“Date” Is Not a Four-Letter Word

I got a Facebook message a few years back from a guy I kind of knew, a good Catholic man who was friends with a lot of my friends. “We should hang out and get to know each other better,” he said. “Want to go get coffee or a beer some time?”

Now, when a man comes out of nowhere to ask a woman he barely knows out for drinks, it’s generally assumed that it’s a date. But at this point in my life, I’d just determined that I was going to enter the convent (though I hadn’t yet told anybody). So I knew I couldn’t go on a date with this guy.

The trouble was he didn’t actually say date. And while I could have said no to a date, I couldn’t really say no to hanging out with a guy I was kind of friends with. I couldn’t respond to his message with, “Sorry, I’m not dating right now,” since he hadn’t asked me on a date. And I couldn’t say, “No, I don’t hang out with men,” because that’s strange.

Poor Bad Luck Brian. If only he had used the word date.

Poor Bad Luck Brian. If only he had used the word date.

So I said yes. I got there early and bought my own coffee. There was no chemistry. When I mentioned that I’d like to see a hockey game and he suggested that we go together, I changed the subject. When he said he had fun and would like to do it again, I changed the subject. I was sending as many signals as I could without rejecting an offer that hadn’t technically been made.

He called a few days later and asked if I wanted to hang out again. I emailed and told him I was pretty busy until the new year (it was mid-November). I hoped that was obvious enough,1 but in January he casually emailed to say he was going to the ballet and would I like to tag along. I’d had enough of subtlety, so I just bit the bullet and was straight with him:

“I’m sorry if I’m misreading things,” I said awkwardly, “but I’m not dating right now. If you’re doing something in a group, I’d love to join y’all, but I’m not interested in a relationship.”

My awkward email was met with an awkward response in which the poor man apologized if he had made me uncomfortable. As far as I can remember, we never really spoke after that.

I found the whole experience so frustrating. If he had asked me on a date, I could have told him I wasn’t interested and it all would have been done. No awkwardness, no games, no confusion. I was convinced long before this, but the experience cemented my position: guys need to man up and use the word date.2

Stop texting for weeks on end without making any kind of commitment. Stop hanging out solo without clarifying your intentions. Save her (and her girlfriends) from the hours of analysis of your every text and casual comment and tell her where you stand:

“I think you’re lovely.3 Could I take you on a date? Maybe this Saturday?”

The cards are on the table and your head is on the chopping block. I understand that. I get that in being clear about your heart you’re offering it to her to break. But consider this: your purpose as a man isn’t to get women, much though society might disagree. Your purpose as a man is to honor the women in your life. To love God and neighbor, of course, but particularly to guard the hearts of women. JPII put it this way: “God has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman.” And I can tell you that every man who’s asked me on a date—even if I said no—made me feel more beautiful and more worthy of love.

duty dignity

Consider that for a minute. When you ask a woman out, you’re risking rejection, and that is a hard thing to risk. But even if she rejects you, she becomes more aware of her value. She finds herself holding men to a higher standard. I think that’s worth the pain.

In 21st century America, you don’t meet a lot of damsels in distress. Men don’t get the opportunity to put on armor and fight for women physically. But the women in your life are under attack every moment of every day and they need you to fight for them. In the way you talk to them and about them and the way you look at them—the way you look at women in real life and the way you look at women on the internet4—you can fight for the women you love so much. By standing up to the guys who give men a bad name, by refusing to join their ranks, you are a warrior for your wives and daughters and mothers and friends. One way you can do this is by risking rejection to treat them with honor, to avoid games and weakness and commit yourself. Use the word date.

And ladies, please, please if a man has the courage to ask you on a date, be kind. My rule when I was on the dating scene was that I would give any man who wasn’t wildly objectionable one date. One date, I figured, was an opportunity to see if we might be compatible; it was not a preamble to a proposal. You might not feel comfortable saying yes to a date, but say no kindly. Tell him you’re flattered but you’re not interested. Thank him for his courage. Don’t tell everyone you know. Don’t lead him on. Do not tell him you’re not looking for a relationship if you’re just not into him. Recognize the sacrifice he’s making in putting his heart out there and honor him for that.

hey girl rosaryGentlemen, I really think it’s a win-win for you. You’re either going on a date with a beautiful lady or you’re a hero with a few battle scars. During my years and years of being “ugly” and “unloved,” there were a few guys who had the guts to ask me out instead of just dancing around the issue. Because the Lord was protecting me from myself, I wasn’t interested in most of the men who asked.5 But each time I said no, I felt like maybe I was lovable, like maybe I wasn’t too ugly and too loud and too abrasive and too worthless. I think about those guys sometimes. I’m so grateful to them, and even to the ones who couldn’t quite muster the courage to use the word date—they patched together some of the shreds of my self-esteem and handed it to me with their sacrificial love.

