Keeping your cool when dating
January 5, 2019 9:03 PM   Subscribe

I have gotten the runaround with dating this past year, and it's making me more anxious and neurotic when in the throes of new relationship energy than usual. How do I deal?

Hi, I'm a 25-year-old women dating men. Most of them I'm meeting on apps but not all.

The big picture problem is I haven't had a guy clearly tell me he's not interested or doesn't want to keep seeing each other since April of freaking 2016 when my last serious relationship ended. YES, that's 2.5 years. Admittedly I didn't date that entire time, but I've still gone on a lot of first dates. I've told a lot of guys I'm not interested. But when they're not interested in me, over and over, they slow fade or ghost. They act interested and suddenly they get flaky with their texts but they come around when it's convenient. I had a guy drag me along--planning dates and then cancelling-- for 4 damn months recently until I blocked him. I KNOW, I gave him waaaayyyyy too many chances, that will never happen again. But he's one of many. To say I'm discouraged would be the understatement of the century.

Then I go out on a second date with this guy recently, and it's great! He picked me up and took me ice skating. He even stopped and got me a pastry from a coffee shop on the way there. He's kind and funny. We held hands and he was very, very careful to not go too fast so I didn't fall. He bought food for us to share afterwards and he was just so kind and considerate the entire time. He drove me home and made sure I got inside before leaving. Conversation flowed. He told me he had a great time. I could like this one a lot. The new relationship energy is coming out in force.

The problem is since then he hasn't really been texting me, and it's driving me crazy because now I don't know if he's slow fading or just shy. I texted him yesterday and he replied but he didn't really make an effort to continue the conversation. He's very shy and he was very nervous when we first went out. I'm also out of town visiting my parents, which he knows. But I just don't know. I've initiated most of the conversations. I'm going to try backing off for a couple days to gauge his interest--i really dislike always being the one to reach out--and I know not knowing where we stand is gonna eat at me.

It could be nothing. I've met the dude twice. But over and over and over this is how guys slow fade on me. I'm absolutely fine if they just tell me where we stand. I calm down immediately even if I am rejected because at least I know. But this phase--where I like someone and I'm excited about them but I also have absolutely no if they really like me or they're they're going to vanish on me--drives me insane. I feel like I can't trust people to be upfront with me instead of dragging me along, and it's making dating in general miserable instead of fun. This happens with guys in real life and online. I use bumble but I've used OKC and tinder too. It's been the same on all of them.

So my questions: is this just how dating is?? Is there somewhere else I can look where they'll actually be serious? I'm out there, really. I have friends. I talk to guys at bars. I go to meet ups semi-regularly. It's the same everywhere. I can get drunken hookups easily, but I don't want that. At all. My grad program only has three men, and they're all taken. I'm so discouraged and I'm not sure what else I can do.

How do I keep my cool in this situation, and with dating in general? I went for a hike today. I'm talking to other guys. I baked a damn pie. I'm reading books and taking a deep breath. I'm doing ok. I'm sleeping and seeing friends. But it's still there nagging at me. This is what happens over and over again. If you've been here--how do you cope?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I am not sure about the general coping part, so have no advice to give on that. However, it sounds like you are definitely doing all the right non-dating things, so keep up the awesome work! Honestly, it really does sound like it's not you, it's them.

... That said, with this particular guy, could it be a matter of a mismatch in texting styles?

I am generally quite shy. Non-plan-making/logistics-related texting feels quite personal to me, especially in a dating context, because it assumes the texter has a claim on the textee's time. You say you've seen this guy twice, and he knows you're out of town visiting your parents; perhaps he feels it would be rude to pester you with chit-chatty texts? because he is just some guy you just barely met, after all? Yes, even if you initiated. I would feel this way if I were him.

