Dating vs. Relationships: Understanding The DIfferences


Trying to figure out the difference between dating vs. relationships — and what they actually mean — can be tricky. It’s an age-old question after all: are we in a relationship or just dating? 

If you’re tugging at your hair trying to figure this out, we’re here to try and help clear a few things up. Then, when you’re clued up on what means what, you’ll be ready to sit down with your partner and discuss how to define your connection to one another. Ready to find out all you need to know about the dating vs. relationship debate? Check it out below!

Dating vs. Relationships: What Constitutes Dating?

The definition of dating refers to that exciting, light, airy period when you like and spend time with someone, but you don’t necessarily know them that well yet. A date can be many things: a walk in the park, dinner at a restaurant, or even a romantic Netflix marathon at their place.

When you’re dating somebody, you’ll mostly find yourself pre-planning meetings with them and spending time getting to know them. All this, of course, is part of the process of figuring out whether you’re a good fit for one another, romantically.

Dating vs. Relationships: What Constitutes a Relationship?

The Cambridge Dictionary’s definition of a relationship describes it as “a close romantic friendship between two people.” A relationship then is when two people have bonded on a deep enough level to commit to one another further. Relationships are usually more relaxed and calm than the dating stage. And, while dating may last a few weeks or months, relationships can last a lifetime. 

The will-we/won’t-we nature of dating — which let’s be honest, is pretty thrilling — is now settled, and the two people in question have decided to move forward together as a couple. This generally means they only have eyes for one another and are committed exclusively.

7 Key Differences Between Dating and Being in a Relationship

Okay – now we’ve established what defines dating vs. relationships, it’s important to take a deeper look at the key difference between the two. The main difference between dating and being in a relationship is the mutual commitment to each other. You and the person you’re with have agreed, either officially or unofficially, that you’re seeing each other exclusively and are in a partnership together.

Alongside this, there are a few other common signs that can help couples to determine the difference between dating and relationships. We’ve outlined seven of these differences below!

1. Exclusivity

As mentioned above, the majority of relationships involve both people being exclusive to one another. That means no sleeping around, and no romantic feelings towards anybody but your partner. When you’re dating, on the other hand, it’s not uncommon to date more than one person at the same time. Remember, you’re essentially still single until you have a conversation to confirm the opposite. 

2. Availability

When you’re only dating someone – and therefore still getting to know them – the time you spend together will likely be confined to individual dates you arrange: dinners; romantic walks; that sort of thing. When you’re in a relationship though, you’ll spend much more time together. In fact, your partner will likely become your go-to person when making plans. This is a key difference between dating and being in a relationship.

3. Relaxation

You can use many words to describe the dating process, but relaxing might not be one of them. When people date, they strive to show their best side. They wear their finest clothes, ensure they go out with perfectly quaffed hair, and arrive at first dates equipped with funny anecdotes and flirty questions. It’s all about appearing attractive to the person sitting opposite. 

Conversely, when you’re in a committed relationship, the time you spend together will be far more relaxed. You already know each other well, and there’s no longer the pressure to appear flawless and fascinating. You can fully be yourself.

4. Reliance

When it comes to the dating vs. relationship debate, reliance is a key difference to look out for. When you’ve just started dating someone, you likely won’t rely on them too much. If you’re working through some personal issues, for example, you’ll probably talk to friends and family before talking to your date. After all, it might seem overwhelming to them if you suddenly unload all your problems on them. In a relationship, however, it’s totally to rely on one another for support.

5. Plans for the future

If you tried to make long-term plans with someone you just started dating, you’d look needy at best and mad at worst. Dating is low-commitment until you get to know one another. Long-term plans come when you enter a relationship together and begin to marry your hopes and dreams for the future.

6. Ugliness

When dating, we typically always try to look our best and show off the more gleaming, alluring sides of our personalities. Being in a good relationship, however, presents more freedom to be ugly. This means not having to look our best, but it also means feeling comfortable and safe enough to show our partner the full range of our moods. A relationship is based on trust and love. This means accepting someone for everything they are.

7. Friends and Family

People who’re only dating don’t tend to meet one another’s families and friends. There’s not much point in introducing people to your inner circle who you might not see more than a couple of times. When a relationship develops, however, it’s time for your loved ones to see your new partner. Fingers crossed they get along!

Dating vs. Relationship FAQs

Still feeling a bit unsure about the difference between dating and relationships and what this could mean for your love life? Below, we’ve tackled some of the most common dating vs. relationship FAQs to help you out!

Can one change into the other?

Absolutely. The majority of couples will have been through the dating phase, during which they learned all about one another and decided to take their relationship to the next level. This doesn’t mean you have to date before entering a relationship though, nor does it mean you have to have a relationship after dating.

Is sex a part of dating?

For many people, sex is a part of dating. That thrill of sex on the first date offers a rush of unforgettable excitement. Despite this, engaging in physical intimacy with someone you’re dating doesn’t necessarily mean the connection between you and your date will deepen. But, establishing whether there’s a sexual connection is as important as figuring out whether your outlooks on life and love are in sync.

Can you date without it leading to a relationship?

The thing about dating is that there’s no guarantee it’ll work out. Often, it involves meeting multiple people, searching for that one meaningful connection that makes our hearts soar with excitement. 

This means that there’s always the chance of investing time in dating someone only for it to not develop into a relationship. Look at it this way though: The search for love is all part of the fun! And whether your dates lead to true love or not, you’re bound to have some interesting stories to tell after.

Can you go straight into a relationship without dating?

It’s possible to have a relationship without ever having dated at all. Perhaps you find yourself swept up in a whirlwind holiday romance, or you realize after many years that your colleague or friend is your true love. In these instances, people may skip the “getting to know you” stage of dating and hop straight to the stability and depth of a committed relationship.

So: Is Dating the Same as Being in a Relationship?

Basically, no! Dating is generally a precursor to a relationship, with its unique perks and pitfalls that go alongside those of a relationship. Remember, when it comes to dating vs. relationships, each is exciting in its own way. And, as always, communication and empathy are the lifeblood of a healthy and fruitful romance.

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