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What, actually, does dating mean?

The term dating is so casually and commonly misused, that most times, people use it to refer to the stages of a relationship that it doesn't really denote

Contrary to popular usage, dating someone is not considered as being in a relationship with them.
Contrary to popular usage, dating someone is not considered as being in a relationship with them. (Unsplash)

‘Dating’ has become a commonly used term. It’s so common that even my 12 year old informs me that her bestie is dating a boy from their class. I asked her if she knows what dating means. Daughter promptly answered – when two people like each other and tell each other about it, then until they decide to breakup, they are dating.

So far, this is the simplest interpretation I have heard. It is fairly common for many adults to also assume that this is what dating means — that when you consistently go on more dates with a person, you start “dating” this individual. The Cambridge dictionary’s definition does not help either, when it tells us that dating means “to regularly spend time with someone you have a romantic relationship with”.

However, as things stand right now, dating someone is not considered as being in a relationship with them. Dating is really more of a steppingstone to get into a relationship, where one gets to know someone romantically. Being in a relationship comes much later — where the dating partners do not wish to date other people, have now committed to each other, and intend to cultivate their shared connection.

Also Read: Dating fatigue? Here are 6 great first date ideas

For example, V, a 30-year-old client of mine considers that he is ‘actively dating’ when he makes the effort to go on as many dates as possible. V works on a four-dates formula. Meaning that he sees if he can go out with one woman on more than four dates. Only then will he ‘date her exclusively’. And only after that can they consider getting into a formal relationship or even marriage. V has been on many dates; he is yet to cross that fourth date with any woman. He got his four-date-rule from a random article he’d read.

Then, there is 27-year-old R, who is into ‘casual dating’ for now. Her struggle is to explain to her dates that she is not looking for anything serious and just wants to hang-out. R enjoys the company of men and she does not want to be apologetic about not wanting to get into a serious relationship or even date exclusively. Getting married is definitely on the cards for R, but only after she turns 30. She believes that the more she meets different people, the more she learns about herself and what kind of a partner she wants.

I also had a client, M, who was, and wanted to continue, ‘dating multiple people’ at the same time. This wasn’t an ideal scenario for anyone, including him. No matter how honest he was with the women he was dating about not being exclusive, he could not get away from the emotional toll it took on these women and him.

This only drives home the point that, even if you are going on regular dates with someone, you can’t assume that they are only dating you, or they are serious about getting into a relationship with you.

As of now, this is the happy path of dating: first you go on a few dates, if both people want to take things forward then you start dating exclusively. Once that hurdle is crossed, then you get into a committed relationship. This may or may not lead to marriage.

Also Read: How kids help moms balance dating, motherhood

The exhausting part of this, however, is the stage where one does not know what is going on, and is not sure when or how to ask. I can’t think of even one of my single clients, amongst the thousands, who have not been frustrated by the ambiguity involved in dating. First, it’s very difficult to find someone you actually like and are attracted to. And then if you’ve been on a few great dates, you don’t know if you are exclusively dating each other. Often, when one partner does bring up the fact that they are not dating other people while dating each other, they are met with an unexpected reaction— “Oh, I didn’t know we were supposed to be exclusive!” or “I think it’s too soon to go in that direction”, or worse, they get ghosted.

The fact and issue is that people, as we have also seen in the cases mentioned above, tend to define dating as what works for them in that particular phase of life. Like most things, this too can be addressed with the tool of communication.

I highly recommend talking about this if you are dating someone and are getting interested in pursuing a relationship with them. Get clarity on what dating means to both of you — it will save you a lot of heartache. The outcome of the discussion might mean you stop dating altogether or it might end up, like it did for a few of my clients, becoming a bonding experience. We all have enough and more dating stories we can relate to. This then can lead to forming a relationship.

So, get the clarity you need in a polite, graceful or even a humorous manner (never in a frustrated manner), to not become averse to dating — it is, after all, perhaps the most effective way of getting into a relationship.

This is a limited series by Simran Mangharam, a dating and relationship coach, who can be reached on

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