Tuesday, January 21, 2014

He's Not Interested. She's Not Interested.


Photo credit: jade from morguefile.com

So, you're doing the whole online dating thing. Say you're a woman who has been writing some guy and he seems interested. Maybe you've talked on the phone, and even gone on a first date. It all appears to be going in the right direction. And then - poof! He's gone. What happened?

Unless someone tells you directly why they've chosen to stop contacting you, the answer to that question is always another question: "who knows?" In fact, even if someone tells you something directly, it might not be the truth. Or the full truth anyway.

Being a student of meditation, I have become familiar with the way the human mind likes to work. And one thing it desires whenever facing something unpleasant is resolution. Usually in the form of an answer. Or set of answers.

Now, there's nothing wrong with thinking that someone disappeared because "he/she wasn't interested." Or that "he/she must have met someone else." Either of those answers might very well be true. And no matter what you do, chances are that you're brain will produce that kind of story to help sooth your feelings.

The problem, in my view, comes when you 100% believe in the story. A story that, if not told to you directly from the other person, you can't 100% prove is correct.

Further trouble comes when you take this same story and begin applying it to everyone who does something similar.

I can hear a few readers shouting "But that's just common sense, using the past to predict the present." To which I'd like to say "Yes, but also remember that everyone is different as well."

Here's the thing. If you have decided that you want to move on from someone, then thinking something like "he/she isn't interested" is useful. It might be the very thing to help you detach from any emotional connection that may have developed.

However, there's a big difference between using an answer like that to help you move on, and allowing an answer like that to dictate how you're going to respond to someone who you're still interested in.

Letting assumptions control your behavior often leads to missed opportunities and shoddy connections.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard or read a woman describe a dating situation where a guy didn't write or call her back within a few days, and she decided "he wasn't interested," I'd be rich. Filthy rich. This kind of narrative seems less common amongst men, but I have to say that I was guilty of writing off at least a few women in the past as "not interested" for not responding quick enough.

Given that "traditional" dating patterns aren't a given these days, it's incumbent upon us - regardless of gender - to be a little more assertive. That might mean being the one who makes the next move, even if the old rules say you should wait X number of days or you're a woman, and that means letting the man do the contacting. You can disagree with me about this, but I feel like a lot of that stuff is just game playing. It may have served folks well when roles were more fixed, but now it's less likely to.

Whatever you do though, the biggest point remains to question your assumptions. And to make a conscious decision about what to believe and/or what to do in a dating situation.

It's your mind's nature to want answers. If there's a lack of a clear answer, it will make something up. Learning to hang without an answer when there isn't one, or only a partial one, is a major dating and relationship skill. As is choosing to act based on reality, as opposed to your fears or other mental scripts.

12 comments:

  1. I haven't done the online dating thing so I can't speak to that. In dating situations where I was the one to break it off, or fade, or poof it usually wasn't for any one big thing. More an accumulation of smaller things: he had mannerisms, said or did things I felt were annoying. There wasn't enough sexual chemistry there, or enough personality chemistry either. To say I wasn't interested, or lost interest after a short period really does cover it better than anything.

    With guys who ended it, faded, poofed with me in a short span, ofcourse I will never know the REAL reason, but it doesn't seem too far-fetched to believe they may have bailed for the same reasons above. I know two different guys I was involved with were dating others and picked another woman over me. They were neighbors so I got to run into them with the other women. Awkward. And I think sometimes someone says or does something that just trips the Not A Good Match trigger in us.

    From all the reading I've done about OLD on forums, it appears even easier in that venue to quickly decide one isn't interested, choose one person over another, or trip someone's trigger without ever knowing how or why. Especially if you only met once or not at all. All those perceived options would make assuming disinterest or focusing on someone else reasonable assumptions.

    As far as game playing, rules and so forth... From the same forums I have the impression people DO respond quickly to those they are excited about - both men and women. So the common assumptions may indeed be accurate.

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  2. Excellent post. I've had guys do this to me. I've contacted them after the fact, and still got no response (which is incredibly frustrating). Though I still don't know why the 'poof' came about, at least I tried to give them another opportunity to reconnect...

