What Is Serious Dating

Women's Dating

The Essentials of Serious Dating: Definition, Characteristics & Impact

Amber Brooks

Written by: Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks is the Editor-in-Chief at DatingAdvice.com. When she was growing up, her family teased her for being "boy crazy," but she preferred to think of herself as a budding dating and relationship expert. As an English major at the University of Florida, Amber honed her communication skills to write clearly, knowledgeably, and passionately about a variety of subjects. Now with over 1,800 lifestyle articles to her name, Amber brings her tireless wit and relatable experiences to DatingAdvice.com. She has been quoted by the Washington Times, Cosmopolitan, The New York Post, and AskMen.

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Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of journalism experience to ensure DatingAdvice articles have been edited for overall clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement. She has worked at The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Gwinnett Daily News, and The Gainesville Sun covering lifestyle topics.

Reviewed by: Jon McCallister

Jon McCallister

Jon came to DatingAdvice in 2016 with more than 15 years of editorial experience behind him. He has experience editing, writing, and designing at numerous publications, including the Gainesville Sun. Jon enjoys researching emerging trends and seeking out the companies, organizations, and individuals making an impact in the modern world of dating. He excels at working closely with writers and editors to improve the quality of online content.

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The rise of dating apps and sites has brought with it a lot of new dating terms. And everyone seems to have their own definitions and biases. With all these shifts in how people approach their dating life, it can be tough to know where you stand.

When does a friend with benefits become a situationship? When does a steady hookup become exclusive? And what is serious dating? 

Serious dating means looking for a genuine connection that will lead to a lasting relationship. It means your dating goals are all about finding true love, not a casual hookup.

By understanding what it means to date seriously, you can gain clarity on your wants and needs in the dating scene. 

Definition | Characteristics of Success | Signs | Impact | Challenges

Defining Serious Dating

The whole purpose of serious dating is finding a lasting love. I know, easier said than done, right? The tricky thing is that serious dating means different things to different people.

A few characteristics define serious dating, regardless of how many dates, how long you’ve been dating, or how often you see your partner.

Clear Intentions

Everyone involved has to be on the same page if a relationship is going to work. Clear intentions mean that you and your partner have the same expectations for the future of your romantic connection.

Setting and communicating intentions requires being specific about what you want, what you’re looking for, and where your boundaries are.

The definition of serious dating

Dating seriously means something different to different people, and your particular boundaries on what a serious dating relationship looks like need to be clear not just to your partner, but also to you.

Take some time to think through what you want from a serious relationship. You don’t need to draw yourself a full road map to the altar, but you should have an idea of:

  • What’s important to you
  • What you want from the relationship
  • How you and your partner treat each other

Once you’ve figured out what your intentions are and what you’re looking for in a partner, you should communicate that with the people you’re dating – or any potential matches you’re interested in dating. 

If you’ve been seeing someone casually, get their input on whether you’re looking for a more serious relationship. If it’s not a match, move on to someone whose dating goals and views align with yours.

Emotional Investment

Emotional investment is a prerequisite for maintaining meaningful relationships. Emotional involvement is where the “serious” part of serious dating comes into play. In fact, one main reason some people avoid serious dating and long-term relationships is because they fear the emotional investment required.

Emotional Investment

At the most basic level, emotional investment means you’re focusing your emotions on a person: You think about them, you act in their interest, and you give of yourself to them.

Ideally, that person then returns your investment by giving of themselves, acting in your interest, and thinking about you.

Investing in someone emotionally can be a tricky proposition. Casual flings and one-off dates don’t require a lot of emotional openness or vulnerability because you can cut things off at any point and go separate ways. Serious dating implies more emotional connection, and that can only happen by being receptive to your partner’s emotions and sharing your own feelings.

This give-and-take of emotional investment is a key feature of serious dating, and it has to be reciprocal for a serious relationship to work. If you’re looking for a committed relationship with another person, you’ll have to be prepared to give emotional truths, and your partner will have to have the same level of commitment. 

Communication

Good communication is also fundamental to building relationships. You have to communicate fairly, clearly, and healthily to make serious dating work.

Communication can make or break any relationship, and serious dating is no exception. If you’re not comfortable expressing your needs and wants, or if you’re not being clear about what you expect from your partner, it’s hard to have a healthy, functional relationship. 

