Dr. Gregory Popcak mentioned the dating hierarchy in his most recent Family Foundations article and it conveniently matched the one which I discovered in college: casual dating, exclusive dating, engagement, and marriage. It seemed eminently logical to me, once I started thinking things through instead of following what felt good.
I loved casual dating a lot. Hanging out with a girl with no commitment to future dates, just a chance to get to know a fellow human being, was a great experience to develop important marriage skills like friendship, communication, and listening. The girls I dated seemed to react to this in odd ways. One treated it like an interview and started firing questions. Another was almost mute as if she was waiting for the other shoe to drop. I can only guess that they assumed I would try to get myself invited to their rooms or something. Dates ending at the door to the dorm are the best for personal growth. Friendships can develop and last beyond these dates.
Exclusive dating was awesome once it followed the previous step. It indicated an increasing commitment to one woman. In the past when I jumped right to this step, it was forced and fake, as if I were acting a part. Once it followed casual dating, the work of breaking off ties to casual dates further emphasized the commitment to one woman.
Engagement was the most confusing since there were certain traditions to follow for the proposal but nothing besides Pre-Cana and wedding planning beyond that day. Fortunately, I was bright enough to realize that I better make this future marriage work and devoured relationship books by Gary Smiley and John Grey. I wish I'd known about Dr. Popcak back then.
Marriage at the end of this chain was spectacular because I spent years committing myself to it. It was a culmination of practice, study, and ultimately sacrament, since the grace of the Lord flowed into me to further perfect my love so that I can make a better gift of myself to my bride.
Thanks for the support Dr. Popcak.