Q. My problem with dating is that I don’t know how to end it. Last time I went out with someone, I knew after the first date that I wasn’t attracted to her…but she acted so interested and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so I went out with her for several weeks. We enjoyed some of the same things, so it was okay for awhile, but then she accused me of not being very engaged with her, said I was emotionally unavailable. I told her I just wasn’t ready for a romantic relationship. She seemed hurt and said some mean things to me. It was a yucky ending. How can I do this better?
A. You’re describing something that happens very often in dating. We hate to say “No” to people, and we don’t like hearing it either. So we can muddle along, or make excuses, or try to dodge and weave, just to avoid having to say/hear a rejection out loud. None of this feels good.
Realistically, disappointments and rejections happen all the time in dating. You have to spend a little time with someone before you know if you want more time with her. Maybe the chemistry isn’t there, or common of interests or values or whatever. Or maybe the timing just isn’t right. There are so many, many reasons why two people may not click today, in this particular moment, and it’s best to accept that and move on. Chances are, you’ll need to say “No” several times before you meet Your Person. Then you can say “Yes” to her, in a wholehearted way.
Sometimes it’s easier to handle rejections better when you think about how to make them worse. You mentioned a couple of these–and you’re not the only one! Here are three things people do, a lot, that seem to turn small rejections into bigger ones.
1. Postpone the hour of decision
Hope springs eternal…like maybe the first date wasn’t so good, but a second one might be better. Usually, there’s hope that without the initial anxiety, everyone will calm down and present a more true self. The thing is, how you handle stress is part of your true self. It’s not likely to change very much.
Another hope that springs up is that somehow you may become more attracted to this person if you spend more time with her. This can result in “sort of dating,” sharing some activities but not much sexual energy. Unfortunately, one person often does have the energy, and keeps hoping the other will too. That rarely happens. Postponing the inevitable rejection just makes it feel worse when it finally happens.
2. Prolong the rejection discussion
This involves lengthy, yucky conversations where you feel a need to say things like “It’s not you, it’s me,” or “I’m not ready for a relationship.” Neither of these statements is actually true. It’s always about both of you and how you do or don’t mesh with each other. And if you’re not ready for a relationship, why are you trying to date? These pseudo-explanations just draw you into prolonged accusations or apologies. If two people don’t click, it doesn’t mean something is wrong with either of them. They’re just two different people who aren’t a good fit for each other.
A rejection can also be painfully prolonged by asking “Why not me?” This question can force the other person to either dance around trying to break the news gently, or to be painfully blunt. Please, learn to hear a “No” gracefully, and move on. You will earn respect from her and yourself, and be richly rewarded when you meet the person who is a great fit for you.
If you keep getting rejected, it’s a good idea to talk to someone else about it–a trusted friend, or a therapist. Perhaps you are communicating something you don’t intend, and it would help to know that. But you won’t learn this from a brand new person who just met you. She may not know, may not want to say, or may be too brutal in her assessment. Seek the truth elsewhere!
3. Pretend a rejection isn’t happening
This happens when one person drops a lot of indirect clues, which the other ignores. If she doesn’t call, text, initiate plans, or seem excited about getting together, those are fairly strong messages of non-interest. And yet, we can find such creative explanations…She’s afraid to reach out because she’s been hurt…She’s confused…She’s so busy with other things…She doesn’t know how much I care…She just needs more time to really trust me…She’s homophobic (but I could cure her).
Of course, all these could be true, but that doesn’t change the reality that one member of this dyad isn’t really participating. Pretending otherwise just piles on bad feelings when it all finally ends.
So when you know how to make things worse, you also know how to make them better. If you don’t practice the bad habits of postponing, prolonging, or pretending, you’re much more likely to respect yourself, and her. You’ll feel great when the timing, and the person, is really right for you.
Glenda Corwin, Ph.D is a clinical psychologist who specializes in lesbian sexual issues. She is the author of Sexual Intimacy for Women: A Guide for Same Sex Couples (Seal Press, 2010).
Her specialty areas of practice are:
- Issues associated with female sexuality and sexual desire
- LGBT individuals and couples
- Workshops on sustaining sexual intimacy
Find out more at GlendaCorwin.com