DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I don’t date much … at all … but read your page regularly as it’s helped give me some perspective on many of my dating frustrations. About a year ago when I met this very attractive and very interesting woman through work, but didn’t think too much of it. For the record, we don’t work at the same company, but our respective jobs require us to be in contact regularly.
Around Christmas time, I was trying to put together an unofficial Holiday get-together and invited her, along with some other people we do work with. She couldn’t make it, but did mention she’d like to get together for drinks sometime. Not “get together with all of you” … “get together with you”.
This sort of jogged my memory about all the other times she seemed to get a little flirty that I didn’t pay too much attention and came to the conclusion that she might be into me a little. Because I have always been kind of bad at judging interest I ran the scenario past a female friend, who agreed I wasn’t being crazy. So I asked this woman out and she said yes.
What happened next was a complete clusterf—k of scheduling. The only time I had available she was busy and vice versa. We finally settled on a lunch meeting which had to be canceled for weather reasons.
Last week she indicated she had some time available this week, I e-mailed her some times that worked for me. 9 days later she writes back to apologize for not writing sooner, but her boyfriend was in town, and now she’s heading out of town for a work thing.
I don’t even know where to begin, so I’ll say this … maybe the boyfriend is real, maybe he isn’t. Maybe she understood I was asking her out on a date, maybe she didn’t. Maybe she was into me when I was oblivious and not so much when I was interested. I accept all of this. I completely accept that she has a right to change her mind and act accordingly. I still have contact with her through work, and am eager to maintain a courteous relationship as the work she does with us is great and I don’t want to jeopardize that.
But here’s the thing. She still wants to “get together” for a lunch thing or something like that, and I have no interest whatsoever it that anymore. The scheduling rigmarole, the boyfriend that seemed to come out of nowhere, I’m done.
So the problem is I don’t know how to tell her “no” without looking or feeling like a pouty, spoiled brat. Right now my plan is to simply tell her “Sorry, way too busy” if and when she brings it up. But that kind of feels like the coward’s way out.
I am very open to better ideas on how to get out and stay out of this, should you have one.
DEAR ENOUGH’S ENOUGH: Honestly, EE, unless she’s proposing getting together for a specific event at a specific time and place, there’s no real reason to go out of your way to say “no”.
A generic “let’s get together sometime” isn’t an invitation that needs an immediate RSVP – it’s more of a polite space-filler. It is, for all intents and purposes an affirmation of “yes, I think you’re a decent enough person that I feel the need to make this general invitation that I don’t really expect to follow through on.”
The odds that this is going to come up again if you don’t specifically go out of your way to mention it is fairly low.
I will say that I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill when it comes to the confusion of whether she was interested in you or hiding the existence of a boyfriend or what-not. I suspect there may have been some misunderstandings along the way – people do meet up with folks for drinks or lunch just to hang out and talk after all.
The fact that you both were trying to find times to make your schedules line up and not giving the standard flake line of “well, maybe some time soon” is an indication that she was genuinely trying to find time to meet up rather than mouthing polite fictions because society teaches women to not say “no” directly.
Considering how much effort you were putting into trying to make this Schrödinger’s Date happen, she may have brought up her boyfriend just as a way of saying “I’m not sure if you’re reading this as a date and I don’t want to call attention to it in case I’m misreading things, but just in case…”
By the time you hit the point of it taking more than a week for her to get back to you… well, it ain’t great, but I tend to believe in Hanlon’s Razor: never attribute to malice what might otherwise be equally explained by incompetence. In other words: maybe at that point she was giving you the brush-off or maybe it was literally an out-of-sight, out of mind event, where other things got her attention and she remembered later on that she owed you a response.
(I say this as someone who needs constant reminders to reply to emails and scheduling concerns; if I don’t set up about a dozen notifications, lots of crap gets lost in the shuffle and I end up forgetting about them until it’s too late.)
TL;DR version: I think there was enough back and forth that there was genuine interest in a platonic meet-up and the stars just never aligned to make it happen. As it is: I think you can just let things slide without needing to say anything. Worst case scenario – you’ve both established you don’t have the time; “sorry, I’m insanely busy” is a polite enough way of turning her down.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE:Throughout my non-existent dating life I have noticed something: the women I’m attracted to are not attracted to me and vice versa.
Now my friends say that I should stop setting my standards so high and go out with one of the girls who like me and that I could learn to like them. I feel as though this is disingenuous to the girl and also that if I can learn to like someone then someone else can learn to like me. It also seems to me that most dating advice is about being to get anyone and not someone.
What I mean is that I feel as though the message is “if you find ways to improve your life and make yourself more attractive you will eventually find someone who is willing to date you but it may not be the person you want.”
I guess in the end my question is, if who or what you want is unattainable then why bother trying? Perhaps that is a very pessimistic view and I am a pessimist but I just don’t see the point in settling for something I don’t even really want.
Don’t Want To Settle
DEAR DON’T WANT TO SETTLE: The first rule of dating, DWS, is that you have the right to set your standards wherever you want to. If you decide that the only women you’re interested in are 6-foot tall opera singers who resemble Lupita Nyong’o but with Mass Effect tattoos, well, hey, you do you.
But you have to go into that understanding that just because you want something doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to get it. One of the things that drives me crazy in pop-culture is the way that we’re taught that expecting near-perfection means that the universe is obligated to provide you with someone who meets that level and that “settling” is some sort of moral failing.
Similarly, we tend to believe that only the very best, the créme-de-la-créme could make us happy… which frankly, is a very good way to make yourself miserable.
If you’ve set your standards to the point that only people in the top 1% of their class – whether that is in terms of physical beauty or accomplishments or money or talent or what-have you – then you’re explicitly acknowledging that you’re trying to play on the hardest difficulty setting.
It’s like deciding that if you’re going to do track and field, you’ll only be satisfied if you can do so at an Olympic level… that’s great if you want to do this, but you have to be willing to acknowledge that you’re trying to be the best of the best of the best – something that’s achievable by less than a percentage of those who attempt it. If that’s going to be your definition of success, then you have to be willing to acknowledge that you might not get there. I’m all in favor of “chasing your dreams”, but there comes a point where you have to recognize that you’re not going to get there.
To paraphrase Chuck Wendig: not everyone can be an Olympian, but that doesn’t make running a marathon any less of an achievement. You may not be dating the hottest woman alive, but that doesn’t mean that the woman you are dating is any less special or incredible.
Here’s the thing about standards: they’re great to have, but they mean that you need to be able to give equal value in exchange. This doesn’t mean looks or money or status, but it does mean that you have to have something that is equally important to what the people who meet your standards, otherwise you start getting into the realm of entitlement. If the only people you want to date are supermodels, to choose a random example, that’s your choice… but not only are supermodels rare on the ground, but they are going to have their own standards. You’re going to have to bring a lot to the table to make that happen.
(I’m not suggesting that you’re only interested in dating supermodels, DWS; it’s hyperbole to make a point.)
The other thing you have to realize is that nobody – no celebrity, no model, no international playboy – gets 100% of what they want in a relationship. You get 60, 70, 80% of what you want and decide that you’re willing to forgo the rest because, hey, what you do get is just that awesome and makes up for what isn’t there. I’m reminded of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 – a list of all the ways his mistress doesn’t measure up to fabled beauties but his love for her makes her far more precious to him than any goddess could ever be.
Do I think you should go out with someone just because they like you and see if you can learn to like them? Well that all depends: are there things about them that you do like? Are there indications that they may have qualities that would make you happy? Are you willing to give them a chance to show you what they have to offer – just as women are constantly pressured to give guys a chance to make their case?
Regardless: I do think you should examine your standards. I think everyone should. But you need to do so with the understanding that having standards doesn’t guarantee that you’ll find someone who meets them, or that you’ll meet the standards of the people who meet yours.
And then you have to decide which is more important: maintaining those incredibly high standards and being alone, or relaxing them and finding somebody who’s amazing but not “perfect”.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)