Monday, November 24, 2008

Dating Etiquette: Say "No" or Say Nothing?


"If you've only been out with her once or twice, you're not really dating, so you don't have to break up. It's like, understood when you just don't call anymore."

That was the BAD ADVICE someone gave me in college. I followed it by ceasing to call a girl after our second so-so date. Then I happily went about my business, delighted with how simple and easy the not-breaking-up had been...

...until about a month later when I ended up seated near the girl at a play on campus. I was with another date. The original girl saw us and didn't say anything, but looked miserable. When the lights came on after the show her face was flushed with tears and she hustled out of the auditorium. All of a sudden I realized what a jerk I'd been to leave her hanging. Though my not-calling had eventually conveyed that I wasn't interested, it had needlessly put the the girl through a prolonged period of distress. I can imagine her initial hopefulness slowly tainted with the anxiety of waiting - "maybe he'll call tonight... maybe tomorrow...", then sinking into ugly disappointment and hurt with the realization she'd been rejected in the most callous way. :(

Perhaps through the mystical justice of karma, I have since been on the receiving end of the "left hanging" treatment innumerable times. I think I have paid my dues in disappointment enough now to be able to write the following guide:

When to Say "No" and When to Say Nothing

Situation #1: You are politely propositioned in person, over the phone, or in an email or text message.
Best solution: Say "no" in a clear and polite manner.
Risky solution: Make up a false excuse like "I'm already seeing someone". This is tempting for people averse to conflict because it can dodge or delay the social awkwardness of rejecting and being rejected. Unfortunately, it can lead to even greater awkwardness and angst later if more lies are required and / or the truth seeps out. So it's usually better to give a truthful "no" to begin with.
Rude solution: Ignore the person, or reply in a cruel or condescending way.
Fake-nice solution: Give out your number or email as if you are interested, but then make up excuses or don't answer back when they contact you later. This can seem nicer than saying no because it avoids the initial awkwardness, but it's actually much worse because it gets the person's hopes up then prolongs the disappointment / rejection / frustration period.

Situation #2: You are politely propositioned for a date or conversation by a previously unknown person via an Internet dating service.
Best solution: Say "no" in a clear and polite manner.
Ok solution: Ignore the request. This would be rude in real life, but it's acceptable on internet dating services, where attractive women tend to get too many requests to answer adequately, and men tend to mass-email requests to dozens of women with relatively little hope little hope riding on any particular individual.
Rude solution: Respond with a harsh evaluation of the person's flaws and deficiencies.

Situation #3: You are politely propositioned for a date by someone with whom you have previously conversed via an Internet dating service.
Solutions: Same as #2, except that ignoring the request is no longer "ok" because it violates the precedent of civil discourse set by your earlier exchanges. You are now obligated to say "no".

Situation #4: You are propositioned in a rude or vulgar way, in any venue.
Best solution: Ignore, escape, report.
Ok solution: Confront, denounce.
Rude solution: Assault.

Situation #5: You make a date with a person, but change your mind or find something else you'd rather do.
Best solution: Call the person asap and tell him or her in a nice way that you've decided to cancel the date and are no longer interested in pursuing a relationship.
Risky solution: Wait until the person contacts you before before giving your "no thanks". This is sketchy because the person you made the date with may think the date is firmly set and therefore not think they need to contact you again beforehand.
Rude solution: Don't do anything, and ignore all pre-date communication attempts.
Horrible solution: Imply during your last communication that the date is still on, but then don't show, leaving the person literally "stood up".

Situation #6: You've been on at least one date with someone, and decide you don't want to date him or her anymore. The person you've been dating hasn't done anything horribly wrong - he or she just isn't your type.
Best solution: Politely and clearly explain your intention to cease dating.
Risky solution: Maintain communication, but subtly move the person into the "friend zone". (Note- this only works in the early stages of a relationship, and you shouldn't try it unless you really do want a friendship with the person.)
Rude solution: Cease contact inexplicably, or break up in a nasty way.

Situation #7: You've already said no but the person keeps bugging you, or you've broken up with someone, but he or she keeps clinging to the hope of romantic reinstatement to the extent that platonic communication is awkward or impossible.
Best solution: In this case, ignoring may be the only solution that works, because too much discussion around "no" will just exacerbate an obsession.

Hope that clears things up.


PeconicPuffin said...

And always be respectful. Always be as if you're going to end up dating his or her roommate.

James Douglass said...

Puffy- Right on.

Catapulting Aaron said...


I guess my life is somewhat relevant here. I like the guidelines - scientific as always...

I will say... if you cancel a date for wind, it's always better to lie about the reason you're canceling...

Also, "hey can we hang out Tuesday, as long as it's not windy" is NOT a very successful way to get a girl's time...

James Douglass said...

Aaron- Ah, that's a good point. It's best not to reveal the depth of one's wind obsession right away.

Lisa St. Clair said...

Whatever! I'd much rather know up front that the boy is obsessed with wind...if the woman accepts your obsession, then your set. And lying about cancelling a date for good wind? Seriously!

James Douglass said...

Lisa- I wouldn't REALLY make up a fake excuse for cancelling a date, and probably Aaron wouldn't either. He was just emphasizing the folly of implying to one's date that windsurfing is more important than her, assuming that's not actually the case.