Dating is a stage of romantic relationships practised in Western societies whereby two people meet socially with the aim of each assessing the other’s suitability as a prospective partner in a future intimate relationship. It represents a form of courtship, consisting of social activities carried out by the couple, either alone or with others. The protocols and practices of dating, and the terms used to describe it, vary considerably from society to society and over time. While the term has several meanings, the most frequent usage refers to two people exploring whether they are romantically or sexually compatible by participating in dates with the other. With the use of modern technology, people can date via telephone or computer or arrange to meet in person.
Dating may also involve two or more people who have already decided that they share romantic or sexual feelings toward each other. These people may have dates on a regular basis, and they may or may not be having sexual relations. This period of courtship is sometimes seen as a precursor to engagement. Some cultures require or encourage people to wait until reaching a certain age before beginning dating, which has become a source of controversy.