Building a healthy relationship with yourself and with others

Dating vs Relationship

If more than one person asks me a question, I think it’s time to address it. A lot of people are confused about the difference between dating and a relationship. So, instead of giving my own definition, I decided to do some research. This may be a little long, but I want to do my part sharing the differences. The information shared from this point is a compilation of various research.

Dating itself can be incredibly confusing, much less, defining what your relationship status is. The difference between dating and being in a relationship can be subtle. It is important to discuss relationship boundaries with the person you are dating and be clear in your communications with them.

The difference between dating and being in a relationship is commitment. If you are going out with someone on a regular basis, and you and your partner have agreed to date only one another, then you are in a committed relationship. However, if you are dating a person and neither of you have agreed to date exclusively, then you are not in a relationship and you are both free to also date other people.  The main difference between dating and being in a relationship is that people in a relationship are connected by a 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.

There are different stages to dating.

Casual Dating

What is it: Casual dating is the first stage of any relationship.  It is characterized by people just dating for fun without any expectation of commitment or exclusivity.  It’s a “getting to know you” phase where we’re not likely to invest much in the relationship or worry about how we feel about the relationship as a whole.

Stresses: Because of the lack of commitment, we’re also more likely to worry about what our dating partner is thinking.  Whether our thoughts are “what does she think of me?” or “where does he see this going?” we are uncertain about the future of the relationship. We may find it easy to be open about some things during casual dating, but because we haven’t developed a relationship of trust, we may also hold back and keep select information from our date.

Why Do It: While casual dating is not very secure, it is a great way to meet new people and explore our options. This type of dating helps us understand ourselves and our likes/dislikes when it comes to relationships.   But once we find someone we really connect with, we might quickly find ourselves in the next stage:

Exclusive Dating

What is it: Exclusive dating is when two people begin dating with the expectation that partners will not date others.  This is more serious and sends the message that “I like you more than other people I’ve dated and feel like we have a special connection.  I’m interested to see where this relationship can go.”

Stresses: We often begin exclusive dating relationships because we feel that we’re not likely to find someone we want to be with more than our new partner.   We may still keep our eyes open to other potential partners, but we will likely find it more difficult to find someone we feel is a better fit for us. Therefore, commitment becomes an important part of the relationship. Because we’re interested in building a relationship, we begin to invest in the relationship more, including opening up a little more and sharing more about ourselves.  However, we’re still uncertain about the future of the relationship, so we may still feel nervousness around our partner and worry about what they’re thinking and where they want the relationship to go.

Why Do It: Exclusive dating helps us feel loved and wanted by another person.  Such dating also gives us an important support system for other stresses in our lives.  Once we do build a satisfying relationship of trust with our partner, and connect at a deeper level, then we’re likely to enter the final stage of dating:

Serious Dating

What is it: Once we begin a serious relationship, we’re sending the message that we’re happy with our relationship and want this one to last.  We begin to think more long-term about the relationship and consider our options for the future.  When we’re in serious relationships, we may find other people attractive, but we are not likely to think about others in terms of potential relationship partners.  Since we’re happy with our current choice, we then begin to invest even more in the relationship.  If we feel satisfied in our serious dating relationship, then we begin to discuss the future and make plans for making our relationship more permanent.

Stresses: When we feel a greater sense of commitment in our relationship, we are less worried about our partner wanting to leave, so we feel safer sharing more with them.  At this stage, we may share some of our deepest feelings and fears.  We feel more comfortable around our partner, so we might start to let loose and show some of our quirks more.  However, with that disclosure comes a stronger fear of rejection and what the loss of the relationship would mean.  We may fear a break-up and the emotional turmoil it would cause.  Our lives may also be intertwined with our partners, making the prospect of leaving very anxiety provoking.

Why Do It:  Social science research has long documented the benefits of serious and long-term dating.  Those that stay in such relationships are often healthier and happier than people who only casually date or remain single.

(Now back to my input) If there’s one main point I want you to take away from this, it’s this, Dating lacks element of commitment. This is where the lines get crossed for some people – they assume that because you two are dating that there’s a certain level of exclusivity you two should have. If you both want exclusivity, then you should decide if you are ready tto be in a committed relationship. But please keep in mind that dating is an essential part of a relationship.  You don’t just jump from hello to commitment – there are stages/phases.

Enjoy the dating period. It gives both of you the opportunity to see if you really want to be in a committed relationship with one another, while at the same time, giving you the opportunity to “explore” other people.  Sometimes what we think we want isn’t really what we want or need – dating allows you to find that out.

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