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Meaning of Dating: How It Works, Types, 42 Signs & Ways to Date Someone Right

When you are trying to find your soul mate, you have to go out on a lot of dates. But what does dating mean? Look no further because we have the answers.

what does dating mean

What does dating actually mean? It’s too bad that there isn’t a rule book when it comes to dating. It would make things so much easier.

But at the same time, our lives would probably be too easy. Without dating, where’s all the fun in analyzing and bitching to friends? What else would we talk about? Global warming? Politics? 

We need something light to throw into the mix, hence why we all have no idea the answer to “what does dating mean?” [Read: 15 reasons why being single can be a lot of fun too]

So, what is dating? How do you feel about it? Some people love dating, others shy away from it. 

However, we do live in a modern dating culture, and it seems that single folk everywhere are putting out the feelers whenever they fancy doing so and throwing themselves into the dating circle. [Read: Date night ideas during Covid to keep you dating safely]

Good for them! However, for the rest of us, it’s time to learn what is dating and what it isn’t.

What is considered dating?

What is the definition of dating exactly? Does it vary from person to person or is there a generally recognized definition of what this strange and rather stressful time actually is? 

To define it simply, dating is a period of time when you’re getting to know someone and trying to figure out whether you think you would like to move toward a relationship with them or not. [Read: Do you have the patience for dating or are you frustrated by it?]

It’s a time of fun and frivolities, and it’s a time of no pressure. However, it rarely works out that way.

Some people date more than one person, while others stick to one person at a time. It’s a personal deal and you can’t tell someone that they’re doing it wrong. As long as everyone is being safe, there aren’t any set rules.

Importance of dating

A lot of people don’t like dating because it is nerve-wracking and frustrating. [Read: Stop texting first – how this can make dating more fun and less stressful]

But, dating is an important step if you want to find the right person to be in a relationship with. Here’s why!

1. It can help you get used to dating

In order to find The One, you might have to go out with a lot of different people. It sometimes feels like trying to find a needle in a haystack. 

But just like anything, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. When you date a lot, you’ll get more used to it and it will feel more natural to you.

2. It can help you figure out what you want *and don’t want*

In life and in relationships, sometimes we need to figure out what we want by first finding out what we don’t want. [Read: How to know if someone is right for you – 23 signs you found the one]

So, the more people you date, the better the odds that you will finally know what you’re looking for. That way, you don’t waste your time with people who aren’t compatible with you.

3. It gives you the chance to enjoy dating without pressure

When most people go out on dates, they’re hoping to find their soul mate and live happily ever after. This goal to find a soulmate can make someone feel exhausted and doomed because of the pressure they put on themselves. But if you change your mindset, you can enjoy dating without the pressure.

Just look at it as an opportunity to meet new people. Have low expectations or no expectations other than just to meet a nice person. [Read: Are soulmates real? 20 signs you’ve found the one who completes you]

At what age do people start dating?

People start dating earlier and earlier these days. However, for regular dating, anytime around 16 to 17 is considered average. If you didn’t start dating until much later, no worries at all. This isn’t a race, and what is dating if it’s not individual?

How to know if you’re dating someone

This isn’t the 1950s anymore. In some ways, that’s unfortunate because at least back then people knew for sure if they were dating someone. 

But these days, the definition of dating has been blurred by modern dating trends. So, how do you know if you’re dating, hooking up, or hanging out? Good question. [Read: Casual dating vs. serious dating – what’s your current dating speed?]

To help you out, take a look at this list. If you and the person you’re seeing fit most of these descriptions, then you’re probably dating them.

1. You go out on dates

Traditionally, the man is the one who takes the lead and plans dates. He doesn’t just call the woman at night and ask her to come over for a booty call.

He actually takes you out for dinner, to the movies, and goes places with you in public. And he usually pays too – at least in the beginning. [Read: How long should a first date last? The exact timing for a good date]

2. One of you spends the night at the other’s house

If you’re just hooking up with someone, typically, there aren’t sleepovers. The reason for this is that sleeping in the same bed overnight is a more emotionally intimate thing to do. If you’re just in it for sex, then you will both sleep at your own houses and avoid sharing a bed.

3. You meet each other’s friends

The two of you don’t just spend time alone. Instead, you start to meet each other’s friends. This is a sign that you both want the other one to integrate into your life. If you were just friends with benefits, you wouldn’t be so concerned about this.

