Dating without the bullshit?
October 15, 2011 11:31 AM   Subscribe

I enjoy going on dates. I do not enjoy navigating a thicket of doublespeak and bullshit in order to figure out what's next. Is there any way around this?

Why, oh why, must dating come with so much bullshit?

Background. I'm not all that attractive -- a 5, maybe a 6 on a good day -- so I don't really have many dating options to throw around. I also just moved and only know professional colleagues who are off-limits for not-fucking-up-my-career reasons, so I usually only go on online dates. I mean, I could go to bars, but see the beginning of this paragraph.

The date part's fine. We have conversation over coffee/drinks/dinner/whatever the hell. But then the conversation and night ends, and I turn into a wreck trying to figure out whether they like me or not. Sometimes this turns into me sleeping with the guy just to buy some more time and settle the question of whether he's attracted. This generally doesn't help. Sometimes it turns into texting and not receiving a response, or asking about a second date and receiving obvious, trivially refutable lies in response. I know they're lies, but I don't say anything, so he thinks I'm some dumb slut who's been duped. And no matter what happens, it turns into my trying to microanalyze every word and inflection and gesture, because everything I've read about dating (and experienced in real life) attaches so many hidden meanings to saying, say, "it was fun" or sentences that should be straightforward if everyone would just cool it with the bullshit.

Am I doing something wrong, or is it always like that? Why can't it be acceptable to immediately kill the anxiety for both parties and, at the end of anything, say "not interested," "interested," or "I'll think about it but will make a decision either way and tell you on X day"? In those terms, with no euphemisms? Or is it only acceptable to do things that way if you're more of a catch and can expect plenty of future dates if you fuck the current one up? It's to the point where I feel sick every time I come home because I don't know where I stand, or to where I'll be silent for five minutes because there's no easy way to say things like "You're going to disappear after this, and I'll never see you again. Isn't that right?" or "I really like you and want to see you again. Do you agree?"

Sorry for being so long-winded and beanplatey; you can probably read between the lines and sense that I just got home this morning. I'd Google it, but dating advice you get from Google is on a par with dating advice you get from an ogre; I've read old threads but none quite get at this.
posted by dekathelon to Human Relations (43 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
and I turn into a wreck trying to figure out whether they like me or not.

I think this is the thing you should be looking into. Throughout your post, I'm really not seeing much "bullshit." Instead, what I see is you growing anxious and then judging yourself as Doing The Wrong Thing no matter what you do. (Have your dates actually called you a "dumb slut who's been duped?" That sounds, to me, like how you are judging yourself, not how others are.)

In other words, I think the real answer is that you don't really need to find the secret key to finding out if guys like you. Instead, you need to like you. You need to like yourself enough so that you're not a nervous wreck about how the guy you've just started seeing thinks about you, so that you can enjoy the process of becoming sexually active with a guy, so that you can just live and date and have fun without thinking about yourself as some sort of "slut" or "dupe" or whatever.

You're not insane. You're not a bad person. You're not a slut. But you sound unhappy, and I don't think you'll enjoy dating until you find a way to be happy with yourself. Therapy could help.
posted by meese at 12:00 PM on October 15, 2011 [20 favorites]

That's a tough one. I feel like a good date is one where you can actually be honest. In the past I've said, genuinely, "Listen, I really like you, and I hope we can go out again." If the other person likes you they will probably respond with something like "yeah, me too. I'll call/email/text soon". And yeah, it might be a lie, but you put your cards on the table and that's really all you can do. Just say how you feel and see if they ask you out again. If they don't, then they don't, and you wouldn't want to be with them anyway. If they do, then you've maybe started something good with someone that you might be able to trust.
posted by greta simone at 12:01 PM on October 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

"You're going to disappear after this, and I'll never see you again. Isn't that right?" -- This will cut you off from any sort of positive response. It makes you come off as a needy, possessive, and bitter person, and no one wants that. Plus it'll look like low self esteem, which is like catnip to assholes; anyone who does make a date after such a display, you really don't want.

"I really like you and want to see you again. Do you agree?" -- This is perfectly fine! Indeed, it's ideal. A lot of the time, when a guy says he might call, and he never does, it's not because he doesn't like you, but rather because he is unsure of your feelings about him. Being upfront about that will smooth things over tremendously.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:02 PM on October 15, 2011 [14 favorites]

I think it's mainly because human interactions are almost always awkward to some degree - especially when it comes to dating! I don't know how I rank on the 10 scale, but I don't think that ranking makes it any less awkward - the opposite of the person never calling or texting back is the person who keeps calling and texting and can't take a hint - I've been on both sides and neither is fun.

I have been on several dates where at the end I felt like I would go on a second date, and then I got home and thought about it for a bit and realized I didn't want to. These are usually online dates because I have to process meeting the new person and I can't do that while I'm still with them.

Unless the guy was a complete asshole and made me angry on the date, there is no way I would have the guts to just say "nope, not interested!" to his face. I am cringing right now just thinking about saying it to someone. I can see how it would be preferable to just lay it out there, and I would prefer brutal honesty myself, but it ain't gonna happen.

To be honest, I think I would lose interest immediately if a guy said "I'm going to think about it and tell you on X day whether or not I want to see you again" - that actually might trigger my 'asshole' reflex noted above...

I guess humans haven't evolved enough to not be able to cushion our social interactions a bit.
posted by fromageball at 12:03 PM on October 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

My most recent date ended with a kiss and, "I really want to see you again soon." "Hey, I was going to say that. You stole my line!" Clarity is lovely.

