What Does ‘Dating’ Really Mean And Why Are We So Afraid Of It?


Dating has become such a blurred line. Everyone seems to have a different definition of what dating means. This didn’t just happen by accident, we made it blurred and I’m not entirely sure why.

Dating seems “serious.” But why does it seem “too serious” to us? You meet for a date, you talk and then you leave.

Most people would be okay with this, but the word “date” tends to scare people. “It’s not a date we’re just hanging out,” “chilling” or “having fun.” When you go on a date you aren’t forced into a relationship with the other person. It’s not a be all, end all situation.

See, I take dating seriously. I constantly get told I get way too invested, way too early. When I first start talking to someone, I wish I could be completely straight up with them. “Hey I like you and I’d like to go on a series of dates with you in order to figure out if you’re suitable to my needs and if I can see myself with you for long term. And if you’re not interested, you’ll tell me and if I’m not interested, I’ll tell you. But if we stay interested in each other I’m ready for it to be a relationship.”

This brings me to an interesting conversation I had on Bumble, a popular dating app, the other night. I asked him what his intentions were on this dating app. I got quite an interesting response. He said and I quote, “I’m not here to fuck but I’m definitely not here to date.” The way he said it made it seem like dating was way more serious than having sex. However, as far as I’m concerned, you can’t get pregnant by getting coffee with someone.

On the other hand the guy I was previously “dating” told me that we were “dating” when I asked him what we were doing. The thing was we hadn’t been on an actual date. I went to his house and we went to a party together and texted each other every day. Were we dating? I mean, you be the judge.
I asked a bunch of people what their specific definition of dating is to help me narrow it down. Some of these people are single; others are in long-term relationships. Everyone had different answers, but similarly, they were all vague.

Then when I began to question them on their definition they began to contradict what they had originally thought. I also researched some definitions that were provided by a variety of dictionary websites. They were also vague, but a more fancy type of vague. I pieced all the definitions together and tried to find some similarities.

1. I think dating is a process of getting to know someone on a very deep and intimate level and during that process you make a decision to either want to continue to build your relationship with that person or you don’t.
(F, 21, Straight, in a relationship)

2. Dating to me is looking for someone to tag along with you in your life. Dating is a series of dates and getting to know someone maybe agreeing to only go on dates with one person. There’s no one night stand of dating.
(M, 22, Straight, in a relationship)

3. It’s like a period of courting where you’re trying to determine whether this person is a good match to your views, standards, and ideas about the world I guess. Like you’re trying to get past all the peacocking to see their flaws and quirks to determine if you could move on to an intimate relationship.
(F, 21, Bisexual, in a relationship)

4.  This is a good question. In my experience, I think that dating comes before a full commitment. Although I also believe there’s elements of exclusivity and commitment there, it’s still a novel stage where two people can determine if they want to make it more serious or be more committed.
(F, 23, Queer, Single)

5. If you go on dates and see each other often within a week. If someone is spending money. I think dating means you do things together one on one.
(M, 22, Queer, Single)

6. Dating to me is just a label or name to define some situation. It doesn’t have to mean monogamous or anything. I think it’s a term to explain that these people are experiencing each other on a consistent basis.
(M, 25, Straight, in a relationship)

7. Playing the field. Find out what you like, don’t like.
(F, 22, Straight, in a relationship)

8. To be in the early stages of a relationship where they go out on dates to find out what each other is like, as a prelude to actually being a fully-fledged couple.
(Urban Dictionary)

9. Dating is a stage of sexual selection in humans whereby two people meet socially, possibly as friends or possibly with the aim of each assessing the other’s suitability as a partner in an intimate relationship or marriage.

10. A social appointment or engagement arranged beforehand with another person, especially when a romantic relationship exists or may develop.

11. A form of romantic courtship typically between two individuals with the aim of assessing the other’s suitability as a partner in an intimate relationship or as a spouse. The result of dating may at any time lead to friendship, any level of intimate relationship, marriage, or no relation.

Apparently, based on these definitions, dating is getting to know someone in a consistent period of time. It comes before an intimate relationship that could possibly or could not possibly form. The forming part depends on the information you receive from the other person on these scheduled appointments. If you like their information and they like your information then a relationship could form if not it’s bon voyage, on to the next.

It seems like I’ve cracked the dating code. Now we can all date perfectly right? But, what about the differences in everyone’s definitions? For one person, dating is figuring out if the other person has the same views, standards and ideas about the world as you, for another, it’s experiencing one another and determining whether you like that experience or not. For one it doesn’t have to mean being monogamous while for another it does involve some exclusivity.

One person mentioned it means spending money on someone. It’s described as a label, a period of courting, a stage, a novel stage, playing the field and a process in various definitions. So, dating is so vague that it becomes extremely complex. I remember watching an episode of Louie on FX late one night. In the episode Louie decides to go on a date with, as she calls herself, “a fat girl.” He had been rejecting all of her prior advances. On the date a very interesting conversation occurs:

“If they didn’t call it ‘dating,’ you know?” Louie says. “Something about the word ‘dating’ makes it worse for me.”

She asks him, “What would you call it?”

“Trying, maybe? Like I’ve been ‘trying’ this girl? I’m going out on a ‘try’ with this dude?” He thinks about the new word for a second and says, “But I would still hate it.”

If dating is a social construct that we created then why are we so scared of what it could potentially mean? The thing is even though dating is a social construct that we created, I’m pretty sure no one knows what it specifically means.

I think because we don’t know for sure what dating is and everybody has different expectations while dating, people are scared to say, “We’re dating.” Changing the name to “chilling out” or “having fun” or even “trying” doesn’t change the fact that we don’t know what any of this means.

Sorry for sounding cliché, but we’re afraid of the unknown. We date, we get into relationships, we break up, or we get married. We know we need that companionship, but we tend to be uneasy about the process we’ve created to achieve that.