4. There is PDA

Public displays of affection *PDA* is natural between the two of you. You don’t just kiss and hold hands when you’re alone at home, but you do it in public too.

Also, when you’re around friends or other people you know, the affection continues and it’s comfortable. [Read: Public display of affection – how to do it, PDA etiquette, and 26 must-knows]

5. Regular communication

The two of you don’t just text or talk when you want to hook up. Instead, you’re in regular contact with each other. Good morning and good night texts in addition to checking in with each other throughout the day – on almost all days.

6. References to the future

If the two of you talk about things that will occur in the future, such as what each of you wants for Christmas or taking a weekend getaway, then that’s a good sign that you are dating.

You don’t typically plan future things with a friend-with-benefits or someone you’re just hooking up with.

7. You see each other a lot

You don’t just see each other when you’re horny. Instead, you hang out a lot whether it’s going on formal dates or just watching a movie at home.

But it’s not sporadic. You start to form a routine for when and how often you see each other. [Read: The early stages of dating – and how to navigate the do’s and don’ts]

8. Exclusivity talk

This is probably one of the biggest signs that you are dating someone. If the two of you have talked about the fact that you don’t want to see other people, then you are dating.

You might not have labeled yourself as boyfriend/girlfriend, but at least you both know that neither of you is seeing or sleeping with someone else.

The different types of dating

There are also different types of dating. That’s what makes the question of “what is dating” so hard to really pinpoint. 

There’s casual dating, which is exactly what it says on the tin and is likely to be when a person is seeing more than one person. 

There’s exclusive dating, when two people see each other exclusively and don’t date others. [Read: What does exclusive dating mean?]

Then there’s online dating, which is long distance through the internet.

NSA dating, which means “no strings attached” is another dating style that is more likely to be about sex.

There is also sugar dating. Sugar dating is more of a beneficial arrangement often between an older person who is a little wealthy and a younger person who is trying to make ends meet. This is often a financial agreement in exchange for spending time together. [Read: How to be a good sugar baby – 16 secrets to the luxurious life]

Dating vs. relationship – What are the key differences?

It’s important to remember that there are key differences between dating and relationships. Dating isn’t meant to be anything solid and is not any type of guarantee of a future with that person. 

It’s a relaxed period of getting to know one another. People who are dating can also date more than one person, as we mentioned, but that’s not usually the case with relationships. [Read: Is that love in the air? The clearest signs you’re starting to fall in love]

The key differences between dating and a relationship come down to exclusivity, a shared vision of the future, and whether you love that person or not. 

Most people who are dating don’t love one another, they like each other and there may be an element of infatuation, but there’s no love yet. That’s the key difference.

How long should you exclusively date before getting into a relationship?  

There is no “one size fits all” answer or rule to this question. It really depends on the intensity of the relationship and how often you see each other. [Read: How many dates should you go on before a relationship becomes official?]

However, usually between one and three months is considered average for most couples. But you shouldn’t worry if it’s sooner or even later than this. If you’ve known each other before dating, it could happen more quickly than if you just met.

But if you have been dating for about six months with no label of a relationship, then it might be a red flag. Or, if one or both of you are avoiding the talk and defining the relationship, then that is not good news.

What does dating mean? The real dating guide

There have probably been some people you’ve gone out on one date with, and they assume you’re exclusive from then on.

While other people you’ve dated, you might be wondering why it’s taking so goddamn long for you to be exclusive. [Read: A guy likes you but doesn’t want a relationship – will he ever be ready?]

1. There’s no set definition

Of course, in Webster’s dictionary, there’s a definition for dating. But in the real world, there’s no set definition that people follow. 

Some people only date one person at a time, while others ride the merry-go-round of dates. Some people take dating seriously while others are very casual about it and have no intentions of committing. [Read: Why it’s normal to not feel interested in dating]

2. Dating vs. relationship

You probably wonder what the difference between dating and a relationship is. Good question. The biggest difference between the two is that those in a relationship made a mutual commitment to each other.

Whether it’s official or not, both decided to not see other people and be exclusive. Of course, people have open relationships, but it still means they’re committed to each other. [Read: Relationship stages all couples have to go through]

3. It’s about getting to know each other

Before entering a relationship, you need to get to know someone, right? That’s where dating comes in. This is the time when you try to see if you are compatible. 

