The new relationship debate: is "getting coffee" a date?

Ah, millennials. Singlehandedly supporting the coffee industry in skinny jeans and the propagators of $30 artisanal chocolate bars.

Chocolate, I can get behind. Coffee, I can (always) get behind. But asking someone, “Hey, want to grab a coffee?”, instead of asking if they would like to go on a date sometime? That’s where things get a little sticky.

I was having a discussion with my boyfriend the other week, and he seemed to think that anytime you got asked to coffee with someone you didn’t already know, it was a date– like an actual date, where someone picks you up at a certain time and stammers for an awkward compliment. (So apparently we’d been on at least three dates I was unaware of).

Listen: She’s the reality TV star we need right now.

But it got me thinking, how many coffee “dates” had I been on without realising it? When did “let’s grab a coffee sometime” become a replacement for actually asking someone to go on a date with you? And how the hell are you supposed to tell the difference between “I want to date you,” “I want to f**k you,” and “I want to be your friend” when all they say is “let’s go get coffee?”

If you check in with your local 20-something, “getting coffee” has become a euphemism for hooking up. (As your resident middle-aged-woman-at-heart, I have recently learned this.) Going for coffee is the new grabbing after dinner drinks, and anything other than informality is considered “extra.”

We’re in this place where the “winner” is the person who cares less – because apparently, human interaction is now something you can win. We don’t go on dates and discuss our dreams, we chat about our aesthetic over coffee and list our achievements like a walking resume.

When did getting coffee become code for a date? (Image via iStock.)

You can argue that everything you need to know about someone’s intentions can be gathered from context clues and insinuations; a good bit of it probably can. But that can lead to a web of second-guessing and misunderstandings and somebody ending up with a wrong impression. I have a close friend who’s been seeing a new guy for a while, and still has no idea whether he’s into her or the sex.


In the great ‘casualing down’ of culture, asking someone what exactly it is you’re doing here is considered a reason to run. Going to someone’s house on your period to see if they still want to hang out if you’re not down to hook up that particular day is a safer option than open communication, but should getting to know someone new be reminiscent of a school research project? And this goes both ways.

So many guys nowadays complain of crazy girls, but maybe she’s “friendzoning” you because she has no idea that you’re interested? Maybe she’s not clingy, she was just under the impression you wanted something more. When did implied become the new direct?

When I brought up the great “coffee date debate” with the boyfriend, it quickly devolved into an argument that is still being brought up whenever we’re out with friends. His point was that walking up to someone and bluntly asking them on a date it too forward and intimidating.

In his own words, “Formality isn’t sexy, ambiguity is. You need the mystery to keep her thinking about you and wondering about what’s happening between the two of you.”

Which is ironic, because I honestly can’t ever remember one of my girlfriends complaining about a guy being super clear about his intentions, wishing he’d be more ambiguous, or not wanting to know where she stands with someone.

Asking someone for coffee is easier than out on a date. (Image via iStock.)

On the flip side of that, the first time he and I hung out, he did ask me out for dinner on a date. And since I was so stuck in my mindset of “just wanting to have some fun,” I said no. So we kept getting coffee, and eventually, he won me over with his sharp sense of humour and brilliant conversations and that stupid, charming grin. So here we are over a year later.

I do get it, the word “date” can be intimidating. Maybe you aren’t looking for anything serious at the moment and just want to have a good time– there is nothing wrong with that. The idea of dating comes with implications of commitment and pressure, and why deal with the sweaty palms when you could just text someone to “hangout”. No pressure, no commitment and no obligations to anyone. There’s no need for a messy


There’s no need for a messy breakup because you were only “talking” and you don’t owe them anything. But after a while, shallow relationships get old, and loaded conversations become exhausting. Perhaps it’s a matter of maturity, but ambiguity isn’t sexy when you know what you want. The thrill of the chase is all well and good, until you realise you’ve been “getting coffee” with someone for months without any idea of what it is you’re doing.

Coffee has replaced dinner and drinks. (Image via iStock.)

Maybe vagueness is a crutch, something to save you from the horrors of having to actually decide what you want. Maybe it will give you enough time to let someone fall for you. But the idea that dating is dead is a little too sad to sit with. I may hide my inner romantic behind sarcasm and snark, but for “talking” and “hanging out” to replace first date jitters and grand gestures leaves an acidic taste in my mouth, and not just because of a pretentiously bitter cappuccino.

Keep your perfectly distressed footwear and ironic beards, but don’t put down romance along with your razor. Be uncoolly giddy, fall madly in love, and don’t ever let anyone blame you for putting yourself out there, aesthetic be damned. I’ll take a moment of bravery and some basic communication skills with a latte to go, thanks.

This post originally appeared on Literally, Darling -  an online magazine by and for twenty-something women, which features the personal, provocative, awkward, pop-filled and pressing issues of our gender and generation. This is an exact representation of our exaggerated selves. You can find them on Twitter here.