Early Online Dating: How Upfront?
April 14, 2016 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Online dating is horrible and feelings fleeting. How to deal? How aggressively upfront can I be?

From my previous questions, you can tell that I'm kind of shaken by my last break up and have been experiencing a lot of anxiety while online dating. I am not confident in whether I am overanxious or simply standing up for myself like someone with a healthy ego.

I recently hit it off with someone. It's been two weeks, four dates, and we slept together on the last date. In the beginning, the dates were great and he was texting me every day. After this last date, there's been a slight but perceptible change. Caveat: I think I was tired and almost grumpy during the last date, and I realize that online dating is already fragile enough as it is to risk bad first impressions. However, ever since (it's been three days since), the texting pattern has changed. I am going through an extremely busy stretch and I had texted him that, while I'd like to see him, I can't for the next 10 days, and we settled on sometime next week to see each other... but ever since, he hasn't texted (for two days) and has been active on the dating site we met on (I know there will be answers talking about how I went on as well--I went on because I was anxious about the lack of texts, I know, I know). I would be okay if it weren't a sudden drop-off, and coming off of a date where we had sex AND where I think we didn't connect as much as the first three.

I like this person. I liked him a lot after the first three dates, but after this last one, I also see some ways we might not be compatible. It is not that I want a sudden boyfriend, but I would like to say to him something like: "Look, online dating is awkward and unnatural as hell, and I realize that the last date was not the best and maybe we don't exactly fit, but I would like more date-type exposure to you because I also sense a connection. I am experiencing feelings of wanting to communicated with you regularly and going from texting every day to not texting every day has made me feel anxious."

Given that I won't see him for at least another week and we haven't had a talk about our "status," although I think he is also looking for a relationship... should I just stay quiet until next week? Should it really be this hard? I understand that having sex and texting so much can feel overwhelming--I felt a little overwhelmed too... but would still like a small text exchange every day. I also want to say something in case this is a "had sex-lost interest" situation. I don't want to spend the next week wondering.

I guess feelings can come and go quickly, especially in online dating... but perhaps, when it is right, they don't?

I should also mention that during the first two weeks, when he was asking me out and texting every day, I still experienced extreme and overwhelming excitement/anxiety. And when he didn't text the first day, it was also pretty bad. I am working on it, but I can't tell if my mind is just telling me that this isn't working for me.
posted by minoraltercation to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Texting works in both directions. Why not send him a quick, "Hi! How was your day?"
posted by xingcat at 9:57 AM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

FWIW, initiating of texting has evened out and the last text exchange was initiated by me, with the last text being me, which is also unusual. He usually ends text convos with a short affirmation.

I should add that part of the anxiety was stoked by disappointment. I am part of a major-ish event at work, which is why I am so busy. He knew this but didn't even text to say "good luck" on the night it happened. I felt disappointed, which made me reflect on whether my feelings for him or desire to be in a caring relationship aren't being mirrored.

This is so dumb and makes me just want to break it off.
posted by minoraltercation at 9:58 AM on April 14, 2016

I like this person. I liked him a lot after the first three dates, but after this last one, I also see some ways we might not be compatible.

It's possible he's seeing the same thing.

Also, you're not 'online dating.' You're dating. Make concrete plans to see him again, if you want to, and suss it out from there.

He knew this but didn't even text to say "good luck" on the night it happened

After two weeks this may be an unrealistic expectation.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:02 AM on April 14, 2016 [12 favorites]

I wouldn't panic. If he knows he's not going to see you for 10 days, and if he is the type of person for whom texting is primarily to make plans, then you should wait and see what happens closer to the time when you will meet again. Reach out day 8 or 9 if you haven't heard from him and suggest plans. Like, ask him, directly. If that goes well, then gauge things are from your chemistry in person. If it's lacking, then break it off (again, directly) at the end of the date. My line was always, "we just don't seem to have the kind of chemistry I'm looking for." However, if things are good and start to develop after another date or two, I think it is a great idea to tell him if you prefer to hear a little something each day. Give it a little time.
posted by juliplease at 10:09 AM on April 14, 2016

Sorry, "panic" is kind of a strong word to start out with and I understand you are having anxiety. I could have phrased that better.
posted by juliplease at 10:10 AM on April 14, 2016

