NGL, it can be hard to tell the difference.
When I am in a relationship (using that term very loosely) that has progressed beyond a third or fourth date but hasn't been declared exclusive, I have no idea what to tell my friends I'm doing when I plan on hanging out with said person on a given night. "I'm going to go have a drink with this guy I'm hanging out with," is totally appropriate, but so is, "This guy I've been dating a little bit asked me to grab drinks." So are we dating, or hanging out? And why are there so many terms to choose from?
Realistically, we're "spending time together after a few dates and thinking about finally hooking up," but that doesn't seem as straightforward. I usually end up saying I'm "seeing" someone, even if it's been six months and we go on extremely romantic dates. Relationship coach and clinical psychologist Morgan Anderson says that this confusion can stem from a lack of communication or clarity. “‘Situationships’ or ‘friends with benefits relationships’ develop when either one or both parties are not dating with intention and are lacking clarity on their relationship standards,” she tells Elite Daily.
Dating can mean anything from being in a committed, serious relationship to simply going on a handful of dates for a certain period of time. Meanwhile, it would seem that hanging out is just a euphemism for hooking up. The biggest difference between dating versus hanging out — according to dating and relationship expert Cora Boyd — is the intent, or lack thereof, to explore your potential. “Are we progressing and deepening this, or are we just ‘kicking it’?” she says.
To gain some much-needed clarity, let’s take a look at a few of the telltale signs to help you answer the question, “Are we dating or just friends?”
Do You Only See Each Other Late At Night?
If you're only meeting up once it's dark outside, it may be more of a booty call than a date. There’s a difference between grabbing sunset drinks and simply getting a “you up?” text after the sun goes down, and if most of your hangouts occur within the confines of a bedroom, then it’s probs safe to say you’re just hooking up.
If you're having fun, though, keep hanging. “There's nothing wrong with hooking up,” Boyd says, “especially when there's a mutual understanding that this is a hookup or a friends with benefits thing.” While late night hangs may point to more of a casual vibe on the dating versus hanging out scale, there’s nothing wrong with fulfilling your needs if everyone is on the same page.
Have You Gone Out To Dinner Together?
This is textbook old school dating. If you’re gone on three or more dates together out in public, then it’s usually safe to conclude you're dating. Of course, dating does not mean you’re exclusive, but if you're going on romantic little dates — especially if you aren't even sleeping over yet — then things may be getting legit.
As Anderson explained, “There is a beginning phase in any relationship, before the ‘define the relationship talk' has occurred, where two individuals are simply getting to know each other.” While Anderson emphasizes that “each person experiences these beginning stages of dating very differently,” it’s also evident that if effort is being put in to get dressed up and grab dinner, you’re likely both game to see where this goes.
Has Your Only Movie-Watching Been Via Netflix?
Are your “date nights” limited to Netflix-and-chilling? As intimate as it may feel to watch movies from the comfort of your apartment or your lover's abode (especially if you do so in bed), there’s a good chance you're just hanging if the only movies you’ve seen together are on a laptop screen.
Boyd explains that it isn’t the actual activity that’s telling, but the intention behind it. “It doesn’t have to be a big dinner,” she says. “It could be, ‘We’re going on a walk, and I’m going to show you the place I used to hang out as a teenager,’ versus, ‘Are we just watching Netflix all the time and not talking about what we’re doing?’” Going out to the movies wouldn't necessarily mean that they want to be with you forever, but it would suggest a certain effort reserved for more traditional dating.
Do You Usually Do Some Activity Together Before Hooking Up?
Even if it's just a matter of grabbing a drink together before you make your way to the bedroom, you're more than likely dating. Doing any sort of activity besides smooching suggests a desire to know each other better, which usually makes whatever you and your person are doing more meaningful than just hooking up.
Why is that? Well, as Boyd explains, by finding activities to do together, “we’re putting some thought and intention here to create special experiences and demonstrate our affection to each other.” Concerts, walks in the park, museums: These are all signs that the answer to the question of “Are we dating?” is yes.
