I was having a conversation with a friend, and after telling me about someone new she’d hung out with, she asked, “So. Do you think it was a date?”
This is not as uncommon a question as you might think.
I myself am the master of the maybe-date, so much so that I have coined the phrase “maybe-date” in order to more efficiently communicate with my friends. “Oh, what am I doing Wednesday night? I have a maybe-date. Yeah, I’m not really sure. Maybe.”
Here is how the maybe-date tends to come about. You’ve met someone in real life (aka not via internet dating, which tends to cut down on ambiguity, although YOU WOULD BE SURPRISED). You’ve met them at work or at a party or at some other social event. You likely have at least one friend in common with them, and often more. They are your preferred gender, and they are available. At least you think they’re available. If you’re me, you also think they might not be polyamorous. At least you hope they’re not polyamorous. (Although if you’re me, you have tons of polyamorous friends, and therefore the likelihood the guy you just met at x social function is polyamorous is fairly high. This tends to confuse things even further.)
Anyway, you and this person who you think is available have made plans for just the two of you. But is it a date? Or are you friends hanging out? WHICH IS IT?
You think it’s easy to tell the difference? Well, yes, sometimes it is. And it’s always satisfying to be able to say, “Yes, I have a date” with conviction. But sometimes, between the context and the casual way everything has come about, it isn’t so clear. Add to that the fact that sometimes I’m not even sure if I want it to be a date or not, and the confusion can mount quite quickly. And sometimes you’re pretty sure it IS a date, only to end the evening with a shrug and an “Or not.”
Okay, so let’s break down some signs of date vs. not a date that you can disagree with me about in the comments, shall we?
- Gives you lots of compliments: more likely a date, unless it is a colleague trying to help you out of the depths of impostor syndrome
- Pays for your meal/activity: not clear. Yeah, I know this is gendered, and it used to be my go-to way for telling if something was a date, but it doesn’t work anymore. It’s actually become a pretty bad way of telling, because enough people like to treat and enough other people go Dutch as a matter of course that this is simply not enough data.
- Touches you a lot, like on the hand or shoulder or whatever: more likely a date
- Is also touching other people in the same fashion (say, if you’re at a party or other group event): probably likes flirting in general, so who knows?
- Invites you to dinner: more likely a date, but solidly in the gray zone
- Invites you to a group activity: probably not a date
- Invites you to a group activity, and then because of the vagaries of life, it ends up being just the two of you: probably not a date, unless they’re trying to be weirdly crafty (which is unnecessary, since they could, I don’t know, just ask you on a date?)
- Randomly runs into you and then hangs out: not a date (yes, I’m defining a date has having been planned in advance.)
- Mentions dating: Who knows? People on a date love talking about dating. It’s kind of weird but true. But people also just like talking about dating in general.
- Asks you on a date-like activity soon after meeting you: more likely a date
- Has gone to a lot of trouble to elaborately plan what you’re doing: probably a date. Either that or maybe they just really like to plan stuff?
- Flirting: more likely a date, but people’s definitions of flirting differ (for example, smiling can be seen as flirtation, but I smile at EVERYONE, it’s just part of Amy-ness)
- Stays up talking too late with you: more likely to be a date, but could also just be a night owl (like me) or love chatting (also like me)
- Hugs you: I live in California. This means nothing here.
- Asks for your phone number: more likely to be a date, although context really matters here. The advent of the Facebook age has definitely increased the number of maybe-dates in the world.
- Holds your hand and/or kisses you: yeah, it’s a date
- Asks you explicitly on a date (aka “Would you like to go on a date? Would you like to go out sometime? I’d like to ask you to dinner. etc.): Easy peasy! It’s definitely a date.
Basically, it all comes down to body language and social cues, and sometimes those things make the “is it a date” question?” very clear, whereas other times…who can say? This effect is probably heightened when more of the interaction is done via a text medium (no body language and no tone of voice make it a lot harder to read) or if at least one of the people involved is a bit on the awkward side.
What to do about the maybe-date? Well, you can try to make your plans in a way that is more explicit. Certainly I have plenty of first dates that aren’t internet dates that I am still sure are dates. Barring that, you can just straight-out ask. This isn’t the smoothest thing ever, but it does resolve the question in a quick and efficient manner. Or you can learn to be comfortable in the maybe-date zone and wait and see what happens.
As for myself, I’m perfectly happy to take a wait-and-see attitude on occasion. By the end of the outing, I’ve usually made up my mind about something, anyway: either on whether or not this was a date, or if not that, perhaps on whether or not I wanted it to be. Although if I’m still really uncertain, I’m probably less likely to want it to have been a date, because you know, life’s too short. And then there’s Mark Manson’s popular Theory of Yes to keep in mind.
And what about my friend? After much discussion, we decided we think it was a date. But we’re still not a hundred percent sure.