Give more than four dates for chemistry to develop?
January 26, 2015 8:26 PM   Subscribe

I've gone on four dates with a woman. The conversation is great, but I haven't felt a spark. In this situation, I'm torn between two things that I'm trying to change in my approach to dating: First, I'm trying to lessen my tendency to decide ASAP whether a relationship will work out, before I really get to know someone. Second, I'm trying to lessen my tendency to fail to end relationships that I'd rather not be in. The first change says, "Go on more dates and see if chemistry develops." The second change says, "Don't drag something out when you know you're not feeling it; be honest." What says MetaFilter? What are your experiences with giving chemistry more time to develop?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is the magic time when you should be feeling intense physical attraction that you can revel in knowing that you also enjoy an intellectual connection. If you're not feeling it now, chemistry is unlikely to develop. I'm sorry.
posted by carmicha at 8:37 PM on January 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

My own opinion would be that if you don't particularly like hanging out with someone after an hour or so, the chances of your suddenly developing that feeling get smaller with each subsequent hour. It's not impossible, the question is whether that's the best use of your (and her) time.

Go on more dates (edit to clarify: date other people)! There's no harm in it if you're not in a committed relationship, and if you ever start getting a feeling about someone from a while back like "you know, now that I think about it, it would be nice to talk to that girl again about this thing," go ahead and be honest and tell her (if it hasn't been ages and there's a possibility she's still interested). Maybe she feels the same way.

Attraction and the ability to interact naturally and pleasantly, I feel, can be figured out over the course of a short time (even just a few minutes). But resist the urge to extrapolate that into an entire relationship. That kind of thing, with any kind of relationship romantic or otherwise, takes time to develop and judge. Just focus on having a good time with the person you're with - if you don't feel it, it's safe to move on and probably best for everyone involved.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:37 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

For me, in basically every situation where there wasn't chemistry right off the bat, there wasn't chemistry later. (I can think of one, maybe two situations where chemistry took a little longer to develop.)

But I also don't see anything wrong with going on more dates in that situation. Not to see if chemistry develops, necessarily, but more just to go and spend some time with someone I like. I don't know about you, but at only 4 dates I'm not going to be getting into an exclusive, committed relationship with someone. As long as both parties are on the same page ("we're both still getting to know one another"), I see no reason to slash and burn a casual dating relationship that I'm having fun with. If you see yourself making snap judgments about these things regularly and want to change that, you can go ahead and do so.

Be kind and be honest.
posted by phunniemee at 8:39 PM on January 26, 2015

I wonder. Is it possible that you haven't put yourselves in a situation conducive to sparking? I mean, maybe you have and it fizzled; maybe you haven't and you just need to find that moment. Or maybe that moment will never exist.
posted by adamrice at 8:40 PM on January 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have mistaken "holy crap I'm actually dating someone!" for chemistry before.
posted by rhizome at 8:59 PM on January 26, 2015 [22 favorites]

I feel like ditching someone ASAP because you didn't feel a spark is like a first or second date problem. Not a fourth date problem. At this point, if you're not feeling it, you're not feeling it. There are plenty of fish in the sea, for both of you. Go find someone you're excited about.
posted by Sara C. at 9:12 PM on January 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

Both of those changes you've identified are good goals for yourself, and I don't think they are in tension with one another. You absolutely have to wait some amount of time for things to develop, but how much is appropriate is something that no one can say for sure. Depends so much on your personality, the situation, the person you have met- could be an hour of more time is appropriate, a week more...

Think of meeting someone like being handed a present wrapped in layers and layers of wrapping paper. You take a look at it, you tap it, shake it, feel it's weight, and begin to imagine there is a wonderful person in there. On date two and three you're a couple of layers into it and what do you see now? Is the paper still shiny and festive? Are you more excited about unwrapping or less? If you have chemistry building, that means more excited.

More than anything in your question, I sense that you are pressuring yourself to get it "right". You will make some right calls and some wrong ones in dating- the worst that could happen is that you wasted a few dates with someone that you really weren't compatible with. Have faith in yourself that experience will serve you well and be your best teacher. Good chemistry may take a little bit of interaction to develop, but rest assured that when it does you can't miss it.
posted by incolorinred at 9:23 PM on January 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

I don't think chemistry will develop after four dates if there's no hint of it at all. You need a spark, I reckon, if it's going to be anything other than friendship. I've had the spark fizzle out and turn into friendship, but in my experience it's far, far less common for friends to suddenly go zing!

BUT spark does not necessarily mean they are good relationship material. So on dates, look for the spark and if it isn't there, don't let it drag on too long. But if the spark is there and lots of other things that mean they would be a good relationship are not there, do not go there. You want both. Unless you both just want to have sex/non-relationship fun times, in which case woo-hoo!

