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Friendly gathering or pending romance? Dating and hanging out look alike these days

Singles are having a hard time telling when they're on a date, versus just "hanging out" with a pal, a new study suggests.

It's confusing, say the 2,647 singles surveyed for "The State of Dating in America" report, commissioned by ChristianMingle and JDate, an online dating site for Jewish singles.

"The standout finding of the report, released Tuesday, is that nearly 69 percent of those surveyed said that they were at least somewhat confused about whether an outing with someone they're interested in was in fact a date or not," wrote Liz Fields for Good Morning America.

New York-based psychotherapist and relationship counselor Rachel Sussman underscored the point, telling ABC News that "There's no longer any formality in dating. It's becoming very much a culture of getting a text at 9 o'clock saying, 'Hey, what's happening? Where are you? Do you want to meet up?' This type of behavior can go on for months. It's become so ambiguous."

She also noted that her younger clients often correspond more by texting and Facebook, rather than in more personal ways.

"A date is someone personally asking you out — that sometimes can get confused with a one-on-one hangout, depending on the way they mention it or which medium they use to ask you or if it happens to be a group hangout," Sara Svendsen explained to USA Today's Sharon Jayson. The 25-year-old said she's wondered if she was on a date when she has gone out with someone.

She's been wrong "on both sides of that," she said.

The data, taken from the online survey, said 80 percent agree that a planned one-on-one hangout is a date, but 24 percent also think a date is a planned evening with a group of friends and 22 percent said it's a date if someone asked them out.

It's the second such survey the two faith-related dating sites have commissioned and they asked Sussman to evaluate dating in America. Among the key findings:

— Attitudes on what cheating is have changed, although the vast majority believe having sex with another person repeatedly is being unfaithful (86 percent of men and 92 percent of women).

— Flirtatious messages are somewhat less likely to be viewed as cheating, down to 68 percent from 82 percent for women and 56 percent to the current 51 percent for men. There were also drops in how many view "passionate kissing" with someone else as being unfaithful while dating. But nearly a quarter of singles said they would consider marrying someone who was unfaithful to them while they were dating.

— Two-thirds of men prefer to date someone younger than them; 83 percent of women would rather date someone who is older than they are.

— Both genders said they'd consider marrying someone who had children from a previous relationship. "However, interest dropped dramatically if a potential partner had children from multiple relationships," the report states.

Among the dos and don'ts of dating: Half say it's bad to be a messy eater and one-third of women don't want men ordering for them. Both men and women tend to believe that the man should pay for the first date (69 percent of males, 55 percent of females). Those numbers are lower than the previous survey.

As for what the report call "deal breakers," men cite hygiene (35 percent), smoking (24 percent) and weight (14 percent). For women: hygiene (34 percent), unemployment (21 percent) and a tie between drinking habits and smoking (each at 16 percent).

Most singles, regardless of gender, say they'd break up with someone who did not get along with their friends.

EMAIL: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco