Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

Our Dates Were Amazing. So Why Did She Tell Me “Let’s Just Be Friends”?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve got a situation that’s completely confused me, and I was hoping you had some insight. I met someone – let’s just name her J – on a popular dating website. We exchanged messages on the site for a few days, and I eventually asked her out for coffee. When we met in person, we seemed to click pretty well. We talked for a good hour and a half, and I asked to see her again. She agreed.

We proceeded to go on a total of 3 dates, and things seemed to be going well. The 3rd date, which was a movie, ended with us holding hands, and I felt pretty good about things, and she seemed to as well. During this period, we texted each other a lot, and things were getting fairly flirty, with her calling me “handsome” and “sweet”, and even asking things like “Are you a cuddler?” as well as making a quick joke about “keeping the bed warm at night”. Needless to say, I thought things were going fairly well.

Fast forward to our fourth date – dinner and movies at my place. We texted each other about how much we were looking forward to it, and she even asked to bring a bottle of wine.

During the date, we held hands some more, and I was tempted to make a move to kiss her. However, the last couple of times I had tried to make a move with someone, it didn’t work out, so I was a little gun-shy.

At the end of the date, we hugged and she left. I texted her a few times, but she didn’t respond much, her responses limited to brief sentences.Finally, a few days later, she responded to a text from me by saying the she didn’t feel a “romantic connection”, and said those 4 little words nobody wants to hear – “Let’s just be friends”. Ugh.

I was tempted to ask her why she felt this way, and would have liked an explanation, but I didn’t want to come off as needy or worse, stalker-y. So I told her I understood, that I was sorry she felt this way, and that I was a bit disappointed, but accepted her decision. I also told her if she ever wanted to talk or hang out, I was willing. She replied that she;d keep that in mind. However, to date, I haven’t heard from her since.

So, here’s what I want to know: what did I do wrong? How did she change her mind about me so suddenly? And what could I have done different? If anything? I don’t have much dating experience, and have often found myself having trouble recognizing signals, but I still thought I knew how things were going.

Confused and Lonely

DEAR CONFUSED AND LONELY: This one’s simple, CaL: you didn’t act like you were interested in her sexually or romantically.

Now I’m going to preface this by saying that there isn’t really a “schedule” by which you should be getting sexual. Everyone out there’s got the pace that they’re the most comfortable with and it’s better to go at your own speed than to try to stick to an artificial and arbitrary deadline. Some folks take time to warm up to it, some folks are ready to bang from the jump, and that’s all valid.

But there’s a difference between someone whose sex drive is a slow-burn and someone who isn’t giving ANY indication that they’re attracted to their date at all.

In your case, CaL, you were sending off confusing signals to your date. On the one hand, you were being flirty via text, but in person, your behavior was entirely different. While there is no schedule, there are cultural expectations surrounding dates and sexual activity and we still live in an era when the third date is considered the magic number — even if people aren’t necessarily expecting to f--k on the third date, if nothing’s happened by then, they’re likely to assume that nothing is going to happen. In your case, by the third date you were holding hands. Your fourth date, a date at your place for dinner and movies — an honest to God “Netflix and Chill” date — nothing happened.

I’m not surprised that she wasn’t feeling it; you weren’t giving her anything to feel. Even if you were demisexual and needed more of an emotional connection in order to warm up to getting physical with someone, there’s still an expectation that there’s some sort of sign of interest in being more than cuddle-buddies. It might be emotional, it might be verbal, especially if you’re ace, but there’s got to be something.

Since there wasn’t… well, she decided she didn’t want to spend time on a relationship that wasn’t going anywhere and moved on. She was probably confused by the seeming incongruity between your behavior via text and in person and decided the simplest answer was to just go find someone who wasn’t giving mixed signals the way you had been.

And honestly man, I get not being sure how to read signals, but she was sending out some increasingly clear messages that she was into you and would’ve liked a hell of a lot more than holding hands during the movie. I mean, asking about whether you’re a cuddler and talking about needing someone to keep the bed warm are pretty good indicators of just what she was hoping to get from you.

(Sex. The answer was “sex”. She was hoping to get f--ked, she just didn’t want to phrase it like that — either out of her personal sensibilities or the fear of being seen as being a slut.)

I understand feeling a little gun-shy about making a move, especially if you’ve had some bad experiences before, but there’s being hesitant and then there’s being frozen. You can’t hope that the other person is gonna do all the work and make the move for you; dating means being willing to take risks. If you’re going to go on dates, you’ve gotta be willing to roll the dice and take your chances and the only way you’re going to learn is by making mistakes. It sucks to make a mistake, but not only does it teach us what to do differently, but it also teaches us that mistakes aren’t fatal. And when you recognize that, it’s much easier to take a chance when you’re less than 101% certain of your odds… which, incidentally also teaches you how to read the odds correctly.

Now this doesn’t mean that you have to just throw s--t out at random and hope you got the right time by chance. If you’re feeling like it might be the right time but you aren’t sure, then the key is very simple: use your words. You can lean in close and say “I really want to kiss you right now” or “I’m trying so hard not to kiss you”, which gives her the chance to either say “yes” or give you the wave-off.

It also has the benefit of being sexy as hell.

So let this be a lesson to you, CaL; you made a mistake this time around. Next time, make your move a hell of a lot sooner. Let your dates know you’re interested in them as a potential lover, not just a friend. The more comfortable you get with taking those chances, the better you’ll do in the long run.

Good luck.

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