I'm really tired of not wanting to date anyone.
December 7, 2010 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Once upon a time, I had fun dating. After a string of spectacularly bad luck, I dread the idea of going out with anyone, because I "know" it'll be awful. Help me get my optimism back and look forward to meeting and dating.

A year or so ago, I had a series of really, really awful dates. The details are immaterial and irrelevant, but I spent nearly six months without anything that was even remotely successful or positive or fun. Nothing, I should note, that's outside the realm of normal I-had-a-bad-date experience - nothing I haven't encountered in the past. But it all came at once, for months at a time, without anything decent to interrupt it. Since then, I've stopped asking anyone out, I've stopped using dating sites, stopped doing pretty much anything that would lead to dates, because I dread the entire idea.

Well, it's been six months, and I'm sick of it. I really want to fire up the dating sites that used to give me fun people to at least meet, sometimes be friends with, sometimes more; I want to go out and have a good time again. But I don't, because all of my halfway recent experiences have been so unpleasant, and when I think about actually trying to find a date, that's all I can think about. And almost none of the unpleasantness was anything I could foresee - I really had no clue that girl was going to be incredibly racist; I couldn't predict that other one was going to stand me up; etc. So when the time comes to say "hey, so, we've been talking about Indian food for the past half-hour - want to grab some this weekend?" I don't bother, because I don't want to endure Yet Another Awful Date.

So my question is this: What do I do now? How do I get myself back into the fun-having, optimistic mindset I had before, so I can enjoy being single - at least enough to find someone to be not-single with? I don't need a 'break' from dating - I've had one for far too long. I don't need more ways to meet women. What I need is the ability to actually express interest, ask someone out, and have some confidence that it'll at least be halfway enjoyable, instead of assuming it'll just suck.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe you need to update your profile to weed out racists and flakes. Could you add any information to your profile that would help narrow your playing field to the people you have more in common with?

I'm not in the dating market at present, but I have browsed some of the sites before. I noticed a lot of negativity expressed by some of the men on OKCupid. For example, the first thing in their profile would be something they hate, or what they don't want in a woman, rather than what they like, or do want. I would imagine this attracts negative people to them.

If you were to state (for example, since I don't really know you) that you were looking for a liberal/progressive woman, this would tend to weed out racists (and no, I'm not saying all conservatives are racist). If you were to say you were looking for a sincere person, this might be more effective than off-putting language like "I'm sick of drama queens and gold-diggers" which I've run across on more than one profile. I know if I were looking for a guy, I would stay away from someone who said that, because I would think they were probably on the defensive and carrying a lot of baggage from previous relationships.

Have you specifically stated your interests on your profile? Your religious or non-religious views? Your educational level? The more specific information you can provide, and the more your personality comes across, the more likely you are to attract women you can relate to. And knowing you've presented yourself accurately will lead to increased confidence for you.

You can also boost your confidence by acting "as if." As if you already know you're an awesome catch and that eventually you'll really click with someone. It may not be this woman, it may not be that woman, but every bad date you have is one step closer to the next date you'll actually like.
posted by xenophile at 10:42 AM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think, given your recent experiences, that you should avoid online dating for a while. Instead, try to join a group activity that's centered around something you like, and make sure that you go to any parties where the only person you will know is the host. That way, you can meet women, have a conversation with them, establish a baseline of chemistry/attraction, and then ask them out on dates. You will then be less likely to be stood up or be unpleasantly surprised. Your bad experiences are part of the deal when you're going on a lot of blind dates (and all internet dates are blind; it doesn't matter how many times you've emailed a person). So stop going on blind dates - you will be more optimistic once you realize that the problem you've been having isn't so much a part of dating in general (at least to such an extent) as it is to the kind of dating you were trying to do. Good luck!
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:43 AM on December 7, 2010

Could you hedge yourself a bit on the downside-- that is, try to create some positive consequences for yourself even if the next one turns out to be a "bad date"?

