Dating has become so murky these days that people often don't even know if they're on a date or just "hanging out."
USA Today reports that an online survey of 2,647 singles, ages 18-59, shows that a whopping "69 percent of singles are at least somewhat confused about whether an outing with someone they're interested in is a date or not." Eight out of 10 singles agree that a date is "a planned one-on-one hangout," but 24 percent of singles also believe that a group outing can be a date, while 22 percent say that "if they ask me out, it's a date." The survey, provided exclusively to USA Today, was conducted in September by ChristianMingle.com and JDate.com.
Dating and relationship coach Donna Barnes, author of "Giving Up Junk Food Relationships," said the younger generation's laissez-faire approach to dating is one reason why the dating landscape has become more hazy. "Unfortunately, the younger crowd is so lazy about dating, and I think it's scary to ask someone out on a date because you're putting yourself out there to be rejected and it's easier to leave it vague, so if they're not attracted to you, you can say, 'Well, it wasn't a date,'" she said.
When is it a date, then? Christan Marashio, dating expert and blogger at And That's Why You're Single, said she found herself wondering the same thing about a month ago. Marashio said she asked someone to meet her for drinks to talk business. To her surprise, she found the meeting transcended from a casual one-on-one to, well, a date. In the end, the man insisted on picking up the tab and walking her to the curb. "The whole way home, I was going, 'Was that just a date?' and I was so unsure — what do you do in that situation?" she said. "Do you contact that person and ask them if it was a date and potentially embarrass yourself and embarrass them?"
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So what did Marashio do? She laughed: "I emailed him and said, 'I think we need to make out sometime,' and he said, 'I was thinking the exact same thing,'" she said. "I figured, 'Why not just get the answer?'"
Not everyone is as bold as Marashio, but her point is that the vibe of the encounter is more important than the context. "We've taken dating to a really casual place," she said. "The term 'date,' like everything else, is morphing and changing to include a lot of things under that umbrella. It can be, 'I'm out at a bar with my friends,' or 'I'm at a party, why don't you stop by?' They're showing interest and they want to spend time with you even if it's not a formal date."
She added that it's important to feel out if there's romantic interest and physical attraction: "If it looks like a date and feels like a date, then it is a date."
Barnes agreed that the dater has the power to turn a meeting into a date. "Any time you're asked to be in the company of someone you're interested in, take the ball in your court and flirt," she said, stressing the importance of body language and eye contact. But she also warned singles that there is a difference between a date and a booty call.
"A date is getting to know each other for the purpose of dating more, and a booty call is 'Let's just have sex,'" she said. "Try to keep something from becoming a booty call — have fun, get to know each other, but don't have sex with them because if they like you enough, they'll want to get together again because they enjoyed your company, not because of sex. And if they don't want to get together, then you lost nothing."
Dates, booty calls and "hanging out": Romance has never been more confusing.
Follow Andrea Park on Twitter: @andreapark