You meet, you hit it off, you go on an awkward yet gripping first date, you obsess, you get to know each other better, and you fall in love. Or at least that’s what pop culture would have us believe is the general relationship timeline that you should go through. But is following a general “relationship timeline” really the best way to go about it?
If 10 years ago you had told someone that they’d be able to find a potential love interest by swiping their thumb across their phone screens while listening to a podcast on their evening walk, they probably wouldn’t have believed you. Up until a decade ago, meeting a new lover from behind a screen was not too common.
The point is, since there are now way too many different ways to meet your knight in shining armor (more like someone to sit in your PJs with), how important is following a relationship timeline? With the help of Adya Poojari (M.A. Clinical Psychology), who specializes in relationships and adolescent therapy, let’s find out if the fools who rush in are secretly the ones who have it all figured out.
What Are Relationship Timelines?
So, what exactly is a relationship timeline? Simply put, a relationship timeline marks the basic stages of evolution of a couples’ healthy bond, detailing the important markers in the relationship.
Every dynamic has its own stages of development so forcing a stage based on the “traditional” relationship timeline might not be the best thing to do. The biggest use of a relationship timeline is to show people what might be considered normal, and if yours is veering away from being a healthy one.
When it comes to relationship timelines, Adya tells us there’s usually no one-size-fits-all approach. “On paper, people can be categorized into 16 personalities. However, in reality, everybody is at a different stage in life in which they act and react differently, especially with something as sensitive as being in a romantic dynamic with a partner.”
“During those stages, people’s reactions to certain things change extensively. For example, when people are younger, they might be less respectful, but as they grow older, they tend to understand the meaning of loyalty and respect,” she says.
A typical relationship timeline will be a broad indicator of what’s fairly normal in the progression of most romantic endeavors and if the progress of yours has any cause for concern. The reason why people unanimously agree that moving in with someone six months after dating them is a disastrous decision is because it’s understood that a normal progression of a healthy relationship isn’t usually like that.
“Things went so fast, but we had no plans of stopping,” Charlotte, a reader from Wisconsin, tells us. “I started dating my partner, Gareth, after a few months of fighting it. I was looking for a casual relationship and thought that taking things forward would be a bad idea. Eventually, the pull of it was too strong for me to ignore, and I ended up giving in.
“We went from dipping our toes in the water, to diving in headfirst. Before we knew it, I had inadvertently moved so much of my stuff into his apartment that we were kind of living together. We knew we weren’t following a normal relationship timeline, and the cracks started to show four months into it.
“Once the rush of a new relationship dwindled, we realized how incompatible we were. We fought endlessly without any resolution in sight, which ultimately proved to be too much of a problem to keep things going.”
Think of relationship timelines as guidelines for what’s considered normal. Charlotte never really asked herself, “What is a good relationship timeline?” and things ended up breaking down for her before it even felt official.
What are the long-term relationship stages? Does a relationship progression timeline always look happy? If you’ve known someone for a week and their birthday is coming up, do you get them a gift?
Perhaps the relationship stages timeline can help answer questions like these. You don’t want to get someone you’ve known for a week an unnecessarily lavish gift. What if it makes things awkward? Who knew the answer might lie in the relationship timeline for gifts!
What Relationship Timelines Mean For You And Should You Follow Them?
“So, what are we? Are we dating?” While this question may leave you in a panic, fumbling for the right words to say, it’s possible you might not even really know the answer yourself. In comes the traditional relationship timeline, which might give you a sense of just how things are going with you both, and what you might be.
Haven’t been physically intimate even after so many dates that you can’t even be bothered to count anymore? Dating to a relationship timeline might be able to put your mind at ease. Even so, each relationship comes with its own timeline, since every individual brings with them their own unique aspect to it.
So, is it important to follow relationship timelines? Adya shares her opinion on the subject, “Following a traditional relationship timeline may not be as important as it used to be, since things have changed drastically in how people meet and get into relationships. The ‘normal’ relationship timeline, while still helpful, might not make sense for everyone.”