I know you said you dislike always being the one to reach out, and that definitely sucks. But if he's the shy and nervous sort, maybe you being respectfully blunt/forward/consistent about wanting to make plans would encourage him to reciprocate if he indeed feels the same way.*

1) Text him, "I had so much fun on our last date; I'd really like to see you again. Are you free sometime in the next [specifickish timeframe]?" Hopefully that will lead to an arrangement of 3rd date. If he doesn't answer within [x amt of time that is reasonable to you], then you have your answer. For me x = 2-3 days. YMMV.

2) Before each date ends, ask "when can I see you again?" to open up that conversation. Then you can either make arrangements then and there, or follow-up by text later to firm up plans.**

3) Hopefully, soonish and in an organic way, a conversation will come about (in person, on a date) re: 'are you interested in me or no?', what you two are looking for in a relationship, communication styles, et al. You may have to initiate it though. Sorry. I don't really know how soon is 'too soon' but date 3 or 4 sounds right to me, if both parties are looking for a long term thing, or even a casual but ongoing thing. Even a casual but ongoing thing seems like it would need some kind of discussion around this point to save everybody angst and time.

4) If any of this feels like you're pulling his teeth out in these early stages, maybe he's just not the right dude for you, and it's not you, it's them.

*It worked on me and my extroverted boyfriend who I met through Bumble...

**Or you can talk on the phone. I HATE talking on the phone.
posted by phonebia at 11:16 PM on January 5 [6 favorites]

Would you feel comfortable setting boundaries right away? "Hey, I know a lot of people are cool with ghosting, but I would really prefer it if either of us feels like it's not a good fit that we just be up front about it with each other. I prefer not to leave people hanging or be left hanging. How do you feel about that?" Or maybe that's something you can include in your dating profile. "If it's not a good fit I'd prefer we acknowledge it and move on. I am not comfortable with ghosting people and if you are, we probably won't be compatible." This accomplishes two things. 1. It weeds out people who don't feel the same as you about clear communication. 2. It puts the responsibility on you and your date equally to be assertive if it's not a good fit. They know you're not going to ghost them either. Frankly, that's going to scare a lot of people away, but those aren't the people you want anyway.

Also, it sounds like you have a mature, non-dramatic attitude toward dating, and reading your post I wonder if you're limiting yourself to guys your age. You might do better with someone around the age of 30, though I know people of all ages can do the ghosting thing. And the reason people do it is because no one censures this behavior (which I find quite rude) for fear of being seen as "clingy." Which is laughable. What you want is the opposite of clingy. Hang in there, you are not the only one.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 11:17 PM on January 5 [11 favorites]

I would say the best way to keep your cool is to... keep your cool. Keep things in perspective and don’t get ahead of yourself or ahead of the actual relationship. Picking you up for a date and bringing a treat is decent and nice! It stands out because there’s jerks out there, but overall it’s still just one second nice date. There are SO many steps between a nice second date and “the one” so really try to keep it in perspective and take it one step at a time.

And, even when you’re on the date, let your attitude be: this is really nice and I have no idea what’ll happen next (instead of “eeek this guy is awesome I hope it really works!!!!”)

So, now you’re feeling: gee that was a nice 2nd date and I hope he texts me back. Let it stop there and try not to spiral into “but what will happen next.”

If you hate being the one to reach out... then don’t. You’ll pass on “maybe could have been” guys but oh well, and eventually you’ll find the one who does reach out (rather than try to make the guy who doesn’t reach out into one that does). Even when people aren’t being upfront, they’re still being upfront. You know what I mean? Take each action at its word.

Basically early dating is real politik: play the pieces on the field, no more no less. Good luck!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:20 PM on January 5 [4 favorites]

Sorry, this is just the way dating is. It doesn't mean the guys you're meeting aren't looking for something serious. It means that they're conflict-avoidant when it comes to letting you down. In my experience *most people* (of all genders) prefer to ghost someone in the very early stages of dating rather than being upfront about their lack of interest. It's just human nature - it is easier and a lot of people think that it's a kinder way of approaching things. You can argue that being upfront would be kinder, and you can even mention it in your profile as someone suggested above, but that ain't gonna change anything. If you want to date, you have to accept that the vast majority of first and second dates aren't going to go anywhere, and most of those people will ghost you rather than tell you honestly that you're not their cup of tea.

