dating vs relationship

Dating vs Relationship: How to Know the Difference

Dating vs relationship. Is it a comparison of, or a battle between, the two? Depending on our mindset, it might be both, if even unconsciously. 

Most often our exploration between the two arises because we don’t quite understand the “status” of an experience unfolding between us and a romantic interest. Sometimes we ask “Is this a relationship?” because we want our romantic connection to be an exclusive relationship and we’re not sure it is, or even fear it isn’t. And, once in a while we might compare dating vs relationship because we’re not sure which one serves us best right now and we want to understand the true differences so we can speak genuinely and authentically with the one(s) we have chosen to spend time with romantically.

With all of those possibilities, most often people compare dating vs relationship when they find themselves trying to figure out whether what was once just dating has become a relationship. 

Let’s start by understanding a little more about the difference between dating vs being in a relationship. 

What does dating mean?

While dating is actually a form of relationship, it stands very distinct from what we would typically call an exclusive relationship or a committed relationship. 

At this early stage of romantic relationship development, dating means you meet another for the purposes of getting to know each other.  In the process of getting to know each other, typically both people will contemplate, “Is this someone I want a relationship with?” Hence, dating precedes a relationship. So, is dating a relationship? Yes. Is it an exclusive relationship? No. 

Dating happens when two people spend time together in activities. These activities commonly have a social focus such as meeting for coffee or meals, attending events, concerts, festivals, lectures, parties, engaging in activities like walking, biking, hiking, sports, dancing, watching sunsets, going to museums, parks, the beach, and the like. 

These activities last for specific periods of time. When the date ends, both people “return” to their own lives. Although the two will likely talk in between dates, they are not interacting in the specifics of each other’s lives. 

The first thing to realize in answering the question “What is dating vs relationship?” is that they are each distinct phases of relationship development, with dating happening first and being clearly different from relationship. 

So let’s get more specific with the definition of dating so you can better understand these distinctions.

Dating means…

  1. You spend time together in activities, often socially focused, for the purpose of getting to know each other.  
  2. Your activities are primarily social, in contrast to activities related to the practicalities of life.
  3. You have a series of time-bounded experiences (even if it’s extended over the weekend or a trip together.)
  4. The connection is not exclusive. Dating means you are exploring if you want to be in an exclusive relationship with this person. (As a side note, dating only one person at a time puts undue pressure on both people and makes it more difficult for the connection to unfold naturally and authentically.)
  5. There is no “third” entity called a relationship. There is no defined “container” and hence there is no need for a break up when you are just dating. (And, that doesn’t mean that ghosting feels good. It is a conscious courtesy to let someone know you won’t be calling again or accepting any more invitations.)
  6. You’re answering the question “Could this be a fit?” not “Is this a fit?” You’ll figure out “Is this a fit?” when you are in a committed relationship (assuming you are dating for the purpose of finding a lifetime or long term partner). 

Dating does not include…

  1. Deciding if you want to spend your lives together. Dating is only about deciding if you want a relationship with one another right now. 
  2. Being directly or consistently involved in each other’s lives, nor solving each other’s life challenges. 
  3. Being significant ongoing emotional support. Certainly there might be emotionally supportive moments or interactions, but each person remains wholly responsible for themselves and their emotional experience.  
  4. Dependency or interdependency.
  5. Monogamy
  6. Any responsibilities to one another
  7. Expectations
  8. Obligations

When we look at the dating side of the dating vs relationship exploration, some people don’t like the last couple of things on the “Dating does not include” list. Yet it’s important to note that conscious Soul Love Relationships actually don’t include obligation and expectation either. Instead a soulful exclusive relationship will hold a consciousness and commitment to treat each other in loving, kind, and intentional ways. 

What does relationship mean?

In its simplest form, a relationship means an interaction exists between two or more people. In other words, the people relate to each other. That interaction, that relating, may be as short as momentary or as long as a lifetime. Even if only momentary, a relationship surely existed and it dissolved as quickly as it arose. 

So what does that have to do with dating vs relationship? 

Well, as we said above, dating is a type of relationship, a dating relationship. Yet, when someone wants to understand the difference between dating vs being in a relationship, if we’re honest, the real questions that lie at the heart of the matter are often, “Can I relax and trust this person isn’t seeing anyone else?” or “Are we boyfriend and girlfriend?” or “Do we have a commitment to each other?”  

Let’s define relationship in the context of a romantic connection, so we can see the path to answering these deeper questions.  

Entering into a “relationship” is the second stage of relationship development. During this phase both people seek to determine if they want to take their connection to the next level, which for most might include deciding to live together or get married. 

In this second stage, both people, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, explore the primary question, “Are we a good match, a good fit, for life partnership” where we could move forward with even deeper commitments to one another. 

Yet, even before we get to that question, there is one simple and primary, yet very specific, indicator that defines when dating becomes a relationship. 

That primary indicator of the difference between dating vs relationship is a choice to commit. True relationship, as the second stage of relationship development, includes, by definition, commitment. A conscious choice to commit. A mutual choice to commit.

Effectively when two people move into this stage of relating, they are saying let’s go deeper together and really find out if we want even more. With this commitment both people choose to begin involving the other person in their lives, which often includes the following. 

Relationship means and includes…

  • The formation of a “We”, the relationship – a third, new entity
  • Attention to that “we” by both people (while not abandoning themselves)
  • A choice and decision to enter into that relationship by both people 
  • Commitment
  • Often referring to each other as boyfriend and girlfriend or as “my partner”
  • Interdependence
  • Some, but not full, shared decision making
  • Involvement in at least some of the practicalities of each other’s lives 
  • Agreements (when a couple shares agreements through a Conscious Beginnings Ritual, their agreements replace unconscious, assumed, and unexpressed expectations or obligations that cause future heart ache)
  • Often, but not always, monogamy

Relationships in the second stage of romantic relationship development include some level of responsibility to each other. There’s an invitation for honor, respect, care, and consideration. The depths of all these increase on the relationship side of the dating vs relationship question, and they will increase again when couples decide to move to phases beyond these where they might choose to pair or unite their lives. 

The bottom line: What defines dating vs committed relationship?

The #1 thing that truly distinguishes dating vs relationship is that you decide, you make a choice to be in a relationship. And, that this choice is conscious.

You can’t have a committed relationship without a commitment. A mutual commitment. 

You can’t have a committed relationship without a commitment.

Joanna Shakti

No choice. No relationship. Still dating. 

If only one person wants a relationship, you are still dating. 

Honestly, people make this process so much more complicated, confusing, painful and even fearful than it needs to be. Being real in dating and relationships means being vulnerable, yet as scary as that might seem, clients discover all the time that the magic lies in the heart of the vulnerability. The consciousness and vulnerability on which a healthy and sustainable relationship starts even before the first date. It starts with you and the authenticity you are willing to bring from moment one. Conscious dating starts with authentic intimacy and that authentic intimacy often makes the concern about dating vs relationship a mute point. 

*At Ecstatic Intimacy, an all-inclusive website for singles and couples, we welcome all sexual orientation(s), gender(s) and relationship expressions. In this article we utilize the pronouns he/she/him/her.

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  1. Rebecca Papajohn on December 2, 2022 at 12:40 pm

    Excellent Article! Thank You for its fullness!!!

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