12 Differences Between Dating And Being In A Relationship

Dating experience | | , Researcher & Content Writer
Updated On: August 25, 2023
differences between dating and relationship

Yes, you read that right. There is a difference between dating and relationship and it’s a thin line. As easy as it is to mix the two, the dating vs boyfriend girlfriend divide is something that one must carefully understand to prevent things from getting muddled. A lack of clarity over what your dynamic amounts to is where the confusion usually begins.

Are you confused about whether your equation with a romantic interest still qualifies as casual dating or has it veered into the serious relationship territory? Those butterflies in your stomach keep fluttering not because you’re giddy in love but because you’re nervous and need some answers as to what is really going on and where you go from here.

Well, going from dating to a relationship can get confusing. At this point, you can’t read the other person’s thoughts and you are too afraid to ask the big questions. What does dating look like? How long to date someone before making it official? How to define the relationship without scaring him/her? Also, what changes when you make a relationship official? Woah, slow down and read on…

Dating Vs Relationship

What is the difference between dating and being boyfriend and girlfriend? Well first, you need to address the question — what is dating about? To put it briefly, dating is the first step in a romantic journey that may or may not lead to a relationship. It’s sort of like a trial zone without any reins or commitment that one can sort of cruise through.

Well, there are a few phases of dating that can help you understand this much better. While they may vary from relationship to relationship, here’s what they broadly entail:

  1. First date: Two single people go on a first date
  2. More dates follow: You like spending time with each other and hence keep making plans to keep meeting, hanging out, and spending time together. This is the stage where romantic interest starts developing
  3. Comfort zone: The physical intimacy deepens and so does emotional intimacy. 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 for you. This is when the difference between dating and being in a relationship really starts to hit you
  5. You’re in a relationship: You both are on the same page and decide to take it to the next level. Congratulations, you are in a full-fledged committed relationship with this person and can’t really imagine seeing someone else at this point

Stage four seems rather exciting, doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t that what we are seeking? But when to go from dating to relationship? Here are 12 things to look out for when understanding the dating and relationship difference. This list will help you identify your relationship status without risking scaring your partner away.

12 Differences Between Dating And Relationship

Is there any difference between dating and relationship? Yes. Both are closely linked but they are still unique in their own ways. People often confuse them because of their nature. What is dating about, you wonder? It can be a fling that involves casual sex and fun, but a relationship is a more serious and romantic connection. Let us now explore this in greater depth.

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

1. Dating may or may not lead to a relationship

What does dating mean? A Reddit user wrote, “I’d say dating is about finding out if you are compatible with each other. A relationship is when you’ve already found out that you are a great match. The whole point of being in a relationship is having found a person you enjoy spending time with.”

Looking for the definition of a ‘date’ with someone? It’s a pre-planned meeting, involving romantic intent. Can you date without being in a relationship? Yes. Is it okay to go on dates with different guys/girls? Yes. And if you end up liking one of them, you may mutually arrive at exclusivity in a relationship. On that note, here’s the definition of an exclusive relationship:

  • You are ONLY seeing each other and no longer looking to date other people
  • You are intimately involved in each other’s lives
  • People are aware of your exclusivity status
  • You have given them the title of ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’

On the subject of ‘exclusive relationship vs committed relationship’, relationship expert Namrata Sharma says, “Being ‘exclusive’ with someone is a tricky phase to define. It’s the final step toward a relationship. You both reciprocate each other’s feelings and understand each other’s love languages. You have built a concrete structure where you are actively seeking to get to know the other person better. Let’s consider this phase as a trial period for what’s to come later, which is the relationship stage.” 

2. When dating, you don’t say “I love you”; in a relationship, you do

What is dating someone? And when does dating become a relationship? Well, this might depend on whether you two say those three magical words to each other or not. When you’re dating exclusively:

  • 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

Wondering what being in a relationship means? It’s when you start saying “I love you” to each other without having to think twice about whether it’s too soon. It is a gesture that clearly says you and your better half are ready for a serious commitment.