In fact, most relationship experts agree that bad communication is one of the top causes of breakups and divorce. 

Communication

Before you start dating seriously, it’s a good idea to work on your communication skills, especially if you have a history of toxic dating or dysfunctional relationships.

Even if you’re already seeing someone, improving your dating communication skills will help you get more out of your relationship. 

If you don’t feel ready to communicate clearly in healthy conversations, you’re going to struggle in a serious dating situation.

Learn how to listen actively and how to manage your emotions in tense situations. These are key skills if you want something more serious than a casual date or a one-night stand.

Exclusivity

While polyamory is becoming more and more popular, serious dating still implies a certain level of exclusivity. Whether you’re monogamous or polyamorous, part of being in a serious relationship is making a commitment to a particular person.

Because everyone is unique, people may have different ideas of what falls under the exclusivity umbrella. Even among monogamous people, boundaries and rules regarding what it means to be exclusive can be very different from one person to another. 

Exclusivity

The big question when it comes to exclusivity is: What are your personal boundaries for a serious dating relationship?

You and your partner should agree on if you’re comfortable with each other flirting with other people, for example. Some couples consider flirting a form of cheating.

Does dating seriously mean that you’re no longer seeing anyone else casually? Or are you looking to establish ethical non-monogamy with a partner?

Even for polyamorous people, shifting into a more serious relationship with a partner means setting that particular relationship apart from a date, a one-night stand, or a friend with benefits. 

Exclusivity is ultimately about establishing certain rules between you and your partner about how the relationship works. That conversation sets it apart from any flings, hookups, and other more casual relationships. 

Long-Term Perspective

If you want to date seriously, you have to accept that it’s not a short-term proposition. You can’t have a serious dating relationship with a person you don’t really like or can’t see yourself with in the future. You have to consider whether that potential partner is going to be a good fit for you for the months or years ahead.

Long-term thinking

Thinking about how your life choices will impact your relationship. If you’re about to relocate, it’s probably not a great idea to get serious with someone in your current location. After all, putting in so much effort for communication, emotional investment, and relationship building will only result in hurt feelings when you have to leave.

The long-term perspective isn’t just about your goals. Serious dating is only successful when there’s deep compatibility. Someone you enjoy hooking up with a couple of times a month may be a lot of fun, but are they someone who will be there in tough times? Chemistry can be potent, but it’s not everything. 

Dating someone seriously means evaluating where you are in life as well as where you want to be. It means taking an honest look at what you have in common – besides sizzling chemistry or attraction.

A serious dating relationship is a test drive for committed long-term relationships (or marriage). While you don’t have to be ready to walk down the aisle, it’s not a great idea to start seeing someone seriously if you have completely different values, priorities, or goals.

Characteristics That Make Relationships Work

All relationships have their own particular dynamics, and no two relationships are exactly the same. But there are some characteristics that all healthy, functional relationships share. 

Since it’s a lot harder to just walk away from a serious relationship, traits like consistency, mutual respect, shared values, support, and maintaining a growth-oriented mindset are vital to keeping things going smoothly. These qualities help couples maintain emotional bonds, grow their love, and resolve conflicts.

Consistency

Trust is at the core of all serious relationships, and to have trust, you have to have consistency. Consistency tells you that you can rely on someone to act and react in a certain way. They’re dependable for the long haul. But what does consistency look like?

To be consistent, a person’s behavior should be the same over time. A consistent partner has predictable reactions and makes predictable choices because they’re steady in who they are, what they want, and how they act.

Consistency is essential for building trust

Someone who is consistent is reliable. You have the sense that you understand them well and they won’t let you down.

Of course, no one is perfectly consistent all the time. But you and your partner should generally know what to expect from each other. You should follow through on promises.

In the context of romantic relationships, consistency means that your priorities remain similar over time, and the way you interact with your partner isn’t dependent on outside factors. A consistent person will treat their partner well even when they’re frustrated or stressed out. 

Consistency in relationships means communicating. Partners make sure to talk regularly, even when they’re not physically together. A consistent partner doesn’t arbitrarily change the rules on you or suddenly make major life choices without consultation. 

Being consistent can be a big hurdle for some people, but that consistency makes it possible to forge a deeper connection built on trust and respect.

Mutual Respect

Another key factor in healthy relationships is mutual respect. To trust someone, to feel comfortable being vulnerable around them, you have to respect them and feel respected by them in return. 