If you want to feel slightly better about your experience, imagine how much fun it is when their dating profiles say they're looking for friends as well as relationships and you are doing the whole tortured headgame of "do they like me or like like me?" while trying to figure out how you feel as well. Yeah, this is why I'm taking a break from dating right now.
posted by Athanassiel at 9:34 PM on January 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

Have you smelt them? Catching a whiff of my date's real smell during a physical activity (skating, bushwalking, etc) is when I know if there is ever going to be chemistry or not.

Along these lines - I wanted to have the supermarket shelf-stacker's babies, right there next to the olive oil and anchovies, he smelt so good.
posted by Kerasia at 9:51 PM on January 26, 2015 [17 favorites]

So before I agree with the others, I think you should ask yourself something. Why's it got to be 'A Relationship' with capital letters? Can't you just go out once in a while non-exclusively (while being honest about this, of course) and have fun, see if anything develops?

And then, if the answer is, meh, I could, but I'm not enthusiastic about the idea, then there's just no chemistry. It happens.
posted by ctmf at 9:54 PM on January 26, 2015

I'm more interested in your goals. I think your second goal of being timely in ending a relationship that is going nowhere is much more worthy (and respectful to her too) than the first goal of assuming that everybody is worth really getting to know. There are plenty of duds with dating. If you're out with a woman on a first date and there's zero chemistry and she's throwing up red flags left and right, then for Pete's sake don't feel obliged to really get to know her before ending it! No kiss, no second date for her. I have found it's the people who are attractive, good conversationalists, ambitious, kind, etc. that are worth really getting to know. It's hard to know if a great person will also be great for YOU in the long run. You may have to date a long time to really know if that's the one. So understand what you've got in front of you before you invest.

Specifically, regarding your four date gal, if you have not felt any urge to touch her, give her a kiss after great conversations spanning four dates, then I agree with the others that it's probably not going to happen. Physical chemistry CAN grow, but let's assume for this that there's some modest chemistry to begin with.
posted by Sonrisa at 10:25 PM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

My experience is different. I'm totally in love with my boyfriend of 2.5 years and he fell in love with me way before I fell in love with him. I didn't lie to him, I was honest the whole time.

What happened was he was a really nice guy, plus smart, funny and kind. But I just didn't feel "the spark". Still, I decided to keep an open mind. So I kept dating the guy and we kept having fun and I am so happy I didn't go, at date 4, nah, this will never work.

The two guys I fell for immediately earlier? Totally not good fits for me.

So sometimes slow and steady in dating, actually giving yourself time to get to know someone, is worthwhile. But my experience is unusual.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:51 PM on January 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

I don't think i've ever actually gone on 4 dates with someone i didn't know there was some kind of spark with. That really seems like forcing it to prove some point to yourself.

You're not avoiding jumping in too quickly by not feeling it yet, you're just not feeling it. That's fine, but i'd definitely say it's time to move on.

The second change is right, don't let the first change make you second guess yourself too much. Being true to the first chance means not deciding you're exclusive on the 3rd date, not breaking it off at 4 when there's not much there.
posted by emptythought at 11:01 PM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I haven't felt a spark.

What does "spark" mean to you, OP? Does it mean weak and trembling when you stand too close, or intense fantasies following a date, or a sudden compulsion to bury your face in her collarbone? Because some of those symptoms -- for many people -- are kind of a younger-days thing. As we age and learn, fewer people are going to set off those bells; some of us even come to realize that the people who most rattle us in that way are actually people we shouldn't be dating. (YMMV)

I ask this because there may be some chemistry here -- actually there is, by your account, at least the mental variant -- but you may not be registering it, due to conditioning to expect something more violent/obvious. I ended up being quite happy with a woman who set off only very mild sparks when we met, but with whom I feel safe, respected, and trusted. And getting to those mild sparks took several dates (not quite four), despite her objective intelligence and handsomeness. Three years later, there's plenty of collarbone nuzzlin', etc. as we go about our day, I assure you.

There's really no one-size answer to this, and no playbook/script that will guarantee that no one gets hurt. What "sparks" mean to you, and the weight you want to give them, are ultimately not things that can be decided by internet opinion. At four dates, though, it would not be unreasonable for the other party to feel that something exclusive/actually-happening! was underway; if you decide to go for date five, it's probably time to sound her out about what she thinks is going on.
posted by credible hulk at 11:12 PM on January 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

It sounds like maybe you're not attracted to her? Or there's no chemistry?

No chemistry after one date -- okay, try again. But no chemistry after four dates -- stop wasting your time.

Unless, I mean, is the problem here that you haven't held hands or kissed or anything? Then okay, go out again and do those things.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:22 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is it possible that you haven't put yourselves in a situation conducive to sparking?

