Are We Dating or Just Hanging Out?


I was in a meeting a few months ago, and one of the guys started talking about his girlfriend. Complaining, more specifically. She was unhappy that he hadn’t told her he was leaving town, or something like that. When we asked him why he hadn’t, he said, “She’s not a keeper. Just a keeper-arounder.”

Of course, the next question was obvious. Was she aware of her status? Had he “programmed” her to lower her expectations? “Well, not in so many words. Why should I have to?”

To which I replied “Because that’s not the default setting!”

Men aren’t the only members of the dating public who are guilty of harboring a “keeper-arounder.” I have known plenty of women who have stayed with men with whom they knew they had no future, but didn’t bother to share that information with those men. They said things like, “We’re just having fun.” Or “he’s someone to hang out with.”

Which is all fine and good as long as the relationship is chaste and, especially, that both parties are on the same page. But this, I repeat, is not the default setting.

I have been saying for years that dating is interviewing for the job of spouse. Its purpose is supposed to be to figure out a) if we want to get married, and b) if so, to whom. Granted, it’s a relatively recent invention, and for most of its history it has taken place in the context of a society where people were expected to marry at a relatively young age. So it was understood that dating was a prelude to marriage, and no one in their right mind would date someone after they realized they weren’t interested in a future with that person. The clock was ticking! There were babies to be had and careers to be built, and it all rested on the foundation of a good marriage. Or even an average marriage. Or a “challenging-but-socially-acceptable” marriage.

Today, life is different. There is no social urgency to marriage. Nobody’s in a big hurry. Some people aren’t sure if they want to get married. Others have been married before and have no interest in going down that road (aisle) again.

But they still want to date. They want companionship. They want someone to hang out with, someone to attend weddings and funerals with them.

Which would all be well and good, except for that pesky assumption that dating is still supposed to lead to marriage. Particularly when that assumption is held by the person with whom you’re hanging out at weddings and funerals.

The blame here doesn’t necessarily reside solely with the “keeper.” Sometimes the keep-ee contributes to the problem as well. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Guy bluntly tells girl “I’m not looking for a commitment here. Just some no-strings-attached fun.” Girl says “Of course! Me too! I love no-strings-attached-fun! Commitment—bleeech!” Meanwhile, deep down, she’s thinking “If I just spend enough time with him, and cook him enough dinners, and give him enough sex, he’s bound to fall in love with me and propose in a romantic way and pledge his undying love to me and me alone.”

That usually works out really well.

The key here is simple communication. If you see no future with someone you’re dating but want to keep hanging out, let them know—honestly and as bluntly as possible—that is the case. And if the someone you’re dating with tells you that there is no future with you, and you know you want a future with someone, then for Pete’s sake believe what they say and move on!

Friendship between men and women can be a beautiful thing. I have many guy friends, and they’re very important to me. But keeping a hopeful boyfriend or girlfriend as a “keeper-arounder” is a very different situation. That isn’t being a friend. It’s being dishonest. It’s using.


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  1. Sue-906387 July 12, 2016 Reply

    Great article which shows that Honesty is Big when befriending someone of the opposite gender. The moment a man an woman start friendship, if they feel there is no connection or bond between them, they need to be open and break up as Sad and heartbreaking as it is.

  2. Luara-1021251 October 30, 2013 Reply

    Dating is another way of getting to know each other but I would like to stress that if you dated someone then feel not comfortable with each other then please be honest to tell your date about it. Never be a great pretender just to please your date, on the otherhand you’re just hurting each other. I believe it will hurt somebody but it would be better rather than keep on dating then let the feelings grow in the very first place not a very good start.