Respect in a relationship means that you have some consideration for your partner’s perspective, feelings, needs, and wants. If you respect your partner, you believe their point of view is valid, even when you don’t agree with it. 

Mutual respect means you feel heard.

Mutual respect means that both partners share a generally positive view of each other. They care about each other’s lived experiences and perspectives. 

Without mutual respect, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to maintain healthy communication, allow yourself to be vulnerable, and make decisions as a couple.

Mutual respect is the cornerstone for trust, stability, problem-solving, and the other tools that it takes to make a relationship work. 

Respect is so important that most marriage and couples counselors agree that the loss of mutual respect is one of the most common reasons that relationships fail. Once that mutual respect is gone, it is extremely difficult to bring it back, so it’s important to start with a high level of mutual respect and maintain it as much as you and your partner can. 

Providing and Receiving Support

The ability to provide and receive support is another crucial ingredient for a successful relationship. While various factors can make people want to be as independent as possible, and too much dependence on a partner can lead to unhealthy dynamics, healthy emotional attachment requires both partners to be able to give and receive support. 

Supportive partners lift each other up.

Giving and receiving emotional support is a skill that takes practice and effort to get right. 

Giving support to your partner includes cultivating techniques like active listening, demonstrating affection in the way your partner prefers, and empathizing with your partner—both with their positive emotions and their negative ones.

Supporting your partner can mean different things on different days and in different contexts, but the foundation of support is understanding, empathy, consideration and affection.

Receiving support can be just as challenging, especially if you pride yourself on your independence. Receiving support in a healthy way means honoring your needs and wants, communicating what you need from your partner, accepting help when it’s offered in a genuine way, and appreciating the efforts your partner goes to on your behalf. 

Growth-Oriented Mindsets

Most people associate the idea of a growth-oriented mindset with professional and business life, but it’s just as important to serious dating and long-term relationships.

A growth mindset means looking to the future.

A growth-oriented mindset basically means that you are open to development and improvement. You seek out opportunities to make your life better.

You and your partner should have shared goals, and you should both be proud of each other’s progress and achievements, celebrating victories and relying on each other to meet challenges. 

Having a growth mindset in a relationship means you have specific goals in mind for where the relationship will go. You have a timeline for reaching those goals, and you work toward them together. That might mean that you date seriously for a certain amount of time, then move in together, and then get engaged. 

Or maybe you and your partner discuss what you both expect to move forward to the next stage of the relationship. That could mean when you’re ready to live together or what age you plan to start having kids.

With a growth-oriented mindset, your relationship will continue to get better, stronger, and more resilient. It still requires a lot of work to maintain and it isn’t for everyone.

Stress and outside pressures can make it difficult to focus on the positive, but strong relationships develop when both partners approach challenges as an opportunity to grow closer together.

Shared Values

When it comes to establishing trust, respect, and emotional connection, shared values reign supreme. Having shared values doesn’t mean that you agree on every detail and think exactly the same way on every topic. Instead, you and your partner should be on the same page about basic, foundational principles.

Shared values strengthen love.

You and your partner may disagree on the best restaurant in town, but you should have an agreement on your ethics, relationship expectations, cultural values, and life goals.

After all, it’s a lot easier to compromise on where you want to live than it is to compromise on whether or not to have kids!

Of course, in order to establish whether you and your partner have the same goals, values, ethics, and lifestyle needs in common, you’ll have to communicate effectively.

While it can feel stressful to bring up serious topics like family, marriage, kids, and the future, it’s important to find out if you and your partner are in agreement on priorities early on.

You don’t have to have the exact same five-year plan, but by communicating with your partner and discussing your priorities and goals, and discussing your perspectives, you can find out whether or not your relationship is likely to go the distance.

Even if you have great chemistry with someone and things in the bedroom are fantastic, it’s all going to fall apart if you find out they’ve got completely different—or even mutually exclusive—life goals from yours.

Signs You’re in a Serious Relationship

People tend to assume that everyone knows when they’re in a serious relationship, but it can be surprisingly hard to be sure.

Casual dating can evolve into a more lasting connection without partners really realizing what’s happening. If partners aren’t communicating clearly, or don’t know each other’s expectations, heartbreak could be on the horizon.

