One Friday night, after a three hour dinner date at a nice local restaurant, I discovered that the man who’d taken me out, paid for dinner, walked me to my car and said, “we’ll do it again very soon,” actually meant to text someone else, but texted me on accident.

The conversation went like this:

Him: “You up?”
Me: “Yes.”
Him: “Wanna chat?”
Me: “Sure.”

And then he called and explained that he meant to text the girl he was dating.

Girl he is dating? Come again? Didn’t I just have three and a half hours of great, intimate conversation? Didn’t we just share about philosophy of relationships, creative projects, spirituality, and a thousand other fun details about the deeper sides of our lives? I hadn’t manufactured it, “the spark” was alive and well all night.

With a great amount of audacity he said, “Sorry, I look forward to hanging out again soon!”

I repeated that last part to myself: Hanging out?

The words fell on my ears with all kinds of crashing disappointment. I liked him, and despite this moment on the phone, I knew he was a good guy. Receiving his texts to another woman moments after our date had ended made me feel like a girl dressed up for prom, only to look out the window to see her date pin a corsage on the girl next-door.

Before I got off of the phone with him I said, “Hold on. So, what did you consider tonight’s dinner?”

He explained, “Well, right now I’m dating this lady, but she’s only separated from her husband, so I want to see where it goes. Maybe once that is done we could date, but for the sake of definition, yes, I guess we better call ourselves ‘just friends,’ though I know there’s undeniably chemistry between us. I don’t mean to be coy.”

With that, I felt like he had seated me in the waiting room of a horribly boring doctor’s office, never to call my name, but only to tease me with a tropical fish tank, outdated tabloids, and old love songs playing over the speakers. He wanted to keep me there, just in case.

Yet, I will not sit in the waiting room. It’s a waste of my time. I will live my life. I will keep walking forward.

When is a date a date? Was I over-thinking a perfectly good male-female friendship and trying to fit it into a category of my desire rather than its intent? While girls and guys can be epidemically guilty of fantasy dating, it was not the case that night. It was fair for me to assume that it was a date because, that is what it was. His use of ambiguity put my heart in a vulnerable spot. Had he done that intentionally? Probably not. Maybe. However, living without intention does not make you innocent of hurting others.

After years of dating, I’ve learned that as hard as it is, clarity in communication seems to be the best way to take care of yourself in a world full of vague dates. Vague dates are an epidemic, but they can be stopped by honesty and clear boundaries.

Here are a few tips to help you navigate the spaces between dates and “hangouts.”

Be intentional: Be present in the moment and try not to project too far into the future. You know what I mean, if you’re on a first date …don’t pick out your wedding dress just yet. Emotional intimacy is just that. You can get hurt if you share too much too fast. Take into account that you are worth taking the time to get to know, and so is he.

Communicate: With gentleness, inquire and clarify what a date means to him. Try this: “I enjoyed spending time with you and I have been wondering if you consider this a date?” Or, use humor when he asks you to dinner and say,“Oh you want to take me on a date? (wink) That’d be fun!” Your confidence and clarity will be cute and his reaction will tell you a lot.

Dont be too serious too fast: I think this is often why guys keep things ambiguous, they’re afraid you’re going to go buy some bridal magazines on the way home and start naming your kids. Take it for what it is: a date is a date … try to stay present in the now.

Mean your kisses: Be careful with the connections you make with your body. Keep it classy and avoid just “hooking up” with a man. Your physical body is deeply connected to your spiritual and emotional self; hold onto that connection and don’t give it away just because someone buys you dinner.

Image via Tesia of Listen & Breathe