Remember those DTR talks you had in high school? The whole idea of sitting down to “define the relationship” was typically awkward and uncomfortable. What if the other person didn’t want the same thing you did? What if you were rejected? It was a gamble.
Maybe that’s why the “hanging out” phenomenon started in the first place. An alternative to traditional dating (the kind where a guy asks out a girl, picks her up, and takes her on an actual date where they talk), “hanging out” is a foggy relationship without commitment. And it’s making its way into the adult world of dating (or non-dating).
“Nearly every friend of mine has wrestled with this,” says singleton Melinda Van Kirk of Grand Rapids, Mich.
Jeff Taylor, who coined the term friendlationships in his book by the same title, explains it this way: “You are becoming emotionally invested in a person-and they, you-but you have not communicated clear feelings. … It’s all the fun of dating without all of that pesky commitment and honesty stuff.”
Dating is confusing enough when it’s in the open. But add the ambiguity of undefined relationships, and it’s no wonder that singles are screaming, “Whatever happened to real dates?”
What’s the Deal?
Of course it’s easy to see why “hanging out” is hanging around even in Christian circles. Sometimes we jump into relationships that get too serious, too fast. Spending time hanging out allows you to see if you’d even want to date a certain person.
While hanging out, men can relax and be themselves, and women don’t have to panic about wedding planning after three dates. It allows singles to meet people and gain valuable confidence while combating “Lonely Friday Night Syndrome.”
Marcia Bartenhagen, agrees, saying, “People don’t seem to want to date unless they see it headed down the aisle in six months or less.” The key is that the relationship should still be defined and honest. And that’s where the extended hanging-out scenario typically falls flat.
“No commitment can be scarier than commitment,” says Patrick Copeland, of Nashville, Tenn. One person may simply be having fun and passing time, but if the other becomes emotionally involved and starts to think differently, then the aftereffects can include relational ambiguity, instability, and a damaged relationship.
Jeremy Zilkie, pastor to twentysomethings from Caledonia, Mich., says he’s seen it all working with singles ministries. He thinks hanging out isn’t healthy because it gives a false sense of real relationships. “If a person enters into easy relationships, they begin to believe relationships are easy,” he says. “Marriage is work.”
The Way Men See It
We discovered gender differences in our sandbox years, though mysteries remain. Examining these differences may aid in understanding the non-dating trend.
Many men see the lack of commitment as a get-to-know-you period. However, not all are supporters. “I see hanging out as a bad thing. It seems ideal for a hormone-enriched male, but the practicality of it just doesn’t seem to vibe well. I’ve seen way too much conflict between people who act like they’re dating but aren’t,” Copeland says. (Yes, “hormone-enriched” males traditionally enjoy physical benefits like kissing; though most agree it’s dangerous. If you’re looking to avoid drama, ditch the physical in ambiguous relationships.)
There are, however, valid reasons for men hanging out, especially if they’ve been relationally burned. Minneapolis’ Jason Wenell, who founded ProdigalSonMag .com, says, “Man’s instinct is to hold back a little bit and make sure this is the girl to take to the next level.”
However, the way Michael DiMarco, co-author of The Art of Rejection with wife Hayley, sees it, too many “nice guys” are hanging around. “The nice guy has lost his competitive drive, his risk muscle has atrophied, and hearing a girl say no to a date is too crushing,” he says.
The Way Women See It
Many ladies tend to value commitment and bond quickly. After a few emotionally charged coffee-house conversations, women may start evaluating relationship potential, while men are less invested.
“Women don’t like hanging out because they don’t want to give themselves emotionally, spiritually, and physically without the guarantee of commitment,” Van Kirk says.
Bartenhagen adds: “We want the guy to take charge, and we like the guy and are already ‘hanging out.’ We keep telling ourselves if he really gets to know us, we just know he’s about to ask us out; but the recent adage ‘he’s just not into you’ rings so true.”
Bartenhagen experienced a “hanging out” scenario with a coworker who eventually told her he only wanted a friendship. “If a guy likes you and is worth being with, he’ll be brave and risk humiliation to let you know,” she says. Additionally, when friendlationships end, women who invested are often hurt, while men who didn’t return more quickly to the “hunt” (or their fantasy football league).
Take a Risk
Every relationship is unique, and Jesus didn’t scribe a self-help guide to dating in our culture. He did give us brains, though, and there are a few common-sense principles we could learn from when it comes to relationships.
“I am a big advocate of guys stepping up-risk taking is the key to success,” Taylor says.
Honest communication is also critical. Slay the ambiguous “elephant in the room” by clarifying the relationship. Most agree a few “dates” is enough to know if you’re headed somewhere.
And while we’re getting honest, the main thing is that we are pretty much supposed to look out for others’ well-beings. Jesus may not have mentioned dating, but He had plenty to say about that.
This article was originally published in CS.