If you and your partner aren’t on the same page, that could spell trouble. By recognizing the signs of a serious dating partnership, you can decide if that’s the direction you want to be going.

Commitment

If you and your partner have discussed making commitments to each other, or if you’re both acting in a committed way about your relationship, there’s a good chance that it’s much more than just a fling. You don’t have to be considering moving in together or even marriage to be in a committed relationship, either.

Making a commitment in the context of a relationship really just means that you’re giving the relationship priority. If both you and your partner are making plans together for the future, even if it’s just attending events together or going on a lengthy trip, that’s a sign of commitment.

Making a commitment means priotizing.

Commitment is also about putting effort into your relationship. If you and your partner are both working on things, making compromises, and finding ways to keep things going, that’s a major sign that you’re in a committed relationship. 

Important Note: Keep in mind that commitment has to go both ways. If one member of a couple is demonstrating a commitment to the relationship, but the other one isn’t, then the whole thing falls apart. 

Personal Life Integration

In a one-night stand or a short-term dating relationship, you can walk away at any time. Part of the reason that’s reasonable is that you and your partner are relative strangers to each other. One clear sign of getting more serious is doing more social activities together.

Integrating your lives is a step toward being serious.

You don’t have to spend every waking moment together, but you may notice more joint outings. Meeting each other’s friends and family, attending events together, and getting involved in each other’s hobbies and interests are all indications that you and your partner’s personal lives are becoming more integrated. 

The degree to which you and your partner integrate your personal lives can vary depending on how independent you are, what your interests are, and other factors. But some amount of overlap in your lives outside of your relationship is more or less a necessity for a healthy relationship. 

Planning for The Future

The whole point of serious dating is to be with the same person for life. A big part of that is making choices with a shared future in mind. If you and your partner have discussed future plans as a team, that’s another key sign that a casual relationship is becoming more serious.

Make future plans to show you're serious.

Planning for the future doesn’t have to mean talking about marriage and children. It’s as simple as checking with your partner to see if they’re available to be your date for a wedding. Or you might bring up the possibility of moving to a closer apartment when your lease is up so you can see each other more easily or spend more nights at each other’s homes. 

If you and your partner regularly talk about your long-term goals, then it’s clear that you’re both becoming less casual about your relationship.

Emotional Depth

Casual relationships are generally not very deep. While partners may share emotional intimacy, they’re not usually very emotionally invested. Serious dating relationships feature a deeper emotional connection with your partner and a certain level of emotional intimacy

Emotional depth in relationships isn’t just a question of the intensity of your feelings for another person. It’s also about your willingness to be vulnerable and honest.

It takes courage to reach emotional depth.

Sharing your struggles, insecurities, issues, and private thoughts is an important part of developing emotional intimacy. That intimacy is the foundation of a deeper relationship.

If you and your partner have opened up about your struggles and challenges in life, that’s a clear sign that your relationship is more serious than casual. 

Conflict Resolution

One of the defining features of a casual connection is the lack of commitment. Casual daters can walk away at any time. When the going gets tough, you can go your separate ways and move on. In a more serious dating relationship, the commitment you make to your partner means that you have to address conflicts and issues as a team.

Conflict resolution makes love last.

Developing methods of resolving conflicts is a major milestone in any serious relationship. Couples must find healthy ways to work things out and maintain a healthy long-term relationship. 

Serious daters don’t quit on each other. They work on developing conflict-resolution strategies that put arguments behind them. Committed could are invested in making the relationship last, and so using healthy communication to approach issues and challenges is a cornerstone. 

Why Serious Dating Matters

In an era when hookups and one-night stands are easier than ever, it’s easy to argue that serious dating is a relic of the past. But most long-term relationships begin with more serious dating, and society needs those love stories more than individuals may realize.

Serious dating provides a lot of benefits in different areas of life. Here are some reasons why people choose to date seriously rather than play the field.

Building a Foundation for Stability

Individuals need stability to make progress. Committed relationships and serious dating help form a foundation for that stability. Dating someone seriously means slowing down and taking stock of where your life is going.

Couples form habits and traditions that work for them.

A long-term relationship requires two separate people to become a unit and build a life together. This means that both of you focus on what’s best for you as a couple, not just individually. You create stability by creating traditions and routines as a team.

Serious dating relationships hold partners accountable for their actions, prioritizing consistency over unstable behavior.