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  3. Hmmm, interesting. I've always operated under the assumption that, as a friend of mine likes to say, "if a man wants you - nothing will keep him away, and if he doesn't want you - nothing will make him stay". So, yeah, it has been my MO, pretty much until we've had the exclusivity talk, to assume that, if a guy stops communicating, he's not interested and I need to move on. I do not over invest, and forget about the guy a few days after the contact stops.

    Ironically, in my childhood/youth, I used to be the one to initiate and pursue. Most of the time it led to nothing (unless you count being the laughingstock of my high school). When I went back to dating after my divorce, I initiated one contact on Match, initiated again when he tried to fade after our first date, and ended up being played, and burned badly. I also pursued the guy who later became my husband. That worked, in the sense that he fell in love, we got married, had two kids and were together for a total of 22 years, and he was pretty upset when I left. But it was a bad marriage. So on top of not wanting to get burned, I also got it into my head that my judgement isn't good enough to choose a man that is right for me; that I should let the man choose me, rather than go around choosing men.

    But then, last week this MO of mine came up in a conversation with a male friend. He's been through a few bad breakups, and is now being super helpful in walking me through mine :) I mentioned it that, when I don't hear back from a guy, I assume he's not interested and write it off, and my friend just stared and looked shocked. I'll have to ask him next time what his expectations would be, as a man who's out dating. Maybe I had it all wrong and I do need to follow up. It's not like I have all the answers... I did everything by the book in my last relationship, and look where it got me. To me it says that there's still a lot I don't know about dating and relationships. I am open to new learnings.

    I have a question for you Nathan, as a guy - when dating - if you didn't follow up first and quickly after a date, what would be your reasons for that other than "not interested", and what would you expect a woman to do? and what would you do if you are in fact not interested, you do not follow up, and then the woman contacts you and is being assertive? what would you say, or not say, to her then?

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  4. "if you didn't follow up first and quickly after a date, what would be your reasons for that other than "not interested", and what would you expect a woman to do? and what would you do if you are in fact not interested, you do not follow up, and then the woman contacts you and is being assertive? what would you say, or not say, to her then?"

    Not sure if I am unusual in this regard, but if after the first date I truly wasn't interested, I almost always e-mailed back saying so directly. Sometimes, we mutually agreed in person that it wasn't a fit, but if that didn't happen, I would write back within a day or two.

    But that was when I was pretty clear.

    When I haven't been sure, or felt open to seeing someone again to see where it went, I sometimes waited a few days or even more. In part to see if some interest was still there.

    On the flip side, I can also think of a handful of times where I rushed to set up another date because of "chemistry" experienced on the first date, only to find that the initial high wore off before the second date and I started to wonder about other issues that came up. Issues that on the second and/or third date spelled the end.

    I know Evan and some others repeatedly say that men will do whatever it takes if they're interested, and that women just need to respond to that. But how often are these men just leaping because of superficial attraction? And how often are women standing there stunned a month or two later when the same men disappear suddenly (once the lust has died down a bit)?

    Beyond that, this "guy will chase you to the end of the earth" view also disregards the fact that many are dating more than one woman at a time. And that the majority of us have lives and needs to attend to outside of dating. Which doesn't mean that a man who is interested won't give you some extra attention and put in more effort. Some extra attention and effort will happen most of the time. But it will probably vary in degrees. And might not be consistent or fit a stereotypical pattern early on for a variety of reasons.

    I think that's one of my big messages here. Don't put too much stock into stereotypical patterns. Try to assess the current dating situation on it's own as much as possible. Yes, your past can help guide you, but it can also get in the way. If it seems like a good idea to write a particular man back first, then go for it. If not, then wait.

    "what would you do if you are in fact not interested, you do not follow up, and then the woman contacts you and is being assertive? what would you say, or not say, to her then?"

    I've been in that situation. I usually said something like "It was nice to meet you. I didn't feel enough of a connection between us for another date, but I wish you all the best." I used to offer an opening to be friends, but I'm not sure that's a great idea. Depends upon the circumstances I suppose. But overall, I think these kind of e-mails should be friendly in tone, and not diving into specific reasons why you weren't interested. And if someone asks about specifics in response, don't go there with them.

    Along those lines, a few years ago I wrote in support of "exit interviews." http://21centuryrelationships.blogspot.com/2011/07/exit-interviews.html Selena and others didn't buy it then, and pushed back on the idea. Several months later, I had a short, intense relationship with a woman who at the end, wanted to do an exit interview. Suddenly, I understood why it probably isn't the best idea (at least in the majority of situations.) So, I say the same is true about these "not interested" exchanges.



