It seems to me that it's sometimes difficult to both stay within the social protocol and also communicate your intentions clearly.

As an example of this, I once asked a girl I knew out to see a movie. At the time we were both in our early twenties and had known each other for a few months, but only saw each other rarely(1-3 times per month). When we did get the chance to talk though, we could talk for hours. As soon as I realized that I was attracted to her, I asked her out. I did this in person and made it as clear as I could that it was going to be just the two of us and that it's not going to be like our regular interactions.

The date itself went great, we both seemed to enjoy it, there was a clear flirtatious atmosphere and just in general it seemed to have that 'first date feeling' one tends to experience in such situations, especially when young. We watched a movie, went for a walk and finally decided to sit down in a random coffee shop. Again, none of this seemed out of the ordinary for a date(and honestly still doesn't).

When we were finally done with our coffee and started slowly heading home, I started moving the conversation towards setting up the next date, and to my surprise she literally asked me "Was this a date?" and seemed genuinely surprised that I considered it one.

Was there anything that I could have done from the start to avoid this situation?

  • 5
    What does it mean to be a "date" to you? What significance do you put on it that is not applied to a non-date? How traditional are you in your dating etiquette? For example, did you pay for the movie and coffee, or did you go Dutch? If she thought it wasn't a date, but she let you pay anyways, that would be a bad sign for her character, but if she was paying her own way, then there's little difference between a date and a non-date, if you think about it.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 16:46
  • Isn't this an impossible question to answer without knowing a bit of background, like your country, your age... whether you offered to pay for the popcorn? Like so many here, I have no idea what a date is, but the bottomline is sometimes the girl kisses you after the credits, sometimes she don't. Take it with humour.
    – PatrickT
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 18:00

11 Answers 11


and made it as clear as I could that it was going to be just the two of us and that it's not going to be like our regular interactions.

This sounds to me like you did not explicitly mention the word 'Date'. If there is a reason why you absolutely could not do that, please tell me and don't read the rest of the answer.

I'm a girl, and bad at taking hints. If some guy asked me to go do something we haven't done before and states that 'It will just be the two of us', I'm not expecting a date. I'm expecting a night out with that friend, trying something new. It might be that he asked other friends that weren't able to come, has only two tickets to the show, or if we haven't been talking much, just wants some time to catch up, with no others present to distract the conversation.

Trying to be 'as clear as you could' involves mentioning the word "date". Make sure you mention the word date when asking somebody to go on a date with you.

This makes sure the other person knows what to expect. And it gives them a chance to decline beforehand if they prefer the friendship/have no romantic feelings towards you.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Catija
    Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 0:58

Adding onto what Tinkeringbell said, some people will assume that if someone of the opposite gender asks them to dinner, or a movie, or coffee, or some other date-like activity, alone, that that implies the activity will be a date. However, most will not!

In my experience, whenever I ask someone out of the same gender, I try to explicitly state that it will be a date, usually by using the word 'date'.

There's two ways to do this, either start by asking them out and then include a specific suggestion:

"Hey, do you want to go on a date sometime? I was thinking we could go to [insert fun thing here]"

Or, if you're already friends with them and you'd want to go do the thing anyway, regardless of whether or not it's a date,

"I was thinking of going to [insert fun thing here], do you want to come? It could be a date! Or not, if you'd rather just go as friends."

I often forget to do this when asking out someone of the opposite gender, since I assume they will assume it's a date (and you know what they say about when you assume, it makes an a** out of u and me). This can often lead to confusion since you just ask "Hey, want to go do [insert fun thing] with me?" leading to the other person asking "What, as a date, or...?" This is awkward, especially if their answer is no! So, always clarify, and good luck!

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    "However, most will not!" On what do you base this statement?
    – Mast
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 13:42
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    @Mast Spending any sort of time with people in a 1 on 1 situation is not and should not be always considered a date.
    – Anoplexian
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 14:22

All the answers thus far seem to focus on verbal communication, which is a terribly blunt instrument when it comes to actually seeming human in your interactions. I'd strongly advise against trying to sneak the word "date" into your ask, and instead offer some different advice.

A fundamental difference between how men and women tend to communicate, whether cultural, biological or both, is that men tend to think of context as rather concrete, and don't see much difference between context that's explicitly mentioned and context that isn't. Women, on the other hand, tend to recognize that the very act of saying can change context. In other words, to a man, a fact is a fact, and saying it does little to change that, while to a woman, sometimes there are facts that could go either of a few different ways, and as long as the fact isn't mentioned, that flexibility remains. Think of it like Schrödinger's cat, once you open the box the flexibility is gone.