This whole concept is very related to something I've been working on a lot this past year, which is asking directly for what I want. It's fairly terrifying and awkward the first few times, but it gets easier each time. Instead of thinking why won't friend X give me a hug? Man, I could really use a hug, I just ask, "Hey, would you come here and give me a hug?" Sometimes, people say no, and that's OK too. But they can't give you what you need unless you make it clear what you need.

Ultimately, I think where I'm trying to go with this is: Make your feelings clear at the end of a date. It's what you want from them, honesty and clarity, so give them exactly that.
posted by mollymayhem at 12:05 PM on October 15, 2011 [14 favorites]

Because it takes time to figure things out and human relationships are complicated. If I go to a party, I know if I'm having fun, but it's only in the morning that I go "Wow, I had a really good time, I saw all those cool people, the food was spectacular, that was a good time!" Even at a casual thing, it takes some time to process whether that cool person I met at the party is someone I'd want to hang out with again, and that's without getting into the complications of dating.

Also keep in mind that the guys are just as tied up in knots about all the melodrama of dating as you are. They're not doing it intentionally to persecute you, but while you're worrying about what it means when he says X and gets up to go to the bathroom halfway through, he's worrying about what it means when you look at him like that and when the silence gets kind of long and awkward.

What are your expectations going in? Maybe just go out for the purpose of meeting someone new and having a good time rather than expecting them to like you and want to do it again and all this other mental baggage?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:11 PM on October 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

This is the best method I've observed for cutting through the bs, and getting at whether or not someone's actually interested in you.

At the end of the date, you say, "That was fun. I'd like to do it again. Send me an email (or text, or whatever) next week if you'd like to get together again."

Email=interested. Silence=not interested. Because, if they don't care enough to send you an email to schedule something, they were eventually going to stop responding to your texts anyways.

As to why there's such bs, it's because rejecting people is awkward and uncomfortable, no matter who you are or why you're doing it. I was just talking to a male friend who told me about taking a girl home and sleeping with her, even though he was completely uninterested, because it seemed easier than rejecting her. That's who you're dealing with, who have ridiculous amounts of trouble just expressing what they want, not players who are secretly laughing at you behind your back. They're giving you dumb lies because they really want to avoid having to say "actually, I'm not that interested", not because they think these lies actually fool you.

Finally, I'd suggest that you don't say anything about whether or not *you* are interested in a second date. If you treat second dates like affirmations of your worthwhileness, that's really going to ratchet up the stress and anxiety of dating. But it's not about him finding you attractive's about finding a mutual fit. And whether or not there's a fit has to do with so much more than your looks or anything you can control.

My suggestion would be, at the end of a date, ask yourself, "do I want to spend every Friday night for the next six months with this person?" If that thought doesn't excite you, you don't want a second date. Cross him off your list and move on.
posted by psycheslamp at 12:11 PM on October 15, 2011 [30 favorites]

I think what you're dealing with is the type of anxiety and self doubt many women face whilst navigating the dating world, no matter how attractive they think they are or how many dates they've been on. Trust me on that one - no one is immune to that feeling!

The key to letting it go is to realize that the only person you have control over is you! I know it sounds cliche, but hear me out. You say you microanalyze what a guy says and how he says goodbye at the end of the date. Who's issue is that? Yours! Don't drive yourself nuts reading hidden meanings into stuff when a) there's probably no deeper meaning to be found and b) the ball is in his court, so you worrying about what he thinks of you does nothing to change the situation.

Secondly, drop the attitude about you not having options because there's something less desirable about you. If I met a guy who even hinted he viewed himself that way, I'd be instantly turned off, and start to wonder what's wrong with him. You are a catch, lady! None of that "I'm only a 5" nonsense. Confidence in yourself is at least half the battle in the game of attraction. Straighten up, look men in the eye, and flash them a dazzling smile that says "I'm awesome and happy with myself and you'd be lucky to get to know me, mister!" If a guy doesn't want to take you out again, it's his loss. A guy not following up with you should be a turn off to you. You're too good to be chasing down guys who don''t want what you're offering. You're not desperate - you do have options, and you must starting thinking this way to make it a reality.

Finally, you gotta realize that you don't really know a guy after one date. He might talk a big game, but that doesn't mean crap until he proves it to you through his actions over time. Who cares if he disappears and you never see him again? You hardly know anything about him after a few hours of conversation! There's a reason why these guys don't call you again which likely has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. You're dodging bullets and not wasting your time with losers by leaving the arrangement of the second date up to the guys. It saves you heartbreak in the long run and keeps you worry-free in the short term to relinquish control. Don't seek reassurance from anyone but yourself. You have all the validation you need from inside of you, and your wonderful full life outside of the dating world. You must embrace YOU in all your flawed glory to get out of this funk.

