Difference between Dating and Being in a Relationship

By: | Updated: Dec-14, 2017
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Having a love life can be confusing. And it is not because you do not know what you want, but because it depends so much on another person being on the exact same page as you. At times, this can seem overwhelming and people avoid having “the talk.” Fear of rejection and fear that your partner wants to keep things casual keep people from speaking their minds. This forces them to start “reading the signs” of their current status. So how do you know whether you are still dating or in a relationship already? And what, really, is the difference between the two?

Summary Table

Dating Being in a relationship
Is about getting to know the other person Is about trying to establish a deeper connection
Can be casual or exclusive Is exclusive
Sexual relations are possible, but not a guarantee Sexual relations are implied
Does not mean living together Can mean living together
Limited public displays of affection Open displays of affection
Means contact is limited to the moments of official dates; discussions revolve around shared interests Means partners can meet whenever; discussions revolve around shared interests and personal issues
May be unofficial Is official
Does not imply contact with the partner’s friends and family Implies contact with the partner’s friends and family
Limited commitment means limited involvement in the partner’s life High commitment means a higher level of involvement in the partner’s life



Dating is considered the first step in a romantic relationship. Two people will usually meet each other, show interest in each other, and start dating. Dating means going out with the intention of learning more about the other person. The traditional destination of such a date is a restaurant, where the two can talk. Other activities are also customary, like a picnic in the park, dancing, the cinema, the theater, a walk in the park, or specific activities. They are all meant to show whether the other person is a good match or not.

Some people choose to keep things at this level. This is called “casual dating” and it implies that the people involved are not exclusive or do not have intentions of taking things further. Exclusivity can be discussed at some point, and so is the possibility of having sexual relations. The next step after casual dating is exclusive dating. The next step is a relationship.

Being in a relationship means officially being a couple. Usually, in this phase, people have already determined whether the other person would be a good match and have decided to go for it. The level of involvement varies from one couple to another. Some may choose to live together early on or later. All internal rules of the relationship are decided upon by the partners, although there are some general things all couples do or are expected to do:

  • Be exclusive and committed to each other.
  • Usually meet and even establish their own relationship with their respective partner’s family and friends.
  • Have a number of shared interests and activities that are performed together.
  • Have sexual relations on a regular basis.
  • Share expenses and ownership of goods or pets (share rent on an apartment or share ownership of items they have purchased for the household, etc.).
  • Feel comfortable displaying affection in public.
  • Are known as “a couple” by people.

The next step for those in a relationship is marriage. Living together is often described as the test run to see whether they can really make a marriage work.

Dating vs Being in a Relationship

So what is the difference between dating and being in a relationship?

The main difference between dating and being in a relationship consists in the level of commitment between partners. Two people who are dating can be casually dating, which means that they could be seeing more than one person. They do not live together, they do not talk very often and they do not spend time together unless they are on a date with that exact purpose. People in a relationship, on the other hand, often spend a lot of time together, know a lot about each other, and play an important part in each other’s lives.

Dating is all about discovering the other person. Being in a relationship means accepting the other person and everything you have learned about them and trying to establish a deeper connection.

You can have exclusivity with the person you are dating, but you must have exclusivity in a relationship. The level of intimacy between people in a relationship is higher than the that of people who are dating. Being in a relationship means preparing yourself and the other person to play a bigger part in each others’ lives. This implies meeting friends and family and establishing relationships with them. On the other hand, people you date are not necessarily taken to family affairs.

Dating has a limited level of commitment. This also means that you are not compelled to take a person you are dating to a business or a family event. However, people you are committed to and to whom you are committed will come with you to a number of affairs.

Sexual relations are another issue. This depends on the two people dating and on their dating policies, whether or not they have sex with people they are not exclusive with or committed to. On the other hand, people in a relationship often have sex on a regular basis, especially if they live together.

Also, when you are dating a person and you are just getting to know them, you may not want to make it public. A relationship, however, is made official. Therefore, sometimes people who are dating will limit their public displays of affection, if any, during a date. Couples in a relationship, however, will hug, kiss, and hold hands in public.

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