Why is this relevant? Because an easy option for women who aren't quite sure whether or not they want to date you is to go out for something that could be a date, and then if it goes well they let it be a date, and if it doesn't then they have the option to act surprised like it was never a date. Leaving the word "date" out of it takes the pressure off, and also makes it much easier for the woman to say yes.

But how do you actually establish it as a date? Treat it like a date. Flirt, include some physical contact if she's receptive (and obviously not if she seems uncomfortable), kiss if a moment presents itself. By the end of a well-conducted date, it should be obvious to both of you that it was a date, while leaving her the flexibility to treat it like it wasn't if it goes really badly and she needs an out. Of course, saying the word "date", along with certain nonverbal actions like kissing, are strong enough statements that they force her to make a decision and either accept it as a date or not. It's confusing, sure, but is among the most intuitive and naturally comfortable ways to do things.

Personally, I ask women "out to [insert activity here]", where including the word "out" makes it fairly obvious to her that I mean a date, while leaving her the escape route of being able to say she didn't realize it was going to be a date later, if need be. Ask however you'd like to ask.

  • 15
    This would backfire so hard with people who are bad at non-verbal communication. I'm sure my wife would happily join you on this "date", be completely oblivious to be being flirted with and very surprised when you kissed her as she unwittingly presented the right moment, which I'm 95% positive she would.
    – Erik
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 7:19
  • 4
    @Erik nonverbals are subconscious. Even though some people might be bad at reading them, we're all giving them off, whether we want to or not. So while she might think it's not a date, her body language will definitely say she thinks it's not a date, and the skill I'm encouraging here is in being able to read that off of her and definitely not kiss her if she's not subconsciously showing strong interest. Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 17:41
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    @Erik: Yes, that can happen, but there is no way to completely avoid embarassing situations. Usually people do pick up nonverbals eventually, and even if not, it's not the end of the world. I once tried to kiss a woman who turned out to be totally uninterested. Brief awkwardness ensued, and then we just agreed to have a nice evening instead, which we did. Communication style is a very personal thing, and you need to find something that works for you and your environment.
    – sleske
    Commented Sep 23, 2017 at 8:16
  • 2
    Everything after your first paragraph is basically stating the difference between an outing and a date. It's a date if there's romantic intent. If you leave it up in the air then it's up in the air. It's that simple. You're also stating the context of 2 people in a movie theater or at dinner makes it a date by context but only if you're male if you're female it's whatever you want it to be this seems to be a mixed bag depending on many factors. I would hesitate to call it patently false, but it's definitely not 100%.
    – Black
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 6:13
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    @TheEnvironmentalist The fundamental difference that you mentioned between male and female is quite interesting. Could you give some references on that? Did you get it from some research paper or book?
    – shivams
    Commented Sep 28, 2019 at 3:39

This answer started as a response to this comment, but I realized it does in fact address the question:

"By the time you have 3 one on ones when in the past it was group stuff she should figure it out." Well, that certainly does not work for me. The more I go out one-on-one with a person, the more I assume that we are 'just friends' if nobody ever mentions the word 'date'. Even if this involves a guy that I learned to know from doing 'group stuff'. – Tinkeringbell yesterday

I've been married to my best friend for 7 years. We never "dated." We went out for walks together a few times but we never referred to them as "dates" until looking back, after we were engaged and then married. ("Yeah, I guess those were 'dates,' weren't they?")

What actually came to light finally was that we were both very interested in the other, but both preferred to maintain our very warm friendship rather than risk total rejection...at which point (when we realized that) we immediately got engaged and then married.

So from my perspective, being overly specific about what is and is not "dating" is entirely detrimental. Just get to know the person better. Spend more time with them. Do things together that you like to do together, preferably real "together" activities that involve time to talk to each other openly.

Traditional "dates" (i.e. "dinner and a movie" or whatever) don't have to play into a successful romantic relationship, at all.

  • 5
    To paraphrase my good friend MBY, a date is when two people spend time alone together for the purpose of getting to know each other better. End of story. (Clearly, the corollary is that the label doesn't matter.)
    – Mathieu K.
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 14:55
  • I’m curious how you figured out your mutual interest Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 21:55
  • 1
    @TheEnvironmentalist, that's actually a whole story in itself, with a lot leading up to it that is too long to lay out here. But after all the warm friendship, while never doing anything that could actually be labeled as flirting...after one very enjoyable evening walking around together, I judged it couldn't be taken amiss to initiate a hug. And she didn't let it end. :)
    – Wildcard
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 3:40

Why do you need to avoid it? If she is not ready to date do you want to not see her? It was not a wasted evening just because she did not know it was not a date. It was cleared up by the end of the date. I have left it vague before hoping the girl would develop feelings. By the time you have 3 one on ones when in the past it was group stuff she should figure it out.

