Everyone knows what dating is. The word pops up in many conversations, and it seems that nobody ever reflects on what it actually means; that is, until a person is suddenly confronted by the questions that seem to always surround the dating game.

Can you define dating? Suddenly, dating becomes a sort of romantic mystery.

Define dating - dating definition

“We are going out – is it a date? We are dating, but what does it means exactly? We are dating, but to what purpose?”

When this happens, we need to define dating, and this is never easy because it means different things to different people.

The Dictionary

According to the urban dictionary, the dating definition is written as “being romantically involved with someone.”

This is followed by an example of dating: “Two people seeing each other exclusively for six months.”

This does not really aid one’s understanding. There are a vast number of relations that include romantic involvement and show no resemblance to dating per se. Also, some dating excludes any specific romantic involvement.

Define dating - dating definition

When saying “I am dating Cindy,” this might very well include some romantic involvement, but many people will say “At the moment, I’m just dating.”

This excludes romantic involvement with anyone specific.

It rather describes a phase of the person’s romantic life that focuses on getting to know people.

Physical Attraction

Dating in itself is also not defined by only physical attraction. When a man invites a woman he is attracted to, out on a dinner date and she informs him that she is not interested in a relationship with him, then the dinner is no longer a dinner date.

It’s just a dinner, even if the woman is attracted to the man too.

Define dating - dating definition

In other words, 

A dinner can only be a dinner date if both partners view each other as potential romantic partners; as lovers, as a couple, or as partners in marriage. If there is no mutual interest, there is no dating.

A Working Definition

Before we can conclusively define dating, it seems that the following is true: if two people who are looking for a relationship are attracted to one another and start spending time together to figure out if they can or want to settle into a committed relationship, then they are dating.


The first thought that comes up when this question is asked, is what does it matter?

When one contemplates the dilemma for a while, it is easy enough to conclude that it actually does matter.

Why Words Matter

Different people use language in different ways. When a man and a woman becomes ‘involved’ (word used in the broadest sense possible) with each other, they are not ‘an island.’

Their ‘involvement’ is a social construct and has to be defined or displayed in a way that will share their mutual understanding of this involvement with their friends, family and the world in general.

Since many people distinguish between dating, dating someone and seeing someone, it follows that there must be subtle differences between these relations.

To define dating generically…

One could say that it is a phase of the person’s romantic life that focuses on getting to know people…that might be suitable romantic partners for relationship purposes. But it doesn’t stop there; dating someone may also suggest that a  potential partner has been identified.

Continuing to see that ‘person would suggest that things progressed a bit further, to a point where the partners are “seeing each other”. This type of connotation may elude to the fact that they are now sharing with one another more eagerly, and more formally, with the view to a possible commitment in the near future.

Boom, they’re dating. 

The difference between seeing someone and dating someone has been described by some pundits according to degrees of exclusivity. Some say that dating someone is less exclusive than seeing someone. We might restate this by adding ‘seeing someone special’ to add more weight to this analysis.

Define dating - dating definition

It is said that while we can only be seeing one person at a time, we most certainly can date more than one person at a time. Dating then, comes before seeing, but this differentiation is probably more about creating a convention than deciphering popular language. Not everyone will agree, and the jury is still out.

What’s the Difference Between Courting and Dating?

This is another controversial issue. The word courtship is often applied to the behavior of animals during mating season. Birds, as well as most other animals, developed intricate courtship rituals over the eons, in order to compete for and find a mate.

Courtship in Nature

Birds have special plumages and characteristics (mostly the males) that make them stand out, and they follow rigid rituals, including dancing and showing off their nest-building skills and so on.

Define dating - dating definition

Human courtship shows some striking similarities with our animal friends. First off, even though courtship is a somewhat antiquated term in most developed countries, it is still based on old traditions.

But what’s the real difference?

Some pundits differentiate between courtship and dating on grounds of sexual intimacy. Courtship they say, is an intensely emotional experience with the purpose of deciding whether the couple should get married. This, it is said, is easier accomplished without the complexities and undertones of sexual intimacy.

There is no consensus on the issue of celibacy though. Other pundits focus more on the expected longevity of a relationship.

Which is more long term? 

Couples who agree that they see each other in their respective long-term futures, they say, graduate away from dating and move on to courtship, which is a more serious state of affairs.

While dating does not necessarily imply any commitment or exclusivity, courtship is often considered to be a pre-engagement. It is serious, it is committed and it is most definitely monogamous.

