Before texting culture pervaded our social lives, parades of single men and women rushed home to check answering machines and policed landlines against the dial-up connection, making sure it was open as they waited eagerly for that one call that could completely change the game.
Now we connect in different ways. We date in different ways.
There’s a tendency to romanticize the past in all its glory and simplicity as if we were recalling nostalgic moments under awfully complimentary Instagram light filters. Dating in the pre-social media, texting, online dating apps era was not without its faults but single people exercised valued patience and delayed gratification that is ostensibly lacking in our modern dating practice.
These days we don’t need to wait for a voicemail at the end of the day or nail down concrete plans during the week for the weekend. There’s less time in between to build excitement for a date, settle into these expectations, and look forward to the meet ahead. Because when we are constantly connected and plugged in, it doesn’t leave room for much wonder.
Instead, we connect and disengage with our dates with great velocity. These scenarios using online dating platforms are not uncommon: Match with someone who is less than a mile away and within two hours, meet him or her for drinks. Engage in flirtatious banter over text for a couple weeks and then never actually meet up. Reach out with the perfect quip and receive no response. After all, the entry into online dating isn’t at a high cost. Fill out a profile, curate a few photos, even quick link to your Facebook and you could match up, text, meet and then never hear from several people per week.
However, when it comes to the exit strategy, getting out of situations is nuanced and tricky to maneuver. We need to handle with more care than the current cavalier attitude on the rise. For all the convenience and efficiency of our apps that make two unlikely worlds collide, we aren’t any better at forming meaningful, lasting connections. In fact, we seem to be regressing toward fickleness and fear.
After a handful of dates with a guy who I met online, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t feeling him anymore. He was incredibly thoughtful, kind, passionate about his work and ready for a real relationship. Although I really wanted to be in a relationship again, I knew that I couldn’t force my feelings for him. I faced a dilemma that may not faze some people well versed in dating life.
How do I let him know that I’m no longer interested?
It’s not like there’s a universally agreed upon formula that would assure us that we’re good people against acts of douchery. Is the slow fade appropriate after two to three dates? Is a face to face necessary if we were never official? Obviously, there isn’t a one size fits all solution on how to navigate these murky social interactions. But just because it’s case-specific doesn’t mean we are issued a hall pass for insensitive, bad behavior.
I was chatting to a guy at a bar about the frustrations of modern day dating. He told me that after several dates with a girl, they slept together and things became majorly awkward. There was no sexual chemistry and he wanted out. Rather than having a candid conversation with her, he disappeared off the face of the Earth. He said it wasn’t that he wanted to be an asshole. He just didn’t want to hurt her feelings and by ghosting, both parties will understand implicitly that it wasn’t going to work. After all, they didn’t know each other that well.
It’s not a gender issue either. My friend decided to go out with a guy despite the fact that he was still getting his life together. She appreciated his honesty after she found other guys less than forthcoming about their situations. After a couple dates, she realized he wasn’t ready to date because he was struggling to get back on his feet (take note ladies!) so they agreed to remain ‘friendly’ in the meantime. Although they had plans to meet up the next day, she decided to cancel and made up some excuse about working late.
This perfunctory attitude towards others is an overarching theme that goes beyond dating. I went to a Halloween party this year and introduced myself in costume to another girl sporting hair rollers and zombie makeup. She stared at me for what seemed like minutes. “It’s me, Claire! We were childhood friends…” We embraced each other in several fervent hugs and she even wept! We agreed to catch up soon and couldn’t believe our reunion in this twist of fate. I reached out the next day to set something up and she said she’ll let me know her schedule. Then nothing. Understandably, we all get busy. So I reached out a second time with a specific day in mind to get out of the ambiguous “let’s get together soon” routine. I have yet to receive an answer and likely, never will, until the next random party where we bump into each other.
I offer these examples not to cast a shadow of judgment on them. I don’t believe people are intrinsically bad. We just do shitty things sometimes. Present company included. While there may be some convincing and rational justifications on why we tell white lies, ghost or lead others on, none can change the sobering reality that people are left feeling confused and hurt, and then become increasingly jaded the next time around. I can’t count how many times I’ve looked at an incoming text, furrowed my eyebrows and exclaimed “What the f—?” or stared at a blank screen wondering if my message was ever received.
I think we need to do better.
Intentions are great but worthless if not followed by genuine action. We need to pause for a moment, strip down any pretenses and be honest with ourselves. What is it that we really want? We may think we’re being nice by making plans or responding with interest despite feeling ambivalent or unready. In the age of options and FOMO culture, it would be foolish to limit opportunities.
So you think: It can’t hurt to play it by ear and decide when the time rolls around if I’m going to see him or her. If I don’t respond maybe he/she will get the hint. If I come up with enough excuses week after week then he/she will decide for me.
In the midst of lining up all our options, we lose the courage to listen to that little nagging voice inside all of us. The lingering whispers of doubt, looming discomfort and a sudden pang of guilt that lets us know that we don’t mean to hurt anyone. We are either too scared or can’t be bothered to communicate because it’s infinitely better to be passive in our interactions than directly cause and witness someone’s disappointment or contempt.
At a certain point, we need to take accountability for our actions or, rather blatant non-action. Part of adulthood is engaging in difficult and honest conversations which may mean holding on to the discomfort of someone not happy with you. Fundamentally, we all want to be liked. But don’t string people along. We inadvertently inflict far worse pain in our efforts to circumvent rejection. We cheat people out of closure. We enlist daily recruits to an army of cynical hearts and disbelievers who propagate a culture of apathy and insensitivity, lowering the bar for social decency to alarming degrees that even the great James Cameron cannot raise it.
Let’s give each other the credit we deserve by being an example the next time someone shows vulnerability and interest in connecting. It takes real courage to reach out for a connection. Be more honest, open and considerate with one another when we walk into the hurricane of dating and also, into the equally delicate realm of developing new friendships.
We don’t ask often enough how we would want to be treated if the shoe was on the other foot. It isn’t an option to accept flakiness and dishonesty as part of the nebulous, chaotic dating experience. Effecting culture starts at the granular, one-to-one daily interaction level. It may not seem like a big deal but I trust that if enough of us are willing to pay more attention to how we respond to each another then maybe we can stop playing detective about someone’s intentions. We will believe their word.
So, let’s start doing better now.