Would you actually want to spend time with them on a regular basis? Dating is when you talk, laugh, and see their habits. This period lets you catch a glimpse of who they really are.

4. It can include sex

Listen, you can have sex during the dating period. Sure, you’ll go for dinners, hikes, and movies, but you can also have sex with them. Why not?

It doesn’t mean that you’re in a relationship though, so don’t get it mixed up. You’re still just dating. [Read: How long should you wait before sex? A guide on timing, dates, and sex]

5. You can date multiple people

If you’re dating, you can date other people at the same time. Though, after a couple of dates with one person, you should tell them that you still see other people just so they know where you stand. 

Dating doesn’t mean you need to date one person. If you want to go on three dates with three different guys, do it. [Read: Why it’s healthy to date multiple people]

6. You introduced them to your friends

If you went on several dates with this person, it’s common to introduce them to your friends.

If you’ve been seeing them for a couple of dates, then you don’t have to. But after several dates, it’s a good thing to introduce them to your friends. That way, they get a glimpse into your life and vice versa.

7. You’re relaxed around them

When you date someone, there shouldn’t be pressure. Remember, during this period, you get to know the person you date. [Read: First date nerves – 18 ways to not be nervous for a date and feel calm]

If you’re constantly nervous or anxious around them, that’s not dating. Dating should be relaxed and enjoyable.

8. No expectations

When you’re in a relationship, there are certain expectations that go along with it. This is normal as you’re in a committed relationship. 

But, when it comes to dating, you shouldn’t have any expectations. You just get to know each other, so don’t expect a relationship out of it. [Read: Lower your expectations – best way to find love or complete BS?]

9. Hooking up doesn’t count as dating

You might think that if you’re hooking up with someone that doesn’t mean anything. Hooking up is a broad term, but it’s usually very loose and casual.

So, if it just means you sleep together and only see this person for sex, you’re not dating. Dating means you actually leave the bedroom. [Read: Are they dating material or a hookup?]

10. Dating is about the future

Sure, dating is fun. But realistically, we go on dates to find a future partner. This may sound intense, and that’s because it actually is. 

The only reason we spend all this time dating is so that we find the person we want to be with long-term. Or else, we just hook up with people for the rest of our lives.

11. It’s not for everyone

Sure, most people have to date in order to find someone to be in a relationship with. But some people just enjoy dating around. However, it’s not for everyone. [Read: Not interested in dating? The reasons and why this is becoming the new normal]

If you tend to develop strong romantic feelings once you get involved, you want to date someone who’s willing to consider a future with you, or you need a clearly labeled relationship, then dating might be the best 

12. Respect is key

Showing respect for the people you date is an absolute must. You should honor your date’s boundaries, practice honesty, and keep your commitments to them.

And above all, you must never ghost anyone. Sure, it’s not easy to tell someone you no longer want to date them, but you owe it to them to tell them directly. Don’t take the coward’s way out and disappear on them. [Read: What is “ghosting” and how does it affect you?]

13. Don’t neglect other relationships

If you find someone you really like, you might want to only spend time with them. That’s fine, but don’t stop your whole life just because you are infatuated with someone.

Even if you haven’t found someone yet and are simply enjoying dating around or seeing multiple people, still try to find time for your friends and family. Don’t just drop other people in your life because you are dating.

14. Take health precautions

Many times, people have sex during the dating process. Hopefully, it will be with someone that you are exclusively dating.

But either way, you should always use protection and precautions when involved in sexual activities. [Read: How to have safe sex in every single way it is possible to]

If you don’t know someone very well, you don’t know what their sexual history is. You should both get tested for STDs and use condoms. You can never be too careful.

How to date without going crazy: 17 steps you should never ignore

What is dating if it’s not enough to send you crazy? Some people can easily throw themselves into the dating lifestyle without feeling like they’re losing their minds with confusion and stress.

1. Keep things in perspective

It’s important to know what is dating versus what it isn’t. Remember, there are no guarantees with dating, and you have to keep it in perspective and realize that. 

Don’t assume this person is going to be The One, and then become upset when things end. [Read: Dating for a month? Realistic expectations to keep in mind]

2. Be wary of social media oversharing when dating

You’ll either end up social media stalking the person you’re dating and becoming stressed about every small thing, or you’ll overshare your dating details with friends. Don’t do either. Rein in your social media a little and keep things chilled out.

