Can you recall a date that you thought went really well but, inexplicably, your date wasn’t interested in meeting again. What did you tell yourself after?
Now think about a friend telling you about a similar scenario happening to them. How did you help them make sense of it?
What we tell ourselves after a date
In the first scenario, did you say any of these:
“I’m just no good at dating!”
“I’m never going to meet someone!”
“No one ever wants a second date with me!”
“There’s something wrong with me!”
And in the second, did you say anything like these:
“Don’t worry, it’ll happen for you one of these days!”
“There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s their loss!”
“Maybe they just weren’t ready for a relationship?”
“They weren’t the one for you. Who knows what hidden flaws they hadn’t yet shown?”
“It just wasn’t meant to be.”
“The timing wasn’t right. Maybe they had been hurt or just come out of a long-term relationship, or need to focus on their career right now?”
When something goes wrong, we often blame ourselves, but when it’s someone else, we find other reasons. Why can’t we reassure ourselves like we would a friend?
We can. We just need to train ourselves.
The technical terms for these two phenomena are dispositional attribution and situational attribution.
Dispositional attribution is a term for the way we tend to attribute our own “failure” to internal factors – ourselves, our personality (disposition) and our talents.
Situational attribution is where we explain the failure of others in terms of external factors, like the situation or other people.
Your date isn’t a failure
“Failure” isn’t the right word to use here in any case. Just because a date doesn’t lead to another date, it doesn’t mean it’s a failure. First of all, it depends on what your aim for the date was. Look back at your answer to question 3. Did you say your aim was to find a relationship? If so, you might want to edit that. Finding the right relationship for you might be better. Then letting go of the possibility of having a relationship with the wrong person actually supports your aim!
You can’t avoid the sifting process
Imagine you are out shopping for a new shirt. You have to look through lots of shirts that you don’t want before you find the right shirt. You know that is a necessary part of the process. The point at which it becomes tedious varies from person to person, but you at least accept that the sifting process is unavoidable. Rejecting a shirt or finding it doesn’t fit you does not mean you have “failed”.
The same sifting process is essential in dating. You can decide a person isn’t right for you, and so can they. Sometimes they may reach that realisation before you. That can feel less empowering than being the one to say “I don’t think we’re right for each other” but it doesn’t have to. Maybe you will be the decision-maker next time.
But what about that date that seemed so perfect?
It had romance, that sense of shared reality, plans for future dates, that meeting of souls … You were so confident but then they went silent on you – also known as ghosting. This is a very common scenario, with lots of possible explanations.
Often it’s because your date is not ready for a relationship. They may be very skilled at making you feel special, telling you they’ve never felt this strong a connection before, creating the impression that you are the most interesting and attractive person in the world. Or you may share lots of values and experiences or be good at making each other laugh and feel at ease. These can be the ingredients for the perfect date.
But the ingredients for the perfect date are not the same as the ingredients for a relationship. Many people can’t sustain this level of attentiveness, and they know it. So they are scared that if they see you again they’ll blow it. Rather than take the risk, they simply stop messaging you. It’s a cowardly way out, but it doesn’t mean your perfect date was imagined. It just means it can’t be repeated.
In fact, the more wonderful the experience, the more someone can be scared off. A really good date can make the prospect of intimacy very real. “Wow, I can actually imagine being in a relationship with this person!” they may think. But if they are not in a position to commit to a relationship right now, they may decide not to mess you around. Perhaps they know deep down that they don’t have the time or energy, or haven’t fully moved on from a previous relationship. They don’t know any other way to behave on a date than to act the part of someone that is ready for intimacy. But they know they can’t keep doing that.
Of course, that isn’t an excuse for not telling you nicely, “I’m really sorry, I loved our date and you are great, but I now realise I’m not in a position to get involved right now.” But it can explain rather than excuse their behaviour, and that can help you not to take it to heart.
How do I protect myself from getting hurt?
Not everyone reacts badly to this happening. Some shrug it off, others are very upset and hurt. There are things you can do – perhaps with the help of a coaching session – to protect yourself.
1. Make a list of what you like about yourself and can offer a relationship. If you feel good about yourself beforehand, you can protect yourself from being damaged by this scenario. Focus on feeling sorry for them and their limited relationship skills instead.
2. You can take steps to reduce the chances of this happening by talking on the date about how you like to be treated. Say things like “Ghosting is such a cowardly thing to do” or “Ghosting isn’t something I experience much, I think because I give off the right vibe that I don’t want to be treated like that” or “I really like it when someone has the courage to tell me straight if they don’t want to date me again”.
3. Scroll up to the beginning of this article. Remember that second set of responses that you would use with a friend to explain why the date didn’t lead to another date? Keep it to hand, maybe copied somewhere on your phone and printed out and stuck to the fridge. Tell your friends to remind you, too!
4. You can make sure you are the first one to message after the date. Wait about twelve to twenty-four hours after the end of the date. If you want another date, say something like “Great to meet you and hope you got home OK. Would love to meet up again. I’m thinking of going to that art exhibition I mentioned if you’d like to come along?” This will help you to feel in control and equal to the other person. If you don’t want to see them again, say something like “Really enjoyed meeting you and had a great evening. Don’t see the potential for a relationship though and wish you well for your dating.”
5. If you haven’t heard back within, say, forty-eight hours. you can message something like “OK, as I haven’t heard from you I guess you don’t want to meet again. Bit disappointed that you didn’t feel able to tell me, but wishing you all the best for your dating!” Firstly, this will often get a reply and an apology. Secondly, you will be doing your bit to improve the norms of dating. And thirdly, you will feel morally superior which will bolster you against taking it personally.
6. Don’t let things become too intense or intimate on the first date. Hold back and reserve judgment.
7. Take time to reflect on each date and what went well and not so well. Often our memories are distorted – we may focus on the positives if the attraction chemicals have been flowing; or the negatives if we aren’t feeling good about ourselves. You might want to use a dating diary for a more balanced record, such as this one.
8. Remember, dating is supposed to be a fun experience between equals! Plan dates that will be fun in themselves, regardless of whether the other person turns out to be right for another date.
9. Finally, dating should be just one part of your social life. Plan other social engagements with friends or through organised events like www.meetup.com. Schedule regular classes and activities. That will keep things in perspective and boost your self-esteem.
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