Is Dating Exclusively The Same As Being In A Relationship?

With so many different terminologies and labels out there when it comes to dating, it can be hard to discern where you stand with someone (via Refinery29). Is it a situationship? Friends with benefits? Is it cuffing? Just hanging out? Is this heading toward matrimony? What is this? Which brings us to dating exclusively and being in a relationship, because they sound like they should be the same thing, right? Well, they're not. Because you needed another reason to be confused in this era of dating. 

"Exclusive relationships vary depending on the relationship and the people in that relationship," licensed marriage and family therapist Whitney Goodman tells PsychCentral. "People will often define their terms for being 'exclusive' and agree to them. I have seen couples discuss exclusiveness around seeing other people, physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, and other areas of the relationship."

So, it's not exactly clear, but not exactly unclear either. But the fact remains that there is, at least for most people, a difference between exclusively dating and being in a relationship. It's just about what each entails and how the two people choose to define it. 

What dating exclusively looks like

By definition, at least in regard to dating, exclusive means others are excluded from the equation (via Merriam-Webster). But just because you and the person you're dating exclusively have whittled yourselves down to just the two of you, it doesn't mean you're in relationship territory. It also doesn't guarantee that you'll ever get to that point. Simply, it just means you both have stopped dating other people and have decided to only date each other.

"Being exclusive means that you are not seeing anyone else or proactively pursuing another person," dating expert and VP of Maria Sullivan tells Men's Health. "Exclusive means you aren't in a committed relationship just yet, but that doesn't mean that it couldn't eventually turn into one."

Although some people might be thinking about taking their exclusivity to the next level, others might be content to stay exclusively dating. Once the word "relationship" is slapped on a couple, things can change. Suddenly there are feelings of obligation and commitment that, while they may have been there before, didn't feel as intense before the relationship label joined the conversation.

What being in a relationship looks like

In contrast, a relationship looks and feels different. Suddenly, there are things like looking toward the future together and making a commitment that's long-term instead of short-term.

"When it shifts into a relationship, there's a focus on the longer term," relationship expert and founder of Love Quest Coaching Lisa Concepcion tells Women's Health. "There's a desire to get on the same page about bigger life goals, such as living arrangements, finances, family, career goals, and anything requiring true partnership."

It entails more communication and building a foundation together on which the relationship can stand and grow. There are also expectations that don't come with dating exclusively. "[To be in a relationship means] having a title," dating consultant and founder of byGeorge George Kong tells EliteDaily. "There are certain expectations on that title, but everyone experiences that differently, and I do believe that it is about being supportive of each other, of getting past the basic carnal, sexual needs and the goal hopefully is to get to a point of vulnerability with each other."

While it still might seem a little vague for some, as we all experience connections with people differently, at least knowing there is a difference between dating exclusively and a relationship can help you navigate what you're doing with the person you're seeing and where you want to take that "thing" you're in. Take it somewhere else, or leave it where it is.