As to how to deal:

1) Chill. Remind yourself that it's only been two dates, it's very early days, it could go anywhere or nowhere. Don't doodle the dude's name on your notebook or start naming your kids. Don't do the majority of the texting, don't reach out more than ~half the time. Let the guy meet you halfway.

2) Go on dates with multiple people at once. This helps you avoid focusing all your energy and hopes on one dude at once. Maybe you like this one dude but you're not putting all your eggs in that one basket, so to speak, and you have the distraction of a date with Other Dude tonight!

I know it's hard but you can do it. Take a deep breath, meet different guys, hopefully something long-term will work out with one of them eventually! Good luck!
posted by sunflower16 at 11:59 PM on January 5 [6 favorites]


The big picture problem is I haven't had a guy clearly tell me he's not interested or doesn't want to keep seeing each other since April of freaking 2016 when my last serious relationship ended.

Unfortunately that sounds normal to me. I'm a lot older than you and I can't think of a single time I've ever had a guy tell me upfront that he's not interested, aside from ending a serious relationship.
posted by sunflower16 at 12:20 AM on January 6 [5 favorites]

Yeah, people ghost. It can be hurtful, but it’s usually, I think, because they aren’t interested and just can’t bring themselves to say it.

Also please consider that you may be a more prolific tester than some of these guys.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:24 AM on January 6

Would it help to flip your default? So you'd assume that all dating meetings are one-offs. You'd be waiting for people to say "let's meet again".

Personally I don't like having to explicitly end dating relationships. The reasons PersonA might not want to date PersonB are generally labyrinthine, subjective, intangible, illogical, and unfair, and often have little to do with anything wrong with the person; still, it can hurt to feel rejected and I never wanted to hurt a perfectly nice person's feelings or demoralize them, just because I had some deeply personal preference or response that wasn't about them at all.

I feel it's kinder to ghost, and can actually be almost emotionally abusive the way people do sometimes explicitly end short dating contacts. I think many people would rather have silence than explicit "rejection", so while you're not wrong for wanting the opposite, you may well be in a minority, so you may need to find a coping strategy.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:57 AM on January 6 [3 favorites]

Remember that ghosting is normal; it's not you.

I ended up dealing with the stress of not knowing by maintaining distance and not mentally investing in anyone until we're definitely in a relationship. I can't recommend it though; it's made it more difficult for me to get into a relationship because I don't commit to focusing my attention on the potential relationship and they sense that and wander off. I think that doing what you're doing (living with the discomfort and trying to distract yourself) is probably your best bet. It might help a little to set "rules" for yourself on when you're going to give up on someone... like, if they aren't in touch after a week or after they cancel one date, you'll assume they're not interested instead of wondering, and mentally move on. (If they reappear after that time, you can still go out with them if you want; the purpose of the rules would be to give yourself the closure that they won't give you.)
posted by metasarah at 5:12 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]

As everyone said, everyone is going to ghost you because an honest "no, didn't like you THAT much after 1-2 dates" is never going to happen. Nothing you can do about that. Nobody wants to directly hurt someone's feelings and they won't do it even if you ask for it in your profile. You really need to go in assuming that everyone you meet will ghost until someone doesn't.

However, it sounds like you're more concerned about this one guy:

The problem is since then he hasn't really been texting me, and it's driving me crazy because now I don't know if he's slow fading or just shy. I texted him yesterday and he replied but he didn't really make an effort to continue the conversation. He's very shy and he was very nervous when we first went out. I'm also out of town visiting my parents, which he knows. But I just don't know. I've initiated most of the conversations. I'm going to try backing off for a couple days to gauge his interest--

I wouldn't bother to make excuses or wonder if shy is the issue, that will only make you nuts. If he's too shy to talk to you at all, then he's too shy to be having a relationship. You should probably always assume a guy has lost interest by default unless they actually start responding. As I've said in other threads this week, it's a tennis match and they have to start hitting the ball back to you if things are ever going to progress. You hit the ball, it's up to him to hit it back and if he doesn't, it won't progress. It won't make things happen if you keep serving him balls that he ignores.

