We’ve all been there: You’re having a great time at the movie/play/museum with your friend, when he/she does something that makes you stop dead in your tracks and think to yourself: “Oh no…is this a date?!”

Finding out that, surprise! You’re on a date! is the worst. How can you make it clear to your friend that he/she is just that — a friend? Here are 6 strategies for coping with this awkward situation.

1) Bring In A Third Party

Two is company; three is definitely not a date. The moment you start to suspect that your companion thinks there’s something romantic going on, call in a third party.

“Hey, Tom lives around here, we should see if he wants to join us!”
“You know, Tom’s been feeling a little down lately, let’s invite him over.”
“You know who also loves pizza? TOM.”

Whether or not Tom actually joins you is irrelevant: when you invite someone to join you guys, your date will get the message that you have nothing romantic in mind.

2) Pay Your Own Way

Maybe your date “happened to have an extra ticket” or is just being generous. That’s great — but be generous right back. Offer to give money for tickets, offer to buy drinks, and if they refuse, say something casual like “Oh, I totally owe you, that’s so thoughtful.”

Friends go dutch — a date will usually offer to pay.

3) Offer To Set Them Up

Make it very clear that YOU don’t think of your date in a romantic way by offering to set him or her up with one of your friends. You don’t have to make a big deal out of it, but even just “I think you’d really get along with my friend Tom, I should set you two up.” will do the trick.

4) Drop The “Friend” Card

In whatever way you can, make sure to address him or her as friend.

“This has been a great night! It’s fun to just hang out with a friend for a low-key change.”

“Thank you so much for inviting me! You’re such a good friend.”

Or, taking a page from the get-out-of-a-bad-date playbook, you could even text a friend to call you:

“Hey, Tom! Listen, I can’t really talk right now, I’m having dinner with my buddy, can I call you back?”

5) Leave Early

It might seem rude to dash off, especially if your pseudo-date has generously provided concert tickets/paid for something, but it’s really important not to linger long. (Otherwise, they’ll be on the phone to their friend the next day, moaning “But we talked at the bar for hours!”)

“I’m sorry to dash off, I had a great time but I have to be in bed early tonight.”
“Hey, I told my friend Tom I’d meet for drinks, wanna come join us?”

6) Shoot The Elephant In The Room

Face the problem head on, and tell your friend that you had such a great time hanging out, but you really want to make sure you aren’t giving the wrong impression.

“I really enjoy hanging out with you, but I just want to be friends. I hope that’s ok.”

It is OK! Buy them a drink, and all will be forgiven soon enough. But always better for them to move on quickly, rather than string them along unnecessarily.

Have you been in this situation — or worse, been the person who’s shown up for a “date” only to realize it was anything but? Tell us your stories (and coping/face-saving strategies) in the comments!