The more popular online dating and texting gets, the more I hear people asking questions about modern dating etiquette. Since daters are going on so many more dates, and thus experiencing so many more B-List alternatives, the questions I get deal a lot with the rules of rejection in a world where communication is now largely indirect by default. Much like sports, when players change the game, the rules tend to follow.
I’ve heard a version of this question below so many times that it makes sense to post my perspective—a perspective that might have been very different only a few years ago…
I went on two dates with this guy. We kissed, but nothing beyond that. And since the last date we’ve sent a few playful texts. He’s cool but I just don’t think it’s there between us—I’m just not that attracted to him. Do I have to have “the talk” already and tell him straight-up that I’m not interested? Or can I just back off and let him get the idea?
This is necessarily a two-part answer. Much like deciding how hard to spank someone, it depends on how they behave.
On one hand, as much as I advocate candid communication, nobody should have to do any type of formal “dumping” or dismissal before a third date. Anyone who wasn’t raised in a Mennonite barn should understand that the first two to three dates are exploratory and impose zero ethical responsibility on either party. If you’re going to be dating, accept the fact that two, and sometimes even three, dates does not entitle you to an HR-friendly termination; you never got the job in the first place.
And, no, having sex does not mean you got the job. An intern can do that shit.
So my advice is to start by pulling a Sarah Michelle Gellar; fade away until he eventually forgets about that time you did those two things. Avoid unnecessary bruising. You never know what people are going through and how they’ll react to an unrequested foot in the crotch.
Plus, because of the ephemeral gene that technology has implanted into dating, people are getting used to the efficiencies of silence and deduction. And many appreciate it too.
On the other hand, not everyone is a “modern” dater. Some people still can’t defend a fade-away.
So if he comes in with multiple requests for a next date, or inquires in to your noticeable withdrawal, you have to step up right away and tell him that you don’t see a romantic connection.
If he asks for a more detailed explanation, tell him his voice gives you cramps. Or tell him whatever you want. But after expressing general disinterest, the rest is optional charity. If you believe in Karma, be honest. If you believe in reality, be gentle but definitive. Either way, if he doesn’t quickly get the message or comes straight at you, you have to come straight back.
If you’re questioning this approach, that’s healthy. At first, I did too. But the more I thought about it and talked it out with people, the more it made sense.
How often does anyone actually get the full-disclosure reason they’re getting booted? Just about never. I don’t like it, but it’s one of the realities we’re stuck with; people tend to shy away from crushing other people’s souls. So what does a formal rejection during an informal stage of romance get anyone? A clear sense of status? Peace of mind? Overrated. And bullshit. Demanding that level of disclosure that quickly from a relative stranger is an unnecessary soothing tactic.
If someone doesn’t make any effort to spend time with me, they don’t want to spend time with me. Do I want to know why? Probably. Will they tell me if I ask? Probably not. They’ll likely just bubble it up to some defenceless summary like, “I don’t feel a spark” or “I think we have different priorities”. At that point, they might as well have just stolen me a fortune cookie from Mandarin.
Given the current landscape of dating, we’re better off embracing the code of silence, rigorously polling acquaintances and observing the rest of the world to find out what makes us annoying. Ultimately, it’s time better spent.
Benjamin Mann is Toronto’s Standard dating columnist. Follow him on Twitter.