DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: So I haven’t been on a date in a long time. Like…4 years long? The point is, I’ve been out of it a while. I recently got a hit from my online profile, and we have a few things in common. I chatted with her and we’ve got some things in common, but I’m not really into her. Since it’s already set up, it’d be rude to just bail, but I have a deeper question. A theory question, if you will.
Is it an awful thing to do to go on a date to practice dating skills if you don’t really see a romantic relationship coming from it? I’m shy and nervous about meeting new people (especially when romantic possibilities are thrown in), so I feel like it’s a good thing to push me out of my comfort zone. I just want to be sure I’m not breaking any etiquette or being a terrible person in the process.
Dating Etiquette Impaired
DEAR DATING ETIQUETTE IMPAIRED: OK, DEI, before I get to the meat of your question, I want to point out a problem with the premise: you’re assuming a lot from a first date on a dating site. Very few people go into a first date assuming that this is the pebble that starts the avalanche that leads to marriage and/or commitment. When it comes to online dating, that first meeting is almost always to do your due-diligence before you invest a considerable amount of time and emotional energy into this person. Are they who they say they are in their profile, do you have chemistry, do they smell like socks and old cheese? First dates are the measure of a person to see whether or not a second date is even on the table.
So before you start tossing around the idea of whether it’s OK to date someone when you don’t see a relationship coming out of it, try to not put that particular cart before the horse.
Now, that having been said: it’s kind of a s
*ty thing to do.In fairness, people go on dates for a multitude of reasons: to meet new people, to get dinner, to test for chemistry, to get laid, because they’re bored and it’s Friday so why not? But let’s not forget that there are people involved in dates and treating them like objects (at least, treating them like objects when they don’t want to be objectified) is pretty insulting to them. Like someone who wants just A Girlfriend – a person to fill that hole labeled “relationship”, without much consideration for the person who goes in it – it’s insulting at best and dehumanizing at worst.
I mean, ask yourself: how would you feel if someone you thought was cool and interesting was only going out with you because she wanted to brush up on her people skills and had no real interest in you in the first place?
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m a big proponent that the way you build up your experience is by going out and using those skills. That means making approaches, striking up conversations, flirting with people and asking people out on dates. Field experience is a crucial part of improvement; theory by itself can devolve into emotional masturbation very quickly. But when you do, you need to remember that the people you’re talking and flirting with are your fellow human beings, and leading people on with the intent of letting it go nowhere is a bad idea. Flirting without intent is well and good; as I’ve said, flirting for flirting’s sake can be fun. But leading someone to believe you like them when you don’t? Pretty awful thing to do.
Of course, there’s another wrinkle involved here: many of your first dates are going to go nowhere. That’s part of the nature of the beast. A lot of the skill with dating comes from not just becoming a master seducer but also learning how to determine who’s right for you and who isn’t. All of that takes some trial and error. You get that practice by going on dates and learning through trial and error.
So, with all that in mind: do you call off your date or not? I know there’s going to be a lot of back and forth in the comments over this. But here’s my thought: can you – in full and complete honesty – stop looking at this as practice and simply as getting to know this person? Be willing to take a chance on someone who may not be perfect on paper but might be more interesting in person? Are you able to be open to serendipity and find out that maybe she has depths you have yet to see?
If so, then continue on the date. If it works out, then blessings on you both. If it doesn’t… well, you gave her an honest chance and got some practice out of it as well.
But if all she can be to you is just a mark on the character sheet of your life, another XP in the grind to the next level? Call it off and save your energy for someone you’re actually interested in.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I spent my teens and 20s assuming that I was unlovable, specifically because I was unattractive, and mostly pining after men rather than dating them. Today, I’m in my 30s, and I’ve been married to a dude in his 40s for three years, together for six. When we got together, I was a wreck: anxious and in a loneliness-panic. My husband put up with my freakouts, and in return, I cooked dinner, packed lunches, filed his taxes, went on ice-cream runs at midnight, you name it–because I didn’t see why else he’d stick around. I didn’t talk to friends about my relationship, because he told me that he worried they would try to break us up. He set up Fridays as the only night that we were allowed to do things with people outside the relationship. (When we met, he had one friend, his last ex. They drifted apart, and now he has none.) We bonded primarily over past traumas, sadness, and loneliness. He was affectionate, but with a much lower libido than mine. There wasn’t a lot of physical chemistry, but I figured that since everyone I was super attracted to either rejected me or turned out to be awful, it was more logical and sustainable to be with someone who was all about me but didn’t really stoke my fire.
