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The Stepping Stone Relationship


Throughout the relationship cycle, we encounter and date many different types of people. These relationships, whether good or bad, all serve a purpose. They help us learn from our mistakes, shape our preferences in mates, and give us valuable experience. You have the First Love’s, the flings, the “what-was-I-thinking” relationships, and one of the most important: The Stepping Stone relationship (S.S.R.). This relationship  is one that everyone encounters, and goes a long way in shaping your relationship characteristics.

I call these relationship Stepping Stones because they are the penultimate relationship you have before THE relationship that leads to marriage or a stronger union. The circumstances on how you got together don’t really matter, rather its the crux of your interactions with your boyfriend/girlfriend. You won’t be able to identify a relationship as an S.S.R. until you’re in another one. Let’s say you’re with someone and end up getting engaged, or it becomes what you would call “the most serious relationship I’ve had to date.” Upon reflection, you will notice that certain core characteristics you possess that allow you to be a great boyfriend/girlfriend, you learned in a previous relationship.

The S.S.R. is the one that makes us better. Women will refer to this relationship when they describe how they “made him better for the next chick”. This may be the relationship where we learned and refined our girlfriend/boyfriend skills. You learned proper restaurant etiquette. You learned how to listen and be in tune with your partners feelings. You learned how to have disagreements without being nasty, contentious, or demeaning. You learned how to be selfless and actually care about someone other than yourself. It’s lessons like these that make us better as people and as significant others.

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We learn from our mistakes. What if you were the chronic cheater? What if you were extremely selfish? What about those nasty habits, or your inability to balance work and personal life? Lack of priorities, insecurity, being a nag, and other less endearing qualities are discovered and brought to light. In the S.S.R., you have individuals who kept it real with you like no one else. They let you know about yourself, and in turn, let you know what won’t fly in future relationships. This molds you into a better significant other.

The negative aspect of the S.S.R., is that usually someone is left holding the bag. Rarely do you find dual winners in the aftermath of a S.S.R. Cheaters will either be left, or will leave for greener pastures. Men who run into Girlfriend Zero, will always lose in the short term. That whole mantra “People enter your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime” holds true with the S.S.R. Sometimes, the right people meet at the wrong times. One person may not be ready for a serious relationship, or to go to THAT next level. Sometimes people can’t get past their past. Whatever the situation, the S.S.R. leaves feelings of disappointment, resentment, and anger, but you truly won’t appreciate that experience until you’re in a better space.

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Heartbreak is just another harsh reality of relationships. If love was smooth, we’d all marry our first girlfriends ever. People change. Situations…will arise. Be thankful of having to go through Hell to get to Heaven. Your past molds your future, and the Stepping Stone Relationship will one day be the trampoline that catapults you into the stratosphere of a major relationship.



  1. I have an entire 140+ characters (read: essay) comment for this post but I've worn my emotions on my e-sleeves too often. But I must say, this is definitely what ran through my mind for the past few weeks. Can't say I've been in an SSR yet but the First Love’s, the flings, the “what-was-I-thinking” relationships? Yeah, I can say I'm grateful for all I've learned and been through. That's about it. Great post Streetz.

    "Heartbreak is just another harsh reality of relationships." Who are you telling. There's so much more to say. *dabs at eyes & slaps face* Getting it together..
    My recent post Black Women Are Losing? A Theory Explained

  2. I feel my next relationship will be great. I know the last one was a transition, well realize that after the break up. Things just seem to help me learn more about myself and what I need to do for the next. Some people learn and others don't. I know I have! Good confirmation.