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    Replies
    1. Thank you Nathan!

      "Not sure if I am unusual in this regard, but if after the first date I truly wasn't interested, I almost always e-mailed back saying so directly. "

      Yes, you are very unusual in this regard. At least in my experience, normally the guy disappears and expects me to get the message.

      "I know Evan and some others repeatedly say that men will do whatever it takes if they're interested, and that women just need to respond to that. But how often are these men just leaping because of superficial attraction? And how often are women standing there stunned a month or two later when the same men disappear suddenly (once the lust has died down a bit)? "

      Wow, so true. My ex chased me to the end of the earth when he and I were dating. A total keeper, based on everything I'd read before. Fast forward to two or so months after the breakup and he is chasing a new woman to the end of the earth... because that's what he likes to do, chasing new people. You're right my friend, you're 100% right. Intense chase is not an indicator of interest; and the absence of it is not an indicator of non-interest. Thanks, I never thought of it that way!

      I am so glad I am reading your posts and comments at this point in my life, as I am preparing to go back into dating a few months down the road. Very very helpful.

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    2. Nathan, when I was composing my comment to this post I was also reminded of the exit interview concept. I knew I had discussed it somewhere on the internet at one time but couldn't remember where. It was here! Too funny.

      So I guess for me the principal is the same: there isn't much value to be had in dissecting/ over-analyzing why someone you dated very briefly (or were just communicating with) blew you off. You can go ahead and try and contact them one more time (I have) but it likely won't change anything.

      Chalking something that didn't go anywhere up to JNTIY or "chose someone else" seems much healthier than spending mental and emotional energy on someone you really didn't know.

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    3. Selena, I think Nathan is advising, not to over-analyze (who needs that hassle, lol), but to give the man who disappeared, one more chance to come out of hiding, if the initial connection was good and it overall looks like it might've been by accident (time got away from him and then he thought it was too late to reply, etc) than JNTIY. And after giving that one more chance, if he still doesn't come back, write him off... Am I right Nathan?

      I trained myself not to attach to anyone until the exclusivity talk has occurred. I poke back into OKC on occasion and see that some of the guys, that I'd had decent dates with but then things didn't progress further, are now off the site (I look through my inbox and see whose photos are no longer showing next to their username)... TBH I am happy for them, as I would be for a friend or a close family member. No regrets.

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    4. "Am I right Nathan?" Yes. And also, I think it's helpful to consider the definition of "disappeared." Less than 4-5 days between contact doesn't really mean disappeared in my view. Especially if we're talking a first or second date.

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  5. "From the same forums I have the impression people DO respond quickly to those they are excited about - both men and women. So the common assumptions may indeed be accurate."

    In general, I agree with this. And yet, if folks are dating or writing/calling multiple people, how quickly and the quality of response will differ. I've had women contact me just enough to keep me around (as a back burner guy), but looking back, it's easy to see the Quality of their responses wasn't very high. Chat about superficial stuff. Commitments to go out again that got broken. Etc.

    As such, if someone is "interested enough," but not "hot" for the other person, they may not rush to secure another date. Maybe this lower level interest leads them to try and get another date and maybe it doesn't. The attraction factor in all of my long term relationships grew over time, whereas with every woman I was instantly or quickly very attracted to, the end result was either nothing or a short term flame out.

    Guess you could say that I'm a bit skeptical of initial attraction and quick leaping for more.

    With instant, 24 hour a day access to making contact, I think we get tricked into thinking that if someone lets a couple of days go by, the whole thing is over. And plenty of dating writers reinforce this view. While on the flip side, it's reinforced that someone who quickly acts and starts demonstrating "wanting you" gestures really early on is the one to go for.

    I think aiming for a middle ground on all of this is more healthy. And more reliable. No contact after a week or two usually means no interest. Little or no effort usually means no interest. But that doesn't mean the opposite extremes are the way to go.

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  6. "at least I tried to give them another opportunity to reconnect..." Christy, I think this is all anyone can do. I've experienced the same with women. At the end of the day, giving folks a chance and then moving on if nothing comes seems the best thing to do.

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