I don't mean to be negative, and it's not necessarily a negative thing, but most people who have been online dating for awhile, especially guys in my experience, use the site to date around and meet people. This has definitely been my experience as a woman- guys are looking around. It's easy to meet up with someone else when the things aren't initially perfect with the person you have been seeing, and what's more, many guys on OkCupid are only about that. I'm not trying to scare you though. My advice to you is to not put all your eggs in one basket, maybe set up a few dates with others before you decide to become monogamous with someone.
posted by bearette at 10:15 AM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I mean, I know you SAID to him "I'm too busy for 10 days," and meant it completely literally, but so often that is code for "Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh bye" that I wouldn't blame him for proactively sort of stepping back. It's gonna be on you to say something and signal that it's cool to still chat if he wants.

Definitely not a huge statement about your anxiety levels and an apology for somehow failing to be completely perfect on the last date, though! Unless you were actively rude or unpleasant to him you do not owe an apology. Just say "hey, just so you know, I was really enjoying our little text chats. Can I ping you now and again?"
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:00 AM on April 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

Yes, I'm thinking he may be feeling brushed off as well, so both of you may be feeling blown off. Make a move, see what happens.
posted by Vaike at 11:18 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Take a deep breath...you've only been on four dates and had sex once. At this point the only thing either of you should be sure about is that you want to go on more dates and have more sex. It's probably going to be a few more weeks before either of you is sure that you want to make things exclusive.

It's hard, but I think you have to accept that until you have a conversation about being exclusive, you're not. He may or may not be seeing other people. There's nothing you can do about that other than adjust your mindset, which is admittedly hard to do. Stay open to this guy, but don't close off other avenues either

It does sound like you may have sent some mixed signals about communication. Immediately after having sex for the first time you basically told him you'd have to be incommunicado for a week and a half. That's a long time in the early, flushed with excitement and limerance time in a new relationship to back off.

I understand that you're super busy with a big project on your plate, but I would suggest that you reassess your availability. I have literally been working 14 hour days for weeks on end up against a big deadline and still made at least a little time for other people. See if you can't find even 30 minutes for in-person coffee.

Text, email, phone this guy and say something like...I've managed to carve out some time during in my schedule and I'd love to grab coffee with you can we meet up on either X day or Y day? His response will tell you a lot of what you need to know about his interest.

Then when you're in person you can have a conversation about your feelings and what you're looking for and what style of communication works best for you. I think what you outline above may be a bit much (I wouldn't say to someone I was generally still interested in getting to know that I thought they might not be a good fit, but hey let's keep dating). But you can simply say something more like, "I know things are in the early stages and we're still getting to know one another, but I want to let you know that I'm still interested in learning more about you, spending time with you, and seeing where things go"

If he feels the same way, then you can broach the topic of how you'd like to communicate. Ask him to share his feelings on texting, phone calls, communication first. Then you can share that you don't need constant communication, but hearing from someone you're romantically involved with at least once a day makes you feel good
posted by brookeb at 11:19 AM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Gosh, I relate to your question so much. I recently started trying to date about six months post-major-heartbreak, and it has been largely horrible, as you say. As someone who has a similar level of anxiety about this stuff, and is in the middle of figuring it out, my advice: be honest and straightforward, but don't lay your anxieties on the other person. As other answers have pointed out, you did just tell him that you'll be busy for 10 days. You can only assume he took you at your word. I agree that if you want to see him/be in touch, a simple "hey, I have a little free time on X day(s) and would really like to see you, want to grab coffee?" And take it from there.

I do think there's some value in acknowledging that, as you say, "dating is awkward and unnatural as hell." Maybe it's not the conventional/accepted way of "dating," maybe we're just supposed to quietly accept how weird it is without ever talking about it? But I think a little bit of "Hey, this dating thing sure is weird sometimes, can we check in? I like you, I'd like to see you again" is fine. I would love it if I got a message like that from someone I was seeing.