What if you made a $20 bet with a friend that your next date would be worse than the one that came before? Or started a blog or journal ruefully detailing your misadventures? Or made a deal with yourself that once you realize she's not a keeper, the entirety of your conversational energies for the rest of the evening must be devoted to getting her to say the word "watermelon"? Or made a deal with yourself that when you amass a total of 10 unquestionably bad dates you get to take a special vacation or buy that ipad or whatever?

Honestly, with social interactions, unless there's actual battery or B.O. involved, the difference between "unpleasant" and "weirdly enjoyable" is often really dependent on the framing. You're always going to have a few bad dates here and there, but if you can add an element of fun even to the unfortunate ones, it might cut down a bit on the gun-shyness in the future.
posted by Bardolph at 10:47 AM on December 7, 2010 [8 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
I should note that I've had multiple trustworthy people look over my online dating profile, and there's nothing in it that's raised anyone's red flags; the bad dates have also come from people I've met through friends, at hobby-related gatherings, and other real-life areas, and not just from the Internet.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:54 AM on December 7, 2010

Maybe the 'problem' lies in yourself? I don't know how you look, but there is always work that can be done on improving your image, and thus make yourself more desirable to a wider audience of people and not just the randoms.

As far as online dating goes, why don't you talk to these girls on the phone before meeting them and having a bad date? I don't know how it works, but that could avoid some headaches.
posted by darkgroove at 11:00 AM on December 7, 2010

Perhaps you should just stop dating. Seriously. Stop going out on dates. Stop trying to go out on dates. Instead, hang out with your friends; go to parties; get some hobbies, take some classes; and then, when you meet someone and realize you have fun with them and would like to spend more time with them, you can -- and you don't have to stress about it being awful, because you already know them and know you want to spend time with them.

In short: don't date to see if a person is awful; find some non-awful people, then date them.
posted by davejay at 11:04 AM on December 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Break the patterns of negative self-talk. Feeling Good is the easiest-to-find self-help book about teaching yourself these techniques.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:06 AM on December 7, 2010

I'm in a kind of similar boat, and I'm pretty burned out on online dating. I like the IDEA of it, for the opportunity to get all kind of specialized information on the table before taking the time to meet. But I've found that it actually just drains me more and is MORE of a let-down when I meet a new guy and he's boring/jerky/rude/not-as-advertised.

My solution has been to stop with the online dating. This means I go on far fewer dates, but the ones I do go on are more enjoyable, even if nothing more comes of them. Far fewer dates, truly. I've gone on dates with friends of friends, which is, I'm convinced the way I'm going to find my next big relationship, eventually. And I've also gone on dates with a few strangers who I met in social settings and gave my number to after enjoying a casual conversation while waiting for friends to join me.

This means I don't know going into it that we're into the same sorts of things, but we DO know we have the personality click to enjoy a conversation, which counterintuitively (to me) seems to be more important.
posted by rosa at 11:31 AM on December 7, 2010

The last two relationships I've been in came when I met people unexpectedly. I was actually in the process of moving out from my marital abode, post-separation, on the day a friend told me to come out to a hockey game. I showed up in my grubbies, cursed and yelled and insulted people's state of origin (stupid Gophers...) and only realized at the end that the guy whose second ticket I'd taken was asking me Those Kinds of Questions, like where I was from and what I did in my spare time. You know what? I had a great time. The second date was much more nerve-wracking, but who cared? I'd already "been myself" without worrying if I was presenting a specific date-night version or whatever.

You kind of have to hire your friends to be yentas for you. Maybe they shouldn't tell you that they're bringing said people as potential dates for you, either. Just get in a nice group situation where you know enough about the others to have something to talk about ("Oh, how did you meet Phil?" "He was in my math class in high school; what about you?") and keep it up.