  3. I don't even know how to reply to this man… I had a few that I wanted to count, but then again I think I ain't had one. The problem is my "I just want to try something new" approach to dating. I get the feeling that I like to lease women and not buy, but I don't want a used car either. It's weird…

    1) Freshman year – Had that relationship that unleashed the beast
    2) HS Sweetheart – Had that relationship that taught me that as a man you gotta walk away from your first because she'll always let you smash and you don't need that in your life
    3) Timing – Learned that if you not ready to be a husband don't date a great girl who is ready to be a wife
    4) Just like me – Don't date yourself because you know each other too much
    4b) It works because we're comfortable with each other – This ain't work because … damn I shouldn't even tell you. But this was one of those situations where you know you're not supposed to be with the chick but you do it anyway because you guys are comfortable with each other.
    5) The Social Network – You learn that although everyone might say you guys make the perfect match and the whole crowd stops and cheers, you'll end up singing Our Feelings before it's all over

    So i'm just not sure are those stepping stones or am I about to get married? This is the relationship i'm looking for.

    6) The relationship that convinces me that there's nothing to fear about marriage
    My recent post My First Blog (The Final post on The Book of Jackson)

    1. I appreciate your comments and perspective. I think alot of men have the "I just want to try something new" approach which can be both good and bad depending on the situation. On the one hand you don't want to marry the first person with whom have a relationship because it is important to expand and explore before you are ready to settle down. However the flip side is that you may pass up the person whom you should have married (or "the one" if you believe in such a thing) simply because you thought you would find something better. If in fact you are looking for that relationship you describe as # 6, what steps do you feel you (or others in your shoes) need to take in order to prepare yourself to NOT want to run and chase something new? Or is it something you believe you will just know once you see/feel it? Because a woman can't change a man, he has to find and want the change for himself….

      1. #6…

        I would advise them to just keep putting themselves out there. I don't agree with the "I don't want to get married" mentality. Those cats don't ever want to build anything substantial with a woman. I'm talking something different with me. I could see myself being with one person for the rest of my life and not getting married. I'm prepared however, my finances are in order and i'm at a point in my life where being married wouldn't cause that many changes in my day-to-day routine. I guess when you build a fear of something it takes time to finally get over it.
        My recent post My First Blog (The Final post on The Book of Jackson)

      1. #2…

        The problem with a being a chick's first is the unbelievable amount of power you have over here. I think you truly don't appreciate something unless you have to work for it. And maybe you're a chick's first and then that's it you live happily ever after. Or maybe you go through life and you always circle back to her. Knowing that you can have it at any time makes it seem like it isn't worth it. I always look at it like this, many people say they wouldn't mind being a backup QB on a Super Bowl team. To me, heck no, I want to work for my championship so I can be proud of what I built. No handouts. V-Card holders have benefits that cause the intro to Kanye West's Power to play without headphones.
        My recent post My First Blog (The Final post on The Book of Jackson)

        1. I think guys love to believe they could always get it because the chick told them that at one point or they feel they really put it on her. Then a new guy comes along and is better or she just get tired of his sh*t. They get shocked when they find out they actuslly can’t always get it. Or even worse, they’re being used as easy backup d*ck.

        2. I appreciate your attraction to advocacy of the devil, but you don't know my situation. I said I chose to leave the situation. Why would I chose to leave a situation that I didn't already thoroughly examine to see its healthiness for myself and her? Sometimes people get so hooked up in "busting someone out" that they didn't even comprehend what was said. It's not about all that which you said. It's about what I said. That was a stepping stone for me and her. I made a decision as a man to move on from immature and selfish ways. Applaud, don't bash. Good day.

          PS – Forgive my candor, but your comments to just play devil's advocate rub me the wrong way. Especially after looking at the full body of work that is you; you have no right.

        3. "Forgive my candor, but your comments to just play devil's advocate rub me the wrong way. Especially after looking at the full body of work that is you; you have no right."

          This is just RUDE!!

        4. "I think you truly don't appreciate something unless you have to work for it"

          I get the sentiment associated with the above statement. However, the last three sentences left me even more confused:D Thanks for the explanation though because i think i initially misinterpreted what you wrote as 'your first' rather than 'her first'
          My recent post Race – an illegitimate concept.