If there’s a woman you’re interested in, gentlemen, stop beating around the bush. Stop “talking” or making sure she’s invited when your friends go out. Stop conspiring to show up where you know she’ll be. Suck it up and take a risk. Ask her on a date. She deserves it. So do you.

  1. Guys, if a girl says vaguely that she’s busy for the next month and a half, she’s probably not interested. []
  2. There’s no official Church teaching that men should be doing the asking. It’s just my opinion. Having asked quite a few guys out in my day (and seen it done), I’m convinced that it’s not good for a woman’s heart. A woman needs to know that she’s worth pursuing and a man needs to know that he has what it takes to win her. Not to mention the fact that women read meaning into every touch and pause and preposition and we just make ourselves crazy when we’re debating asking a guy out. Y’all are welcome to be far more liberated and modern than I’ve become in my old age and defy all gender roles. But whoever’s doing the asking, someone needs to take the risk and use the d-word. []
  3. great/cool/fascinating/whatever doesn’t sound awkward to you []
  4. Pause for men and women in the audience to be struck by horror at their use of pornography and go get help. []
  5. Seriously, when I fall, I fall hard. In retrospect, I think God was protecting me in making me perpetually single. I could easily have stumbled into marriage simply because a reasonable guy happened to be interested. []

About Meg

I'm a Catholic, madly in love with the Lord, His Word, His Bride the Church, and especially His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. I'm committed to the Church not because I was raised this way but because the Lord has drawn my heart and convicted my reason. After 2 degrees in theology and 5 years in the classroom, I quit my 9-5 to follow Christ more literally. Since May of 2012, I've been a hobo for Christ; I live out of my car and travel the country speaking to youth and adults, giving retreats, blogging, and trying to rock the world for Jesus.
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16 Responses to “Date” Is Not a Four-Letter Word

  1. My favourite line: “The cards are on the table and your head is on the chopping block”
    Restless Pilgrim recently posted…Happy Valentine’s Day!My Profile

  2. Caroline M. says:

    Agreed. I am very pro-women asking men out, but in any case be honest and up-front. And when you ask someone out on a date do it in person, not via text message or email. Guess I’m just old-fashioned that way.

  3. Katie says:

    So beautifully written … I felt like you were writing down what I feel most of the time. Thanks for helping me put my life into words as a single gal in her late 20s.

  4. Duane A Vachon says:

    Aloha Meg,
    Truly admire your dedication and commitment to serving the Lord. I am sure you have touched many people in a positive way.
    Am a card carrying catholic and have been for almost seven decades. Over the years I have become a liberation theologian. I strongly believe that to be a disciple of Jesus is to make His messianic practice our own. Our discipleship is our appropriation of His message of life, His love for the poor, His denunciation of injustice, His sharing of bread, His hope for resurrection. The Christian community, the ecclesia, is made up of those who take up that messianic practice of Jesus and use it to create social relationships of a community of brothers and sisters, and thereby accept the gift of being children of the Father. Messianic practice is the proclamation of the kingdom of God and the transformation of the historical conditions of the poor and the disenfranchised. It is the word of life, backed up by the deed of deliverance.

    Many good Catholics spend far to much time forgetting about what what Jesus said in Matthew 25. Maybe I am hung up on hungry people but it seems to me me they were important to Jesus.
    Pax et bonum Duane

  5. Christian says:

    I had to ask my future wife out three times to get a yes. Regardless, I looked at rejections & all that as progress. It’s clarifying to be able to say “not this one; move on.”
    Christian recently posted…Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, CorneliusMy Profile

  6. David says:

    A few thoughts:

    1) Although I don’t know you personally, Meg, it is abundantly clear from your blog that you are not ugly, loud, abrasive, or worthless. And you do not need me to ask you out on a date for you to know that, buddy.

