Why I Go On Friendship Dates

Friend dates are more fun than real dates. I won’t get to make out, but I won’t spend 98% of the night wishing I was dead.

Being single isn’t half as bad as many of my single friends make it out to be. Sure, I’d love to come home after a long day and curl up on the couch with my man to watch our recorded shows together… but that’s not my life right now, and that’s OK.

My favorite thing about being in a relationship, though, isn’t the curling on the couch—rather, it’s the adventures. I miss adventures, the ones where I step outside my comfort zone because my paramour and I decide that we want to explore something together.

There are two relationship extremes: You have the “nester” extreme, where you can sit in the same room as your partner and not talk but have a great time. You can lie with your head in the lap of a guy you’re dating and you can both read different books. The other extreme is a reaction against this, where you think you’re a boring couple so you find adventures to go on.

My most recent boyfriend lived across the country, so whenever we’d see each other, we’d have adventures—architecture tours, museum exhibitions, camping, the Renaissance fair, trips to the zoo. These are things I missed when I became single because they’re so out of the ordinary for my friends—usually, we just meet at happy hour or have an impromptu pub crawl or go to movies or brunch. Three of those four things revolve around drinking (OK, we sneak whiskey into the movies, so four of those things involve drinking), and we’re not really talking or connecting on a deep level, a level where we are experiencing something new together. I began craving these other moments, these adventures. And while I knew I could do them, especially on a date with someone new, I wasn’t really in the mood to date.

One of my friends hit me up a few weeks after my singlehood started. “Want to go on a mobster tour around Chicago?” he asked. He told me there was a Groupon deal on mob tours and we could go for pretty cheap. It sounded fun, more fun than another pint of Ben and Jerry’s and Netflix.

“Sure,” I said.

“Yay,” he exclaimed. “It’s a friendship date.” I chuckled at this—the phrase was kind of funny, but when I thought about it, that’s exactly what we were doing.

The day of my first friendship date, we got coffee and then went on the tour, learning about different mobsters in Chicago and their histories. In between visits, we hopped on our tour bus and drove around the city. My friend and I caught up, and then we started getting a bit deeper, moving past the surface of the types of conversations usually had amongst a group of friends. We were one-on-one, opening up to each other, me talking about where my feelings were post-breakup and he talking about recent disappointments and some really important breakthroughs he had in his personal life. We continued on after our tour, keeping our conversation meaningful. It truly did feel like a date, one of the good ones where you find out about each other and get excited about each other’s stories, one of the ones where you crave that next date and that next adventure.

That same friend and I, we go on a lot of friendship dates. We both love live music, so sometimes, we will message the other and say, “Hey, this band that we both love is in town. I’ll grab our tickets if you want to go.” We’ll meet up beforehand, catch up, and continue to build our friendship this way in the vein many build romantic relationships.

Groupon and Living Social regularly have deals on adventures for two, which are perfect for friendship dates. I’m going to learn how to paint with a friend; I’ve seen experimental theatre and played laser tag in a haunted house and gone to theme parks on friendship dates (usually at a discounted rate—friendship dates don’t have to be as expensive as real dates because, if it’s a true friendship date, you aren’t putting out afterward).

I have simple friendship dates too. I meet a fellow writer regularly for coffee to just sit and write together. We are a bit more structured, but by the end of our friendship date, we have delved into our psyches, talked about our ambitions and how we’re moving toward them and encourage each other. She tweeted recently, “Friend dates are more fun than real dates. I won’t get to make out, but I won’t spend 98% of the night wishing I was dead.” She makes a point—on a friendship date, you know you like your friend, and you won’t wish you were anywhere but there. Instead, you’ll be present, actively engaged in listening and talking and experiencing.

To have a successful friendship date, I have a few suggestions.

  1. Go out with someone you’re already friends with, but it can be the loosest of friends—maybe you are taking the opportunity to learn more about a person, and that’s your reasoning for the date. That’s fine—run with it.
  2. Do something you don’t normally do. Maybe you want to go on a kayak tour but have never paddled before. Find someone that isn’t outdoorsy—you can experience something together. There’s a Viking exhibit at the museum? Take your friend that is dying to go to Iceland. Learn about the history and culture together. Have a long conversation after.
  3. Don’t have sex after the friendship date. That is just a date, and that complicates the notion of the friendship date, which is to build a friendship, not a romantic relationship. This isn’t a bad Katherine Heigl film—you don’t live in a romcom, and sex after a friendship date won’t put you in a relationship.
  4. Nest with your friends. If this is what you’re missing, your friendship date doesn’t have to be an adventure. You can do something simple like binge watch Netflix or expand your cultural film palette with Subtitle Sundays because you and a friend both said you wanted to watch more foreign films. Building blanket and pillow forts are also great nesting friendship dates.
  5. Set the tone of the friendship date. If you want to save money, find things you can do on the cheap. I’ve never been to Shakespeare in the Park, which is free in Chicago, so I’m finding a friend I haven’t seen in a while to take with me when the shows start up. Many cities have free movies in the park, so it’s a great time to grab a blanket, some cheese and wine, and enjoy summer and your companion. Sometimes, just taking a walk with friend can be a great friendship date.

Or, you can ignore all my suggestions and create your own. You are the master of your own friendship date.

But, remember: It’s all about connecting. For me, while I love the adventures and will typically plan my friendship dates around those, it’s more about experiencing the friendship, connecting with someone, and being able to listen, respond, and get deep. I spend so much time on social media sites for work and pleasure that sometimes, I go days without a good conversation. Friendship dates are that for me—they are getting me away from my computer and my phone and putting me into a situation where I am with someone, and together, we build something special—a genuine friendship.

Parker Stockman is completing his thesis in Creative Writing-Fiction at Columbia College Chicago. He has told stories at 2nd StoryYou’re Being Ridiculous, Story Club, Outspoken, and Wit Rabbit. He gave a TEDx Talk on story and vulnerability, and he’s been published in Chicago Literati. 

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