How to navigate dating thoughtfully when it's not one person at a time?
May 11, 2016 10:34 AM   Subscribe

I’m starting to navigate the on-line dating world, and from what I understand, it’s normal (and maybe even preferable) to interact with several people at once, meet them and then narrow it down, so to speak. But I seem to have a problem with this.

I’m in touch with 6 guys right now who I find interesting. They are all quite different, and I don’t feel strongly about any of them, but curious to meet them. One of them I already met with twice, and he seemed perfectly nice and interesting upon the second meeting. At the end of the second meeting (first date I’d call it), he tried to kiss me, and it felt so bizarre to me, because I don’t have any feelings for him yet, except some mild interest to get to know him better and general appreciation for him being seemingly a nice human being.

Am I doing something wrong? I know it’s ok and typical to kiss after 1-2 dates, but I’m more of a “fall for you, then we do it,” kind of person I guess? How can someone like me date and not feel awkward about this? I don’t want to do something I’m not ready to do, but I also don’t want to come across as a weirdo or string anyone along. In my previous relationship, the first kiss came after date 6, and I really wanted it at that point.

Also, I started thinking, say I develop relationships, however casual, with each of them, or a couple of them, to a point when we do have some feelings for each other and attraction. But then I will have to break it off with them. That seems so mean and manipulative. How do people casually date a couple of people at once and don’t let it be a bad thing for any of them?

Before this, my style seemed to be to get fog (or hormones) in my eyes, get crazy in love, and then suffer the consequences because I’m not with a compatible person but it’s too late then. This time I’m trying to do the rational thing, but seem to have a problem with this?

Regarding my previous desperate question, in case someone checks that out, I want to say that that relationship was over two days before I posted the question. I just didn’t know it yet. I don’t want to go into details, it was bad. However, now I feel I look at the world positive again, and want to give this a try.

And I apologize, these might be stupid questions for a 38-old to ask. I guess I wasn’t brought up in a way that these things come naturally to me, and I haven’t dated before except in my late teens, and I wasn’t quite a conscious adult back then.
posted by LakeDream to Human Relations (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think these are stupid questions. I do think that you need to be honest with everyone that you are dating, about when you feel comfortable kissing, and about the fact that you are dating other people. You aren't doing anything wrong, but I think most people would assume if you don't kiss them by the 2nd or 3rd date that you don't like them, and many people will assume that you date one person at a time, as that is sort of the norm for many people in their 30s.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:41 AM on May 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I’m more of a “fall for you, then we do it,” kind of person I guess? How can someone like me date and not feel awkward about this?

Just be upfront. If you're using online profiles to meet people, I'd suggest using the word 'demisexual.' Broadly, it means that for you an emotional connection is necessary for sexual attraction and/or sexytimes to happen.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:47 AM on May 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

For what it's worth, I dated online a lot and never mastered the "winnowing" approach. I have way too much going on in my life to also casually date 6 people while gradually narrowing it down to the perfect person.

Not to mention what happens when I forget whether it was Trevor or Taylor who was the huge Yankees fan and create some ridiculous mishap that probably ruins the whole thing and prevents me from being with Taylor, the Mets fan, who was the one I really liked the whole time? Better to date people roughly one at a time, and really get to know them properly.

I did message and "talk" to more than one person at a time, but generally never initiated anything new once I was at the meeting in person stages with anyone.

I ended up with someone I met through friends, anyway, but online dating in the "mostly one at a time" approach led to one major relationship and a few other shorter term but also fun/nice/interesting ones.
posted by Sara C. at 10:53 AM on May 11, 2016 [11 favorites]

When I started dating again I fully intended to date casually and more than one person at a time (and tell dates that's what I was doing, of course), but it turns out I'm not emotionally... interested? or capable? of serial dating. I also hadn't dated since I was like 20, so it's just something I didn't know about myself.

As it turned out, I went on two dates with people who didn't spark at all and decided I was going to get off Match after the next one, but that one did spark and it's been almost three years now.

On preview:

If you're using online profiles to meet people, I'd suggest using the word 'demisexual.' Broadly, it means that for you an emotional connection is necessary for sexual attraction and/or sexytimes to happen.

Yeah, that's exactly me, I didn't know there was a name for it...
posted by Huck500 at 10:53 AM on May 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

It seems like a good option for you might be to select "friends" or "friends only" or whatever the platform offers, and put that right on your profile. Something like "I'm only interested in forming friendships at this point, but I am open to eventually forming a romantic relationship" or however you want to word it. I personally would advise against using "demisexual" because it sounds a little precious.

