. . .
Dear Swipe This!
About a month ago, I matched with a girl on a dating app. We connected and spoke on the phone for an hour or so, and I was excited that we had such chemistry without even meeting yet. We set a first date for dinner, and it went great. We then set a second date to go to a museum, and that date was even better! We set a third date for dinner, and it went as well as the other dates. Mind you, at this point, there wasn’t any physical contact except for hugging and a peck on the cheek. We made another tentative date, nothing substantial yet, and we left it at that. The following day, I sent her flowers. She appreciated my gesture and complimented me being a thoughtful gentleman. I initiated a call a couple days ago and left a voicemail asking her to call me back the following day. Needless to say, I haven’t had any contact with her since the day I sent her flowers.
To give you a little background, I am a 28-year-old guy living in San Francisco. All my life, I’ve been a hopeless romantic.
I’ve never been a big fan of hooking up or friends with benefits arrangements. I’m not into dating multiple people at once; I’ve tried it, and it’s just out of my comfort zone and I feel guilty doing it. I’ve always believed in the eternal beauty of romance and am willing to work to get to that state. I believe in being a nice, good-natured human, and I always treat people with kindness. If you’ve watched How I Met Your Mother, you could describe me as Ted Mosby. In the finale, Marshall asks Lily, “Why does he always do this? He meets a girl, he falls too fast, goes too quick, and gets his heart broken.” That would be an accurate representation of my approach when it comes to dating and finding the love of my life.
I am aware that women love challenges and mystery. I acknowledge being a nice guy is something that tends to be looked down on by women, but I am unable to change my habits for better or worse.
I’ve had my share of relationships where I’ve been cheated on. I’ve also been on dates where I’ve been told, “Oh, you’re such a great guy, good looking, great job, funny, etc.—however, I can’t go out with you because you’re not white.” I don’t blame women for having preferences, and rightly so, they should be able to do whatever they please—it just personally sucks.
My friends have all suggested to play the game, aka play hard to get, but that’s fundamentally not who I am and I feel I shouldn’t start something by pretending to be something I am not.
I am willing to be patient and be OK with the process. On our last date, I openly asked the woman who’d eventually ghost me, “Hey, just so we are on the same page, am I wasting my time here? Is there any interest?” She responded that I am not wasting my time and that she likes me. She is looking for the same things that I am—something substantial and long-term.
Eventually, I re-downloaded the dating app that I met her on (I had deleted all my dating apps, not for her, but because I am emotionally exhausted by dating app culture) and noticed that she updated her profile significantly since the last time I saw her profile (which probably was around the second or third date). I haven’t asked her about this, nor do I plan to. It’s a very emotionally draining process to engage and invest my emotions in this girl and to continue to be patient because she wanted things to go slow.
I don’t know how to change. I’ve tried doing the things that other guys do and it’s just not for me. I’ve taken a step back from the whole dating scene, but it’s tough to remain hopeful that I’ll find someone who’ll be accepting of my romantic gestures. At the end of the day, I know that I would exceed their expectations in the best possible way.
Nice guys do finish last, don’t we?
. . .
Dear Sincere Swiper,
Did you know you can overwater a plant? We’re taught that plants need water to grow, but a worried gardener who tends to his plants too frequently can actually do more harm than good. An overwatered plant, like an underwatered one, will go limp, its leaves will turn brown, and, eventually, its growth will slow to a halt. As much as the roots of a plant need water for nourishment, they need oxygen to breathe. Simply put, an overwatered plant will drown.
I think it’s possible to do the same thing to a new romance. I don’t agree with your buddies who’ve advised you to “play the game.” I think honesty and direct communication can be sexy as hell. But is it possible that—in the hopes of nurturing something new—you’re drowning the organic possibility of connection with your own hopes for the best possible outcome?
Before we get into what steps you might take to make your online- (and IRL-) dating life a bit more manageable, I do want to slow down and be clear: You do not need to change who you are to be loveable. You deserve love and you are worthy of love exactly as you are.
You also breezed past a very significant detail in your letter. You say that you’ve had dates who told you that you weren’t dateable because of your ethnicity. This strikes me as a hugely painful and upsetting experience. And I have to say, I’m surprised that you would justify it as a woman’s right to have “preferences.” Racism, bigotry, and hatred are never justifiable. And I can’t help but wonder if when you label this discrimination as a woman’s right to assert her preferences, you aren’t in some way trying to shield yourself from the deeper pain of knowing that in certain (racist) people’s eyes you are less worthy, less valued, and less lovable. You are allowed to be hurt by these experiences. You are allowed to be angry. And you do not have to justify or minimize your painful dating experiences as a person of color.
You also talk about dating app culture. I assure you, you are not alone in feeling swiping burnout. I don’t know a single unpartnered person who hasn’t at some point felt demoralized by the daunting task of online dating. But you were eager to point out that you didn’t delete your apps because of your affection for this potential new partner. You said it’s the dating app culture itself that you find so draining. But it made me wonder if, in your eagerness to get off those apps, you aren’t putting a little too much pressure or expectations on the fledgling connections you form. Did you really see dramatic potential with this new person? Or were you possibly more in love with the idea of being in love? Were you excited not by your date’s smile or personality even, but by the prospect of arriving at some imaginary destination where you’d finally be free of the hell that is online dating forever?
If you were, I don’t blame you! But I think when you focus on your expectations so heavily, when you fixate on outcomes, you miss out on key parts of the process of building a relationship that’s intimate and made to last.
