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We all know that dating today looks a lot less like dating and a lot more like hanging out. Rather than planning a time and place to have quality time and get to know one another, we settle in on the couch for some ambiguous romantic tension and the possibility of one thing leading to the next.

As a man, there is something admittedly appealing about the hangout session. An informal poll of my male friends and acquaintances revealed that the hangout has it’s perks. Take Patrick, for instance: “I am totally for the pre-date hangout,” he said. “I wouldn't ask a girl on a date until I had had a couple of less romantically pressurized interactions with her.” Ian concurs: “I totally hang out a few times before going on the date,” he said. “Mostly in group settings, but once or twice in a non-romantic one-on-one setting. I think you can find out whether or not you would be interested in a relationship relatively quickly without the weird pressures that official dates tend to come with.”

Both talk about dates as having extra “pressure,” and I can relate to that. It can be a rather daunting task to keep up a conversation over the course of a date that might last up to two hours or more. Then there’s the psychological weight that comes with the fact that you’re on a *date* with someone. Not to mention that other people might find out that you went out together and start asking loads of questions. As Ian says: “It's not that I'm afraid of rejection, I just think the relationship dynamic transforms dramatically when the word ‘date’ gets dropped.”

The truth is, I’m interested in a real relationship, and my sense is that casual hangout sessions aren’t always the best way to start such a relationship. In fact, I’m inclined to believe that casual hangouts are more likely to lead to… nothing. 

Does that mean I might scare off a woman every once in awhile by coming on too strong? Sure it does. But it’s a small price to pay in exchange for intentionality, which I’m convinced is necessary for a good, healthy, and long-lasting relationship.

In my same casual male friend poll, I learned that, for the most part, there are plenty of guys who agree with me. Despite the relatable discomfort about the pressure of a date, most of the men I talked to agreed that asking a woman on a date is typically the surest way to a real, healthy relationship.

There are a lot of reasons men and women should ditch the comfortable hangout sesh and opt for a date, but for those women who would rather slide into things, here are three reasons you should quit the "hanging out" zone and expect dates from men instead. 

01. It keeps the relationship intentional.

So a man wants to hang out. It could mean he likes you and he wants a non-threatening way to start the real romantic relationship. It could also mean that what he really wants is a long-term FWB, or even a one-night stand. Of course hanging out doesn’t necessarily mean romance, either. It could mean he doesn’t bond well with males and just needs a female friend. It could mean he’s not attracted to you yet likes your company. It could mean he’s just really lonely.

It could also mean he’s not even sure what he wants, which might actually be the most likely scenario. Suffice it to say, if you’re confused by what a guy means when he wants to hang out, you’re not alone. But a woman needn’t be left hanging, nor should she be.

A date means you never have to wonder if he is looking for an emotional girlfriend or a real girlfriend. On a date you have to plan ahead, even to the point you have to put something on the calendar. There’s something about looking forward to a date that really does make it more special, and serves to help bond you with your date even before you arrive. Not that you can’t look forward to hanging out, but it doesn’t inspire the same buzz of excitement. Often times there’s a purchase involved, which means there’s the double-investment of time and money. There’s something about being on a public date which is an investment as well, a risk even. People will see you together on what looks like a date! It’s in the little things that a date is romantic where a hangout just can’t match.

02. Dates establish healthy boundaries.

We all know what sort of connotation comes with “Netflix and chill.” And even if you aren’t explicitly planning to hook up, showing up at someone’s home without any clear boundaries about what you’re going to do, how long you’re going to stay, etc. is a recipe for sexual intimacy, whether you like it or not. And I’m not sure anything else can compare to unintended physical intimacy when it comes to complicating a relationship.

A date, on the other hand, especially a first date, typically happens outside of the home at a particular time that has a natural end to it. Happy hour ends when it’s time to eat dinner. Dinner ends after dessert. And that’s not to say dates need to be devoid of physical intimacy, either. But if and when it happens tends to be more intentional on the part of both parties involved, and if you are not looking for a one night stand, intentional is good.

03. It sets up clear expectations.

I know that many women also seem freaked out by the idea of a date, especially when it’s with someone they haven’t already fallen in love with.

I once asked a woman out on a date, and she responded with, “Oh jeez, that is so flattering and I would love to go out but can we not call it a date? I am so awkward on dates.” This was hilarious to me. Let’s totally “go out” but not call it a date? So I said, “We can call it whatever you want,” and I meant it. There’s nothing magical about the word date. But I do think there is something about what the word represents, which is an intentional one-on-one time together with romance in mind. But if a date is exactly what you want, don't be afraid to ask for it.

If a man asks you to hang out, don’t feel as if you have to agree to the terms as-is. You can always politely decline (a “no, thank you” is just fine), propose a different setting or context to the arrangement (“I was actually really wanting to go to the art show, how about we go there instead?”), or even say something like, “I’d love to spend time with you, and that sounds nice enough. But I’d prefer a date.” There’s never anything wrong with asking for what you want, and any man I know would be impressed by—and even more attracted to—your straightforwardness and verbalized level of interest.

Of course, it’s very possible he had no romantic intentions in the first place, and therefore won’t be interested in a date. But then you can decide more clearly whether you want another friend to hang out with, or whether you’d rather spend your time with men with whom you might have a future. At the very least, you both have clearer expectations about what your relationship is and what your time together will look like. Word will get around that you don’t bother with lame hang out sessions, and if a man wants time with you, he’s going to have to man up and be clear about his intentions.

Who doesn’t like the idea of watching South Park on a comfy couch with somebody new and attractive? I know I do. But I’m also interested in a real relationship, and hangouts are relationship purgatory. So why not try skipping the hangout thing and opt for the good old-fashioned first date?  

Photo Credit: Manchick Photography