I’m a 23 year old woman who is curious about dating other women. I just met this awesome girl at an event a few weeks ago and we hit it off so we made plans to hang out. I have no idea what her sexual preference is; how can I tell if this is a date??
—Curious and Confused
On a number of occasions I’ve found myself fully aware of someone’s sexual preference, and still not sure if we’re on a date. The first time this happened, I was 20 and reconnecting with a friend I hadn’t seen in six years, but always had a crush on. He drove an hour to see me and insisted on paying, we hugged goodbye and though we kept in touch, nothing ever came of it. I still wonder if it was a date … but I tell myself it was, because that’s what makes the 13-year old in me who used to doodle “Chuck” in glitter pens squeal with glee. Adding the question of sexual preference to the already confusing world of dating creates an equation that even Will Hunting would struggle to solve.
Today, as someone who takes dating seriously, I prefer to know what I’m getting myself into. A hangout doesn’t need to have a label, but ambiguity is frustrating and it helps to know if your intentions align with that of the person with whom you’re hanging out. It’s totally fine to be completely upfront about your confusion. Sexual preference is a tricky and sometimes delicate issue, considering some may find it insensitive to simply ask, but asking whether or not it’s a date isn’t taboo.
A couple of years ago when I found myself wondering “date or not?” I straight-out asked: “Were you thinking ‘date’ or something more friendly? I’m pretty recently single and think I’d be interested in the friend option.”
He didn’t think I was a total weirdo for being so forthright and responded that his intention was a “no pressure hangout and let’s see if anything develops eventually.” Honesty prevailed, both parties were on the same wavelength, and everybody had fun.
If you’re not comfortable asking your new lady friend if she considers your impending hangout a date, try asking a mutual friend if they have any intel about her dating history. See if social media has any info to offer. But the best way to find out if it’s a date? Just go out and hang. See what happens. Friends talk about dating all the time, even when they don’t have a hidden agenda, so ask her if she’s seeing anyone and maybe she’ll offer some helpful pronouns. Try brushing against her hand and see how she reacts. Give her cheek a peck when you hug goodnight and silently sigh in relief if she doesn’t recoil in horror.
Should you ever find yourself on the other side, not sure if you unknowingly accepted an invitation to a date, first ask yourself if this is someone you want to hang out with. If the answer is “no,” it doesn’t matter if they like boys or girls or both or Bugs Bunny when he puts on a dress and plays a girl bunny — you’re not obligated to spend time with that person.
If the answer is “yes,” you really do want to spend time with the person but don’t wish to reciprocate their advances, gently explain that you just want to be friends. Know why that line is so cliche? Because even though it sucks to hear it, it’s straightforward and true.
Apologize if they feel lead on and explain that you think they’re super cool and want to continue to hang, but you’re into chicks/dudes/Bugs Bunny when he puts on a dress. Your worst case scenario is being on the receiving end of that statement, in which case, it will sting, but you will recover and at least you’ll have your answer. Mentally prepare yourself to be turned down but have your celebratory dance at the ready, too. Whatever happens, give yourself a high five; you’re exploring new territory within yourself and that’s fucking brave.
Readers, weigh in in the comments: How would you handle this situation?
Want advice from Dear Penny? Send her your questions about brokester etiquette, dating, awkwardly splitting the bill and anything else at [email protected] We’ll keep you anonymous (or give you a shout out on social media if you like!).
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