        5. I have no right? L Motha. Effing. OL. For real, dude. That cracked me up. You seem to be saying what others only hint at. That because im a heaux, if you will, I should be silenced in shame. That’s why i like you, J. I like when people make it plain. But that is funny as the dickens, I tell you what. Um, my answer to your between the lines suggestion that I STFU? Um…No. Lol. I think you and i should have a drink and hash out our differnces so we can live peacefully in this small e-world. What say you?

    2. “Learned that if you not ready to be a husband don’t date a great girl who is ready to be a wife”

      THIS!! ^^^^

      Okay back to reading rest of comments.

      1. I am afraid of marriage for what it's become in this country. It's not about what it used to be about. If I asked a woman to put her hand in mine and let's go out and live together as man and woman forever, cool. But the second you sign the paperwork, I start to wonder what the hell is going on. Marriage is one of the only things that scares you two ways. 1) It's final, 2) It could not work out. What about the good old days when you actually knew what marriage was? Combine with the fact that I wake up on the other wide of the bed somedays and just want something completely different in my life. That's where the fear comes from.

        And i'm a fearless dude, "Only afraid of two things God and marriage."

    1. Rae, I so love your post! You hit every thought this single girl has had recently. I've wanted to search deeper to find my own faults so I can produce a better me. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I agree with this post completely. I have thought about this many times (while analyzing myself of course) and would see things in my that I started doing in the last relationship and now do automatically or I do now because I saw some problem with not doing it in the last relationship. Hopefully my next girlfriend loves what I bring to the table.

  5. Yea, I've had a couple of SSRs. I used to get into relationships kinda for the hell of it, just to see where it goes. I appreciated them, learned a lot from them, but I'm done with them. I decided awhile back that I would have no more relationships until I'm ready to get married, which will probably be around age 25-26. People who posted earlier are right, there's no point in dating and getting to know great guy if ultimately you're not ready to commit to him and get married.

    So unless I get an offer I absolutely cannot refuse (i.e., some amazing dude comes and sweeps me off my feet and makes me forgo the bucket list), I'm done. Closing up shop for the next couple of yrs.
    My recent post Fun times… 🙂

  6. I have probably being in an SSR going by the definition. Actually it sucks because yes it polishes you but the process is oh so painful. Good post though. I agree that the past molds the future but why do some people have to have difficult pasts. I mean I have learnt so many lessons from relationships, funny how I m still young and probably have a lot more to learn but I rather learn them the easy way cos in the past some lessons were learnt the hard way. My approach to dating is I ll try it and see if it fits, I guess we all go through life trying to figure out this love thing until we meet one of the "one"s cos we all know there is more than one soulmate for you, its a matter of time and place.

    My recent post In honor of Nigerian Independence, Launch of 419 Reasons to like Nigeria

  7. I've yet to have one, but it's not rare to hear/see complaints from women about how they put in so much time & effort with a man, only for them to turn right around and marry the next one within a span of mere months. I think ours was an S.S.R for my ex, though. He corrected a lot of things that brought him guilt throughout our dealings, and he's currently involved in a pretty stable relationship. I'm glad for him, because I've always just wanted him to be happy and in a place where he opened himself up to love and be loved.

  8. Great post. I know without a doubt my rel that ended last year because according to him it was nit leading to marriage-was my SSR. I look at how I was in that rel in comparison to others and see fully that I was more mature, thoughtful and selfless. These behaviors helped shape me into the woman I am now for the man who I am going to marry next year 🙂

  9. I like to think all my relationships were stepping stones because I try to take something from them all. I remember my first love, i fell too hard too soon and i learned the hard way about that. The next i dialed back a little too much and learned a happy medium. Since i learned from every relationship/fling from “a sexual relationship cant be more than that” “im way too petty and arrogant to date a girl just like me” and of course “every woman has her breaking point”.

    1. "im way too petty and arrogant to date a girl just like me"

      lol I think every man needs to date a girl just like him to get a taste of his own medicine.

  10. Good write.

    I remember a few years ago when I was dating this chick with very little relationship experience and I told her I was basically prepping her for life with whoever she ends up marrying. She ain't like it, but now she's engaged. Where's my invite and thank you card?! Nah, she don't want me there.

