8 Differences Between Dating And Being In A Relationship

difference between dating and relationship

Yes, you read that right. There is a difference between dating and relationship and it’s a fine one. This is usually where the confusion begins. A relationship is like a rollercoaster. You feel afraid to hop onto it initially but once you do, it is thrilling and exciting all at once. But it is not all fun when you get to the top. Navigating the different stages of a relationship can be confusing and no easy thing. Especially when it starts off as casual dating, there are always a million questions and concerns leaving you forever perplexed and asking, ‘Where are we?’

You are confused about whether it is still a casual thing between you two or has it become serious? Those butterflies in your stomach keep fluttering not because you’re giddy in love but because you’re nervous and need some answers.

The transition from dating to a relationship is a difficult and confusing one, but also a really big one. You can’t read the other person’s thoughts and you are too afraid to ask questions but there are still a lot of concerns weighing on your mind about the whole relationship. How long do you date before being in a relationship? When are you ready to go exclusive? Because, let’s be honest, some people are pros at avoiding the ‘where is it going’ question and you don’t want to scare them away when things have just begun sizzling between the two of you.

Dating Vs Relationship

What is the difference between dating and being boyfriend and girlfriend? To put it briefly, dating is only a foremost step that may or may not lead to a relationship.

The dating to relationship transition obviously doesn’t happen overnight. Well, maybe in a chick flick or a Romcom it happens rather quickly, but real life has it’s own slow place. It takes a while for your emotions to evolve and for you to realize that you’ve found the one you were looking for all along. So at what point does the difference between dating and relationship stop mattering because they become on and the same? When do you know that this is it and now there is nowhere to go but up in this relationship?

Well, there are a few dating relationship stages involved that can help you understand this much better. While they may vary from relationship to relationship, here’s what they broadly entail and look like commonly:

  1. First date: You go on a beautiful first date. You two have a great conversation and feel like going out another time because you enjoy each other’s company very much
  2. More dates follow: You like spending time with each other and choose to go out on more dates. This is the stage of infatuation where you feel the need to see them all the time
  3. Comfort zone: Everything is going on great between the two of you. You get comfortable and are yourselves in front of each other. You even start spending time together at home and aren’t worried about impressing the other person anymore
  4. Love blooms: You realize that you are in love with them and simply casually dating them is not enough enough for you. This is when the difference between dating and relationship really starts to hit you
  5. You’re in a relationship: You both feel the exact same way about each other and decide to take it to the next level and Boom! Congratulations, you are in a full-fledged relationship

Stage four seems rather exciting doesn’t it? So how do you know that you two have made it there? Here are 8 things to look out for when understanding the dating and relationship difference that will help you identify your relationship status without risking scaring your partner away.

dating and relationship difference
What exactly is the difference between dating and relationship?

8 Differences Between Dating And Relationship

Dating and relationships are two different hemispheres. They are closely linked but they are still separate in their own ways. People often confuse them because of their nature. If you are seeing someone, it doesn’t mean that you are in a relationship with them or that they are your boyfriend or girlfriend. You could be dating them but not be in a relationship. There may seem to be a thin and annoying line between a relationship and dating, but there is much more to it.

So you might now be wondering, what is the difference between dating and relationship? Dating can be a fling that involves casual sex and fun, but a relationship is a more serious and romantic affair. Dating does not entail exclusivity but a relationship is all about loyalty. There is more love than lust in a relationship and being your ‘stupid careless self’ is just fine. Let us see the difference between dating and being in a relationship.

Related Reading: Are You Falling In Love Too Fast? 8 Reasons You Should Slow Down

1. Dating does not have to be exclusive, but a relationship is exclusive

Dating is a stage where you want to keep your options one to be able to find ‘the one’. At this point, you enjoy the other person’s company very much but you are not convinced yet that you can be wholeheartedly committed to them. Well, you may or may not be seeing other people when you are dating, but the option for dating someone else is always open and that is the major difference between dating and relationship. You haven’t established the rules of being exclusive because you just don’t need those strings yet.