And as was also said in another thread recently, "should I contact him again?" after you've tried and so far gotten no response--then don't do it again. Yes, back off for a few days and gauge his interest. But assume by default that they will lose interest until one of them actually wants to keep responding to you.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:10 AM on January 6 [4 favorites]

I don’t think this conversation is helped by loosely defined terms, but I REALLY do not think it is helped by proclamations about what most people are like or how they experience things.

To place my views in context: I am a lesbian in my late thirties in a big blue city. if I go out with someone and I don’t want to see them again, I don’t text them. Usually that lack of chemistry is mutual, and they never text me either, and we both move on with our lives. If they do text me, I am honest about what my remaining interest is (“hey! Thanks for [whatever]. After thinking about it, I don’t think we’re a match right now. Best of luck out there” or something similar.) I do not nominally pretend to want to continue contact with them while slowly fading until they “get the hint” or cut things off for me because that is a shitty, manipulative way to treat people, especially people you don’t know well enough to know how they respond to cultural cues. If you date online or otherwise date people you have very little knowledge about you are implicitly accepting responsibility for interacting responsibly with varied kinds of people. Pretty much the only time it’s ok to actively manipulate someone like this (there’s something you want them to know but not something you want to say, so you want them to figure it out or decide they don’t like you or whatever) is if you’re genuinely afraid of how they will react. It’s like it’s one of those things women do for actual reasons, and then it leaks into broader culture and people are like “oh it’s fine now,” completely missing the context of “I am afraid this person will go batshit crazy on me.” Idk. Ask v guess might come into play here.

It seems like OP is experiencing anxiety about people who are, essentially, passive aggressive about their intentions and either inconsiderate or manipulative in their behavior. Which makes sense! Those are really shitty things!

You cannot do anything about these dudes, and there will be more of them. Pretty much the only thing you can do is be clear about your own boundaries with yourself, first, and then be clear about them with other people. Sometimes it still sucks, because it’s dating, and it involves getting hurt. But it’s way easier when you’re able to state what you need. And someone who is right for you is not going to react badly to a reasonably statement about what you want; people with good boundaries, who are able to negotiate their own, even if they turn out to not be the same as yours, are usually excited when someone else demonstrates the same.
posted by schadenfrau at 9:00 AM on January 6 [5 favorites]

Like sunflower16, I’m older than you, but I have had a couple guys tell me they weren’t interested. And it’s only because I expressed interest in them and/or meeting up again. (i.e. I texted “would you like to meet up again?”) And yeah, rejection hurts, even if these are strangers. Without being prompted (and even then), it’s hard for people to say, “actually, I’m not interested.” Even if you can do it. (And I’m kinda surprised you do, because as the internet has told me, women don’t do this because we never know if men are going to react badly or worse, violently. So good for you :)

So that’s one way to get a clearly stated rejection - ask them to meet up again. They’ll either not respond or say no, and you'll know. Although, if you’re in the position of having to ask for another meet up, and they haven’t asked you first, chances are they’re not interested. MOST of the time, if a guy is interested, they’ll express that.

That’s what I’d do with shy guy - I know you’re tired of initiating conversations, but once you’re back in town, text him and ask for a meet up. Even if he says yes, I wouldn’t bank on his interest or the date happening until the date actually happens. Yes, I know, it sucks. And if the date happens, and it’s great (or not great), let him get in touch with you afterwards. You’ve done enough initiating, let him do it. Wait a day or two. If you get crickets, you’ll know where you stand.

