It’s often quite difficult to ascertain where you are on the dating vs relationship divide. Even more so, if your connection with your SO has taken a serious turn but neither of you has addressed what it means for your future. Most couples struggle to determine when they have crossed over from dating to being in a relationship because there is a fine line dividing the two.
Dating is often described as a precursor to a committed relationship. However, when it comes to human relationships, it is hard to compartmentalize the connection between two people in watertight categories. More often than not, there are grey areas to navigate that can leave you wondering ‘are we in a relationship or just dating’.
This can bring along a lot of uncertainty about the future, especially if two people view dating relationship stages differently. To put that quintessential quandary to rest, let’s try to earmark the dating vs relationship differences as clearly as possible.
Dating vs Relationships – The Fine Line
What is the difference between dating and being boyfriend and girlfriend? If you’ve found yourself asking this question, you are not alone. Amy has been using dating apps for a while and has made multiple connections with a few really great guys. But she is still confused about the whole dating vs relationship divide. She thinks she is dating all of them but who is she going to be in a relationship with?
Dating and committed relationships are both forms of romantic partnerships. So, then how do you tell whether you’re investing your emotions and efforts in a relationship that will stand the test of time or a fleeting romantic encounter?
Knowing the difference between dating vs seeing someone seriously is important even if you’re not big on relationship labels. It helps in setting expectations and boundaries and goes a long way in helping you understand what the future holds for you.
Since dating and relationships have many overlapping facets, understanding what they each mean is the first step toward recognizing the difference between the two.
Related Reading: 11 Dating Tips For Beginners
What Is Dating?
Before dating, there is also actually a talking stage that we must talk about. The talking stage is what leads to dating. We don’t mean to make things more confusing but there is indeed also a talking vs dating vs relationship confusion that many people find themselves knee deep in. The talking stage is like the texting stage when one spends hours and days texting someone, sending snaps, sharing music and just communicating via social media in order to pursue a romantic interest.
Moving on, dating refers to the act of initiating the process of getting to know someone you’re inclined to connect with romantically. Dating only takes place after the talking stage.It is akin to forging a friendship with a person you are attracted to. While you are dating, you and this other person may spend time together and partake in activities such as going to the movies, meeting for dinner and drinks, attending events together or even chilling at each other’s place.
It is absolutely normal for physical intimacy to develop between two people who are dating. So, you see, how dating closely mimics many elements of a romantic relationship. That’s why the dating vs relationship debate comes into the picture at all. Because differentiating between these stages is hard.
However, one clear differentiating factor between the two is that dating does not entail a commitment between partners. That’s the baseline expectation, even if you haven’t addressed the issue explicitly. So, when you’re dating a person, they’re free to go on dates with others too. And vice-versa. If that happens, it shouldn’t raise any eyebrows as you haven’t committed to each other or set any dating exclusively rules.
Related Reading: Exclusive Dating: It Isn’t Surely About A Committed Relationship
What Is A Relationship?
On the other hand, being in a relationship means that you and your partner have no fear of commitment when it comes to each other and transitioned from casual dating to a deeper, more meaningful connection. It also means that you are now emotionally invested in each other. Often, it is a natural step forward for couples to develop a strong connection while they’re dating.
Since things are no longer casual, you’d typically expect a monogamous partnership. This means that seeing other people or going on dates is no longer acceptable. When people transition from dating to being in a relationship, they refer to each other as girlfriend or boyfriend. So if you’re asking yourself, “Are we in a relationship or just dating?”, consider the level of commitment practiced by the two of you and you will be closer to the answer. A committed romantic association may eventually graduate to a couple wanting to spend their life together.
Related Reading: 10 Must-Follow Healthy Relationship Boundaries
Dating vs Relationship – 8 Subtle Differences You Never Knew About
Typically, when two people begin to develop feelings for each other or things get serious between them, they have a conversation about taking things to the next level. However, if you’ve been dating for too long, sometimes your partnership can organically transition from casual dating to a more serious partnership.
You start expecting each other to follow dating exclusively rules and not pursue other potential romantic associations. However, since no ground rules have been laid, it can leave you wondering are we in a relationship or just dating. Knowing the talking vs dating vs relationship difference can prove vital for putting your doubts and uncertainties to rest.
So, if you and your SO haven’t had the ‘where is this going’ talk yet, look out for these 8 subtle dating vs relationship differences to know where you’re at:
1. No more looking around
When you’re dating someone casually, you always keep an eye out for other options. You may even go out on dates with other people without hesitation or a sense of obligation. However, once things become serious between you both, this need for looking around vanishes all on its own.
It’s not as if you make a conscious effort to not explore other potential interest. Since you’ve developed a deep emotional connect with the person you’re dating, you let others fall off the ‘prospects’ wagon without much ado.
You may stop browsing dating apps or even uninstall them. Or if someone makes a pass at you, you’re instantly reminded of your partner. If that’s where you’re at, you have undoubtedly ventured into the relationship domain.
Related Reading: Single vs. Dating – How life changes
2. The feelings are mutual
Another subtle but significant dating vs relationship difference is that these feelings are mutual. Even if you haven’t talked about them yet. You and your partner do not have different ideas about dating relationship stages. Being in a relationship essentially means being on the same page about what you are and where this romantic partnership is headed.
On the other hand, when you’re still in the dating phase, the prospect of exclusivity can seem a tad daunting. It is not unusual for two partners to have different expectations regarding dating exclusively rules. While one may want to take the leap, the other may still like to see other people and not be ‘tied down’.