Asking a girl out when you had not been doing stuff as friends is more clear.

  • 25
    "By the time you have 3 one on ones when in the past it was group stuff she should figure it out." Well, that certainly does not work for me. The more I go out one-on-one with a person, the more I assume that we are 'just friends' if nobody ever mentions the word 'date'. Even if this involves a guy that I learned to know from doing 'group stuff'.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 15:49

It depends how she asked it. If she sounded excited or happy, great. From here, I'll assume that this was the case.

Overall, I get the impression that both of you enjoyed the date. Therefore, I would see the question "Was this a date?" as a good sign. And there might also be a too-good-to-be-true feeling at work at her side, and now she wants to know where you want to lead this.

Next time this happens answer it with an affirmative, but friendly, "Yes, this was a date". It might not be easy, but it is important to not come over as hurt or pissed. After all, the two of you just had a great time.

Regardless of how she reacts, there will be clarity afterwards. If she agrees to let things proceed from there, great. If not, cut your losses, keep your head up and straight, and move on. After all, you just proved you are confident enough to clearly state your intentions to a girl instead of keeping them behind your back.

To put it into another perspective: If you say "No, this was not a date", then there will be for sure no further date with that girl before the Big Rip happens. But if you say "Yes, this was a date", in a friendly and confident way, then you open up to her and give her the chance to agree and let things progress. Don't worry: at this point, a woman with character will not make fun of you for honestly speaking your mind.


No, you couldn't avoid that surprise. So don't worry about it and set another date/meeting/rendez-vous/WHATEVER. If she accepts, that's good enough, just make sure to move forward.

In my experience, the answers using "date" as a magic incantation to synchronize people's minds don't work. You already spent the whole evening explicitly with that one person; will uttering the word mean that you consider this a new beginning, like "wow, we went on a date"? Or is it a synonym of "meeting", like "bah, it was just a date"? And then, will the other person get the same meaning from the word? No, probably not.

What works, in my experience, is to keep moving towards what you want while communicating. No need to specially signal your intentions, but don't hide them either. Do you like her? Show it, don't act as "just a friend". Sometimes facts speak louder than words; sometimes some people also do need words. Use both, and also react to both. Particularly taking into account how weird and awkward and insecure and wanting we all are in this kind of situation. Communicate in every way you can.

The concrete cases I have in mind is that I have met both a woman who seemed to take businessy-meetings as dates, and a woman who explicitly said after a-series-of-meetings-including-sex that we were not even good friends. I am 100% sure that the "date" incantation wouldn't have helped in any of those - nor any other incantation, in fact. You just have to deal with the situation, for good and for bad.

And if communication doesn't really happen no matter what you try, then just stop trying and move on.

Just in case: my experience is in 3 European countries (Western and Central). No big difference across them, I'd say.


It seems to me you are asking two different questions here. One is in the title: "How to clearly communicate that you're asking someone on a date?"

Well, that one is easy. Just tell them "Hey, I'm romantically interested in you, want to date?"

But, in fact, this isn't the social appropriate way of doing it, because, as stated in the comments, there's a lot going on about not losing your face or make your counterpart lose theirs, and therefore everything has to be veiled until the relationship is stable enough to ask/start even very intimate questions/actions. One way to feel your ground during this span of time is, again, as mentioned, to start small physical contact like touching hands, forearm, shoulders, holding hands, looking each other deep into the eyes...

But all this would be the answer to "How to convey to the other person you see this as a date". So, in fact, I'd say there is no socially acceptable way to communicate a date as a "date" that couldn't turn into something very awkward. Like, reaching for the other partners hand, holding it between yours, looking deep into the others eyes and whispering in a very promising voice "Want to go on a date with me?"

Well, on to your second question: "Was there anything that I could have done from the start to avoid this situation?" That's a hard one, with me not having been there! As Tinkeringbelle already explained, this could have been a case of mistaken intentions on the other's part. It could also be a case of not clearly transported intentions of your part. But, and that's the third, it could also be a case of change of mind. Or, the fourth, a last test.

Let's first have a look at the "last test". So, there was this great date, you feel just very confident, and along comes this icebucket of a full stop. What are you doing now? Will you go into sulking, will you throw a temper tantrum, will you show her the bill for the evening and demand instant splitting? You'd be surprised how many people see an invitation for a date as an investion which gives them rights.

Or, will you stay decent and honest and answer something on the lines of "Well, for me it certainly was. You sure it wasn't?" Which would open the ground for the other to speak their mind (or make it up). After which you really should know where you stand.

