SEX and Dating Terms (with Podcast!)

The Dating Hierarchy

Yesterday a few of us Americans were hanging out talking with a Brazilian. We were mostly speaking in English and we had to explain some new idioms and slang to our Brazilian friend.  The subject of dating came up and one of us tried to explain the expression “hook up”.

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This immediately started a discussion about what “hook up” actually means. The fact is we all had different opinions about the definition and this led to a dispute about what some other terms mean, too.

In English, perhaps as in your language, there are many different expressions between acquaintance (just knowing somebody) and marriage. It’s much more complex than the children’s rhyme:

Tom and Jamie (example names) sitting in a tree,


First comes love,

Then comes marriage,

Then comes baby in the baby carriage.

This article will help you be able to explain your exact relationship with someone to any native speaker. We created the relationship hierarchy above to help English learners visualize how committed each stage of the relationship is. Single is a commitment level of 0 and marriage is a commitment level of 13. Use this as a guide to help you better understand as you read.

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ACQUAINTANCES – Commitment Level 1

An acquaintance is someone that you have just met. You may have met them through a friend or at a party, but you don’t have any sort of relationship with them yet.

HANGING OUT – Commitment Level 2

This means that you are spending time together with someone just as friends. It is not necessarily a dating term because you can hang out with anyone. Americans often use this to talk ambiguously about what they are doing or not doing, for example hanging out can be watching a movie, going to a café or a park, or just walking around. It has no specific meaning.

However, it can also be used to talk about someone you’re interested in. If you meet someone you like you can hang out to see if there is a lot of chemistry (if you have common interests and if you could potentially be more than friends).

Someone might ask “Are you dating this girl?”, and the response could be “No, we’re just hanging out. Nothing has happened, yet.” This can either lead to a friendship or dating.


In English when you are just friends with someone but you want to be more than friends people say that you are trapped in the “Friend Zone”.


This means that it is unlikely that you will ever be more than just a friend to this person that you have a crush on(that you like a lot). For example, a girl might love a guy like a brother even though he is in love with her.

Sometimes people are able to break out of the Friend Zone and start dating. A good example is in the comedy Just Friends with Ryan Reynolds.

What Happens When You’re Stuck in the Friend Zone

HOOKING UP – Commitment Level 4

Hooking up is similar to Friends with Benefits, but whereas Friends with Benefits usually have no intention of becoming something more serious, two individuals that are hooking up may often, but not always, result in a more serious relationship later on.

The verb “to hook up (with someone)” and the noun “hook up” are very common in English. Not relating to relationships, it is an informal term meaning to provide someone with a good or service—“I can hook you up with a new TV” or “I’ve got the hook up on cheap tickets to the Pink Floyd concert.”

Although its meaning is disputed and may differ by region or personal opinion, according to it can mean anything from making out to having sex. Making out is heavy kissing, which you often see people doing when you go to a club or a party. But making out isn’t just for hook ups.  Couples make out even when they are married.

Two people can hook up once, for example at a party, and never see each other again, or they can be hooking up, in which case they often meet for make out sessions or sex. The term hook up can be used in an ambiguous sense, when you want to tell people that you got together with someone, but you don’t want to specify what you did together. People who are hooking up have a non-public relationship. They don’t go to movies or out to eat in restaurants.

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS – Commitment Level 5

Friends with benefits have a mostly physical relationship. They retain a friendship, but they also have sex together regularly with no strings attached (free of restrictions or obstacles). In theory, there is none of the demand of a relationship and no emotional attachment.

However, it is rare that two people can actually remain Friends with Benefits without either individual eventually wanting something more out of the relationship or fostering some jealousy. Friends with Benefits are referred to more colloquially as “Fuck Buddies”.

SEEING SOMEONE – Commitment Level 6

This is another very ambiguous term. According to, it means that two people are unofficially going steady (see below). It can mean that they are casually having sex, but they aren’t necessarily going out together yet. It doesn’t necessarily mean that two people are “exclusive”; they can also be seeing other people at the same time. It’s pretty common that two people will see each other before they start dating (especially during college when men don’t have enough money to take a woman out to a fancy dinner).

GOING OUT – Commitment Level 7

Once two people start going out they are public about their relationship, but it still is unclear how serious the relationship is. Two people might go out a couple times and find that they actually don’t have any chemistry. People can be going out before they ever have hooked up. Also, people who are going out aren’t necessarily exclusive.

DATING – Commitment Level 8

After two people have gone out a few times and it becomes a regular thing, they are dating. Dating is a term that is just slightly more serious than going out, and the couple is hopefully exclusive at this point.