When you are in a relationship, things change drastically. You want to spend most of your time with that one person who makes your heart skip a beat. When you look at them, it’s like you see your whole world in their eyes. There is no question of seeing someone else or going out on a date with any other person. It is like someone has pulled ahead of the pack and you are no more looking around. Your relationship is exclusive and there is no room left for any kind of doubts.

2. You say “I love you” to each other

The time throughout your dating, the most that you will get out of your partner is “I like you” or “I love spending time with you, boo” and it ends there. There will be moments of intimacy but those three magical words usually remain elusive. And for good reason, as saying I love you too soon can be a disaster.

The moment you start saying “I love you” to each other without having to think twice about whether it is too soon is when you’re ready to progress to relationship territory. It is a gesture that clearly says that you’re both ready to take it to the next level.

When Carly had just started seeing Jonathan, the new lawyer at her firm – the two used to spend every evening after work grabbing drinks at the bar next to their workplace. In the beginning, it was all casual as the two only exchanged a few kisses and some, ‘I love hanging out with you’ texts after. Three months of the same routine and one day, Jonathan came out and said the three big words to her. Ever since then, Carly has put away all her dating apps and is now in a relationship with Jonathan.

the difference between dating and relationship
You can say “I love you” without worrying about whether it’s too soon, in a relationship

3. You become his priority, he becomes yours

What’s the difference between dating and being boyfriend and girlfriend? Guys usually follow the rule of ‘bros before hoes’, you’ve probably heard it before too. Friends and family top the priority list but they might make an exception in the case of a booty call. You both go out on dates (maybe even frequently) but only when the both of you are free. He will make time for you, but will not prioritize you above else. And that’s fair when it comes to the realm of dating.

In a relationship, the expectations are different. You both go out of the way to make time for each other and see each other. Even a half-hour catching up is enough to make your day and maybe even, essential. You both cancel plans with your friends so that you two can spend more time together. That shows that you have prioritized each other over everyone else.

Related Reading: Is your man with you just for sex? 20 signs to watch out!

4. Relationship allows you to be comfortable and ‘ugly’

Not to call anyone ‘Ugly’, if you read below, then you’ll know exactly what we mean.

One of the biggest rules of dating – don’t scare him/her away. You know this stage. It’s when you spend time picking the perfect cologne, the right hair mousse and making sure your jacket doesn’t look like it’s four years old when you go out to meet them. You are conscious of everything, your looks, your habits and even your behavior. You are mindful of each and every move you make around them, walking on eggshells thinking that every single thing you do – can make or break their opinion of you. You are not ready to reveal your not-so-pleasant side to that person just yet and want to put your best foot forward.

But the dating and relationship difference makes itself really obvious once that stage of extreme consciousness has passed. People in relationships don’t care about ‘bad hair days’ or ‘no makeup days’ or their boyfriend seeing them in sweats that don’t fit right. Being embarrassed in front of your partner is not scary anymore but it’s actually kind of funny. You become totally comfortable in your skin around your partner and that’s the beautiful thing about getting into a relationship.

infographic - difference between dating and being in a relationship

You show them your ‘ugly’ side (we don’t think it’s ugly, you do) – when you are not dressed to kill and are probably sulking around on the couch. A Netflix night in the house while wearing your PJs is as good as going out to a fancy restaurant in a relationship.

5. In a relationship, you are there for each other

Is there any difference between dating and relationship, emotionally? Absolutely, there is. It’s almost like the whole face of your relationship changes. You don’t expect the person you are ‘dating’ to come home to you with chicken soup when you have a bad cold. That is what partners in relationships do. They take care of you in your worst times.

When you are dating, you take a rain check for being sick and don’t expect to meet the person any time soon. For example, when Jeanine and Walter used to go out, the two used to enjoy each other’s company but weren’t really occupied with each other’s well being or would even open up to each other, for that matter. It took months for Jeanine to tell Walter about her issues with her parents growing up. Before that on all their bowling dates, it just never came up. But six months into dating, the two finally got in to a relationship and that’s when Jeanine told Walter everything about herself. And ever since then, Walter has been around for her like a great boyfriend. He even accompanied her to her thanksgiving dinner with her parents because he didn’t want her to face them alone.

