Dating vs Relationship – What Are the Main Differences Between Them?

Dating vs Relationship - Things You Can Expect from Each Stage

Dating before entering relationship territory is very common. Before someone can join a committed relationship, they need to test the waters during the dating phase. And here, the dating vs relationship dilemma enters the stage.

On average, it takes a couple around 5 years to date before marrying, but when the transition between casual dating and entering an exclusive relationship happens? This question is tricky, but it’s very important to know where you stand unless you want things to go wrong for both parties involved.

You want to get a better understanding of your relationship status, do you? Then read on to learn the dating vs relationship differences.

What Is Dating?

Dating allows two individuals to see each other and learn more about their romantic intentions and sexual interest. The two are not in a committed relationship but are casually dating to see if they are on the same page about different things.

Dating someone means more than simply going on a single date with a person who asked you out. Instead, you meet each other regularly in what is basically a test to find out if you make a good match.

Following the dating phase, two people will either part ways and not plan on meeting for any romantic purposes anymore or enter a real relationship.

Casual dating comes with no expectations either.

“There is no commitment and possibly a lack of interest in establishing a serious, meaningful relationship.”

Racine Henry, couples’ therapist

Now, not everyone who dates is looking for someone to enter a committed relationship with. Some simply date multiple people in order to enjoy physical intimacy, gain more experience or just avoid the serious attachment involved in relationships.

“There are a lot of reasons people date casually, ranging from wanting to gain more interpersonal experience with people to whom you’re attracted, to avoiding the emotional attachment that comes with deeper levels of commitment, to just wanting to have fun.”

Myisha Battle, sex and dating coach

4 Stages of Dating

1. Awkwardness

Dating partners feel very awkward in the beginning. During this phase, you are attracted to each other and curious to learn more about the other person, so you’re understandably excited. However, you are still uncertain how this will go and how you feel about the other individual. Both people will most likely do their best to make the other have a good opinion.

2. Growing Attraction

As you continue to date, the attraction toward each other will grow more and more. So far, you know you want to continue dating, therefore you stay in contact through various methods like calls and messages.

Related reading: Check out 21 things your partner should never say or write to you

3. Confusion About a Future Together

Partners are uncertain about the future and have to think about their feelings, as well as whether they want to enter a more defined relationship. Now it’s time to figure out whether you wish to part ways, begin dating exclusively or even enter a committed connection.

4. Intimacy

You are both convinced that you want to move forward with a committed, healthy relationship. While in the casual relationship, you declare your feelings for each other and enter a period filled with physical and emotional intimacy. This will spark the beginning of a real connection.

Dating and relationship goals

What Is a Relationship?

Being in a relationship means that two partners are committed to each other. There is a romantic interest involved, so the previous relationship progresses into something more serious.

These types of connections do not come with the uncertainty that is usually present when you’re just dating. Now, you have a mutual agreement to be exclusive, you want to be in a long term partnership and you see this as your better half and your potential future spouse.

During a relationship, your emotional bond grows more and more and you have more romantic and sexual intimacy. You have better communication than ever, so the feelings are clear on both sides and you know what you want from this establishment.

“When people who are looking for a significant other are going on dates, the first objective usually is to get to know each other to see if there is enough compatibility and chemistry to build a relationship from. It can take different amounts of time for each of the people to figure out if they are interested enough and feel ready to declare wanting to be in an exclusive relationship.”

Dr. Yvonne Thomas

Sometimes, a relationship does not even require you to start dating – there are cases when people begin dating exclusively or they enter a serious relationship after many years of friendship. Spending time together and making memories makes it easier for exclusive dating or committed connections to begin – especially since you’ll know you are on the same page.

Friends know each other on a deeper level, so they will be more likely to be upfront about how they feel. It will be easier for them to start exclusively dating or join a committed relationship.

What Are the Signs You’re Still Dating?

To be able to tell the difference between dating and more serious connections, you must know the signs that you are still dating. When you are in the dating stage, you will usually:

  • Prefer to spend more time apart instead of with each other
  • Sexual intimacy may or may not be present
  • When you are together, you feel nervous
  • You do not have the commitment that people in relationships have

What Are the Signs It’s Turning into a Serious Relationship?

