This post is based on my comment on /u/fairydust91 's the Difference between girlfriend and wife "duties" and expresses my own views on how to maximize the chances of securing a healthy, happy transition from the single status to a serious, long-term commitment.
I will expand further on the comment, sometimes using both positive and negative examples from my own relationship(s).
During our time here on Earth we play a wide range of roles, from specific, singular ones like the daughters of our parents to collective ones, like students or employees. Some we choose, some are chosen for us and each role comes with its own benefits and obligations, which we acknowledge and try to embody to the best of our abilities.
The central point to all of these roles is the actor, the individual who molds and gives life to the character, allowing it to surface in various circumstances. This is far from wearing a mask or putting on a meager act and I explain the difference illustrating with the method acting techniques, which encourage complete identification with the character, to create sincere, genuine emotions on-screen. Basically, in a specific context, the actor becomes his character, talks, moves, behaves and thinks like it. The idea I got from an article on how Marlon Brando became Francis Ford Coppola's don Vito Corleone, using Italian cheese and wine and a couple cotton balls which he stuffed into his cheeks, thus embodying The Godfather.
Now, if we try to bring the technique into the relationship realm, we first need to establish the exact transition an individual goes through from a single woman to enjoying a committed, marriage headed relationship:
FIRST STAGE - PHYSICAL ATTRACTION
First stage is, of course, that of a single woman interested in a relationship. First and foremost, a relationship is the sum of its parts, meaning you will get out of it exactly what you put in. In this stage, the woman is solely focused on herself and her own life. Most likely, she will be balancing her own well-being, school/a career or job, a group of friends/family and some personal interests. Enter an interesting man, her catching his eye. Now, from the get-go, the man is interested in the woman because he is physically attracted, he likes the way she walks, talks, carries herself and his imagination starts going wild with all the nasty stuff he wants to do to her. He asks her out, she agrees and then the courting begins. What is the woman compelled do at this stage? She eagerly starts pulling out THAT outfit from her closet, makes sure she gets enough rest before the date, maybe even gets her nails and hair done.
If we observe the trend here, it's all focused on the physical mostly, she is interested in presenting herself in the best light possible. I've never heard of a woman showing up on a date man with a man she's interested in with messy, unwashed hair or chipped nails. This is a beautiful part of our mating ritual which, I believe, most(if not all) women enjoy. This is the stage when she feels like a princess who's got her own personal knight in shining armor ready to woo her and prove himself to her.
Vetting in this stage consists of taking a close look at the man's behavior:
Does he take the lead? - we want a man who knows what he wants and has enough confidence in himself to ACT - ability which comes in handy later, say, in pursuing a promotion for example.
Does he put in the effort? Is he a good planner? Has he got enough attention to detail to make things pleasant for the both of you? You'll have trouble submitting to someone who is incapable of making sound plans.
Does he follow through with his plans? Is he able to get out of his mind and shape reality or is he satisfied playing a fantasy over and over in his mind, then losing motivation?
Is he flexible? Does he take you into account? For example, my bf proposed a bike ride for our first date. I initially said yes, but changed my mind since I was recovering from a bad cold, so he proposed we have a walk and maybe stop for a glass of wine somewhere. I agreed to this also but, since the weather that day got a bit fussy, he showed empathy and proposed we schedule the walk for another time and just grab the wine. I liked his flexibility and the fact that he never once deterred. This was a man 100% decided he will see me but was also attentive to my well being.
How does he come across? Is he bold and dominant because of experience or because he's a momma's boy used to having everything done his own way? Is he hesitant to pick a venue because he's new in town or because he needs affirmation at every step?
This phase will usually last around a month, maybe more, depending how often you see each other. Notice I haven't said anything about deep, serious conversations regarding baggage, self-baring, cooking, waiting on him, etc. You're just barely getting to know this man and he you, this is each person's time to shine and present themselves in the best light possible. You need to be aware, he will never ever appear to be this perfect ever again, so enjoy the attention and the love-goggles. Don't rush it.If something feels off now, it probably is a HUGE red flag so let him do the talking, pay attention and ask questions.
