Is Dating a Relationship? (Difference Explained)

There are many different definitions of the word “dating,” so it can be confusing to know where you stand.

Is dating a relationship?

Dating is a relationship but it is not usually considered a serious or exclusive relationship. For most people, dating is a casual stage of getting to know someone that might proceed to a committed relationship. Dating becomes a committed relationship when two people mutually agree on labels.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know to answer the question, “Is dating a relationship?”

Sit back, relax, and let’s talk about dating.

What Is Dating? (Easy Explanation)

(This post may have affiliate links. Please see my disclosure)
Man and woman eating on a date—Is Dating a Relationship (Fully Answered)
Image by author via Canva—Is Dating a Relationship? (Fully Answered)

Dating is when two people explore their compatibility with each other. A relationship could be defined as more of a committed and/or exclusive partnership, bond, or arrangement.

Essentially, dating is going on dates with another person. Period. Dating can be that simple, but it often involves much more.

Dating is many things:

  • Dating is a romantic arrangement between two people who are not married.
  • Dating is often a precursor to a relationship, but it does not have to lead to one.
  • Dating is sometimes called “hanging out,” “talking,” or “hooking up.” (At other times, these terms designate a separate, even less tenuous bond).
  • Dating can be exclusive or non-exclusive.
  • Doing things together that don’t include sex.
  • Regularly hanging out.
  • Dating is also the process of getting to know another person and figuring out if you want to go on more dates with them or not. So going on dates with more than one person helps you explore the kind of person you want in your life.

Some people refer to dating as “dating purgatory.”

I find that hilarious yet somewhat accurate.

Dating can be really tough for both men and women. Some people wonder if dating is harder for men or women.

Dating doesn’t always mean that you are in a committed relationship, although sometimes people use the term “dating” to mean an exclusive relationship.

The truth is that you can be dating multiple people at once, and many people do so. In dating, there is often no expectation or assumption of exclusivity.

Can You Be Dating But Not in a Relationship?

Yes, you can date someone without being in a relationship with them.

You can go on dates without any attachment or exclusivity. You can date someone yet be open to dating other people at the same time (as long as no one is under the assumption that the two of you are only dating each other).

Good communication is key.

You can go on a date with someone, but not consider it as the start of an exclusive relationship. You might not be ready for a more committed relationship, or you just might not be comfortable with the labels of “boyfriend and girlfriend.”

In the end, how you define your interaction with another person is your choice.

You can decide who you’re dating based on what you want and need in a partner. If exclusivity is important to you—then go for it!

But if being open and unattached might work better, that’s okay, too.

Here is a good video that explains the differences between dating and a relationship:

YouTube Video by Apollonia Ponti—Is Dating a Relationship?

What Is It Called When You’re Dating But Not Dating?

Sometimes you seem like you are unofficially dating someone.

If you’ve ever been through this experience, it can drive you nuts with questions. You might be a “thing” or “have something going on” but not really be in a relationship.

You might not even say that the two of you are actively dating.

It’s possible to be romantically linked but not in a committed relationship or even going on traditional dates with each other. But, you might not exactly be friends with benefits, either.

You’re more than friends but not quite dating. You might act like a couple but are not official just yet.

A situationship is probably the best term that captures this particular social arrangement.

Different Types of Dating

Dating is often seen as the first stage of a relationship where two people get to know each other and eventually decide if they want something serious. It is important to note that there isn’t just one type of dating, but many different types.

Some of these types are casual dating, online dating, casual dating, exclusive dating, etc.

Let’s explore some of the most common types.

Common types of dating:

  • Online dating
  • Casual dating
  • Traditional dating
  • Exclusive dating

First, dating implies more than one date.

Online dating means that people are looking for companionship, love, or a relationship online. A lot of people meet online, message for a few days (or longer), and then decide to meet in person.

That’s totally normal these days.

When you date casually, you might hang out together with no specified expectation, location, or activity. It’s the “let’s just chill” kind of arrangement. Usually, dinners and movies are not involved.

Traditional dating is simply going on a date, which is when two people of any gender with mutual romantic interest intentionally spend time together.

Traditional dating does usually includes going to dinner, movies, and other pre-planned activities.

Exclusive dating is the type of dating that most closely resembles a relationship.

However, they are not exactly the same. You can agree to only go on dates with one other person yet still not technically be in a committed romantic relationship with them.

What’s the distinction?

That’s where it gets a bit squidgy. The difference may be more semantics and labels than anything.

When both you and the other person agree that you are in a committed “boyfriend/girlfriend” relationship, that’s when you know you are in a relationship. Without the agreed-upon labels, you might not actually be in a relationship.

So, the best way to answer the question “Is dating a relationship?” is to engage the other person in a friendly, honest, and open conversation about definitions, labels, and expectations.

When Does Dating Become a Relationship? (The Dating to Relationship Timeline)

When you’re dating someone, it’s not always obvious when dating turns into an official committed relationship.