My advice is this: Nix the texting. Texting = death for those of us prone to overanalyzing due to the lag time and lack of emotional overtones. When you get home, try your hardest not to think about the date you just had. Immediately plunge into some activity you find rewarding and fulfilling. Turn off your phone for a couple hours and try not to rehash anything that went down that night. Have a conversation with a trusted girlfriend who will get you laughing and feeling good about yourself. Second word of advice is to not emotionally invest in a guy straight off the bat. You don't have to try too hard to convince anyone that you're worth getting to know - you're not a salesperson. Don't tell him your life story and DON'T sleep with him on a first date. Sleeping with a guy straight off the bat can be an instant attraction killer - live by that rule until you get a better handle on your emotions. It usually crushes feelings of attraction since a guy realizes you don't even value yourself, so why should he value you? Leave a man wanting more. If you give off that vibe of security and confidence without revealing too much about yourself right away, he'll be intrigued. The good things in life don't come easy, right? Adopt this simplistic, stress-free attitude and chill out, woman. Chill. Out. There are ~3 billion men in the world and one of 'em will be crazy about you.
posted by sunnychef88 at 12:15 PM on October 15, 2011 [10 favorites]

Some people (such as yourself) prefer to ditch the bullshit, others will incorporate your preference into the bullshit. So keep being yourself - but a less anxious self.

A part of the bullshit is jockeying to avoid being the one who wants the other more, because some people will take an upper hand if given it, or will assume that if someone is really into them from the start, then that means they can probably do better. It's understandable if you've been hurt a few times, but I don't think it's really all that helpful.

You don't say how old you are. Younger daters seem to have more bullshit because they're either not very good at communicating, or aren't as comfortable being upfront about what they want. Older daters seem to have a higher chance of being bitter and twisted, but when not that way, seem to have much less interest in bullshit.

And a lot of the bullshit isn't bullshit, it's just a large dragnet - there are a lot of red-flags that people look out for, which can be falsly tripped by innocuous things, but to many people losing the false positives might be a price worth paying for filtering out the redflags. I think a lot of the "don't do X" dating advice is along these lines - avoiding things that aren't bad, but which may come across as similar to behaviours that are clues to bad things. Then everyone gets so hung up on these rules that they become their own source of bullshit.

But there are people out there who don't mind ditching the bullshit. Don't make it a Big Thing, just be decent :)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:18 PM on October 15, 2011

Some people are cowards. Some people think they want to see you again, and then the more they think about it, for whatever combination of reasons, they change their mind. The key here, as others have said, is working on your anxiety and realizing that you are a catch (and you are, for lots of people). But no one (save for Sheldon on Big Bang Theory, maybe?) is ever going to say, "I had a nice time and I will think about whether I want to see you again and let you know in four days." Many people will respond to that by thinking the person is a dick or, at least, losing interest, because as you're making very clear, people want to be wanted.

Short answer: some of this is managing yourself, and some of this is just an unavoidable part of dating. It would be a good idea to sleep with guys because you like them and want to, though, and not because you think you need to in order to stay in the running to find out whether they like you. No one worth a damn is going to have an otherwise great time with you but decide not to see you again if you don't sleep with him on a first or second date.
posted by J. Wilson at 12:34 PM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just want to say, based on my observations (which I realize are not science), that very attractive people have all of these problems when dating. I have super sexy friends who are in constant demands and when they are dating it's WHY HASN'T HE RETURNED MY TEXT, HOW MANY DAYS DO I WAIT BEFORE I KNOW HE'S NOT INTERESTED, WHAT DOES A WINKING EMOTICON MEAN??????

Your looks are not causing people to treat you badly. I'd venture that nothing you are doing is the problem. The problem is that dating sucks.
posted by prefpara at 12:43 PM on October 15, 2011 [13 favorites]

There is dishonesty and there is tact, and you are conflating the two. As others have noted, bluntness has its own set of connotations which are a turnoff in many social settings, let alone one as sensitive as dating. As much as you may think you want bluntness, you probably don't, and most people certainly don't.

Next thing: if you think you're a five, then assuming you're right you have a lot of dating options because most people, including most guys, are around the five mark. And you can always ratchet that up with better self-presentation.

However the basic problem seems to be your low self-regard, which shows when you sleep with a guy you don't like to buy time? And figure out if he likes you? In a way, you are rejecting yourself and using these guys to do it, and nobody likes to feel used. Even guys and even when there is sex involved!

But your question was about reading signals. Anyone feels frustrated in emotionally charged situations that they don't know how to make sense of. Maybe treat it like learning another language. There's a book called "Superflirt" which I haven't read but which might meet your needs for figuring out if somebody likes you.
posted by tel3path at 1:03 PM on October 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

I've usually been on your side of the fence: "does he like me? will he see me again? is he going to call/email? maybe he called emailed in the last 5 minutes, i should check!!!"

But sometimes I've been the recipient of very straightforward "I really really like you and really really want to see you again soon!" and that freaks me out. I can't even figure out whether I like them or not.

So I'm trying to be patient with my dates, not expect too much, and love my life as it is. I'm well into my 30s and I keep making peace with the fact that I might not ever get married or even have a long term relationship. I want those things, but my life is still amazing and worth having if they never happen for me.

Good luck to you, it's definitely a jungle out there. Be good to yourself.
posted by bunderful at 1:06 PM on October 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Wow, so many responses so soon. Clearing up some stuff:

I'm 23. So are they, give or take a few years. Cue laughter now from the older people. And yeah, I'm a really anxious person in general, not just around dating. I've been to therapy for it, which helped a little. But I don't have a reliable salary or health insurance now (o, freelancing), so that isn't feasible at the moment. As far as not being the most attractive -- well, I'm not. I'm not ugly, but I'm not particularly good-looking either. Their assessment counts, not mine, and I prefer to be realistic about things.

