Are you dating anyone?

What is your dating life like?

So how long have you been, um, “dating?”

We’ve all fielded these questions, and in some cases, they’re surprisingly difficult to answer. That’s likely because everyone has a very different take on what dating even means. With people veering away from monogamy and the evil trend of ghosting, it’s no surprise we’re all on different pages (or maybe even in different books) when it comes to what qualifies as dating. So to try to make sense of it all, we spoke to nine women across the world. Here’s what they had to say.

“Dating used to mean just going through the motions, giving every cute guy a chance regardless of whether I met them at the bar or on an app. I’d give them the benefit of the doubt if they were a bit of a jerk — can’t we all be at times? — even if it was clear as day things were just not going to go anywhere. What dating means to me now is probably quality over quantity and just being brave enough to be putting myself out there with purpose but wise enough to know when to admit defeat.” —Lynsey, 29, Perth, Australia

“When I say ‘I’m dating,’ it means I’m actively going on dates. I don’t think there’s a rule about how often; it could be a date every week or every month, as long as there are prospects that I’m open to exploring. However, when I use the phrase ‘I’m dating [insert person’s name here],’ I mean that I’ve been on multiple dates with that person. It doesn’t necessarily matter if it’s more casual or exclusive, as long as the relationship is progressing in one way or another as a steady thing. To me, the phrase ‘looking to date’ often means browsing through apps or keeping an open mind about potential meetups. Dating is like a hobby here; it’s easy to meet up for drinks and explore new places. [I wonder if] in smaller cities or more rural areas, the term ‘dating’ may be viewed less casually and lean more toward exclusivity.” —Shelby, 22, New York City

“College is a weird place for the term ’dating’ because it’s known for being the place where people are all having casual sex for fun. When you do hear the term ‘dating,’ it means that those two people are exclusively with each other. It means that person is off limits to other people. The word ‘talking’ is an easier, less official way to tell your friends who you’re hanging out with and could potentially want to date. Using dating apps isn’t necessarily ‘dating’ unless it results in a relationship.” —Jamie, 19, Gainesville, FL

“Dating is about getting to know people — seeing if you have the same hobbies you can share, have lots to talk about, or if you’re attracted to each other. Any of these would be good outcomes. For me, it’s getting to explore part of someone else’s world, sharing part of mine, seeing a bar they like, or taking them to a show I want to see.” —Lily, 28, Berlin

“Dating has definitely changed between when I started dating and people who are starting to date now. Before, dating required the investment of effort and time to call someone on their home line to see if they wanted to hang out. It required thoughtful planning on when/where/how/what because you really liked someone and you weren’t sure if you’d ever meet someone like them ever again. Now, you have so many options. If there is one thing you don’t like about the other person, it’s easier to find another, thus that effort or investment of time is no longer there.” —Sophia, 29, Singapore

“Dating can be a couple of different things. Dating is definitely being exclusive. But I also think that dating is actively going out on dates, whether they work out or not. So maybe a more general definition is: actively seeking or having the intention to find someone to build a relationship with.” —Olivia, 24, New York City

“For me, dating means being 100-percent exclusive. It means getting to know each other not only on the level of the simple information all of your friends know, but going deeper with fears and desires. It’s caring about each other at the moment you are together but also when you’re apart, and being sure or at least willing that your relationship will go somewhere. Plus, of course, dating is all of the things you do when you’re actually seeing someone: spending time, having flirty conversations, going out in a romantic manner, having sex, and spending vacation together.” —Alina, 28, Moscow

“Dating really is such a complex term nowadays, especially compared to our parents’ generation. I think I would use the term ‘dating’ to explain a relationship I had with someone once I had been on several dates or had been around them pretty consistently, but I don’t need ‘the talk’ of labeling each other boyfriend and girlfriend to use the word. There needs to be a consistent physical presence for it to be considered dating. Dating someone is the step that leads to a more serious and committed relationship. It’s not like the end-all, be-all term, but it’s also more than just occasional messages online. I think our parents would go on two dates with someone and say ‘yeah, I’ve been dating so-and-so,’ but we are so much more afraid to use that word that we instead use ‘talking’ or ‘hanging out,’ which is [uncool] and kind of detaching in the event that the relationship doesn’t last.” —Anna, 21, Denver

“To me, dating means going out on dates and seeing what happens from there. I think the exclusivity can come later, although I believe it’s only fair that both parties are aware of what the other is doing. It takes a lot of effort to make things progress to the dating stage. [If you date online], exclusivity might come later because it is so easy to meet someone but [more] difficult to find a connection. If you meet someone in the real world and get to know them as as friend before anything romantic happens, you already have that connection, and exclusivity might come sooner.” —Fran, 31, London