When does dating become a relationship?

Dating becomes a relationship when you and the other person decide you are in a relationship. I’ve always called this the define the relationship (DTR) talk.

For some people, dating becomes a relationship when they:

  • Agree to date exclusively (not see other people).
  • Make plans that include the other person, like going on trips or planning holidays.
  • Accept the labels of “boyfriend and girlfriend.”

When you choose to be in a committed relationship is up to you. Each pair of daters gets to decide the exact transition from dating to a relationship.

There is also a general dating to relationship timeline. Every couple is different, but the pattern is:

  • Chat, message, or text for up to a week.
  • Date for 1-2 months.
  • Decide to enter into a committed relationship somewhere around the 2-3 month mark.

Some daters move from dating to a relationship sooner and some make the leap later. Other daters continue to date for a long time before finding other partners.

The 5 Stages of Dating

How does dating turn into a full-fledged relationship? Most people pass through at least five stages of dating before becoming “official.”

The 5 stages:

  1. Meeting someone new
  2. Getting to know each other
  3. Going on dates
  4. Going on multiple dates in one week
  5. Entering into an official relationship

Each stage is simple and provides a needed meaningful milestone to the evolving relationship. Usually, the stages overlap a little, allowing for tiny nuances. No two dating experiences are completely the same.

These five stages generally follow the dating-to-relationship timeline.

Stage 1) Meeting someone new

The first stage of dating is meeting the person.

You might meet them on a dating app, through mutual friends, or while engaging in your daily activities such as shopping, exercising, or eating.

Meeting someone new can be exciting, worrisome, and nerve-wracking all at the same time.

Stage 2) Getting to know each other

This is a time where you can explore the other person’s personality and see if they are compatible with your own. 

Some people enjoy this stage, while others dislike it because of fear or insecurity.

It all depends on how long each side wants to get to know the other before entering into any kind of commitment. This is also when you will have your first conversations, and get to know each other’s interests.

The second stage is being in the early period of a budding relationship (but not yet committed). 

This is when you are getting to know more about the person—their likes, dislikes, habits, etc.

As you become more comfortable, you often move from texting to phone calls or video chats. However, some daters only text a few times to set up an in-person date.

If you do interact, then this stage is heavily reliant on good social skills and making a strong first impression with this new person.

Stage 3) Going on dates

If you pass the first two stages, then you move to the third stage. This is when you actually go on a date together.

If you met someone online, this might be the first time you see the person in real life. Hopefully, they match your expectations of them.

Many people realize pretty quickly that the other person is not right for them.

Others go on several dates with the other person, usually over a period of a few weeks or months.

As you go on dates, you learn more about the other person.

You share some personal things with each other, but it is still pretty early in your interaction to be overly serious just yet.

Many people are not ready for a full-blown commitment or marriage at this point. They might just want to date around and see who else they can meet before committing themselves completely.

It’s very common for people to be in this stage with several different people at the same time.

Stage 4) Going on multiple dates in a single week

The next stage is often underrecognized. Stage four is when you shift from one date per week to several dates per week. Your dating intensifies along with your growing emotional attachment.

Therefore, you start spending more time with each other. You don’t want to wait an entire week to see them again.

Once you move into this stage, it’s usually not long before you cross over to the fifth and final stage.

Stage 5) Entering an official committed relationship

As you probably guessed, the final stage is when you make your relationship official. You go from dating to a relationship.

It’s a really big step, and it changes the dynamics of your partnership.

There are many different kinds of committed relationships, but most people view committed relationships as mutually exclusive. You date only each other and no one else.

How Has the Definition of Dating Changed Over Time?

The meaning of dating has changed dramatically over time.

In the past, dating was called courtship or courting. In Western culture, women were discouraged from taking part in anything that could interfere with their studies, religious vows, or duties at home. 

Women were not expected to present themselves in public except on occasions when they might meet with other women.

Thankfully, most societies have evolved from this outdated mode of thinking about women, men, and relationships.

Dating varies greatly from country to country depending on local customs and national contexts. Some countries even forbid dating.

In the United States, dating is currently a term used to describe informal social activities between two people who are trying to get to know each other better.

Or, in some cases, one person dates multiple potential partners at once. 

In the past, dating might have been synonymous with a relationship. However, that is no longer the case.

You can’t assume that dating always means a relationship.

In fact, when most people say they are dating someone, they probably don’t mean they are in an exclusive relationship. More than likely, they mean that they are going on multiple dates with the same person.

Parting Thoughts—Is Dating A Relationship?

Only you and your partner know the answer to this question.

It is up to both of you to determine when dating becomes a relationship. Some couples will date for years before getting together, while others may fall in love after only one or two dates.

There is seldom a right and wrong with dating. There is only what works for you.

Thanks for reading!

Related posts:


Tandfonline (Research on Relationship Labels)