One of the big differences between dating and relationships is that in the latter you do everything to show someone you care and you actively make that effort. Your partner is there for you even when you most need it. When you go out of town, you know that someone will be waiting at the airport to pick you up when you return.

6. Expectations bloom in a relationship

There are no expectations while dating. You go on dates, have fun and sometimes even have great sex. But it all ends there and most likely, stays that way. There is no room for emotions, late-night conversations and surprises when dating. You don’t have anyone to have your back, and you are still pretty much on your own. But the difference between dating and relationship tells you that in relationships, things go a little bit differently than that.

In relationships, you have high expectations from your partner. You expect your partner to spend most of their time with you, get you gifts and even give you surprises. You meet their friends and maybe their family members too. You become a major part of their lives and want to feel accepted like you are an integral puzzle piece. Similarly, they will expect similar things from you too. Consoling them on the phone at the end of a long day, accompanying them to a party that they’re not comfortable at – all that jazz comes with a relationship.

couple goals

7. Conversations are now about “us”

Earlier on in your stage of dating, there are no conversations about “us” because you don’t plan on building a future together with the person you date. You like them a lot but you don’t seem them in your world yet. “Us” is not a word in the dictionary of dating, let’s make that very clear. It is just you and me as separate individuals who are only keen on exploring each other. You do not really talk about “where are we going…” type things because neither of you wants to answer that yet as you are just not sure and don’t want to make any major decisions too quickly.

But once the conversation crosses that line, a relationship might be closer than you think. If you and I becomes “us” and “we”, then it is going in the direction of a relationship and you’re almost identifying as a couple already. Couples talk about their future plans and their relationship. They see their future with each other and that’s when you really don’t have to worry that your relationship is just a fling. And so, “where are we going..” is talked about with definite plans of action.

Like when Adrian had to relocate to Missouri for his new job, the woman he had been dating was particularly not happy about it. That’s when Adrian realized that the two of them were more than just people going out on dates. Jessica told him that she wasn’t too happy about it and that’s when Adrian stopped thinking about himself and his future and started including Jessica’s perspectives and hopes too. The difference between dating and relationship, you ask? The two had successfully crossed over into the relationship realm that very day.

Related Reading: 11 Ways To Cope With Dating Anxiety

8. The girlfriend or boyfriend title

What is the difference between dating and being boyfriend and girlfriend? Well those very terms are enough to dictate which level of this relationship you two are on. You don’t need to wonder where things are going if you have got the title in place already. People who are just dating don’t use tags like girlfriend or boyfriend for the other person. They just refer to you as a ‘friend’ or ‘the girl I’m dating’ or ‘the guy I’m seeing’.

If they introduce you as their girlfriend or boyfriend to their friends or family, then it’s certainly official. You are already a couple! You don’t need to rack your brain thinking about it. Defining your relationship in public is the cherry on top and is the last checkpoint for exclusive dating.

The dating vs relationship dilemma is a complex one but we hope this list has cleared it for you. You look for signs of dating or of a relationship and run them by your BFF for affirmation, to make sure it’s not all in your head. You don’t want to screw things up, so you keep this dilemma to yourself. But it keeps eating you alive anyway.

Make sure that you are both on the same page with this dating-relationship thing you have going on. If you are serious about this person in your life and see these signs, then go for it and walk over to the relationship side. On the flip side, if you are not looking for anything serious and realize that the other person is getting too serious, pull away before you end up hurting them.


1. Can you be dating but not in a relationship?

Yes. Dating is the period that comes before a proper relationship. It is the time when you are still exploring and figuring out whether you want to be in a serious relationship with that person or not. It is the time for casual hangouts and not serious decisions.

2. What are the stages of dating?

It starts with the online texting stage, the first date and then deciding whether one wants to pursue this further or not. After subsequent dates, if you are catching feelings you can eventually get into a relationship.

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