There is a lot of hype around the idea of dating and hooking up with many people at once, but I think you'll find a good number of potential matches who appreciate the friendship first approach.
posted by witchen at 10:54 AM on May 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Oops, had a brainfart and forgot to include:

from what I understand, it’s normal (and maybe even preferable) to interact with several people at once, meet them and then narrow it down, so to speak. But I seem to have a problem with this.

Fuck normal. Just fuck it right in the ear. Do what works for you. If that means serial dating one person after another, then do that.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:57 AM on May 11, 2016 [8 favorites]

I tried dating a bunch of people at once last year and nearly lost my damn mind. I could not keep them all apart, I never had time for myself, and I felt like a jerk. Finally early this year I had a very complex personal project that took up a lot of non work time, and figured I could date just ONE PERSON and if that failed i would just continue to do my own thing until that project was over.

Now the project is over but that ONE PERSON is still around, and I honestly wonder if that decision to not winnow or do the numbers game helped me a little. In fact, though I don't talk about other dating experiences much I wonder if he feels like he isn't special, but he's in fact very special.

YMMV but i think the numbers thing, while heavily favored on Metafilter, might not be for everyone.
posted by zutalors! at 10:59 AM on May 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

I wouldn't select friends-only unless you are REALLY not using the site in a romantic capacity. "Looking For Friends" is usually a gigantic red flag that the person either legit isn't looking for dating relationships at all, or has some kind of complicated situation like looking for a threesome, their spouse knows they have a profile and they're looking to cheat, etc.

Say what you're actually looking for. "Looking For Long Term Relationships" is probably going to make the most sense in terms of wanting to take things slow/see where things go with people. You probably want to avoid suggesting that you're looking for hookups or casual dating, since usually that implies intimacy or sex either right away or within a short timeframe.

Also, as someone who has dated widely in her 30s, I definitely noticed a dropoff in hookup culture or people (whether me or my dates) rushing to get physical. I had at least 2-3 dates with different people I met online where we didn't kiss on either the first or second date, but otherwise hit it off and went on multiple dates.
posted by Sara C. at 11:09 AM on May 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

I would probably not put friends-only on your profile while looking for a relationship, because then there is the potential that anyone you move forward with has really bad respect for boundaries.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:15 AM on May 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I don't think it's mean to date multiple people simultaneously and figure out who you like best. Until you're in a serious relationship with someone, you can end it without guilt at any time for any reason... and they may be doing the same thing on their ends.

That said, I don't enjoy it, even though I'm poly! If I meet someone and think it might be going somewhere long-term, I hold off on seeing other people until I figure it out. It helps ME take it more seriously so I can better decide whether it's right for me, and I think that devoting more of my attention to it makes it more likely to work out too.

So I write to a bunch of people, and of those I meet, some I decide I just don't "click" with on the first date. Occasionally I'll meet someone who seems great right away, and if that happens I often cancel any other dates I have lined up. Some I feel sort of "meh" about and will continue to see in case it improves; I'll date more than one "meh" at once. (None of the "mehs" have worked out for me in the past but I do think it's possible to grow into different feelings over time.)

RE kissing: it is assumed that if you hold off past the second date, you're not interested. You can be upfront and explain that you do like them but take physical stuff VERY slowly. This may still feel like mixed signals to many people, so while I hate to suggest doing anything that doesn't feel good to you in order to "play the game," you might consider going along with kissing if you meet someone you really like and are very invested in not making things feel odd to him. That depends on how motivated you are, really... the idea that "anyone worth dating wouldn't have a problem with waiting" is true in a sense, but waiting may confuse them such that they either think you're not interested in them or not interested in sexy type things at all. I'm only suggesting this option because I'm 40 and the dating pool I'm looking at is fairly depressing; if that's not the case for you, only do what you're actively excited to do!
posted by metasarah at 11:17 AM on May 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Am I doing something wrong? I know it’s ok and typical to kiss after 1-2 dates, but I’m more of a “fall for you, then we do it,” kind of person I guess?

The style of dating where you meet someone new and are expected to be hoping into bed with them within three dates just doesn't work for many people. You may find that spending less time on what I'm guessing is online dating and more time expanding social circles where you can meet people and have interest grow more organically will work better for you. That was my experience - I'd meet strangers that were interesting but I needed time to get to know and they were on a faster timeline than me.

