Dating vs Relationship: 7 Ways They Are Different

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The debate about dating vs. relationship is forever ongoing. It might happen that you are going out with someone for quite some time, but you are unsure whether you are still dating or you are in a committed relationship. The thin line between the two can sometimes get blurred, and it might not be easy to differentiate. If you are in such a dilemma, this post is for you. Read on to know the difference between a relationship and dating and a few signs that might help you understand the same.

What Is Dating & Relationship?

Dating Vs. Relationship: How Are They Different?


Dating is when two individuals are interested in getting to know each other but have no serious attachment or commitment to the other person. They choose to refrain from planning about the future and agree that the relationship will continue in a casual manner. It could be exclusive or non-exclusive, but they haven’t entered a committed stage yet. The relationship is light and informal, with no strings attached.

Then comes the in-between dating and relationship phase, wherein you’re putting in the time, energy, and effort to get to know each other on a deeper level. It’s not a one-sided relationship, but you both are mutually willing to work towards a future to see if you’re truly compatible.

Committed Relationship 

A committed relationship is exclusive or monogamous, and the partners involved are open to talking about long-term goals and struggles within the relationship. They are serious about the partnership and willing and prepared to put in the effort to work on themselves and the connection between them.

A major identifier here is the shift towards long-term and bigger goals in life, such as family, career goals, living arrangements, and finances. In other words, you enter into a true partnership.

How To Know If You’re In The Dating Phase Or An Established Relationship

In order to determine if you two are in the dating phase or an established relationship, consider the following indicators and signs.

1. The level of commitment 

Commitment is the key to any relationship. It can be established strengthening the intimacy in the relationship during a relatively long period of time. Couples in a committed relationship commit to stay together and look forward to a future together.

In the exclusive dating phase, your relationship is monogamous, but you can walk away anytime you like. In a committed relationship, partners stick by each other through thick and thin.

2. The level of communication

The level of communication can vary a great deal in exclusive dating and a relationship. In a committed relationship, there is a true partnership. You are comfortable discussing any difficult topic to its every minute detail, whether it is your personal finances or family issues. Essentially, you speak your mind and don’t mince your words. And your partner is someone you can literally tell everything to and the first person who comes to mind when something good or bad happens.

In dating, on the other hand, communication usually is limited and basic in nature. The conversations you have may not be very deep and may not touch your soul. In this phase, it’s natural to discuss your next meal or simply indulge in casual banter.

3. The level of expectation

The expectations vary in the dating phase and a committed relationship. Even though you’re seriously dating someone, you don’t have too many expectations, such as a future with them.

In a serious relationship, on the contrary, expectations run high. You expect everything, from patience to a future together. You see your relationship as permanent and imagine your future with this person by your side. Whether you talk about daily activities or goals in life, you picture a future together and make long-term plans.

4. A change in priorities

No doubt, exclusive dating is meaningful, but if you’re given a chance to have a fun night out with friends, you’ll take it. Sometimes your partner takes a back seat and other priorities, such as friends and fun activities, come first.

In a relationship, your partner comes first and takes prime importance in your life. They’re your go-to person when you make plans, and you check to see whether they’re free before you commit to other plans. Your better half is the first one you call when you want to watch a movie or want them to be your plus-one for an office party.

Similarly, instead of planning weekend getaways with friends or splurging on the latest fashion items and other not-so-important things, you invest most of your time and energy in your relationship and your future. Your focus is on building a better life for the two of you.

5. The level of acceptance

When you’re exclusively dating, you take the time and effort to present yourself in the best possible light in front of your partner. It’s but natural that you want this person to like you, and so, you try to put your best foot forward and minimize your quirks. You strive at showing them the best version of you–inside and out.

However, with time, whether you like it or not, these masks slowly start to fade. Eventually, you’re more relaxed, and you don’t see the need to hide your true colors, good or bad. Not just you, the same happens the other way around, too. You realize that, in a relationship, you don’t have to approve each other’s personality. You show your real side because you’re confident this person will still hang around. And most importantly, you stand by each other, through your best times and your worst times.

6. The level of trust

Trust is built over time. It isn’t easy to instantly trust someone who walks into your life. Exclusive dating is one thing, but trusting them is another.

This significantly changes in a serious relationship. Trust doesn’t necessarily mean believing every single word that comes out of their mouth. It’s about having the confidence that your better half always stands by what they speak, and  you can rely on their decisions, judgments, and opinions.

7. The level of realness

While exclusive dating can be fun and exciting, there is an air of comfort, peace, and familiarity in a serious relationship. It has advantages, but the level of realness is much higher in an established relationship.

The need to visit fancy restaurants or throw extravagant parties is a part of the dating phase. It’s great because you get to know each other, but you’ll have to eventually leave that behind and move to something more real. In a committed relationship, it’s all about being yourself. Whether it’s sitting on the couch in front of the TV or working for half the day and completing the house chores the next, your better half is a part of the less glamorous aspects of your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How long should you date before being in a relationship?

There are no rules to deciding the optimum duration of dating before you get into a serious relationship. It depends on your dating experiences and the intensity of your feelings for each other. However, about three months is considered an average before deciding to commit.

2. How often should you see someone you’re dating?

Given that your geographical location permits frequent meetings, you can try to meet each other once a week when you start dating. You can gradually increase the frequency to two to four times a week, depending on how things are going and whether or not your schedule permits that.

Choose Your Side Of The Fence

One might use the terms dating and relationship interchangeably. However, both terms are different. The level of acceptance, trust, communication, and commitment to your partner varies in dating and a serious relationship. Initially, all relationships start with the dating phase. However, you may eventually get into a serious relationship with your partner. As the relationship progresses, you can determine if you’re dating or committed to your partner. And with the above indicators, we hope you can easily find out the state of your relationship.

Infographic: Interrelation Between Dating And Relationship

Dating is the period of courtship where a couple gets to know each other before committing to a relationship. Check out the infographic below to know the correlation between dating and relationship.

correlation between dating and relationship [infographic]
Illustration: MomJunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • There is a thin line between dating and relationships that might give rise to confusion in some cases.
  • Dating entails no serious commitment between two people, unlike in a relationship.
  • The communication, expectation, and commitments levels can help you differentiate between the two.

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Shikha Thakur

Shikha is a writer-turned-associate editor at MomJunction. Having done a certification in Relationship Coaching, her core interest lies in writing articles that guide couples through their courtship to marriage and parenthood. She also specializes in baby names. Being a postgraduate in Human Resources from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, she likes understanding people and their relationships. This reflects in her relationship... more

Dr. Carlos Juan Carmona-Goyena

(PhD (Counseling Psychology))
Dr. Carlos Juan Carmona-Goyena is a board licensed therapist in the USA and Puerto Rico with a specialty in couples, families, and relationships. Dr. Carlos possesses a PhD in Counseling Psychology granted at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico. His two-decade professional experience also includes scientific research in family emotional and relational processes and its effect on psychological functioning. Dr.... more