SECOND STAGE - MENTAL ATTRACTION
In this stage, a brand new relationship is starting to take shape. You see each other more and more, maybe meet up with friends or family and the level of intimacy increases. To differentiate this from the first stage, think of intent. If during the first dates your intention was to have some innocent good time with a guy you might or might not consider for a relationship and gather 'clues', as the connection deepens, you intend to find out if your clues all fit together and are backed up by his actual behavior observed over a longer period of time.
This is the stage of questions, you are trying to actually know this man on a deeper level, who he is, what are his hopes and ambitions, what does he like in a woman, what does he want out of a relationship, why did his former relationships failed, etc. You NEED to actually ask questions, help him open up and then show vulnerability in return. Talk about your own hobbies, dreams and ambitions. Show yourself more and more and let him show himself. Schedule trips, visits, bring him to meet your friends, take him to your favorite spots, show him you are so much more than a pretty, girly girl.
Allow him to confide in you, do not judge, do not put him down, no matter what. Encourage him to be himself and get comfortable with you. How else are you going to know whether he is really a boring slob if you always keep him to your high standards? Let him be and WATCH what he does when absolute freedom is given to him. He'll love you for it and you'll have the chance to notice how he's going to behave 10 years down the road. Do you like what you hear when he knows he can tell you anything? Do you like what you see when he knows he can get completely comfortable around you? Try to notice him in as many situations as possible, how he reacts to stress, hunger, lack of sleep, etc. Is he reliable? Does he get in a foul mood when he has not slept enough? Is he a picky eater? What are his favorite meals? Is he actively interested in sex, or to him sex is nothing more than blowing off some steam? Does he want children? Now? Never? Ask him as many questions as possible, expand on them as this is all going to be useful information for later.
During this stage, which usually lasts 2-3 months, he is a steady presence in your life, someone you are dating. Many things can still come out of it. Maybe you realize you like him as a man, but he would make an unsuitable partner. Maybe you figure out you two have so much in common but the initial attraction kind of fizzled or maybe you're already over the moon at your compatibility and thinking about him day & night.
THIRD STAGE - COMMITMENT
By now, some good months have passed, you know this person and truly, honestly appreciate them. You feel the need to give, to share, to help. This is the time to invite him over for a home cooked meal and it will definitely not come across as desperate or like you are trying to win him over by showing you're 'wife material'. If you honestly reached to the point where you get the need to give something out of yourself for this man, he will feel you coming from a place of abundance, which is powerful, not from a place of insecurity and shaky-ness, employing meager tactics to make him stick around. This is also the most suitable time to have sex, imo, for the same reason.
You know this person and you like them so much you can't help but wanting to make them happy. You go out of your way to make him feel good and he feels like a king, because he knows you don't just do this to everyone in the hope someone will stick around, but he has been thoroughly vetted and this 'submitting' of yours is only reserved for the best man out there, him.
He knows you're spending late nights discussing the novel he's recommended to you not because you want to 'hook' him, but because you truly found it fascinating, since you have similar taste. There's no doubt in his mind that you are a woman tailored to his needs, attractive, smart, honest, who's not afraid to show her vulnerable side and invite him to tag along in a journey to self discovery.
In this stage, the commitment-talk comes easy. I personally believe the man should escalate and amp up his commitment to the woman. Her role is to show him what a valuable addition to his life she can be, but NEVER, EVER push him. Just take note of his behavior.
You cannot change anyone anyway, so if he moves too slow for your liking, just tell him that and say your good-byes. A million times better than a miserable life where you have to nag constantly to get him on the same page. You have no right to make someone else feel like a failure just because you expect a ring within the first 6 months. If you do, there's nothing wrong with that, but be aware he will never be the man you are expecting him to be and this will set you up for disaster. It's his job to be the leader, the pursuer, to show you he is capable of taking care of you and your children and shape up a piece of reality for his family. Yours is to vet, vet, vet for the best match. Allow him space to act like a man and in the mean time, make sure to become the best woman you can be.
In closing, I believe most of what I have written here, although not necessarily RP to the core, can help anyone in not selling themselves too short or emphasizing a good sexual connection too early, thus getting blinded by it. It also offers some sets of questions to guide any relationship with a man in the early stages, as to figure out whether he can be trusted, with what and for how long. I'm sure that heartbreak which turns to cynicism, which in turn makes us old, wrinkly and jaded can easily be avoided, if we are mindful and honest enough to know what we`re looking for and then stick to it.
Any questions, comments, additions or experience sharing is most welcome!