That goes for everything. I cannot stand bullshit outside dating, too (flakiness, interviewing, etc.) but I feel like it's more institutionalized here. As far as sleeping with people, I'm not opposed to it at all but know that others don't necessarily feel the same. It's less that I don't want to and more that I don't want to have it ruin things for me.

And lastly, so I'm clear: I'd never, ever, EVER say something like "this is the last time I'll see you, isn't it?" out loud, to anyone -- holy shit, that'd be horrible. I certainly have thought it, though, and when I have it's usually been correct. Again, I'd rather be cynical and right than naive and wrong.

Thanks again. All this is kind of embarrassing to admit.
posted by dekathelon at 1:23 PM on October 15, 2011

There is nothing embarrassing in what you have said. It's okay if you feel embarrassed, of course, but you do not have to.

One thing that may help you is if, once that panicky "Does he like me!?" feeling settles in, stop yourself and actively focus on a different question: "Do I like him?" Maybe even sit down with paper and pen and write out the answer to that one. Focus on the details you like, the details you don't. Don't let it devolve into anything like, "I like him because I think he likes me." Don't let it involve anything like, "I like him so much I will just die if he doesn't want to see me again." And if ever you find yourself saying something like, "I guess I didn't like him, but I'd love for him to show interest in me," erase that line and start over.

Give yourself a chance to notice and care about your emotions and feelings, rather than his. Put yourself in the position of observer, carer, rather than one-observed, one-who-needs-caring. The point isn't to give yourself the chance to judge this person, but instead to give yourself a chance to think about and care about that incredibly important part of you, your emotions. Like someone else said, all you can control are your own emotions, and so it may help you to actively focus on those.
posted by meese at 1:40 PM on October 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

First of all, you've pre-emptively accused me, as an older person, of laughing at you. I object to this not because it offends me, but because you're ignoring us: nothing I or anyone has said here suggests that we would laugh at you. Do you have the same low opinion of us as you do of the bullshitters you date? I doubt it, because it's all about you and all the reasons why you're unattractive and your life's a mess. You're seeing a hall of mirrors which is reflecting your own anxiety and self-loathing back at you. It's essential that you try to pay more attention to what's in front of you.

p.s. Did that seem like another grandiose, meaningless waffle from yet another person who doesn't understand? When I was 23 I wouldn't have taken in a word of this post either.
posted by tel3path at 1:40 PM on October 15, 2011

I didn't mean the laughing thing seriously. Around the parts of the Internet I frequent, there's a joke about once a day about The Youngs vs. The Olds or whatnot. I guess I just meant it as "I know I'm ridiculously young and shouldn't take this so seriously."
posted by dekathelon at 1:53 PM on October 15, 2011

Some guys probably are feeding you bullshit. You might grow to recognize it, for example, when their actions don't match their words. Realize that they're doing so and move on in your own mind. If you're out with too many of these guys, yeah, you might be doing something wrong.

But feelings can be in flux and complicated, and that's how dating is, and it seems like you're not getting that. It's not bullshit; it's part of being human. And really, in regard to both problems it seems like your anxiety and low opinion of your own worth is the driving problem. People are people, whether a 5 or a 6 or a 10, and everyone has options.
posted by J. Wilson at 1:55 PM on October 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Maybe part of your anxiety comes from that weird place where they're interested if you're interested and you're interested if they're interested but neither of you is interested otherwise. I HATE that place, and it's rampant in dating. The more equally insecure the two daters, the more it happens. And it's NOT the same as the place where you're both interested but too afraid to say anything. It's totally different, but a lot of people confuse the two.

And to drag gender into it, as a woman, it feels really bad to be on the recieving end of that attitude. It's like the guy will take what you're interested in offering, and then just stop and look at you like "Okay, so what next? How much do you like me?" That's where you get into the sex that you end up regretting. It's a bad road to go down.

Learning to recognize and name that place helps. I like to call it a "draw." The truth is, there isn't always win and lose in the game of love, there's a lot of "stalemate."

One approach is to fully convince yourself that the date is the first and last date you'll ever go on. The date is the focus- the actual activity, the fun, the thing you're looking at outside of the two of you. More often than not, looking together at that third thing, the fun, makes you into more of a team and can mean you get a "win" out of the experience even if there's no clear lines of yes or no with the guy himself. Just enjoy, thank him for a nice time, and maybe suggest that you'd enjoy another fun date without bringing your feelings for each other into it just yet.
posted by Nixy at 1:56 PM on October 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

So you were communicating meaning you didn't intend. We're uncovering something here.

From my point of view, it felt like you were taking our "love" (in the form of advice) and kind of throwing it back in our faces as it were. Anxiety will do that to you.

Your anxiety is all over your thinking and self-presentation like kudzu. I would encourage you to take a step back and try to figure out some way of getting treatment as your top priority. I can also personally attest that improving your lifeskills reduces anxiety by quite a lot; the reason why older people are less anxious is largely because *we've done this before*.

I would also like you to know, just as a data point, that I have substantial evidence that I'm a 9 and you have probably had more dates than I have had in a lifetime.
posted by tel3path at 2:14 PM on October 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Their assessment counts, not mine, and I prefer to be realistic about things.

Well... yes, a little, but also no. You are the advertiser of your own product. From the way you describe things, it sounds like you don't like yourself very much, and you don't think anyone else will like you. And if you think that way, you're going to act that way, and others are going to see it.

