Communication in online relationships
July 20, 2010 8:41 AM   Subscribe

Is this kind of thing a harbinger of worse things to come? (I wish I could summarize this for TL;DR issues, but can't seem to do it in a way that makes sense!)

Two people meet online. They are very unabashedly excited to find each other, since they seem to have a lot in common and seem very compatible. They talk tentatively about wanting to get together for dinner one of these days and worry that the 5 hr driving distance between them may be a problem. "A" has a more-or-less routine schedule, and so does "B". B is currently interviewing for several jobs and has to travel a lot for the next 6 weeks. They have a long drawn out email conversation initiated by B.

B: My schedule will be messy for the next several weeks, I hope it's okay if we take this slow until it quiets down a bit. But for the record, I am definitely interested in continuing this.

A: As long as I feel that you want to stay connected, I'm very agreeable to taking this slow, at whatever pace you're comfortable with

B: I realize it's not much fun having to take things slow, so I will understand if you don't want to at any point, for whatever reason

(A and B have an interim IM conversation which is stilted, since A wants to meet and B explains why not at this point)

B: Would you like to stop contact for a couple of months, and then get in touch with each other to see how things stand? I'm suggesting this because I feel bad that there seems to be nothing in it for you at the moment, like meeting or spending time together.

A: Glad you met somebody! Good luck to you

B: I have not met anybody! And I'm still very interested, my reason for the email was a) overthinking b) guilt at making you wait. The couple of months is not to be with anybody, but to take care of job related issues and travel.

A: (does not respond)

B: I hate feeling that you think I've misled you in some way, hence this email. (detailed explanation about circumstances, reiteration of interest). I wish things had worked out. I wish you all the best and hope that you find who/what you are looking for.

A: When someone says they don't want contact for several months, for whatever reason, how is that not rejection? No one is too busy to IM or talk on the phone a little bit each week, even meet for dinner or a drink if they truly want to get to know someone. So yes, let's avoid contact for several months as you wish.

B: It's just a matter of conflicting perspectives combined with the fact that we don't know each other well enough to realize this. You: If this was important enough I would make time for IM/chats every week and drinks/dinner. Me: This is important enough that at the risk of your losing interest, I consider this worth waiting for. I want to enjoy the process of getting to know you rather than have it buried among the various other things going on at this time. It's up to you, and I will be (relatively) less busy by Aug 30.

A: Just contact me when you're (relatively) less busy

B: I am not sure I want to any more, given your lack of interest, and the sarcasm. The best way to convey disinterest would have been to just say "not interested"

A: No, the best way to convey disinterest in a possible long distance relationship is to suggest stopping contact for a couple of months. There is no misinterpreting that...


FWIW: the parties in question are 49 and 41 years old

The question: Should A and B give up at this point? Is this kind of thing a harbinger of worse things to come?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total)
 
Between B's inability to maintain contact during routine life matters, and A's passive-aggression ("Glad you met somebody! Good luck to you!"), the foundation is already cracked. If you're already fighting like this and you haven't even met in person, yeah, it's probably best to just drop it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:45 AM on July 20, 2010 [29 favorites]


Yeah, why bother? Who needs this kind of childishness in a relationship that exists only online, let alone in the real world.
posted by modernnomad at 8:49 AM on July 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


Relationships shouldn't necessarily be easy. But they should, in general, start out being more "fun" and "exciting" than "difficult" and "fraught with more complex negotiations than international commerce".

I don't think either A. or B. is wrong... simply that they have different ideas about how the beginning of a relationship can/should go (I'd be fine with A.'s proposition, but I fully understand how other people might NOT). It's not A.'s proposition which is the warning flag, but the speed with which the negotiations disintegrated.

You discover that things are workable by making them work. A. and B. haven't been able to make things work BEFORE THINGS HAVE EVEN BEGUN. Not necessarily the world's best omen.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:50 AM on July 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


(Whoops - B's proposition! I did actually read the whole thing...)
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:51 AM on July 20, 2010


The question: Should A and B give up at this point? Is this kind of thing a harbinger of worse things to come?