In the meantime, you’ve got a great life with your schooling, hiking, baking, reading, talking to other guys, sleeping and seeing friends. What is shy guy (or any guy you’re messaging/having 1-2 dates with) in your full life? A drop in the bucket right now! It also sounds like you could use a break from dating for the next little while. Just don’t worry about it. You have an awesome life! Enjoy it!
posted by foxjacket at 11:01 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]

One additional thing that I did not see mentioned already: consider taking a break. Dating sucks. It takes a ton of energy, and I get the feeling that your more mature approach to meeting people and communication, is draining more for you than it is for these young men pulling the slow-fade. So, just take a month to rally Team You and forget about dating for a short while. Go out with friends, or have some over for dinner, or have some friends have you over for dinner. Take a solo weekend trip, or a stay-cation and play tourist in your city/town for a day or three. Do whatever things help you to re-charge, re-focus, re-center.

With this specific recent guy, you could try being very direct. "Hi [NAME]! I get back into town on [DATE], do you want to [ACTIVITY] the next [DAY]?" Be specific; yes this takes more energy. Or just move directly to taking a break. There is a chance he will not respond.
posted by jraenar at 11:03 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]

I'll take a slightly different tack to some other responders - though I agree that ghosting after 1-2 dates is not abnormal, it's different than what you've described where someone is seemingly very interested and then suddenly drops off.

Are you looking for a serious/long-term relationship? And if so, are you pre-filtering for men who also want that before you go on a date with them? I ask because this behavior was super common when I was dating men who were clearly not interested in anything serious - like your examples, they were always scheduling and then cancelling, or texting flirty things but then not responding if I tried to set a date, etc. I knew they were doing it because I was just a "potential" for them - someone they didn't want to say "I'm not interested in you" to because they might still want to hook up later if they were bored, but finding someone new is always more exciting when it's just casual dating, so I wasn't at the top of their list either. It was definitely annoying but not super frustrating for me because I was also only interested in casual dating, so I could always just keep swiping on the apps or whatever and find someone new.

If you aren't already, asking (or filtering on your dating app of choice) up front what they're looking for (something serious vs something casual/"fun") might help you avoid some of this stress. If you are asking and these guys say they're looking for something serious but still do the hot and cold thing, then they're just rude (or perhaps you're misinterpreting when they seem interested at first?). If you aren't looking for something serious but just don't want to be ghosted, then Beethoven's Sith's script might work best to be clear that even though it's just casual dating, you still expect some decency in ending things.
posted by jouir at 4:15 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]

Chiming in to say that unfortunately ghosting is extremely de rigueur at every age -- I'm almost 41 and a half and excluding serious relationships, I have only ever had one guy actually behave like a grownup and use his words to tell me thanks but no thanks after three dates (a happening so rare and unexpected that I actually texted him the next day to thank him for the kindness and wish him well). And that was just two years ago. Otherwise it's been slow fades or ghosting, and I have tended to date men in their mid-thirties and up, so no, it's not just young men that do this. It's men in every age bracket who are so incapable of coping with women's feelings that they find it preferable to pretend to still be interested but sooooo busy or vanish entirely instead of having to acknowledge that they might have hurt someone's feelings. (I feel like a Venn diagram of dudes who ghost and dudes who have lots of stories about how all their exes are crazy is pretty close to being just one big wobbly circle.)

How do I cope with this? I've worked hard on cultivating the dating mindset that I'm just meeting new people and polishing my 1:1 interaction skills, so that it doesn't feel like I'm having the rug pulled out from underneath me if it ends before I'm ready, as well as cultivating the mindset that dudes are like city buses - another one will amble along in a few minutes. I've filled my life with lots of other activity and social connections, so that I'm not sitting around bored and feeling unlovable. I've altered the kind of relationship I'm looking for, as well; whereas in my younger years I was staunchly monogamous, dating people in non-monogamous relationships is working better for me these days -- I'm not in a place where the traditional relationship path appeals to me for various reasons, and also, people in successful long-term non-monogamous relationships often have really good communication skills.
posted by palomar at 4:34 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]

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