Last weekend, I went on a second date with someone really cool, but I was in a terrible/bad mood all day leading up to it, and already wasn't sure how compatible we were, and I know that I acted strange on our date. It ended on a weird note and I stewed over it for a couple days. Finally, I just sent a text saying, "I wasn't at my best on Friday and I think I may have been strange/confusing. For what it's worth, I think you're a cool person." And he texted back and agreed it was a strange vibe, but he thinks I'm great too, and we exchanged a few texts about how maybe our chemistry is just off, but we're glad we met each other! So we're not going to date, but we might be friends, and that's fine. It was SUCH a relief to just talk about it instead of sitting wondering and overthinking. I know this isn't exactly analagous to your situation, just an example: it's okay to just say the thing. Just don't over-say it. Which I have done with this overly long answer.

In conclusion: solidarity. This stuff is hard.
posted by adastra at 11:53 AM on April 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

In my experience; most of my relationships have had excitement. Yet, not all of my relationships generated deep anxiety in me and made me hand wring constantly. However, all of the bad relationships did generate anxiety.

Dating someone shouldn't feel like they're playing keep away with a carrot on a string, dangling it in front of you, and occasionally offering you nibbles here and there. You shouldn't feel anxiousness and excitement at the carrot within reach, desperately wanting to get at the carrot, constantly thinking about the carrot, always hoping for more carrots. See, good relationships just give you the entire carrot to munch on, and the carrots are abundant and not scarce. You should be fat and happy and full of carrots and you shouldn't be worrying about lack of carrots.

Ok, it's a silly analogy. But I feel like when a date snatches their proverbial carrot away, things never get better and it's just not a good match. Yes, you probably do have an anxious tendency but in this case? You felt it from day one. I don't think it's in your head. Are you sure you're not glossing over your 'slight' incompatibilities because you like him? I think you should trust your instincts-- the voice that's saying that while things are exciting and he's cute and funny and whatever, things don't feel so great, sometimes.

But who knows, since we don't have all the info. I think it's fine if you want to reach out again, and say; 'hey, even though I'm busy, I'm still free to text in the morning/afternoons/whenever. How are you doing?' and go from there. Never be afraid of asking for what you need and want-- but if things don't feel better soon, if it still feels like he's stepping back, then don't step forward any more.

Best of luck!
posted by Dimes at 12:12 PM on April 14, 2016 [9 favorites]

Oh, man, the early-dating thing is so tough.

I found it helpful to look at this period, where you've met in person, you've been on a few dates, but you're not Dating yet, as really low-pressure. Just assume you're not exclusive. Assume that both of you get to continue playing the field/be active on the dating app. (Just like this is probably the only point in a relationship where you're really allowed to just say "I'm going to be incommunicado for 10 days, so deal with it") Do not assume that this is heading toward anything serious, and prepare your heart to be ghosted on or for the energy to just ebb away and not come back. It takes time to get to know a person, especially online where you're starting from zero. It's normal for people to go on a few dates and realize they're not really feeling it.

Also, likewise, if you are really excited about someone at this point and want to be exclusive, want them to delete their account, want a daily check-in, etc. SAY THAT. This is not really an assumed thing after four dates. Again, especially with you reserving the right to bounce for a week plus, which probably sends the opposite message to this dude.
posted by Sara C. at 12:37 PM on April 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

So, I would try to stop looking at this as online dating and just look at it as dating. Sure, you guys met online. But I consider the "online" part to be the period of exchanging messages before you meet in person. Once you have actually met the person (and had sex!) they are just a person like any other person. I can guarantee that this type of early dating awkwardness can equally happen with someone you meet in a bar or whatever.

So, this is more just general dating advice. You have to put yourself out there and ask for what you want/need out of a dating relationship. It sounds like you want to be exclusive - if that is a case, you need to have a conversation about it! I think most people would not necessarily assume exclusivity after 4 dates -- there is absolutely nothing wrong with talking about that, but you do have to actually do that. And similarly, if someone I had just started dating said they were going to be super busy and didn't want to see me for over a week, I would not assume that meant I should go ahead and text them daily! Again, it's fine to want that and ask for it, but you might need to be a little more clear. I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is to expect someone they just met to read their mind. Sure, it is great to find someone who you are SO compatible with that you automatically share all expectations about how your relationship will go...but, that is also pretty much impossible to achieve on every single dimension you might care about. Plus, it's hard to know - maybe this dude would also prefer to be texting daily, but he is worried about bothering you in the middle of a huge work project!
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:37 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't know, I guess I have a different perspective? May not be useful, but why not:

