, this phase takes three to five dates, but many people find that it takes them longer than this, and that is fine too. The main question you want to ask yourself after a date during this phase is: Are we moving in the right direction? Is progress being made?

If you find you are treading water, and nothing changes from date to date, you would want to change things up and try new activities. If that doesn’t improve the situation, it may be that there just isn’t the chemistry between you. Unfortunately, this happens regularly.

However, if you find that you have had this happen several times before, it is important that you look into why this is happening.

If you are ready to move on from phase two, you will have determined that:

  • You have developed an emotional connection with the person you are dating
  • You are compatible to a satisfactory level on all key issues
  • You get the emotional support you need from your date
  • You are able to discuss challenging issues and resolve differences
  • You can see yourself marrying this person

Phase three: Committing to marriage

Most people who reach this stage are riding on a cloud, and they are hyper-excited about their future prospects of marital bliss. If you are emotionally caught up in the high of love, you are no longer capable of being objective. All you are interested in is making sure that your date is ready to commit to you and can propose/accept marriage.

However, a significant number of people do not react that way. They may see all the positives in their date, but still are struggling to get past some features they find less attractive. They have yet to make a final decision to commit.

It is important to distinguish during this phase between minor issues that you get over, and significant ones that will affect your likelihood of marital success. 

Your aim for this phase is to answer one main question: Am I ready to move forward without looking back? Am I ready to take the plunge with this person?

Your goals for this phase are:

1. Address and resolve any niggling concerns

2. Discuss your future together and what that would look like

3. Pluck up the courage to get engaged

4. Make the actual commitment

It is important to ask yourself: Is there anything I am still concerned about? Am I confident that I can go forward with this without regrets?

You should also ask yourself: Am I emotionally ready to become engaged? Or do I need a little more time before I face the music?

The phase can be as short as a single date, but more realistically a bit more than that. Take your time getting yourself ready to make the commitment wholeheartedly and having prepared yourself mentally and emotionally. It is better to be truly ready than to have wobbles after your engagement.

You never make the commitment because you feel pressured to do so, nor do you even contemplate getting engaged if you are not totally committed to seeing it through. You don’t have to be blindly in love, but you do have to be complete with your decision and ready to make it happen.

Some people have significant difficulties making this commitment. They have what is known as a “fearful attachment orientation” and, in extreme cases, will become paralyzed with anxiety during this last phase. Minor issues take on titanic proportions, and the person enters into a state of panic. For such a person, it is tempting to want to escape at that point, except that it will solve nothing. This is discussed in more detail here.

A mystical model

ChaBaD – The first phase is a mostly mental one. Does this match make sense on paper? Considering what I am looking for, is this a good fit? Do we square up in terms of our ideas and goals? 

ChaGaS – The second phase is mostly an emotional one? Do I feel close to, do I trust this person? Do I feel comfortable with and can I open up to him/her? Does this person pull at my heartstrings?

NHYM – The third phase is mostly about putting it into practice. Do I feel ready to commit? Are there issues that are getting in my way?

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