Friday, March 27, 2009

How to say No

Online dating is a tricky thing. On the one hand it’s a great way to meet people, but on the other hand it doesn’t follow the same rules “normal” dating does. There are things you can get away with when you meet someone online that just wouldn’t fly if you met the person on the street or at the bar (or wherever it is people meet these days).

Back in 1997 online dating was thought to be weird and daring; what if the other person was a pervert? What if they say they’re 21 and single, but are really 55 years old, balding and married? What if that person is actually a murderer?! But today it seems that everyone has tried, or has known someone who’s tried, online dating. It’s hard to meet people in Toronto! Between work, rehearsals, an indoor sports league and trying to maintain a social life, who has time to date? Online dating offers a convenient, selective and easy way to meet people and fit them into your calendar. It also offers an easy way out if you’re just not that interested anymore.

So what’s the best way to tell someone you’re not interested in them? To me, the answer is simple: if you haven’t met them face to face yet, either stop replying to emails altogether or start sending shorter and shorter emails, ending them with something non-committal like “all the best” or “have a good week”. To some this may seem harsh, but it’s the option that many people choose.

Just three days ago I saw a personals ad online that seemed promising, so I sent a reply to it, knowing that it could potentially be lost amidst a hundred other emails. As it turns out, he wrote back and we had a couple email exchanges. “This guy seems cool!” I thought to myself, even if he did keep weird hours. When a day went by without hearing back from him I let it slide. When a day and a half went by without hearing back, I decided to not check that email address quite as often (I have a separate email address for dating stuff). When two and a half days went by without a response, I decided he had made the decision not to continue to get to know me. Was I disappointed? Maybe a little. I mean, after so many exchanges he could have at least send a cursory “thanks but no thanks” email. But am I broken-hearted and did it ruin my day? No, because I know I’ve done the same thing. When there is no “face to face” or “phone call” commitment, in my books you’re okay to simply stop replying to emails.

When you meet the person in real life, however, you’ve entered a new territory. You’re no longer “talking to someone online”, you are “going on a date” and, to me, the whole “ignoring” thing just won’t fly. Once you’ve met someone face to face, you can’t just pretend they don’t exist. Sometimes a simple email saying “I had fun yesterday, thanks again, all the best” is fine (because really, you should always say thank you, regardless of whether or not you want to see the person again). Sometimes, however, things can get a little messier.

Take J, for example. I met J on an online dating site and we decided to meet up for coffee. Halfway through the date I knew that he was much more interested in me than I was in him...but he wasn’t totally horrible and I did want to give it a chance, so at the end of the date we shared a small kiss and said goodbye. By the end of date number three I realized that there is no way I could have had a relationship with this man (boy) and decided to break it off. Since we never talked on the phone and communicated mainly through email, I sent him an message saying I was sorry but I just wasn’t feeling it. I apologized, wished him well and braced myself for whatever came next.

After four hours I still hadn’t heard anything back (which was odd, as he worked with computers and therefore was online all day) so I sent him a text asking if he had received it. He replied back (via email) saying “I have received your email.” Huh. Alright, wanna be a brat about it, then fine. Have a good one.

Days later I receive an email from him, ripping me to shreds. I was called a bitch and a slut, and was accused of using guys then throwing them away. I didn’t understand; I had paid for every single one of our dates, let him down politely instead of just ignoring him and even apologized for feeling the way I did. How did this make me a bad human being, worthy of being called names?

About two weeks after that short and fuming email exchange, I was doing a “clean out” of my friends list on Facebook and decided to delete him in the process. I got a message days later asking me why I had deleted him off Facebook. What?! He had called me names and gotten angry with the fact that I didn’t want to date him. Our last exchange ended with him saying something akin to “thanks for nothing, you stupid bitch”. I didn’t think we were friends anymore and told him as much…which led to more name calling and more of me sitting on my hands and biting my tongue just trying to be the bigger person and not call names back.

Months go by and he sends me a message on the online dating site we originally met on. “Hey, what’s up? I’m bored.” I chose not to reply; no real reason, I just didn’t want to deal with drama again. A week later I receive a Facebook message asking why I hadn’t responded and what my problem was. That was it. J had finally crossed the line and I was not just going to sit idly by and take his crap anymore. I wrote him a scathing message explaining that I didn’t think we were friends as friends don’t normally call one another “bitch” or “slut” repeatedly. I told him I was sorry that I hadn’t fallen completely in love with him after our three dates but felt it was nicer to end things there than two months down the line when he developed significant feelings for me. I told him that if he truly wanted to be friends I’d be willing to give it a go, provided that he stop calling me names and making me feel bad for not wanting to go out with him. I apologized again. Once again this exchange ended with more name calling and a “good riddance” from him, as well as a complete delete and block on Facebook. I haven’t heard from him since.

The thing with dating is that you’re going to get hurt. You will meet a fantastic person and fall head over heels, only to never hear from them again or get ‘phased out’ or something…it sucks and it can be hard, but it’s life. It’s dating. And the worst thing is, you’ll do it to someone else too! We all get hurt and we all do the hurting. Dating is not for the weak.

So how do you say “no”? The same way people have been doing it for a few hundred years – politely. Whether it’s through email, a phone call, face to face or Facebook, there’s a chance you could be hurting someone’s feelings and it doesn’t cost anything to be polite. Like I said earlier, if you haven’t yet met the person face to face then it’s okay to just stop emailing back. It happens, and there are plenty more emails to choose from. But if you’ve spent time with them, the only decent thing to do is let them down gently and quickly – don’t draw it out into a three paragraph message about how and why they turned you off (honestly, it happens. I have hilarious proof). Just a simple “thanks again, but I’m not sure we’d click” would suffice.

Unless they call you a slut. Then all rules are out.

**originally written for this Toronto Star thing**

....***not that I was published in the Star (yet), it's just this guy researching something***

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