I was out with a buddy recently and we got onto the topic of dating.
I’ve been thinking and writing about relationships for a number of years now, but my thoughts have always come from the perspective of someone who was in a long term relationship. A struggling one perhaps, but still – as our discussion went on it became clear that they are actually two very different things.
To borrow a line from Game of Thrones; when it comes to the world of dating I often feel like there’s a fur clad wildling woman looking at me saying “you know nothing Drew, you know nothing”. Not that my buddy Gandalf is a fur clad wildling woman, but hopefully you get the idea.
I’ll be the first to admit, I can be naive. I’m not sure if I necessarily look at the world through rose colored glasses, but I tend to look for the best in people and I can be too trusting. I have long underestimated how much ego can come into play (in a bad way) when people make decisions, or maybe it’s more accurate to say when people simply act without making decisions; and how people can be willing to hurt others in order to get what they want.
That said, from talking about dating with different people who have “been there” a lot more than I have, I think that although dating is different, some of the ideas and issues I have around relationships still apply.
While Gandalf and I were talking, the question was raised – when does dating become a relationship?
I don’t think there’s an easy answer here, and I don’t think it’s an either/or scenario. It’s not like you are dating someone, and then after a magic number of dates or hours spent together you are now in a relationship (and no longer dating). Rather, dating is a “form” of a relationship. And if and when the relationships starts to become more serious, you think of it less as someone you are dating and more as someone you are in a committed relationship with.
So let’s rephrase the question as, when does dating go from a casual relationship to a more serious one?
I still think this is something that just kind of happens, and often it will happen for one person before it happens for the other. But it’s not really a relationship until both people buy in to the idea.
It also depends on a few things.
A few years ago I wrote a post called “why and how matters more than who”. In that post I raised the following question:
I am a huge believer in intention, and the question of why you are with your partner is perhaps the most important one you can ever ask yourself.
It’s been almost two years since I wrote that, and it was written from the perspective of someone who is in a long term relationship asking “why” they are there. But I think that question (and much of that post actually) is very relevant to dating.
Why is someone dating? What are they actually looking for?
Dating is inherently a selfish act. It’s all about you; your needs, your wants, and what you get out of it. That’s not a bad thing though, because really – in the early days it has to be about you. People are looking for certain things in life; and when looking for someone to share parts of their life with they have to be approaching it in a way that works for them.
I commonly talk about how one of the struggles in relationships is finding the balance between “me” and “we”. Dating (at least initially) is almost purely about “me”, and I’ve always thought the transition from dating to relationship starts to happen when the nature of the relationship starts to include “we”.
And I guess this is an area where I realize I had no clue (you know nothing Drew, you know nothing). Because I always thought that a shot at “we” was part of the goal for everyone. I thought that’s what people were looking for. The chance to find that “someone”, who would be their someone. To find a person to share with, to build a love with that could last forever.
I thought that was what love was actually about.
Thing is, that’s not always the case.
Not everyone sees dating as something that could potentially develop into a relationship. People approach dating for different reasons.
For some (especially coming out of a long term relationship) dating IS the goal. They just want to meet different people, and feel attractive again. Maybe they’re looking for someone to just do different things with. Maybe they’re just looking for sex/hook ups. Maybe they’re using dating as a way to forget – to try and get over someone.
But they aren’t interested in a “we”, they don’t want something where there’s any sort of commitment or “feelings” involved.
Someone’s reasons for dating will impact how they approach it, so WHY someone is dating (or in a relationship) is pretty damned important.
And ideally these reasons are known to the other person – because there can be a lot of potential for hurt feelings when people are on different pages. If one person is hoping to find the love of their life while the other person is just looking for sex, someone will likely end up being hurt.
But often people aren’t up front about what they are looking for. And to be fair, maybe they don’t even know. I do think it’s important to understand (for yourself at least) what you are looking for. You may not fully understand what you want, but if you have no idea of what you are looking for how will you even know when you find it?
Back to the question about when dating becomes a relationship (casual to more serious), I guess this begs the question of what exactly a relationship is. And really, that will mean different things to different people.
As I said above, I see the transition from dating to relationship happening when the nature of the relationship starts to include “we”. When you starting thinking of the other person as part of an “us” – even if it’s just a potential “us”.
When two people are dating each other exclusively, I think you already have the early stage of a relationship. That doesn’t mean you are committed, and it doesn’t mean it will ever develop into anything more. It DOES however mean you are willing to give it a chance and see where it goes.
Commitment isn’t all or nothing, it’s fairly fluid and can strengthen (or fade) over time. Hell, you don’t need to look any further than any broken relationship or marriage to know that commitment is not binding. Saying you are in a relationship with someone doesn’t mean you are going to marry them. It just means that you are interested in THEM, and want to learn more. It means you don’t care who else may be out there, because right now – they are enough.
The question about when dating has gone from a casual thing to something more takes on additional importance when you are older, especially when you have come out of a long term relationship or marriage.
A friend of mine made the observation many people make the following mistake:
They miss the relationship they had, and so they try to recreate elements of the marriage/relationships they had. The level of closeness, knowledge and familiarity. So they rush things.
I had never thought about that, but I think it’s true. We don’t realize how long it took to build that knowledge and familiarity. It took being with that other person and sharing their life and experiences over an extended period of time. You can’t recreate that overnight. You can’t rush it, and you shouldn’t try to.
Along this lines, a buddy of mine told me that when he started dating he was looking for a future wife, and he had to get out of that mindset, because you never know where dating is going to go so you need to just take it one day at a time.
I largely agree with that, because you can’t force anything. You can’t make something into something it’s not – it needs to grow naturally, and organically.
At the same time it goes back to the initial question of intention; of “why”? Are you dating for fun? Or because you are ultimately looking for something long term? Only you can know that answer. And that answer should impact how you approach dating.
As my buddy found, when dating someone you can’t approach them as a future wife/husband. That’s not fair to anyone, especially when you don’t even know them yet. However, if you know you are one day looking for a long term partner, then seeing them as a potential long term partner isn’t a bad thing. When you know what you want, it becomes easier to decide if the person you are with matches what you are looking for. That doesn’t mean they necessarily are what you are looking for (or you are what they are looking for); but as you continue to learn them you can continue to discover that.
For me, the question becomes “do I like this person”? Is this a person I want to continue to see, learn, and share time and experiences with? Do I look forward to seeing them? And do they in turn look forward to seeing me?
As long as the answer is yes, then it doesn’t really matter what you call it.