We hurried up and got married and bought a house when his job was in jeopardy, because we soon wouldn’t have the money. His job ended (through no fault of his own) not long after, and he spent two years unemployed. He decided in the second year to go back to college full-time, but didn’t want to work during school due to academic anxiety from past bad experiences. I tried to make it work because I felt so bad for him. My income, however, was not enough. We burned through savings and racked up credit debt, and he’s only in the last few months picked up a part-time job after a year of my nagging. He’d only recently started pitching in with things like yardwork and grabbing the occasional grocery from the store, and agreed to take on more than half of the housework after multiple fights, but that has all but halted since he’s started working.
I finally started talking to friends only after they noticed that some things were messed up and approached me with concern, about a year and a half ago, and a year ago I started therapy. My friends and therapist have also helped me see some manipulative stuff that I somehow never noticed–like how I was upfront from date three that I don’t want kids, but he had me considering them after telling me repeatedly that I was mentally messed up to not want any, then told me I pulled a bait-and-switch when I maintained my conviction. Or like how he told me when I expressed dissatisfaction with our relationship that he didn’t think my feelings were really about him, but transference of work stress. Or how he thinks my therapist is bad for me and is encouraging me to leave him.
But the thing is, as I’ve been gaining self-esteem in therapy, I’ve been establishing boundaries and told him how much things aren’t working, and he’s actually starting to shape up a bit. He doesn’t try to stop me from seeing friends anymore, he’ll fix his own dinner if I’m not home, and he tries to actually talk and connect more. I appreciate all of these things–but I still want to leave. I am mentally and emotionally checked out, and trying to seem like I’m not has wound my anxiety levels to eleven.
I guess my problem is that I feel like since he is trying, and we’re married and not just dating, that I’m obligated to give it a shot. I’m not a passive victim here, but entered into this of my own volition, and your average Wednesday is fine and conflict-free. I did encourage him to go back to school, he has over a year left, and my leaving would leave him in a bad financial spot, especially since he has no friends or family in the area. How much responsibility do I have, ethically? Am I being unrealistic or unreasonable for wanting something more, someone I can feel deeply in love with, when he’s working on the things I said were problems? Am I bailing too soon? Am I being too unforgiving? And if I do bail, how do I do so as compassionately and harmlessly as possible?
Thank you for reading this huge, long letter.
Wishing for a TARDIS
DEAR WISHING FOR A TARDIS: Let me ask you something, WfaT: how long are you willing to wait until you feel like you’ve given him enough time? How long is it going to be before everything is exactly perfect and you can leave without feeling like you’re abandoning him or not giving him a chance? One month? Six months? A year? Five years?
Are you willing to swallow that feeling of climbing the walls, shoving your real feelings deep down into a hole where it can just give you nightmares, an anti-anxiety prescription and a bleeding ulcer? Faking a smile until your cheeks hurt? Are you willing to put up with him gaslighting you and trying to separate you from the people who’re making you stronger – like your therapist – until you’ve assuaged your sense of responsibility?
Look, you picked someone who was wrong for you and who was more than a little manipulative and emotionally abusive. The fact that you went with the wrong person doesn’t condemn you to be stuck with them for the rest of time. You’re allowed to make yourself a priority, especially when staying in a relationship is only going to make you miserable and leave you worse off than you were before. The fact that he’s improved doesn’t mean that things are fixed or that he’ll become Mr. Right; sometimes the incompatibilities and flaws are deep enough that there’s no fixing them, no matter how much work anyone puts in.
And don’t forget: leaving a relationship because you just want out is a legitimate reason to leave.
Your relationship is over. You know this. The only thing left to do is start the paperwork and make it official so your new life can begin.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)