Does Dating Mean You’re In A Relationship? Is There A Difference?

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Does Dating Mean You're In A Relationship

I met Ian on Bumble. He was this sweet, gentle guy who would listen to me rant about my day at work. Before we went on our first date, we texted a lot and sent snaps to each other. 

When we first saw each other that weekend, I smiled, thinking it would be so much more… He was the dream guy. At least, for me. 

But before we could move past the dating phase, which I knew we would, I needed to bring up the relationship topic and see where it goes. From our previous conversations, he wasn’t opposed to the idea.

But at that point I still didn’t know? Were we in a relationship or just still dating? Were we only boyfriend and girlfriend, perhaps? 

If you are like me and want some clarity on whether dating means you’re in a relationship, keep reading as I break it down and give you the answers you need. 

Is It Possible To Be Dating Without Being In A relationship? 

With the dates and hand-holding, what would take these two people to be exclusive? And I know you have questions, but whatever it is, I need you to lean back; we’re about to get to that. 

We live in a casual world. Hold up that doesn’t mean a lot if you want a relationship and they don’t want to be in a committed relationship. Some girls want a charming prince in a relationship, and dating isn’t an easy feat. 

When I was young, dating meant being exclusive. I could remember telling my girlfriends in high school I was dating that guy but in today’s complicated world, there’s a difference with relationships seeming more like a lifetime commitment. So how do you protect yourself from getting hurt? 

For the purpose of this article, I’m going to clearly define what dating means and why it is different from relationships. 

Getting to know each other in their first date
Getting to know each other in their first date.

Dating is when two people meet with the aim of getting to know each other romantically, to assess their potential compatibility with prospects of being future intimate partners. 

Note that you can be intimate during the dating process and that dating says nothing about commitment. 

But relationships mean two partners committed to each other for the time being. It means close connection, honesty, trust, and emotional bond. 

And that’s the real intimacy right there. From a book I read, it says intimacy isn’t always about sex; it also involves laying yourself out there bare: this is me. 

Differences between dating and being in a relationship 

Dating is all casual. There’s no real fuss, no pressure on you to decide if that’s the right person. You are simply exploring. 

Relationships are all about exclusivity. Gone are the days of you seeing someone else. You choose one person, and you stick by them through thick and thin. 

Dating happens between friends with no commitment whatsoever. 

Is dating the same as being in a relationship?

Is dating the same as being in a relationship?

Relationships are all about commitment. You can’t ask someone you’re dating if they’re seeing someone else, it is not your business, but in relationships you have every right to do so. 

Dating could be short-term, depending on how both partners want it to be. You could decide one moment that isn’t the right person for you and cancel on them. 

Relationships can be long-term, spanning to marriage. Once you’re in a relationship, it doesn’t mean you immediately lose your free will, but you will have to make compromises for them. You’ll do things you don’t enjoy doing for their sake because you love them. 

Dating can be about intimacy and then you move on the next day. People go on all these dating apps, find a rebound, spill their secrets at a bar, and the next day, that’s it. 

Relationships are also about intimacy, but this is on a different level. When you’re in a relationship, you spill your secrets, bare yourself open to the one you love, and still expect them to love you, not run away the next day. Except you’re with a jerk. 

Dating means you’re getting to know your significant other. You like them, and things might change later on. You’re just trying to see how things go. 

In relationships, you know this person, you accept and love them for who they are. You’ve seen how things could be with them and you still choose to love them through it all. 

How do you avoid getting hurt in the casual dating process? 

How do you avoid getting hurt in the casual dating process? 
A dating app on a phone displays a match.

Step 1: Know What You Want

I cannot stress this fact enough. A lot of us go on apps, meet a cute guy and he asks you out. That’s fine, but while it’s alright to have fun, remember to draw a line in what your goal is during the period of your dating. 

If your goal is to explore men like a catalog all to see what shoe fits, fine. If your goal is to go on tasty sexual encounters, that is fine too but if you want a relationship, then please be CLEAR. 

The last thing you want is a man who isn’t ready for a relationship and you’re going on the third month of dating. If you begin to fall in love with him, which you could, you’re only going to get hurt so in the early stages, be clear to yourself (and him) on what you want. 

Step 2: Know if your goals align

At this point, you enjoy each other’s conversations. You stay on the phone late at night, chatting, talking, messaging, whatever it is you do but you talk. You’re in the honeymoon phase.

You feel the connection between you two, and as much as I understand how hard it would be putting yourself out there, remember your conversations aren’t just for what a funny co-worker said at work to get him to smile. Get deeper and spark meaningful conversations without being desperate. 

Step 3: Be clear with your partner

You cannot expect to be mute or cool with what you two have, expecting him to crawl into your thoughts to know what you want, so if he just isn’t ready then the jokes on him because you can’t always be his date to some fancy event if he doesn’t want to be exclusive. 

Step 4: Have the courage to leave

A lot of people don’t care how much of your time they’re wasting as long as it coincides with their selfish desires. If your goals don’t align, then please do not care about the amazing conversations you have. 

Just know you deserve better and you’re out to get it because if he finds you a worthy girlfriend, nothing should stop him from taking the next step and asking for you to be in a relationship with him. Don’t waste your time; end things and move on to find what you want. 

Do Relationship Status Labels Really Matter?

A girl introducing her boyfriend to her parents
A girl introduces her boyfriend to her parents.

Labels go a long way. Do you know why? Because you don’t want to give relationship rights to someone you’re just seeing. 

Relationships are skin-deep-we’re-moving-in-together. It’s trust, and it’s love. It is commitment that during this period, you’re choosing that one person and no one else. 

A friend took me to meet his family during preparations for his granddad’s funeral and they instantly assumed we were best friends, some teased us to start dating and when we did start dating, there were nerves because I wanted to be accepted by them. I wanted them to see me as more than just his friend. 

And that alone should tell you how much difference there is when you go casual with a guy and when you’re ready to take things seriously. 

How Long Should You Date Before Being in a relationship? 

I didn’t say this earlier because I assume it’s your choice. Some won’t be in a relationship until they fall in love but if you like that person, then baby steps are alright. 

We’ve all heard people falling in love and getting married in three months, so it’s all about what is great for you and your partner. There are no timelines to affairs of the heart. You alone know what is right for you, so follow your heart. 

Stages or roadmap of a dating journey

Is Dating necessary before a relationship? 

I believe dating is necessary before a relationship. It’s the time you both discuss what you want. Do your goals align? Are you compatible? Are they someone you can trust? You wouldn’t know this if you jumped into a relationship, now would you? 

How do you know if you’re together? 

Like I said, commitment is hard. Some people are commitment-phobic because of some trauma in their past, and they don’t want to be in a relationship. So when things get this way, the best thing to do is ask… It’s really amazing when things are fun but if you want more, you have to ask. 


Dating wasn’t as confusing in the past as it is now. Like I said before, dating meant boyfriend and girlfriend, but people want to set more ground rules when it comes to relationships today.

Whatever you decide is best for you, I wish you the best in your dating/relationship encounters.

Photo of author


Over the years, Stephanie has had her fair share of dating experiences. While some turned out great, others weren't so great. She believes that relationships are meant to be fun, exciting, and full of laughter. She wants to help men and women become confident, attractive, and successful in their romantic relationships.