It's unfair to keep him on the hook for 10 days. Sucks that you're so busy. Maybe you're too busy for a reationship. I don't think I could go 10 days with no contact or very limited contact without going crazy (with my current boyfriend.) That would probably have been true when we first started dating as well. And it happened! We had trips planned and family stuff and started dating at Inopportune Time. We made it work because we were both into each other. I literally went to Vegas with two single friends like three weeks after I met him, because it was pre-planned. Terrible timing, nothing happened because he locked me down before that. Because, again, he was super into it.

If he's like "10 days, whatever" he's not that into you and you should just let him date others. If neither of you brought up exclusivity then he's within his rights.
posted by quincunx at 7:04 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

You seem to have high expectations of attention and commitment about a very new relationship, especially if you don't even think you guys are compatible. Until you've had a talk about your status and exclusivity it's going to come across as weird and controlling if you come down on him about being on the dating site. Also this:

...didn't even text to say "good luck" on the night it happened. I felt disappointed, which made me reflect on whether my feelings for him or desire to be in a caring relationship aren't being mirrored.

This is so dumb and makes me just want to break it off.

Whoa. You're reading a lot into this. Maybe he forgot. Maybe he didn't want to bug you. You've been on four dates. Wanting a caring relationship is fine, but things have to *build* to that point -- it's a bit unrealistic to expect this so early on. You are giving some very mixed signals, just in this ask, and if you've done this in person he's probably confused as to your interest level as well. But if one non-text makes you want to break it off, you probably should.

My usual advice to people who are agonizing about a relationship is: be direct (but kind), ask for what you want (within reason) and be prepared to either walk away if they cannot meet those needs, or accept that those needs will have to be met by someone or something else. Keep in mind other people have needs as well, that should be honored whenever possible (again, within reason).

If you want to keep seeing him, let him know, and try to make at least a bit of time for a coffee or lunch date, and tell him you'd like to text regularly since you can't spend more time with one another while your work thing is happening.

Also. . . you seem to attach a lot of stigma to online dating. "online dating is awkward and unnatural as hell". . . "feelings can come and go quickly, especially in online dating". But you're not actually dating online - you are meeting people online to date in person.

Connecting with people online is just something that happens now, it's not really different than phone calls or emails or dinner parties or chatting by the office water cooler. Perhaps the process of dating is making *you* feel awkward or unsure of your feelings. You might do well to examine this and not rush to pin it on your method of meeting people.
posted by ananci at 11:49 PM on April 14, 2016

It's ok to break it off, it seems like he's betting that's going to happen anyway. You've given this guy reason to think you're not really that interested in him, and from what you say above, it sounds like that's true. It's unfair to keep dating someone just because things are "sort of" working out and you want practice, or someone to be there in the interim.

In my experience of online dating, people don't stick around if it looks like things aren't working out, or if things are just "ok". People want to feel a spark, a real connection with the people they meet. And if that doesn't happen, well you keep looking. A lot of potential relationships will fizzle out after a handful of dates. And online dating is a matter of finding opportunities, so people won't just stop all other dating when they first meet someone, it could take weeks or months to decide things are good enough to be exclusive.

I've had a handful of good relationships from online dating, and married the latest one. I felt a strong connection right away with those people, and it was reciprocated too - things just felt "right" and we dated for a long time. With my now-husband, there was a real spark, beyond feeling of things just being "right", but that can be very hard to find. The other ones, some I dated for a few months but it felt like a bit of a struggle to figure out if things would work out or not, and they ended. Long term, yeah, relationships take work, but the initial few months should be easy if the connection is "right".
posted by lizbunny at 7:48 AM on April 15, 2016

Okay, first of all, I relate to how you feel A LOT. But: I think he's just giving you space because you told him you were hella swamped for the next ten days and he doesn't want to bug you. Text him and check in and see how he responds -- you'll have a lot more info from THAT exchange than from reading into this. He may very well be giving you what he thinks you asked him to give you -- space while you work.

Don't jump to the worst possible conclusion here, before you've done a little leg work to feel out the real story.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 10:42 AM on April 15, 2016

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