A good friend last night had a classic FAGAT conundrum: he was invited out to drinks by a prominent member of his field of work, and didn't know whether it was a date, or merely a networking opportunity.
This has happened to us, and we suspect many of you. It's an annoying position in which to find yourself. You don't know what level of flirtation is appropriate (can you laughingly squeeze his knee when he says something funny? Can you touch his shoulder when you get up from the table?? Can you blow him in the bathroom of Starbucks??? ). You also don't know how to read his signals. When he says, "I'm so glad we finally got together," does he mean, "I want to put you in my Rolodex?" or "I want to put you in my custom leather sling?"
We think there are a few ways to avoid this problem from the get-go. First of all, if you want networking drinks with someone, choose someplace boring. Nothing says "I'm not interested romantically" like getting a drink at Houlihan's in Penn Station. If you are looking for love, choose a place that's inarguably sexy, like a dark wine bar, or your bedroom.
Second, if you're not interested in sex, work in a comment about your boyfriend or someone you recently dated early in the conversation, that will put your date at ease. If you ARE interested, ask him questions about his family. No one does that on networking dates.
Third, avoid the problem altogether. Drinks are for sex. Lunch is for networking. Nobody ever asked someone out on a romantic first lunch date. And the reverse should be true.
And finally, quite frankly, who's to say you can't turn a networking opportunity into a flirty one? After all, nothing says "Give me a break on the Spencer account" like "I know you like to fart during orgasm."