Home  >  Love Couch  >  Sweet Love

Dating vs. Relationship: How to Read the Signs & Know Your Status

Love is a confusing subject. Are you hooking up or something more? Understand the dating vs relationship differences to know where you stand.

Dating vs. Relationship

Casual dating is a marvellous way of getting to know all kinds of people, without having to feel tied down to anyone until you’re absolutely ready. It’s not a crime, but it’s not for everyone either. Understanding the dating vs relationship spectrum is important for anyone looking to avoid pain and heartache.

Of course, serious relationships are totally different. They tend to be monogamous and long-term, or at least conducted with that intention in mind.

Even if it doesn’t pan out, there was a level of seriousness there that reflected commitment. There’s also the underlying message that love is there. Love isn’t a word thrown around lightly when casually dating. [Read: What is casual dating? How to know for sure if you can handle it]

The muddy waters between dating and commitment

The problem is, there’s a lot of muddy water between those two points. Dating vs relationship means you’re either having fun and being casual, or you’re committed to one another in the here and now, perhaps without thinking too much about the future.

When you’ve been ‘seeing’ someone for a while, you start to wonder where you stand. That’s when the confusion comes in! [Read: Talking vs Dating – Another confusion you need to clear before moving ahead!]

You’ve no doubt been in this situation before. I know from experience how complicated it can be and it can cause you to become distracted and withdrawn from the person you’re spending time with.

Not everyone wants to sit down and have a conversation about labels and “where we’re at”. However, you can look for signs that tell you where you are on the dating vs relationship scale. [Read: How to date casually without getting attached: 15 hurt-free rules]

Pushing the conversation too soon can lead to disaster. That’s the main risk. There’s no right or wrong time to want to know where you stand. But by pushing it and asking too soon, you could scare them off and kick yourself for daring to ask. But, at the same time, why should you be confused or worried about where things are going?

The key is to give it some time, relax, and ask when you feel the time is right.

For me, that wouldn’t be before at least three months. It could even be longer depending upon how much time you spend together and any other dating vs relationship signs you see, or don’t see, as the case may be. [Read: Exclusively dating or casual fling: 14 signs to know your status]

We’re about to help you gain a little insight, so you can be reassured that you’re not wasting your time. Alternatively, you may come to the conclusion that you need to move on and find someone on the same page. Either way, let’s check out the main dating vs relationship differences and associated signs.

The differences between dating vs relationship

Casual dating has a very real profile. Relationships do too, but everything in-between is confusing and blurred. It’s entirely possible to be somewhere between dating and relationship status. You might be moving in that direction but not quite there yet. That’s entirely fine if the timeline is on your side.

For instance, if you started off dating casually, but a couple of months in, you’re starting to see some relationship signs creeping in, you can be reassured that things are moving in a positive direction. [Read: What does a casual relationship mean to a guy and your future?]

Let’s clear up some of those dating vs relationship differences so you can compare your situation.

1. Casual dating can mean friends with benefits

There’s a chance you’re having sex on occasion with a friend who is also single. This doesn’t mean you’re in a relationship; it means you’re both helping each other with sexual frustration. If there was more to it—something serious—there would have been a discussion. [Read: 16 signs you’re not yet ready for a serious relationship]

2. When you’re dating casually, it’s often not exclusive

Because you’re not serious with any one person, there are probably 2+ people in the picture at any given time. Maybe you’re texting one person, but planning a coffee date with another.

It’s not wrong; since you’re not tied down, you’re simply screening a list of potential candidates. It could also be that you’re having fun, and taking a break from dating, but still want people to do things with.

3. Casual dating doesn’t always mean sex is involved

Casual dating doesn’t mean you have to sleep with everyone you talk to. On any given day, you might meet someone new, or stop talking to someone you’ve been talking to for months.

The idea of sleeping with every single person that comes and goes isn’t exactly realistic for most people. In fact, sometimes, casual daters don’t sleep with anyone at all, opting to wait until a serious relationship is established. [Read: He only wants sex: 10 reasons guys just want you for a hot hookup]

4. When dating casually, you may not see each other very often

If you’re not serious with someone, why see them all the time? You might as well see them on occasion, or maybe regularly, but not most of the time. The minute you see them very regularly, you inch closer to something more serious.

5. Casual dating can sometimes result in heartache for one party

This is a sad reality that everyone needs to understand: sometimes, you won’t end up on the same page. It could be that one of you has intense feelings, and the other doesn’t. It could be that one of you wants to commit to a relationship, but the other one isn’t ready, despite having romantic feelings.

Life is hard, and love is perhaps one of the hardest aspects of it. Timelines don’t always match up. [Read: 20 signs you’re wasting time in a one sided relationship]

6. If you meet their friends more than once, you’re somewhere between casual and something more

Think of friends as a test. You have to prove yourself to meet someone’s friends, then prove yourself again upon meeting them.

If you’re still in the proving part, you may or may not have a shot. Now, if the person makes it obvious you’re not even close, and will never meet their friends, it’s never going to get serious.

7. Casual dating isn’t serious

Casual daters don’t usually find themselves sighing on a bench, in a garden, fantasizing about a long, lasting future with someone.

