404: Relationship Not Found

This week we welcome a man’s perspective on dating courtesy of Josh Schneider (@Diji), with our first in an ongoing series of guest posts. 

We’re on a date. Not our first… we’ve had some fun so far. Things seem to be going well. We’re sitting over dinner, laughing over an objectively bad dad joke that I’ve just told. There’s a momentary pause in the conversation, and I decide to broach the subject.

“I really like this. I’d like to keep exploring this. What would you think of being exclusive?”

There’s a long pause; I’m sure she’s thinking this through. Her facial expression doesn’t say surprise, so I’m guessing she expected this, but there’s still something she’s thinking of. The silence, although only seconds, feels far longer.

“I like this too, but I’m not really looking for a relationship.”

I’ve had this situation play out a few different times over the last year or so, and it always causes the same sense of cognitive dissonance. In that moment, I’m usually feeling hurt, but also confused and puzzled. Things seemed fine… I’m not sure what happened.

I’ve done some thinking, and have come to two possible conclusions.

Possibility #1: She really doesn’t want a relationship right now.

A woman of her word, she really, truly doesn’t want a relationship right now. So what was the purpose of dating? It certainly wasn’t for fast sex… I’m generally not that kind of guy. Not that I would turn it down if it were offered… I am a healthy male, after all, but I generally don’t move in that direction until there’s a good chance it’s going to last. Partially it’s because I assign a lot of value and intrinsic meaning to sex, and partially it’s because it’s safer that way. Considering she hasn’t even sort of mentioned a hint of sex… I’m guessing that’s not what she’s after.

Company? Connection? A free meal? I’m never entirely sure. Maybe this disconnect is because I have always seen the purpose of dating as vetting potential relationship partners for their viability. I have friends for just “hanging out” and connecting with other people.

Regardless of the reason, it is frustrating. For the dates we’ve had so far, she’s (knowingly or unknowingly) been showing me a wonderful plate of tacos, showcasing all the fresh ingredients, talking about the seasoning of the meat, and teasing me with the idea of fresh, warm tortillas – and then, when I finally say I want those tacos, I am told that there was never any intention of making the tacos and there will be no tacos. It’s a sad, tacoless place to be. And I’m still hungry.

Possibility #2: She really doesn’t want a relationship with me.

She drops the line. The date trends downward a bit, and over the days that follow, conversation and communication also slip to lower levels.

A couple of months later, I find out through the grapevine that she’s in a relationship with someone else. Invariably, the realization sinks in that “I’m not looking for a relationship” really meant “I’m not looking for a relationship with you.

The problem is that, while this line is a rejection, it is not a firm rejection of me. “I’m not looking for a relationship” does NOT mean the same thing as “You’re not my type,” or “You’re great, but this is not quite what I’m looking for.” Either of those would potentially invite conflict, but they would also provide clarity. However, a lot of us are conflict-averse, either because we don’t like the idea of hurting another human being, or because we don’t want to deal with the “drama” that might result from straight-up rejection. So she goes with the noncommittal, softball cliché… “It’s not you, it’s me.” She might also be hedging her bets… back-burnering me, so that if nothing better pans out, I might still be around for her later.

The problem is, since there’s been no clear, direct rejection, I often end up in a holding pattern. When I inevitably find out that the person is onto their next relationship (so neatly disproving the whole “not ready for a relationship” thing), I feel the weight of wasted time wash over me.  It hurts more than being out-and-out rejected would be, since I now feel used on top of it.

I know there are some that might say, “You should take the hint, she’s not that into you.” How am I to know that? None of us are mind-readers (If you are, can you contact me? We need to go to Vegas!) and truly know what anyone else is thinking or feeling. We’re resigned to taking people at their word, or doing our best to read others’ words and actions for intent.

In this situation, I could take her at her word. I would try to maintain a friendship, biding my time with the hope that one day it might develop into more. I won’t turn down any opportunities that come my way, but I also don’t go looking for new opportunities either. This might be a mistake, but in that moment, I am holding onto this hope that things may change for the better if I can just hold on for a little while, since the problem with a relationship right now is not me, but timing. When I recognize that I’m investing far more than I’m getting out of it, and my friends point out that things are getting unhealthy, I cut my losses, and try to move on.

