Sex & Relationships

How To Tell If It’s A Date Or If You’re Just Hanging Out

Is... is this supposed to be obvious?

by Lea Rose Emery, Mackenzie Sylvester and Kristine Fellizar
Originally Published: 
Is this a date? It can be hard to tell.
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You wouldn't think you'd have to wonder, “Am I on a date or not?”, but so often when friends and I chat about meeting up with someone new, the inevitable “So... is it a date?” comes up, and we aren’t 100% sure. I mean, it should be crystal clear, right? You should know whether or not a meetup is romantic before you get there. But sometimes, even when you are there, you could still be unclear on what a date even is, if you’re on one, and how you can tell the difference.

It hasn’t always been this difficult to parse whether you’re on a date or not — because, well, you literally had to pick up the phone to ask someone out. “Dating used to be a bit more formal with rules, and it was easier to discern that this was a date because it was a clear ritual,” Susan Trombetti, CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking, tells Bustle. One person would call the other and ask them out on a date, and that person would say yes or no. “Then came texting and more passive ways to ask someone out to avoid rejection,” she says. These days, the classic dinner and a movie staple is somewhat old-fashioned, and a date might consist of axe-throwing or a stroll through the farmer’s market.

Granted, going through dating apps tends to make things more clear because presumably, all parties are there for the express purpose of dating or hooking up. Although I've heard of a few cases where people end up making platonic friends, you're almost certainly going on a date when you agree to meet up with someone from Tinder or Bumble. But if you try to stick to offline dating, it can be difficult to tell when you're actually going on a date or just hanging out.

If your main method of meeting people is via friends, things can be especially ambiguous. The film buff you met at your bestie’s party who asked you to see the new Linklater? Your coworker in the advertising department who suggested grabbing lunch? The hottie in your running group who invited you to check out her favorite yoga studio? What does any of that mean?

Clearly, our modern times make it difficult to answer the “was it a date?” question, so here are thirteen ways to figure it out.

1. Is It Out Of Your Normal Routine?

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Is this someone you meet up with all the time? If it's someone you’re seeing for the first time, and they suggest getting a drink, that's definitely a date-ish feel. But even if it's a friend you see a lot in a group situation, it might be gradually turning into something different. If they're suddenly suggesting one-on-one activities that you wouldn't normally do, there's a probably a reason.

So, try to gauge if this feels out of the ordinary for the two of you. If you've felt like you've had a flirtation before, and there's a change to your normal routine, it’s almost certainly a date.

2. How Many Nerves Are Involved?

Very few of us are particularly smooth when it comes to romance. Although some people can suggest a date like they’re Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid, Love, for most of us mere mortals, there's going to be some awkwardness.

So, how did this invitation come about? If it felt like they were nervous to ask you, or you felt nervous asking them, chances are that it's a date. Also, if there was a formality to how it came about — rather than a spontaneous hangout — that can be a sign that it's more than just friendship.

3. When Did They Ask You?

Did they ask you days in advance or hours before? Although spontaneous hangs can be fun, you typically need time to prepare for a date. After all, you want to arrive looking your Hot Girl best. If the person asked you out in advance and there was some scheduling involved, licensed clinical psychologist Holly Schiff says that it’s probably a date. “If it was an impulsive, last minute decision to catch up and both of you are free, it’s probably just hanging out,” she says.

4. How Persistent Were They About Getting Together?

As neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez Ph.D. tells Bustle, a person’s persistence can be very telling. Someone who’s really interested in dating you will make an effort to spend time with you alone. They’ll follow-up with another date to get together if you have to cancel plans at the last minute. They may even do their research and look up fun local events you two could possibly go to. If you get the sense that they’re putting a lot of effort into getting together, there’s a good chance you’re going on a date.

5. What Are Your Mutual Friends Saying?

If this person is someone in your mutual friend group, capitalize on that. You've got people you can talk to, which can be hugely helpful in working out whether or not something is meant to be a date. You can ask your mutual friends what they've said or what they might be thinking. Chances are, if you share friends, they'll already be teasing you about any romantic rumors centering you both. And if it’s caught your friends’ attention, it’s probably a date.

Mutual friends can also be helpful if you don't know this person very well. You can ask them for advice or indications of whether this person has been acting out of the ordinary — so don't be afraid to ask questions.

