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When we meet someone new, we may be quick to jump into a relationship without really knowing much about the person. We do this because we want to feel loved and accepted, but what we don't realize is that one person may feel as if they are entering a relationship… while the other is merely dating.
Back in college, I was so excited when my crush asked me out. I thought we were on the way to a relationship but we were barely dating. We went from 100 to zero in the span of two weeks, but I learned a good lesson.
Unfortunately, two people are not always on the same page at the same time. This is especially true when we interchangeably use the words dating and relationship.
What Is Dating?
Dating is often viewed as a trial period to explore whether two people are compatible with each other. It can also be seen as a way to start building a more committed relationship. There are different stages of dating, and it's important to keep communication open to avoid hurt feelings.
The first stage usually starts with meeting someone new and dealing with infatuation. This is when we tend to idealize the person we're dating and only see their good qualities. Some may even say they had “love/lust at first sight”.
The second stage is called uncertainty, which is when we start to realize that the person isn't perfect and that there are some flaws. We may start to question if this is really what we want.
The third stage is called exclusivity, which is when we decide that we want to only be with this one person and no one else. This is usually when we start to use the word “relationship.”
The fourth stage is commitment, which is when we decide that we are going to stay together through good and bad times. If we had not done so before, we would usually use the terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” at this stage.
Can Dating Be Meaningful If It's Not Exclusive?
Dating can be meaningful even if it's not exclusive. The most important thing is to keep communication open so that both people know where they stand. It's also important to be honest with each other about what you're looking for.
If you're not ready for a committed relationship, that's okay! Just be honest about it from the start. That way, you can avoid any hurt feelings down the road.
Seeing multiple people can also help you see which one is best for you and help you avoid getting too attached to one person too soon. If you choose to go exclusively with one, you may be extra assured of your choice if you did so after or while seeing a few others around the same time.
You can always have fun and get companionship with someone you are not exclusively dating. Open and honest communication is key! Who knows, you may have some of the most meaningful experiences with someone you are committed to such as learning how to fly a plane, amazing physical intimacy, climbing a mountain for the first time, or volunteering together.
With that said, dating and relationships differ in vast ways. Knowing the difference between the two can prevent a lot of drama and heartbreak.
11 Important Differences Between Dating and Relationships
Dating can be low commitment. if we are simply dating someone, we may not have a set expectation of time when we expect to see the other person. People may both be fine with seeing each other once a week – if that.
However, relationships are usually more serious and involve more commitment. When we are in a relationship with someone, we usually see them more often – such as 2-3 times a week or even every day.
Monogamy in dating can be viewed as optional in many cases.
However, most relationships are expected to be monogamous, which means that you are only seeing one person at a time and are not seeing anyone else. Otherwise, you would be cheating and violating the bonds of your relationship.
Some people do choose to be in an “open relationship”, which means that they are in a relationship with each other but are allowed to date and have sex with other people as well.
Dating typically requires less communication than a relationship. You may simply text or call each other to make plans to go on a date.
On the other hand, a relationship requires more communication in order to make sure both people are on the same page. You may need to check in with each other more often, have more serious conversations, and share more details about your life.
[See Different Levels of Communication in Interpersonal Communication]
4. Future Projections
Dating typically doesn't involve too many future projections. We may talk about where we see ourselves in the next 5-10 years, but we are not usually planning out our future together.
However, when we are in a relationship, we often have more long-term goals and plans. We may plan a future vacation six months or a year from now. We may talk about getting married, having kids, buying a house, or other long-term projects.
5. Levels of Importance
Dating is often not as serious or important as a relationship. We may not invest as much time, energy, or emotions in a dating relationship. When we are only in the dating phase, it may be too much to expect someone to drop what they are doing and be available whenever we want.
However, when we are in a relationship, the person usually becomes more important to us. We may expect them to be available more often, drop everything for us, and be there for us no matter what.
Even if we are not married, we may want to first place a call to our boyfriend or girlfriend in the event of an emergency.
6. Family and Friends
Dating typically doesn't involve meeting each other's family and friends. We may only meet each other's close friends. In some cases, you may never meet any friends if you are just casually dating. Holidays may only be spent together is dating has reached a more serious level.
However, a relationship often involves meeting each other's family and friends. This is because our relationship is usually more serious and important to us. How our families respond may affect how far the relationship goes or if we would even be comfortable starting one with a specific individual.
Big family holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas may involve splitting time between each other's families.
[Signs you might be in a low-key relationship.]
7. Living Arrangements
Casual dating may or may not involve intimacy, so spending the night may not happen. In the event of intimacy, couples may leave a couple of things at the other person's house.
In a relationship, usually, both people are comfortable spending the night at each other's place regularly. In some cases, people may even end up moving in together. Moving in together is often the precursor to an engagement if people are very serious.
We may not use labels in dating. In some cases, people may refer to each other as “friend” even if they are more than that. In other cases, there may not be any labels at all. Sometimes people may proudly proclaim to be “friends with benefits”. The term “my date” is a common way to refer to the other person we are doing something together.
In a relationship, usually, both people are comfortable putting a label on it. They may refer to each other as “boyfriend/girlfriend” or even “husband/wife” if they are married. Some couples just use the term partner. The labels help to define the relationship and show commitment.
Relationships often involve far more emotions than casual dating. This is because we often invest more time, energy, and emotions into a relationship. We may also have more at stake in a relationship such as a future together. Therefore, we may feel happier, sadder, more anxious, or more angry in a relationship than we would while just dating.
We may give more trust to someone we are in a relationship with than someone we are casually dating. This is because trust is often built over time and through shared experiences. We may trust someone we are in a relationship with to be there for us, not to cheat on us, and to support us.
Opening up about past trauma, hurt, or future dreams are easier to do in a relationship as opposed to a first casual date.
[See relationship trust affirmations]
11. Duration of Time
A relationship often lasts for a longer period than casual dating. This is because we usually want relationships to be more stable and long-lasting. We may be looking for a future partner or someone we can see ourselves with long-term.
Casual dating may only last a couple of weeks or months, whereas a relationship may last several years.
Final Thoughts About Dating Vs Relationship
Both dating and relationships have their pros and cons. It's important to communicate with your partner about what you're looking for to ensure that you're on the same page.
If you're simply looking to have some fun and meet new people, then casual dating may be right for you. But if you're looking for something more serious, then you should aim to find someone who wants to work towards a relationship.
If you are the shy type and looking to meet someone new, be sure to check out 7 Best Apps for Introverts to Date and Find Friends. There is someone for everyone… I truly believe that.