Ah, I remember the days when dating used to be simple. You were either dating or you weren't. OK, actually, that was a total lie. I have no recollection of that time because I'm only 24 years old, and throughout my lifetime, dating has been a total mess. One of the biggest problems is that nobody knows what anything means. Everything is a mystery — even the term “dating” could mean casually going out to one person and being in a committed relationship to another. So, how is anyone supposed to know what something like “hanging out” means?
To me, "hanging out" doesn't stand on its own as a "label" for your relationship with someone. Hanging out is just something you do. I hang out with my boyfriend just like I hang out with my mom and my best friend. Sometimes, I even hang out with people I don't really like that much. Hanging out, technically, means literally nothing more than passing time with another human. But for some, “hanging out” carries a bit more weight — and, just like “dating,” one person’s hang out meaning could be very different from another’s.
“[If someone says] our relationship status is ‘It’s Complicated,’ it could also be synonymous for our relationship status is ‘Just Hanging Out,’” says Nina Rubin, a life coach and psychotherapist. “I think that ‘hanging out’ often means one or both people are feeling non-committal about putting a title or a label on their activities, whether [those are] sexual or romantic, or a combination thereof.”
By and large, it seems that “hanging out” definitely does not equate to dating. But, if your significant other says you two are just “hanging out,” what might that mean? Here are four potential interpretations for this deeply vague phrase — it’s up to you to decide which hangout meaning best fits with your current relationship (or “situationship,” rather) and how you’d like to move forward.
It’s A Way To Get Out Of Commitment
As Rubin suggested, for many, “hanging out” implies a lack of interest in commitment or exclusivity — “sounds like a non-committal splitting of hairs to me,” wrote u/Dajbmann22 on reddit.
It doesn’t mean your relationship could never evolve into something more, but for the time being, the person you’re seeing likely isn’t interested in a committed, exclusive relationship.
“This is essentially the bottom of the totem pole for dating classifications,” says Alessandra Conti, celebrity matchmaker at Matchmakers In The City. “They may or may not see a future of dating [you], but this is the very early stages.”
It Means You Have Sex, But You Aren’t Dating
Another possible interpretation? The person you’re seeing is interested in sleeping with you, but nothing more. “They do not see the ‘relationship’ as anything serious,” says Conti.
“I think, for a lot of people, ‘hanging out’ is another way of saying you’re just hooking up,” one 27-year-old woman shared. “If someone asked me to hang out, I wouldn’t assume they were planning a date night or wanted to catch up over coffee. They probably just want to spend time in their apartment and have sex.”
Rubin agrees. “When a relationship is reduced to words like ‘we’re hanging out’ or ‘Netflix and chill’… it’s unlikely for [something more serious] to materialize,” she says.
There’s Something Holding This Person Back From Dating You
Now, let’s say you and your SO have been going on actual, proper dates for a while — not just passing the time in each other’s bedrooms — and they’re still hesitant to say you’re doing more than “hanging out.” There’s a chance that something (or someone) is holding them back, like judgemental friends, an old flame, or even a hectic work schedule.
That said, there’s also a chance they genuinely adore you and your company, they’re just preoccupied with other aspects of their life.
A good friend of mine loves to go on dates with various people — cooking dinners, seeing plays, cozying up at cocktail bars — but she almost exclusively calls these “hangouts.” When I asked why, she explained that she loves spending time with certain people, but her focus is mostly on work right now, not romance.
“It’s not that I can’t picture a relationship with them, I definitely can,” she said. “But I can only handle so many commitments and pressures at once. Right now, my job, my family, and my friends are my priorities… I don’t want to have to worry about spending every Friday night with the same person, you know? I like just hanging out with people whose company I enjoy and leaving it at that.”
It’s understandable, sure. But if you’re interested in something more serious with a person who says you’re “hanging out,” it might be time to move on.
“If two people are clearly going to activities one-on-one, but one partner says that they are ‘just hanging out,’ this is a red flag,” says Conti. “This means that the person is going on date-like activities with the other person, but they do not see that person as a real potential romantic partner long-term.”
It Means It’s Time For You & Your Partner To Communicate
If your head is still spinning over what “hanging out” means, you’re not alone. Clearly, its definitions are nuanced and manifold. But if the person you’re seeing says you’re “hanging out,” odds are, you probably haven’t had any discussions about exclusivity or seriousness.
Ultimately, hanging out means whatever you and your partner want it to mean, and the only
way to get clarity about it is to ask your significant other, point-blank, what they mean and where they see your relationship (er, situationship) headed. Whatever their answer, ensure you two are on the same page. If not, Conti says “it could leave one of the partners feeling underappreciated, keep the lines too blurry, or hold a person back from actually dating someone else.”
Nina Rubin, life coach and psychotherapist
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