How to Date Successfully in 5 Steps (2024)

Put simply, dating is our "mating dance" as human beings. It is the process by which we find and attract a romantic partner. Unlike the fairly fixed mating process of other animals, however, some aspects of how we humans find a mate can differ over time (e.g. the fairly recent transition from traditional courtship to our more modern and loosely-structured dating). These differences can occur from social changes that impact our beliefs about relationships and gender roles. Beyond that, each individual approaches the process in accordance with their own preferences and orientations too. Taken together this can lead to multiple ways of launching a new romantic relationship.

Nevertheless, despite these social and individual variations, the dating process always contains a common series of steps that are required to successfully identify, attract, and connect with a potential mate. In fact, these steps for successful dating are a lot like hiring an employee in the workplace—although they add both the emotional and practical considerations of romantic relationships too. Because of this consistent core structure, it is possible to understand the dating process ahead of time and better prepare yourself for success. Put simply, we can review the mating dance from start to finish and learn it step-by-step. Therefore, when it is time to actually dance, you will know what to do and when to do it!

Fortunately, social science research has already explored this topic. So, to begin, we will review some of the models that describe the process from different disciplines and perspectives. From there, we can identify the common steps and sequence that will help lead you to dating and relating success.

What Research Says About the Dating Process

In the first chapter of the Handbook of Relationship Initiation, authors Bredow, Cate, and Huston (2008) review some historical models dealing with the process of dating and forming a romantic relationship. From there, they summarize those models down to the following four core steps:

  • Appraisal of Initial Attraction: Both individuals consider their motivations and goals for a romantic relationship, what they want in a partner, and what they have to offer.
  • Decision to Make an Overture: Daters then evaluate themselves and potential partners based on their goals and motivations for a relationship, in order to determine who is attractive and compatible enough to attempt to pursue further.
  • Strategic Self-Presentation: From there, partners are motivated by initial attraction to make contact with each other—and try to present themselves in ways that enhance each other's interest too.
  • Build-Up of Rapport: Partners then talk and share with each other, to find commonalities and build connections, in order to foster a deeper bond beyond their initial attraction to one another.

These steps (and the research models they summarize) generally cover the basic decision-making and verbal communication aspects of dating. Nevertheless, they miss some of the nonverbal behaviors important in making such connections and starting a relationship. Fortunately, Givens (2005) provides those details from an anthropological perspective. He notes the following five steps in the nonverbal dating process:

  • Attention: Individuals attempt to get the attention of potential partners by how they dress, groom, and act.
  • Recognition: Daters establish a two-way interaction with a desirable partner, often through eye contact, smiling, standing in close proximity, and other inviting gestures.
  • Interaction: Potential partners talk to one another and show other nonverbal indications of romantic interest, such as extended eye contact and flirtatious behaviors.
  • Touch: Partners develop a deeper emotional connection through more intimate behaviors like touching, hugging, and kissing.
  • Resolution: The partners are together as a couple and exhibit behaviors that "claim" each other as a mate, such as having their arms around one another or other public displays of affection. In addition, physical intimacy is also increased in private settings.

Dating Step-by-Step

Comparing the two models above, we can see a lot of overlap. In fact, the first four steps of both models pair together quite well. By combining them together then, we get the comprehensive five-step dating process outlined below.

Step 1: Understanding attraction and getting attention. To date successfully, you first need to figure out what you want from a relationship partner. Particularly, it helps to consider whether you want a long-term relationship or short-term hookup, learn about the traits that people might want in a mate overall, and identify the things that make someone a great partner for you specifically too.

From there, you also need to consider various ways of becoming more attractive yourself. This can include strategies for becoming more physically attractive, developing a more appealing personality, and highlighting your unique features as well. Taken together, the activities in this step will help you form a clear idea of the kind of partner you want—and increase the likelihood that they are attracted to you too.

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Finding Love Online

Step 2: Making overtures and obtaining recognition. Next, you need to figure out where to find potential partners. This may include exploring various face-to-face locations, as well as trying online dating, or exploring dating apps to find partners. Once you find a population of suitable partners, you need to get their attention as well. Therefore, learning how to read body language, break the ice, and perhaps even use a pick-up line can help out here. Overall, in this step, you are putting together a strategy to find attractive potential partners and start a conversation with them as quickly and easily as possible.

Step 3: Developing successful self-presentation and interactions. The next undertaking will be to flirt with your conversation partner and increase their interest in you as a potential date or mate. Given that, it will help to develop your own specific flirting style and learn how to reward your conversation partner.

At this point, depending on the situation, you may have to make plans to meet up at another time (or in person, if online) to continue the dating and relating process too. Fortunately, asking for a date directly (or a hookup) can be successful, especially if you use a bit of persuasion, or ask the right questions first. If you are shy or playing it cool, then there are ways of asking indirectly for a date as well. In either case, the goal of this step is to increase a partner's desire through flirting and then get them to agree to some future date or interaction.

Step 4: Building rapport and touching. At this step of the process, both individuals disclose more personal aspects about themselves, in order to create a deeper connection. Therefore, learning how to build rapport and connection, have a successful conversation, and share more about yourself can help here. Beyond making good conversation, planning exciting activities and paying attention to the romantic aspects of your time together can influence how a relationship develops too.

At this point, dating partners tend to "make a move" and increase physical intimacy as well. So, thinking about how best to get close, touch your partner, and kiss persuasively is also often necessary to move a relationship forward in this stage. Overall, these are the activities, conversations, and physical interactions that make up the longest part of the dating process. In fact, when most people think of "dating," they are generally thinking about this step.

Step 5: Negotiating a mutually-satisfying resolution. In this final step, partners evaluate each other for signs of greater interest, effort, and investment in a longer-term interaction. At this point, it is helpful to understand how investing in a relationship increases feelings of love and commitment. It can also be beneficial to know when to play hard-to-get and prompt greater investment from a partner. Overall, this last step is about both partners being selective and choosing each other, setting the foundation for a mutually-satisfying and fair relationship to follow.

© 2021 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.


Bredow, C. A., Cate, R. M., & Huston, T. L. (2008). Have we met before?: A conceptual model of first romantic encounters. In S. Sprecher, A. Wenzel, & J. Harvey (Eds.), Handbook of relationship initiation (p. 3–28). Psychology Press.

Givens, D. (2005). Love signals: A practical field guide to the body language of courtship. Macmillan.

How to Date Successfully in 5 Steps (2024)
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