chemistry, desires, connection, the slog of dating
March 6, 2018 7:50 PM   Subscribe

How do you distinguish between possible dating connection (which may lack a romantic spark/instant connection at first but that's totally okay) and a basic lack of compatibility?

(Sorry for the rambly thoughts -- writing this in a moment of peak disappointing feels)

I'm really struggling here. I have again and again found myself in first or second date situations with people I had previously been excited about for various reasons, only to find myself not really enjoying connecting with them and not being interested in taking things further. This has happened maybe 12-18 times in the last two years. I try to push past this feeling and stay open to the date and developing that intimacy, but it quickly feels like too much effort and I kind of close off inside. I've had a lot of walks home crying in the dark and feeling worthless.

I know this literally describes just an okayish-but-then-we'll-part-ways date that I react to poorly, and that would be okay if I could accept it's just that, but I am sincerely unable to figure out how much this is just How Dating Works (numbers game, an unpleasant slog of disappointment) and how much is something specific about me. Am I expecting too much too soon in terms of chemistry/spark? I'd like to think that I'm fully aware that it's okay to build a slow connection with someone, but I could be wrong. Am I just not finding folks who meet my basic threshold of compatibility? Are my standards too high?

This often centers on feeling like we don't really share the same sense of humor or have a similar approach to life (which can mean any number of things, but is often just a vibe/impression that I wouldn't really enjoy having this person as my partner in life, or like spending a long weekend together just seems super exhausting). I guess I like building a connection to someone that is kind of based around a shared excitement about ideas/possibilities and also sort of a screwball playfulness -- and also a kind of sweet mutual supportiveness and emotional communication. I also deeply value people being comfortable with their own weirdness and just being like very strong (but also very kind) individuals. I think I could be happy with someone who is much more grounded and practical than myself, and that might be wise ha, but I think I'd need to feel like we can Go There in terms of ideas and silliness and stuff. I don't know though, writing that out I fear that I'm really just not as playful or idea-ful as I think I am, and maybe I just have some ideal stuck in my head, or am too hung up on the dynamic in my happiest (though ultimately still difficult) relationship from many years ago.

Perhaps a mitigating factor is that I have grown very comfortable on my own in lots of ways, and so I'm only really interested in forming a connection with someone who would add a lot to my life (and vice versa). Part of the reason why I'm trying to reality-check these early dates is that I could imagine my first few dates with that person being pretty shy or subdued - in fact, it's almost likely that it would be a slow burn thing. But I don't know, as much as I try to stay open to that possibility, and even when I start making some progress doing that work of building intimacy, I eventually hit a point where I lost interest or just stop being able to do the work and I shut down.

To be honest, I'd love to just formally ban any Sit-down Dinner/Coffee dates for the rest of time and just try to form genuine connections with people doing common activities (I have semi-social hobbies! Playing basketball, pinball, coding.. and I'm looking into a maker space and martial arts). And like, if one of those connections becomes romantic, great, but if not I am good regardless. I guess one last thing is that my sexual orientation has been very much in flux the last few years, and that may be something at work here as well (I've gone almost entirely on dates with cis women and AFAB nonbinary folks, as a queer/bi trans woman, and maybe dating other trans women/amab nobinary folks or cis men might feel better?)

Okay I'll stop adding details as this is going to get way too unfocused. tl;dr: what is a good amount to push yourself early on in dating when you're not feeling a connection? How do you distinguish real valid dating preferences from the general difficulty of dating?

thank you thank you thank you
posted by elephantsvanish to Human Relations (12 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
To be honest, I'd love to just formally ban any Sit-down Dinner/Coffee dates for the rest of time and just try to form genuine connections with people doing common activities (I have semi-social hobbies! Playing basketball, pinball, coding.. and I'm looking into a maker space and martial arts). And like, if one of those connections becomes romantic, great, but if not I am good regardless.

I don't see anything wrong with this idea.
posted by salvia at 8:10 PM on March 6, 2018 [14 favorites]


Someone who is comfortable enough to exhibit playfulness, silliness and instant connection on the first few dates is usually a red flag but ymmv, people get nervous all the time, have bad days etc. Takes time to build a rapport base to refer to even with shared humour present. Instant chemistry is a thing and indication to consider giving it more time, but instant connection? That's usually a person skilled in mirroring.
It sounds like you're building people up inside your head as ideas and then feeling let down by their in person real presentation.
Hoping someone will add a lot to your life might be a problem. Maybe take a break from dating to work on making your life fulfilling instead. Then the approach you will take will be one of having a life full to share, not one of a void of possibilities that someone feels like they have to fulfill in order for you to feel excited about them.
posted by OnefortheLast at 8:33 PM on March 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


I personally disliked online dating for a long time and have had similar experiences to you, so I get what you're going through! However, this caught my eye:

is often just a vibe/impression that I wouldn't really enjoy having this person as my partner in life, or like spending a long weekend together just seems super exhausting

I wonder if you might have a better time if you reframe this a bit for yourself - instead of thinking "could I see this person as a life partner?" could you reframe the basic question you're asking to be "could I see myself enjoying another date with this person?"