Courtship is also a very social ritual. It is open, and it includes family and friends. Dating is often an activity that excludes any other parties. As a rule, dating excludes family, friends and colleagues. Dating couples are eager to be alone, and this is often responsible for that delightful tingle when the sexual chemistry is present.

Courtship is an entirely different matter.

Courtship includes testing each other out socially. “Will the parents like him/her? What about friends?” Courtship traditionally ends with the man asking the woman’s father for permission to marry his daughter – the famous asking for her hand in marriage, and culminates into a union when the father ‘gives away’ his daughter during the wedding ceremony by handing her over to the care of the bridegroom.

What’s the Difference Between Dating and a Relationship?

There is some consensus that there is a substantial difference between dating someone and being in a relationship with someone. It also seems that there is a rather substantial difference between being in a relationship with someone and courting someone.

First off, dating is a much more exploratory activity. Couples that are dating are still testing the waters, trying to determine whether they are compatible with the other person, and whether their attraction is strong enough to form a deeper emotional bond.

Define dating - dating definition

Once a couple come to the realization that they are seeing each other exclusively, or agree that they want to see each other exclusively, they enter the relationship phase. During this phase commitment becomes the foundation stone and exclusivity becomes the symbol thereof.

A relationship is also in a permanent state of flux.

Underway from the dating experience, and moving towards a deeper mutual understanding and commitment, it might move into a courtship phase later on, and even result in marriage.

One of the first indicators that a couple is entering the relationship phase, and moving away from just dating, to seeing each other, or even committing to one another, is when spontaneous public displays of affection, and dare one say, love, become the order of the day. Dating is short on public and physical displays of affection.

Dating often begs the question of sexual activity.

It is possible, it does take place, but is not fundamental. When a couple moves towards a relationship, a sexual relationship is implied. The couple will often move in together, and they no longer see each other on predetermined times at predetermined public places.

They now share their lives to a much larger degree, and they become a couple, officially. During this phase, the first aspects of courtship already starts raising its head as couples start socializing with each other’s social circles and families.

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During a relationship, a couple need to hone their skills.

They have to develop a clear and open line of communication to set the boundaries of their relationship, to even establish some rules of conduct and engagement with others, and often to navigate the pitfalls of cohabitation and shared finances.

The future of a relationship is often build on mutual agreement over lifestyle choice, personal and religious attitudes, political beliefs and future expectations over and above emotional and sexual intimacy.

Dating & Gender

Apart from the traditional roles men and woman play in the dating game, there are differences in the way men and women present themselves when they start dating.

Traditionally, it is well understood that men are supposed to pursue women, and the women have the prerogative to accept or reject these advances. Even though the world is permanently changing, and gender roles have become more diffuse and less stereotyped, many of the traditional roles still persist, albeit it driven by culture or biology.

Research has shown some deeper divisions between the sexes/genders when it comes to dating. Men, when they present themselves to desirable potential dates, are much more likely than women to engage in deceptive self-presentation. (Rowatt, Cunningham & Druen 1998).

Put differently, men will often answer the question ‘how to get a woman to like you’ by inflating their self-presentation. Men and women also use deceptive self-presentation to enhance different traits.

Translated, this means that men are very willing to lie to appear more dominant, resourceful and kind than they actually are. Rather than learning how to flirt with a woman, the men will use some pretense to appear more masculine and more wealthy.

Women, on the other hand, are very willing to lie to appear more physically attractive than they really are. Women, according to Zanna and Pack (1975), are also much more willing to change their gender role values (that is, whether they are traditional or non-traditional) when they believed a man to be very desirable.

Dating then, is a flash point where nature meets nurture, and where desire meets reality. Both men and women apply deception to ensnare a desirable potential mate.

Dating is the solution that humanity developed for this dilemma. Couples can ply their wiles on potential mates, and when a connection becomes imminent, the couple gets the opportunity to date, that is, to move away from the very human deception we introduce to attract a mate, towards the very openness required to keep a mate.

Dating is the connection between nature and nurture, and no matter how modern culture is removing the differences between men and women in society in general, some very deep distinctions still separate the sexes when it comes to dating behavior.

Are there Rules to Dating?

No doubt our human DNA has imprinted some natural unspoken rules of dating that almost everyone possesses. Men and women all over the world seem to fall into a very similar pattern when they interact and mix on a romantic level.

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Make no mistake, there are huge cultural and religious differences and customs that guide the dating public all over the world, but some things are universal.

