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Hot Date or Just Hanging Out? Many Americans Don't Know Anymore

Report finds 69 percent of singles no longer know if they're on a date or not.

ByABC News
January 22, 2014, 1:55 PM
In this stock image, a woman and man are pictured chatting in a cafe.
In this stock image, a woman and man are pictured chatting in a cafe.
Tara Moore/Getty Images

Jan. 22, 2014— -- Not sure what counts as a date anymore? You're not alone.

A new State of Dating in America Report, commissioned by dating sites ChristianMingle and JDate, suggests the majority of singles no longer know when they're on an actual date or just "hanging out."

The report covers everything from dating etiquette to infidelity. It extracted data from an online survey conducted by Quonundrums of 2,647 singles between the ages of 18 and 59. Dismayingly, it confirms that now, more than ever, confusion is rife when it comes to love and dating.

The standout finding of the report, released Tuesday, is that nearly 69 percent of those surveyed said they were at least somewhat confused about whether an outing with someone they're interested in was in fact a date or not.

"There's no longer any formality in dating," said Rachel Sussman, a New York-based psychotherapist and relationship counselor who was not involved in the survey.

"It's become very much a culture of getting a text at 9 o'clock, saying 'Hey, what's happening? Where are you? Do you want to meet up?' This type of behavior can go on for months. It's become so ambiguous," Sussman told ABC News.

Sussman said this trend has become more pronounced in the last couple of years, noting that many of her younger clients now correspond via more impersonal methods of communication such as texting and Facebook.

"There used to be more face-to-face contact, which enables people to get to know each other on a deeper level," Sussman said. "That has just changed so much."

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Sussman's observations are backed up by the survey's findings, which note that 57 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds say texting has made it more difficult to determine whether an outing is an actual date. But among an older generation of single people, that isn't necessarily true.

"For my clients early-mid 30s and up, dating is not dead," Sussman said. "The older you get the more traditional forms of dating are alive and well."

The other issue that engenders confusion among singles is that few seem to be able to concretely define what a "date" is.

While 80 percent of survey respondents recognized a date as "a planned one-on-one hangout," roughly 24 percent also said "a planned evening with a group of friends" could also constitute a date, while 22 percent said "if they ask me out, it's a date."

Cherlynn Low, 26, said that the gaping grey areas in her dating life as a single woman in New York have led her to dating websites in the past.

"It's not only happened to me, but also my co-workers. They've gone out on what they thought were dates, but weren't really," said Low, a tech writer for Laptop Magazine. "It's confusing, it leaves you feeling lost. That's why I date online, because when you go out and meet someone through an online dating service, it's obvious you're on a date."

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This phenomenon may have led in part to the report's findings about the increased acceptability of online dating, with 85 percent of singles saying yes to the survey's question of whether online dating is socially acceptable.

On top of that, 80 percent went so far as to say the Internet is a better relationship-broker than family members and 78 percent would rather put their trust in match-making computer algorithms than friends. Both ChristianMingle and JDate are operated by Spark Networks.

The report also suggests that dating ambiguity seems to dog both genders equally, with only a few percentage points difference between men and women when breaking down the confusion about an evening out with someone they like.

But some say labels aren't important and continue to eschew the need to classify specific outings as dates.

"I think maybe the modern American society expects this 'dating' ritual to be kind of like a duel of the olden days," said musician Ricardo Grilli, 28. "You state your intentions, 'This is a date! There will be romanticizing taking place.'"

"Things are much more organic in my view," Grilli said. "You ask someone out, it doesn't matter what it is."