When Chad had just started going out with Michaela, he enjoyed her company very much but was often also attracted to other women and liked going out with them too. Michaela was instantly attracted to Chad since the first date and had deleted the rest of her Tinder matches because she wanted to focus only on him. Sadly, Chad was not on the same page and was still looking around.
This lack of emotional equilibrium is a sign that you still have a long way to go before your connection can progress into what is called a relationship.
3. You can be yourself
Being in a relationship also means not being intimidated by the prospect of being yourself around the other person. In fact, this comfort level is a stepping stone from dating to being in a relationship.
The dating vs seeing vs relationship debate can be settled when one thinks about things such as comfort and security. When you are in a relationship, you can roam around in your PJs with a messy bun and no makeup in the other person’s presence. You can cry your eyes out while watching a cheesy rom-com. And you can let them in and share your fears and insecurities.
This is in sharp contrast to dating or seeing someone where you try hard to put your best foot forward and keep your raw side neatly tucked away. After all, you don’t want to scare the person off with your quirks and idiosyncrasies when you’re still getting to know each other.
4. Physical to emotional intimacy
When you think about dating vs relationship dynamics, pay attention to the level of intimacy you share with this person. Yes, you may have had some bed-shattering action between the sheets in the early days of dating each other. But intimacy is more than just satisfying your physical urges.
For example, Olivia was only dating around because she was enjoying hooking up with men and having a good time to break the tedium in her day. She had just gotten out of a relationship which is why she was not looking for anything serious at all. Even though, she was having mind blowing sex every other night, since she was only dating casually – she was not actually expecting any emotional intimacy from her partners.
On the other hand if you feel emotionally intimate with your partner, lean on them for support and are not afraid of being vulnerable with them, it is a sign that your bond has developed into something more and you could start calling that a relationship.
Related Reading: 12 Reasons Arguments In A Relationship Can Be Healthy
5. You have expectations
Dating vs seeing each other seriously is also separated by the string of expectations. When your connection is casual, it is typically a no strings attached situation. You go about your life, and get together or hang out whenever it is suitable for both partners.
You’re not necessarily bothered if the other person doesn’t call, text or goes without talking to you for days. In all probability, you’re out there doing your own thing too. However, expectations take hold when you’re in a relationship. You expect your partner to be there for you or offer an explanation in case they’re not.
You also expect them to be loyal, trustworthy, respecting and compassionate, among other things.
6. Friends and family become involved
You don’t take a person you’re dating to Thanksgiving dinner with your family or to a friend’s anniversary party. One of the key indicators that you’ve moved into the relationship realm is that your SO naturally becomes integrated into your social life. Whether you want to introduce them to your parents or not, that’s when the dating vs relationship real difference comes to light.
This does not mean that you’re always together, being each other’s plus one no matter what the occasion. However, you do introduce them to friends and family. Also, expect them to bond. Even if it means bonding over embarrassing stories from your childhood, school and college days.
Your partner isn’t alarmed or put off by these stories but finds them endearing. They look forward to these little sneak peeks into your life before they came along to get to know you better.
7. There is comfort and stability
Since dating by its very nature is casual, fickle and fleeting, it is marked by a sense of uncertainty. You never know whether there will be a next date after you return from one. The person you’re dating may decide to change their mind at any time, leaving you wondering what went wrong. Heck, you may even end up tasting the bitter pill that is ghosting.
If you’ve been on the dating scene long enough, you’d be well aware of all these insecurities that come with it. Relationships are a welcome relief from this hanging in the balance predicament.
It offers the comfort of familiarity, stability and the certainty of knowing that your partner isn’t going anywhere. Well, this is not to say that all relationships work out. But even if things do go south, you will talk about it, and then, decide to part ways. That is markedly different from someone just up and vanishing from your life.
Related Reading: 8 Types Of Intimacy In A Relationship
8. A long-term commitment
This is one of the most telling dating vs relationship differences. In fact, commitment is the primary differentiator between casually dating someone and being in a relationship. When you’re dating, seeing other people is cool and acceptable. There are no real expectations about the future. You take things one day at a time.
On the contrary, being in a relationship means being bound together by a long-term commitment. If all pans out well, it can be a stepping stone to a life-long commitment, sealed with marriage.
If you can identify with these dating vs relationship indicators, don’t fret over where things are headed. You can rest assured that your partnership is turning into something lasting and meaningful. Set up a romantic date night, and talk to your partner about it. After all, for how long can you ignore the elephant in the room.
No, dating entails spending time with a person you’re romantically inclined toward and getting to know them better. Dating is almost like checking out prospects for someone you would want to be in a relationship with. Consider it a preliminary age to sort and sift your way to the right person. Relationship, on the other hand, is marked by a commitment toward each other, intense love, security and emotional support.
When you are committed to each other and decide to be exclusive partners in a monogamous relationship, is technically the exact moment you are in a relationship. However, when the emotional intimacy, security and love kicks in, that is when you are in a relationship with somebody too.
You can sleep together even when you’re casually dating or just hooking up. Emotional, not physical, intimacy is the hallmark of a relationship.
Yes, technically, you’re still single if you’re dating someone casually. Because even if you are seeing people, you are not actually committed to one or all of them. At the end of the day, you still possess the freedom to go after anybody you want so you are indeed happily single.
Exclusive dating and a relationship are more or less the same. The only difference is that a relationship is underlined by a long-term commitment between partners. In that sense, exclusive dating can be considered a stepping stone to a relationship.