From Acquaintances to Engaged
I see three significant stages that unfold on the journey from 'acquaintances' to 'engaged' for modern Christians. While it's possible to dissect them further (some people love complexity), I appreciate simplicity and flexibility. These categories are intentionally broad.
It works somewhat like a funnel, gradually narrowing down. As you progress downward, the number of candidates decreases, and both the intensity and intentionality increase.
Stage 1: 'Interested but not exclusive.' This is the phase where there is an interest in the possibility of something more than mere friendship, expressed either explicitly or implicitly. You might grab coffee or go to an event together. This may be one time. It might be several times. But the intensity is low. It is more a getting to know you phase than anything. Is there something here? Is there chemistry? Is this mutual? Is this a possible candidate for marriage? Consequently, there is no need for it to be formal or exclusive. You can be “seeing” multiple people in this sense all at once. The key is you don’t lead someone on. If “it” isn’t there, you back out.
In general, the courtship crowd typically requires the father's permission to even enter this stage. I find this unnecessary and unhelpful, as it intensifies the situation. It may force the daughter into seeing someone she isn't interested in and can give false hope to guys who would be better off looking elsewhere. It transforms what could be a single 'date' into multiple dates. It's just not ideal... I know, I know. Not with you. Anyway...
Stage 2 “Interested and exclusive” This is where mutual interest, general shared commitments, and chemistry has been established. The question being asked is not if they could be A marriage candidate (that’s already been established) but rather if they are THE candidate. Therefore, you stop “seeing” all others and dial up the intensity. Here you dive deeper on all things. What is his/her family like? Do they like you? Is it a total mess? How much in common do you have not just in the general issues but secondary issues? Is he crazy controlling? Does he have emotional control? Is he just a dreamer or is he a doer? Is she disrespectful? Is she unwilling to follow a man’s lead in even small things? Does she desire motherhood? Does she have a lot of debt? Etc.
I think this is the most important stage. Therefore, I think consulting your parents before becoming exclusive is advised (not required). However, it all comes down to age, life stage, and familial relationships.
Stage 3 “Engaged” This is where you have mutually established that as far as you both are concerned you are THE candidate for each other. However, you still need the approval of the broader community: parents and the church. This stage exists as a heavy check before vows are exchanged.