    2) I don’t think I’ve ever asked a girl who I was not already in a relationship with out on a “date”. Both of the relationships I’ve had (second one ongoing :D) have grown organically out of originally platonic friendships, and I’ve often hung out with other female friends “one-on-one” during and between those relationships. Frankly, it would be strange to me to declare my interest in “dating” a girl I barely know–my inclination would be to just spend some time with her first (alone and/or with other people) and see if we become friends, before giving serious thought to whether our relationship should become more exclusive and romantic in nature.

    Now, to be fair, I am always very up front about the fact that I generally do *not* consider hanging out with a female friend to be a date–certainly leaving one’s intentions ambiguous (like the guy in your story did) is very inconsiderate, as is leading somebody on (i.e., letting them think you’re interested in an exclusive relationship when you’re not). But in my experience, an exclusive relationship arises naturally from a friendship as it becomes clear to the two of you that you’re interested in being more than friends. And yes, at that point, somebody has to make a move and say what you’re both thinking, but forcing that move to occur earlier in the relationship, when you’re both still getting to know each other, doesn’t really ever make sense if you think about it.

    If he’s more interested in you than you are in him (and can’t take a hint and move on, like the guy who kept asking you out), then he’ll keep trying to win you over until you shut him down. Why would he ask you out now when he knows you’re not interested now and would shut him down, but continues to delude himself that you might be in the future?
    Women are equally capable of such self-delusion, of course, which is why when some women are more interested in a man than he is in them, they don’t take a hint either, and sit around analyzing texts and wondering why he doesn’t just ask her out on a real date already. But of course in this case he won’t because he’s not interested.
    And of course if you’re both interested in each other, then there’s no need to force the exclusivity because it arises naturally, as you spend more and more time with each other. So there is no romantic situation in which it makes sense for a guy to use the “d word” before he already knows what she’ll say.

    Wow, that turned into a monster comment. Love to hear replies/thoughts on this.

  7. Rachel says:

    I love this advice, Meg. While I tend to think that you should have a moderate amount of knowledge of someone before you date them and don’t really like the idea of random dates, I also DESPISE pseudo-dating. My now-husband and I were pseudo-dating when we would go to hockey games together, meet for lunch together, drove from South Bend to Chicago together (for a Mass, of course), g-chatted daily, and had deep conversations about ourselves and our respective futures but never used any word that even hinted at dating. While it might seem like a good idea to be friends before you introduce the confusion of romantic interest, it drove me absolutely insane because I desperately needed him to clarify his intentions and feelings for me.

    So I think I politely disagree with above commenter David. There can be some level of friendship first, but it has to be distant and subtle enough that it doesn’t confuse either party with ambiguous almost-dating signals. If you spend a lot of time with a member of the opposite sex, especially alone, they will most likely wonder whether you are romantically interested in them, especially if there is mutual attraction. There can definitely be situations where there is a close friendship before either of them decides they are romantically interested, and that’s fine: you’ve been friends since childhood, or you spent a lot of time together in a non-romantic context like a job or volunteer project or big group of friends. But if a man is potentially interested in dating a woman but constructs anti-romantic boundaries around a forced platonic friendship and then waits there so long that he is certain she wants to date him and the invitation is long overdue, that’s just selfish and cowardly. I think that most women would much rather have been asked out earlier, both to enjoy the early dating stage you would totally skip and to avoid the angsty does-he or doesn’t-he stage. In this stage, I felt like this man (who I love and married) was tying up my time and my heart until he was ready for it, which was unfair. He didn’t want to date me yet, but he didn’t want anyone else to, either. I didn’t want to ask him out (I know he would have hated that), but I felt like I had to keep being more and more obvious about my feelings because he didn’t want to ask me until he knew what I would say. And I hated being put into that position. He was basically forcing me to put my feelings out there before he did and risk getting hurt because he didn’t want to, which is not how a man should treat a woman. There is a lot of excitement in asking someone out and not knowing for sure whether they will say yes! And most women love to be asked, whether they say yes or no. When he finally did ask me on a date, it was a relief when it should have been fun, exciting, and at least a little surprising.