What is a major identifier that you are headed towards more than dating the other person? Here are some signs that you and your partner are entering a commitment for the long term:

  • You have meaningful sex
  • Both of you want to be together in the future
  • You do not date other people anymore
  • Your communication reached deeper levels
  • You present each other to friends and family
  • You cannot picture your life without your partner
  • You have emotional intimacy
  • You spend more time with the other person rather than apart

Dating vs Relationship – Main Differences

Dating and relationships are two different things. While you’re still dating, there is no commitment, and you have other priorities.

However, in a relationship, your partner is your top priority. It’s a commitment people make when they mean something more serious.

What are the differences between dating and relationships? Let’s take a look at the biggest distinctions between them.

Planning for the Future Together

One clear difference between dating and a relationship is when you start planning for your future life together.

In relationships, you make living arrangements, talk about where you see yourselves after several years, and may even talk about having children. This is something you do when you want to be with this special person in the long term.

You do not make future plans when dating, though. All you do is live in the moment, get to know the other person, and see where this takes you.

Not Looking for Other People

When you’re still dating, you’re not committed to each other. Therefore, you do not have to settle for one partner for dates. You can also see one person or another, making sure you test the waters first and see who is most suitable to be part of your life as a romantic partner.

Unless you make an agreement to begin exclusively dating, you are free to date other individuals too. For some, this is one of the less glamorous aspects of dating, as they are looking for someone who wants to be monogamous even during this stage.

Meanwhile, a serious relationship requires commitment. You’ve found the person you want to be together with, and you are not interested in anyone else.

This is one of the biggest differences between dating and relationships.

Relationship is all about mutual feeling and depth of connection

You Share a Mutual Feeling

How you feel about each other during the dating phase vs relationship phase is one of the main differences between dating and relationships.

Both of you will make a choice when you begin communicating. You will establish what type of relationship this is, and the feeling must be mutual.

As such, you will have to be in mutual agreement regarding whether you’re just close friends, dating, or in a serious relationship.

Being Yourself Near Each Other

During the initial dating stages, you will put your best foot forward. Chances are that you are very nervous around this person and want to show them the best version of yourself.

But one of the main differences between dating and relationships becomes obvious when you either show your true self or put on a mask.

In a real relationship, you will not be afraid to have some casual banter, reveal more about your past, or even show your less pleasant side. You show them more about you than you may be willing to show your friends, and it’s a sign that things have gotten serious.

Becoming Part of Their Social Life

Another difference between dating and relationships comes from how you treat each other when it comes to your social life.

Dating someone does not involve inviting them to family or friend gatherings. You simply spend time together, then go back to your separate lives.

In a relationship, communication is more important and you meet each other’s family. You may even invite each other to hang out with other friends or ask them to come with you to an office party.

When making your partner part of your social life takes prime importance, it’s a common sign that this is more than a dating phase.

You Love Being Together

Feeling comfortable around your partner makes you want to spend more time together. When your dates become more than just a means to get to know each other, it shows that this is turning into a relationship.

In a relationship, spending quality together becomes the most important thing.


People generally date for a few months or weeks, depending on the case. Then, they decide what to do moving forward.

When you enter a relationship with your partner, it’s a long-term commitment. You agree to be together for an extended period, with the plan being to be together forever.

“Dating is like trying to find the right apartment. You research, ask for leads, try different buildings, and do a lot of leg work and then, eventually, if you don’t give up, you find the right one. When in a relationship, however, you’re making a commitment, signing a lease, and agreeing to live in that place. You have to make a decision that this is where you are going to be— at least for a while.”

Audrey Hope, spiritual therapist

You Go to Them When You Need Support

When you are struggling, your go-to person when you’re in a relationship is definitely your partner. This is the person you love and trust the most.

But you do not do the same with someone you are not in a relationship with. The major difference between dating and a relationship is that you don’t fully open up when you do not make a commitment to each other.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to tell how dating vs relationship situations are different. Before entering any of these phases, you must understand what being in a relationship means and what dating means.

There are different stages to dating, which eventually lead to the parties walking away or entering a real relationship.

Besides, dating is not that exclusive – you are free to date others unless you evolve into an exclusive dating establishment. In a relationship, you agree to be with just one person following long periods of communication.

Expectations vary in a relationship vs dating phase and being able to tell the difference will help you know where you stand and what to expect from your partner.

Hopefully, now you are able to tell the differences between dating and relationships.

Relationships Author
Geoffrey Williams
After taking a required Intro to Psychology course as an undergrad, I have never looked back. Since my doctoral program, I have specialized in adult relationship therapy. Through my studies and clinicals, I wrote several articles for professional journals and currently in the midst of writing a book.

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