Yes, and yes.
posted by little_c at 8:51 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I were B, I would give up because A seems like a snotty brat. That's not going to get any better. If I were A, I'd give up because I'm a snotty brat who thinks something not really having anything to do with me is a rejection. Maybe this is one of those ask/guess things; I don't know.
posted by Maisie at 8:52 AM on July 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


A: Glad you met somebody! Good luck to you ...

A: When someone says they don't want contact for several months, for whatever reason, how is that not rejection? ... So yes, let's avoid contact for several months as you wish. ...

A: No, the best way to convey disinterest in a possible long distance relationship is to suggest stopping contact for a couple of months. There is no misinterpreting that...


This person does not know how to communicate.

If you're B,* I would drop the whole thing and look for someone closer.

*I don't know why this has to be in the third person with your perspective hidden from us.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:54 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


At this point: B: I realize it's not much fun having to take things slow, so I will understand if you don't want to at any point, for whatever reason

My instantaneous instinctive reaction was "B is no longer interested." Nothing I read after that point conflicts with that reaction, and indeed much reinforces it.

Move on.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:55 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I were B, I would run.
posted by cross_impact at 8:57 AM on July 20, 2010


I don't think talking online further would be bad, but both parties would have to understand stuff that is inflexible, like "no meeting before 8/30" or something. I'd also recommend more direct questions if clarity is needed. For example, "Does this mean you're not interested?" vs. "I assume you've met someone." Assumptions are bad, assumptions with strangers are worse, and strange assumptions over t3h internets is worser yet still more.
posted by ShadePlant at 8:58 AM on July 20, 2010


A is acting like a complete ass and were I B I would have stopped trying a few emails ago. Jesus, the petulance and selfishness just SCREAMS "run, B, run!"
posted by tristeza at 8:59 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, I think A needs to realize that when B said this, "I wish you all the best and hope that you find who/what you are looking for", that was his way of saying it's already over. So if A is the one who posted this, the post is moot.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:04 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd also recommend more direct questions if clarity is needed. For example, "Does this mean you're not interested?" vs. "I assume you've met someone."

This is a good point, and I'd like to add that "I'm glad you've met someone" is even worse than "I assume you've met someone." At least saying "I assume..." leaves some room open for "Woops, I guess I assumed wrong." "I'm glad..." followed by a pseudo-fact that has not been established is saying: "OK, I can tell you're not leveling with me, so I'm going to have the courage to state things as they really are."
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:07 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


This seems fighty in the MeFi sense of fighty-- deliberately misinterpreting others' comments, "fixed that for you" assumptions, etc. etc.

If you would flag it and move on here, you should probably do so in real life.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:12 AM on July 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


I agree that the "assume you've met someone" is petulant and not helpful, but I also see A's point of view -- cutting off contact completely just because B has a busy life makes it sound like B's not interested and is trying to bow out. If somebody wants to go out with you they'll find a way. At any rate, yeah, it's time to give up.
posted by JanetLand at 9:15 AM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Too busy for several MONTHS? I'd not be happy either and even less happy at the courteous offer that followed - it feels like Friendly disinterest.

This is about two people who prefer to step back rather than engage. Neither pursues. Drama follows.

No, this does not bode well. Unless you are really really into the other person, let it be.
posted by Omnomnom at 9:17 AM on July 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


B sounds like a drag who is trying to do the thinking for both people. I'd run from B. Both A & B seem so different that they basically can't even communicate in the same language. It's really weird.
posted by anniecat at 9:23 AM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Neither party comes off too well here. A sounds pretty damn prickly, but B sounds a little too accommodating and apologetic and should have disengaged halfway through. You don't need to explain that much, just make the offer, and if they don't bite, move on.