3. Someone you’re dating isn’t a core part of your life but in a relationship, partners become each other’s priority

What’s the dating vs girlfriend boyfriend difference? A Reddit user wrote, “In a casual relationship, you see each other 2-3 times a week, sleep at each other’s sometimes, go eat dinners, go on dates still. When you are in a relationship, you can sleep over at your SO’s house for 5 days without thinking twice about it, you have lots of sex, you talk about absolutely everything, they meet your family, you go on trips together, etc.”

Essentially, the basic expectations in a relationship are quite different from when you’re dating. Commitment means that you both go out of your way to make time for each other. This shows that you have prioritized your relationship. On the other hand, here’s what the dating – or even exclusive dating – phase looks like:

  • Friends, family, and career top the priority list but you make the effort to make time for each other every now and then
  • You both go out on dates (maybe even frequently) but only when it’s convenient
  • You are still a long ways from inviting each other into your inner circle

4. Dating entails putting your best foot forward, while you are more comfortable in a relationship

One of the biggest rules of dating is, don’t scare him/her away. And so, you do everything you can to put your best foot forward and impress, such as:

  • Spending time picking the perfect cologne and dress
  • Being aware and cautious about your looks, your habits, and even your behavior
  • You want to come across as amenable
  • You are not ready to reveal your not-so-pleasant side to that person just yet

But the dating and relationship difference becomes 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 go-to person 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 healthy relationship.

dating and relationship difference
Difference Between Dating And Relationship

5. The level of emotional intimacy is different

Is there any difference between dating and relationship emotionally? Absolutely, there is. It’s almost like your entire equation changes once you move on from casually dating to a committed relationship. 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, and they do it wholeheartedly. That’s essentially what happens when two people are meant to be.

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. When you really like someone, you go the extra mile.

6. Dating is low-key whereas expectations bloom in a relationship

What does dating mean? You go on dates, have fun and sometimes even have great sex. There is less room for emotions, late-night conversations, and surprises in the dating process. You are hesitant to expect certain things, out of the fear of coming across as clingy or going overboard. One key difference between dating and relationships is that in the latter, you have high expectations from your partner and vice versa. You expect your partner to:

  • Spend most of their time with you, get you gifts, and even give you surprises
  • Introduce you to their friends and family members
  • Console you on the phone at the end of a long day
  • Accompany you to a party you’re not looking forward to attending

7. Dating is about the here and now, a relationship is based on dreams of a shared future

The dating definition itself means you’re exploring/experimenting. There are no conversations about “us” because while you like your dating companion a lot, you don’t see them in your world, yet. That becomes a defining difference between dating and being in a relationship.

When you’re dating, it is just ‘you’ and ‘me’ as separate individuals who are only keen on exploring each other. You do not really talk about where things are headed 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.

Once the conversation crosses that line, a healthy relationship might be closer than you think. If you and I become “us” and “we”, then the answer to “Are we a couple?” is a solid “Yes”! Couples see their future with each other and that’s when you really don’t have to worry that your relationship is just a fling. What is the definition of a committed relationship, you wonder? It’s when you don’t just look at the short-term. A real relationship involves planning on different things like:

  • How many children you’ll have
  • Which city you would like to settle in after retirement
  • Moving in together and shared finances

Related Reading: 11 Ways To Cope With Dating Anxiety

8. Dating vs relationship — The girlfriend or boyfriend title

What is the difference between dating and being boyfriend and girlfriend? Well, those very terms right there are self-explanatory. You don’t need to wonder where things are going if you have got the title in place already. People who are dating don’t use tags like girlfriend or boyfriend for the other person. They just refer to each other as “a close friend”, “the girl I’m dating”, or “the guy I’m currently seeing”.

If you’re wondering what counts as a relationship, it’s when they introduce you as their girlfriend or boyfriend. You are indeed a couple! You don’t need to rack your brain thinking about it or asking futile questions like, “What does it mean to be in a relationship?” Defining your relationship in public is the cherry on top and is the last checkpoint for exclusive dating.