Consider this. I have recently begun dating via okc/match and if a coffee shop or restaurant is the only venue then I will never, ever feel a spark. Nor will anyone I meet. To me it just isn't a natural setting to get to know someone. It's forced, and I am not myself. I need to go on a hike or get our dogs together or something, to see what happens when our natural personalities come out.
posted by headnsouth at 5:48 AM on January 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm personally curious about the context of your relationship before you started going on dates. How did you meet? How much did you know about each other before you started dating? If, say, you were friends or colleagues for a while before you started to date, and after four dates you're feeling no spark, then I agree with others that it's best to move on. If you met via online dating (and maybe even that first date was just a 'get coffee thing') then, my expected timeline would be very different.

For me, personally, the majority of my relationships started from friendships or other neutral circumstances -- it's the college dorm model of continuously being exposed to a set of people and being able to develop mild levels of familiarity and attraction in a low stakes setting that isn't about explicitly leading up to a date. Dating only occurs when that gradual buildup of attraction has gotten to a point where we are both intrigued by the idea; and usually sparks can explode within a couple of dates but it's only because I know, in my head, that I've given myself permission to feel those sparks and I'm not just second-guessing myself. The second guessing and overthinking was the process that led up to asking them out in the first place. With that said, I have gone on dates with people that I thought had great potential with a mountain of sexual tension building up to the first date and then had it implode within a month when we realized that we were better as friends rather than lovers.

By contrast, I've never really gotten a spark out of any online date. It's too contrived and high pressure; and my brain doesn't have enough data to form a critical mass of attraction. I need to be caught off guard by the way a woman throws her whole weight into a laugh, or go into it without this feeling like I need to decide if we're worth a second or third date, and if so or not when is a humane and ethical way to communicate my intentions.

tl;dr if you're friends who decided to try dating, maybe four dates is a good time to decide that you're better friends than lovers. If you met via OkC or Tinder or Match, maybe it's a good sign that you need to be friends first before seeing where things go down the road. And if this strikes a chord, maybe consider having your next set of events for meeting people actually just be casual group activities that could lead to more or not.
posted by bl1nk at 6:01 AM on January 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

What does the other person think? If they're feeling a spark and looking forward to these dates to turn in to something more, then you should definitely end it graciously before the other person gets too attached.

I do agree that if by the fourth date you're not imagining that person naked and feeling fluttery and wanting to connect frequently then it's probably not going to happen. However, the kinds of dates you're going on could impact whether or not a spark happens.

I find that coffee dates are fine for the first one or two, but they quickly fall into "interview" territory. I do think that the kind of activity people engage in during a date can impact chemistry. When you are engaged in an activity that one or both of you are passionate about it or curious about it can help you find connections. You have things to talk about, you see each other having fun, being enthusiastic, it can break down inhibitions. The activity doesn't have to be extreme, just something you both love or are excited to try.

So if you haven't been on any dates that involve an activity you can get both get excited about, try that. And if you still don't feel chemistry keep this relationship in the friend zone.
posted by brookeb at 6:31 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you find your date's company tiresome, even on date one, just pull the plug. If you're forcing conversation, or if you're not on the same wavelength, it won't get better.

If you enjoy the company of your date, and you're enjoying getting to know her, there's no harm in continuing to date a few more times. You may decide to be friends or it may turn into a relationship, just be honest.

Spark/Chemistry isn't infatuation or love, it's just intrigue and wanting to know more. It can grow to infatuation or love in time, but if you are bored with your date, it will never, never get better. And be honest, you know right off if you have an interest. Like within 10 minutes.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:08 AM on January 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

This isn't quite what you asked, but you don't need to decide right now whether you want to be in a relationship with this person; right now, you can just decide whether you want to continue to go on more dates. Do you?
posted by sm1tten at 8:00 AM on January 27, 2015

When I was dating around a lot, and calibrating my own judgment, I found that it was helpful to ask myself "Would I rather be at home, reading a book right now?"
posted by witchen at 8:16 AM on January 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

It's nice to go on a second date if you were uncertain but generally positive about the first one. Introverts especially aren't always at ease the first time they meet someone. But if you've hung out with this girl four times and you're pretty lukewarm about hanging out more? That seems like a totally reasonable point to cut bait.
posted by MsMolly at 8:30 AM on January 27, 2015

My personal cutoff is three dates. No one is at their best on a first date, so unless we're obviously unsuited, I'll usually ask them out for a second date (or they will). My first dates tend to be a cafe meet and chat, while my second dates tend to be an activity (even if that activity is the traditional movie and dinner). If we're both having a good time and I feel a spark, great I'm asking for a third date. If there is definitely no spark I'll write them a nice email the next morning. If I'm just not sure, then I'll still probably ask for a third date. Something more intimate (in most senses of the word).

