What does genuine, serious interest in dating look like?
September 5, 2019 11:50 AM   Subscribe

I have a general, largely theoretical understanding of what the dating experience looks like when someone is serious about you. But the "devil is in the details," and I'd love to hear anecdotes, stories, or specific examples from early dating stages prior to exclusivity.

For example, what do they text the day after a date or having sex? How do they stay in touch between dates, and what do they talk about? How open are they, and what does "openness" and "vulnerability" look like in practice? How do they handle dating when they're busy and/or temporarily unavailable? When something is disagreeable, how is it brought up and resolved? etc.

I understand every individual is different and that there is no universal answer. But most of my firsthand experience with dating involves failed cases with me pulling most of the weight, so it's a bit difficult for me to identify what genuine, serious interest looks like –– at least on the receiving end.

Thanks for reading and/or sharing!
posted by postmortemsalmon to Human Relations (19 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
One thing I noticed with very early text conversations with my current girlfriend is she would always try to keep the ball rolling by ending conversations with questions and giving me lots of openings to basically continue chatting/flirting by text. I thought that was a great idea and because I also wanted to date her, I stole her idea and did it myself! Muahaha!

She was quite busy when we started dating (she's always quite busy), so our first few dates were pretty far apart - but we'd text enough that it definitely didn't feel like she was blowing me off, and we just had to make plans a little further in advance. Sometimes just sending pictures of "it's a nice day and I'm outdoors" (not even selfies necessarily) kinds of stuff.

As for very communications after stuff the first date it was stuff like "I had a great time and I'd like to see you again". At least IMO there's not really any reason to be coy or aloof about that sort of thing.
posted by aubilenon at 12:43 PM on September 5, 2019 [8 favorites]

I really do think there's a lot of variation, but that you should know it when you see it. In other words, when you meet the right person, you won't be questioning whether they're showing enough interest. But, for some specific examples from one person: after we first met, we texted continually until the next date; he kept looking for things that I might be interested in doing and suggesting new things for us to do (and links to things I might find amusing at work); when he or I had to travel, we texted during the trip, and made plans to meet afterwards; early on, he wanted to talk about things like my closest friendships and what I wanted out of life, not just small talk. When we disagree about something, he's willing to easily accept it if he's wrong about something, which makes me happy to do the same, and it becomes a discussion rather than something emotionally upsetting. (Not sure that this last bit has to do with how serious a relationship is, since people in serious relationships definitely also fight.)
posted by pinochiette at 12:53 PM on September 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

Reading about the Relationship Attachment Model (RAM,) and adult attachment theory in general, might be helpful.

According to the R.A.M. there are five progressive bonding dynamics
1. Knowledge
2. Trust
3. Reliance
4. Commitment
5. Sexual Touch

The idea is that in healthy attachment there is a relative balance between the amount of bonding behavior displayed by both partners on each dynamic. And the dynamics in healthiest relationships develop more or less in order. Meaning, for instance, you don't seriously commit to someone you cannot trust or don't know.

This theoretical model is based on scientific data, but YMMV for any two people of course. That said, you can use this model to assess the progress of your growing attachment and assess where in your relationship you might want to slow down or focus on building up a bit more.
posted by cross_impact at 12:54 PM on September 5, 2019 [8 favorites]

One thing that really impressed me when I started dating my husband was that he made it clear that he wanted to spend time together, and that it was a priority for him. Rather than using "oh I'm so busy next week" as a brush-off, he would say "I'm so busy next week, but I would really like to see you. Could you meet for [activity] on [day]?"

And then, when it came time to plan our dates, he would say "how does dinner at [restaurant] sound? 7:30 good?" rather than some wishy-washy thing that puts all the planning work on me.
posted by witchen at 1:02 PM on September 5, 2019 [26 favorites]

The person I’m now married to is the only serious relationship I’ve had that made me want to form a partnership. It happened like this:

We went on a road trip with friends. It was the second time we’d ever met. We flirted. Next day, they sent me an email asking me on a lunch date and said they really liked spending time with me the other day. I said I did too. Had a date, I kissed them, we started seeing each other.