9. Dating is usually shorter than a relationship

When it comes to understanding the dating vs relationship difference, do note that healthy relationships can last a lifetime. A casual dating arrangement, on the other hand, is usually short-lived and doesn’t typically extend beyond 6 months. If it goes on longer than 6 months, then it probably means that the two people involved are inching toward a committed relationship. But nobody in the dating phase, usually ‘dates’ someone for longer than that.

So if you two have been going out for a while now and are spending one too many evenings spending quality time, curled up on each other’s couches, it’s time to DTR (define the relationship). Does the dating meaning really still apply to your dynamic? Or have you two transitioned into the relationship territory?

more on compatibility

10. When dating, you can’t think of a lifetime together; in a relationship, you know you’ve found your person

Let’s say you’ve just transformed from casual dating to exclusive dating. You don’t know if you could spend the rest of your life with them yet because, unlike movies, real relationships are difficult, and romantic interest isn’t always about “love at first sight” and “made for each other”. It takes time to develop a true connection.

The dating phase is about looking for signs of compatibility because you need to understand whether you can love and accept each other as you are. As your connection deepens, the answer to how to tell someone is your person becomes apparent. You get a feeling that your current romantic interest could be your soulmate or that “one great love of your life”. This is what separates exclusive/casual dating from a relationship because you know whether or not to spend the rest of your life with them in the latter.

Related Reading: The 11 Most Common Relationship Mistakes You Actually Can AVOID

11. Dating is all about the fun but the stakes are higher in a relationship

What is dating someone? What’s the purpose of dating? Sadie, an HR head at a media firm in Ohio says, “Dating means that the pool is wide and you can take as many dives as you like! You’re not really held down by one person and you can explore many things for as long as you like until you find someone worth being with. As long as it may feel sometimes, the dating phase is fun and allows you to make lots of choices, good and bad ones both.”

But when does dating become a relationship? When you put in gradual and consistent effort in one person toward one goal. If someone is meant to be in your life, you won’t cut corners, explore and gratify yourselves in whatever ways. How to love someone truly will come naturally to you. What to expect in a relationship after one year? Mutual respect, sacrifices, and compromises. Being committed to someone means that one has to put effort more than anything else.

12. Dating allows for independence, relationship foster interdependence

The dating meaning entails that one can be as freely independent as they like. This is why a lot of people take their own sweet time to get into relationships – because freedom feels liberating whereas the idea of making another person such an integral part of your life can be intimidating. But when you find the right person, this shift often happens organically. That is a defining dating vs boyfriend girlfriend difference.

What does it mean to be in a relationship? It means skipping your football game to accompany your girlfriend to a party. Or, taking leave from work to spend the day at home with your sick boyfriend. But it is not just about sacrifices; it is about building a lasting partnership, brick by brick, on the foundation of love, trust, and mutual respect.

Key Pointers

  • A relationship is for the long haul, dating is transient
  • Relationship is marked by comfort/stability, dating is unpredictable
  • In a relationship, friends and family get involved whereas dating is between two people
  • Emotional intimacy/vulnerability is higher in a relationship while dating thrives on attraction

The dating vs girlfriend boyfriend dilemma is a complex one but we hope this list has cleared it for you. Where you stand in your equation with that special someone totally depends on the headspace you’re in. Just make sure that you are both on the same page. If you are serious about this person, 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. Also, dating more than one person is called polyamory.

2. What is the difference between friends with benefits and dating?

Dating means two single people engaging in an activity together to see how compatible they are. But, the dating definition is very subjective. It can be exclusive/casual, depending on what you both have agreed upon. If it’s just physical intimacy/sex without being romantic, it’s a classic FWB equation.

3. How to know if they’re the one?

It’s a very good thing if they respect you, listen to you and are genuinely kind. However, ‘the one’ concept is subjective. So, the real question is, what are you looking for in a partner? Some people are attracted to polar opposites. On the other hand, being too much alike in relationships is considered a good thing, according to some others. So, it all depends.

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