How To Tell If It's A Date Or Just Hanging Out, Because Who Knows?

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Imagine this: You've finally secured plans to meet up at your favorite restaurant with the person you've been crushing on forever or maybe that friend-of-a-friend you've always thought was fine AF. Giddy with anticipation, you drop this piping hot Earl Grey into your group chat and tear apart your closet to find the pants that make your butt look superb. But just as you're discerning what to do with your hair, how you'll slay your face, and if you should slip some condoms or dental dams into your bag, a haunting question strikes you: Is this actually a date, or are you guys simply hanging out?

Whether the sobering question came from your own mind or that one tell-it-like-it-is friend in your crew, you need answers. Situations like these are tough because, as dating coach Clara Artschwager tells Elite Daily, "The physical landscape of a romantic or platonic gathering can look the same: an intimate drink, a movie, a cozy dinner, a long stroll. It's the energy and intention behind it [that makes a difference], and often we go into a dating not knowing either of those things."

Here are a few ways Artschwager and Chioma Joy Petway, a therapist at Achieving Joy, recommend approaching this gray area.

Look At Their Non-Verbal Behavior
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If you're in that awkward stretch between making plans with your crush and actually linking up, you're probably pondering that lingering glance they gave you or re-reading their texts like a cryptographer. As Artschwager puts it, you're asking yourself, "Does their like or follow or kissy-face emoji mean they 'like' like me, or do they send that to everyone?"

As you're trying to solve the riddle of whether you're going on a romantic date, remember that people get nervous around their crushes. "So flushed faces, nervous eye contact, or bumbling over words could indicate that this feeling started before this moment," Petway says. "And the bold asker is moving out of their comfort zone."

When you two finally meet, you can figure out how they feel based on things like if they touch you on the shoulder or if they go in for a hug.

Ask for Clarification
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Still, Petway says non-verbal clues on their own aren't enough for you to puzzle out if you're on a date. "There is no way to determine what behaviors mean what for the person you are with without talking first," she explains. So, she says, you've got to be bold and ask.

"Your self-worth is not wrapped in their answer," Petway says. "The quicker we release our hopes from people who don’t hope to be with us, the quicker we find the person who wants to enjoy the process of getting to know our uniqueness as much as we are excited to get to know theirs."

Unfortunately, the vagueness of these situations (and the awkwardness of asking) can be exacerbated if you're queer. If your crush is also a woman or non-binary person, it might be hard to tell whether them asking to grab smoothies was a friendly gesture or them making a move™. There might be an extra layer of murkiness if you're not out at work or school, or you're unsure of your crush's sexuality.

Petway, who has dated women and men, says that being honest about your feelings upfront will work out best — especially if you've just met or the stakes are low. "If they don’t have the same interest, they will generally tell you," Petway says. "If you are wrong and they are not gay (or not interested), you now know and you can move forward."

Lead With Your Own Romantic Desires
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As you gather the members of your crush committee to pore over screenshots and plot your next move, try considering your own feelings first — instead acting solely on how your crush feels or how you think they feel. "We're so quick to seek clarification from the other person before we get clear on how we feel ourselves," Artschwager says. "Both what we're seeking romantically or platonically at this point in time, and how we feel about this person."

Petway echoes this, saying, "Rather trying to decide what the other person is doing and feeling, my encouragement is to check in with yourself [during your hang-out session or afterward]. Do you like this person? What is happening in your body? Are you bored? Is the conversation not your speed?"

If you really are into your crush and want to know where they stand, Artschwager recommends saying something along the lines of, "I've really enjoyed spending time together and I feel I should be honest with you. I am in a place in my life where I'm seeking [insert what you're looking for here, be it a committed romantic relationship, a FWB arrangement, or a casual date situation]. I'd like to explore that with you, but I'm not sure exactly where you're at."

There's no perfect time to declare your feelings and intentions. You might be compelled to text your crush on your Uber ride home, or you might want maybe go on another date to feel things out — something both Artschwager and Petway recommend. It just depends on what you're comfortable with and where you are in your dating life.

Regardless of whether you can decode your crush's tone or emoji selection, put on those legendary pants. Clip in that pearl barrette or break out that eccentric top you've been dying to wear all year anyway. You'll be well-equipped show up to the "date," and figure out what you want as well as get what you deserve — whether that's date number two or a little more clarity.


Chioma Joy Petway, LCSW, executive director and therapist at Achieving Joy

Clara Artschwager, dating coach and speaker

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