Once you start seeing yourself as likeable and dateworthy, these random dudes' assessment won't matter as much. As they shouldn't, because they're just random dudes from the internet that you'll never see again if you don't want to! And when you stop placing so much weight on their opinion, you won't need do you like me? answers from them so urgently, and you won't get as fed up with the process. Because a lot of the things you're describing are just the messy awkward nature of dating, not bullshit that can be cut to reveal the true nature of how someone feels.

I wish I could give you concrete steps you could take to get from here to there. For me, it just took time and experience (and, okay, therapy). But it's possible to do and it will help you so much.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:24 PM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Again, I'd rather be cynical and right than naive and wrong.

Be careful with this. In my opinion, it's better to be carefree and hopeful and get let down, than assume the worst and be safe. In a lot of cases, the later hurts less, and is safer, but at the same time, it doesn't get you very far.

For example, if someone tells you they'll call, and you think it's a lie, and then they don't call, then that's that. But if you're hopeful, and they doesn't call, then maybe you try to get in touch. And maybe that doesn't go very well? Ouch. But relationship-wise you're still in the same boat as if they never called - but what if it does go well? The cynical you would never find out. The naive you might end up with a few more lacerations to your pride and self-esteem, but if you're strong enough to roll with those punches instead of get dragged down by them, you'll end up better off, because you're no-longer precluding yourself from payoffs, and sometimes the payoffs... pay off.

Also, when people are cynical about what you'll do, or why, that's a big turn-off. Even if they don't say anything, they still act on their interpretations of your motives. Being cynical about people is not something that you can easily hide.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:26 PM on October 15, 2011 [12 favorites]

Another thing I've picked up over the last year or so: men, especially young men (and women too, for fairness) can be seriously without clue. The last guy I dated talked about introducing me to his friends, going on weekends away, etc etc, and then just dropped off the map with no warning. He probably meant those things when he said them. I don't think he was bullshitting me. I just think that he got a little carried away and then later realized that oh, this isn't going to work. Or he met some other hottie. Who knows?

I had a debate with a younger male coworker where he admitted to doing this when trying to pick up women. He said he meant those things when he said them and if he did, then why would it be wrong to say them?

Someone can tell you where they stand, from the heart, and it can change.
posted by bunderful at 2:33 PM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

OP, I hear you. I have extremely little dating experience, but this comes up a lot just interacting with people in general (friends, coworkers, etc). I'm not good at reading nonverbal cues; I tend to be very candid and I hate playing games and trying to read the other person's mind. I also tend to be very concerned about whether the other person is having a good time, and will ask them about it if they seem to be not enjoying themselves. Some people find this honesty refreshing; others get freaked out.
posted by phoenix_rising at 2:47 PM on October 15, 2011

But sometimes I've been the recipient of very straightforward "I really really like you and really really want to see you again soon!" and that freaks me out. I can't even figure out whether I like them or not.

To be fair, the 4 'really's change the tone of that drastically.
posted by mannequito at 2:51 PM on October 15, 2011

I want to second harlequin's advice. I experience the most stress and anxiety when I am more interested in anticipating what's next (in love, in work, whatever) than when I free myself to just roll with it. It sounds cliche to say "live in the moment," but from personal experience, it works. I just stress myself out way too much when I try to be "cynical but right." it's impossible to be right, so you're setting yourself up for failure.

Best of luck to you. Dating sucks, but like you said- dates are fun. Enjoy.
posted by samthemander at 3:02 PM on October 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Dating does indeed come with bullshit. You cannot change it, you can only change your response to it. I feel like I've improved my own response, so here's what I've learned.

I think you'd feel better if you could approach the date with a little distance. Hold it lightly, not in a clenched fist of needing to know whether he likes you rightnowrightnowrightnow. Enjoy the conversation, something nice or funny he did, or a new author he introduced you to. Don't look so far ahead. Just focus on getting to know him and deciding for yourself if YOU like HIM. If sleeping with someone on the first date is adding to your anxiety (and it may be unnecessarily raising the stakes), then end the evening earlier.

I've had a few bullshit-free dates, and that has its own problems. I had a fun date with someone I wasn't sure about one way or the other and he announced at the end of the date that I wasn't weird or gross. (Wow, thanks.) Less than 24 hours later, he sent me a lengthy e-mail cataloging my strengths and weaknesses, ultimately concluding that although his mother would kill him for passing me up, he didn't want to go out with me again. Frankly, I would have preferred a little less certainty and information.
posted by *s at 3:23 PM on October 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a dude, and have had a very similar problem. My dates are generally fine, and not-infrequently better than fine, but I beat myself up over the follow-through (will she call me back? When should I call her? Will I look like a loser if I say I'm open all weekend? What did the hug and the "it was good to see you" at the end of the date really mean?).

I think the key thing is to...just not think about that stuff. Stop thinking about what that thing s/he said at the end of the night because, honestly, it could mean anything, and you just don't know. You don't know. You are not going to find out by thinking about it for hours. Maybe there are some people out there who have ESP-like abilities to see what other people are feeling and thinking but, for most of us, you don't know.

I've also adopted that attitude with asking for second and third dates, too. I used to exert a lot of energy thinking about when to call a date. Now, I ask about another date whenever the hell I feel like it (provided, of course, I want one): could be the day after, could be three days later, could be the night of the date. If I'm free all weekend, I say I'm free all weekend. If I had a really good time, I'll say that, too. And, if a woman calls me back a week later with some weird reason as to why she didn't get back to me sooner, I give her the benefit of the doubt because, well, why not? If she was lying, she won't get back to me, if she's a flake, I'll figure that out soon enough.

