Why is dating so hard? Maybe it's because everyone is so bad at communicating.
I'm sitting in a dark, dingy bar in Toronto's west end. The bartender knows I'm here for a glass of Merlot, even though this is a craft beer place. My friend June is on the Manhattans.
She's telling me about a 25-year-old man with whom she has been flirting. Lately, he's devolved into sending her cryptic emojis and unsolicited late-night dick pics. She has yet to see the dick in person—he seems terrified to pursue any real-life interaction. She asks him when they're finally going to hang out, and he can't provide a concrete answer. She spends a few days obsessing over it, and then decides he needs to be dismissed because it's clearly not going to go anywhere.
"Do I need to be driven nuts? No. I have way too much fucking shit to do."
She says she needs to get to a place with partners where she can spell out to them, "This is what I expect of you if you want to participate."
June, as illustrated, has a higher-than-average IQ. Nonetheless, what's happening here is a breakdown in communication. It seems to be a trend in the dating landscape these days: We don't lay out what it is we're looking for in relationships because if we admit we want a real connection, we're afraid we'll come across as thirsty. And we're not honest when we just want sex because we're afraid the person will disappear before we get what we want.
Through my considerable dating experience, I've divined the remedy to these particular dating ills.
Before I share it, I want to clarify: I'm not talking about the widely enjoyed hobby of entertaining one's genitals with questionable strangers. Never would I decry the practice of casual sex.
No. I'm talking about dating. Dating involves sitting across from someone and listening to stories about their fucked-up family/greatest fears/the college they did or did not go to, and actually attempting some recall of those details the next time you see one another. Oh yeah—there's a next time you see each other. This now-antiquated practice, dating, involves incorporating someone into your life for a while and seeing what happens, much the way you might test your own capacity for responsibility by adopting a plant and seeing how long it takes you to kill it.
Here's what we need to do in order to be successful in dating: We need to stop being dicks to one another. Specifically, we need to be better communicators. And we need to stop ghosting.
I can feel your collective groans and eyerolls deep in the marrow of my bones. And trust me, this level of earnestness is deeply humiliating for me, too. But stay with me, for I have done the legwork.
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Picture yourself in this scenario: You go on a date with someone who is pretty smart, is decent looking, and seems like a generally alright person. But you keep missing all of each other's references. They set nothing off in you. No fire is lit. No fluttering to make you feel like you might vomit all over the bar's reclaimed wood table.
You maybe hug, maybe kiss goodnight. Maybe you hang out a couple more times, and maybe you bang. Either way, you figure you'll never see them again because you don't really want to. All good, you think, onto the next one, and you swipe away into the future.
But then—they text you telling you they had a good time. They want to see you again. "How the fuck did this guy not feel how tepid were the waters between us?" you wonder. "How?"
You ignore the text, hoping it will go away.
They start in again the next day:
"Hope you had a good sleep."
"What are you doing tonight?"
This is the crucial moment: to ghost, or to come clean that you're Just Not That Interested? Or, to offer up some other lying-ass excuse a few hours (or days) later, like, "oh yeah things are good! sry work is just crazy" and leave them wondering if they should they cook up a clever reply in an attempt to keep you responding, or wallow in a mire of self-hate because you clearly mean you're Just Not That Interested?
You may feel indignant at having to respond to someone who seems to have zero understanding of social cues. But you should. It'll be for your own good and for the small shred of sanity they may have left.
Being honest seems like a lot of work. But actually, it's a practical thing to do—and it's the easy way out. If you ignore them, you will need to continue wasting energy on ignoring their sad awkward texts. You are also bound to run into them again. At the very least, you may run into their friends, who might publicly accost you and call you names like the fuckboi or Trend Boy you are.
As relationship and sexuality expert Esther Perel points out, the proliferation of ghosting as an acceptable exit from someone's life is a "manifestation of the decline of empathy in our society—the promoting of one's selfishness, without regard for the consequences of others.
"In this relationship culture, expectations and trust are in constant question," she writes. "The state of stable ambiguity inevitably creates an atmosphere where at least one person feels lingering uncertainty, and neither person feels truly appreciated or nurtured. We do this at the expense of our emotional health, and the emotional health of others. It's time to bring back relationship accountability."
Ghosting leaves you in a place where you become unable to connect with people, and eventually, you can't connect with yourself. Everyone's self esteem winds up bruised as a result.
My friend Melissa teaches yoga, and we've been tinding together since the summer.
Before online dating, she says, people didn't have the opportunity to move on from fling to fling as quickly, and so instead, they had to digest each experience.
"Now," she says, "the moment people sense a relationship going south, they can line up the next one. It's unhealthy because people do it to avoid facing the unpleasantness of being rejected. Rejection sucks, but there's a lot to be learned from the demise of a relationship or connection, and people are no longer taking that opportunity."
Telling the truth is beneficial to the ghostee because it will help them find peace of mind. We've all ghosted or been ghosted upon, and being ditched leaves even the most self-assured people in a pit of self-doubt.
Almost 20 years ago, our foremother Carrie Bradshaw wrote, "In a world where leaving each other seems to be getting more and more frequent, what are the breakup rules?"
Increasingly, there aren't any, and we're left trying to decipher our ex-lovers' behavior: Why didn't they text me back? Their phone must have broken. This week was really busy for them at work! They haven't been feeling so well. They're really shy, maybe they're afraid things will move too fast...
Though it sounds cruel, you should (kindly) tell the person you're not into them. That lets them know they can move on with their lives and stop wondering if you've been flattened by a car/devoured by wild coyotes. It also brings the focus onto you: It's not their fault if they're not your type, and there's nothing they can do about it.
That said, ghosting is going to continue to happen either way, so I tried to compile a small list of coping mechanisms. I asked one of my man friends, Hot Julian, what he thought about ghosting. (It seems that doesn't happen to him very often). He mused:
"Is the world under-fucked? Maybe if people were getting fucked more, they wouldn't care as much."
That's one way of looking at it. There is something to be said for keeping multiple partners around so that the sting is less severe, but if we're not careful, this can just perpetuate the cycle of not bothering to care for others. As Hot Julian continues to ponder this, though, he comes up with something that rings true: It's easy to do this to one another because we're all sleeping with people we don't know. If we don't know someone, we don't really care about hurting them.
If we want to date, then, we have to, unfortunately, take the time to get to know people.
My friend and fellow journalist/radio producer Kasia Mychajlowycz came at me with a characteristically raw wakeup call as I was lowkey whining to her about the disappearance of a crush a few months ago (seriously, I assumed he had died). She elaborated on the sentiment offered up by H.J.:
"He didn't know you," she said. If people are cutting us out before they know us, there's no need to take it personally. Maybe he didn't like your tits, or maybe you didn't have enough in common, she says. Either way, not your problem.
This is a liberating stance to take, and repeating it to ourselves can alleviate the pain of rejection. We can't all be made for one another. And we can't all have the gonads/decency it takes to be honest when we're not feeling someone.
All of this being said, let's just hope the next person I ghost sucks at doing their googles and doesn't see this story.
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