Do You Have Conversations About Things Other Than Bodies & Sex?
If you’ve discussed things other than what you’re doing in the bedroom, then that’s a good sign. Even if you're just going on a handful of dates within a few weeks and then it ends, the dating part is in the conversation and getting to know each other. You're probably dating someone if you know where they grew up, how close they are with their mom, and their opinion on skinny jeans.
As conscious dating and relationship coach Clara Artschwager tells Elite Daily, opening up allows you to become emotionally vulnerable, which shows an investment in the potential of a relationship. “If someone’s being emotionally vulnerable with you,” she says, “then that’s not only a good sign, but an integral part of it.” No, you aren't necessarily in a relationship with them, but you are getting to know them and thus — on the dating versus hanging out scale — you’re dating.
Do You Only Text When You Plan On Seeing Each Other?
If your communication nets at zero when you aren't talking logistics for a night together, then you're probably not all that interested in being romantic outside of the occasional spooning sesh. Of course, there's nothing wrong with hanging out if that's what you feel like doing. It's great to have a "hang out buddy" in your city for lonely nights where all you want is some company (and maybe a warm body, too).
“Texting more frequently can indicate that someone is building a deeper emotional connection with you,” Anderson says. But she also reminds us that texting isn’t everything, and each person communicates differently, adding, “Some people prefer to text all day long, while others prefer messaging only outside of work hours.” When you're dating, however casually, you're probably chatting away about your interests and how each others' days are going more regularly.
Are You At All Romantic With Each Other?
Whether they’re saying "you look beautiful," holding your hands at the movies, or making you a cup of coffee before they head to work, romance definitely points to dating. That extra effort demonstrates that they want to impress you and care about more than just getting physical.
“I view romance as a quality,” Boyd says. “It doesn’t have to come in the form of going out to dinner and flowers. What it really comes down to is thoughtfulness and creating special moments together.” Being romantic is one way to show you care about them and about progressing the relationship. Again, one could do all of these things and only be interested in hanging out, but it's not as likely. Dating means making a little bit more effort than you would for someone you see as just a hookup.
Do You Know Each Other’s Friends?
If you know their friends — and not just their roomie from 7 a.m. run-ins at the bathroom — then it’s pretty likely you're dating. When someone wants you to be a part of their life, one of the first steps is introducing you to their inner circle, as well as wanting to meet and be a part of yours.
“To introduce someone to your friends, you’re exposing a part of yourself,” Artschwager points out. “It is a vulnerable thing to do.” Any acts of emotional vulnerability are great clues in the guessing game of, “Are we dating or just friends?” Of course, you could know every last one of your fun buddy’s friends, go out to dinner regularly, and still just really be hanging out. We can't give these labels too much importance, because at the end of the day, the only label that really gives a relationship parameters is whether or not you are exclusive.
Even more than that, Artschwager challenges us to consider why we may be asking this question in the first place. “I think at the root of a question like, ‘Are we dating or hanging out?’ is ‘How do I tell if someone is into me without being vulnerable or getting hurt?’” According to her, solving this mystery will likely require you to initiate a conversation. And while it may hurt to find out that you aren’t on the same page, it’s always better to know now so you can find someone just as psyched to put in the effort as you are.
It's interesting that hanging out seems to be defined more by physical interactions than emotional ones when we are referring to a partner, but when we talk about hanging out with a friend, we mean a relationship that is entirely emotional and not physical at all. It would seem that dating is the sweet spot in between these two ways to “hang out.” Dating is when you find a person you'd like to be friends with and get physical with, even if you don't do those things exclusively together forever. As Boyd says, “Dating is a highly personalized experience, so it’s really whatever you want it to be when you’re brave enough to stand for what you want.”
On that note, happy dating/hanging!
Morgan Anderson, relationship coach, clinical psychologist, and host of the Let’s Get Vulnerable podcast
Cora Boyd, dating and relationship expert
Clara Artschwager, conscious dating and relationship coach
Editor's Note: This story has been updated by Elite Daily Staff.
This article was originally published on