When a friend tells me that he or she is dating, I usually ask them to explain what exactly they mean by the word “dating.” When they give me a blank stare, I prompt them by asking: Is it casual dating? Serious dating? Courtship? Are you seeing each other? Friends with benefits? Hooking up? What’s the goal? Where is this relationship headed? “Dating” can mean so many different things.
So for my own sake (and the sake of other nosy people like myself), I’ve developed 4 categories of dating to help clarify things and lessen the confusion surrounding dating. (Friends and family, if you could use these categories to identify your dating life then I will not have to ask awkward follow-up questions).
Dating for Fun
This type of dating is the no-strings-attached type of dating. The whole purpose of spending time together is for mutual enjoyment. You enjoy her company and she enjoys your company. You hang out when you want to. If you don’t call her back it’s no big deal. If she doesn’t reply to your text, you don’t get upset. It’s not serious. There are no expectations except to have fun. It’s not exclusive. You’re not trying to scope out the other person to see if they are marriage material. In other words, you’re friends. And friends spend time with each other to have fun.
Dating to See
This type of dating is more intentional. Sure, you can have fun, but the relationship has another purpose as well. That purpose is for you and her to get to know each other, to see if you both want to move into a more serious relationship. You start talking about life goals, your ideas of marriage, if you want to have children and how many, your career plans, your spiritual beliefs, your family background. This type of dating would include speed dating, blind dates, and online dating. This relationship may or may not be exclusive, and you may or may not be introducing this person to your friends and family.
My friend met a nice girl on eHarmony a few months ago. He is from BC and she is from Ontario. They started talking every day, and he has even visited her twice since then. They are what I would call “dating to see”. They are trying to get to know each other enough to decide whether to not to move into a serious and committed relationship (see below). But at this stage of dating, they are not ready to pick up and move to the other person’s city.
Dating to Decide (a.k.a. Courtship)
Goal: Making a yes or no decision about marriage
The old-fashioned name of this type of dating is called “courtship.” During courtship, a couple gets to know each other for the purpose of deciding whether they should get married or not. It might be informal and private, or it might be a public affair involving family or community approval. In most cases, it involves a commitment to an exclusive relationship with the other person to make this decision.
Some couples will introduce each other to the important people in their life: parents, family, friends, mentors, spiritual community, etc. Some couples may travel together. Some couples will try living together (the pros and cons of doing this are an entirely different blog post, and we are looking for someone to write intelligently about this so if you are interested in doing this, please let us know). Some couples find it helpful to go to pre-engagement counselling.
This stage of dating requires much intentionality. If you are in a courtship, you should be asking yourself, “What do I need to know about her and what does she need to know about me to be able to make this decision about marriage?” When Olive and I were in this stage of dating, we found it helpful to give ourselves a time frame so that our decision-making process would not drag on forever.
Dating after Marriage
If you do end up getting engaged and married, you will (hopefully) continue dating. This stage of dating is much different than the others. Now that you have made a lifelong commitment to another person, you will have to nurture and grow that relationship (a satisfying marriage unfortunately doesn’t just happen naturally, which I believe is one of the biggest misconceptions about marriage).
Dating after marriage is very important because it gives you exclusive time with your wife (which might not happen during the rest of the week). While dating, you have her attention and she has yours. You can use this time to catch each other up on what has happened in the week, observe how the other person may have changed recently, have important conversations, and make decisions. It’s also important to have fun too! Having fun together deepens the relationship. (Also read: 10 Fun Date Night Ideas)
Having clarity about which type of dating you are doing is helpful not just for me, but for yourself (and your date), so you can figure out what the heck is going on. Many relationship problems I’ve seen stem from couples not being on the same page about what type of dating they are doing (i.e. one person is more serious and wants the relationship to go somewhere, while the other just wants to have fun).
Would you add any other types of dating to this list? Answer in the comments.