Listen to this story
Being single is like a virus we’ve all had at some time or another. We can recall and describe the excruciating symptoms with a vividness that has others nodding their heads in agreement. Yes, that’s exactly how it was. No, I don’t miss it. Or, yes, I’ve got it, too.
It seems like I’m regaled with dating horror stories every time someone finds out that I’m single. If it’s not a personal story, it’s the story of a close personal friend or family member. The overarching message is that dating is tough and certainly not for the faint of heart.
Of course, I have stories of my own. I can easily launch into the catfishing story I have or about the mansplainer who spent the evening telling me about how beautiful women should expect harassment and abuse and feel complimented by it. I could tell you about how the person I dated who showed up to dates when he felt like it and not at the agreed upon hour, all while I had a babysitter on the clock and sat around waiting for him to finally show up. I could expound upon the many unsolicited pictures I’ve received or all the times I’ve been asked about my sex life by a total stranger. If we had more time, I could list all of the horror stories I’ve been told, each more outrageous than the last.
There are far more horror stories I can tell than good ones, but I think it skews dating perceptions when we only focus on the worst aspects of the dating game. And make no mistake: it is a game, even if the last thing we want to do is play around. Dating does come with a multitude of challenges, but I think we make it far more difficult than it needs to be.
I haven’t concocted the perfect recipe for the perfect date, but I can tell you that there are some pretty universal Dating Don’ts for those who want to have a vastly improved dating experience.
- Don’t be deceptive about your appearance. Online dating is prevalent in our society, and it can be a convenient way to get to know someone. It can also be an easy way to deceive someone. If you plan to date online, make sure your profile pictures are accurate to how you look in person. Don’t use filters or photography techniques designed to make you look a different height, weight, or other physical variable. Don’t use old pictures of yourself either. If you have a peg leg and one eye, say so. Someone is going to dig your pirate vibe. Just don’t try to act like you’re something you’re not. It shows spectacularly poor self-esteem, and it’s probably not going to result in a good dating experience for either party.
- Don’t send unsolicited pictures. If someone wants to see a picture of your genitalia, they’ll ask. Otherwise, assume that they don’t want it. This should vastly improve all of our dating experiences if this “don’t” was heeded.
- Don’t lie about who you are or what you want. If you want casual sex rather than a relationship, it’s okay to say so. The same is true if what you really want is a relationship. Be honest about your interests, lifestyle, and what you’re looking for from your dating experience. I’ve known some people who think of dating as a string of purely sexual experiences while others think of dating as an opportunity to be social and get to know people. Don’t assume your definition of dating will be theirs. Which leads me to the next point.
- Don’t assume. It’s okay to clarify relationship status, interest level, and even interest in engaging in a sexual relationship (virtual or in person). Don’t assume that the other person feels the same or wants the same thing. Don’t assume anything, but know that it’s entirely okay to ask for clarification.
- Don’t say you’ll call or text if you don’t plan to do so. Simply say what you mean and mean what you say. It’s not doing anyone any favors to string them along to avoid hurting their feelings; that never works and just prolongs the agony and discomfort for both parties. Ghosting (disappearing on someone without explanation), benching (keeping someone on hold as a backup plan while you date more desirable people), hoovering (pulling an ex back in when no one else is available), and other current dating jargon have come out of society’s unwillingness just to be honest with one another.
- Don’t put your narcissism OR your total lack of self-confidence on display. No one needs to hear about how great you are. Healthy self-confidence is great, but if all you do is talk about how wonderful you are, there’s a problem. I’m guessing low self-esteem or self-worth might be underlying it. On the other hand, don’t go out on a date digging for compliments by putting yourself down. It’s not an attractive quality. No one wants to hear you call yourself fat or ugly or any other negative descriptor. Work on being confident and body positive so that you can relax into the dating experience without carrying that baggage into it.
- Don’t insult your date. This should be basic, but it isn’t. Negging, when someone mixes a negative remark with a compliment, should be banned from the dating arena. It actually shows poor social skills and is just plain rude. Be polite when dating. Pay the compliment. Open doors. Be kind. Don’t interrupt or contradict the other person’s life experience. Listen. It’s all very basic.
- Don’t engage in endless small talk. The “hi” “how are you” thing gets exhausted pretty quickly. Talking about family makeup, jobs, your day, and the weather will only get you so far. Have some interesting things to tell your date, but also be interested in them. Instead of asking about their job, ask about their passions. If they say they like to read, ask what books they like and why. Whatever they bring up, be interested in knowing more about that and listen to understand rather than respond. Also, never insult someone else’s interest just because you don’t share it. I can’t count the number of times my interest in classic film has been called stupid simply because the other party has never seen one and knows nothing about the interest. It’s okay not to share the same interest, but that doesn’t invalidate the other person’s opinion.
- Don’t compromise your standards. I’ve dated smokers even though I’ve always had a profile that has specified I’m not interested in dating someone who smokes. I compromised when I went out with people who hid their habit and then later revealed it. I have a lot of reasons for feeling the way I do, and it’s not an area where I should compromise again. It’s okay to be open to liking a different kind of person, but we need to make sure that we are staying true to our core values.
- Don’t be entitled. If you pay, you’re not entitled to sex. If you send a message, you’re not entitled to an immediate response. If someone says no, they don’t owe you an explanation.
- Don’t set unrealistic expectations. Or expectations at all. Try to go into dates looking to connect but not setting up criteria for a successful date beyond enjoying the evening. Even though I have a plethora of dating nightmares I could regale you with, I also have dates I could describe positively. There was one I went out with and shared a lovely meal. He was as attractive as his online profile, he was intelligent and able to carry on a conversation, and I enjoyed the date. We didn’t have chemistry and didn’t continue dating, but I don’t think badly of him at all. I think he was a lovely person but not for me. That’s okay. It wasn’t a bad date. It wasn’t even a bad experience. It just wasn’t for me. Had I defined the quality of the date by other standards, I might have been disappointed or had a negative experience.
- In the words of Maya Angelou, “Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.” This is a big DON’T. When we know our own value, we are less likely to stick around for someone who is showing us that they have little regard for our time or feelings. With dating, this is crucial. I’ve often been exclusive in relationships while the other person continue to date because I’d decided to prioritize someone who wasn’t prioritizing me. Doing that only ever leads to disappointment. It’s okay to keep dating someone who isn’t putting in the same effort, but we might want to avoid making them our focus, as it will limit our opportunity to find someone else.
We’ve made dating the nightmare that we currently tell our friends about. We’ve made it difficult to navigate because so few of us practice direct, effective communication. We’ve made it a challenge because we compromise on our values and our boundaries, assuming we have any of those to compromise. Sometimes we make it difficult because we make the focus about what we can get from the other person rather than what we can contribute to the relationship.
But it doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s as easy as going out and following The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz:
Be impeccable with your word.
Don’t take anything personally.
Don’t make assumptions.
Always do your best.
All of these dating don’ts fall into one of these categories. By being mindful of this list and our own behaviors, we are more likely to have better experiences in the dating world. It’s not that the horror stories won’t happen. Sure, they will. But the difference will be that we won’t sit around and keep engaging.
When someone mansplains for the first few minutes of the date, we won’t sit around for the next 2 hours out of a sense of being polite. When we say that we’ll text later, we actually do it — even if only to say that we’re not interested. We begin to “be the change” in the dating world by treating others well and by only engaging with people who do the same.