Ah, dating. Sometimes it gets you out of bed in the morning, and other times it makes you want to hide under your fluffiest blanket and never emerge again. Depending on your personality type, dating–or seeing any people socially for that matter–can pump you up or exhaust you. All emotions during the dating process are natural, especially because the meaning of dating can be different depending on who you’re seeing.
So, what is dating exactly? What is the purpose, and how do you know what stage of dating you’re in? We’re here to set the record straight on the ins and outs of dating, so you can be confident in your own romantic journey.
What Is Dating?
Dating, defined as people seeing each other socially due to romantic interest, is also a period of time when you’re learning about another person.
While someone’s end goal of dating might be different from yours, their dating definition is probably similar: Dating is exploring another person to understand if you both fit each other’s romantic interest and lifestyle.
Dating typically includes going out with each other to restaurants, bars, parks, museums–you get the idea–to be in one another’s company. You might only see each other over a few dates, or you might date long enough to meet each other’s friends or family. Dating often includes physical intimacy as well as emotional connection over the course of your time together.
What Is the Purpose of Dating?
The purpose of dating truly differs from person to person, which can be quite frustrating when you meet someone interesting who has a different meaning of dating than you do. In your dating life, you’ve probably come across all types of people, from the non-committals to those that are ready to settle down after the first date. But try not to focus on what the purpose of dating is to the people you choose to see. It’s important to ask yourself, “What is dating to me, and what do I want the outcome to be at this point in my life?”
Maybe you’re in the dating game to find your lifelong match, whether a marriage or long-term partnership. Or perhaps you want a fling and are dating casually, only seeing someone for the here and now. Whatever your reason is for dating, make sure that you communicate it early on. It doesn’t have to be on the first meetup–or even the second or third–but at some point, especially if you’re getting clues from the other person one way or another, it might be helpful to have this conversation to manage expectations.
Differences Between Dating and a Relationship
While it would be nice to have a hard-and-fast rule about dating vs. a relationship, knowing when one turns into the other isn’t that easy. For example, just because you’ve been seeing someone exclusively for a month–or even a year–doesn’t mean that you’re in a relationship.
One of the main differences between dating and being in a relationship is that dating doesn’t involve commitment; it’s a casual yet intentional period of getting to know each other. You might be separately dating a few people at the same time, or perhaps you’re only seeing one person. Whatever the situation, being in a relationship with someone typically requires some form of commitment, whether that involves exclusivity, moving in together, intentionally making time for them, and so on.
If you desire a relationship and you’re ever in doubt about whether your romantic situation is a relationship or casual dating, it’s time for the DTR, or “define the relationship.” Have a heart-to-heart with your romantic companion about their perspective on how things are going and if you both see a future together.
Does Dating Mean That You’re Exclusive?
It depends. The world of dating is open to interpretation. Someone might date a few people at once or tend to go out with only one person at a time. What is dating to you? If you find yourself seeing someone that has a different perspective on dating than you do, have a chat about whether to be or not to be exclusive. If exclusivity is a deal breaker to you, then it’s important to eventually discuss it with the person you’re dating.
What Are the Five Stages of Dating?
Heading toward a long-ish relationship? Generally, there are five stages of dating someone long term:
- Attraction. First impressions are everything, and let’s just say … you’re impressed. You’re wowed by their good looks, their personality, the way they laugh at your cheesy jokes, how you both have seemingly everything in common. Attraction is one of the most invigorating stages of dating.
- Settling in. The initial attraction is still going strong, but now you’re both getting into a groove with each other. You start to see each other more often from week to week, planning dates or hanging out after work.
- Reality. After a while, you both start to fit each other into your day-to-day lives. But now is the time that you might start to question if this person is right for you and if they fit into your own meaning of dating. Maybe their snoring literally keeps you up at night, or the way you squabble over the smallest issues is wearing you down. On the other hand, maybe you love their quirks, like how they leave every cabinet door open in the kitchen or how they strike up conversation with anyone they meet. This phase of dating is often a question of acceptance: Do you find yourself getting more annoyed with or accepting this person? The reality phase of dating can be eye-opening to say the least, but if you can get over this hump, you’ll be set up well for the next stages.
- Emotional intimacy. At some point, your true colors will shine. That’s not to say that you both weren’t acting yourselves for the first few stages, but many people tend to hold back their deepest feelings, secrets, desires, and thoughts until it’s safe to unveil them. When you feel safe with the person you’re dating, you’ll probably start to develop emotional intimacy, which can stem from conversations or tough situations that you experience together.
- Commitment. This stage might mean that your relationship is exclusive, that you’re committed to see where this goes but are still seeing other people, that you’re engaged or even married. Commitment looks different to different people–and that’s totally normal. It just means that you value keeping this person in your life in a way that makes the most sense to both parties.
What Is Dating in a Relationship?
Just because you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean that you should stop dating. In fact, it’s healthy to continue dating your partner! Dating defined in a relationship is all about prioritizing quality time with your S.O. You don’t necessarily need to set aside hours and hours every week to go out, but try to channel your initial dating energy from when you first met and plan some one-on-one moments. Get coffee at your favorite cafe on a Sunday morning, go on a wine-and-walk after work, or make reservations at that hot new restaurant down the street. Dating means spending time getting to know someone, and that doesn’t have to stop once you’re going steady.
Wherever you are in your journey to finding love, getting clarity on the question “What is dating?” can be enlightening and give you comfort and confidence in trusting the process. Sometimes it can be difficult to get out there, meet people, and be vulnerable. But take every dating experience moment by moment, and always keep your values and goals at heart.