Amy Gahran, “Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life”
Stages of the Relationship Escalator

On the whole, this is how the Relationship Escalator typically works:

1. Making contact. Flirting, casual social encounters, possibly including making out or sexual hookups.

2. Initiation. Romantic courtship gestures or rituals, emotional investment or falling in love, and usually sexual contact (except in religious or socially conservative circles).

3. Claiming and defining. Mutual declarations of love, presenting in public as a couple, adopting and using common relationship role labels (boyfriend, girlfriend, etc.). Having expectations, or sometimes making explicit agreements, for sexual and romantic exclusivity — and also ending other intimate relationships, if any, and ceasing to use dating sites or apps. Transitioning to barrier-free vaginal/anal intercourse, if applicable, except if that would present health or unwanted pregnancy risks. Once this step is reached, any further step, including simply remaining in the relationship, may be considered an implied intention to continue the relationship indefinitely.

4. Establishment. Adapting the rhythms of life to accommodate each other on an ongoing basis. Settling into patterns for regularly spending time together (date nights and sexual encounters, time at each others’ homes, etc.). Developing patterns for keeping in contact when not together, such as email, phone calls, video chat or texting.

5. Commitment. Explicitly discussing, or planning for, a long-term shared future as a monogamous couple. Expectations of mutual accountability for whereabouts, behavior and life choices. Meeting each other’s family of origin.

6. Merging. Moving in together, sharing a home and finances. Getting engaged to be married, or agreeing to a similar legal or civil formalization of the relationship.

7. Conclusion. Getting legally married, if this option is available, or otherwise making an equivalent formal, recognized, legally binding arrangement. The relationship is now finalized; its structure is expected to remain fairly static until one partner dies.

8. Legacy. Purchasing a home together, if possible. Having and raising children — not mandatory, but still strongly socially venerated. This part of the Escalator is no longer as obligatory as it once was. However, often couples may not feel, or be perceived as, fully valid until they hit these additional milestones of post-marriage.