"I really want to go out on a date with you. How about the third of Never?"
October 28, 2012 6:01 PM   Subscribe

Since I've hit my mid-late 20s, a pattern has developed: A woman and I express mutual interest; I ask for her number or she gives it to me on her own; a first date is arranged; at the last minute, she cancels it. I know this isn't unheard of, but it's happening so often and so consistently that it's making me paranoid and demoralized, and I'm not sure how to proceed.

By way of an example: Most recently, I had a couple of short but very engaging conversations with a friend of a friend, and as she was about to leave, she presented me with her phone number and the words "I'm a modern girl, so here's my number." We then arranged to spend an afternoon engaged in a hobby we have in common. The day beforehand I get a text message, "sorry, can't make it." When I suggested an alternate day, she said she couldn't do that either - with no counter-suggestion for when she could meet up. Which, as far as I know, is as unambiguous a "I do not want to date" as I'm going to get. (Or, alternately, I really don't think I do want to date someone who's not interested in me enough to simply look at her calendar and say "How about next Sunday?")

Since I know this often comes up in answers to dating questions: All of these were women I'd met through friends or activities, not dating sites - in fact, I stopped doing online dating because the level of flakiness was getting to me, and I was hoping - as, in fact, several people on the Green have said - that people you meet in real life, with social connections to your friends, are more likely to be straightforward when it comes to dating.

Now, I know damn well that women are often socialized to not say "no" to men, and I'm certainly used to "scheduling conflicts" as a polite fiction to turn down undesired dates. But this has now happened on five of the last six First Dates I was supposed to go on, and it's making me feel incredibly undesirable and creepy. I've googled myself and verified that there's no obvious "anon is a creeper" stuff out there. I've shown (trusted, straight, female) friends chat logs and text conversations, and they've confirmed I'm not coming on too strong or otherwise Doing Something Definitely Wrong.

Logically, I should just chalk this up to Bad Luck. Dating is a numbers game; rejection is going to happen; early rejection is going to happen; rejection-by-cancellation is going to happen. But this pattern of being essentially told that I'm not even desirable/interesting enough to waste an evening on for a first date is really getting to me, and it's compounded by the fact that I can't even take "there is a set time and place" as actually meaning anything. I used to enjoy looking forward to spending time with someone new and interesting - no longer. I'm getting paranoid that there's something horribly wrong with me that I don't know about, or that someone's spreading rumors about me, or... I don't even know what. But I'm rapidly losing all confidence in myself, which is not a good thing for dating. I find myself nostalgic for the "good old days" of terse "let's just be friends" texts after a date - because I at least felt like I'd had a chance, and was rejected based on the actual evidence of the date, rather than having an abrupt change-of-mind after a totally sober woman gave me her number unprompted.

Is this just a factor in dating now that I'm out of my early 20s? Do I just need to get used to the notion that I can't actually rely on stated desire to go out with me, and accept that every single date, even when it's scheduled for a specific time and place, has a very high chance of being canceled at the last minute? How can I regear my brain to accept/cope with this new reality and still remain open to actually meeting someone, when I find myself slipping into pessimism?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I had a streak where I killed grandmothers - I had three (3) people in a row cancel second dates due to their grandmothers dying. It definitely did a number on my confidence for a while, but, you know, the streak ended, and now I am reasonably confident that someone could accept a second date with me without losing any elderly relatives.

It really is just a numbers game, and it's way more helpful to read this sort of thing as a "it wasn't meant to be" than any sort of meaningful signal - rail at a deeply unhelpful universe if you must, but don't take it personally, and don't try to figure out the other person's thoughts. It can't be done, and it doesn't leave you in a helpful state of mind.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:14 PM on October 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

This happened to my boyfriend 3-4 times before I met him. And then I went on a date with him, and had a blast...and 7 months later we are still together. It was their loss and my gain. :D
posted by Autumn89 at 6:16 PM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

You should ask the friends you mentioned to google you. Sometimes people get targeted google results based on your own search history so there may be something out there that you're not finding for whatever reason.

But besides that, people in general are just very flaky across the board. Just try to be grateful that they're telling you who they are early on.
posted by bleep at 6:22 PM on October 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

You haven't given a specific number for how many times this has happened. Has it happened three times? Or five times? I'd say at that level of occurrence there could easily not be a problem here. The girls are flaky, or they met someone else, or they just changed their minds, or they're just busy and focused on other things than dating. If it's only happened, say, six or fewer times in a row, I'd chalk it up to bad luck and keep trying.

If it's happened ten or twenty times in a row, that could indicate that something is going on. Maybe someone in your social circle is badmouthing you. Maybe there is something weird on the net about you, or that they think is about you. In this case you might ask the next one what's up, assuring her that you accept that she's not interested but would just like to be sure there isn't some reason you don't know about that this keeps happening, or better still have a mutual, female friend ask for you.