Actually, I think online dating is really great for this because it is incredibly easy to just meet someone else. If you feel like you can get a reasonable number of dates, then the marginal impact of each BS flake-out (which, let's face it, is all to common) declines substantially. You don't know why these guys are flaking on you, and you aren't going to know. Just forget it and move on to the next one.

P.S.: when initiating contact with dates, do not text message. I used to do this and it leads to call kinds of misunderstandings and overanalysis. Call. You can text to work out details on the day-of, maybe, but if you are reaching out for a potential second date, always, always, always call first.
posted by breakin' the law at 5:11 PM on October 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I often feel this way-- why can't we cut the bullshit-- and I think it's what *s says above-- because that cut would, well, cut people. So any non-assholes will err on the side of polite open-endedness, or what have you. To most people, the danger of knowledge outweighs its reassuring solidity. This tendency to bullshit others is also what is sometimes called 'politeness', 'courtesy', 'social graces', 'smoothness', etc. It's called 'smoothness' at its most extreme/fakey end, but I think it's always smoothness. The best smoothness is when one can't tell it's bullshit-- but the problem with dating scenarios is that it's very easy to tell because of the viewpoint where the date/call/date progression is a test you can pass or fail. With most social situations, the test is still there but is less obvious. People judge/discard you all the time, but you don't know because they're not in this artificial construct with you called a 'date'.

Basically this is one (among several) reasons I don't like dating and don't see myself doing it, and think that people who see they're unhappy doing it (this way) should stop doing it, and meet people in a more natural fashion, getting to know them, socializing, and building a natural real-world network of people. While this is is exhausting (at least for introverts) and seemingly antiquated in the age of the internet, I think it produces a more stress-free life once you achieve it. Besides which, I see no good reason to sleep with people if you're not genuinely enjoying it for itself but rather using it for other ends (as a test, etc).

Lastly, if you feel you're relatively unattractive, for whatever reason, it only makes sense to cultivate relationships where people judge you for your personality first-- that is, making friends and acquaintances based on commonalities who may want to date you (or not). Internet dating is more convenient than bar-hopping but still primarily visual, not to mention more pretentious and fake because it presumes to include personality assessment, when in reality it's very hard to get a true picture of someone after say, 2 hours chatting. More honest to just admit you like their ass and get in bed (or not).

I guess as someone who also prefers complete honesty at all times, I'd say look for geeks-- that is, this (normally considered) antisocial behavior of complete honesty is usually found in socially inept individuals of the male persuasion. If you can get them to talk at all, well, they're pretty likely to be honest. Whether or not this really is what you're looking for will probably surprise you, but it's just a question of looking in the right set of individuals. They may be honest, but of course the trade-off is that they're socially inept and may not be sensitive to your needs in many other areas, but as for myself, I can live with that just fine.
posted by reenka at 5:22 PM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow, you sound like you're anxious for the doctor to call you back about your test results, not one guy, out of a pool of a zillion, to ask you on another date. I'm not trying to be snarky, but this is your anxiety talking, there is no need to be so stressed about it. Right now, you're single, and I imagine you're managing your life OK, feeding yourself, etc. Let yourself picture the worst case scenario. No guy, ever, is going to want to be your boyfriend. What then? Sure, it's not ideal, but you'd probably carry on doing the fun things you do now, and continue to build strong friendships etc. There is nothing to really be afraid of. When you let go of the fear of WHAT THIS MEANS you'll be able to continue to enjoy dating... and not get so worked up about the end result/interactions on that path.
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet at 6:16 PM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

it was a bit weird reading this, because in some respects it could be me writing. (except for the going on dates bit, heh.) So this is more advice about the anxiety- I too suffer, and found that one appointment or a clump of about 3 over a few weeks would top me up and help me handle the anxiety again.
posted by titanium_geek at 8:25 PM on October 15, 2011

You sound perfectly normal to me. Human relationships are messy unpredictable things (that's part of their pleasure as well as their pain). It's like good jazz music - you know where you start and where you'd like to finish, but the part in between is all improvisation. Apart from accepting that, the only other advice I'd give is, be open - don't try to protect yourself too much; love yourself enough to take the chances of life; sure some will end up in pain, but pain's a good teacher (even if not much fun at the time), and some will end up in great happiness. Good Luck.
posted by nickji at 9:26 PM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

My advice in short form: during the early dating phase, your job is to figure out whether or not you like him.

That's all. You don't need to worry about what he thinks, until you know that you actually want to see him again, yourself. And that is so much more important. You see, a couple years ago, I spent a bunch of emotional energy trying to get the attention of one of my online dates- I really really wanted him to like me. I was so absorbed with trying to get him interested (and so bloody sick of dating), that I didn't bother to analyze what was in my own head: I wanted him to like me much more than I actually, you know, wanted him.

Dating sucks, I agree. And you can't control the behavior of others, you can only control your own. Also you can really only read your own mind, and even that is damn hard. So, figure out whether or not *you* want the guy. I really think that's hard enough to let you stress over that instead of over what he thinks.
posted by nat at 9:39 PM on October 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'm a guy who's online dated quite a bit. I've learned that my heart writes checks that my ass can't cash on the first date. If you ask me at the end of the date whether I want to get together again, I have trouble sorting out my, "WHEEEEEE! I'm on a date!" feelings (plus two drinks) from how I actually feel about the person I'm with. So I've learned to just say, "I'll email you." so I can sort through that when I'm in a calmer place. I usually figure it out within 24 hours and then message them either way. But I'm not 23 (or even 33) so I imagine a younger me would not handle it so gracefully.

