The premise of Friday Morning Tho(ugh)ts is simple: a space for queers to think critically about our identities, sexualities, and sexual experiences together as a community. Every Friday I will leave a post that ends with an open ended question. Throughout the week you should feel comfortable emailing your thoughts on the question I pose. Throughout the week send me your questions you may have, as well. This question will be the basis for next week's Tho(ugh)t. It’s kind of like if Dear Abby meets Dr. Ruth meets your mom’s knitting Midwestern knitting circle. And at base, the hope is this: the creation of a space where we can engage with each other about aspects of our experience that demand critical thought. I don’t have the answers, but writing together, perhaps we can try out some answers until we find the ones that fit.
Because of the nuances of queer community – our sexual partners often become our close friends and our close friends sometimes become our romantic partners – the issue of dating can be a complicated and hard to navigate field. But even more challenging than trying to navigate dating relationships can be the act of defining these loosely held together concepts such as “a date,” “dating,” and “friendship.” And this is what made the question from one reader stick out:
“How do you know if it’s a date?”
I think many of us have been in this situation before: you meet a cool, new queer person either out in a queer space or even on social media. You connect, converse, and eventually one of the two of you proposes the possibility of a meeting: for coffee or a drink, maybe dinner. However, because of the ambiguities involved with what such acts as “getting coffee” can mean, in some cases even asking another queer person out to coffee can be a challenge. For example, perhaps you do just want to get coffee with someone to pick their brain on a topic you’re interested in, but you don’t want to come off as though you are asking them on a date – what do you do to make this clear?
Or opposite this: perhaps you do feel the possibilities of a romantic connection with the other person. How do you go about making it clear to this person that the reason you’re interested in getting coffee is because you’re interested in getting to know more about them?
In attempting to untangle this incredibly challenging question, I think that an underlying issue comes to the forefront: namely, the fact that we tend to draw sharp lines between friendship and romantic relationships. And, further, in many cases we tend to prioritize these relationships in different ways. More specifically: I think that sometimes we can want a relationship so badly that this drive to find a relationship causes us to miss other, more fruitful ways of relating to people in our attempts to build community.
And so, I believe that perhaps this desire for a relationship, a desire that is neither good or bad and honestly common, can cause a lot of the anxiety that comes with trying to determine if a date is a date or something else. This desire for a relationship pushes us to try and categorize our experiences and relationships with other people because we believe we can only get certain things from romantic relationships, and meanwhile friends can serve other elements of our lives.
As a result, we need to know if a date is a date so we can determine how distinctly and freely we can relate to the person sipping coffee in front of us. The norms and “rules” of dating and the norms and “rules” of friendship, as socially based as they may be, are different.
So, I guess my thought on this question is a bit of a dodge: perhaps trying to determine if a date is a date might not be the best approach to finding romantic connection. Trying to call a date “a date” or even spending time torturing yourself, internally wondering if what is happening is romantic, might cause you to miss out on an awesome, beautiful connection with another person.
Instead, do ask people you find interesting out for coffee or for a drink or for dinner. Spend time getting to know them and ask them lots of questions. This might sound like a date, but it also might just sound like two people getting to know each other, building a friendship and building community. The pressure you put on these meetings by calling them “dates” or hoping for them to be a date can prevent the possibility of exploring the connection you might have with this other person. And further, by holding yourself back from putting this pressure on the meeting, you open yourself up to the possibility of friendship, building your community along the way. And it’s okay if you don’t have a romantic connection with someone but find out you would instead be really great friends. Friendship should be just as valued as romantic partnership.
Now, this all being said, dates are going to be happen, and I am not naïve enough to believe that we live in a world in which people aren’t going to go on explicitly labeled dates. In these circumstances, as awkward or anxiety-inducing as it may feel, communication is key. If you want to go on a date with someone then ask them! But don’t code it because you want to protect yourself from rejection. Say it out loud: “Would you want to go on a date? Maybe grab a coffee?” Drop the “D word” and see what happens.
Strictly speaking there aren’t nuances you can “pick up” from a meeting to try and determine if the coffee date is just a friend date or is something more. And trying to find those hints or tips is going to do more psychological torture to yourself – and ultimately affect your ability to take care of yourself – than it’s worth. Ultimately there are smooth ways of explicitly determining if it was a date without having to mumble out the words “was that a date?” For example, after the date just send a quick text: “that was fun! Let’s have another date again soon.” It makes it clear to the other person what the meeting was intended to be for you but is put in a pretty smooth way. You’re of course opening yourself up to the possibility of rejection, but you’re also saving yourself from all the mental torture you would otherwise put yourself through.
And at the end of the day the only way you will know for certain if you are on a date is to ask, to put it into words. Don’t torture yourself trying to figure out if you’re on a date. Either do away with the efforts and pressures of prioritizing “dating” and seek out connections of all forms by spending quality time with people, or be explicit: ask and clarify the situation. Just don’t stress yourself or inundate yourself with anxiety by internalizing all the things happening between you and the other person. Take care of yourself by not doing that.
I am curious though, do you have any experiences deciphering if you’re on a date? Any stories of times you thought you were on a date but the feeling wasn’t mutual? How would you go about finding out if you were on a date? And, something I am interested to know: how do you define a date? Coffee and hand holding? Or can just sex be a date? In the end, my question is this: is this a date, or is it just my fantasy?