Over the course of one’s single years, an overwhelming amount of gchats with friends, glasses of red wine, and sleepless nights are spent replaying and analyzing an exchange with another human being and wondering “was it a date?”
And if you think you’re the only one who has rehashed ad nausea whether that coffee meet-up means you’re more than just friends, take solace knowing you are not alone. A new survey of 2,647 singles shows that 69 percent are at least somewhat confused over what constitutes a date. 80 percent believe a date is a planned one-on-one hangout,” but 24 percent also believe going out in a group can also count for a date.
Shane, a 25-year-old gay magazine editor in Los Angeles, said he’s “gotten into trouble” because of the ambiguity of dating. “There have been times when people tried to break up with me, and I’m like ‘We were dating?’”
He recalled one time, a guy he had been out with a few times took him out to a nice restaurant, leading him to believe it was finally a real “date,” only to be told they were over. “I think his main complaint was that I didn’t seem very available emotionally, but if I don’t think I’m dating someone, I get really casual,” he said. “My behavior determined the outcome of something I didn’t know was happening. I didn’t even think we were dating until we broke up.”
Shane’s experience alludes to the phenomenon of the “accidate”. Melissa, a 24-year-old bisexual singer in New York, said she and her friends have often found themselves in situations they thought were platonic until they realized they were accidentally on a date. “I have met with composers to talk about working together and then they put their arms around me, and I’m ‘Oh, shit. I’m on an accidate.’”
All of which begs the question, how did things get so fuzzy in the world of dating? It may be an overly rosy and nostalgic view, but not so long ago, people were a bit more straightforward when it came to courtship. You don’t have to go back to Lady Mary and Lord Gilingham on Downton Abbey days to see a man ask a woman out on a real date or even Bye Bye Birdie to see a girl get pinned.
Maybe every generation feels that their terms of courtship are the shakiest to navigate, but 2014 certainly feels like a difficult time in which to start a relationship, especially if you’re a Millennial.” Our generation is meeting and dating in ways the previous generation never did and we can’t look to our elders for how it’s supposed to look,” said Maya, a 25-year-old journalist in New York.
Not only is there new technology at play (hello, Tindr and Grindr), but traditional social norms that used to signify when something was a date have, at least partially, fallen at the wayside. For example, it used to go without saying that a man would pay on a date. Even today 62 percent of all survey respondents felt a man should pay. But, thanks to advances in gender equality and a terrible economy, it’s far from a hard-and-fast dating rule.
And while many agree that’s a good thing, it is one more tried-and-true dating marker that no longer clearly indicates a person’s intentions. “Over time all of the boundaries and rigidity of what courtship means have been broken down to the point we’re all starting to realize we’re individuals and we have to figure out how to connect with each other,” said Melissa.
This is all the more complicated by the fact that by no means is everyone interested in a traditional courtship with engagement, marriage, and babies in their future. And even if they do want it, if they're young, they are still more likely to play with their options. “I think we are, as a generation, a whole lot more fickle. We’re not expected to settle down in a single area,” said Shane. “We’re just a little more slow with figuring out what we want with someone because we have all the time in the world and we’re told we don’t need to start dating someone seriously unless we absolutely want to.”
That means people have to have those awkward conversations, from “is this a date?” to “DTR”-defining the relationship. And because you can’t just code your affection for someone by paying the bill but rather through emotional, vulnerable conversations, the stakes of a date can feel higher.
“People are afraid of looking too awkward,” said Maya. “They’re also afraid of scaring the other party away in the of chance they aren’t on the same page because that just leads to more awkwardness and more angsty Tumblr posts and no one wants that.”
Thus, unfortunately, no matter how many times we analyze a text or email or post-work drinks, until we man up and have those potentially strained and uncomfortable conversations, we'll never know if it is, indeed, a date. However, that may not be a bad thing. “I feel like this ambiguity has penetrated out culture,” said Melissa. “People should ask; it’s a good demonstrative way for communication.”