I ignored everyone who had opinions about ‘rules’ and ‘games’. We liked each other and saw each other when we wanted to, spoke and texted when we wanted to. That was necessary but not sufficient for “seriousness”. We were honest with each other, for example, we reciprocated at similar levels (a text would get responded to when first seen etc.). I knew it was serious when we had a fight and no one shouted and we debriefed on future actions based on our respectful discussion. I was like. This. I can do this.

I’ve asked them for their input and they said:
You both really enjoy spending time with each other. You can be a good team. The argument thing - yes, I agree. You shouldn’t be thinking, “bloody hell, this is hard work” or trying to change yourself or the other person. It’s not that neither of you should grow but the other person shouldn’t be a project that you work on.
posted by mkdirusername at 1:02 PM on September 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

My now-husband:

1. We met at a party and he talked with me for a long time, asked me questions, complimented me, and sat next to me.
2. He left without getting my phone number, but found my okcupid profile and messaged me enthusiastically, writing a full paragraph, referencing our conversation at the party and asked me out using the word “date” in a straightforward unambiguous display of open romantic interest.
3. We ended up going to two different tea shops on accident (it was a chain with two locations, we didn’t specify) and he immediately called me and explained apologetically and then came to my location. He was not late and remained in open communication before the date.
4. He invited me back to his place and generally made excuses to keep the date going longer, we ended up having a lunch through dinner late.
5. He immediately wanted to see me again.
6. Respected my boundaries about sexual stuff without complaining or whining, but did make interest clear on his end.
7. Was planning on going out of the country a couple weeks in, had me download a sykpe type app so he could call me and message me while there.
8. Asked if he could call me his girlfriend and brought up exclusivity early on.
9. Said yes, sure when I asked to change our Facebook status.
10. Pretty much continued to call or text me everyday for the now 5.5 years we’ve been together.
posted by stockpuppet at 1:19 PM on September 5, 2019 [12 favorites]

I had a LDR for a year and a half or so with my now-husband. We emailed each other pretty much every day (back before texting was common and he didn't even have a cellphone), we spoke regularly and did things like watch TV on the phone with each other. We made space in our lives for each other, I always felt like he wanted to spend time with me, like he was thinking about me and us. It was easy. No other relationship I'd had felt like that, and a big part of it was that we were really clear with each other from the start that we liked each other, that we wanted to spend time with each other, I never felt like I had to ask for his time, he wanted to give me his time.

It helps that we were both adults and had had serious long term relationships before and knew what we didn't want out of a relationship. But it also helped that we were SO not interested in playing games, we asked for what we wanted, and gave what we wanted. And we've been married for 17 years so....

Serious interest feels like serious interest. Like you are a priority for each other. Like your relationship is a joint effort, not a competition. All that "wait 3.7 days before calling" crap is crap. Games like that are for children.
posted by biscotti at 1:23 PM on September 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

It looks like unambiguously asking, before leaving your side, at the end of the first date, "When can I see you again?" It looks like being able to open up to each other about mundane points of disagreement, to express how you feel, and to hear back, "I never thought about it that way. That makes a lot of sense." It looks like exactly that kind of openness to influence, and not being too cool or stubborn to rethink one's beliefs. It looks like seeing real change from that. It looks like voluntary collaboration on projects together, genuine offers of help, shared meal planning, and true interest in meeting each other's family and friends. It looks like an endless supply of plans and desire to do things together at points in the future. It looks like finding, to your delight and surprise, that you miss the other person when you go out of town, and making travel plans to bring them along or lengthen or shorten stays accordingly. It doesn't have to look like constant texting or messaging to be good, but it does look like having patience for continual, incremental contact, keeping the thread of conversation going. It looks like making each other laugh, all the time, and developing your own shared set of references and in-jokes, your own language. It looks like becoming vulnerable with each other to voice your values, your preferences, your embarrassments, to say what you want and have a reasonable expectation that you'll be heard and you'll get it.
posted by limeonaire at 1:43 PM on September 5, 2019 [19 favorites]

"...what genuine, serious interest looks like –– at least on the receiving end."