Online dating never held any thrill for me. The people I met weren't shockingly different than their profile, per se, but there was so much more to them than I could have guessed. And maybe that's a plus for online dating, but in any case it reminded me that I'm probably not seeing the ones who would make great partners for me... and they're not seeing me in the same way, either.
posted by Madamina at 12:08 PM on December 7, 2010

It's not you, it's them. I'm experiencing the same thing, but I figure it's best to keep forging ahead. Think of all the funny stories you're getting! And at least you're getting out of the house! You can't really weed out all bad dates. Some are just going to slip through.

Ultimately, you just have to force yourself to keep a bright outlook and not let it get you down. The only alternative is not dating at all, which is a lot worse.
posted by loriginedumonde at 1:29 PM on December 7, 2010

This seems like a matter of statistical probability more than anything. You had a bad run. Our brains are unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) wired to assume that future experiences will resemble past experiences. In reality, so long as there is nothing exceptionally weird about your profile as you say, and so long as you're not ignoring obvious red flags (as you also say you're not), then you're statistically due for a streak of good luck.

There really is no way around this situation other than to saddle up and start dating again. Somewhere in Act 4 of this episode of TAL, a salesman gives the advice that a REALLY good salesman only makes about 10% of his sales. A salesman who plays it safe makes 100% of his sales, but they're known quantities... no risk. The 10% theory says that if you aim really high, out of your league, for the Big Sale, then you will fail 90% of the time, but that 10% where you win, well, you win BIG.

As a psychological strategy (which I would need) however, just assume that all the women you're going to date are crazy ass-hats and you're just collecting sociological data for a really cool blog called "Dater Rant" or something.
posted by madred at 2:50 PM on December 7, 2010

The worst summer of my life (dating-wise) was when I was on Match.com and trying to get my money's worth, so I went out with just about anyone who asked. I learned a lot about dating that summer, and got a lot of hilarious (now) bad date stories. But the major thing I learned was that you have to be selective. I've found that the people who say they have a lot of bad dates are the ones who are applying the same strategy as I did that summer. It's totally OK to not go out with everyone you communicate with. Screening is the major strength of online dating, so use it.

My strategy for online dating now is to only contact/reply to the people who are appealing in multiple aspects. I don't feel bad for crossing someone off the list for having one thing in their profile that I don't find attractive (such as smoking, doesn't like cats, Wes Anderson films as their favorite movies). There are hundreds of other people out there. Once I've decided to communicate with someone, I generally try to get them on IM or have a few emails, but nothing extended. I like IM better because you can get a feel for how they treat a real conversation, and it also provides a better venue to sniff out weird attitudes or social awkwardness. And then I make arrangements to meet as soon as possible, usually something low-commitment like a walk or a drink.

Here's what happens 3 out of 4 times: talking online goes well, I meet them, and there's no spark. Maybe they don't look like their pictures. Maybe they're kind of weird. But it's an hour of my life, maybe 2 at most, and afterwards I move on. To some people, that's a dating disaster. Maybe this is the kind of thing you've experienced in the past. But it happens, and really, you just have to let it roll off your back.

Here's what happens 1 out of 4 times (on average): we click. Drinks or a walk turns into dinner, and maybe that turns into another dinner later, and before you know it, we're dating. Sometimes it moves into relationship territory, sometimes you just go your separate ways after a couple of months. Either way, it's definitely no disaster, and then I dive right back to where I was and search again.

Anyway, the tl;dr here is: be more selective. Learn the red flags and pay attention to them. And assess whether your "awful dates" are really that awful or just lack of chemistry. If it's the latter, relax, it happens. Nobody said you had to be compatible with the entire world.
posted by Fuego at 3:43 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Crash a wedding, not the reception just the nuptials. Or if you can't do that then read the wedding and engagement announcements. It's okay if you're not looking for marriage currently. You just need to know that real people find love every single day. That's inspiring. Sure, there are lots of bad dates in the world. You just need to have one date work out for you and your partner.

