The point isn't to analyze a relationship to death but to get an idea of each person's current feelings, intentions, and plans for the future. "If someone says, 'Yes, I want to be married and I can imagine marrying you, but I don't feel I know you well enough right now' or 'I don't feel like we have the skills to be married yet'—those are good answers," says Stanley. "But if he says, 'I don't think I'm the marrying kind' or 'I like you but I can't marry someone who has children/a dog/isn't my religion', she might want to think about protecting herself."
It's a lesson that a woman we'll call Ella Jamison learned the hard way. Jamison, 29, a divinity student in Virginia, met Mark Lewis (not his real name) while visiting friends in Seattle in the summer of 2003. They drove to a concert together. "We liked the same music; we shared a similar faith." And they found each other attractive. A few days later, she had to fly home to Virginia. "Mark wasn't into e-mail, so we wrote letters," she says. "It seemed a very cool way to get to know each other, and it was very romantic"—so romantic that she invited Lewis to come live with her family after he finished his bachelor's degree that May. "We'd talked about commitment before he came." Two months later, Lewis asked permission of Jamison's parents to propose to her. They gave him their blessing and her grandmother's engagement ring. "But at the end of the summer, Mark went back to Seattle without asking me to marry him—and he kept my grandmother's ring."
Clearly, Lewis would be considered a jerk in any epoch, but the romantic cataclysm he and Jamison experienced is especially common in ours, says clinical counselor John Van Epp, PhD, who created the PICK a Partner (Premarital Interpersonal Choices and Knowledge) relationship education program when he saw his single clients repeat the same disastrous mistakes over and over. "They were smart people who were making a lot of progress in therapy," he says, "but when it came to dating, it was as if they had a toolbox full of bad tools."
Van Epp realized that his clients were moving through the stages of romantic love in the wrong order. "A woman would come in and gush that she'd been at a party and met the love of her life, or a man would tell me that he was at a bar and found a woman who completes him," Van Epp says. "What they found were people they were very attracted to but who they don't know at all. That's why I developed the RAM."
The RAM is Van Epp's Relationship Attachment Model, which includes a diagram that looks like a stereo equalizer and shows you how to tune a relationship by moving the levers up in a specific order—Knowing, Trusting, Relying, Committing, then Touching.