• Tony Dymock

The Relationship Ladder

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a huge fan of therapy. Sometimes it may seem sessions go by where you have nothing to say, or there's nothing of value to dig into. And then a couple of sessions down the line, all the pieces fall into place, and it's like you're reading the Matrix.

For me, that came together recently after some intense sessions on understanding expectations and boundaries within my relationships. Many of us don't have clearly defined lines on what level of a relationship we have with a particular person. If you're thinking "level of relationship?" then brace yourself, today you learn. Let me introduce you to ...

The Relationship Ladder!

Everyone will have their own version of this, but here's mine. It applies to the idea of a monogamous end game; finding my future wife and mother of my kids. Your circumstances will differ if that's not what you're after.

|===| Girlfriend/Partner (actual dating)

|===| Exclusive (P-plates)

|===| #NotDating (L-plates)

|===| Friends

|===| Strangers

Now, rules of the ladder.

  • You can climb up ONLY one rung at a time. I learned this the hard way. DO NOT SKIP A RUNG! Ever. Just don't do it.

  • Like a game of snakes and ladders, you can and often should demote more than one rung at a time.

  • Climbing up requires a "fuck yes" from both people. Don't force it. If either of you isn't a "fuck yes", abandon ship, coz here be dragons. Yes, that applies to friends too.

  • Demotion needs to be brutal. If either side isn't feeling it, communicate as such and move on. Ghost if you have to. Just move on.

At each rung of the ladder, you need to understand what your expectations and boundaries are. You really should communicate to the person explicitly what these are, but you may also choose not to and see how they behave on their own accord. Be careful with this, though.

If you don't communicate these expectations, you set yourself up to create a covert contract. That is, you hold them accountable for things they never agreed to. I've been on both sides of a covert contract, and it's soul-crushing to both people. Don't do it. I'll write up covert contracts another time.

I'll give some examples of how this works for me after my copious amounts of therapy and a handful of failed relationships. Again, this is just me. Feel free to copy or create your own.


Pretty self-explanatory. Strangers are strangers. Assume they're good, but prepare for them not to be. Look out for yourself. Same with your friends. Surround yourself with people who make you want to be better. If you have 5 dropkicks for friends, you are the 6th dropkick. If you have 5 ambitious and driven mates, you are the 6th ambitious and driven mate.

#NotDating (L-plates)

Ahhhh, the favourite rung for the eligible bachelor/bachelorette. The early flirting and possible friends with benefits stage. While I talk here about dating non-exclusively, it doesn't mean you need to be sleeping around with tons of people. You do you, boo. Go with the flow with zero expectations.


  • Do whatever you want with whoever you want. I won't ask what you're up to, and I won't answer questions on what I'm up to. Discretion is the better part of valour.

  • Has to be some sort of friendship here. Unless you're just banging for the sake of it. But is that really satisfying? You're the judge of that.

  • Integrity. A big one. If you tell me you're coming over, and I make the time to be with you, you better make it. That applies to regular friends too.

  • Honest and open communication is paramount. If feelings start to develop, that requires a "what are we?" type discussion.

  • No other expectations. Pretty straightforward. It could go either way at this point.

Demotion from #NotDating

  • Crap behaviour. Ghosting, flaking, dishonesty, usual things you should never tolerate from anyone anyway.

  • If feelings develop that are not reciprocated, the time has come to make like a tree and leave. A lot of men can't remove their sexual agenda and have healthy platonic female friendships. If you're one of those guys, demote to Stranger.

Promotion to Exclusive

  • 3-6 months at #NotDating required before considering promotion.

  • The only reason to promote is that you're evaluating this person as a potential long term partner. The road signs show you're on the same path, values line up, everything SEEMS good. But remember, DO NOT GO STRAIGHT TO GIRLFRIEND/PARTNER. Exclusivity is required first. You need more time to figure out who this person is.

  • Part of the "what are we?" chat will require a commitment to the expectations of what Exclusive means. If the person isn't happy with those expectations, you have your answer.

  • Either party can initiate the "what are we?" chat.

Exclusive (P-plates to a


Wow. Ok. So you've found someone you could see a future with. They must be truly something! Otherwise, you're wasting your time. Seriously. There's no point being exclusive if you can't see yourself getting old with them. Remember that.


  • The only added expectation here is no more sleeping around. Infidelity is instant dismissal.

  • Other friends made at the #NotDating stage can stay around, but they have to be kept in their place and be comfortable meeting the partner.

  • You do you. Hang with whoever you want, do whatever you want, show me the real you: warts and all. If you want to be with me, I'll feel it.

  • Almost contrary to the above, we should be each other's first choice. If I prefer to drink with random girls instead of hanging out with you, that speaks for itself.

  • No labels at this stage. We are dating; we are not boy/girlfriend—no need to explain that to anyone.

  • Most importantly, we need to be having fun. If we're not having fun, something is wrong.

Demotion from EXCLUSIVE

  • Again, poor behaviour. A lack of loyalty, honesty, or respect.

  • Lifestyle mismatch due to a clash of values, certain behaviours, substance inclinations, etc. All that is ok, there's nothing wrong with any of it, but maybe you're not actually on the same highway after all.

  • You just want something else. That's ok; people often change their mind about what they want in a partner. It's not personal, it's just life.

  • If either side no longer sees a future with the other, it's time to be kind and demote.

Promotion to Girlfriend/Partner

  • I'd say at minimum 3 months of dating exclusively is required before promoting and whacking labels on it.

  • Your values are aligned, you live similar lifestyles, you're liking where this is all going. There's nothing "wanting" on either side.

  • Promote only after a solid conversation on what the future looks like. E.g., if you want kids and your partner doesn't, sorry spud, no point promoting.

  • I've changed my tune on this recently, but I feel this conversation SHOULD come from the man. It shows leadership and decision, which I've never met a woman who doesn't find that attractive.


We're serious now. This label comes with serious expectations, which is why it's taken us 6-12 months to get here.


  • Labels are now in place. We introduce each other as partners.

  • The relationship comes first. We are each other's priorities.

  • Completely open & honest communication with an understanding that we communicate in different ways. We have to "cross the bridge" and see the world from our partner's view.

  • Our values are aligned, and we hold each other accountable. We call each other on our shit. That's not an excuse to be a dick, but to raise each other up. Believe in the positive intent.

  • And again, have shit tons of fun. If it's not fun, something is wrong.


  • I call it the 90/10 rule. In this stage of dating, you should be happy at least 90% of the time. It'll never be 100%, because then you'll be bored out of your brain, but at least 90% is required.

  • Deeper behavioural traits have surfaced that do not resonate with the ideal. It takes a long time to get to know someone well, and maybe my raging coke and escort habit was hidden so expertly you never saw it coming.

  • Maybe what you want has changed. And that's perfectly ok. Sometimes things just don't work out.

Promotion from here?

  • After about 12 months of being partners, I'd say it's time to live together and see how life as a proper couple goes. From there, I wouldn't know! Don't think I'll be getting there anytime soon. 😂😂😂

And there we have it! My relationship ladder. Let's see how this serves me in the years to come!