In the modern world however, technology and science and mass communication are constantly chugging and turning onward, developing more and more conventions and universal strategies that seem to converge on almost every level. And the same goes for dating.

According to research, there are more than 500 companies worldwide that offer dating coaching services.

More than 350 of those are located in the United States, and the market is growing rapidly. There are thousands and thousands of online dating sites, and magazines, books, and online sources offer advice and suggestions for people who want to become more adept at interacting and dating attractive partners.

Define dating - dating definition

The online dating sites also offer advice, some offer free online dating, Christian dating for free and some free Christian dating sites offer communities who share values the opportunity to engage and date people with likewise beliefs.

There are many specific variations of free online dating sites aimed at every conceivable market segment imaginable.

Dating then, is genetically ingrained, culturally ruled, and developed in scope and sophistication by human communication. People who are out there dating, can delve into themselves, and delve into all these resources, and as the resources develop, the conventions of dating become more clearly defined and easier to navigate.

Humanity it seems, is on a drive to make dating more interesting and easier to engage in. In order to do this, there are experts who will teach women how to flirt, and teach men how to start a conversation with a woman and how to flirt with a woman and some even provide lexicons of the best pickup lines ever.

Types of Dating

To some extent, classifying dating into different types defeats the object to some extent. Dating has been defined above, and breaking it down into many sub-groups distorts the boundaries some.

So while this classification might delineate different types of dating and hence add to our understanding, it can also blur the conventions we elucidated above.

The various types of dating below overlap to some extent, and classify dating following different methods and approaches. What is certain, is that these types are part of the modern dating vernacular and as such, deserve mention.

Casual Dating

Casual dating can also be described as applicable to most first dates. It is normally arranged around some special event or activity that both parties would likely enjoy, and there are no strings attached. The couple is not romantically or sexually involved, yet, and might never be. They are not committing to anything by going on the date, and the date might not even be reciprocated by more.

Fun Dating

To a large degree, fun dating overlaps with casual dating. While casual dating emphasizes the lack of protocol, which frees the couple from the pressures of commitment or sexual innuendo, fun dating emphasizes the freedom to enjoy life in full, enjoy the event or activity with unbridled enthusiasm, and enjoy each other free from any mutual expectations of any kind. This is a world that can be accessed via free dating sites and this is where you should have fun, employ your best pickup lines, and laugh the night away.

Serious Dating

Also known as steady or exclusive dating, this type of dating is often used as a synonym for a relationship. Though there are some differences, serious dating is the stage of a dating relationship where commitment starts establishing certain rules and boundaries the couple has to adhere to. Exclusivity is usually implicit, and sexual intimacy implied. In this guise, serious dating is the final step before the couple dives deep into a serious relationship that might open them up to courtship and eventually, marriage.

Blind Dating

When people who have never met go on a date in order to meet for the first time, we say they are on a blind date.. Blind dating is often accommodated in a group-dating scenario where friends of one partner hooks him/her up with another friend of theirs. It can also be arranged via online dating, when the dating partners interact online and then meet on a date for their first real-life interaction. Blind dating is less complex. No one has to memorize the best pickup lines or visit their favorite free dating site to initiate contact with a member of the opposite sex.

Group Dating

Group dating is dating in groups, when several dating couples go out together to some mutual activity or event, and they are given the opportunity to test themselves as a couple in an extended social situation interacting with friends and acquaintances. This can smooth out the possible rough edges for a couple that are on their first or second date and suffer from some teething problems and rough edges. It can also show a dating couple if they are socially compatible enough and can relate well enough to each other’s friends to progress to more serious dating.

In Conclusion

Dating as we know it, might be a fairly recent human institution or ritual. It is said to have developed only after the sixteenth century as the West moved away from arranged marriages into marriage by choice – that is, when love became the benchmark and not the wishes of the parents or the advancement of the tribe’s fortunes.

However, dating today is as ingrained as any of the other fabrics of social life.

Irrespective of how dating is defined, it plays an extremely important role in the construction of our societies, and the propagation of our species even. So next time you come across an advertisement for Christian dating for free, or you read a discussion of the best pickup lines ever, read on. The best pickup lines and the best free dating sites are now part of mainstream dating culture. Embrace it, or stay behind.

Define dating - dating definition

The dating definition , at the end of the day, if we attempt to make it short and sweet, is a trial run for a couple who consider each other as possible life partners.

By dating, our similarities and differences are scaled in real time, and the result gives the couple a pretty clear indication whether they are meant to spend their lives, or a substantial part thereof, together in an intimate sexual and emotional relationship.