There's concepts like demisexuality where people need to feel an emotional connection before becoming sexually interested in people. You might read some of the material on it to see if there's any tips that will work well for you.

How do people casually date a couple of people at once and don’t let it be a bad thing for any of them?

It's a not too talked about truth with modern dating like this that most people are playing the field to a certain extent and that as things start to get serious with one of the options that the others will be dropped. Some people just do the fade, others are at least up front about it. Unfortunately, the latter can lead to some immature and hurtful outbursts from the recipient.
posted by Candleman at 11:21 AM on May 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you're using online profiles to meet people, I'd suggest using the word 'demisexual.'

I wouldn't use this term on a profile. It's not really common outside of tumblr and similar, so it's likely to confuse many people over the age of 30, and...well. I have a lot of sympathy for and with the young social-justice people, but if I saw someone use that term I would think it likely that it came packaged with a whole ideological structure around sexuality that I would just find too exhausting to navigate--even though I would have zero problem dating a person with that particular characteristic!
posted by praemunire at 11:22 AM on May 11, 2016 [14 favorites]

Yeah, don't worry about adding "demisexual" to your profile. The most I would do is narrow the "looking for" category down to "long term relationships only", and then when it comes to letting dudes know you aren't into kissing until later, just use your words, the way we used to do before the internet.

As for whether you're "doing this wrong" - there is no such thing as "wrong" when it comes to dating, there is only "wrong for you". Granted, if you like to go slow before taking on any physical stuff, you may get a lot less play than someone who's a casual-dating "whee I'm juggling five guys" type, but being a "whee I'm juggling five guys" type is wrong for you, so it wouldn't work anyway.

Dating apps are just a tool you use to meet people you wouldn't have met otherwise. How you use that tool is entirely up to you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:00 PM on May 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

The default expectation with online dating seems to be "let's have fun and see what happens". So if you want something else, you should spell it out in your profile, and then also say it in person. I've had internet first dates where people asked "so what are you looking for" and never thought it was weird at all.

I think one thing to realize with these dating apps is that you can tell very little about whether you will like someone based on their profile or how witty they are over text. You may seem interested in 6 guys over messages but in reality only want to go on a second date with 1 or 2 of them. You would have to go on 6 first dates to find out though. That is what most people mean when they say they are "casually dating more than one person". It is better to just meet someone to find out your impression of them than to get emotionally invested in the messaging/first date. The app is just a way to meet interesting strangers, the goal is to find someone you are enthusiastic about hanging out with again.

In your example, I too would have thought you weren't interested if we had it hit it off over 2 dates and you reacted to a kiss as 'bizarre'. I would assume I had misread the date and wouldn't have asked you out again.
posted by bradbane at 1:36 PM on May 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

How to navigate dating thoughtfully when it's not one person at a time?

When I did this kind of thing, I just made it perfectly clear that they weren't the only one and I was not serious with anyone in particular. The winnowing occurred naturally. The short version is that one man in particular treated me really well and I began spending more time with him and it also gave me a baseline for comparison for when the other men were ....not behaving a great way. So, I would hit a point of "Yeah, no. I don't have to take this. Bye."

It takes a lot of time to develop real intimacy. And maybe you need to think of this as something like "just at the talking stage." In other words, you aren't, like, having sex with six guys. You are just talking online with them and considering meeting them. For dinner. Not for hot sex and an engagement ring and let's try to make a baby TONIGHT.

I guess, I am trying to say "If you had six platonic friends, would you have a problem with it?" Because right now, it is kind of that.

I found that letting a bunch of different people chat me up helped me because it meant my social butterfly needs were met and I wasn't so socially needy, so it lowered the stress for the process of getting acquainted with people. I didn't feel so much pressure to be a people pleaser because, eh, if this guy didn't like me as I was, there were other guys I could talk to. That took a lot of pressure off of me to try to be what I thought they wanted and it let me just be me and let them decide if they liked the real me or not.

But I did struggle with it in part because I think a lot of women are inculcated with this idea that the nanosecond that you consider the possibility of this relationship to this particular guy becoming romantic, you are supposed to be off limits for all other men and you are supposed to be dutifully loyal as hell unless and until y'all break up. Many men don't feel compelled in that way. Women often feel like "I am not a Good Girl if I am thinking about two or more guys as potential romantic partners."

But, there is only so much time in the day. When I did this, I was unemployed and going through a divorce. As my life got more full, it wasn't possible to keep talking with multiple different men all the time.

