Is It Just Dating Or A Relationship? 17 Must-Know Differences

You met someone you like, and you’ve gone out a few times.

You always have a great time and might even look forward to seeing them again. 

But you find yourself wondering, “Are we in a relationship or just dating?”

That’s an entirely fair and normal question to ask, even if figuring out the answer isn’t always easy or straightforward.

In fact, it can be downright confusing and stressful. 

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be!

Is Dating a Relationship? 

There isn’t a straightforward answer to this question. It depends on many things.  

You can be dating and not be in a relationship, just as you can be in a relationship and still be dating. If that’s as clear as mud, here are some general things to consider:

  • Dating is a time to explore your options and get to know each other better.
  • Relationships indicate you know each other well enough to want to continue seeing them.
  • Dating is for figuring out if you want to pursue something further with that person.
  • Relationships mean you already know you’re interested and want to see if you have a real future together.
  • Dating tends to be full of uncertainty and awkwardness.
  • Relationships are more comfortable and make you feel secure.
  • Dating tends to be exciting and sometimes confusing.
  • Relationships can also be confusing, but your nerves have calmed down.
  • There’s a lot of curiosity in dating as you learn about the other person.
  • In a relationship, you’re still learning about them, but you know enough that you’re interested in seeing them exclusively.
  • Even if you have sex, intimacy in dating is more surface level.
  • Intimacy in relationships involves a deeper level of closeness and connection. 

Dating vs. Relationship: 17 Must-Know Differences 

Still not sure if you’re dating or in a relationship? 

Here are some common differences between dating and being in a relationship.

1. Level of Authenticity

Think about how you act around each other. 

  • Do you feel comfortable being your true self? 
  • Are you able to rock your sweats and t-shirt rather than feeling like you need to dress to impress? 
  • Can you eat what you want and however much of it you want without worrying if they are judging you?

You might be in a relationship if you’re past the awkward phase that often comes when two people start dating and can be your authentic self. On the other hand, if you still feel the need to filter yourself, you’re likely still in the dating stage. 

2. On or Off The Market

No, not the stock market. Not the grocery store, either.

This one refers to your availability. Do you still keep your options open for other potential partners, or are you content with the person you’re with? 

young couple having a coffee date dating vs. relationship

If the former is true, you’re clearly dating. If you consider yourself off the market, on the other hand, that’s a sign you’re in a relationship. Or at least heading for one. 

3. Your Exclusivity

You can take exclusivity in a couple of different ways.

You might date other people, which clearly indicates you are not in a relationship. Or you can date someone exclusively but not be in a full-fledged relationship, even if you are heading for one. 

Consider whether either of you is dating others or if you both reserve your weekends for each other.

Again, it’s not a clear indicator until you’ve discussed it openly, but it’s definitely a factor in your status. 

4. Your Social Priorities

When dating, you tend to put your friends, family, and self first. 

You might make time for each other, but you’re more independent and decide what and when to do as well as who you do it with without thinking very much or at all about the other person. 

But when you’re in a relationship, the other person plays a more significant role in what you do and when. 

You’re likely in a relationship if you consult him or her before making any plans or major decisions.

5. Length of Time Together

Time is tricky in this instance. Every relationship has its own timeline, but there are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

You’re dating if you’ve been on just a couple of dates over a few weeks. While it’s certainly possible to date someone long-term without making it official, it’s less common. 

Once you’ve been going out for a few months, you’re safer to assume you’ve officially entered the relationship stage

6. The “L” Word

Love. Like. Lust. So many “L” words. 

If you’re feeling lust, what you’re doing is probably dating. You haven’t developed true emotional or romantic feelings for the other person. At least not yet.

“Like” requires more discussion. You can like somebody and be dating, but you can also like somebody and be in a relationship, but your feelings haven’t evolved to be something more. You’re still getting to know each other and developing or figuring out how you feel.

“Love” is more straightforward. Put simply, if you’ve exchanged “I love yous,” you’re absolutely in a relationship. 

7. Level of Mutual Support

Think about the person or people you lean on when you’re sick, you’ve had a bad day, or you just need a shoulder to lean on.