The expectation is low, so marriage and family planning aren’t really on the table. The moment serious topics come up, someone has developed feelings. [Read: 8 subtle signs your casual fling is turning into a relationship]

8. If you’ve had the conversation, you’ve moved into relationship territory

If you two lovebirds had the whole “we should be an item,” conversation, then things are pretty clear. The reason you’re reading this feature is either because your partner forgot about the conversation, or you’re having a terrible time.

In that case, you should probably worry less about the dating vs relationship argument and more about why things aren’t going well right now. Communication is key!

9. If you’re both only sleeping with one another, it’s a relationship

This is a huge sign. Say you haven’t had the “official” conversation yet, but you’ve established that you’re not sleeping with other people. That means there’s a chance you’re easing into a serious relationship with the person, but are waiting to become an official item. [Read: 15 clear signs your guy wants a real relationship with you]

10. Speaking about the future means a commitment is on the cards

It may sound obvious, but people get tunnel vision and focus on the present. Being in a serious relationship means you’re aiming for a future together.

There are too many couples out there that simply don’t work, for various reasons, such as immaturity, incompatibility, different goals, etc. To build a future, you have to focus on your level of compatibility. How good of a chance do you really have at making it work for the rest of your lives? [Read: 50 quick questions to test your relationship compatibility immediately]

11. Relationships rely upon trust, casual dating doesn’t

In a casual setting, people expect their sexual partners to have other sexual partners. If someone lies, no real emotion is involved.

Meanwhile, in a relationship, these things will break trust, and trust is not something you want to lose. It’s almost impossible to get it back and, chances are, you’ll spend your time kissing your partner’s feet and feeling inferior until the love has gone on both sides.

12. Sex feels “more” in a relationship

For sure, casual sex is pretty easy to come by. But at the end of the day, it means nothing more than the motion of the ocean. Sex in a relationship is meaningful. That’s because there’s a love connection there and it makes the act more than just lust. How do you know? You can feel it, and you can see it in the actions of your partner. [Read: How to read the signs he wants to make love to you and not use you]

13. In a relationship, you’re close to each other’s friends

Earlier, we mentioned that you should use meeting friends as a yardstick in measuring where you are on the dating vs relationship timeline. If you’re close to each other’s friends, that’s a good sign of a relationship developing. You don’t have to like them all, but you make an effort at least.

Of course, your friends have been around for however long, so they’re important to you. If you introduce someone to them, then they did something right and earned their way to your friends. If it wasn’t serious, you’d never come close.

14. You seek emotional support from one another in a relationship

One of the main differences between the casual dating vs relationship status is when there is an emotional connection. When two people get together in a serious relationship, regardless of anything else, they have a strong emotional connection. The love is there, and that’s a word that isn’t used in a casual relationship.

You miss the person when they’re gone, you put energy into making them happy, and you include them in decision-making. There’s both a want and a healthy level of need, to have that person in your life. [Read: How to be more empathetic and forge emotional connections]

15. Casual dating doesn’t make or keep promises

One of the main differences between relationships and simple dating is a lack of promises. When you date casually, you have a requirement to be respectful, of course, but you don’t owe the person anything. That means no promises of doing anything for the other person.

It might also mean that promises aren’t kept. It’s not cool, but it happens. However, in a relationship, promises aren’t only made but they’re kept too.

16. Relationships are about valuable time spent together

Casual dating doesn’t mean that you’re always in the bedroom. However, there’s no onus on quality time and understanding.

In a relationship, quality time helps to boost your bond. If you find that you’re regularly doing things together for the sake of it and you’re both enjoying it, that’s a sign you’re pretty serious. [Read: How much time should couples spend together? The answers you need]

The importance of being on the same page

There is nothing wrong with dating casually if that’s what you want, and that’s what makes you happy. However, you have to be sure that the person you’re dating is on the same page as you.

All too often, people go into casual arrangements hoping that it will become something more serious in the near future. If you’re someone who knows they don’t want a commitment any time soon, you have to be honest about that.

As long as you’re honest, you’re not hurting anyone. However, do remember that sometimes love can sneak up on you without any warning! Be open to a possible relationship down the line but understand what you want in the here and now. If the other person is totally happy to be casual and feels the same as you right now, that’s more than fine.

However, if you get the feeling that the other person is catching feelings, or they’re asking more from you than you’re willing to give, you need to have a conversation, stat. [Read: 25 best relationship topics to talk about if you want to be happy]

In most cases, it’s worth walking away from a casual situation to save your heart. The second feelings start to arise, someone is going to get hurt. That will be you or the other person, but either way, it’s going to make you feel terrible.

There is nothing more important than being on the same page and also being honest. Don’t stick with casual, holding out hope for something more. If a relationship is what you want, be honest, and go find it from someone who wants that too.

[Read: 19 clear signs the two of you are ready for a serious relationship]

Differentiating the dating vs. relationship status can be a little messy, depending on the situation. Sometimes, nothing serious is spoken, but serious actions are undertaken. Other times, the right words are there, but the feelings aren’t. But by using these signs, you’ll be in a better position to know just where you are.

Liked what you just read? Follow us on Instagram Facebook Twitter Pinterest and we promise, we’ll be your lucky charm to a beautiful love life.

LovePanky icon
Team LovePanky
The editorial team of LovePanky comprises relationship experts and real-life experts that share their experiences and life lessons. If you want the best love ad...