Alternatively, I could go with my gut, and realize that she probably isn’t interested in me and may never be. It was fun while it lasted. Hey, she has my number; if she changes her mind, she can call me.

I move on. Don’t call. Don’t text. Don’t think about the delicious tacos that could have been.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. As a guy, I’ve been there and know what’s like. But somethings you can’t dwell on, cut your losses, man up and move forward. Hoping she changes her mind and comes back to you is crazy! If the other guy rejected her, why would you want her after she already took you for a loop?

  2. Nice to hear a guy”s voice. I kinda thought the point of dating was to find someone to have a relationship with, guess I’m old fashioned!

    1. Mother Trucker, we agree. This is generally the reason why I don’t date multiple people (I have never had that opportunity, but the thought of trying to date more than one person at one time is difficult to fathom)… I prefer to invest my time and focus into one person.

      Oh well… we can’t be the only two old fashioned people out there, right?

  3. Nice to hear a man’s perspective. Bottom line: I think you simply can’t force a relationship. Sometimes everything is “fine” and you have fun with a person, but the spark that is needed to move it forward past “friendly and casual” to “serious and forward-looking” just isn’t there. That spark is somewhat indefinable, but it’s necessary.

    If someone isn’t into you, being sad about it won’t change that fact, and pleading for them to change their minds *definitely* won’t change that fact. So they probably aren’t worth pining over for more than about five minutes — maybe more like 2.5 minutes.

    But good to know there are still men out there who are looking for more than the chew, screw and scram approach!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Rebecca!

      I wouldn’t say I’d be pleading for that person to change, but you are right in that waiting around may not be the best option. It’s tough though… it’s not like I have a ton of opportunities just waiting to move off to. I know people say “move on,” but to where? It’s hard to turn your back on an island and swim away from it when there is no other land visible on the horizon. Perhaps you are right though… you’ll never find suitable land treading water next to land that is unsuitable.

      1. The land is there — within yourself. You can’t always count on another person to be there to fill your needs — much better to be single and content with yourself than to pine after an island that doesn’t want you to inhabit it. There are so many other things out there to amuse, distract and fulfill us!

  4. This is interesting to read because a lot of women are frustrated with men who aren’t looking for a relationship, and it turns out at least some men are having the same problem. Why, then, is it so hard for people to connect? It would be interesting to hear the perspective of someone (either a man or a woman) who is out there dating but not looking for a relationship, to understand what their motivation is. Obviously, the dating world can’t be made up exclusively, or even mostly, of people looking for a relationship, or more people would be in a relationship. So what’s going on out there? Nice idea to get more voices in the conversation, Lisa.

    1. Thanks for the response Susan!

      I certainly think this is a phenomena that is not gender-bound, and maybe more of a byproduct of either culture or just people being the complex bundle of actions and reactions that they are. I couldn’t speak directly for someone who is not looking for a relationship, but I can give my 2 cents on why I think people date without the intention of getting into a relationship based on my admittedly narrow experience.

      One reason I have been told is that they don’t want to lose their perceived freedom. I think we can all agree with relationships almost always demand some sort of a trade… we trade something (time, hobbies, experiences, money, etc) for something else (companionship, understanding, experiences, etc). I could see how some people would be so attached to what they have amassed for themselves, that they are unwilling to part with it, even if what they are getting in return could arguably be better, not willing to give up comfort for the possibility of something different.

      Another reason is that the person may still be broken from some past experience, and while they are looking to heal before they invest themselves again, don’t want to deal with the loneliness that comes with the healing time. Maybe they don’t have enough friends, or interests to take their time, so they look for more one on one companionship. Personally, I don’t think dating is a good idea in that instance… you might be better suited for a meetup group, volunteer work, or some other type of non-romantic social circle.

      Maybe that’s the problem… what those people define “dating” as and what I define “dating” as are two different things. While they may be define it is “spending time 1 on 1 with an individual talking, relaxing, or otherwise sharing life (on a superficial level), potentially with or without sex”, I may define it more as “spending time 1 on 1 with an individual, gradually upping my investment into an intimate (and I don’t mean sex here, but that mutual vulnerability that you share with another person) connection until I either elevate things to another level or part ways as not getting what I need”. I wish we could affect the culture to just define a different word for these two things, but such a movement would take either time or mass adoption.

      If only we could get the groundswell of virality on this idea that covfefe got this week!

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