(I'm assuming B is you, because A's already drawn conclusions about what B thinks, plus you seem to switch to "you" and "me" at one point)

Also, if B used any sort of online dating service to meet A, he/she/B/you should take a break from it until your schedule frees up a bit. No one would reasonably expect first dates to take priority over work or travel, but hitting it off with someone and immediately being put on the back burner is awkward and discouraging.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:29 AM on July 20, 2010 [7 favorites]


I think that B accurately summed up the issue by naming it "conflicting perspectives." You have different priorities right now, which is fine, except that A persists in misinterpreting everything that B says. That said, in A's shoes I might also interpret B's actions as lack of interest. Either way, this is way too much fighting before a face-to-face meeting, and it's time for both parties to move on.

If you are B, let it go and come back to online dating (with someone else) when your work situation calms. Also, are you really so swamped at work you can't maintain a bit of e-mail contact, if you truly are interested in A?

If you are A, think about the possibility that B really is swamped at work. Try again, and look for someone who is better at multi-tasking. Think, too, about your communication style, given that online dating relies a lot on communicating via writing. Sarcasm and passive-aggression are counterproductive to communication, especially when non-verbal cues are eliminated.
posted by redfishbluefish at 9:33 AM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


A is a total dramarama-fest. B should run.
posted by hazyjane at 9:35 AM on July 20, 2010


The moment A went with "Glad you met someone!", things were basically over. Once A essentially called B a cowardly liar, that was pretty much that for any budding romance.

I'm not so sure that A was entirely wrong to throw that bomb, even if it was factually incorrect. It certainly could be an effective way to escape the connection. I'd drop B like a hot rock myself, and the more swiftly the better. But it was a big mistake for A to get baited into re-engaging by that long email; anybody who pulls a stunt like that had better be prepared to stick to their guns. It was also a mistake for B to write a long letter saying, "No no no, I'm really a good person and here is the proof about my busy busy life! Look! Circumstances!" instead of trying to really consider A's point of view. Which A then tries to force onto B. And then B takes what sounds to me like a superior tone, puts words into A's mouth, and tries to teach A how to be polite. Ugh.

Really, both A and B need a bucket of water dumped over them. Now they're just fighting over which one of them is a decent person, and that's never a good sign.
posted by sculpin at 9:47 AM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think one of the takeaways from this is (which a couple of people have already mentioned): if your life is really busy and hectic for the next little while, wait for things to calm down before you start online dating. In other words, don't look for a job and a partner at the same time. Building relationships takes a significant chunk of time and effort; so does job hunting.
posted by foxjacket at 10:06 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


A doesn't want to wait and is being perhaps a bit cavalier, but B is a drama-addict inflicting their self-imposed guilt on someone with which they don't actually have a relationship. I would run from B more than A.
posted by rhizome at 10:18 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


They both seem relatively off-putting.

I'd run if I were either one of them.
posted by brand-gnu at 10:45 AM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ewww...now I realize what I sounded like a couple of months ago to someone (I took the A approach)! Always room for a life lesson in the day...

Anyway, I have had several male friends tell me that when their life is busy and hectic they tend to back off from dating and contact, unless it's an established relationship. This may simply be a reflection of the male friends I keep, but it sounds plausible. So I can see B's point based on that information (whether or not B is male). And I can see myself in A, because I also believe that if someone is interested, they'll make time for contact, even if it's just one or two emails a week. They'll do something.

I'm such an optimist that I think B and A could give it another chance, but they both need to re examine their perspectives on this one. If A really needs more contact in a relationship, this isn't a good match (and that's OK). B needs to understand that a lot of people wouldn't be OK with the lack of contact and that it doesn't bode well for a new relationship, but if B can't give the contact right now, this isn't a good match (and that's OK). A's comment about "glad you found somebody!" wasn't cool, and did a fair amount of damage in my opinion.

Overall, with just this information, B and A cannot fill each others needs at this point and don't need to pursue this. However (eternal optimist here!), when B's schedule calms down and B can devote more attention to a relationship, it might be a better match then, and I wouldn't fault B for trying again (provided the hectic schedule isn't going to keep coming back). Timing does make a difference in relationships.

