I mentioned in my last post that this was an issue that I wanted to address, as it is all too common in our world.
Regardless of your opinions regarding dating vs courting, the fact of the matter is there is often too much ambiguity surrounding romantic intentions, so much so that it can be unclear whether the other person sees you as ‘just a friend’ or something more.
This is arguably a direct result of the development of the modern dating culture, however since this is the culture we’re in (and I’m not convinced how realistic ‘courting’ in the traditional sense is these days) I think this ambiguity is something that needs addressing.
I have lost count of the number of times I’ve heard women say something along the lines of “I don’t know if we’re actually dating or not”.
I’m not too sure if this goes both ways. I imagine it must, at least on occasion, but it does primarily seem to be an issue women have with men.
I don’t quite know when this all began – presumably along with, or sometime after, the sexual revolution. The modern ‘casual’ nature of secular dating has trickled into our own Christian spheres, with many men in the Church now appearing reticent about declaring their intentions when pursuing a lady. My sense is that this comes from a fear of rejection or a subconscious imitation of the example set by our non-Christian peers or some combination of the two, and probably other factors besides.
A few years ago I bumped into a young man I’d known for some years at a wedding; afterwards he started contacting me, and asked if he could come by for a coffee or a beer. We had good chats but he never mentioned dating (or courting for that matter) or anything specifically romantic. This happened a couple of times – with me not really certain what this was or where it was going – until he asked if I’d like to have dinner.
So I asked him directly, “is this dinner as friends or is it romantic?”
He looked me square in the face and said, equally directly, “no, this is romantic”.
While a bit taken aback, I was pleased by his directness; but up til that point I wasn’t sure what his intentions were. I’ll admit part of my confusion was due to conflicting advice I was receiving from mutual friends – some saying his attention was clearly a romantic pursuit and others telling me he had several female friends and often spent time with them, and this was nothing more than that.
It’s also worth mentioning that I did catch up with this guy one-on-one a couple of years earlier without getting any impression of romantic interest or pursuit, which added to my confusion.
Now, I don’t think this guy was either being deliberately reticent or following the ‘casual dating’ example of others. I think, in his mind, he was very obviously pursuing me in a romantic way, but because of our friendly history, and his lack of verbal clarity until directly asked, I was confused. To his credit, he made things 100% clear when asked, but it seems a bit odd to me that I needed to ask at all.
I’m not really interested in dissecting how we got here, or who is at fault, etc, but rather, in giving some advice which will hopefully help overcome this sort of ambiguity.
So here are my top tips to avoid ambiguity in dating (or courting).
- If you’re interested in pursuing a girl, make your intentions clear at the outset. If you’re not sure how, questions like these will help provide clarity:
May I take you out sometime?/I’d like to take you out sometime, if that’s alright with you?
Can I buy you dinner/a drink?
Could I buy you a coffee sometime?
- Assume you’re paying for the meal (or whatever you’re doing), at least on the first date. Going Dutch or expecting her to pay for herself is a big signal to her that this may not be a date after all, or that you’re not keen. A decent woman will appreciate the fact that you’ve paid, as it’s the mark of a gentleman.
N.B. If she insists on paying for herself, it could be that she’s being overly polite, or it could be a sign that she’s not interested in you or perhaps that she’s an intense feminist and really believes in taking that equality thing the full gamut. To ascertain which, gently insist that you want to pay for the meal. If the former, she will usually relent. If either of the latter, ditch her – it won’t work out.
- Never, EVER ask a girl out by using any of the following phrases (unless you’re a teenager and have no intention of seriously dating):
Do you want to hang out?
Let’s catch up sometime.
Some friends are going to see this movie. Want to come with?
This is Ambiguity Central. If you really want to confuse her about your intentions, any of these phrases will do the trick.
- Make it clear you’re keen on her. This one is for after the initial getting-to-know-you stage. Don’t play it cool, Mr Nice Guy. She wants to know if you think she’s pretty/fun/cool/talented/intelligent – or all of the above – so tell her! You don’t have to be Shakespeare. It could be something as simple as you look beautiful tonight when you meet her.
Don’t just use your words, either. Bring her flowers – I don’t know a woman who doesn’t love to receive flowers. Obviously, don’t overdo it either; a compliment each time you see her and flowers after you’ve been on 3 or 4 dates is appropriate.
- Ask her about herself. A woman I know recently went on a date with a mutual friend. When I asked her how it went she shook her head in exasperation and told me he spent a solid hour talking about himself and didn’t ask her a single question about herself. Not one! Everyone enjoys talking about themselves – just remember to use this to your advantage when taking a girl out.
- If you’re not keen, don’t spend one-on-one time with her. Sometimes the problem is not that a man has failed to make his intentions sufficiently clear, it’s that he’s not interested at all but still ‘hangs out’ with the woman. Unless you have a very, very clear friendship and mutual understanding, you shouldn’t be spending solo time with any single woman. It causes a huge amount of confusion for her about why you’re spending time with her, especially if you don’t know each other well. If you want to ‘hang out’, do so in a group or not at all!
- If in doubt, ask. If you’re really not sure whether you’re dating the guy or not, just ask (see my story above). Early disappointment and a bit of embarrassment are far better in the long run than living in the agony of doubt and confusion, dashed hopes and ultimate humiliation. Not sure how to ask? Try one of the following:
Are we just friends or is there something more going on here? Because I’m a bit confused.
Are you asking me on a date or are we just hanging out as friends?
I’m not sure what you’re asking me. Can you please make it clearer?
- Make it clear you’re keen on him. Men need encouragement, just like we do. This can be done through something as simple as smiling. Ask him questions about himself (this is a two-way street). If you’ve been seeing each other for more than a few weeks, try to take an active interest in his pursuits, even if they don’t seem very interesting to you. He will appreciate this and it’s a good sign you’re interested.
- Reward his chivalry. If he is trying to be a gentleman by paying you compliments, holding open the door for you, paying for your meal or otherwise, smile and say “thank you”. This is not the time to assert your equality! Recognise that it takes guts for men to do these things, especially in today’s culture in which they might be lambasted for simply trying to show a woman respect. It doesn’t matter whether you’re keen on him or not, this kind of behaviour should be encouraged. If you laugh at him for holding open a door for you, you’ve just crushed his masculinity and humiliated him in one fell swoop, as well as ensured he thinks twice before doing something like this again.
- If you’re not keen, tell him. Nobody appreciates being messed around with. Fight the fear of hurting his feelings and tell him, kindly, that you’re just not interested. Whatever you do, DO NOT string him along once you know this thing has no future. See this post for suggestions on how to do that.
Any other tips? Comment below!