It doesn’t matter how “nice” you are, or how many bouquets you purchase. If you aren’t willing to take the time to get to know a person before you demand to know “Am I wasting my time, here?” you are going to shut down opportunities for real intimacy. Romantic gestures are a wonderful thing, and I don’t think your date was lying when she told you she appreciated your kindness, but gestures are not a substitute for the much more challenging process of opening up to another person, letting them see you as you are, and offering them in return space to feel seen.
At one point in your letter, you express frustration at how draining it can be invest in someone who “wanted things to go slow.” While I can empathize with your desire to finally be in the relationship of your dreams, this strikes me as not very nice at all. Your date is allowed to have ambiguous feelings. She doesn’t owe you a guarantee. And your sense that you have somehow fallen victim to the process of another person sorting through their feelings about a person they’ve only just met is unjustified. Caring about another person takes time and attention—and if you’re actually the “nice” guy you say you are, you should have those in spades. If you send a bouquet to brighten someone’s day, that’s lovely. But if you send it with the belief that they owe you something in return, whether its attention, affection, or a timeline for when you’ll get to see them again, I’ve got to tell you, that isn’t very romantic at all.
I’m not saying your heart is in the wrong place. Or even that you don’t have the capacity for romance that you profess in your letter. But I think you’d be wise to examine your motivations for being so “nice” all the time. Are you doing things you want to do from your heart? Or are you making grand gestures and overcompensating with the expectation that when you give generously you’ll get a sizable return on your investment?
I’m going to be honest with you. Even if I had gone on several wonderful dates with someone, hearing the question you asked your date would overwhelm me. “Am I wasting my time here?” has an edge to it. It doesn’t feel like a kind or romantic question so much as a demand. And I wonder if, when your date got a voicemail asking her to call you the next day, she didn’t feel a bit reined in. I wonder what it would have felt like to tell her instead, “Hey, I really like you. I want to keep getting to know you,” without any expectations of validation or commitment in return.
The thing is, while your friends might tell you otherwise, I think successful dating requires us to be vulnerable. And that can be scary as hell. No one enjoys being rejected. And living with unknowns can be harrowing. But if you can lean into your fear of not knowing—and push past it to actually embracing not knowing—you might find yourself in a place where not knowing is a good thing. And this might just be the healthy version of the false sense of “mystery” you believe your friends are asking you to cultivate.
Right now you believe you know that this woman has lost interest in you. You believe you know that you could’ve had something so wonderful if she’d just given you the chance. And you believe you know, without a doubt, that nice guys finish last. This last belief is perhaps, the most damning of all. If it’s true in your mind that nice guys finish last, well, you’re rejecting yourself before your dates can. And that doesn’t seem like a very productive way to go about dating at all.
So, what if you don’t have all the answers? If you stopped assuming outcomes, and let go of your need to know, what kinds of questions would you ask your dates? Would you show a little more interest in that story they told you as you gazed at a portrait in the museum? Would you fall in love over a minor fumble that made both of you laugh? Or perhaps, would you discover, upon closer inspection that you didn’t quite mesh, that given enough time and conversation, you weren’t quite so well matched?
I ask these questions because I believe that being nice isn’t your problem at all. I believe it’s your burning need to know things that is holding you back. Certainly, with your history of romantic betrayal, I can understand why you’d be eager to know things. I can understand why you’d chase transparency. But, when we are obsessed with knowing, we tend to get lost in our own minds. And I can’t help but wonder if your desire to know is stopping you from being present. And if you can’t be present, how can your dates every really connect with you?
I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes when people write to me with dating questions, I feel like a bit of a fraud. I’ve been single for a while, so who am I to offer dating advice? I have been exactly where you are at many times in the past, wondering why someone lost interest, or wondering if I had just been a bit more crafty or made a better, more alluring choice, would someone I liked very much have chosen me back? I am by no means an expert on how to “make” someone love you. But as someone who has been single for a long time, I have had lots of practice with learning how to love and accept myself.
So here’s what I would do if I were you. Abandon the idea of finding Ms. Right, at least for right now. And commit yourself to falling in love with you. I know that might sound very Eat, Pray, Love, and certainly, that isn’t something that men are taught to do in our culture. But if you want to enjoy dating, you’ve got to chip away at some of these self-defeating beliefs you’ve built up. So figure out what you like about yourself. Maybe you like your smile. Or your sense of style. Maybe you’re a good listener, or a reliable friend. Maybe you have a secret talent. Get in touch with the parts of you that bring you joy and tend to them lovingly, nurture them, the way you might a plant that you’re hoping will flourish.
And if you don’t feel like swiping, you don’t have to. Give yourself a week off, or a month, or a whole season if you need to. If dating is bringing you down, don’t date for a while. This will give you more time and space to get in touch with the activities, interests, and values that make you you. And when you do decide to swipe again, perhaps you’ll have gained some confidence. Because when you love yourself, when you truly enjoy spending time with the person you are, dating starts to feel less high stakes. And if you can lower the stakes a bit, I’m confident you will meet connections that blossom into something beautiful and unexpected.
Last spring, I purchased myself a sun star plant. I love its star-shaped orange blossoms. But I fretted at how quickly they withered. The blooms lasted two weeks at most. But this fall, I decided to repot the bulbs. I had no idea if what I was doing was a worthwhile investment. But I figured why not. The bulbs looked alive, so I put them in some fresh dirt. And the all-knowing internet told me sun stars favor a dry soil. So I watered them once and left them alone for long periods between watering. And then, one day in December, bright green leaves shot through the soil. They’ve been growing steadily since. The plant hasn’t flowered yet, but I’m looking forward to what spring will bring, even though I have no way of knowing if those bright orange stars will come back.