In either case, I think the communication skills of both need some work based on what I've seen here. It got fighty without really needing to.
posted by MultiFaceted at 11:24 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


If B had said "I can't talk to you at all until 8/30," I'd say that's BS unless they were going to some remote mountain cave. I had to reread it a couple of times before I saw that B did not want to stop all contact, but just could not commit to meeting before the end of August. In that case, yeah, A is out of line and this does not bode well. A doesn't sound like they're ready to trust someone, and as such they're not ready for a relationship.
posted by desjardins at 11:49 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had to reread it a couple of times before I saw that B did not want to stop all contact, but just could not commit to meeting before the end of August.

I don't think so. B said:
Would you like to stop contact for a couple of months
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:52 AM on July 20, 2010


From the OP:
I am B and female (A is male). The third person narrative was in order to make it more objective, and to make it easier to avoid any mention of gender. I see that there was a wrong assumption that I was male, which is interesting in itself (I wonder how many other readers thought that, and why).

I am very much interested in A, and the no-contact suggestion was made because I saw several suggestions on Ask MeFi and elsewhere that it was better to meet sooner than later in online dating, and I was not sure that maintaining just email contact until then was a good idea. I also have a bad case of insecurity and after the IM conversation, I thought I would have to say "no" week after week to any suggestion of meeting (until Aug 30 when I actually get done with traveling/interviewing) and that A would lose interest (cowardly, in retrospect).

By the way (@sculpin, specifically), my long explanation(s) rather than being "I am a good person" were actually "Please don't be hurt, especially not by me. I still like you very much". @rhizome: I hate drama and am cringing to think I may have indulged in it. I am not proud of my last few emails, ugh...

Anyway, I am classifying this one as Lesson 1 in online dating (this is my first foray into online dating, and I have very little experience in dating anyway since I was married for a long time).

1. Don't be a drag, be overly dramatic, or think for someone else (This one worries me because I did not realize I was doing that)
2. Don't be too apologetic and know when to stop (I am aware of this and do it all the time)
3. Don't try dating if you can't multitask efficiently
4. Don't get overly attached too soon, and understand when a relationship actually is one.

I agree wth Metroid Baby that "hitting it off with someone and immediately being put on the back burner is awkward and discouraging", and I should have thought of that before shooting off the first email. I am really (really) into him, but anything I do now will stink of desperation. I am sad about the messy ending, and especially sad that A may be hurt and thinks that I'm not into him when I actually am. And frankly, I am a bit rattled and concerned about my ability to be in any kind of relationship now (witness the "off-putting" and "drag" comments; combine them with the mention of my insecurity above).

But c'est la vie! Thank you for your comments.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:10 PM on July 20, 2010


I see that there was a wrong assumption that I was male, which is interesting in itself (I wonder how many other readers thought that, and why).

For the record, I assumed correctly that you're B and female, and A is male. Whenever there's a datingfilter question based on a long, detailed, point-by-point interpretation of the other person's words, my guess is going to be that the poster is female. Anyway, it sounds like you've made the best of the situation (especially considering how new you are to this), so good for you.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:18 PM on July 20, 2010


Male here. If someone asked me if I want to continue and I say yes, and they follow up with "Are you sure? Because if you want we can stop contact for a few months" I would assume they want to stop contact for a few months, probably because they had met someone else.
posted by rocket88 at 12:36 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ha, I got the genders wrong - but that's because of my own hidden sexist assumptions (women are often pa, men are often too busy). I'm kind of glad I was wrong. Serves me right.

