Picture it: You’ve been hanging out for weeks, and it’s pretty much a given you’ll see each other every weekend. You make each other laugh. You’ve got an ongoing text thread, and they’re the first person you think of when you want to share something funny or cool. Maybe you’ve even fooled around. It’s definitely not a hookup, but beyond that? What would you call it?
You’ve probably reached the point where you’re wondering what’s up: are you dating or just friends? Maybe it feels like it would be awkward to ask. You like them, but you also feel like you should know something this basic already.
Or you worry that asking the big “what is this?” would spoil the magic. What if asking what’s up rockets you straight to the friend zone? We’ve all wished we could read minds at one point or another, and this is definitely one of those situations where clairvoyance would really come in handy. But without mind reading, you’re left to fend for yourself.
It’s by no means an exact science, but here are some tips for figuring out if you’re more than just friends.
If you’re each other’s go-to when celebrating birthdays, promotions, and other important milestones in life, there’s a good chance they see your relationship as more than a casual friendship. Asking someone along for life’s memory-makers is big. It means you’ll be in each other’s pictures, meeting other people that are important to them, and it’s generally a sign they’re expecting you to be along on the ride for more.
If you’re showing up on their Instagram feed on the regular, then they’re letting the world know you two are tight. Obviously that’s not a sure fire way to know; you could just be one of their besties.
But if they’re comfortable showing off your status as one of their inner circle, there’s a good chance you’re at least in the running to be something more than just a friend. Likewise, if you don’t eventually show up in their pictures online—or worse, they’ve cropped you out of pictures, they’re either not great friends, or just generally self-centered.
You Meet Their Parents
This is a biggie. If you get the parent intro, it’s almost certainly a relationship. Most people wait until they’ve met someone special before they introduce a partner to their parents. There are exceptions: they may just be exceptionally close with their parents and view them as friends more than authority figures, or they just happen to be in town when you’re hanging out. There’s one thing to keep in mind, though: if you get as far as meeting their parents and you’re not even sure you’re dating, is their communication good enough to make the relationship worthwhile?
You’re Each Other’s Regular Friday Night Hang
If it’s a given you’ll be out them on a Friday night, there’s a chance they’re more than just a friend. It doesn’t have to be a pricey candlelit dinner at a high-priced restaurant; even weekly pizza and a movie at home counts. But be on the lookout for the Netflix and chill—if the only thing you’re doing together is coming over and messing around, there’s a chance you don’t see them the same way they see you.
It doesn’t mean they don’t like you; they just don’t see you as dating material. You may be their favorite Netflix and chill, but you may not be their significant other, or even their Only Netflix and chill buddy.
When in Doubt, Ask
You’re reading this because you’re confused about your relationship status. You could spend hours sending screenshots of texts to your friends, saying what does this even mean? but maybe you’ve done that and exhausted the possibilities above.
It’s time to stop wasting your energy on wondering if you’re in a relationship and switch gears to actually enjoying the time you spend with that person. And, as anxiety inducing as that seems, outright asking is the only way to really know what your possibly more than a friend is thinking.
It’s going to be awkward, no question. But you’re not a mind reader, nor should you be expected to be one. There are a few ways to approach the question, each with its pros and cons.
You could try being completely straightforward and ask “hey, are we dating?” It’s straight and to the point. It’s also the most risky, believe it or not. The best case scenario is a simple yes, but even in the best case scenario there could be blowback. They could wonder how you didn’t know already—but then again, they could have been wondering the same thing but not have been sure how to ask.
Or your question may catch them off guard and you may see a deer in the headlights situation. They may say something along the lines of “I hadn’t thought about it yet,” or “let’s just see where it goes.” It may also be that they don’t view your relationship as exclusive. Or the worst case, “I like you, but I don’t really see us as a couple.” In the short term, at least you have your answer. In terms of blowback, the question may leave them feeling cornered, and something they had considered as casual may suddenly be too much to handle. They may get more distant, or even ghost you completely.
It will hurt, but trust us, that’s actually good news in the long term. It may be lonely for a little bit if you lose your Friday night hang, but every person deserves to be treated with respect, and if they can’t treat you like a human being, there’s no reason to waste your time on them.
Moving on isn’t always easy, but time spent with someone disrespectful is time you could be spending with someone who’s actually clear about what they’re looking for. Give online dating a shot—you’re much more likely to find someone who’s there to date—and their profile will tell you that right up front.