    I'd also add to this discussion the retro ephiphany. It's when you're in a relationship with someone, they keep doing something that pisses you off or rattles your feelings and you suddenly understand why a past significant other used to get mad at you or bothered by the same thing. You say to yourself something like "Now I see why s/he used to act like that when I said or did X. It really sucks being on the other side of this."
    You learn from that retro epiphany that you never wanna make someone feel that way again because you know the impact it has.


    My recent post Will I Ever Be Mature?

    1. "I remember a few years ago when I was dating this chick with very little relationship experience and I told her I was basically prepping her for life with whoever she ends up marrying. She ain't like it, but now she's engaged. Where's my invite and thank you card?! Nah, she don't want me there"

      Yeah Slim, Uh Huhhh *Major Side-eye* I see what you tried to do there, nucca you wasn't slick.



  11. Whenever I'm in doubt I ask her if I can squeeze so I know that it's real.

    I kid.

    The S.S.R. is real. I have been apart of and on the receiving end of such a relationship. More than once, I'm sure. The scary part, like you said, is you often dont know if you're in an S.S.R. until you're in another serious relationship or your last serious relationship. When you're in a good relationship you always think it'll last forever, until it's over…
    My recent post Men Already Know How to Act Right

      1. She probably feels like this because she's hasn't been in alot of those described relationships that you described. I can totally relate to her because I haven't even had a First Love yet so the stepping stone relationship i can't even fathom how that would be

        1. I'm 22. Most days I feel a little bit older but even still, I'm young 🙂

          Porscha basically hit the nail on the head. I haven't been in a lot of relationships period, for a lot of reasons, and I can't really categorize the ones I've been in into any of these. I've had a lot of Stepping Stone Situations, but I don't think those count because the impact isn't as big. Actually…now that I think about it, I know for a fact that at least one man out there considers me his SSR, but I've never been on the other side.

          I guess what I'm saying is that today's post really screamed 'experience,' and I dont have a lot of that…yet.
          My recent post "[I] learned that if you not ready to be a husband don’t date a great girl who is ready to be a…"

        2. "but I've never been on the other side"

          Being on that other side is kinda amazing and sad at the same time..when it occurs ya light-bulb is gonna go off like ding!

    1. I somewhat agree with you. There are days where the subject and commentary are so far from anything that I can relate that I quit reading and come back the next day. But I don’t feel that I’m too young to be a subscriber to the site. I just haven’t experienced as much as the writers and many of the loyals in the comments.

    2. Ya know, ironically, sometimes, while I don't feel too young, I feel incredibly… fresh… the sheer number of dates and length of time on the dating scene these people have is foreign to me.
      My recent post The First Real Date

  12. Great write up, Streetz….I feel like the last relationship I was in was a S.S.R. of sorts. I agree that after awhile when you look back and reflect you realize the type of S.O. you need to be in order to make things work.

  13. Sometimes I don't read the blog, I just go to the first comment to see who the fiend is that waits for midnight to comment…..bum

    1. " I just go to the first comment to see who the fiend is that waits for midnight to comment…"

      And then you do what with that information??

  14. ahh yes the stepping stone relationship. i've had two women whom i feel have made me better for the next woman. it kind of sucks when you think about it because like you said they got left holding the bag. i do appreciate the time we had together and everything that i took from the relationship and hopefully they also took something away.
    My recent post #30for30

  15. Great post. I believe my last relationship was an SSR for me. When we got together I was in a sad and depressed place and by the end I had gotten my spunk back and it was because of him. While I was sad to see him go I always think of him fondly because his pressence in my life brought out the best in me. It also made me realize what are realistic expectations in a relationship and how a good partner motivates and encourages you.

