(Epistemic status: Trivial, anecodotal, possibly important/helpful if social intuitions are hard)
The purpose of this post is exploring a social tool and providing a possible explanation for why it works. It is also to ask for advice on some aspects I am less talented at using well. Lastly, it is an attempt to increase the memetic fitness of this tool so that more people do it. That is a fancy way of saying invite me to coffee if you’re in Boston and/or I’m in your area.
So, there’s a trope in fiction, where if you are romantically interested in someone, you ask them out for coffee. There are a lot of good reasons for this. Coffee is a very low investment date, both monetarily and time wise. It also leaves room for escalation, i.e. “Well, that was good, I’m a little hungry now, want to go to the restaurant place?” It also allows for easy disengagement “Well, we’ve been here a bit, we should probably go…I have something after this, but good seeing you!” So, it’s testing the waters in a nice way that allows for guess culture style gentle exits.
I personally am not a huge fan of the guess culture exit strategy, but I know I use it. Sometimes I even escalate and then…stop. Because being honest is scary in the moment, especially in the real world. I’m hypocritical in that I prefer honesty, but rarely offer it (for unpleasant things, for pleasant things I am sincere. If I say I like you, I mean it. If I’m not really giving you an idea of my valence towards you, then I’m probably neutral or negative towards you). I think I need to improve on this trait, but I still would prefer to spare feelings, because how people feel is important. So is honesty and time allocation. I don’t know how to solve this and would love advice, with the requirements being: Is gentle on feelings, signals to the other person that they would be better of allocating their time on not me, and is honest in such a way that a person can get actionable feedback if they ask it, assuming I am able to provide it. I’d rather not just be like “Well, I’m not really up for hanging out, sorry.” and then give them nothing to work with.
The other aspect of inviting someone out to coffee I want to explore is the romantic valence. I think this valence is unfortunate and limiting. I want to invite all my friends out to coffee because I often find myself with not a lot of time, so it’s useful to have a low cost option like this. As such, a thing I have been actively doing is inviting people, especially new friends, to coffee one on one (or sometimes small groups). So far, this has been extremely successful and I feel like I’ve gotten a better feel for people and gotten good ideas from a different perspective, all fostered by the lowkey environment and luxury a good coffee shop provides. It’s also been nice to be able to escalate to “Let’s walk” when I want to continue an idea thread or even just continue talking.
Related to this, coffee outings are a deepener that doesn’t require high logistical effort. You meet a lot of people online, at parties, at conferences, all over. And most of the time, you have that one, maybe two meetings, and they leave your life. Sometimes you keep it going a little longer by talking online, but eventually that loses it’s novelty. Online interaction also has an overdisclosure problem. It often encourages oversharing and going deep into things that you normally wouldn’t, especially in reality, so you have a lot of deep interaction, some surface interaction, but none of the middle interaction that forms the core of a relationship.
The coffee outing is a tool to resolve this, and one I am both optimistic an enthusiastic about, because it deepens friendships in an indefinable way, allowing you to fill in that middle ground that is so often neglected. That place where, sure, you’re not sharing your deepest fears or most embarrassing desires, but you are creating a special kind of flow of spontaneity and lowkey interaction that is about something other than work, school, or the weather.
In summary, the advantages of a coffee outing are: Low time cost, low monetary cost, a very open end that allows for a lot of control over the direction of the relationship, both that day and overall, and filling in the middle ground of friendships. The disadvantages are the valence possibly being romantic when you don’t wish this, and the tendency towards guess culture games. Please feel free to tell me other advantages and disadvantages you observe, and/or your anecdotal experiences