    • Julie says:

      I think I agree with Rachel more than I agree with David. It’s nice to think that a friendship is going to evenly drift into some sort of mutual dating decision but in practice it’s more likely to be AGONIZING. Girlfriends asking what’s going on with you two — “he likes you, he totally likes you” — “what do you mean, you’re not dating? he totally likes you”. Meanwhile you meet other nice guys and you’re thinking, should I be trying to get over Not-Making-A-Move-Friendboy? What if New-Nice-Guy asks me out? Am I right to think there’s something romantic going on with Friendboy? Is it wrong that I care so much about someone who apparently doesn’t even like me enough to ask me out?! In the end, I think that while it seems ideal to let a friendship develop into dating, in reality that development had better be short (real short) or else it becomes toxic. Anyway, one gets to know one’s boyfriend/future spouse in a different (more intimate, emotional) way than one gets to know a male friend. So how is lots of time “getting to know each other” as friends going to really help in getting to know a future spouse, if you really keep things appropriate? What ends up happening, like Rachel says, is that you go a little further than is strictly friend-appropriate, and then you feel exposed and confused.

      • Julie says:

        Just to clarify: what I mean at the end there is that you can get to know someone both as a friend and on a deeper level at the same time. So it seems silly to insist on spooling out a just-friends phase just for the sake of having it. Not to mention, as Rachel points out, potentially painful to the girl as she is left feeling like the guy is taking his sweet time while she is already invested. I sometimes think that “we have to be friends first” is to dating what “we have to try living together first” is to marriage. Sure, there’s a logic to it and it may even work out for some people, but if you want to be dating or you want to be married to someone, you’re probably best off just going for it.

  8. Jim King says:

    It must be hard for you, being so irresistible.

  9. Dave Nielsen says:

    I too support men asking women out

    I don’t. They want equality, they should have to suffer rejection too. You can’t have it both ways.

  10. Mike Maron says:

    Being someone who has been with the same woman for nearly 31 years and married for 29 of them, I can’t remember what it is like to ask a woman on a date. However, I do remember the awkwardness and nerve it took to do so when I was younger. My hands would start sweating and I would rehearse my “Would you like to have dinner with me” thing inside my head a thousand times. I may have even approached her a few times and chickened out before actually asking.

    I also remember that it was difficult being rejected but even worse when being left with the illusion that there was still a chance. Not knowing where you stand or what the possibilities are make things more challenging.

    So simply from a man’s point of view Meg, things could have been handled differently. I’m sure you’ve played out all of the scenarios in your head already. So when a guy asks a girl to “Hang out” and the girl is not interested or not ready or not looking for a dating relationship…the girls should ask “Hang out as in a DATE?” If the guy says yes or get’s wishy-washy about it (remember the sweaty palms and the nervousness). Just tell him what you think or feel.

    “Hey (fill in guys name here)…I would love to hang out with you and be your friend. I think you are wonderful but I’m just not dating at the moment.” BAM!!!! All bases covered.

    • Meg says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Mike! I think my issue with asking a person to clarify is that I really think it puts the invitee in the position of vulnerability (“No! Why would you think it’s a date?”) and I don’t think that’s fair when it’s a situation you haven’t chosen. I’d certainly feel like I’m going out on a limb, and being forced to to boot. And I think that if I asked a guy to grab lunch (it not being a date) and he asked if it was a date I’d feel really awkward and uncomfortable. So the reason I wasn’t more clear in communicating with the guy (in retrospect) is that it wasn’t fair to me and it could potentially be more embarrassing for him–as, I think, it was in the end. I suppose it’s a greater example of sacrificial love to take that risk of awkwardness, but I’m not sure that it can be expected from an acquaintance when one hasn’t offered her any sacrificial clarity. I really did try to be as clear as possible without being given any clarity to respond to. It was just a tough situation for both of us, so I’m trying to do those guys a favor by being clear on behalf of all women: we’d rather you just said what you meant. Can’t wait to see you soon!

  11. Jen says:

    Praise the LORD, Meg! Loved the article! Also, I was the one who created the Bad Luck Brian meme. Bahaha. Thanks for the beautiful manner in which you have written about this subject. keep it up!

  12. older goofball says:

    So I gave this a shot and it worked terribly. She wanted to hang out but didn’t want to call it dating even though she’s open to a romantic relationship. My only advice is don’t take advice on this subject.

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