Courting Vs Dating | How Courtship Is Different Than Dating

courting vs dating

Ever went out on a first date and instantly imagined yourself getting married to that person? Or, ever gotten yourself in a situation where you just wanted to ‘hang out’ but the other person got way too serious, way too soon?

Yes, this happens often. This is why it’s very important to be on the same page as your partner. The last thing you want is to be offered an engagement ring in your champagne, when all you wanted to do was “Netflix n Chill, bro!”

Ever heard your mother saying “Kid, the courtship period is the most important” ? Or are your friends constantly pushing you to get back into the ‘dating scene’? Courting vs dating? What’s your vibe? Which one of these are you looking for? And how are they different from each other? Here are the answers to all your questions.

What Does It Mean To Court Someone?

William Congreve had rightly said, “Courtship is to marriage, as a very witty prologue to a very dull play.” As he described it, it’s basically the cherry on top of the cake, the cake being marriage.

So, what is courting? The dictionary defines ‘courting someone’ as being “involved with (someone) romantically, with the intention of marrying.” This implies that courting someone involves a level of seriousness and future commitment. It is a clear intention to settle down and work towards the direction of spending your life with someone.

Have your parents told you about the couple of months preceding their marriage where your dad would write love letters to your mom or sneak her out to get to know her more? Yes, that was their courtship period. 

What does it mean to court someone? Traditionally, it meant that if a guy liked a girl, he went and asked her father for her hand. Only after her father’s consent could they conduct their relationship. The main idea, in the religious sense, was that the relationship should be granted sanctity and conducted under an authoritative eye – whether it was the family or the church. Remember what happens at the end of Pride and Prejudice, when Mr. Darcy goes to Elizabeth’s father to ask for his permission, immediately after he confesses his love to her? After receiving his blessings, they were free to court.

Related Reading: How To Use Your Courtship Period Wisely Before Marriage

What Is Dating?

Dating is a more modern approach. As the movement for Feminism and Women’s Rights grew, it was reiterated that the daughter was not her father’s ‘property’ and therefore did not need his permission for falling in love with a guy. 

Dating, in the modern era, is a term used for everything from casual to serious relationships. When someone says “We are dating”, it means that they are figuring it out, as they go. Dating may or may not lead to marriage, depending on how serious and compatible the two people are with each other. 

What is dating? As the name suggests, a couple goes out on ‘dates’ with each other and does fun activities together like watching movies, shopping, going on drives, etc. The families may or may not know, but the interaction of couples’ families comes at a very later stage or may not even come at all, depending on where the relationship goes.

Dating, hence, is a very broad term, encompassing a wide variety of equations. Can dating be casual? Can it be non-exclusive? Can it be serious? It can be anything. It all depends on what you and your partner have agreed upon and dating is basically an opportunity for a person to understand what they are looking for in a partner. It can be an experimentation where lessons are learnt or it might even lead you to finding the love of your life.

Moira Weigel, in her book Labour of Love: The Invention of Dating, aptly says, “If marriage is the long-term contract that many daters still hope to land, dating itself often feels like the worst, most precarious form of contemporary labor: an unpaid internship.” 

This book also talks about how dating itself has evolved from, “I’ll pick you up at 6?” to, “You still up?” because people don’t have fixed jobs with fixed hours anymore; it’s an age of contract work and flexi time. We are all “sexual freelancers” now, as Moira describes it.

Difference Between Courting And Dating?

courtship vs dating

As Carolyn See once put it, “Life is a matter of courtship and wooing, flirting and chatting.” Romance has distinct ways of manifesting itself, be it courting someone or dating them. Courting vs dating – are they alike or not? Here are some of the differences between courting and dating.

1. Courting vs dating- courting is more serious

One of the major differences between courting and dating is that courting is definitely more serious than dating. What does it mean to court someone? A sociological chapter describes courting as the traditional dating period before engagement and marriage. This means that during this time, two people go out on dates (even virtual ones) and get to know each other. After some time passes, they then decide if they want to get married or not. 

