Couple on a date | Source: Shutterstock
Couple on a date | Source: Shutterstock

Dating Exclusively vs Being in a Relationship: Understanding the Difference

Kudzai Allan Chidamwoyo
Jan 25, 2023
02:15 P.M.
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Modern romantic relationships seem more complicated than ancient ones. Instead of your family finding a bride or groom for you as was commonplace, people now have to go looking for themselves. This has resulted in the establishment of various stages of relationships.


To begin with, after people meet and become acquainted, the next step is often the dating scene. This usually happens in two stages: casual dating and later exclusive dating, where things become more serious between the parties involved.

Some believe they are already in the relationship phase at that stage, but that is not precisely the case. There is a difference between exclusive dating and being in a relationship. These terminologies and labels confuse people; hence, discussing and discerning them in great detail is essential.


What Does Exclusive Dating Mean?

By definition, exclusive means that something is excluded or restricted from other things. When one adds the term dating to that word, that should automatically mean that the people dating are limited to only dating that one person. However, relationship therapists will tell you that it is not as simple as that.

Many couples have varied definitions of exclusivity, depending on several factors they consider vital. Therefore, exclusiveness is not limited to seeing other people, as is usually the case. Different couples will have unique rules to abide by in their relationships, including a limit to interaction with people who may potentially cause problems.

Being exclusive in one's dating life is usually a sign that the relationship with that person has advanced. All your focus is now expected to be given to that one person. This step is easy for some and hard for others. But how does one know that they are ready to be exclusively dating?


Although this varies from person to person, some of the most common signs include a disinterest in seeing others. This is when a person becomes content and satisfied with their one partner. When this happens, at times, people start imagining a future with their partner. You begin to have ideas about having kids, sharing a home, etc.

On the other hand, some signs show someone's unreadiness for exclusive dating. This happens when one partner, or both, seems unsure about the relationship and may have thoughts of finding someone different. Sometimes, people date people they don't envision a future with but just like the attention.

Some signs also show if people are in an exclusive relationship or not. For example, when your partner introduces you to their family, friends, or co-workers, that is usually a sign that you are the one. More so, spending much time together for many other activities besides sex can signify exclusivity.


Arguably the most significant sign of exclusivity in a relationship is when you tell each other the three magical words. Saying "I love you" means you can open up to them about your feelings and have developed an emotional connection with them. In this age of social media, appearing in your partner's posts is also a sign of exclusivity.

However, it is essential to note that this is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Some naturally start dating exclusively without talking about it, while others, who have cheating partners, think they are in an exclusive relationship when they aren't. It can be a complicated situation that brings different results for everyone.


How Is Exclusive Dating Different from Being in a Relationship?

The journey into a relationship usually happens in stages. People may have fantasies about marrying someone they just met, but they still have to go through those stages to make those imaginations a reality. For many people in relationships, their first stage was the meeting part, then the exchange of contact details.

If that initial phase of getting each other's basics goes well, then the pair might start going on dates. That marks the start of the dating chapter, which later moves into the exclusive dating phase, as discussed above. At that stage, a couple will typically be boyfriend and girlfriend, and things will be a bit more serious.

Furthermore, when the affair gets to a point where the two move in together and start making life plans, that will surely be a relationship. The title "relationship" comes with certain expectations that go above and beyond dating. Basically, it will be as good as being married, just without the certificate.


How Do You Transition from Dating Exclusively to Being in a Relationship?

Firstly, although many believe that people have to date for a considerable amount of time before getting into a relationship, there is no set period before that happens. Various love stories have taken their own paths to become a relationship; hence, a couple must go at a pace that doesn't leave them feeling overwhelmed.

Many have been freaked out at the pace of their relationship, as that transition can be very daunting, especially for people used to doing things on their own. One way to make it less scary is gradually talking about that next step, getting more intense with each conversation.


Honesty is crucial to getting into that next phase, as it helps set a stable foundation. If one is not ready for that transition, it's better to say so than lie about it. During those conversations, critical elements of the relationship should be set, including but not limited to boundaries and timelines for certain relationship milestones.

Sometimes this talk may not go as planned, and the worst-case scenario leads to the end of the relationship. However, if you know what you want and are true to yourself, the breakdown of things may signal that you are with the wrong person. Partners must be 100% committed to the relationship.