Social Etiquette and the “Dating Dilemma”


Here is an awkward social situation that I’ve personally encountered multiple times in the course of my adult dating career here at Acadia. I call this the ‘Dating Dilemma.’


This is the scenario: A nice boy from class approaches me somewhere on campus, and asks me if I would like to “hang out sometime,” or maybe more specifically to “grab coffee,” and then requests a phone number exchange. This act seems innocent enough; even courageous if we consider the ease with which technology has virtually eliminated the inherent social pressure of such interactions – and yet this person has opted to kick it ‘old school’ and risk the possible face-to-face rejection: a bold move indeed, good sir. That is, assuming this is a dating proposition.


Let’s say I am in fact a heterosexual female. Let’s say I’m currently committed to a monogamous relationship. Let’s also say that the year is 2017 and remarkably, despite being a cisgender female, I have somehow managed to amass an impressive array of platonic friendships with humans from every degree of the gender spectrum, cisgender males included.


While I hesitate to admit that antiquated social convention would dictate that yes: this interaction is obviously a dating proposition, I also happen to be what my Victorian foremothers termed, a “New Woman.” I drink, I flirt, I wear blue jeans, I carve out my own career path through higher education in the hopes of one day becoming a financially independent adult, and most importantly, I keep company with multiple single adult men with whom I share absolutely no expectation of sex. It’s all very scandalous, I know.


This is the dilemma: While I beg you pardon my sarcasm, the point that I’m trying to get across here is that I don’t want to assume he’s asking me out if all he implied is that we’re “grabbing coffee” or “hanging out.” I want to assume that if he had intended to proposition me for a potential relationship, he would have made that clear in his opening statement. So this is the awkward part; the ball is in now in my court, and I have two real life examples for the possible directions in which this conversation could go, based solely on assumption.


Example #1: I assume his intentions are purely plutonic, and while the thought briefly crosses my mind that I should probably mention my boyfriend somewhere in this conversation, the New Woman in me says “No, I refuse to believe that the only possible scenario in which a man would ask me to hang out is because he finds me sexually appealing. To assume such a thing would be vain and also a little depressing, if I’m being honest here. Therefore I will proceed under the assumption that this male person simply wants to connect minds, not bodies, and establish a meaningful friendship.” With that, I fork over my number, and we make plans to “hang out.” Long story short, somewhere down the line, he sheepishly admits that these ‘hangouts’ have been ‘dates’ all along, and tries to advance the relationship into that territory. Suddenly, I’m the bad guy here for having failed in my obligation to announce my relationship status to every stranger I encounter in the run of a day. This person now believes that some dark magic has taken place in which I’ve purposely concealed such information for my own malicious purposes. They are hurt, they feel betrayed, and they may even resort to some ego-saving tactic such as calling me a slut for leading them on.


Example #2: I begrudgingly follow that antiquated social convention I mentioned earlier, and immediately announce the existence of my boyfriend. I do this because nice boy from class is male, and I am female, and therefore it is my civic responsibility is to assume that by “hang out” he actually meant “make out,” and by “grab coffee” he actually meant “grab each other’s butts,” because that’s obviously the only context in which I could possibly spend time with a member of the opposite sex. This action on my part is guaranteed to yield a variety of awkward results depending on his initial intentions (which are still unbeknownst to me; I merely took a guess and went for it.) If he actually was asking me out, he may now feel embarrassed and attempt to save face by pretending he was just asking for friendship all along – making me feel presumptive and vain – and as part of this he may even still take my number but will likely never use it. On the flip side, perhaps he really was just asking for friendship, but now believes I’m enslaved to some control-freak “Jabba the Hutt” boyfriend who doesn’t allow me to hang out with other males, and decides to steer clear lest he be identified as competition and subsequently targeted. At best, he simply accepts this information with dignity and tells me to have a nice life.


The solution to this ‘dating dilemma’ is simple, virtually pain-free, and guaranteed to save everyone involved from having to assume the position of ‘the bad guy’ at any point during the interaction. This applies to all gender and sexual orientations; and I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve been guilty of this myself on occasion. All it takes is a little social etiquette. Here it is: clarify your communication. When asking someone out on a date, don’t hide behind vague statements like “hang out” or “watch Netflix.” You’ve come this far, so dare to sprinkle a little honesty into your question to avoid confusion. For example, slip the term ‘date’ in there so they understand your intentions and can respond more accurately. This will not only aid you in achieving desired results (and/or avoiding disastrous ones,) but it’s also simply a polite thing to do – you’re not leaving any implications hanging in the air, and therefore you’re not putting the other party in an awkward situation in which they have to make a judgment call on how best to respond. To clarify my point, here’s how these two situations would play out in a perfect world, free of those dreaded antiquated (and frankly, sexist) social conventions:


Example #1: A nice boy from class approaches me somewhere on campus and asks me if I would like to “hang out sometime,” and then requests a phone number exchange. Since “hanging out” is understood to be a platonic activity, I am free to agree or disagree regardless of my relationship status – or either of our gender identities – because both of those pieces of information are irrelevant in this social situation. We make plans to “hang out,” and have a great time in which nobody’s feelings get stepped on, because we’ve both understood the context of this relationship from the beginning. Hey, maybe I’ll even introduce him to my boyfriend and then we can all be friends.


Example #2: A nice boy from class approaches me somewhere on campus and asks me if I would like to “go on a date sometime,” and then requests a phone number exchange. I am either single, in which case I am free to agree or disagree at my leisure, or I’m not single, but I understand the context of this proposition and am therefore free to disagree with or without explanation. At no point during the conversation am I obligated to awkwardly insert my relationship status ‘incase it’s relevant,’ because it’s not.


In summary, the awkward ‘Dating Dilemma’ is easily avoided with a little social etiquette in which intentions are clear, nobody is put on the spot, romances blossom (once you find someone who agrees to go on that hot date with you, that is) and the magic of friendship prevails without any unforeseen expectations based on age-old assumptions about gender roles. Hallelujah!