If the partner in question doesn’t even cross your mind and you’d rather call your best friend or a family member, consider yourself dating.

young man and woman talking in the park dating vs. relationship

If they are one of your go-to’s, though, and you can count on them to listen to and care about what you’re going through, maybe even provide helpful advice, that’s likely a relationship. 

8. Expectations of Each Other

What you expect from each other speaks volumes about the status of where you are. 

  • Do you expect them to make time for you and show up when you need them, and do they expect the same from you? 
  • Do you let them know when you’re going out of town with your friends? 
  • Do you consult them when making plans for the weekend? 

Answering yes indicates a relationship status. If you don’t expect each other to show up for important events or decisions, you’re dating.

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9. “I” and “Me” or “We” and “Us”

Consider the pronouns you use when you refer to them. If you think in terms of “I” and “me,” you might not yet consider them a part of your world. You’re still separate individuals and obviously always will be, but you don’t think in terms of a unit.

Shifting to “we” and “us” suggests your new person is important to you and a part of your life. You can see them in your future, at least to a degree,  indicating that you are in a relationship.

10. How You Refer to Each Other

How you introduce or refer to each other is a good indicator of whether you are dating or in a relationship. 

If you tell people about the ‘person you are seeing’ and avoid labeling them as your boyfriend or girlfriend, for example, that’s dating, not a relationship.

If you do call him or her your boyfriend or girlfriend when you introduce them to friends and family, however, consider yourself in a relationship.

11. The Social Aspect

Another difference between dating and being in a relationship is who you hang out with when you’re together. Is it always just the two of you? Or have you met their friends or family?

It’s not a surefire sign by any means, but having met some significant people in their life suggests relationship status. If you’re not there yet and you still keep each other from your friends and family, it sounds like you’re dating. 

12. The Trust Factor

Relationships are built on trust, loyalty, and sincerity. You both set boundaries and expectations and put effort into maintaining them.

When you’re dating, you are still building that or figuring out if there’s something even worth building. 

How much do you trust this person? Do you feel safe and secure in their presence? If you trust them, it’s a sign you’re in a relationship. If not, you’re dating. 

13. The Intensity of Your Emotions

While not always a clear sign, how you feel about them can indicate whether you’re dating or something more. 

Dating is for figuring out how you feel about the other person. There are often butterflies and awkwardness as you get to know each other. You’re still figuring out if this is someone you can be serious with. 

When you’re in a relationship, your feelings are more evolved. You’ve moved past the awkward phase. You’re more attached. You feel close and connected, even if it’s not quite love, and there’s a strong attraction to the other. 

14. How You Communicate

The frequency and content of your communication can tell you whether you’re simply dating or are in a relationship. 

sweet couple hugging by the beach dating vs. relationship

If you text, talk, or see each other every day or nearly every day, that indicates a relationship. However, going days or weeks without communication suggests that you’re dating.

You should also consider the type of things you discuss. Are your conversations very surface level? Or do you open up to each other about the things going on in your lives?

15. Your Relationship Stability

How committed are you both to making things work? A relationship means you can count on the other person. You make compromises and sacrifices for each other. There also tends to be less doubt about your feelings for each other.

If you aim to maintain the peace and work through disagreements that pop up, signs point to a relationship.

Dating is less certain. You aren’t required to alter what or when you do things to appease the other person.

16. How You Might End Things

How you would end the relationship if you decided you didn’t want to be with them indicates your status. 

When you’re dating, less discussion or explanation is needed than when you’re in a relationship. 

If you’ve only been on one or two dates. Or a simple phone call or text will do the trick.

If you’re officially a couple, breaking it off requires an in-person talk with more details on why you’re ending it. 

17. You’ve Discussed It

Sure, you can get a feel for the status of what you are or aren’t by considering the explanations provided. 

But the truth is that, while it can feel scary, the best way to know if you are dating or are in a relationship is to discuss it. Just be sure to approach the topic casually to avoid moving too quickly or scaring them off. 

You both need to be on the same page either way. 

Dating and being in a relationship can be confusing because no two sets of people are the same. Many factors play into your dating or relationship status. 

Use this list to help you better understand where or what the two of you are, and trust your instincts. If all else fails, just ask!

You're going out frequently, but you aren't sure of your status. In this post about dating vs. relationship, get a hint of your label.

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