Monday, December 18, 2017

The Difference Between Dating and Being Together

Nowadays, it seems like the terms "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" are thrown around like confetti at kids birthday parties.  Well, maybe not to quite that degree, but there has become an ease with which many people unpeel and slap these labels on their connection with another person, to my mind, without much depth of thought as to what makes it so.  And while there isn't anything wrong with this, the downside is that with the ambiguity and differing perceptions between each person, it can leave a lot of us confused.

What makes someone a boyfriend or girlfriend?  Is it someone you're sleeping with?  If so, then this means that anyone with whom you get physical is now a boyfriend or girlfriend?  I imagine many readers would disagree with such a sentiment, arguing that getting busy with someone is not one in the same with such a level of commitment.  Fair enough. 

So, is a boyfriend/girlfriend the person you go out to dinner with each week?  But isn't this also the case with many a platonic connection too?  Plus, don't some people even go out to dinner with their friend-with-benefits, with whom they would not classify as a girlfriend or boyfriend. 

Is a boyfriend/girlfriend then the person you confide in?  Again though, cant we also confide in close friends/family members/platonic other connections?  Surely.  So is it someone with whom you spend a lot of time?  But there are probably a handful of people with whom you spend large chunks of time as well. 

Is it relegated to emotion then?  And thus, a boyfriend or girlfriend is someone you love?  Certainly it can be and often, it is.  But just as often, people may not actually love their girlfriend/boyfriend for any number of reasons.  They might mistakenly think they do, confusing similar feeling powerful emotions like lust or infatuation, as love.  Or, maybe the relationship has petered out and love is waning-the relationship nearing its ending.  Or, maybe they have claimed the label of girlfriend/boyfriend and just aren't there emotionally yet, totally fair enough and legit. 

Though, don't we of course love plenty of people with whom we are not romantic as well?  Close friends, family members, mentors, etc.  So, strong emotions of love/caring/affection do not necessarily go hand-in-hand with boyfriend/girlfriend labels. 

Therefore, what are those specific, special, noteworthy nuances that do a boyfriend or girlfriend make? 

What is the difference between dating (exclusively or not) versus being together (meaning, committed, or in other words, girlfriend and boyfriend).

Anyone can have a relationship and this is very much a vague term upon close examination.  A relationship can be anything, from the routine morning conversation you always have with a favored colleague over coffee, to the hot hookup you submerge yourself in for several months found on Tinder.  A relationship can be two people who go out on dates and like each other a lot.  It can also be the guy or girl in your circle of friends whom you make out with whenever drunk.  It can be the person to whom you tell everything and love to spend time with often (this can be of opposite gender, or same gender.  As well as either platonic, or romantic.  Because of course "relationship" while often romantic, just as often isnt).  So the word "relationship" offers no indication of its depth or seriousness.  That word tells us nothing about the connection or strength of feelings between the two people in it.

While these are not hard or fast rules by any means, to me, here are some of the key and notable differences between dating versus being together (aka girlfriend/boyfriend and/or a commitment):

Dating is a beginning.  Its exciting.  New.  Novel.  Lustful.  Idealistic.  Its the figuring of someone out.  Often accompanied by majorly rose tinted glasses- giving most people the impression that their new love interest is nearly perfect in almost every way.  And while that perception isn't entirely accurate, its also a beautiful as well as necessary stage.  This is when you see your partner at their very best.  Experiencing them at their most awesome.  The best they have to offer.  This stage is important and influential for the process of moving forward and falling in love.

(Quick side note: I have heard people say things like, "well, the beginning stage isn't real.  Everyone is on their best behavior.  But you don't really know someone in that stage.  They are putting on a face to impress.  You find out the real stuff later on."  I don't agree with that.  Though sure, this can happen sometimes and absolutely, some people are deceptive about who they really are in the beginning, I don't think this is a rule in relation to the "falling in love and getting to know one another" stages.  In fact, I think this stage is your opportunity to see your partner authentically, but in their very best light.  Assuming they are presenting who they really are, sure, its true, we are all on our best behavior in the beginning BUT, that's not to say its fake or trickery.  Instead, assume you are falling for and seeing the most awesome albeit real parts of this person).

Commitment can be nearly all of that (hopefully exciting, passionate, and still idealistic- as studies show that those who focus more on what's awesome about their partner as opposed to their weaknesses tend to have far happier relationships).  But its also more.  With commitment, at this point you've also seen your loves negative/more challenging traits.  You've witnessed their weaknesses.  Experienced their bad side.  Potentially even had some tough moments.  And still, you feel very strongly for and think highly of them, wanting to continue forward in a relationship with them.