“Even so, following a relationship timeline might be the safer thing to do since it’ll help keep you morally in check and you won’t be overthinking about what’s right and what isn’t. Plus, if you think you’re not dating the right person, you might be able to take a step back and figure it out through relationship timelines,” she adds.
Let’s take a look at the “normal” relationship stages timeline and see what they might mean for you in your relationship.
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1. The nervously exciting start to a budding romance
In archaic times (pre-internet dating), the first date could almost exclusively be termed as the start of a new romance. But with the onset of online dating, the textlationships (texting for the longest time before meeting), lockdowns forcing virtual meet-ups, the start of a new romance is no longer via a first date.
If you’re looking for a relationship timeline in your 20s, the start may very well look like the first time you two stay up till 4 a.m., texting each other flirty memes with winky faces that set your heart racing. If you’re looking for a relationship timeline in your 30s, the start may just be when you two rant to each other about how you can’t stay up till 4 a.m. like you used to.
The point is, all relationship timelines start with the initial contact, despite the unique variables in your situation. You might both be single during this phase, or you might even be with other people. You might not be looking for anything serious, or you might have been trying to find “the one” for the past decade.
Now, you set out on your journey of relationship firsts. The first date, the first time getting drunk together, the first 2 a.m. booty call and so on, so forth.
2. Figuring each other out
Even though in your mind you’ll have yourself convinced that you know this person and everything they like and all the wonderful ways they’ll fit with you, you really only start to get to know them after a couple of dates.
If the most traditional relationship milestones timeline is to be followed, it’s around the second date when the first kiss usually takes place as well (IRL, we know you’ve already thought about it a million times). After that, if it clicks between you two, all you’re going to want to do is get to know everything about this person.
You’ll ask them all sorts of questions about themselves and you’re both going to exchange all your stories. You’re trying to figure out what this person is really like, and you can’t help but fall for them more and more with every passing day. In this stage, if things go well, the excitement will keep you hooked. The normal progression of healthy relationships will give you plenty of time to figure out what this person’s personality is like.
3. So…what are we? (The dating stage)
Dating is tricky. One partner may assume exclusivity, the other may not. One may quickly assume that dating means commitment. One may not even know you’re officially dating. Once you two have gone on 5-6 dates and are dating each other, questions like “What are we?” might arise, which, of course, are completely yours to answer with honestly.
The dating to relationship timeline is usually different for everyone. Some may decide after a few dates that they want to pursue what they’ve cultivated, others may take their own sweet time. What’s most important in this phase is that you keep the lines of communication open, and that you don’t lie about what you’re looking for or what you’re expecting.
A “normal” relationship timeline is only adopted when both partners are honest with each other. If you’re being led on, you’re going to end up chasing this person for the better part of a year, without getting much out of it. That’s not the most appealing situation, is it?
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4. An important aspect of relationship timelines: Physical intimacy
Adya tells us that there’s no “perfect” time to indulge in physical intimacy with your partner, and the timing changes in every dynamic. “Indulging in physical intimacy depends on the person; some think it’s too early to have sex on the first date, but there are some people who prefer that. I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as too early or too late when it comes to physical intimacy.
“The most important thing is that the boundaries are respected and what a person wants is respected. Perhaps the “perfect” time to get involved sexually is when everyone is mentally, physically and holistically comfortable with it,” she adds.
Regardless of when you reach this stage in your dating to relationship timeline, hitting this milestone is bound to have some sort of effect on your dynamic. Again, don’t be too worried about what the “right” time for physical intimacy is. If it feels right, who’s to tell you that it isn’t?
5. Dating exclusively/committed relationship
Knowing when to establish rules of dating exclusively is not discussed enough. While some just end up assuming exclusivity because of physical intimacy, others might not spare a second thought to it. And since everyone’s relationship stages timeline in months is vastly different, there’s no hard and fast rule here.
