Literally, dating means the act of going out on dates. In Western societies, a date is an occasion when one socializes with a potential lover or spouse: it is a pre-scheduled, usually exclusive meeting of two people with mutual interest in one another, to communicate with and to understand each other better through joint participation in one or more social activities during time away from work or school. In this sense, the purpose of a date is for the people dating to become acquainted with each other and decide whether they want to have a relationship.

Dating often begins at the teenage age, but younger children may date as well. Double-dating, when two potential couples go out on a joint-date, is particularly popular with young people. There may be even larger "group dates" in some cases.

During dates, people often explore each other's personalities, to discover whether or not they would be compatible together in a relationship. Usually, if the two individuals discover that they have poor or low compatibility, it signals the end of the relationship and there will be no "second date," and often no further communication at all.

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