Stop Guilt Dating

Because turning someone down doesn’t make you the bad guy.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Because turning someone down doesn’t make you the bad guy.
Corbis/Click Photos.
Corbis/Click Photos.

How generous a dater are you? I’m not asking whether your toilet visits always miraculously coincide with the bill appearing. Rather, how open are you to a second date when the first one wasn’t great?

One of my best friends is an extremely charitable dater. I once enquired how a date had gone. “He seemed arrogant,” she told me. “And he kept talking about money, which I hate. And he didn’t get my humour.” In other words, not quite the how-wemet story that she’d dreamed of telling her grandkids. When I asked whether she’d ever see him again, she confessed, “I just feel so bad saying no.”

Last year, a study by Yale and Toronto Universities found that 74 percent of people would date a stranger waiting in the next room – even if they didn’t find photographs of them at all attractive – simply because they were worried about hurting their feelings. But in the age of dating apps, never writing anyone off is exhausting. My friend squeezed coffee dates into lunch breaks; she skipped the evening gym class she loved for multiple men she didn’t like. The fear of feeling bad emotionally began to make her feel bad physically.

Another friend of mine dated a guy long past his expiration date because she felt guilty for letting down the mutual friend who’d set them up. “He’s so good on paper!” she’d wail. But if paper was the key to compatibility, men would send revealing shots of their CVs, rather than pics of their penises.

There’s a remedy for guilt dating, though, and it isn’t turning mean. It’s losing the view that turning someone down is mean. Let me explain. Years ago, I met a guy – let’s call him Owen – online. Internet dating was pretty new, and the bulk of its clientele questionable, so I still consider it a miracle that he was so gorgeous. Imagine a geeky Zac Efron: dark and so cute that we made conversation for three minutes then just made out for the rest. But as we continued dating, I hit a major roadblock. When I asked Owen what he wanted to do each time we went on a date: “Anything you’d like to do.” His food preference: “Anything you’d like to eat.” While I didn’t really want a chest-beating alpha male, I did want someone who could make a decision.

Against advice that I was throwing away someone – you guessed it – great on paper – I texted and admitted that I couldn’t see it working. He replied: “This has happened a few times, can I ask why?” Instead of batting back the “I’m so busy” cliche, I was honest. I said that he didn’t seem to believe in himself. I explained that selfconfidence was an incredible attribute, and he had everything to be selfconfident about, but wasn’t. He told me it was the most useful text he’d received.

Just a few weeks ago, Owen got married. I smiled when I saw the pictures on Facebook. Because turning down someone you’re not compatible with isn’t mean, it’s kind. It lets them find someone they click with. And it’s kind to you; because the one thing you never ever want to feel guilty about is not putting your needs first.

If paper was the key to compatability, men would send their CVs rather than pics of their penises
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