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What is Dating and Why It’s Complicated

by eharmony Editorial Team - November 22, 2023

It seemed a straightforward concept when you were younger. What is dating often boiled down to two people meeting, falling in love, getting married or committed and then either stay together forever or break up somewhere down the line.

When asking what does dating mean, it’s usually been the first one-and-a-half steps in that process. But today, it can mean different things and unique journeys to a relationship. So let’s explore how things have changed.

What is the meaning of dating today?

Traditionally, dating is the stage between becoming acquainted and a full-blown romantic relationship. But turning ‘Hello’ into a relationship seems a pretty big chapter left out of the story of what is dating.

In reality, dating is a series of activities and events you do together and, vitally, all the moments of affection and intimacy that grow out of those interactions. In this sense, when we look at, what is dating someone, it’s two people being close enough to explore these feelings.

The evolution of dating

What is dating? Well, usually a romantic social arrangement to meet with someone. A form of courtship wherein it’s accepted that the goal is a longer-term relationship.

A 2023 dating trends report1 showed many singles felt being emotionally understood was their top priority in the early stages of a relationship.

People dating for serious relationships saw a sharp rise to 35% from just 26% and their top qualifier for dating someone was finding someone they could be their full self with. And who says dating has to be all fancy restaurants and elaborate dates? The top three free date ideas were cooking together, hiking and picnicking.

What is dating’s purpose and goals?

It’s a fine and romantic idea that dating is about finding love. But unlike anxiety, fear or joy, love isn’t an emotion but a psychological drive2.

This complicates the question, what is the meaning of dating’. For some, it’s a simple pursuit of companionship. It’s finding someone to grow old with. It’s to not live one’s life unseen but to share it with another. For others, it’s an opportunity for personal growth and in loving someone more than themselves, they find a deeper meaning to existence.

So what does dating someone mean in a practical sense? It’s the simple things like spending time together. It’s the special moments of intimacy you can’t give words or form to. But most importantly it’s the chase for that spark of emotion which gives life to a world of possibilities.

Different types of dating and cultural variations

Let’s look at some of the most common forms of dating:

  • Casual – Usually the first stage. It’s the fun part of exploring your emotions and enjoying each other’s company
  • Exclusive – What is dating exclusively? This is a more traditional relationship where you’re committed to only dating each other
  • Online – Dating through dating websites or apps. Either for the initial introduction or a platform to form a connection
  • Long-distance – Dating but without regular physical contact, only phone and video. It can be straining for some couples
  • Polyamorous –- When three or more people date each other either exclusively or on a casual basis

Pros and cons of online dating

Whether you’re taking a chance and trying an online dating site, or sticking to the old-fashioned dating game and looking for love in the real world, we’ve put together a list of some of the pros and cons to online dating to help you decide which way might help you find “the one”.

The dating process in a nutshell

Looking at how to start dating? First, you need to meet a suitable partner. Go online or find other places to meet people. Once you’ve found chemistry, you need to check if they feel the same way.

Suggest something simple like coffee so you can get to know each other and establish compatibility. As you go on more dates you’ll learn what is dating in a relationship and the various shapes it takes. But let this grow naturally.

What is dating in a relationship?

The difference between dating and a relationship can sometimes be a question what is dating exclusively? Dating is also more of an exploratory phase whereas relationships are about strengthening your bond and seeing whether you’ve found the right person.

Some tips for when you’re stuck on what is dating

  • Always show up on time for your dates. Come across as dependable
  • Respect their boundaries. Have a mutually comfortable pace
  • Plan your dates well. Try to find out what they like
  • Keep some conversation starters at hand in case of awkward silences

Why dating with eharmony is different

There are many dating apps but what makes eharmony different? We’re there the whole journey. We’re here for real love. Our core mission is to help singles find a happy, lasting relationship. Our unique Compatibility Matching System takes out the guesswork, while our platform features strengthen your connection.

Online dating tips – A simple guide

Feel like online dating doesn’t work for you? It’s probably nothing you can’t fix. Take a look at our online dating tips and how-to guide.

What is dating? It’s whatever you want it to be

So what is dating? At its heart, it’s just the journey. But it’s one worth enjoying because it’s a wild road laden with scenic vistas, dangerous pitfalls, speedbumps and, if you’re lucky, a truly life-affirming destination. Love.

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