Dating's hard. Cut yourself some slack and leave some extra for the guy at the opposite end of the table.
posted by the real deal at 10:08 PM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I thank part of the issue here is that you're coming off as both insecure (about your own looks and date-worthiness) and judgmental (about other people's social skills) at the same time.

It may help to go easier on both yourself and others. Assume that people are doing the best they can, even if to you it feels like doublespeaky bullshit. Allow for the possibility that at some point, you may be on the other end of things.

As far as looks - I get the desire to be 'realistic'. But in this particular case, I'm not really seeing how it's helping you to have a sense of your own ugliness. Looks are subjective, nobody's perfect, everybody's attracted to different things, and there's no need to preemptively reject yourself on someone else's behalf.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:28 AM on October 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Maybe-overly-simplistic advice: Take the 'd' word out of it. Tell yourself, "I'm not dating - I'm just meeting people. I'm just actively meeting people. It's good to meet people, and that's totally what I'm doing here. I'm just meeting me some peoples here."

Online meeting people (see what I did there?) is particularly good for meeting people that you'd likely never meet otherwise.

You're awesome. Hang in there.
posted by Angus Jung at 9:51 AM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Lots of good advice here. I'll add my opinion:

1) To have success in dating you really can't put too much into it or it will wear you down. Try to be more carefree and not really give a shit whether they ask you on a second date. Don't call them the next day. Leave the ball in their court to ask you on the second date. And if you really think the first date went well and don't hear from them for a week, it's ok to send a short text saying something like "Hey, I had fun on our date last week. Are you up for a second one sometime soon?"

And if they don't reply, don't take it personally and move on. It's all a numbers game and doesn't necessarily reflect anything on you. That said...

2) If your anxiety and self-esteem issues come through even a little bit during your dates, you're already setting yourself up for failure. Guys like women who are confident and easy to talk to (at least I do). The number one way to kill a date with me is to be unsure of yourself, not relaxed in conversation, and anxious. Nobody likes walking on glass.

3) In general, people like when you're hard to get. If they do ask you on a second date, don't reply with "Great! How about tomorrow night?" I know, I know, you're thinking "If I don't go on this second date ASAP, he might meet someone else, or lose interest, so we have to do it NOW"... but that's not true. If he's truly interested in you, your schedules won't matter. Anyway, my point is, act like you're busy even if you're not, otherwise you'll seem too desperate. Sounds weird, and like you're playing a game, but it's true. And sometimes people really are super busy... it's not uncommon for me to go 2-3 weeks between dates with someone.... and it's fine!

Dating people who are busy because they're in school, or have a bunch of stuff planned with their friends, or have interesting personal projects going on, etc isn't annoying -- it's sexy. Last thing I want to do is date someone who sits around the house all day and has a ton of free time.

4) Last but not least, don't have sex with someone on the first (or even second) date unless all you're looking for is a hookup where you don't hear from them again. Cause that's what you're setting yourself up for. I'm no prude and love to fuck, but even I'll wait until the third date if not longer. First date = Get to know the other person to see if you're a potential match. Second date = See if you can have fun together more than once; find out if they're a good kisser (if the date ends well). Third date or more = Find out if they're good in bed.

Yeah, there aren't really any rules, and things can vary dramatically depending on the person, but that's a good general pattern to try. Definitely no sex before the third date unless you absolutely don't mind never hearing from them again. Most guys, most of the time, will see you as easy and desperate if you fuck them before the third date (usually I wait until the 5th-8th date) and they're probably the type of guys that are just looking to get laid if they won't give you the respect of waiting a bit.

One more thing... you seem to be hung up on whether guys will ask you on a 2nd date. Have you ever been on a date where YOU were the one who didn't want a second date? If not, you're not being picky enough, and you're desperate. Pick your head up, gain some confidence, and be picky. GUYS LOVE A CONFIDENT AND EASY GOING, FRIENDLY WOMAN MORE THAN THEY CARE IF YOU'RE A '6' OR A '10'.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 10:15 AM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

3) In general, people like when you're hard to get. If they do ask you on a second date, don't reply with "Great! How about tomorrow night?" I know, I know, you're thinking "If I don't go on this second date ASAP, he might meet someone else, or lose interest, so we have to do it NOW"... but that's not true. If he's truly interested in you, your schedules won't matter. Anyway, my point is, act like you're busy even if you're not, otherwise you'll seem too desperate. Sounds weird, and like you're playing a game, but it's true. And sometimes people really are super busy... it's not uncommon for me to go 2-3 weeks between dates with someone.... and it's fine!

Dating people who are busy because they're in school, or have a bunch of stuff planned with their friends, or have interesting personal projects going on, etc isn't annoying -- it's sexy. Last thing I want to do is date someone who sits around the house all day and has a ton of free time.

No offense to the previous poster, but, from this guy's perspective...for the love of God, do not do this. One of the things that I absolutely hate about dating is the pressure to act like you've 97 million things to do and that you're just so SUPER BUSY AND POPULAR all the damn time, even if you are not. I can't stand it, and if you want to meet a low-BS guy, which I assume you do, this will not go over well.