In the context of online dating carried through to RL, one 'tell' I've found is that no-one is caught up on whose turn it is to text or suggest a date or whatever, or wait for the right time to contact the other person. They contact you because they want to and are eager to. (And just as this reveals another person's seriousness, so can it reveal your own.) There is no tally of 'I did this so you need to do that.' Those things are simply not of concern.

But it's been years and I'm still at this, so clearly I do not have this figured out.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:45 PM on September 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

When I met my now common-law partner we connected on a dating site and moved to texting pretty quickly (like within hours because the chat function on the site was too slow for us), we bantered back and forth for a few days and made plans to go out, had a date within a week, and we've been in daily contact ever since. I dated several guys before him over the past few years and most of them at some point had me questioning their level of interest because they wouldn't want to chat between dates or weren't that interested in getting together as frequently as I wanted to, with him there was never a question because we were always chatting or making plans to see each other again, so I agree with the "you'll know it when you see it" as frustrating as that is. We mutually agreed to delete the dating app within a few weeks and that was that, we were in a committed monogamous relationship and I've never had any uncertainty there because he told me who his friends were, where he was going, who he was spending time with, and he was including me in his social life and eventually introduced me to his family and friends. In my experiences with other guys they would be hesistant to leave the apps or would avoid talking about whether they were still looking although they weren't actively dating other women at the same time or I just had the sense that they were holding something back, like that I didn't really know them as well as I felt I should.

So for me interest looks like consistent availability and warm attention with a gradual commingling of lives and if anything it increases over time versus being intense at the beginning and petering out or never being very strong at any point. I am wary if guys come on super strong without first learning about you and figuring out if you're on the same page, like if they don't seem to be treating you like an individual but some sort of fantasy projection of a love interest that's a big flag that they aren't ready for an adult relationship, and I'm an intense person so if they're just very chill and content not doing things or not talking regularly they're not going to be compatible long term. Accepting what I want in a partner was a huge step for me and saying "I would like to see you more often" or "I would like to hear about what's happening in your life" instead of letting them call all the shots was key for weeding through early dating misery and ending things before I spent months agonizing over a bad fit, with the right person letting them know how you're feeling won't ruin anything.
posted by lafemma at 2:29 PM on September 5, 2019 [6 favorites]

This thread is making me go all mushy and "awwww" reading about what the start of a successful relationship can actually be like. That is all.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:04 PM on September 5, 2019 [7 favorites]

Rule no. 1: no one is too busy for someone in whom they are seriously interested. People in jail or deployed in the army will stay manage to stay in touch if they're interested. The odds that this is wrong are so low that you can safely assume that "too busy to see you/pay attention to you" (for more than a few days) means "just not that into you."

That said, there is zero -- and perhaps negative! -- correlation between serious interest and quickly / frequently texting or calling. Some people just aren't wired to communicate without a specific reason. Many people regard seeming too eager or fast-moving as positively unattractive and so will hold back on the speed and frequency of communication.