And I feel for you. I keep getting into fun email exchanges with cute guys on dating sites, one of us suggests talking on the phone or meeting, we start arranging to do that... and then they just never answer my last email. It's been years since I actually met anyone off a dating site because there are so few guys who interest me and those who do keep flaking out — it's happened about five times in the last year. I chalk it up to the fact that people can be skittish in the early stages and they know very, very little about me, so it doesn't take much for them to turn their attention elsewhere, especially if they just aren't all that serious about finding someone to be with.
posted by orange swan at 6:34 PM on October 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think as a woman, it's a depressing dating scene. It could be anything. It probably has nothing to do with you. It could be that she had to give you her number. It could be the disappointment of not falling in love at first sight or having to go through the trouble of warming up to someone enough to have to feel attracted. It could be that she'd been in love with someone and that's over and she doesn't have the energy.

Dating is depressing. Having to suss out guys who aren't relationship material from guys who are, the whole depressing part of having to let go of the way you want to fall in love, the feeling bad because you feel like you have to date ppl to get over someone else.

It probably isn't you, unless a mutual friend knows something unsavory about you or thinks you treated someone before badly and has made it her knowledge.
posted by discopolo at 6:39 PM on October 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

5 out of 6 in a row sucks but it's actually not a whole heap. Take a break for a little bit. Regroup. Then try again.
posted by heyjude at 6:44 PM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

We then arranged to spend an afternoon engaged in a hobby we have in common.

Hm. Do you always ask them out to time consuming things like this as first dates, or do the women even bail out on coffee dates?
posted by deanc at 6:51 PM on October 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

Sorry to hear you're having difficulty in the crazy world of dating. Dating definitely sucks. But as someone who did a lot of it before finally meeting my now wife via internet dating, I can tell you that there are plenty of flaky girls out there. Perhaps Deanc makes a good point about what type of date you're setting up for the first round. I would strongly suggest a short first date...coffee although cliche' is often the best first date. The reason is because if it goes bad it's easy to bail out and not a lot of time or money is spent. On the flip side if it goes well, it's easy to just hang out and chat for longer. But at the end of the day I think it's unlikely that any of this is because of you. Dating is a numbers game. Just keep playing the numbers. Eventually something will hit and you'll go out on a date...hopefully a really great one. Most women are truly challenging creatures. They care nothing about men unless they really really like them. Another thing, I think a lot of girls won't date a guy unless he seems truly "perfect". As a result girls end up canceling and flaking out on dates. And many times they miss out on great guys who just don't give the "exact" "package" image they're looking for after talking for 2 minutes. So it's really not you...it's them. Keep your chin up. Don't take it personally. And try to have fun.
posted by ljs30 at 7:22 PM on October 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

You've diligently looked for a pattern in the data, and found none. Ergo, there's probably no pattern. You're not a creeper. You're just eating the ass end of a random variable, as 'twere. Consider this an opportunity to build emotional fortitude. Seriously! You'd might as well.

But mostly just hang in there broo, flakiness is the worst. THE. WERST. Statistically, keep doin' the legwork and you'll find somebody sweet. Probably sooner than you expect. Maybe tomorrow! Tomorrow is exciting like that.
posted by Fimbaz at 7:23 PM on October 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Have you considered talking to your friends and other mutual acquaintances -- not to make you paranoid but are you absolutely certain somebody's not poisoning your chances, even inadvertently? "Anon is *such* a great guy -- y'all are going to have fun once you learn to overlook his poor cuticle health."
posted by Infinity_8 at 7:23 PM on October 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

Maybe coffee dates instead of dinner would be easier for people?
posted by windykites at 7:50 PM on October 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

First off, you should ask your friends if there is anything that you are missing. Chances are, it's just a bad streak.

I like to joke that I know God has a sense of humor because of my dating history. For a few years I only met men who could fly planes. And then for awhile it was former police men. I have had serious relationships with 3 Joeys and many of my other relationships have been with men who's middle names were all Joey. Then there was the summer where all I met where cameramen who had last names that would also work as first names. The list goes on and on. My friends have a great time laughing at me with this.
posted by myselfasme at 8:19 PM on October 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

The Googling is a good suggestion, as is asking friends. But my guess is that they just met someone else. It happens - they gave you their number because they're dating around and they're interested in doing some dating, you just probably weren't the only person to whom they gave a number, and something else happened before your date could happen.
posted by Miko at 9:00 PM on October 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

One question: Are you coming off too intense or eager in establishing a first date? If the answer is no (and if the Googling doesn't turn up anything), then honestly you're fine. This happens. That it happened to you several times in a row only means you're on an unlucky streak, especially if the women are giving you their contact info. My one piece of concrete advice: keep it light and friendly, but also idiosyncratic. You don't want to come off as too intense, but neither do you want to seem vanilla. Just an interesting, easy person to meet.
posted by vecchio at 11:05 PM on October 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have you ever tried giving them your number instead. And saying something like, hey, I'd love to talk to you more about X sometime, here's my number, text me if you want to meet up.

