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There has been some quiet on the Facebook Dating Project front because I’ve been dating someone. Or have I? Dating seems to have evolved into something much more casual. It’s called "hanging out," which used to be something you did with your friends, but these days it could constitute the beginning of a relationship with your future spouse.

Two friends set me up with a guy through the Facebook Dating Project. I previously wrote about him in June.

Dating, as I define it, is asking someone out on a consistent basis for the purposes of getting to know them. For all of the bending of social rules in the past decade, dating still falls primarily on the man from a financial perspective. There is an expectation that a guy will call you, ask you out and follow up by planning an evening in advance. He’ll pick you up, take you to a nice restaurant for dinner, take care of the check and then take you somewhere after: an art gallery, a movie, a concert. It’s an evening. He’s invested in you. He’s taken the time to plan something and take care of the details both logistically and financially.

As this column has talked about before, dating shouldn’t break your bank and women don’t expect men to spend a fortune. But we do want to see some effort. There is something to be said for putting on your best self and impressing this person whom you are attempting to get to know.

Hanging out is much easier on guys. They don’t have to plan, and in most cases, they don’t have to pay. A hanging out scenario can consist of the girl going over to the guy’s house for a bottle of wine, a Netflix and spaghetti and meatballs. From a purely financial perspective, the guy wins in the hanging out scenario. He invests little effort and zero cash. Does the girl lose? Not necessarily. Hanging out also has its benefits.

I jumped into my last relationship too quickly so I was OK with a slower, more casual evolution in regards to The Captain (his new moniker based on my last column). When we see each other it doesn’t follow any of the "traditional" patterns of dating. He doesn’t always call first to ask me out. We both make suggestions. He likes to camp and asked me if I’d join him. I like Twilight and asked him to take me to see Eclipse. He likes Italian so I offered to cook dinner. We split the cost of the evenings instead of him paying for everything.

Take note, though, that we’ve seen each other only twice in the last month. When we’re together it feels very comfortable and organic. We talk, there’s not a lot of pretense, and we both feel like we’re really getting to know each other. One the other hand, there is no definition. Are we exclusive? When will see each other next? Do we have to know this? As he said, “Why don’t we just continue?”

So is this what dating as become? I asked the men of The Panel what they thought about "dating" vs. "hanging out."

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"Hanging out is more casual and therefore there is less risk involved. Or it could be that the guy wants to see what you are like when all of the formalities are pushed aside. We all know that over time more formal dates stop and before you know it you’re sharing each other’s toothbrush. If he can hang out with you on an informal level then he’ll know that there is greater long-term potential."

— Alex, 32, In a Relationship

"It's come to a point now that 'hanging out' is a great way to find out the quirks of your potential partner in their natural environment. You get to see your partner when they are completely at ease and not trying to put up a facade like they do on a first or second date. If the woman farts when she laughs or cries when her team wins, you get to see all of this while 'hanging out.'"

— Grayson, 27, Single

Based on what the guys are saying, though, hanging out may foster a false sense of intimacy. By stripping away all the formalities and going for the comfortable things that you would expect to be doing after courtship, you’re acting like a couple, though doing so less often, and without any real responsibilities to the other person. This runs the risk of at least one person in the relationship being confused about where they stand. Insecurity creeps in as you’re wondering whether or not this person still “likes” you. You have a great time when you’re together but no idea when you’ll see them again.

The Captain and I, thankfully, talk about all of this. We come from two different perspectives. I’ve been a serial dater and he’s been a serial monogamist. He doesn’t traditionally “date” because he’s used to being a couple. I’m not usually a couple and am used to dating. It’s been a back and forth between us as we try to find out what works best for us individually and then for us as whatever we are. We know some simple things. We share great little moments together, we enjoy each other’s company and we have no idea what will happen next.

When I started the FDP I thought "hanging out" was a bad thing because it wasn’t following any of the expected investment we take when dating. I’m more open now due to our extremely informal culture these days. We are on more equal dating footing financially and we communicate via text, Facebook and e-mail. Those of us used to traditional dating rules need to bend and adapt. I don’t think “hanging out” is a bad thing anymore and I’m open to it. But I won’t fully give up the idea that when two people really do like each other, they are willing to invest in showing the other person that they’re worth it.

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