BREAKING: human beings now unable to determine whether they are "dating" or merely "hanging out." Yes, shocking, I know, but true — according to "exclusive data" obtained by USA Today, 69 percent of 18 - 54-year-olds surveyed online are "at least somewhat confused" about whether any given outing with a potential romantic partner is a date or not. What a dark and terrifying world of chaos we all dwell in.
According to a 25-year-old woman interviewed by USA Today, "A date is someone personally asking you out — that sometimes can get confused with a one-on-one hangout, depending on the way they mention it or which medium they use to ask you or if it happens to be a group hangout." Ugh, sounds confusing. Says a 24-year-old male, "It comes up often. 'I hope she doesn't think this is a date. I just want to have fun.'" Hm, okay. I mean, it's fairly obvious that the difference between "dating" and "hanging out" is an arbitrary semantic boundary that not even the wisest and most experienced among us can parse. With that said, though, that indefinable demarcation does showcase a very particular logical assumption — namely that "hanging out," is idle time, time spent for the sake of spending it; no pressure, whatever, whereas "dating" is serious business.
Dating, in this understanding, is teleological — you go out to a series of dinners with a person so that you'll eventually, possibly, become Something More — and sometimes transactional. (The transactional nature of the date event is most blatantly shown in the assumption that the man should pay — a sentiment 69 percent of men and 55 women surveyed agreed with.) To continue laboring under this logic: hanging out is enjoying someone's company, possibly flirtatiously, in a way that may shade into something romantic or sexual but doesn't necessarily have to. Dating is boyfriend or girlfriend tryouts. It's like a relationship internship: you're not getting anything out of it yet, but you should be on your best behavior because there's a chance it could lead to... an entry-level position (I'm really, really sorry).
I know it's impossible to eliminate the fact that people enter potentially-romantic situations with different sets of expectations and anxieties. The prospect of "let's just hang out and see what happens!", ostensibly the chillest dating attitude of all, can be deeply frustrating and mildly agonizing. The eternal "dating vs. hanging out" conflict is just neat shorthand for that. But still — maybe, maaaaaybe, if we were to speak about dating less in terms of some old-timey ritual originally meant as spouse auditions and more in terms of enjoying ourselves, then the confusion would be less worrisome (at the very least, it would be less boring for all involved).
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