I hope you find someone who is less dramatic!
posted by Omnomnom at 12:43 PM on July 20, 2010


I think you should temporarily disable your online dating profiles and not be in contact with anyone until you have some free time. Or at least set your status to something like: "Swamped at work/On vacation/etc - will get back to you when I am back/free/etc." Problem solved!
posted by meepmeow at 12:44 PM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just came in to say don't be too hard on yourself, OP. Dating can be rough, especially getting back into it after years in a marriage or long term relationship. I am in a similar boat myself right now, and have often found myself baffled by weird exchanges like this via email/text, where I thought I was being clear, yet there was obviously in retrospect a HUGE communication gap. I know this is more commiseration than advice, but just wanted to say you're not the only one, and hopefully this will get better (for both of us) with practice!
posted by bobafet at 12:55 PM on July 20, 2010


Well, text conversations about delicate topics don't tend to go well. In my experience, it takes trust and the ability to hold off on getting angry or hurt until you make sure that they meant what you thought they meant. You can't see non-verbal signals saying things like "this hurts, back off" or "I'm confused" or "this hurts for me to say because I care about you".

So, they're hard. Phone might be better. Can you try to work it out via phone? Maybe IM just isn't for you two but on the phone you really click.

I have a partner and we get along rather well, but I avoid talking about sensitive/emotional topics with him on IM because it just doesn't go well for us. So this kind of stilted and unpleasant exchange doesn't necessarily mean anyone sucks or is a bad person, or even that the relationship is doomed.

HOWEVER, because this is a long distance relationship and you can't exactly grab dinner together and reconnect or work things out...I don't know. It seems like too much work. And right now you don't even know if you're attracted to each other in person! Oy.

If you're B, I can tell that you're trying to be considerate, but you come across as wanting something, but you're framing it as something s/he wants or something that would be good for him/her. It comes across as a bit disingenuous. Try something like this: "I like you and I'm looking forward to meeting you when I can really relax and enjoy spending time with you. Unfortunately, that won't be until August. I think it's worth waiting to make sure we do this right--what do you think?"
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:59 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Should A and B give up at this point?"

They already have.

You (as B) made a wrong move by suggesting dropping contact. You should have just slowed down without asking about it. *Saying* you're going to do it is what's off-putting. Lesson learned, you'll do better next time. And, perhaps you won't have all that stuff to handle that's eating up all your time.

As a case study, I, once upon a time, had a date with a lawyer. At the end, she proposed a next date of something like 8 weeks in the future, just saying that she was busy. (Not like she was going to be out of the area or anything.) I simply told her, "If you really want to see me, you can do it sooner." That was it. But, neither of us dwelled on it much - there didn't seem to really be anything there.

A, on the other hand, handled it like a jerk. So, I'm thinking you dodged a bullet.
posted by Citrus at 1:11 PM on July 20, 2010


A lacks understanding and common sense. B sounds like a lovely, intelligent, sensible lady who should keep dating because she's a good catch.
posted by Deor at 7:06 PM on July 20, 2010


Thanks for following up, Anonymous, and for being a good sport. Don't get too hung up on the criticism here; you sound very likable, and I think the only thing you've got to work on is being too eager to please and offer explanations/alternatives. It's natural to do so, especially when you really like someone, because you want to make it easy for them to like you - but it backfires. You think you're covering all potential bases, but in doing so you end up blocking the exits.

If you offered someone a slice of homemade apple pie and he replied "well, maybe later," it's the difference between saying "okay, it's in the fridge if you want any" and "okay, I'd be happy to fix you up a plate later, or if you don't like apple I've got cherry and lemon meringue, or I could bake a cake if pie's not your thing, or make you some nachos even, and if you're not hungry I totally understand and I can give you the piece to go and you don't have to worry about returning the tupperware, just say what you want because I think you'd really love this pie." You might make Pillsbury Bake-Off winning pie, and it might be your guest's favorite food, but the more in-a-box with-a-fox options you give, the more he'll notice that "no pie" is not an option, and the pie will look less appealing.