On the other hand, dating is more of a trial period that may or may not lead to serious commitment. What is dating? A term sometimes used to describe people who are romantically involved with various people. It’s actually a phase where one explores one’s sexuality and the type of person that one wants to commit to. 

2. Families are more involved in courting

Courting vs dating: Courting is more concerned with involving families than dating is. Since courting is concerned with a future commitment, it is a more formal arrangement with specific rules. The potential partners are often pitched to a person by the community, family or matchmaker. Reminds me of an episode from Indian Matchmaking on Netflix.

Dating is not really that concerned with the compatibility of families, at least in the beginning. Introducing the partner that you’re dating, to your parents, is a stage that comes much later. Courting vs dating? The focus of dating is different – how to flirt, what to ask on a date, what to wear on a date, what not to say on a date and so on…It’s lighter and breezier, as compared to courting.

Related Reading: Love And Dating In Your 20s Vs 30s

3. Courting vs dating: the fights are different

The difference between courting and dating is that couples argue about very different things. When you are dating someone, the initial fights are more about, “Why were you checking that girl out?” or, “Can’t you just reply on time instead of seenzoning?” 

But courting someone may involve arguments on fundamental and bigger questions, such as, “Do you want to have kids? Will your parents stay with us after marriage? How will we figure out our finances?” etc. etc.

4. Dating is more confusing

When it comes to courting vs dating, the fear of the outcome is less in courting. Since one knows where the relationship is going, the constant frustration and overthinking about “Where are we at?” or, “Where is this going?” that accompanies dating, is absent. 

Courting has one thing that dating does not – both people are on the same page, at least regarding the fact that they are looking for something serious. But dating often starts with “Hey, I am not looking for anything serious at the moment” and without even realizing, lands at “Hey, I think I am catching feelings for you.” Dating vs Relationship- the differences are so subtle that it often becomes difficult to distinguish. This is why dating is a lot more confusing than courting.

what is dating

5. Approach towards intimacy differs

What is courting? You are intending on spending your whole life together when you are courting a woman. So, lust is just one of the million other things in focus. Sexual intimacy is important, but courtship is not obsessed with it. But, dating sometimes is. As a person in their late teens or early twenties, exploring the dating world, you are more intrigued by the idea of sex, as compared to someone who is looking to settle down. 

So, when it comes to courting vs dating, the way couples approach the subject of intimacy is different. Dating is more of a phase of exploration and therefore, the emotional intimacy is accompanied with a lot of physical intimacy. This is also probably because dating can be for a longer duration; a couple can date for five years, but rarely have we seen a courtship period last longer than a year.

Related Reading: 6 Clear Signs He Wants To Marry You

Now, let’s end this with a quote by Seth MacFarlane, “I’m wide open to getting married, but actors are not easy people to date. You end up sharing that person with this other mistress that is their career. I very much like the traditional courtship method of making a date. That’s what they do in normal places, but Hollywood’s not normal.” That’s why, when it comes to courting vs dating, an actor like him prefers courting. What about you?


1. What are the 4 stages of courtship?

You initially meet the person, that’s the first stage. Then, you are infatuated by them and interested to know more about them – the second stage. The third stage is you falling for them and getting engaged to them. The last stage is final and permanent commitment, i.e. marriage.

2. Which comes first, courting or dating?

Both are very different things since courting often leads to marriage and dating may or may not lead to marriage. Let’s put it this way, courting might involve dating but the reverse is not true. This is because, during courtship, couples do activities like going on dates (watching movies, having lunch together, visiting museums, etc.).

3. Why is courting better than dating?

When discussing courting vs dating, it is not a question of one being better than the other. It’s a question of where you’re at. If you are ready for something serious, then courting is for you. But if you just got your heart broken or have been betrayed, dating might be a better starting point.

4. How long should courtship last?

It may last for a few months to even a year or two, depending on the couple and their families. As Nargis Fakhri has rightly said, “Courtship is like simmering mutton. You cook for hours and hours to taste the soft meat. It doesn’t happen in two seconds!” Even Joseph Addison had emphasized, “Those marriages generally abound most with love and constancy, that are preceded by a long courtship.”

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