Emotional Fulfillment

A 2019 study found that people in committed relationships had overall better physical health and a stronger sense of emotional health compared to single people. A Cornell University study found that people in healthy, committed relationships tend to be happier as well. In fact, the higher the level of commitment, the more emotionally stable participants tended to be. 

It’s easy to see why this could be: Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted person needs a certain amount of emotional bonding to feel comfortable, happy, and healthy. Serious dating provides a dependable source of emotional intimacy and affection. 

Growth Opportunities

Serious relationships provide opportunities for people to learn, grow, develop, and evolve to support their commitment. Whether your relationship lasts several months or the rest of your life, the deep level of engagement with another person brings new perspectives and experiences into your life.

Maintaining a relationship in a sustained, consistent way means that you learn more about that other person — and more about yourself at the same time.

If you want a deeper relationship, you have to be vulnerable.

Ultimately, serious daters confront problems with a resolve to improve. They identify preferences, needs, and weaknesses through their conversations with a partner.

All of these new experiences give you the opportunity to not just learn more about yourself but expand your perspective, develop new strategies for tackling issues, and become a stronger, more well-rounded person.

Reduced Uncertainty

The most daring risk-taker you know still needs a certain amount of stability and certainty in life to feel comfortable taking risks, according to human behavioral experts. A stable, healthy, and serious relationship provides a base for people to feel comfortable and supported when they make changes to improve their lives.

Having a sense of clarity and security in your relationships means that you know your decisions and choices have support. Someone will back you up if things start to go awry. Serious dating and long-term relationships provide partners with a cheering section and a safety net all at the same time. 

Navigating Challenges in Serious Dating

Serious dating can bring a lot of benefits, but it’s not without challenges. Knowing what to look out for and managing your expectations can make a big difference in achieving your relationship goals.

Finding the right partner can be difficult, even with so many dating services available to help singles find love. 

Mismatched Expectations

Online dating can sometimes make it a lot harder to figure out what someone’s expectations are before you become emotionally invested. It’s pretty ironic, considering that dating apps and sites put so much personal information on display. 

While you should be able to trust that someone you meet on a platform for serious dating is looking for the same things you are, it’s no guarantee.

To avoid time wasters, your best bet is to focus on the platforms where serious singles congregate, like Match or eharmony.

Screenshot of Match signup page
Match is a trustworthy dating platform geared toward lover seekers.

Although you’ll still find the occasional casual dater on these services, you’re more likely to find someone interested in the same outcome you are. We also recommend that you communicate your expectations clearly and early on. If the person you’re talking to seems to be waffling, it might be a good idea to cut your losses before you get too invested.

Fools Rush In

In the heady, emotionally charged first contact with another person, it can be easy to find yourself falling for the idea of what could be. Even if that’s not the reality. 

Someone may seem to be a perfect match in the first few conversations, but keep in mind you’re seeing the person they want you to see, not necessarily the person they are every day.

Even if you’re dedicated to the idea of settling down and getting serious with a partner, you need to be patient enough to give things a chance to develop naturally. Ask questions, talk about a variety of subjects, and go on more than a couple of dates before you decide someone is The One. 

Disappointed Hopes & Swiping Fatigue

Swiping fatigue is a real thing. The sheer volume of dating apps and sites can lead singles to feel overwhelmed with choices. It’s hard to feel confident that this profile is the exact right person when there are dozens more like it waiting in the queue. 

A 2023 Pew Research study found that 22% of singles said they believe that online dating actually made finding the right partner harder.

Some singles say online dating makes it harder to find love

Although some studies indicate that hookup culture is in decline, plenty of casual sex seekers are still swiping away out there. And that can make things difficult for singles who want a serious commitment. 

To avoid swiping fatigue and disappointed hopes, you should focus your efforts on a small number of trustworthy dating platforms and only pursue matches with high compatibility. Keep your preferences and dealbreakers in mind. You’re more likely to form a meaningful connection with someone who has similar goals and interests as you. 

Serious Dating is All About The Long Game

Serious dating requires a lot of self-reflection, communication, and commitment. It takes much more effort than casual hookups, one-night stands, or romantic flings. Dating seriously means individuals devote greater focus to their partner and reap the benefits of that stability.

If you want more than a fling in your love life, serious dating could be right for you. It will take effort and patience, but for those romantic souls who decide to settle down and stick with one partner, it’s worth it!