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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 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 drive1.

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.

What are the primary purposes of dating, and how do they vary between casual and serious relationships?

Understanding the primary motivations behind dating is crucial for navigating relationships, whether casual or serious. Our eharmony relationship experts sheds light on the varied purposes of dating and their impact on relationship dynamics:

The eharmony relationship expert Laurel House defines dating with three purposes: Fun, Exploration/Expansion, and Committed Relationship. Many people have one purpose but a different style, and that can come across as confusing and result in the end of a dating situation because of misaligned dating purposes.

I have seen this a lot with daters who are looking for something real, but out of fear that they might come across as too serious, they date with a style and attitude of fun, confusing their partner into thinking that this is just a fun-for-now, time-filling, short-term fling. When you date with the purpose or in the style of fun, your heart is not open, your vulnerabilities are not exposed, and a deep connection is not formed.

Dating with the purpose of exploration and expansion is dating fun-first. When you date for the purpose or in the style of exploration/expansion you tend to date people who might not historically be your typical “type,” perhaps because you are interested in testing the waters to see if this different type could be a better match for you, or maybe you want to learn something new and this different type of person is your opportunity to be introduced to a different lifestyle, activities, or interests. Dating for the purpose of exploration and expansion is dating head-first, because your mind and your curiosity are open, but your heart might not be.

eharmony Relationship Expert, Laurel House

Whichever of the 3 purposes you are pursuing right now, get clarity on what you’re looking for, in order to show up confidently, and then communicate with clarity and confidence to your date as to what you are looking for right now. And know that your purpose will likely evolve and change as your priorities and life shifts into a different gear. When that change occurs, be sure to redefine your new purpose and realign your attitude, actions, and style in order to keep your purpose and style consistent for the people you date.

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.

The eharmony relationship expert Lalitta Suglani says, that “Dating” primarily serves to create an emotional connection, companionship, and mutual support. In casual relationships, the purpose is often cantered around enjoyment, socialisation or connection, and experiencing new interactions without the pressure of long-term commitment. These relationships allow individuals to explore their interests and meet diverse people in a ‘low-stakes’ environment. In contrast, serious relationships focus on developing deeper emotional bonds and planning a shared future. The emphasis shifts to compatibility, trust, and long-term commitment. Serious dating involves significant emotional investment and dedication to nurturing the relationship, aiming to build a stable partnership together.

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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