Are You on a Date or Just Hanging Out?


When a potential love interest proposes a get-together, sometimes, that person’s intentions can be tough to gauge. Is that invite for coffee a pretext for “I really want to get to know you better” or just a simple courtesy, as in: “I have a few minutes to grab coffee…want to join me?” It’s tricky, no? We asked Washington, D.C.-based relationship expert Jennifer Bidwell and singles across the country for tips on how to determine your crush’s true intentions. That way, the next time you’re prepping for a date, you’ll know that you’re actually going on one instead of just “hanging out” with an opposite-sex friend.

Situation #1: A man asks you out on a whim

The verdict: Possibly a date, but not likely.

According to Bidwell, when a guy wants to ask you out — unless he’s a stammering adolescent — he’ll most often ask you to join him for a specific activity, like having dinner or catching a movie on a certain date at a specific time. “When a guy says, ‘Hey, how would you feel about grabbing dinner with me next Wednesday at 8 p.m.?’ it means he’s 100% asking you out on a date,” asserts Bidwell. “This kind of invitation requires some thought and planning, which is a clear indicator that it isn’t casual.” However, if he asks you that afternoon if you’d like to meet up later to go grab a bite, it’s more likely a casual invite to hang out because he sees you as a friend. “While a last-minute invite could still be a date because it doesn’t indicate thought or planning on his part, it’s less likely that the invitation was made with ‘I’m taking her on a date to get to know her better’ intentions. Instead, it’s more of a ‘Well, I have some time in my schedule, and she’d be cool to hang out with, so let’s see,’” Bidwell explains. Jason, a 32-year-old communications consultant in Spokane, WA, concurs: “When I ask a woman out spontaneously, it usually means that I think she’s cool and I’d like to hang out with her — but not necessarily because I’m thinking we might have relationship potential. It’s more about me thinking she’d be a fun time for that night.”

Situation #2: A guy seems kind of nervous when asking you out

The verdict: It’s definitely a date .

This one should be obvious, but as men can often come across as less-than-expert communicators while doing something innocuous (like ordering a burger from a member of the opposite sex), you may be hesitant to read his nervousness as a sign that he’s asking you out on a real date. Fear not, says Bidwell: “Even the most confident guys feel a little nervous when asking out a woman they like; there’s no one on the planet who’s immune to the fear of rejection.” So if he beats around the bush, fiddles with his watch or says “um” a lot when he’s inviting you to dinner, you can be sure he’s not asking you to join him for a casual hang-out with his buddies. “I’ll never forget when my boyfriend asked me out on our first ‘real’ date,” says Karen, 24, an executive assistant from Kansas City, MO. “ He could barely get the words out — which was so weird, because he was like Mr. Calm, Cool and Collected in every other aspect of his life! I didn’t think he was interested in me, but he was clearly so scared to ask me out that I knew immediately that he had feelings for me. If not, why would he have been so terrified to ask me to see a movie with him?”

Situation #3: When asking you to do something, he calls you “dude”

The verdict: It’s probably not a date.

Unfortunately, “dude” has become part of our daily lexicon — even girlfriends use it when addressing each other in conversation. However, a man who uses this seemingly innocent word offers a very important clue about his feelings for you, says Bidwell: “When a guy addresses you as ‘dude’ — especially when asking you out — it’s an indication that he thinks of you more as ‘one of the guys’ and less like a potential girlfriend,” she asserts. “It’s almost like a mini-Freudian slip, if you will.” Margot, a 30-year-old paralegal in Red Hook, NJ, recalls one guy who always called her “dude” that she had a crush on: “I never understood why Thom wasn’t asking me out on a real date — we hung out a lot after work with friends, and we’d grab drinks together all the time. It seemed like he was into me because he always invited me to join him and his buddies,” she says. “It wasn’t until I realized that he called me and all of his other friends — both male and female — ‘dude.’ It was like a light bulb went on over my head; oh, that’s how he thinks of me — and the other women who were there too, obviously — as being just another one of the ‘dudes.’ After that, I realized it was never going to be what I wanted, so I moved on.”

Situation #4: On your first date, he doesn’t offer to pay (or agrees to split the check with you)

The verdict: It’s not a “real” date.

“At the risk of setting the Women’s Movement back decades, when a man is interested in you becoming more than just his friend, he will always pay the check on your first date,” Bidwell says. “A guy who’s trying to woo and impress you will want to seem chivalrous and manly. Paying for your date is one way he can do that.” Conversely, a man who doesn’t reach for the check right away or immediately concedes when you suggest splitting it with him isn’t as interested in impressing you, which means he might not be into you in that way, says Bidwell. “And usually,” she adds, “a guy who wants to split the tab is sending you a message that you’re not in this together.” Braden, a 28-year-old construction manager in Atlanta, GA, concurs: “There’s no way I’m letting a woman pay in the beginning — absolutely not! When it’s a casual thing between friends, I almost always split the check. Mainly it’s because I don’t want her to get the wrong impression, like that we’re on a date or that I want it to become something more or whatever.”

Situation #5: He asks you lots of questions when you’re spending time together

The verdict: It’s a date.

As your years of dating may have already taught you by now, most men aren’t expert first-date conversationalists. However, if you find yourself out with someone who’s asking you lots of questions, chances are good that he’s trying to get to know you better because he really wants to assess you a potential partner, says Bidwell. “For most men, making small talk is painful,” she explains. “A guy who’s interested in discovering more about what you majored in at college, whether or not you like your job and your boss, why you chose to move to the city in which you currently live — all of those ‘getting to know you’ questions indicate that he truly wants to know the answers so he can understand the real you.” Jared, 29, an urban planner in Detroit, MI, says, “When I’m not into a woman, I don’t really care too much about hearing all the details of her life. Sorry if that sounds callous, but it’s true. If it’s a woman I do like, though, I want to know as much as I can about her, and hearing all of those things isn’t annoying — it’s enjoyable. That’s how I can tell whether or not I really like someone.”

When DC-based journalist Chelsea Kaplan isn’t helping you solve your relationship problems, she’s making jewelry. Check it out at