“I’d say people should stop casually dating when they’re just waiting for the other to ask them out,” says Adya. “If you know that this is someone who actually makes you happy and you have a meaningful relationship with them apart from the physical intimacy, it could be time to take it to the next step.
“When you make the change from casual to official dating, you could talk about finances and other things you want to know before you’re in a relationship,” she adds.
The “dating to relationship timeline” can possibly give you an indication when it might be a good idea to pursue things more seriously than casual dating.
6. “Fights? No, we don’t fight”
Or better known by its stage name, the honeymoon phase. The phase that totally makes you believe you’re one of those couples who never fight, you’re one of those couples who never disagree on anything and everything looks perfect. It’s here when you first realize as well that you’re now referring to the both of you as a couple, much to your delight.
If you’re going through a rebound relationship timeline, the honeymoon phase may end sooner rather than later. Since a “rebound” indicates that you prematurely jumped into a new romantic endeavor, there may be trouble afoot once the initial high wears off.
7. In the midst of the topsy-turvy committed relationship
Once the honeymoon period ends, the long-term relationship stages start. You’ll now find yourself in the throes of romance, with all the complications a relationship brings with it. The fights and the arguments you have will all seem minuscule, but you’re still figuring out your own conflict resolution techniques.
But when you’re both cuddling together, you share an inexplicable bond that amazes you every time you wrap your arms around the person you love. The relationship milestones timeline suggests that it is around this time that you start flooding your Instagram with pictures of both of you together, always trying to be the best couple around.
Expect a lot of relationship “firsts” to be crossed off the list during this stage as well, including first sleepovers, your first time meeting family, first vacations together, and a lot more new experiences.
8. You become seemingly inseparable
Once your relationship starts feeling like a well-oiled machine, you may start to lose a bit of your individuality. You won’t even realize it and it’ll come to you in moments such as when your partner’s friends call you to ask about their whereabouts (as though you’re always tracking them).
In the relationship progression timeline, it’s around this time that you end up meeting their family and friends regularly, perhaps even spending a lot of nights at each other’s place and leaving a few toothbrushes in their bathroom.
However, the answer to “What is a good relationship timeline?” also includes a period of turmoil, which might happen at this stage. Every couple goes through a crisis phase, where they could end up doubting the strength of their relationship and their commitment toward each other.
It may stem from a betrayal of trust or just incompatibility that leads to resentment in your bond. By the end of it, couples usually either come out stronger, or call it quits. If yours is a rebound relationship timeline, expect for this phase to come sooner rather than later.
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9. Putting a ring on it
A.k.a., getting engaged. This step in your relationship milestone timeline is another that’s usually highly subjective depending on the relationship and who’s looking to get married ASAP. People get engaged at different times in their relationship timeline, and that basically means there isn’t a pre-determined time that’s best for everyone.
Even so, it could be argued that long-term relationship stages like living together, meeting friends and family, and spending a lot of time with each other must be accomplished before getting engaged to a person.
10. The relationship timeline goal: Getting married
If you were dating for marriage from day one, getting married might logically be the ultimate destination for you in your relationship progression timeline. Once you’ve known each other for a considerable amount of time and decide that spending the rest of your lives together would be a good idea, it’s now time to get the government involved.
That’s not to say that getting married is the last stage in your relationship timeline, though. Marriage is perhaps only the beginning, and the relationship progression timeline definitely continues from there, albeit with different markers.
The stages of development in any relationship are unique to their own. There’s always a new dating app that’s just dropped, a new way to meet someone and connect, and new ways to show your affection. While a relationship timeline can never be followed to the T, perhaps it can serve as a general outline of what’s been predominant in dating culture over the years.
Don’t fret about trying to ascertain what your relationship stages timeline in months looks like, and try to focus more on having a healthy bond with your partner. Once you establish the basic fundamentals of trust, respect, love, and support, you’ll be good to go.