It's possible that you're just not ready to get back to dating, but seeing real life love is good for us.
posted by 26.2 at 4:23 PM on December 7, 2010

In my experience, it seems like good stuff always happens right after you were ready to give up but pushed through anyway. Give or take six months.

A couple silly metaphors: first dates are like an evil slot machine that is programmed to pay out just often enough to keep you coming back for more. The payout is sometimes a new best friend, which is pretty rad. Or oxytocin, which isn't shabby, either.

One way to trick the Universe into rebooting your luck is to avoid the Wile E. Coyote strategy of doing the same thing over and over again. Order your rocket boots from someone other than ACME for a change. Chase a quail instead of a roadrunner. Take a trip away from the deserts of the Southwest and visit your buddy Ralph. Try vegetarianism and start a farm. (Or meet people elsewhere, switch up your banter and try dating different types of women than you're used to)

Funny story, the OK Cupid slot machine introduced me to a very sweet woman recently after a long spate of no chemistry dates. Ya know, at the most inopportune, drama potential time: the holidays. That's how it always seems to work, but no matter how the chips fall it has been a nice reminder that dating can be worthwhile.

I also think like attracts like, or at least, the messages and attitudes that we put out in the world matter. When I wasn't looking seriously, I attracted a lot of similarly flakey people. When I was still caught up on my ex, I attracted a lot of people who were still caught up on their exes. I'm no dummy, I certainly was not talking about exes on first dates, but I hadn't done the self-work to get past it yet and it affected how I presented myself.
posted by Skwirl at 6:57 PM on December 7, 2010

Hang in there. I met my (delightful!) boyfriend online, but not before several years of good, bad & indifferent dates. Like you, I'd cycle between optimism and frustration. Here are some of the things I told myself when I was frustrated:

* You don't need to find a treasure trove of fantastic people. You only need to find one fantastic person. And you could find them in a totally unlikely place, for example wherever you found all these very unpleasant people.

* Your odds of finding a great person on a given dating site, or at your friend's party, or at a particular bar may not be that high. But they're 100% better than your odds of meeting someone when you're sitting on your couch watching Law & Order reruns.

* Sometimes, when dating really gets you down, you have to take a break: get some downtime, hang out with friends, etc. It sounds like you've been doing that for 6 months, and now you're thinking about getting back on the horse. So get back on the horse!

I agree with xenophile's suggestions. You probably don't have any "red flags" in your profile (especially since you've taken the trouble to run them by friends), but there still may be ways to skew it farther away from negative types. Also, maybe it's worth it to look back at some of the really bad dates: revisit their profiles, reread their emails to you, and see if there were signs that you missed at the time, but that seem clearer in retrospect. This is likely to be unpleasant, and not an optimism-inducing exercise, so tread with care. But if you live in any sort of large metropolitan area, there are often so many people online or that you encounter in a day, that the biggest task is filtering out the not-for-me people, so you still have energy left when you chance upon the great people.

Finally, do you have any sort of wingman/wingwoman? It could be any supportive friend, but if it's someone else who's single and dating, all the better. If they're on the same dating sites as you, you can run profiles of prospective dates by them, and best of all, when you have a horrible date, you get the consolation prize of thinking what an appalling (and sometimes funny) story it will make when you tell your friend the next day.
posted by pompelmo at 9:06 PM on December 7, 2010

One more thought: if the date is that bad, leave. Be polite, but there's no need for a first date to last more than an hour. You can always have some place you need to be or someone you're meeting later (no need to give details). You can talk to anyone for an hour; even if you're not attracted to them, even if they're a jerk, it's an opportunity to understand how someone else sees the world.

If you schedule the date in a cool part of town that you don't get to visit often, then when you leave you can take the chance to stop by that bookstore you've been meaning to check out, or window shop, or take yourself out for ice cream. In other words, do something out of your routine that can help you feel like the evening wasn't a total wash.
posted by pompelmo at 9:15 PM on December 7, 2010

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