After a four year hiatus from online dating, for a number of reasons, I was ready to give it a shot again. The most important being: I think you get out of things what you put into them, and my love life … well, let’s just say my effort level has been minimal at best. The last online date I went on –four years ago — ended with me running. Literally. I had to run from the restaurant after the guy told me he was under federal investigation and thought that it was a woman’s job to change diapers. So you can imagine how anxious I was to venture into the virtual dating world again.
I was beyond relieved when I saw T* sitting there at the wine bar, looking better than he did in his online profile. I exhaled as I took in his nerdy glasses, his nice smile. I was excited when I found out that we actually had stuff to talk about –our similar career paths, our love of The Smiths. I was thrilled when we made plans to go on a bike ride for our second date. I had recently gotten a bicycle and was looking forward to riding it.
This was going better than I ever could have hoped. Online dating … onward ho!
Things took a wrong turn when he showed up on our second date and laughed at my bike.
“What a silly little bike,” he scoffed.
“Hey,” I said, mock-annoyed. “It’s quirky.”
He continued to poke fun at my bike, its less-than-properly inflated tires, and me, for not having a bicycle pump, or knowing where I could fill my tires up.
“But it’s easy,” he chided.
“Maybe for you, but I haven’t owned a bike since I was 12. I just got this one and I’m just learning to ride again,” I explained, getting defensive in a way that’s unusual for me.
“You can’t handle teasing,” he concluded, sizing me up.
I let it slide. At least he wasn’t under federal investigation and he seemed like he would change a diaper if he had to.
Some of you daters may identify his behavior as negging, a pickup artist tactic where a man gently insults a woman as a way to undermine her self-esteem and get her to engage with him by defending herself. He seemed too self-aware, too sensitive to neg, I thought. He liked Morrissey! He wore Toms! I chalked it up to a sense of humor disconnect or masculine posturing gone wrong or, even better, his misguided attempt to show affection. Yeah, that one! Because we had so much in common, he hadn’t broken the law (that I knew of), and maybe I was cranky and out-of-practice at dating, I agreed to meet him again for a drink.
On date three, he rolled up on his bike. I walked this time. He looked really excited to see me, telling me my outfit was “sexy” and my eyes were “ominous.”
But the compliments didn’t last for long. He immediately started analyzing me.
“You hated being teased about your bike. You were awkward when we said goodbye the other night,” he ticked off. “You come off as unavailable. You deflect whenever I ask you personal questions.”
His armchair assessments of me were launching rapid-fire. And I hadn’t even paid him 5 cents. I got the sense that he wanted, no, needed, to understand me right away in order to know if I was the girl for him. While it’s nice to have a person want to know you, it’s unnerving to be picked apart and scrutinized under a behavioral microscope.
I had no time to stop and think, I did my best to respond to his interrogation, feeling like I was the one under federal investigation.
“I guess I was embarrassed when we said goodbye,” I explained. “Sometimes I’m awkward. I think you have to earn the right to tease someone. Maybe I can come off as unavailable. It’s possible. I’m really dedicated to my work. I don’t feel ready to talk about personal stuff yet … we barely know each other.”
As you can imagine, I felt like I was failing miserably. Worse than being on a date with a dunce, was feeling like the dunce on the date. I knew I was coming off as defensive and insecure or whatever he thought I was. Guilty as charged! I just wanted to have a drink with the guy and see how I felt. He wasn’t letting me. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure why he wanted to be in the same room as me, aside from my eyes being so “ominous.”
He texted me later to say he had a good time. Then followed that up with a more cryptic text: “You’re not so forward, huh?”
I replied, “Sometimes, sometimes not. Depends.”
His answer: “Exactly. You’re answer is vague and not forward.”
That was it for me, I could defend myself no longer. I replied that I felt there was “a discordant element between us.”
He shot back an explanation for his behavior: “I’m testing you and you’re testing me, that’s what single people in their thirties do.”
That’s where he was wrong. He might have been testing me, but I was not testing him. I don’t test anybody I go out with. There’s no right answer or right way to be, there is only a right way to feel. Of course, I know that I’m not perfect (far from it!), nor do I expect anyone else to be. But the ideal scenario on a date is that both people feel accepted just as they are, imperfections, shortcomings and all. That feeling is what encourages you to want to get to know someone better.
I remember, I once dated a guy who said to me as we kissed goodbye, “Who you are is welcome here.” It was our fourth date and I had shared some personal stuff with him. It was one of the most romantic things anyone has ever said to me. I realize that I may be oversimplifying this — relationships are complicated — but every good relationship I’ve ever had has started this way — with both of us thinking the other person was RAD and thinking we could be even RADDER together.
If I could respond to this guy (I don’t plan on it), here is what I’d say: A date is not (and should not) be a test — of a person, of a potential relationship. It should be a test of acceptance. No one wants to feel like they are going receive a report card after dinner. They want to feel welcome, like they are going to get an A+ just for being themselves.
And speaking of grades, I didn’t realize it until just now, but I picked this idea up from my favorite high school teacher, Mr. Van Buren. Every day for three years, as I walked into his Latin class, I would read the poster on his bulletin board. It was a picture of a giraffe. The caption read: “Don’t try to understand me, just love me.” Mr. Van Buren knew what was up.