3. Focus on yourself

It’s easy to start doing everything for the person you’re dating, but that’s blurring the lines. 

Keep the focus on yourself and enjoy the time you spend together. That way, you can get to know them without feeling overly confused about where things are going. [Read: How to improve yourself – 16 powerful secrets of self-improvement]

4. Don’t lose sight of your friends

This is a huge rule! What is dating? It’s not about leaving your friends behind, that’s for sure. 

However, it’s something that many people start to do once they become infatuated with a new beau. Keep your friends as involved in your life as they were before, and don’t start canceling meet-ups. [Read: The dating code all girls MUST follow no matter what to be happy]

5. Keep things light and avoid heavy discussions

You might want to know what’s actually going on between the two of you, but you’re dating, that’s it. Avoid conversations that make the air heavy and charged, and keep things light and fun instead.

6. You don’t need a label

Dating is about getting to know someone. You don’t need to put more of a label on it than that. [Read: The rules of dating and the unspoken guidelines that create the best dates]

Don’t push for the “are we more than dating” conversation or try and put a relationship label on things too soon. Let things evolve naturally. 

7. Remember that it’s possible to not be exclusive

Some people date more than one person at a time, and you need to think about how you feel about that. You can’t blame them for doing so, but you don’t have to be comfortable with it. If you’re not, move on and date someone else. 

8. Know what you want and find out what they want

There’s really no point in dating someone who wants totally different things from you. [Read: How to open up to someone you’re dating when you’re scared]

Yes, at this point it’s just fun, but why waste time getting to know someone who doesn’t want the same thing as you in life?

9. Remember that it’s not a job interview

Chill out! You don’t have to be on your best behavior and show your best side constantly. It’s not a job interview!

10. Stay true to what is important to you

Whatever you enjoy doing, continue doing it. Don’t change because you think someone you’re dating might not like the same thing or might think that it’s boring. [Read: First date nerves and being yourself even when your heart is pounding]

It doesn’t matter – if you like it, carry on doing it! Dating is not a reason to change, you should know that much!

11. Look for red flags but don’t pay attention to what everyone says on social media

Social media can be a total dating killer. By all means, look for red flags but don’t believe everything you see on Facebook. 

Some people just like to cause trouble. Listen to your gut. [Read: First date red flags that reveal a lot more than your date says]

12. Keep things to yourselves for a while

There’s no need to broadcast the fact that you’re dating someone. If you do and it doesn’t work out, you’re going to feel a little foolish. Just keep things to yourself for a while and save yourself the hassle. 

13. Focus on enjoyment

Many people mistake dating for something which has to be serious and done “correctly.”

There is no right or wrong method to dating, so just focus on fun and enjoyment and figure out what is dating for the two of you. [Read: 20 fun and unconventional dates ideas you can try]

14. Avoid playing games

Mind games aren’t fun and they are borderline manipulation. 

Stick to being honest and transparent, it’s the best way to go about this entire dating game. Playing hard to get never works anyway. [Read: Playing games while dating someone – when it’s okay and when it harms you]

15. Don’t always be the one to text first

You might be thinking this is a double standard because we’ve just told you not to play games, but being the one to text first every single time just means the person you’re dating is lazy. Make them do some of the work! 

16. Focus on your health, don’t let things slip in the excitement and nerves

It’s easy to start with the dating butterflies and as a result, you don’t eat as much, or you don’t sleep. 

Make sure that you focus on your health first and foremost. Dating is meant to be fun, not a reason to end up unhealthy and lacking in vital vitamins! [Read: How to take care of yourself emotionally and avoid falling apart]

17. When you start to feel stressed, pull back

Most of us think it’s meant to be stressful, but where is the fun in that? Our advice is this – when you start to feel stressed out and anxious about it, pull back and focus on your own fun with your friends. 

Then, when you feel ready again, try once more. Don’t make it a huge and negative deal in life, it’s not meant to be that way. 

[Read: How to take a break from dating and imagine a better future]

What is dating? It’s meant to be fun and a time to get to know someone. It’s not meant to be a time of anxiety and stress. Perhaps we should all reframe the way we think about dating and focus on having fun!

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Vinod Srinivas Serai
Vin Serai
Vin Serai is the founder of LovePanky.com, and has delved deep into the working of love and relationships for almost two decades. Having dipped his feet in almo...