In the U.S. a typical date is dinner at a restaurant and a movie. But a date can be pretty much anything, for example: going to an arcade, going on a hike, a bike ride, going to a concert or going shopping.

Dating Terms

Also, in the United States it is culturally assumed that the man will pay for the date. But more and more couples go Dutch (split the tab) now that men and women are thought of as equal partners in the relationship.

EXCLUSIVE – Commitment Level 9

Once a couple has been together for a while (maybe a couple weeks, maybe a couple months) they agree to become exclusive. This means that they only have a relationship with each other and they don’t go out on dates with other people. In the United States the term “Facebook Official” has (unfortunately) become a common way of describing an exclusive relationship.

GOING STEADY – Commitment Level 10

Two people are going steady once they have been dating for a considerable amount of time and their relationship has become very serious. At this point the couple is probably in love and they have admitted it to each other. They also make their friends nauseous (sick) with public displays of affection and corny (of bad taste) nicknames for each other like “honey bear” or “chunky rabbit” (see more funny couple nicknames here). People who are going steady may exchange keys as a show of trust and sincerity.

MOVED IN TOGETHER – Commitment Level 11

In the U.S. it has become very common for two people to live together before they get married. They may find that it just doesn’t work out when they see their significant others’ choice of decoration, lack of organization, or other flaws.  Otherwise, they may end up getting married.

ENGAGED – Commitment Level 12

When he “pops the question” the couple takes the next step in the relationship. In English, once a couple is engaged they no longer refer to their significant other as their “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” and being using the word “fiancé”, which is derived from French (meaning promise or trust). Some people may skip the engagement and get a quicky wedding in Las Vegas, which you probably have seen in a variety of American movies.

MARRIED – Commitment Level 13

So now after all of these steps you’re finally married. Is all of the fun over? In the United States many men refer to their wife as the “ol’ ball and chain”, a metaphor for being in prison. However, marriage might not be the end of the cycle.

Dating Terms

You might be surprised to know that about 41 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce according to the New York Times. Divorce laws aren’t very strict in the U.S., so it’s easy for a married couple that doesn’t get along to break up. And then you drop back down to the bottom of the ladder: hooking up, going out, dating, and maybe eventually getting married again. Some people even manage to marry three or more times. Maybe they just like the thrill of the ride (excitement).

In Conclusion:

So now you know what people mean when they say they hooked up with someone, they are seeing someone, they have a friend with benefits, or that they are exclusive.

You can put this information to real use and pursue a lover in another country. You can ask if he or she is seeing someone, and if not if he or she wants to go steady with you. Maybe some day you’ll ask if he or she wants to move in with you and eventually get married. And before you know it there’ll be a baby in the baby carriage.

Whatever use you get out of this new vocabulary, mastering it will make you sound more like a native speaker and allow you to impress people with your fluency.

If you liked this article don’t forget to like and share it. We would love to know what you think in the comment box down below. If you haven’t joined the RealLife English International Learning Community, we encourage you to join tens of thousands of members from 60+ countries and get weekly fluency tips!

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  • GREAT article Ethan! I'm definitely going to share it with my students!

  • Renato Alves says:

    Loved the article! It totally compiles every kind of relationship known and better yet, well explained!

    Thank you so much! =)

  • Incredible article! We would like to reproduce it in SHARE e-magazine. or FB "SHARE Education".

  • Raquel Do says:

    very clear and useful Ethan. thanks.

  • ZhoVan Ra says:

    Hey , good job dear! the link of the friend zone does not work at least for me , would you please check it out. Thanks

  • I'm in the level 13!

  • […] attracted to in a romantic or non-romantic way.  To call somebody cute is often the first phase of romantic interest, but it can also be confused with a plutonic/NON-romantic […]

  • Maia Sosa says:

    Loved it! Thanks!

  • […] goste, seja de forma romântica ou não. Chamar alguém de cute é, frequentemente, um indício de atração, mas também pode ser confundido com amor […]

  • […] Also note that JUST HANGING OUT can be an indirect way to say that two people are getting to know each other with a romantic intention (similar to “Ficando” in Portuguese- but it’s not as […]

  • Okan Gemici says:

    Thank u !

  • Okan Gemici says:

    Thank u !

  • […] could also label a relationship. Maybe someone you’re seeing wants some more definition about your relationship: Are you boyfriend/girlfriend, are you friends […]

  • Aryane Marques says:

    Really good article, congrats 🙂

  • anny says:

    Great guys, thanks a lot