You know what? Most people are busy sometimes and not-busy sometimes, and most people have some free time and yet do not spend all day sitting around the house doing nothing. If someone thinks I'm some kind of loser because, even though I clearly have good friends, and a good job, and goals, and side projects, my schedule is not constantly packed every single night of the week, I honestly want nothing to do with that person. I'm not in high school, and this is not a popularity contest.

Of course, sometimes my schedule is tight (I've noticed my busyness level tends to ebb and flow at about 3-4 week intervals, for some reason) and, when that happens, I'll be honest about. And when it's not tight, I'll be honest about that, too. Whatever your schedule at a given time is, it is, just be up-front about it. If you go a week, two weeks, three weeks between dates, that's all just fine, but don't act like you are always super-busy if you aren't.

Look, I realize this sort of thing works for some people, but OP, I get the impression that you want to meet a straightforward, low-BS type of guy, and trust me, that type of guy is going to tire of this stuff very quickly.
posted by breakin' the law at 10:41 AM on October 16, 2011 [7 favorites]

I do not enjoy navigating a thicket of doublespeak and bullshit in order to figure out what's next. Is there any way around this?

I think you are going to meet very few people who will bluntly tell you at the end of the date whether or not they are into you, because at the end of the date the other person is still a stranger and you have no idea if they will react with crying, arguing, insults/obscenities, or physical violence. Shit, when I was on OK Cupid, I would try to gently let guys know even at the email stage, before meeting, if I wasn't interested, and they reacted badly quite a few times. So I quit doing that and just faded instead.

So the way around this. The way around this is for you to come to terms with the fact that a lot of people, in the initial stages of dating, are not going to bluntly tell you that they're not into you.

To be perfectly frank, I think the main reason this is causing you so much grief is not that these guys are giving out hints and mixed signals that you have to somehow interpret. Because I think their signals, at least from your examples, are crystal clear and you are having no problems interpreting them, like the guy who declined your second date with excuses.

I think the reason this is causing you so much grief is:

You are continuing to date and/or pine over guys who are giving you mixed signals or signals of disinterest.

You sleep with guys who are giving you mixed signals or signals of disinterest. Even though you know that in that situation, you feel like the guy sees you as "some dumb slut who's been duped."

You sleep with guys giving mixed/bad signals "to buy some more time and settle the question of whether he's attracted." And it doesn't work! And then you feel like shit.

Casual sex makes people happy when they are just in it for the sex and don't care whether the other person is into them or wants more with them. It can lead to a whole lot of pain for people who are really hoping that the other person is into them, and will want more with them. It's an even worse idea to try to use it as a kind of tool to get the other person to be more into you or stretch out the relationship. It's never going to work!

Do you see that you're the one also engaging in bullshit here? Do not use sex as a tool or a crutch to try to buy anything or settle anything, because you're only going to get yourself hurt.

It seems like you feel like you have to keep after guys who are not that into you and you have to have sex with them because you feel an extreme amount of desperation. And it seems like you are so desperate because you think: 1) you don't have many options; 2) you can't afford to fuck up what you have.

Don't you see that if someone isn't into you, you don't actually have anything? It doesn't matter what you do. If a guy is not that into you, no matter how much time you spend by the phone waiting for his texts, no matter how much sex you have with him, that's not going to change.

In order to get rid of your desperation, which I think will solve a lot of this, I think you need to fix #1, not having a lot of options. Tel3path is so right that if you are a 5, you have plenty of options because most people are 5s, so as long as you're not like, only willing to date pro athletes and male models, there are plenty of people out there who would be interested in you.

I would recommend going on a LOT more dates. Getting on several dating sites and lining a date up for every night of the week. And start asking out guys if you dare. Doesn't have to be someone at work, just anywhere you are where you see an interesting guy, ask him out.

I think if you started seeing that you actually do have plenty of options, you would stop wasting your time with guys who aren't into you and make you feel hurt, and a lot of your agita around this would disappear.
posted by cairdeas at 11:34 AM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

I know that it's annoying, but it's actually pretty simple, at least for straight people. The following script is nearly universal for straight people in America: if he wants to see her again, he'll ask within a few days. That's really all there is to it. If you're the girl and you like the guy, just make it clear that you had a good time or are into him in some way and then wait. If he doesn't contact you within a few days, he's almost certainly not interested. If you're the guy, just ask her out again.

It's normal to be nervous/anxious between the time of the date and the time when he calls or the time you can give up on it.

I have no idea what the script is for same-sex couples, so sorry if that's your category.
posted by callmejay at 9:55 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think it's perfectly appropriate to have a conversation about exclusivity after a few dates, btw, so no more guesswork.
posted by callmejay at 9:55 AM on October 17, 2011

Practice being honest saying how you feel, and lower as much as possible your expectations about what will or will not happen. Also date more than one person, and wait up to three days for followup contact. Then make contact once or twice yourself, but not three times. After that you have to let each person's bad communication skills pass and cut your losses caring whether you hear from them again.
posted by ead at 11:39 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Me again with some updates and clarifying. this doesn't happen all the time - just with the ones I like - and the sex thing only happened three times. One didn't really count since we knew each other professionally and besides it led to a relationship, one the dude disappeared and one spawned the post.

And I guess I should put an update here- tonight I called the dude and we have a specific day to meet up again, meaning the worst case scenario is dead and he wasn't repulsed by me or anything. Like, he had ample opportunities to be vague over the phone that he didn't take.

Thanks again, everyone.
posted by dekathelon at 4:12 PM on October 18, 2011

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