Dating Vs Relationship – 8 Subtle Differences You Never Knew About

Dating experience | | , Editor-in-Chief
Updated On: January 5, 2023
Dating vs Relationship

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 gray 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, with some insights from emotional wellness and mindfulness coach Pooja Priyamvada (certified in Psychological and Mental Health First Aid from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Sydney), who specializes in counseling for extramarital affairs, breakups, separation, grief and loss, to name a few

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 some 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. In the talking stage, you spend hours and days texting someone, sending Snaps, sharing music and just communicating via social media or messaging apps in order to assess your compatibility as romantic partners.

In the talking vs dating vs relationship difference, the talking stage is akin to testing the waters. This is where you get to know the other person and vice versa, and based on the connection you develop during this phase, you decide whether or not to take things to the next level – dating.

Moving on, dating refers to the act of initiating a romantic connection with someone, spending time with them and getting to know them even better. Dating typically comes after the talking stage. It is all about developing a connection with the 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.

Related Reading: Exclusive Dating: It Isn’t Surely About A Committed Relationship

“Dating entails spending time with each other, romancing each other, getting to know each other and exploring the possibility of a relationship,” says Pooja. It is 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.

What Is A Relationship?

in a relationship or just dating
A relationship is a more intimate and committed romantic partnership

On the other hand, being in a relationship means that you and your partner have transitioned from casual dating to a deeper, more meaningful connection. The dating vs relationship real difference is that when you progress from one to the other, it is without apprehensions or fear of commitment. You are sure that this person is right for you and you’re prepared to tie yourself to them.

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. “A relationship begins when one is sure about the other and both have reached a mutuality though they could still be going on dates but with the surety about he/she is the one,” explains Pooja.

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. Are you both comfortable with labels or is DTR still a scary conversation topic that neither of you wants to touch with a 10-foot pole? Why is this transition so scary for so many couples? And why is it important to know where you stand in a current romantic connection?

Well, the answers to these questions lie in another vital one: what is the difference between dating and being boyfriend and girlfriend? The difference is that once you start using labels like ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’, things take a more serious turn. There is an unsaid expectation of commitment, loyalty and being together for the long haul. 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. In the absence of clear communication, identifying the dating vs relationship real difference can become tricky.

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.

“In a relationship, both partners have agreed, formally and/or informally, that they would be seeing each other exclusively and are in a partnership together on consented terms. In a dating scenario, they could be in a stage where they are testing whether the other person is worth a commitment or not. The exclusivity might or might not be there,” says Pooja, elaborating on the dating vs relationship differences.

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.

This is also a key dating vs seeing vs relationship. As you progress from referring to your connection as “dating” to “seeing” someone, it means that other potential interests are falling off the wagon, becoming inconsequential to you. By the time you enter the relationship territory, you’re in a monogamous connection (unless, of course, you’re polyamorous or in an open relationship).

infographic on dating vs relationship differences
 How dating is different from being in a relationship

It’s not as if you make a conscious effort to not explore other potential interests. Since you’ve built a deep emotional connection with the person you’re dating, choosing them over others comes naturally to you. Shutting out options seems like a price too small for the love, support and happiness you find with your SO. 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 your 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 on 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.

If you’re often asking yourself, “Are we in a relationship or just dating”, assess whether you and your partner are on the same page about where you stand and where you ought to go from here. “A 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,” says Pooja.

3. You can be yourself

talking vs dating vs relationship
Comfort level is a stepping stone from dating to being in a relationship

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. When different forms of intimacy begin to thrive in a connection, you can know for sure where you stand on the dating vs seeing vs relationship divide.

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 and 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 did not expect any emotional intimacy from her partners.

For anyone who is wondering what is the difference between dating and being boyfriend and girlfriend, this is a reliable parameter to gauge what a romantic connection qualifies as. “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,” says Pooja.

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. When you begin holding a romantic partner to a certain standard and expect them to live up to it, you can well and truly see the dating vs relationship real difference.

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 them to get to know you better. When someone enters into your sacred inner circle, it means they’re now fully integrated into your life. If that’s where you’re at, it’s about time you stop asking, “Are we in a relationship or just dating?”

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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 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. They offer 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: Courting Vs Dating | How Courtship Is Different Than Dating

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 long-term commitment. If all pans out well, it can be a stepping stone to a life-long commitment, sealed with marriage. “A relationship is one where you’re together for the long haul, whereas dating is transient in nature. Sure, a couple can transition from dating to being in a relationship; however, the dating phase in itself doesn’t last long, it either turns into something more permanent or fizzles out,” says Pooja

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?


1. Is dating someone considered a relationship?

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. A relationship, on the other hand, is marked by a commitment toward each other, intense love, security and emotional support.

2. At what point does dating become a relationship?

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 kick in, that is when you are in a relationship with somebody too.

3. Is it dating or a relationship when you sleep together?

You can sleep together even when you’re casually dating or just hooking up. Emotional, not physical, intimacy is the hallmark of a relationship.

4. Are you still single if you are dating?

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.

5. Is exclusive dating the same as a relationship?

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.

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