I mean, really though, we can't know. You've probably just been unlucky. Or maybe you're not quite reading the signals right. Maybe you're feeling a connection but she's just being polite. Do you ever see these people again? It seems like you'd cross paths again -- what happens then?

I think if you like your example lady, wait a week and send her one more text -- how's coffee this weekend? More low key. If she brushes you off just move on, you can't know what's in her head.

People say it's a numbers game but that always makes me think PUA which is the last thing you should be thinking. I think it's a timing game -- the timing (and chemistry) has to be right. Keep your chin up.
posted by amanda at 11:15 PM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't quite tell if the "let's get together to pursue a mutual hobby" suggestion was the date you just happened to set with this most recent woman, or if this is typically your approach. In the event that this is actually a regular approach for you, I agree that a simple coffee or lunch date might be a better first outing to suggest, because it's naturally more low-key and open-ended and thus may yield fewer cancellations. Going on an activity date right off the bat might be a little intimidating for some, because it potentially puts the two of you together in a way that may feel more intense rather than relaxing (depending on the hobby, of course) -- there may be an element of competition, for example, or it may be an activity that takes several hours.
posted by scody at 12:36 AM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

My physics professor (electromagnetism) once told me something that has always stuck with me. He was a man who came from a country that had been war-torn for nearly a century. He had lost large swathes of his family tree to war, disease, famine. This man had three heart attacks during the fall semester I was in his class. But he waved off despair, depression, and any allegations of bad luck.

Instead, he admonished me, saying that to ascribe any causality to a chaotic, random and thoroughly fickle universe would be the height of human arrogance. Quite simply, we are not that important in the grand scheme of things by any metric other than our own point of view and to pretend otherwise would be ridiculous.

I have always thought of that when I feel discouraged or feel the buzzards of personal failure and regret circling high above my head, and I try to remind myself that horrible, unfathomable things happen every day to perfectly good people for absolutely no reason at all.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 1:21 AM on October 29, 2012 [17 favorites]

Yeah, there could be a lot of reasons - probably a different one for each occurrence, and quite possibly not to do with you. One possible random stab in the dark - I've noticed (anecdata) there is a kind of cooling-off time prior to a first date - if the date isn't in the next 2-3 days of when it was arranged, the chances start to rise quite dramatically that it won't happen. There is just way too much else can happen in the meantime. Including sometimes simply the effects of time itself - instead of being this new guy she just met and is going to go out with (exciting!), time can make you that guy from a while back that she told she would go out with. (chore). I may be projecting, but I don't think it takes too long for a lot of people start taking for granted (and thus valuing less) something that was initially an unexpected score when it happened. Especially when there are are a lot of dating options.
posted by anonymisc at 3:31 AM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

[A couple of comments deleted. Please note that OP mentioned that he has already Googled himself.]
posted by taz (staff) at 5:33 AM on October 29, 2012

People flake out a lot, particularly when it comes to first-time meetings (which, okay, yours is a second-time meeting many times, but a date is different than meeting). This is a truth that I've seen a lot of people take very personally, but it's something I've seen very often at meetups and other arranged events, as well as when I was doing the personals thing.

While it is completely possible that it's about you sometimes, I think it's best (and more accurate) to assume some amount of either social anxiety or not-taking-it-seriously on the other end. People really are more socially anxious than most of us assume, and it doesn't take a lot to cause someone to flake out on spending time with a new person or people. It could be a slight headache, or a bad day, or whatever.
posted by hought20 at 8:20 AM on October 29, 2012

Your question reminded me of something I learned about a couple of years ago through something pretty tragic: a spate of pedestrian deaths in Toronto in January of 2010. The concept of "Poisson burst" was used to describe this random increase in deaths; see this article: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/758054--numbers-don-t-always-tell-the-whole-story

So what you may be experiencing is a Poisson burst. Either way, I'd take a break for a while from dating, for a month or so. Or just expect people to flake out on you - my attitude would be, yeah we set something up but she'll likely cancel on me. *shrug* and go back to living my life.
posted by foxjacket at 8:41 AM on October 29, 2012

I'm wondering if there is any possibility that because they are friends of friends they are more concerned if it doesn't work they might have to avoid you in the future. So it is more likely they will cancel this early on than with internet dating?
posted by Wilder at 8:49 AM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I actually think this might not be a dating-specific problem; when I have plans with friends, a good 75% of them fall through because one or several of us bail. For some reason, it seems that having smart phones and being able to cancel plans on the fly is an irresistable temptation. Think, too, about the flake rates Craigslist: when selling, I've had over 90% no-shows even where early interest was high. I think people, over-all, are more prone to flaking out these days, for whatever reason, and that's translating to your dating life as well. I wouldn't take it personally.
posted by Pomo at 12:20 PM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

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