By spark, I assume you're talking about sexual attraction. Last spring I was back in the dating game, just off the unexpected end of a relationship. I wasn't really ready to date (emotionally speaking) and I sort of knew it, but I also knew that I needed to throw myself back into it or else I wouldn't and it would be ages before I worked up the nerve. I went on a bunch of first dates, a smaller bunch of second dates, and a handful of third dates. I was on a third date with a woman, we were lying in my bed (clothed and above the covers) watching Orphan Black and I had a realization that while I could have kissed her I had no real desire to do so. This was nothing about her and everything about me just not being ready to date again.

So if you're not feeling like you want to kiss them, and them specifically (as opposed to just a general desire to kiss), around the third date, then end it. That's fairer. But also, try not to weight everything with expectations. Do you want to kiss them? That's a good start.
posted by X-Himy at 8:46 AM on January 27, 2015

I don't know about chemistry, because it's such a varied thing and everyone experiences it differently. And sometimes, the chemistry is a big fat lie and pushes us towards bad but exciting things.

When I met my now boyfriend, I liked someone else pretty strongly. My boyfriend felt 'chemistry' with me much more than I did with him. I didn't, because I felt 'chemistry' with someone who undoubtedly didn't with me. Nevertheless, when interacting with guys who were actually interested in me, it was as if part of me had blinkers on, and I just didn't feel anything for him at first, beyond like and friendship. I couldn't really see anyone that way for a time.

Could something be clouding your judgement in a similar way, that is holding you back? A recent breakup that wasn't mutual? An unrequited crush? Is it a little one sided on her end? (Sometimes if someone is super into you, it can cause you to want to instinctively step back). Or perhaps you have a vision of an ideal person that isn't realistic, that you're subconsciously holding?

Spark can mean a lot of things. Maybe they don't float your boat on a physical level? That could explain you feeling lukewarm.

For me, once I got over this other person, I started to fall into deep like with my boyfriend, and then later deep love. Because we did things in a odd order, and I was still a bit wounded, we took it slow. I never felt that giddy, especially not at first but I knew I liked him, and I knew he was funny and sweet and kind and he was a good person. I knew that above all else, I wanted to be his friend, because at the very least my life would be diminished without him in it.

So we hung out, a lot. And we got along really well, and oh suddenly-- he's a lot cuter than I thought at first, and gee, he kinda looks v nice without a shirt, doesn't he... Long story short, I can't really fathom not loving him and thinking the world of him and being extremely attracted. It wasn't a 'spark' but for me it was better than that, it's a deep contentment, that when I think of him, makes me feel warm and fuzzy in every fibre of my being. It's chemistry, but well, there's more than one type of chemical reaction, after all.

So I guess my answer is: It depends.

Do you like her? Would you like her as a friend? Do you like being in her presence more than you don't? If you answer yes, I'd give it another couple of dates.

For me, I think that a good rule of thumb is if you're sitting there on a date, and you're scrutinizing her flaws a lot-- for example; 'who laughs like that/oh her chin is pointy/that was a weird thing to order/that sounded snarky/she does what for a living?/who wears that?' etc etc -- then you should just call it quits. It isn't going to get better if your internal narrative is very critical. If instead you might not be like bouncing off the walls with excitement around her, but you genuinely like her enough to think, 'oh wow that's cool' about a lot of the things she says and does, and she's interesting and such, then healthy attraction might have a chance to grow from that. Otherwise, pull the plug.
posted by Dimes at 8:54 AM on January 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

I would err on the side of breaking this off rather than dragging it out. She deserves someone who is more into her than you are.. and you deserve to not have to talk yourself into a fifth date.

You did good: breaking it off after date #1, #2, or #3 might have been premature. But four? That's enough time to know if you want to see someone again. If you're not feeling it, you're not feeling it. Carry on.
posted by Gray Skies at 12:24 PM on January 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Here's what I always say to this: are you a person who typically gets sparks/"knows" early on, or does it take you months to fall for someone? What is your past history of getting interested in people? How does it normally go for you?

If you are someone who knows early on, you should not drag it out. After four dates, if you still aren't really interested in boinking them someday, don't really care one way or the other if you see them again, "they're all right, I guess...."--then stop dating them. You know enough to know that you're probably not going to magically change your mind and start to love them by now. If you were them, you'd want someone to be enthusiastic about you instead of "meh," right? If you're meh, move on and do them and yourself a favor.

If you are one of those people who take ages and ages to fall for someone, then continue to carry on. I don't understand this logic, but about half the population claims to do this and thinks I'm weird for knowing early on, so.

If you have no idea which you are, I say to follow X-Himy's advice and give it 2-3 dates.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:34 PM on January 27, 2015

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