Back in your parents’ dating prime, it all seemed simple. If they saw someone they were interested in, they would just ask them out on a date in-person. They would actually use the word “date,” not “hang out” or “chill.” There was no risk of going 115 weeks deep on Instagram and accidentally liking a photo or trying to determine if that girl in their profile picture is a sister or an ex.
Now, the dating water is murky. Relationships begin anywhere from dating apps to Instagram DMs and there’s something almost old-fashioned about hearing a couple who began dating by overtly asking someone out.
In the digital age, it’s easy to communicate with people, but it’s getting harder and harder to figure out what people are actually trying to say. All too often, you end up on group hangouts or one-on-one outings and you’re texting your BFF or roommate trying to decode what certain sentences or actions mean. Is it a date or not?
That’s why we called in reinforcements to get advice directly from a professional. Carole Lieberman is an M.D., psychiatrist and author from Beverly Hills who is an expert on all things dating related. Together, we have the inside scoop to decoding your modern dating woes.
1. Signs a one-on-one hangout is a date, even if neither person has used that word to describe it
To know whether or not you’re going on a date with that someone you want to be a *special someone,* it’s important to think about how this hangout originated. If the person went out of their way to ask you to hang out alone, then there’s a good chance they are interested and it’s a date. But, if you usually hang out in a group and the other group members just ditched, the intention might not have been romantic in nature, but it certainly could get there.
Hanging out is also a great way for the other person to determine if they’re comfortable with you and want to take you on an official date because it’s less awkward and nerve-wracking. People shy away from using the word date, especially if they’re already friends because if it doesn’t go well, it’s hard to go back from dates to hangouts.
“You shouldn’t assume that a one-on-one hangout is a date. It is often someone just testing you out to see if they then want to date you or if just hookup with you,” Dr. Lieberman says. “It’s different if a hangout comes naturally, such as, you both happen to run into each other studying in the library and they invite you to hang out for coffee afterward. That’s okay, and may be construed as more likely to lead to a date later on.”
2. Decode their texting language and body language
Text language is also key when it comes to figuring out what your potential SO wants. You text differently if it’s your nana versus that cutie in your psychology class, so expect that your potential date does too. If they text anybody else in your friend group, ask your friends how they usually text. If it’s totally platonic, or a visible difference from how they text you, then they might be interested. Extra emojis or flirting that goes on between you two and nobody else is a good indicator of where their interests are. Even better, if they don’t solo text any of your other friends in the group chat, then it’s clear that there might be a special interest in you.
3. Protect your heart if you’re interested, but it’s unclear how they feel
Even if all signs are pointing to the hangout being a date, it’s important to always keep in mind that you might be wrong or they’re not in the same spot as you yet. It’s also easier to calm down and be yourself if you aren’t constantly reminding yourself that it’s a date.
After the date/hangout, if they don’t call or text immediately, don’t fret. Even though it’s so easy to get in touch, people still have it in their heads that they can’t text for a few hours or days so as not to seem desperate. Or, draft the text yourself and get the conversation going again. If you say, “I had so much fun on our date,” then you’re putting it all out there, but by saying, “I had fun, we should do this again,” it’s a good way to stay a little guarded if you’re still unsure if it was a date, but it also shows them that you had a good time and would be interested in trying it again.
4. Take Note of Body Language
People always talk about how important body language is in showing that you’re interested. Some of us avoid eye contact like the plague, but it allows you to really connect with someone and show that your attention is on them. When you’re looking into someone’s eyes, you can show them that you’re really focusing on what they’re saying, and you can also tell if they’re as engaged in the conversation as you are. If they avoid your gaze and subsequently blush, then that’s a good sign that they’re interested and you make them nervous. If they’re somewhat tense, then that also shows some nerves, but if they’re sitting with their arms crossed, yawn, or are constantly looking around to see what else is going on, then they might not be interested. If you’ve hung out in group settings before, also note if they are acting any differently than they do in the group. This can also be a sign of nerves, or that they’re just uncomfortable.
Phone usage is a modern way to tell if the other person is interested in you. If they are only looking at their phone during awkward gaps in the conversation, then it’s probably a defense mechanism. If they’re picking up their phone when you’re in the middle of a story or when you’re telling them something about who you are, then they are not giving you the undivided attention that you deserve.
“Body language must be read in context. The same body posture can mean two different things. For example, if someone has relaxed body posture with good eye contact, they may be interested in you. But, they may also be comfortable because they are putting you in the friend zone. Similarly, if someone seems uptight, with arms crossed, they are warding you off. But this may be because they’re so hot for you and feel so inadequate, that you scare them.” Dr. Lieberman says.
Bonus: A little help from our friends
Abby Piper is a senior at the University of Notre Dame. For her, knowing the person is paying is a hint that they’re on a date.
“I went to dinner with someone after a high school event we were both at once. Keep in mind, that we went to Bread Co. (Panera). Not fancy—not even a sit-down. But then he paid for my meal and I was like ‘shit.’ I tried to pay for it myself, but he insisted. Later that week someone told me they heard that I went on a date with so-and-so and I was like, ‘Great so he did think it was a date.’ There’s a chance a good guy friend or nice person might pay for you, but I think that if the guy does pay, it might be a sign that you’re on a date,” Abby says.
Situations like Abby’s are awkward. You don’t want to make the other person feel weird by insisting on paying for your own food, but you also don’t want them to misinterpret what you thought was a hangout as a date. Paying is a subtle clue-in that you are on a date, since it’s in every Rom-Com and TV show that we watched when we were younger—paying used to equate to a date. But, splitting the check has become more common and modern because of ~equality~, so if the other person doesn’t pay for you, it doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily just on a hangout.
So the next time you’re unsure of what your one-on-one hangout is, or how you can turn it into something more, just remember that you have the control (and the tools) to figure it out.