So after something of a hiatus, I’m dating again. I predict this will last about three weeks before I remember how much I hate it and go back to putting all my energy into work and all my free time into deciding which endurance sport to train for next. I don’t want it to be this way, and not just because marathon finisher medals don’t go out and buy me soup when I’m sick. Dating isn’t supposed to be a horrible, exhausting exercise in futility. It should be a fun way to get to know new people, and, if one so desires, a good way to start a relationship. So why isn’t it?
My current theory is that too many of us are dating defensively. By this, I don’t mean when you let your roommate and at least five of your closest friends know exactly where you’re going, and when you think you should be back by, and when they should call you with a fake emergency, and when they should actually call the cops because you might have accidentally gone out with an ax murderer. That’s not defensive dating, that’s just being safe. Defensive dating is when we go into dating not to get to know someone new, but to avoid getting hurt. It’s when you really like someone, but instead of acting like it, you play it super cool, taking your time responding to calls or texts, trying to act unavailable when all you want to do is spend more time with this person.
How I Met Your Mother did a great job of going through many of the defensive dating cliches. There’s the Three Day Rule, which dictates how long one is supposed to call after getting someone’s number. There’s the Platinum Rule, which states you can’t date someone who you see on a regular basis, lest things end poorly. The Date-Time Continuum dictates you can’t make plans with someone any farther into the future than the amount of time you’ve been dating someone. All of these things put us on the defensive, assuming that the person doesn’t want to hear from us right away, or that it’s inevitable that things won’t work out.
Defensive dating takes many forms in real life, too. For some of us, it’s scheduling a date at 7 when we know we have plans with friends at 9 so we have an automatic excuse to get out if it’s going badly, or to seem busy and popular if we’re trying to impress the person. For me and several of my friends, it’s not actually putting someone’s name in your contacts until you think it might last more than a few dates. For one of my coworkers, it’s not giving a guy a personalized ringtone because every time she does, things end shortly thereafter. Lately I haven’t even wanted to talk about promising dates with friends for fear I might jinx something. No one wants to look too eager or too available. No one wants to admit they might actually like someone, because it means admitting we’ll be upset if they don’t like us back.
I can see the reasoning behind not wanting to appear to enthusiastic — no one wants to be a Stage 5 Clinger. A friend recently went on a series of pretty good dates with a smart, funny, generally reasonable human, but when that person started sending upwards of 30 texts a day, she became a bit leery. I’ve gone on dates that seemed okay until the person followed up the date with a phone call, and before I had the chance to respond to said phone call that same person followed up with a text message requesting my email address. In theory, this shouldn’t be as much of a turnoff as it is.
Why shouldn’t we be flattered that someone clearly is interested in us? For me, this level of attention is only problematic when I kind of already know I’m not that into a person and am looking for an excuse to call him clingy and write him off. From people I’ve actually liked, I’ve accepted texts that say “I miss you” when I’d seen the person half an hour ago.
My point is this: all these dating “rules” exist to protect us from rejection by people who aren’t that into us. The whole point of dating is to find people we like, so why don’t we just act like it? Why are we calculating the number of minutes before we respond to a text, or creating complicated equations for how far in advance we can make plans with someone based on the number of weeks we’ve been going out? Granted, we also shouldn’t pull a Ted and declare our love for someone on a first date, but since when did it become so terrifying to tell someone we like that we like them? If the person likes us back, they’ll be thrilled to hear it, and if they don’t, then they weren’t worth our time in the first place. In the wise words of that Ingrid Michaelson song I’m currently obsessed with, “All the broken hearts in the world still beat. Let’s not make it harder than it has to be.” No one ever died of an unreturned phone call. How many romantic connections have been missed because both people were too scared to make the first move?
Let’s be done with defensive dating. Success in dating isn’t measured by who gets hurt the least. It’s defined by finding someone you’re thrilled to be with, who feels the same way about you. Let’s stop being afraid to call the next day or to text just because we saw something that made us think of them. Yes, it might lead to quicker rejection in the short term, but those rejections are going to liberate us from overanalyzing something that was never really going anywhere in the first place. It’ll also free us up to devote our energy to dating scenarios that could actually work.