Something scares you. It’s not terrorism, economic recession, global warming, or gasoline prices that could hit 10 bucks per gallon by the time you’re done reading this. These things might worry you, but something else makes your palms sweat and your pulse hit triple digits: asking someone out on a date.
That’s because asking someone out involves potential pain. If the object of your affection becomes aware of your intentions, he or she might not reciprocate, and that’s going to hurt. I don’t care if you’re the most self-confident, well-adjusted person around; rejection hurts. It makes the remaining friendship awkward at best, humiliating at worst. Revealing romantic feelings is a risky business.
Many people find a way around the risk. Or at least they think they do. Instead of asking someone out on a date and being bold in their intentions, they turn to the soggy milquetoast alternative to dating: “hanging out.”
Here’s how it works: You like someone but you’re afraid to let him or her know. So instead of asking the person on a date, you go on approximations of dates that allow for plausible deniability of all romantic intentions. You study together. You exercise together. You find lame excuses to call or text. Worst of all, you engage in the most banal and abysmal of non-dates—going to coffee. It has the trappings of a date—a cozy ambiance, comforting beverages, atmospheric music—while allowing everyone involved to disavow the actual occurrence of a date. Fear of rejection alone has resulted in the proliferation of Starbucks like a French-roasted virus.
People suffer through this in the hope that the object of their affection will eventually buckle and reveal his or her true feelings. They wait and watch. They keep making up excuses to hang out, hedging all their bets and waiting for God to give them a sign. If you’ve been down this road before, you know that it’s seldom successful. You remain stuck in the “friend zone,” which is relationship purgatory if you have a crush on someone.
Are We Dating or Not?
While I was doing research for What Women Wish You Knew about Dating, the biggest complaint I heard from Christian women was that Christian men weren’t assertive enough. They described men who drove them crazy by calling and hanging around while never asking them out on a real date. They said that it was exhausting trying to figure out which guys liked them versus which guys liked them. So let’s cover a few differences between dating and hanging out, in hopes of making life easier for these ladies.
- Asking someone if they’ll be at church next week is hanging out. Asking someone if they would like to go out with you is dating.
- Making up a reason to call or text someone is hanging out. Calling just because you want to talk, and telling the person so, is dating.
- Going to coffee is hanging out. Going to dinner is dating.
- Doing something with the object of your affection and seven other friends is hanging out. If the two of you do something alone, it’s dating.
- Hiding your feelings is hanging out. Telling someone you’re interested in pursuing a more serious relationship is dating.
The Purpose of Hanging
Go ahead and hang out with someone if you’re just getting to know him or her. By all means, don’t ask a person out just because you think he or she is cute but know nothing else about them. You might have nothing in common with the person. The music she loves might make you nauseous. He might be a serial killer. OK, he’s probably not a serial killer, but you get my point. It’s important to hang out before asking out. The problem is that many people never make the leap. They hang out perpetually, creating confusion and tension that could easily be dissipated by asking someone on a date.
I often get the questions, “How do you know when it’s time for a friendship to go further?” or “When should two people stop hanging out and start dating?” Figuring that out is the easy part. If you find the person attractive, you can’t stop thinking about him or her, and you’re unsatisfied with the intimacy that friendship provides, then it’s time to ask out instead of hang out. The problem usually isn’t that people don’t know whether or not they want to date, it’s that they’re afraid the other person doesn’t feel the same way.
Rising above Rejection
This kind of fearful hemming and hawing isn’t how Christians should do things. This isn’t who God created us to be. I’m not saying that in deference to antiquated courtship rituals. I mean we shouldn’t be so scared. We shouldn’t be afraid to date. Overcoming this fear involves two steps:
- Get a life. Something needs to be more important to you than finding a boyfriend or girlfriend. You need a passion, something that excites you and gives your life meaning and purpose. It should be something thrilling and at least a little daunting. Not only will this give your life focus and keep you busy, it can build self-esteem. As you begin to move toward your goals, you’ll feel better about yourself. Have you ever noticed that a lot of people find love when they’re not looking very hard for it? It’s usually because they’re in the middle of a meaningful journey. And that just happens to make them more attractive. This part should be easy for Christians. We have something, or rather Someone, who’s eager to give our life a sense of mission, meaning, and value.
- Be authentic. At some point, someone decided it wasn’t cool to let someone know that you’re interested in him or her. I guess people think it makes you seem desperate. That can be the case sometimes, but it’s not true if you’ve taken care of Step 1 above. Being honest and bold about your feelings doesn’t come off as cheesy if you have self-confidence. It signifies courage and self-esteem. It shows that getting rejected won’t devastate you because you know and like who you are. The alternative to this is “hanging out” with someone and hoping to catch a lucky break. That takes a lot more time and trouble to get what usually turns out to be the same result.
First John 4:18 says that “perfect love drives out fear.” While it’s normal to be nervous when you ask someone out, God’s perfect love should cast out all fear that you’re unlovable, unworthy, and destined to be alone. You’re exploring the possibility of a relationship with one person. If it doesn’t work out, God’s love will take care of you far more than the love of any human on earth.
Stephen W. Simpson, Ph.D., is a psychologist, writer, and speaker in Pasadena, Calif. He is the author of What Women Wish You Knew About Dating (Baker) and Assaulted By Joy: The Redemption of a Cynic (Zondervan). To learn more, visit StephenWSimpson.com.