  3. Emily-628945 October 30, 2013 Reply

    I went through great heartache because I didn’t realize I was just in a holding pattern while he searched for something “better”. He was found on THIS site of all places. The breakup was bitter. Because of his dishonesty, however, HE lost as well. I couldn’t possibly fulfill his needs because we were on on different pages, do to speak. Funny thing, he occasionally looks at my profile and is still apparently active on this site even though he supposedly has a girlfriend . I hope for her sake that he has told her. One should break off a relationship before looking for another. Thanks for the validating article and for letting me vent. ( Btw: I have a new guy in my life. )

  4. Patricia-1017206 October 30, 2013 Reply

    well, just broke up with a “friend” that I finally realized that I was one of the “keeper-arounder” for him. He said that I was everything he ever wanted in a woman, but that he will be happy for me if I were to find someone that deserved my heart 🙁 felt so horrible because I did have feelings for him but of course with that said it meant he did not see me as a future wife for him, and I am not dating one person forever just having a good time. agree with the posts of “interviewing for the job” and do believe in marriage still. prefer direct words and not be guessing around or read between the lines.

  5. Dominic-981542 October 30, 2013 Reply

    I only wish boys & girls would be friends but this is not the case , A lot of people & mostly women mistakenly think being friends is a lesser level of friendship then a sexual relationship when in fact its the opposite .
    A sexual relationship is the lesser form of friendship & the most selfish shallow one of them all while real friends a rare & very hard to come by.

  6. Jim-397948 October 28, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for the Article…I am usually number 2 until number One shows up…Way too many platonic girlfriends

  7. Cecilia-1006584 October 28, 2013 Reply

    Hello Mary Beth!

    I just loved your article 🙂 Now if we get focused on this site: What is the purpose of becoming a member of a Catholic dating site? With exemption of those who have clarified that they are only looking for friendship, we are here for dating. And dating is exactly what you meant: to mutually discover if we fit in the “profile of the job position”.

    Of course, this “selection process” shouldn’t last forever, or at least that’s not my thing. I truly appreciate being told straightforwardly if “my application has not been selected”, paraphrasing the current labour market of companies 🙂 On this topic, I’d like to recall what Pope Francis said not long ago about the “culture of provisional”. In this age a definitive choice isn’t easy. We are victims of this culture, we somehow fear to follow Jesus closely which is the definitive… So for all of us, more inner life and more communication! 🙂

  8. Robert-3483 October 27, 2013 Reply

    Given that friendship is under the virtue of justice. Part of the practice of that virtue includes everything that justice entails. Using another person as an object is not justice.

    I am godfather of the 4th child of a female friend from the military, and very recently a godfather of the 3rd child of a female friend in Australia. This is not the default either, but shows how Christian grace can elevate things in justice and the four difference aspects of love. Prior to that, I was “not a keeper”.

    I recommend Emily Stimpson’s article and St. Francis de Sales’ “Introduction to the Devout Life” on the practice of virtues not commonly found:

  9. Patrick-341178 October 27, 2013 Reply

    I think a large part of the problem is that too many guys and gals just want to be friends. They waste so much time just hanging out when they could be dating each other or someone else. I would have to disagree somewhat with the line,
    “Which is all fine and good as long as the relationship is chaste and, especially, that both parties are on the same page. ”
    If men and women are getting spiritual and emotional bonding through friendships with each other, there is less incentive to date – a risky endeavor that can end in heartbreak. I am mostly opposed to opposite sex friendships. Sure, I have about a billion female facebook friends and plenty of female aquaintances – through my parish, work, school, etc. But there is a big difference between someone who can small talk with when your paths cross vs. actually hanging out and spending a Saturday night together. Why should men and women just hang out in groups? What is the point if it isn’t going to lead to anything?

    I think the author makes a lot of good points but misses that one.

  10. William-607613 October 27, 2013 Reply

    I think most Catholic scholars on the subject would wisely tell us that we have no business dating someone we have no intention of marrying (or someone we are not at least open to marriage with).

    This is not to say we cannot have company at a wedding or a funeral, but there is no reason to carry on a long-term relationship with a member of the opposite sex who we have no interest in marrying; for the reason cited above in this article, it will not end well. In the meantime, someone has committed months if not years to a relationship with someone who simply wanted a member of the opposite sex to hang around with.

    And if that person who was simply the “keeper-arounder” missed an opportunity to be with a sincere and decent man or woman because of a relationship that probably never should have even gotten off the ground, more’s the pity.

    Tempus fugit.

  11. Linda-442926 October 27, 2013 Reply

    Great article!

    It’s always important to communicate honestly and not have hidden intentions or motives.

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