Relationships happen in stages. You don't just meet someone and automatically become their significant other. I've tried that. In fact, there is a big difference between being exclusive and being in a relationship, though sometimes, it can be hard to identify.
First, you meet and message. You'll go on a first date, and if there's chemistry, you'll go on more. You'll see one another for a few months, along with a few other candidates and Tinder swipes, until you finally decide your crush is the person you want to be exclusive with. But, you're not quite boyfriend and girlfriend yet. and that's where it gets complicated.
How do you know when you are truly done seeing other people, and have moved to a committed relationship with your partner? Sometimes, this confusion can make me want to come to every date with a checklist: "So, we've gone out, like, five times. Are we still allowed to send memes to other people? Also, I'm ready to be done with you liking pictures of @emrata on Instagram." But there's got to be a tactic easier than that to figure out where my relationship stands, without having to bring Emily Ratajkowski into it.
Here's how you can distinguish between dating exclusively and being in a relationship, because seriously, what the hell are we anyway?
This is what it means to date exclusively.
Dating exclusively can happen with or without an explicit conversation — that is a main difference between dating exclusively and being in a relationship. Sometimes, it is just assumed by the amount of time and energy you are both putting into the relationship that you are only seeing one another. But make sure you're being realistic about this assumption, and not just basing it in fantasy. That can be dangerous and hurtful. If you're ever confused, just ask your partner casually.
Dating exclusively is the step before being in a relationship. You're still undergoing the screening the process, but congratulations! You've beaten out everyone else who was in the running. You're no longer hooking up with other people, and you're essentially only emotionally invested in one another. The goal is that you're working toward a relationship, which is the next big stage of commitment. However, your partner might have a few people on the back burner just in case things don't work out, and so may you. (I believe this is named "cushioning.")
If you think of dating in terms of a business, you've passed all the pre-interviews, and you're now working for a trial period before becoming a full-time hire. If all goes well during your temp job, you'll move on to the next step and get your own office at the company. Maybe you will even start keeping your tampons in the bathroom of the company, and you'll get your own drawer, keys to the apartment, and place in the fridge... you never know.
This is what it means to be in a relationship.
A relationship implies some sort of goal for longevity and a commitment to working things out when problems arise. A relationship is an investment in the future and is not something that should be assumed. Relationships have the future in mind. When you decide to take that step with your significant other, there's a world in which you can imagine them as your spouse or as the parent to your children.
If you're in a relationship, that also means your partner is always your plus-one. You are fully integrated into one another's lives. You know each other's families. Your significant other's mom calls you just to chat. There are talks about eventually moving in together one day, and vacations are being planned. People who are in relationships are trying to lock it down and have thrown most of their concerns out the window.
I once had an ex-boyfriend introduce me as his girlfriend to a group of people before we had ever had the conversation. I was definitely still talking to other people at the time, and I had no idea this guy thought we were committed. Who's to tell in this weird dating age? I never know who actually has feelings or is taking things seriously.
If you want someone to be your boyfriend or girlfriend, what I'm saying is, talk to them about it — out loud. It's a conversation for two people... or however many people, if you're polyamorous. I don't know, do your thing!
So if you're wondering if you are exclusively dating or you're in a relationship with your partner, maybe refer to this article to find out. Or better yet, just get up the courage to ask them. It really comes down to having an explicit "determine the relationship" conversation. When it comes to dating and relationships, communication is key. If you can't do that, you've got nothin'.
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