So, I think either as you get more attached to one person and start spending time with him, you just won't have time to talk enough with other men or as you find someone you really like, you will feel less willing to talk with guys where you just aren't feeling it.

I was just really, really honest with every man I talked with and if a guy had a problem with it, well, it was fine if he moved along and stopped chatting me up. Also, if he pressured me to not talk to other men, I promptly dumped him. It was a situation where I felt that was a totally unreasonable expectation. None of these men were in a position to make a serious commitment to me, so demanding that I be "loyal" to them was basically treating me like property and I was not going to accept that. And it really didn't involve much drama at all, though I sometimes went "OH MY GOD. WHAT AM I DOING??????" for maybe a minute and a half and then calmed down again.

It eventually sorted itself out, without any big dramatic efforts or decisions on my part because my divorce moved forward and I got a job and so on and it simply wasn't sustainable anymore to talk constantly to different men.

posted by Michele in California at 2:14 PM on May 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

These are great questions! (Allow me to apologize in advance for the small novel to follow.)

I had an LTR that started in my late teens end last year, and I ended up in a very similar ship as you re: online dating etiquette and expectations. And, like you, I need a little rapport built up before smooching on someone new and getting any kind of real enjoyment out of it. YMMV, but here's my take.

Frankly, I found even just talking to multiple people completely taxing. I thought "Oh, well it's online dating, it's supposed to be about throwing the pasta at the wall and seeing what sticks, right?" but before long, I was getting SO SICK of answering the same "getting to know you" questions seven times in sequence with seven different people.

What's more, I felt like I wasn't really taking the time to properly get to know any of these people because my attention was so divided. For me, it was unsustainable. I scaled back to only talking to one or two people at any given time, and then eventually just deleted the apps altogether.

Obviously, YANM. But I'm curious if part of the reason that none of these potential suitors are jumping out at you beyond a simple "hey, you seem neat", even after a face-to-face meeting or two, is because your attention is divided in a similar way and it is taking longer for that much-needed personal intimacy to develop with any one person as a result. (Or maybe it's just not meant to click, but I'm operating from the stance of chemistry being a possibility after the intro phase.)

Combined with a known longer burning fuse on kickstarting any physical intimacy, this could lengthen your dating timeline beyond what might be considered average. As such, this is something that you will probably want to communicate to potential partners that you like enough to keep seeing in order to manage any expectations they may have based on their past dating experiences.

Not to say that you're in ANY way, shape, or form responsible for anyone's expectations (you are so not), and certainly not to imply that you are wrong or weird for requiring that you have a little more established history with a person before you can tell if you want to kiss them or not (again, you are so not), but if you know that it takes you a little longer to warm up to a person, it would be good form to clue a honey into this fact so they don't start thinking they've got bad breath or something.

Maybe something like "I'm having a really awesome time with you, but I wanted to let you know that I really need time to get to know you before things can get any kind of physical. Please don't take my not-kissing-you as disinterest, because I think you're swell and I'd love to keep getting to know you better and see where this leads." If they like you and they're any sort of decent, they won't begrudge you this.

As for dating multiple people, my understanding is that you do what you want to do with as many fine folks as you like (safely), but don't make any promises. If it seems like someone is starting to develop stronger feelings where you know you'll have none, it is probably kindest to gently sever that tie earlier rather than later. When/if there starts to be a clear front runner in the "special long-term honey" race (and said honey feels the same way), you both talk and decide whether exclusivity is something you want.

And if it is, yes, unfortunately, you will need to break it off with all of the others, even if you're all having a grand old time together. I would favor an honest, but tactful approach (i.e. Tell them they're great but you're just not feeling the spark and wish them the best, but maybe leave out the part where it's because you've already got a spark elsewhere. No one likes to feel like they "lost" to someone else.)

Good luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 10:26 AM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thank you so much for all the excellent and useful advice! I feel much more confident to proceed, and it’s great to know that I’m alone or crazy.

Keeping track of who said what is definitely keeping me on my toes and is an excellent mental challenge! I can see how I will have to scale back much sooner rather than later, and I hope it will happen without any drama.

Re: meeting people in social circles – this would be the most organic and preferable way for me to do it, but as a liberally inclined foreigner in rural GA, doing so has its challenges ; )

Re: my profile, I have “New Friends, short, and long term relationships” selected. I will remove “short term.”
posted by LakeDream at 4:15 PM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older ISO cheap backpacks   |   Are "pretty" and "beautiful" too gendered? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.