I'm guilty of this too, and so is one of my will-make-a-lucky-woman-very-happy-one-day friends, and so are a lot of people. I've got a story about how my eagerness to please blew up in my face: years ago, I went on a first date with a fellow I really liked at the time. I liked him so much I chose to be cool with the fact that he had Major Issues. During the date, which seemed to be going fabulously, he trotted out the "not ready for a relationship" line. My blithe, knee-jerk response was "oh, well, I can wait." What I meant by that was "I like you a lot, so I am willing to keep it cool while you figure your shit out if that's what you want, even though that's not ideal, because I am nice and easygoing and I want you to like me." What he heard was "I like you a lot, therefore I have arrived at the conclusion that we must be together no matter how long it takes, and I will stick to you like a barnacle to achieve that end, because I am crazy and desperate and I WANT YOU TO LIKE ME." And of course, he ended up running, and he was a jerk to me, and I got carried away, oh man it sucked lesson learned.

(Also, for what it's worth, before the gender reveal I assumed you were both dudes, not sure why.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:52 AM on July 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, anon...my response above wasn't meant to blame you. I should extend it to say that if I were A, after my initial disappointment died down, I'd be totally OK to take a step back, chalk it all up to bad communication and misunderstanding, and try again. It's a shame that a miscue this petty should derail a potentially great relationship. If I were you I'd send one more message, with an explanation (but not an apology...you did nothing wrong), and leave it at that...don't even mention restarting things. He'll either respond with an olive branch of his own, or not. Then you'll know.
Good luck.
posted by rocket88 at 8:15 AM on July 21, 2010


Anon, maybe I come from the same background as you (don't want to feel guilty, don't want to feel like I'm hurting anyone or being misinterpreted), but I totally understood you. If I was in A's shoes and you said: "B: Would you like to stop contact for a couple of months, and then get in touch with each other to see how things stand? I'm suggesting this because I feel bad that there seems to be nothing in it for you at the moment, like meeting or spending time together," I would've said either:
- No, you don't need to feel bad! Sorry for pushing the point. I mean, I might keep suggesting get-togethers. ;) But I know that job interviewing is stressful, so I understand and can be patient. The emails are enough "in it for me" right now.
or
- Hmm, yeah, it actually is going to be pretty frustrating to really want to meet you so I can know if this is likely going to go somewhere, so maybe that's a good idea. I've really enjoyed our conversations so far, so ring me up in a few months when you're free! Good luck with all the interviewing.

At least in your telling here, it seemed like a considerate offer, communicated clearly ("I'm suggesting this because I feel bad that..."). In A's shoes, I would have appreciated that.

You also acknowledged that it was driven by your guilt and your desire not to feel guilty, rather than making decisions for A. Maybe one approach to consider at times would be to start with your own feelings and try to "selfishly" get what you want, ie, less guilt: "wow, now I feel super-guilty! I hate feeling this way" or even "If I'm going to feel super-guilty every time we talk, I'm going to have to take a break until some time when I can actually provide the very valid things that you're asking for."

Nevertheless, I think you did fine by saying "should we do this? I ask because it seems like it might be better for you." It's standard communication among some people. ("Should we leave the concert now? I'm having fun and all, but you look really sick! Let's get you home, no?")

By the time you wrote a long email about the circumstances, things had definitely crossed the line toward "lost cause, bad idea." It seemed like you'd fallen into a pattern with A where he played the victim in passive-aggressive ways and, in your earnestness, you kinda almost let yourself get played. At least, you wasted time trying to be understood by someone who wasn't going to try to understand you. This could get you into other trouble, btw, might watch out for the power other people have over you just by accusing you of hurting them or doing the wrong thing. Good for you for saying "no, actually, I don't think I want to anymore."

The comments about you seeming like a drag must come from someone who lives in some magical happy land, but don't worry, there are plenty of us here in earnest overthinkers-land. I found someone who communicates in that language and it's awesome, and I'm sure you can find someone who understands you or even communicates similarly, if it continues to be easiest for you.
posted by salvia at 9:22 AM on July 21, 2010


I'm sorry, Anon. Though it's generally true that I do live in a magical happy land, I'd happened to have a maddening week full of people putting me off and otherwise disrespecting my time. I took my anger out on B knowing full well that B might very easily be you. That was wholly uncool of me.
posted by sculpin at 5:11 PM on July 23, 2010


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