For the change of mind, well... there a a billion things that could just spontaneously tip the scale against you, even on a date going well up to this point. Maybe it was a date, but then you tipped your waiter too much/too few/too whatever for their like? I don't know. You could, if you were reading their body language correctly. Or not, if they are very good at acting. See, so many ifs and maybes...

It could even be your date is one of these people who like to be courted without commiting and therefore wants to prolong this stage of uncertainty and wooing indefinitely.

So, in fact, the second question also can't be answered with certainty. Because there are two of you in it, and the other one surely has an important part to play.

So as I see it, you have two general options. The first is to take the ending of your date as a "no" and act however you act when rejected. The second would be to take this as an invitation to turn the situation into something definitely a romantic date. Since it is too late for you to do so with mentioned date, ask them out for a second, maybe with a wording of "Would you like to go on a definite FIRST date with me?" When they agree, see it as an open invitation to further the physical contact, touch them on all these little opportunities, and certainly try to kiss them goodbye. And watch their reaction to each of these interactions. Whenever they shy back from them, you plan hasn't worked...


I'm going to offer an alternative non-explicit version to augment the other answers.

I'm assuming you're a straight cis-gendered male. At risk of being down-voted, most straight women (even in this enlightened age) like to be led by their romantic partner. Google this, and you'll find lots of dating advice on the topic.

The guy has to provide strength. He has to provide some kind of “authority”. His job is being willing to lead her where she wants to go sexually.

Huffington Post - Female Sexual Psychology Part 3

Try to show her it's a date, whether or not you explicitly tell her. You can show her simply by flirting and leading the conversation in a flirty way. You can also drop hints that you think of her in a flirty way, she'll probably pick up on this.

Telling her it's a date is always the easiest way to do this, but it might be a bit blunt. If the girl is on the fence about you, doing this might turn her off. If you aren't explicit, this will give her a chance to see how things go without having to decide right there on the spot.

Touch (as long as it's appropriate) goes a long way for flirting. Particularly the forearms and lower back.

Several research studies have found that touching creates liking and attraction. In other words, when you touch other people, they become more attracted to you.

Psychology Today - How to Flirt and Seduce With Touch Part 1

If you do these things, along with the good conversation you mentioned, she might not even have to ask if it's a date. Flirting is the big difference between a date and a non-date.

Source for some of this: my life. I've moved from friends to dating on a few occasions.

  • 3
    I'd totally see this as a good answer, but why the restriction to straight cis-males? Even if we don't assume the "guy has to lead", either of two participants regardless of gender can just start to flirt and try to establish a romantic atmosphere and hope that the other picks up the mood. Simply show by doing that this is by definition a date. If you flirt and get (physically) closer each time, you are having dates, whether you call them that or not. At the latest when you try to kiss (if unsure if feelings are mutual with verbal approval before^^) her/him it should be clear you're dating. Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 17:02
  • 1
    Albeit, this approach probably does assume Western dating culture and may at need modification based on the culture you're in. Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 17:04
  • 2
    Lost you at (well actually a ways before) "Telling her it's a date is always the easiest way to do this". The whole reason people don't do this is that it's not easy for them - it's putting themselves in a vulnerable position where they might be immediately rejected. Sticking with "hints" is not "leading" your [potential] partner but offloading the vulnerability onto them while maintaining plausible deniability. Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 18:26
  • @R Sure, whoever puts it clearly in words is opening up. But if you follow the ever closer 'just act it' route that means you both do little steps until the big step isn't big anymore and it becomes way easier and less forced or out of the blue. I'd agree that hints in the sense of "but I put candles up in the background" are not enough and in the end - be it by an attempt to kiss, an "I really like you, may I kiss you" variant or some other verbal opening ("so this was a date?"), the point is to gradually prepare for this. Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 18:56
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    As I said on other answers: if you're going to be subtle, make sure the person you are with understands subtle. Not everyone does; some people will just be confused and it'll be awkward for both parties.
    – Erik
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 7:22

As to how to avoid the same situation with the same person:

Answer "yes; would you like another one?"
Then it's clear, and you are getting to ask the question at a good time when she's just seen how nice of an experience it can be. Don't pressure for an immediate answer if she doesn't want to give one, though. It's enough to answer her question and be clear that the door's open.


Including the word 'date' is making it so strange to ask. There is no way to make it witty that way.

What I like to do is make clear that I am interested romantically in them and then set the date. No confessions or something. Just a simple 'hey...I like you/ find you extremely attractive/etc. I know this place, do you want to go there for a drink to get to know you better?'

  1. They appreciate the honesty and the courage.
  2. If they accept, they definitely know it's a date!

If she says something like...'what...like a date?' just say YES with confidence...

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