If you can't do that, no judgment. I have a really hard time with it, which is why online dating can suck for me! But the people I know who have most enjoyed online dating (or dating in general!) have been those who are able to stop thinking long-term and just focus on how they feel about the person, and the interaction, in the moment. Yeah, eventually if you go out with someone more than a few times you have to wrestle with longer-term potential, but you don't have to do that the first time you meet them.

A while back I read some really great advice here on metafilter. Of course, now I can't find it, but the basic gist was that the best way to build any kind of relationship is to really appreciate and savor the relationship at the stage it's currently at, instead of trying to push it to (or resisting) the next stage. I have tried to adopt this philosophy in building all sorts of relationships and it has really helped a lot.

BTW, you might do all this and STILL have a bunch of dates where it's awkward and there's no spark. That doesn't speak to anything being wrong with you - online dating is really just a crapshoot.
posted by the sockening at 10:04 PM on March 6, 2018 [19 favorites]


hiii thank you for your answers so far! I just wanted to clarify this is not exclusively about online dating, but a dynamic that happens with people I've met through work/school lately as well (though it's mostly about online dating).
posted by elephantsvanish at 4:05 AM on March 7, 2018


We’re looking for similar folks. People who are “playful, sweet, kind, comfy with their own weirdness, and are also strong” are extremely attractive, and they are not thick on the ground, but do not give up hope of finding such a person. You must keep those high standards and do not settle. The more you yourself can become that kind of person, the easier your search for that person will be.

I have again and again found myself in first or second date situations with people I had previously been excited about for various reasons, only to find myself not really enjoying connecting with them and not being interested in taking things further

Reframe this— This is exactly as it should be. That’s good news. If you really think about it, to be able to find out so early on that you do not really enjoy connecting with them and don’t want to keep seeing them— that’s actually a gift. That’s you really knowing yourself. Lean into that more. You won’t waste anyone’s time. Stay the course, and be patient.
posted by edithkeeler at 4:59 AM on March 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


This is a bit of a different suggestion but are you depressed, super stressed out or anxious? I have depression and anxiety and one place they manifest is they make getting to know other people just... So much unappealing work. All the fun gets sucked right out of it, even though in general under normal circumstances I like people a lot and I usually like getting to know new folks. My pet theory is I'm so busy doing internally directed emotional work to keep my depression in check that I don't have any effort left over for others. So, are you in a place where you really feel like you even CAN get to know people slowly or does it feel like a monumental task you just don't have the energy for? (Which there's nothing wrong with not having the energy and cognitive space to date at all! But it might help you feel a bit better if you can unravel if it's really the dating pool or just how you're feeling right now.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 7:24 AM on March 7, 2018


To be honest, I'd love to just formally ban any Sit-down Dinner/Coffee dates for the rest of time and just try to form genuine connections with people doing common activities

So ban them! Sit-down dinner/coffee dates are the worst. They're like job interviews, grueling and not truly revealing in the least. When I did online dating a few years ago, I met one person for coffee and another for dinner and both were totally incompatible and boring to me. I decided to spend my time the way I wanted to spend it, so even if the date didn't go well, I'd have a positive experience doing whatever the thing was that we did. I put that in my profile too, and soon after, I met my partner from the site; our first date was a group hike.

Everyone said I was doing it wrong - putting my politics out there, my [lack of] religion, my dealbreakers, what I was really looking for. But for me it was a time saver. Why waste my time or theirs by emails and phone calls and meetups if we weren't compatible?

It is odd to me that so many people are willing to repeatedly do a thing so few of them like doing in order to never have to do the thing again. Do what you like to do! Few people will want to do it with you, fewer still will enjoy doing it with you, and if you're lucky you'll find just the slightest select few to be playful, sweet, kind and comfortably weird when you're doing it.
posted by headnsouth at 7:29 AM on March 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


"I guess I like building a connection to someone that is kind of based around a shared excitement about ideas/possibilities and also sort of a screwball playfulness -- and also a kind of sweet mutual supportiveness and emotional communication. I also deeply value people being comfortable with their own weirdness and just being like very strong (but also very kind) individuals."