Dating is exploratory and semi-aimless.  Its feeling each other out.  Its getting to know someone.  Dating is a process of not just getting closer emotionally (which is certainly a big part of it) but of observing as well.

Commitment, while still getting to know your significant other (because I believe that actually, those who are truly skilled in both romantic and their non romantic relations never stop doing this.  Being curious about and wanting to learn about those to whom they are close.  As people are ever changing and growing-at least healthy people are, so there are always new things to learn and unearth about people you love), its simultaneously coming to the feeling that you know enough to decide.  Of course, no one ever knows anything for complete certainty.  And no one can predict the future.  Relationships are fluid, ever shifting.  Desires, life needs, goals, personalities, values, ever changing.  Thus, there is always a possibility for endings, which is natural and normal.  But.  Commitment is feeling you know enough in dating someone that you want to move forward in building something with this person, together.

Dating tends to imply a more casual demeanor, often with less time put in.  Still likely spending just as much time with your other friends (if not even more so), immersed in work, on passions and hobbies.  Its still likely one is doing a lot on their own when just dating.  Not necessarily considering the person you're dating a regular "plus one" to celebrations and events, maybe not quite ready to introduce them to all the people to whom you are close.  Sure, you like them a lot, but loads of other things in your life are still equally exciting and compelling to you simultaneously as well.

A committed relationship tends to come with a shifting towards spending more significant time with your romantic partner.  Often silently moving towards becoming one of your favorite ways in which (and with whom) to spend time.  They likely become your more-often-than-not plus one, and have probably met many of the people with whom you are close.  They are likely on your mind more often than not.  This is of course not to say you drop spending time with friends, push work aside or stop reveling in hobbies and passions.  No way, not even close.  People who are healthy and happy will maintain these things in their lives.  Plus, when you have a fulfilling, awesome life with other things that bring you joy and satisfaction, you bring more to a relationship.  Just...with commitment and deeper feelings, often, this comes with a shifting emotionally, with ones time, as well as with ones priorities.

In dating, the person you're spending time with isn't necessarily a top priority, even though you may really like them.  In a commitment though, the person you're romantically involved with tends to take more of a high priority and prominence in your life than they did before.  Your lives begin intertwining in further depth, both socially, emotionally and in terms of just being with one another.

To me, commitment or being together implies there is a large degree of openness and trust between the two people.  So many people hold back quite a bit from their romantic partners.  There are numerous topics or parts of themselves they hide or don't feel brave enough to share.  I believe, via my own observations of others, personal life experiences and extensive reading, that to be both emotionally close to and "together" in a romantic relationship, while this certainly does not mean feeling obligated towards telling them absolutely everything, I do believe it means you generally should feel free enough and trusting of them to the degree as though you could.  And more often than not, you do.

With dating, there is not necessarily a goal or assumption towards the future.  There are not really any such implications, agreement or intent.  A commitment, however, implies some sort of goal for longevity.  An implied desire towards working things out when challenges will arise.  An intent of investment.

With all of that said, dating exclusively is the step before the stage of a committed relationship, but they are not one in the same.  Dating exclusively is a hurrah in the sense that you've beaten out others who may have been in the running prior.  No more dating or getting busy with others, and you're essentially invested emotionally only in each other.  The next stage though, (and likely, the goal) being commitment.

Both dating and being together/committed are wonderful, awesome places to be in, relationship wise.  Each are legitimate, valid, and have beautiful, worthwhile, great aspects to them.  Dating, as well as being in a committed relationship (or, other stages/possibilities/labels as well), are stellar and worthwhile life, growth and romantic phases.  My article is not lamenting nor dissing any of them.  Instead its attempting to bring a language and analysis to some of the differences between these terms and relationship perceptions. 

Its worth examining your own thoughts and perception with regards to these concepts (for instance, what does it mean to you to "be committed" to someone versus dating?  What, to you, brings about the decision to invest further in someone?  What is the difference in your heart, if there is one, between dating exclusively and being together?).  With clarity in your own mind, this can help in approaching relationships with more clear intent, focus and understanding.  The better you know and understand yourself, the more apt you will be at navigating the nuances of your relationships with others. 

As well as, not assuming that the other person perceives or experiences things in the same way that you do.  They likely have their own values, perceptions, intent and feelings, some of which may be similar to yours and others which will be different.  This is where its important to talk openly together.  Both, examining your own feelings/intent/experience closely, as well as being brave enough to talk with your partner about it, will help ensure that your intentions and goals for the relationship are essentially on the same page.

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