There is zero -- and perhaps negative! -- correlation between displays you would read as "openness" or "vulnerability" and being seriously interested. Most people believe that being seen as "vulnerable" or (at least overly) "open" is romantically unattractive, and so not only won't affect that posture, they'll active avoid being perceived in it.
posted by MattD at 3:08 PM on September 5, 2019 [7 favorites]

One of the things my husband did when we were dating that worked for me: he wasn't coy. He was clear at each stage about what he wanted (in terms of what to do on dates, physical/sexual progress, and long-term relationship status). And he respected my position when I wasn't always able to go along with what he wanted, and met me halfway until we both wanted the same thing naturally.
Also, once we both agreed that we were dating seriously, dates didn't have to be events; sometimes he would come to my place after work, I'd cook dinner, we'd talk as we ate and then I would do some work or some writing while he studied or fell asleep on the floor, with interspersed snuggling. The point became sharing time together rather than necessarily having exciting external experiences, if that makes sense.
posted by huimangm at 3:41 PM on September 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

It keeps moving forward organically and somewhat evenly - no one is wondering if the other is interested


Both people feel that they have to step it up and put their best foot forward - no phoning it in.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:59 PM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Everything everyone else has already said, plus they are genuinely interested in you. They ask questions, they remember and refer to things about your life you’ve already spoken about, eg, how did your exam go or remember that you’re allergic to x. I went on dates with men who did nothing but speak about themselves, had zero curiosity about the person they were on a date with and couldn’t be bothered to remember the most basic things about me. Selfish and self interested. Someone who is really into you will be the opposite, they’ll be fascinated and will just want to know everything about you and vice versa.
posted by Jubey at 4:33 PM on September 5, 2019 [10 favorites]

12 years ago, when I was first dating the now Misterben, he had a job that required him to be traveling internationally about 50% of his work time. It was an "if it's Tuesday, this must be Istanbul" situation. He made sure to keep in touch with me, emailing me, posting photos of his locations on Flickr where I would see them and we could chat about them, even scheduling time for Skype calls despite extreme time-zone differences. After many non-committal men who would act like it was impossible to send an emailed note in-between dates (this was before people were big into texting), it was amazing to feel like someone actually WANTED to talk to me, share what they were doing, and find out what I was doing and thinking. This shouldn't feel amazing. It should feel like what is right. Don't settle for less.
posted by matildaben at 4:59 PM on September 5, 2019 [6 favorites]

I think you capture it well - it looks like both people are carrying equal weight in the relationship. Both people are making equal effort to communicate, make plans, show affection, show desire. Both people pull their weight around the house, caring for the children, cooking meals, showing up at school events. Both people pull their weight around working through conflicts, accepting their part in an argument, doing what they need to do to make it right. Both people pull their weight when it comes to handling big decisions. Both people pull their weight when it comes to supporting the other in tough times. Both people do their share of the emotional labor as well as the physical labor.

You may not both be pulling the same weight at the same time, but it evens out over time. You can always tell when one person makes more effort.
posted by brookeb at 8:19 PM on September 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

I’ve been dating someone for six weeks. We’ve gone on a lot of long dates in that time. We’re exclusive, but not calling each other “girlfriend” yet. (Both ladies.)

We text all the time, because we feel like there’s so much to say. Our conversations increasingly have more intimacy - we talk about hard things we’ve been through, health issues we’ve had, fears we’re working on. She remembers what I tell her. She asks about things I’ve mentioned before. She encourages me. We are dropping the façade of being perfect, while still doing our absolute best to woo the other. She brings me flowers. She made me granola to take on a work trip. She’s exceptionally busy with, like, ninety huge commitments, but she makes time for me, always asking about my schedule and coordinating with me. She’s introduced me to a few of her friends.

The biggest thing is that she tells me she likes me. She texts me gifs of old timey ladies sighing or daydreaming and says that’s her, thinking of me. There has never been a shred of doubt that we’re so very excited to have met, and it’s not a game or fun to be coy and hide those feelings. We’re both enthusiastic about the other, and it shows in how we make plans, how we get to know one another, how we treat the other.
posted by missmary6 at 4:28 PM on September 6, 2019 [8 favorites]

I am in a similar boat as you, and would immediately defer to anyone else. That having been said, I'll also point you to Brené Brown for useful data and insights on vulnerability.
posted by WCityMike at 1:16 PM on September 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

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