6. How Active Are They On Your Social Media?

Jess McCann, love coach and author of If Love Is A Blessing, Why Do I Feel Cursed?, suggests social media can be an indicator of whether it’s a date or not. “Have they been liking and commenting on your posts? Watching all your stories? Do they bring up your posts and ask you about the things you are doing? If they are showing a lot of interest in your life, it’s a good sign they like you [as] more than a friend,” McCann says. But don’t worry, if they’re not full-on Insta-stalking you, that doesn’t automatically mean they’re not interested. Believe it or not, some people just aren’t super big on social media.

7. What's The Activity?

Another giveaway is what you're doing. If it's dinner and drinks, that normally signals a date. If it's just a shared activity you've both geeked out over, that could be more of a friendly vibe or it could be a date. Sometimes you need to look for some subtle clues.

Pay attention to the context — if you're doing something because neither of you had anyone else to go with, that doesn't sound like you're trying to date each other. But if you're looking for excuses to spend time together, that does.

8. What's The Setting?

If you're not sure whether or not it's a date beforehand, don't sweat it. Just wait it out and see when it happens. Often when you arrive, you can tell pretty quickly. If it seems like they've put in some thought and effort for a special setting, chances are it's a date. Although I'm more than happy to go on dates at the cheap pub down the street, usually if the person doesn't know you, they'll try to up the game a little bit for a date.

9. Is It A One-On-One Outing?

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One hint as to whether you’re on an official date or just a friendly hang is how many people go with you. If it’s just the two of you enjoying each other’s company without any other friends tagging along, you’re more likely to be in date territory. Although, it doesn’t have to be one-on-one for it to be a date. Trombetti says to ask yourself, “If it was a group, was it all couples, or was it more or less like a pub crawl with just random people?” If everyone else in your outing is coupled up, you’re probably safe calling it a date.

10. Is The Conversation Romantic Or Flirty?

Still not clear? The conversation topics will probably give you a clue. Although I'm all self-deprecating jokes and embarrassing stories — even when I'm on a date — I still manage to convey a “getting to know each other” vibe. If you get the feeling they're trying to learn more about you in a romantic way, they probably are. This is especially true if they're asking about your dating history or relationship status more generally, so pay attention to questions like that.

Even if they’re not asking for a rundown on your love life, the way they talk to you on the date can be a major tell. “Was there some flirting action going on? When you were on this “date,” did they stare in your eyes? Lean in and listen attentively to what you are saying? These are all signs that point to it [being] a date,” Trombetti explains.

11. What’s Their Body Language Like?

Never underestimate the power of body language. If you’re out together and they’re leaning towards you, or finding any excuse to make and maintain eye contact, those are really positive signs. According to Hafeez, open body language, closeness, and subtle touches are all physical signs of attraction.

“When you are walking to and from the location of the date, does the person walk ahead of you with little regard for where you are, or are they attentive? Are they walking side by side with you as you cross a street or helping you navigate uneven terrain so you don't get hurt?” she says. If they are, there’s a good chance that you’re on a date. .

12. Who Paid For The Date?

You can totally go Dutch on a date and it will still be a date, of course. But if you’re still unsure of the romantic status of your outing by the time it’s coming to a close, make note of how they react when the check comes. “If the other person tries to treat, especially if it’s a big meal with apps and dessert, you can be sure that they want you to see them as date material,” says McCann. Remember that it’s also common for one person to pick up the check on friendly hangouts as well. So use this as a strong hint that they see it as a date, but not as your only determining factor.

13. How Do You Feel After?

I'm a big believer in the idea that you can kind of decide if it was a date whenever you please, even if it's after the event takes place. There are obvious things that can happen, like kissing or touching, that show you it was more than friendly, but you can also just decide whether you want to meet up with this person again. Note your gut feeling on and after the date, Trombetti advises. “Most communication is non-verbal, so your actual read on this will count because you were there,” she says.

If the whole thing was a bit "meh", you can think of it as a bad date, a really awkward coffee, or potentially a first outing with a new bud. Getting too hyped up on whether or not it's a date can mean you set expectations too high, so if you prefer to just feel it out as you go along and see how you feel afterwards, that's totally fine, too.

Look, it's not always easy to tell if someone's interested in you or not — so you can always ask straight up if it's a date, or just ride the wave and enjoy. But pay attention to all of the little clues (and your own instinct), because they're often pointing you in the right direction.


Susan Trombetti, matchmaker and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking

Jess McCann, love coach and author of If Love Is A Blessing Why Do I Feel Cursed?

Holly Schiff, licensed clinical psychologist

Dr. Sanam Hafeez Ph.D., neuropsychologist

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