But it's not an abstract set of rules of "what to do when" and an one-size-fit-all scenario that fail to take specific people and circumstances into consideration. The perfect timeline from your first hello to your "I do" (if that's what you're looking for) is the pace that allows you and your prospective partner to bond together, get to know one another well, and develop your relationship in balance between purpose and flow.
Dating with purpose means that you are getting to know prospective partners with the intention of building a certain kind of relationship together. It involves actively investigating your compatibility of intention and purposefully building foundations for the relationship that you both envision. On the flip side, it also means gracefully ending any dating situation once it is clear that it will not lead to what you are looking for.
On the other hand, allowing flow is giving a new relationship the chance to grow organically, by respecting each partner's own rythme. Letting things flow means refraining from controling or pressuring, and instead taking individual preferences and needs into consideration.
Finding an equilibrium between purpose and flow is about being intentional without attempting to control the outcome, and allowing a seed to grow into the plant that's meant to become without being passive or giving up on what matters to you.
Developing a happy and healthy relationship with purpose and flow fulfills the needs of both partners and adapts to the unique circumstances surrounding the start of the new relationship. If it does not fit the needs of both partners, it's time to make a graceful exit and move on.
With all that being said, I'm going to offer you a loose timeline of how a relationship can develop from the first hello to "I do" and beyond, in a way that allows both partners to progressively grow closer intellectually, emotionally, physically and spiritually, while respecting each person's need for space and ongoing commitments and keeping the possibility of ending the relationship as painlessly as possible if it unfortunately ends up being necessary.
Note: these guidelines assume that you are looking for a long-term monogamous relationship (with or without marriage). What follows will not make sense to casual daters and people who engage in polyamorous or open relationships.
1. The early stage:
When you start dating a new prospective partner, meeting one to two times per week in person is a must. You want be in one another's physical presence frequently enough to be able to bond emotionally and to observe each other in various "real life" scenarios, but you don't need to suddenly spend all your free time with someone who is still a stranger. Having self-control and a bit of restraint even if you fall in love hard and fast could make the difference between success and failure in the long-term. Don't burn your new candle by the two ends. Pace yourself. Some people (I'm thinking of some of you, dear men : ) fall in love in their partner's absence.
Keeping in touch in between dates can be done by occasional texts, phone calls and emails, but the same idea of pacing applies here too. Be in regular touch, show you're thinking of them, be cute and all, but give your prospective partner some space for their other commitments and for... missing you a little : )
2. Exclusivity or becoming boyfriend/girlfriend/partners:
Depending on the dating culture you operate in, there might be a time period when you and/or your new flame potentially go on dates with multiple people. If this is the case, beside deciding the level of physical and emotional intimacy you're willing to share with someone before dating exclusively, you also have to figure out how much time you are willing to spend in that unclear stage. Because I consider exclusivity more an ongoing agreement than a long-term commitment, I believe that agreeing to focus on one another exclusively is best done sooner than later (I'll talk about that in a future post), but exclusivity should definitely be agreed upon by the 2-3 months mark if you're looking for a serious relationship. After all, we're just talking of exclusivity, not of making a long-term commitment! Growing emotionally close to one another and creating something special and unique between you two must be done without any interference from other people. Also, if you're going to spend the rest of life together, it's essential to demonstrate the ability to resist FOMO ("Fear Of Missing Out") on other options while you're still in the dating phase. If you or your prospective partner can't make up your mind after 2-3 months of regular and purposeful dates, it's a sign of ambivalence and I'd suggest to move on.
3. Moving in together:
When to move in together is going to depend on a crucial question: are you open to living with someone to whom you are not engaged or married, or do you like the idea of doing a trial cohabitation before making a life commitment? Regardless of the answer to this question, don't move in together only out of passion or convenience. Make sure you have carefully investigated your long-term compatibility and your ability to resolve conflict peacefully. Be especially careful if moving in together means giving up on a good housing situation that will be hard to get back to if things don't work out long-term. Be more patient if you have children from a previous relationship; don't drag them from cohabitation to cohabitation - their need for stability trumps your need for passion and convenience.
4. Making a life commitment (domestic partnership, engagement, or marriage):
Please, please, please do not make a life commitment before having dated for at least a whole year. This means no formal domestic partnership, engagement, or marriage before taking a whole trip around the sun together. You must go through the four seasons before knowing a person well because we human beings feel and act differently throughout the year. Resist the temptation of following your gut feeling that says that "I just know". If your feeling of "I just know" is right, it will still be right a few months later. You owe it to your future children to do your due diligence in choosing their mom or dad, and if you already have children, you owe it to them to be careful about whom you bring into their life.
On the other hand, taking too long before making a life commitment can signify ambivalence, unresolved issues, and/or fear of commitment. Make sure to address these possibilities if your relationship stops progressing after a couple of years together. Research has shown that the most enduring relationships are made of partners who have dated 2-2.5 years before getting married. It means that neither rushing nor procrastinating correlates with long term success. Long-term happiness does grow out of a balance between purpose and flow.
Of course, all kinds of exceptions to these guidelines can arise depending on your unique circumstances. That's why you must take your unique needs and the ones of your partner into consideration rather than trying to stick to strict guidelines. Being young and/or being in school requires delaying the process. If you have children from a previous relationship, taking more time for each step would be wise for a graceful blending of your families. In general, there are more valid reasons to justify delaying the moving in/commitment process than accelerating it.
In summary, make sure to spend enough time bonding with your prospective partner, but not so much that you neglect important aspects of your life. Make sure your relationship continues to grow by gently guiding it throughout the stages of progressively increasing commitment, but do not pressure your partner into agreeing to more than they are comfortable to. Be purposeful but adapt to the unique circumstances you two are facing.
And most importantly, enjoy your new partner and take delight in the early stages of your new relationship!