  16. i like this post.

    my last relationship was definitely a SSR. though i'd like to think i learned something from every relationship i've been in, i can only say i changed significantly for the better during my last (and ironically, shortest). and as the post states, it came from someone who was always honest, sometimes brutally, with me and made me reevaluate things in a way that i never bothered to before. i value that relationship for challenging me.

    i disagree with someone always being left holding the bag though. this may be an exception, but i think, well i know, that both of us ended up better mates and people, after all was said and done.
    My recent post these three words…

  17. Very interesting post Streetz, but I don't think I can relate. I haven't had many serious relationship experiences other than marriage and 1st boyfriend before that (but can we REALLY count that though??) so I can't honestly sit here and say that either one of them was my stepping stone because after all is said and done I am still internally baffled as to what I am looking for and what I want if and when I do decide to settle down again. *ThisCan'tBeMyLife* #SheeshShrug

    I have learned and I'm still in the discovery process of learning a few things about myself, and one of them being is that I tend to get bored/lose focus after awhile – like I have RADD "Relationship Attention Deficit Disorder" (my own made-up word) or something.

    So I think a few SSR/Dating Mishaps, Man I was dumb, etc. moments may be just what the doctor ordered in my case in hope of helping me to dicipher what's good for me and what isn't.

  18. I guess my question is how do you get past ya SSR or have them get past you??

    I experienced the double wammy where we both were each others SSR. The breakup was bad yet we still keep in contact with each other…and probably because of the impact created……the "in love" part is gone, but im sure we experience instances everyday where we reference each others importance..its tough, for me at least

  19. According to my happily married parents (39 years), you never 'stop' learning, no matter how much "experience" you have. Even when you get married, you and your spouse will teach each other new things about yourselves all the time. My mom says life will put you both in challenging situations to 'test' your bond and if you allow it, to build your character.

    So in that respect, whether you've had 2 lovers or 20, you are constantly learning something new about whomever you are with, ie; confict resolution, setting boundaries, intimacy, etc. Sounds kind of exciting (and a lil exhausting) to me, but I like to learn new things.

    Also, I've noticed lately within my circle that the people who haven't had a lot of relationships are a bit more successful at marriage than the ones who have. The serial monagomists/daters that I know….its like Dr.J said, are constantly looking for the next-best-thing whereas the person who hasn't been around that much, finds a girl or guy they love and makes it work.This goes for both the guys and girls that I know. Of course, this isn't a hard and fast rule. There are always exceptions. Just something I've noticed….

  20. Loved this, Streetz!

    I swear, my last 3.5 relas (one was just a rela I REALLY wanted) were SSRs that taught me 95% of what I needed to know. I've only been indirectly dumped once as a teen…so I'm a bit inexperienced in that area (thank GOD). But, not getting that rela I really wanted really did SUCK. I'm hoping thats all the lesson I needed in that area. So, for me, the guy was, in most cases, left holding "the bag"…not intentionally though.

    SSR1 taught me that I can't be with a people pleaser…and that a good friendship doesn't equate a good rela. SSR2 taught me not to claim "this is it" or attach myself emotionally based on a man's potential…hold out till I'm sure he can reach it. I also learned that I MUST have the "inexplanable it" to endure the ups and downs of a rela.

    1. SSR2.5 taught me that I will respect a man who's brutally honest with me…who can tell me about myself in a way that makes me listen (no small feat, lol…I could have easily been a lawyer)…who is the TOP DOG in his respective talent/occupation (I'm attracted to intelligence & gifted folks). I also learned I don't need a certain look…I need attraction w/the other important stuff…that simple. SSR3 taught me that I should ease into relas…it takes MONTHS to get to know someone that you just really met. I learned that I should do whatever I need to do to guard my feelings until I really know who and what I'm dealing with…and that I shouldn't settle.

      I've been able to apply all that I've learned in my current rela…and so far, so good! It's working so well its scary (and he's not moving…WOOHOO). We'll see…

  21. Great post.

    I think my SSR was also my Boyfriend Zero, who was also my "what was I thinking". It was the relationship that hurt me so bad when we broke up but taught me so much about myself…my worth…all at the same time (it took me a minute to see the latter part, though). Now, I'm at a place where I'm not in a hurry to get into the next relationship because I know marriage is my goal and I want to make sure I'm ready for that level of commitment.


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