So, Let’s Hang Out? Considering “The End of Courtship”

“Ok. Let’s do this! Let’s hang out!”

I confess, I was caught completely off-guard. It wasn’t exactly the declaration of affection or attraction or, hell, even interest that I had hoped for from a guy I considered “most likely to be cast as leading man in the movie that is my life.”

"Let's do this!" was more game-time cheer than romance. I wanted romance.
“Let’s do this!” was more game-time cheer than romance. I wanted romance.

“Let’s do this!” was less romance and more pre-game pep-rally.

Were we going to jump off a cliff together? Maybe metaphorically. But if his “I want to hang out with you” was the 21st century equivalent of Mr. Darcy’s “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you,” then we were certainly in for a bumpy ride.

But such are the times we live in….

In all likelihood, you or someone you know shared that NYTimes Sunday Styles piece about dating in the age of texting and social media. About how traditional courtship has been replaced with the flippant one-offs of the hook-up generation.

For the most part, I thought the essay was a gross generalization that painted a bleak picture favoring an ever-increasing divorce rate.

But Alex Williams was on to something — “hanging out” has exited the realm of friendship and infiltrated the realm of courtship, leaving singles (particularly, single women) hoping to make the jump from “gone fishing!” to “got him!” in a perpetual state of confusion.

“Let’s hang out.”

When I was a college student with more male than female friends, this was something I heard fairly often. In those days, it’s meaning was crystal clear: we’re going to keep it casual, keep it low-key, throw on a movie or pull out a deck of cards, open a bottle, maybe some people will join us, and by the way, we’re going to keep it platonic.

Oh! How fast things change!

Imagine my surprise when, a half decade later, a “let’s hang out” has translated into everything from “I’d like to take you to dinner” to “let’s hook-up” to “I’d like this to be serious.”

“Hanging out” as a colloquialism is the new “hooking up” — an appropriately non-committal term that keeps your options open and your morning-after stories vague.

Saying "let's hang out" is like putting on a suit of armor to protect yourself from harm
Saying “let’s hang out” is like putting on a suit of armor to protect yourself from harm

It’s a sort of self-protective statement, one that doesn’t put your heart on the line while still implying an interest in spending time with the other person. A sort of “let’s see if we click as friends” is partially implied — and isn’t the fundamental base of a successful relationship a strong friendship? Isn’t it a good idea to see if you can be friends as well as lovers?

What’s the problem?

More of my 20-something friends are married or in domestic partnerships or engaged than are single. Is Williams’ point, that this behavior might be fostering the kind commitment-phobia that makes it more difficult for people to really develop worthwhile relationships, accurate?

Maybe it is and I just cultivate romantically stable people? (unlikely…. you’ve never met some of the guys I dated…)

Let’s be honest, if you’re an urban singleton, getting a foothold in the industry of your choosing, filling-up your time with friends and social groups, drinking up all your environment has to offer, the notion of keeping it casual when it comes to dating is your best laid plan (pun intended.)

Here’s the problem — it’s the phrase itself.

Instead of "hanging out" consult the thesaurus. Let's phase out that phrase
Instead of “hanging out” consult the thesaurus. Let’s phase out that phrase

“Hang out.” It’s still flippant, casual, an afterthought. If  saying “I want to see you” carries implications of  serious commitment and so you shy away, say you want to “get together” or say you want to do something specific.

We don’t need the guy that says “I want to spend every waking minute with you” (though, when faced with a choice between him and Mr. Let’s Hang Out, Mr. Let’s Hang Out is shown wanting). But it’s nice to feel like we’re more than an addition to a plan.

“Hanging out” leaves lots of things hanging in the air. And frankly, hanging out gets old quick. Before you know it, she/he will be hanging up the towel on this casual courtship and moving on.