In my experience, these nuanced, complex traits are not too likely to be obvious in the first date or two. I haven't dated in years, but even meeting new potential friends -- which I do all the time -- I present differently than I fully am once you get to know me; by differently, I mean partially -- some traits show, some don't. And you don't get to know me or anyone in only a few hours in staged settings like dates. A lot of playful, weird, screwball, emotionally connected, strong yet kind people aren't comfortable revealing themselves in their entirety (if we even knew how to do that) with a new person right off the bat; the best I'd hope for over the course of maybe two dates is some moment of body language, eye contact, verbal or non-verbal shared communication.

So as others have said, I'd ask myself whether I'm interested enough to go on another date, not whether I feel comfortable enough to spend a solid 48 hours, or a lifetime, together.
posted by mmw at 9:14 AM on March 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


I think it's totally reasonable to expect to go on about 50-100 first dates that fizzle due to insufficient chemistry, before finding one person you can connect with for a relationship.

The way I see online dating is this:

Imagine you went to a party or bar that contained 50 people of your gender(s)-of-choice.
You'd feel elated if you had a great convo with ONE person and got their number to see them again.
You would never expect to have a great convo with TWENTY people at that party and get ALL their numbers to see them later.

In online dating, the same ratio applies... Meet 50 people, like ONE person.
You just meet the people one-at-a-time, so it takes longer.

At a party, you scan the room and chitchat in groups to quickly assess chemistry, so it can be as quick as 30 seconds to 5 minutes per person.
On dates, you invest about 2 hours per person (time spent profile reading, sending messages, and the date itself).

So just either be at peace with the slower speed of online dating (it does lead to more interesting short-term intimate conversations than a crowded party would, which is its own reward)....
or, get faster at online dating (meet after fewer messages, and plan shorter dates with less preparation and commute time...
or, I guess you could quit online dating and try going to lots of parties to meet people?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:03 PM on March 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


My guess is that this is an orientation thing. It can also be a numbers thing at the same time. I personally feel this way with 99.9999999999% of dudes who I otherwise find unobjectionable, but I only feel this way with maybe 60% of women who I otherwise find unobjectionable.

In other words, a really really consistent "nothing wrong at all but mehhhhhh" kind of reaction can be about your orientation.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:40 PM on March 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


Erm, might you have a bit of commitment phobia? I've felt similar. I get very comfy and complacent in my own company and have a low tolerance for strange new people.

A "safe" gut feeling has always been way more trustworthy for me than an exciting "THIS PERSON IS AMAY-ZING AND SUPER HOT" feeling. With the latter, I think I'm just excited to unwrap an enigma, and it's always resulted in drama (manipulation, incompatibility, hurt feelings).

The best, most stable relationships I've been in have been the result of persistance after a lukewarm series of dates, which I stuck with because I had a safe fuzzy "aw, I don't want a relationship with this person because they're too chatty / don't rave about their pets / seem a bit too awkward / too reticent, but they're real comfortable to just hang out with". My phobic brain has only mentally crossed a person off, not made it explicit, so there's still a date-y vibe. I've aimed for friendship instead, then the super-picky barrier is lowered and I become more open-minded and attraction grows (even physical attraction that wasn't there at first).

That said, a sense of humour is non-negotiable (for me) - it helps me weather all the other doubts that assail my brain.

This might not be you at all, though - Rock 'em Sock 'em could really be on the money with the orientation thing - also it can fluctuate / change over time and make everything confusing and argh.
posted by youhavedeadedme at 12:10 AM on March 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


For anyone reading this in the future: over the past month a LOT has happened. A lot of really good exciting stuff. And the crux of it: I stopped listening so much to those disappointed/discouraged feelings and (as many of you said) kept spending time with people that felt comfortable and who I could trust.

From there, unexpected/hot/warm and fuzzy/interesting things have happened. Stuff I definitely wouldn't have predicted if I just took directions from my feelings.

The main takeaway I have from this: I have lots of deep fear/self-protective things going on that manifest in ways that seem reasonable, but are really just avoidance. This doesn't mean, never listen to a strong feeling that something doesn't feel right. But it does mean not to take "this could never work out" feelings so literally.

Hope this is helpful, future-whoevers! Thanks for all the great advice, all. <3
posted by elephantsvanish at 7:39 AM on April 4, 2018 [5 favorites]


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