I’m sure you have already formed some picture in your head to answer the question “what does dating mean?”
However, that picture will have developed in alignment with your values. In real terms, defining dating is not as simple as it would first seem.
Over the last fifteen years, I’ve emphasised the same lessons for all my students. I believe that a date is no more than two people hanging out, having fun, getting to know each other, and unconsciously assessing each other’s qualities as a partner.
Formerly, dating was a natural precursor to nurturing a longer-term connection, with an eventual view to marriage.
While divorce rates climbed for many years, they levelled out between 1980 and 2010. A 2014 study puts this down to people becoming more selective about their potential life partners.
This selectivity has transformed the notion of dating. It’s become far more nuanced but also developed as an end in itself. Many people date for fun nowadays, for the experience of dating itself. A decreasing amount of people see each date as marriage material.
Since the dawn of man, men have engaged in primal displays to woo multiple partners.
However, since you’re unlikely to need to take down a mammoth with a sharp stick anytime soon, women no longer seek only brute strength and good genes (although they both help).
Instead, dating helps them find suitable candidates for mating and reproduction using an increasingly complex network of criteria.
People have different goals and boundaries when it comes to relationships, and dating has become more of a filtering mechanism to find the best-suited partner.
The filtering process is far longer these days, and it can lead to frustration for some guys. They may feel like they’re cycling through dates without a purpose. The central philosophies to getting the most from dating are having fun and communicating clearly, no matter the desired end goal.
Let me break down a few critical aspects of dating. I’ll also define “not dating” because that can also mean several different things, as well as give you a clear picture of how to establish expectations when going on dates.
Are We Dating? Boundaries and Intentions
There are critical differences between dating and dating someone. These variations of intent are crucial to forging strong mutual understanding.
If a person says they’re dating, it means they’re playing the field, having fun, and seeing who has also put themselves out there. People will often speak about dating in general terms, as in:
“Are you dating right now?”
“Yeah, I’m meeting up for a few coffees here and there.”
Dating also suggests you’re actively seeking dates. In 2020, this means thumbing through the dating apps looking to make contact or going to bars to get phone numbers and great conversations.
However, dating someone shows intent to move the interaction beyond casual bounds.
It suggests that the relationship is still in its infancy, you’re dancing the delicate waltz of courtship across dinner tables, and you’re still working out your partner’s quirks and subtleties.
It’d be a different conversation if you said you were together. This implies exclusivity. However, the term “dating” leaves the boundaries for infidelity a little more blurred. This can cause friction when both parties haven’t fully demonstrated their intent.
We Don’t Need To Label Ourselves Just Yet: Moving Beyond Definitions
People take varying amounts of time to conclude that they see long-term potential in whoever they’re dating.
It all depends on how many meaningful relationships they’ve had, their last relationship, and what stage they’re at in their personal development.
Some people carry trauma from previous relationships that mean they create distance with new people. Others can be commitment-phobic, preferring no-strings-attached fun with as many people as possible.
Many folks are ready for a deep, on-going connection with another person. But this might not mean that they want to move in immediately, or they might not have marriage or children on their minds at all.
Others define dating as a platform upon which to build a life and everything that comes with it.
It may take time to find a partner whose view perfectly complements yours. The most important way to move beyond putting a label on your relationship is to define it in more detail.
Listening is vital when you’re setting these goals and boundaries. For example, did the woman sitting with you in the restaurant ask you, “are we dating?” or “are we just dating?”
“Are we dating?” implies that your partner would like to know how you see them. You might’ve had this question after a few dates. It probably never came up on previous meetups, when you were too busy getting to know each other to question your relationship status.
She may want to know if you see her as a hook-up opportunity or if she needs to assess you against longer-term qualities, like stability and emotional intelligence. However, she may be happy with the current arrangement and not be looking to develop the relationship.
“Are we just dating?” is a little more loaded. This is a strong signal that a person would like to take things further, and it’s probable that if you’re not also ready to step up to the plate, she’s going to look elsewhere to have her needs met.
Should We See Other People? Setting Expectations During Dating
The conversation about dating labels will come up. It then becomes a negotiation of your different views on dating and what you expect of each other.
If you expect that you wouldn’t want her to sleep with other people, state that. If you’d like to stay as free and single as possible, make it clear before you sleep together again.
As long as you both lay your intent out on the table when the time comes, you can align your definition of dating and make sure you’re both showing your hand.
“I’m not looking to settle down with one person yet. Would you be comfortable with us not being exclusive for the time being?”
If your partner isn’t on board, she’ll let you know. It’s not that either of you wasn’t ready – you knew what you wanted, she knew what she wanted, and the two desires didn’t match. Then it’s back to dating, instead of dating someone.
Handling differing priorities this way means that you can part ways with only positivity and good wishes.
We’re Not Dating: The Conundrum Of Opposites
“I’m sorry, I’m not dating right now” is an objection you may well already have encountered along your self-development journey.
It may be an excuse, designed to weed out the less proactive men in a nightclub. However, if you hear this after hooking up with someone, this is a sign that she’s looking for casual sex without attachments.
Some men take this as a rejection, but I don’t believe there’s such a thing. “I’m not dating” is a woman laying out her intent. If you’re okay with the arrangement, go along with it. She may see other people, but that’s also within your prerogative.
Labels aren’t the be-all and end-all of dating. They can confuse people as much as they help them define their priorities. “We’re dating” is a label, but it has different meanings for different people.
Letting your prospective partner know as early as you can that you’re approaching dating in a certain way means that parting ways is no longer such sweet sorrow.
Define your exclusivity and avoid friction further down the line. If those boundaries change, be sure to pick up the conversation again with your partner.
Without communication skills, it’s a bumpy ride. Make sure you keep them primed.
I’ve guided men and women through the world of dating for 15 years. Find out what I can do for your communication skills with my virtual Impactful Connection workshops.