Even if you're super cynical about romance, when you first go out with a guy you actually like, it's like you stepped into a romantic comedy. The movie is playing and you're in that super-great beginning part where he's all nervous and you're all nervous and you're cute and he's cute and god, aren't you both so cute?! It's obnoxious and great. But with great romantic potential comes great analytical responsibility. Whether he's just going to be a hook-up or a potential romantic partner, there is stuff to examine. And one of the first things to examine is exactly that question.
1. Hook-up or romantic partner?
Make a point of mentioning your views on relationships and hook-ups in as casual a way as possible. Even something as simple as, "A lot of my friends are hooking up with guys they met on Tinder but that's just not really my thing," lets him know everything he needs to know, and how he responds tells you everything you need to know.
Once you have a grip on that situation (and that could take some time), you should listen, really listen, to everything he's telling you. Most of the time, guys are giving you some super-clear clues about who they are, where they're at in life, and what they're really capable of giving. Pay attention to how he talks about:
2. His work situation.
If he works a million hours a week, there's a good chance the two of you aren't gonna end up in a super-close, always-together relationship. Or he might be chronically unemployed, which could mean he's not really driven or motivated, or there may be more serious issues there. All of this might be 100 percent fine with you, and maybe you're even the same way, but it's good to have that info. If any of this isn't what you want, it's OK to bail.
3. How he speaks about women.
Whether they're women in his office, female friends, family, or outright exes, how he speaks about women is really important. If he uses words like "bossy" or "catty," or, god forbid, tells you "You're not like other girls. Most girls are ____," run. Run fast and far. Any guy who acts like all women are horrible except you could very likely one day think you are horrible for literally no reason.
4. How he speaks about things that are important to you.
If you bring up a love of social justice and he has to ask what social justice means — or worse, he knows but doesn't care, maybe it's not a good match.
5. How his last relationship ended.
Any guy who starts his answer to this question with an eye roll or a sigh or a "Oh man, I can't even," should make you think twice or straight-up leave the bar. All relationships are complicated, but if he's still this upset by it or it was that complicated and dramatic, he's probably pretty complicated and dramatic.
6. Picture him hanging out with your friends.
If it seems like he would just hang out in the corner by himself or your friends would think he was super weird and unfriendly, take that into account. Even if you're more hermit than social butterfly, often, your friends can show you everything you need to know about a person you don't know very well. If they wouldn't hang with him, whether it's because he's just kind of boring or can't hold a conversation or he is selfish or he only talks about his extensive collection of gerbil skulls, he's not good enough for you, and you're better off finding that out now than five years down the line.
All of these things won't tell you everything you need to know. People make mistakes, people send mixed signals, people have off nights. It happens. But more often than not, the things you learn about a guy you just met end up being the things you look back on and think, Aw man, I knew that was a red flag. And the sooner you listen to your instincts, the sooner you can leave the bad date and finally go out with a guy who sends up zero red flags. Which might freak you out even more because, seriously, what is he hiding, but that's a whole other thing entirely.