Self Care and Dating as a Millennial Caregiver: Part Three

In my experience dating apps have made a majority of participants more avoidant of all levels of vulnerability. Dates aren’t labeled as dates, they’re nonchalant get togethers or hang outs. By calling a date something more casual, even though it doesn’t do a damn thing to change the context of the interaction, men can tell themselves they’re not responsible for bringing any sincerity, effort, or intention to the table. It’s just a “hang out”, so they can feel like they have avoided a situation in which they’d get rejected. If the woman isn’t interested it doesn’t matter because “it wasn’t a date anyway.”

Even if there was a decent connection or spark it doesn’t seem enough to curtail the modern siren song of the constant ding! from his cell phone, notifying him that he has a new match on one of his dating apps. Quantity over quality. Really I should say: Quantity over vulnerability and true connections, growth and genuine satisfaction.   

It’s been scientifically proven that getting matched with someone online provides a hit of dopamine to our nervous system. The moment we know that someone finds us attractive, without us having to face them in person, is the reason many get stuck as dating app bachelors. Like lapping up cocaine dust one particle at a time, egos will never be satiated by the small satisfactions of a thousand virtual winks from women. These type of bachelors stay behind their self-constructed dating firewall. They’re unwilling to submit themselves to any level of vulnerability, thus setting themselves up for perpetually shallow interactions that never lead anywhere meaningful.

Over the years I’ve learned to be upfront about what I’m looking for at the beginning of my interactions with a dating prospect. I’ve found that it has helped to weed out the people who are not on the same page as me, but it still hasn’t eliminated the issue entirely. In fact the people that I do spend time getting to know online and in person are more often than not unsure of what they actually want or are lying about their motives. I can’t control other people and how they choose to approach things, but I can at least control myself and start off with honesty in the hopes that we don’t waste each other’s time.

If I’m looking to casually date, I’ll say so. If I’m in a place where I’d prefer a relationship, I’ll be state as such. Usually early on in our conversations I’ll ask, “So, what are you looking for on this app/site?” The most frequent answer I get is: “Oh, I’m open to anything really. If I connect with someone and we get into a serious relationship, great. If it’s something lowkey, that’s cool as well.”

Lately my response has been: “I’m looking for a relationship, but I’m in no rush to make that happen because I don’t believe that’s something that should be forced. I’m content, independent, and happy being single in the meantime.” I like to clarify in this way so that I can relay that I’m not needy or desperate for affection from just anyone. I’m not looking to get married tomorrow just for the sake of being married. I have patience and am willing to put in the work for someone special, give people a chance to open up and be real with me so that we can see if we can grow together and have fun along the way.

This next dating conundrum can potentially be considered rude to any number of degrees, or not at all, depending on the individuals involved. I’m of course referring to who pays for the first date. I’ve experienced a whole range of variation when it comes to this situation. Men have asked to split the check, some have insisted on paying for me, and one let me pay for both of us. I’ve talked to many people about what they think is the “correct” approach to this dating scenario and I’ve heard a variety of answers. When it comes down to it I think it really depends on the preferences of the two people on the date.

I personally prefer a guy to pay for a first date, especially if they’re the one who asked me out (and not vice versa). Though it’s not a deal-breaker if they don’t. I’m not a high-maintenance woman, nor do I want or expect someone to splurge on a first date, but I take the gesture of covering the cost of the date as a sign of basic intent, respect, and courtesy. In general, I feel like I need this initial reassurance so I can have somewhat of an idea about the character of the person in front of me. Getting to know one another over a couple of lattes at a local coffee shop is a lovely, low-pressure first date option, but having my date treat me to my four-dollar beverage is a way for me to gauge whether or not they’re serious about their intentions and can make a point of distinguishing the difference between a date and a hang out.

I do feel a tiny bit conflicted though. I am extremely independent and pride myself on working hard to pay my own way. I can afford to splurge on a four-dollar coffee. But I’ve come to the conclusion that I want a partner who can recognize and respect that I am self-sufficient, yet wants to treat me here and there anyway. To be fair, I am the type of person who likes to reciprocate. In fact, once a steady relationship is established I like my significant other and I to take turns treating one another. Even though we’re technically still splitting the costs, it feels more fun that way. This type of framework may not be what works for everyone else, and that’s okay.

Before continuing, let me further clarify that I’m not saying that straight men are the only ones who exhibit poor dating behaviors. Again, I’m only speaking from my experience as a hetero female. I’m calling everyone out. Almost all of us could use some work on how to be better at dating in general (me included). It takes practice, self-reflection, and mindfulness. The kind of lazy, narcissistic, insincere approach to dating I’m dedicating this essay to is not acceptable behavior from anyone. I don’t care if you’re looking for hookups, marriage, a steady partner, a polyamorous relationship, or something in between. Be honest.

Despite my attempts to only connect with people who are at least looking for the same thing as me, I still find myself consistently navigating through bullshit very early on into our interactions. The following are the archetypes I’ve frequently come across. Let it be noted that the men I used as examples are only one of many I’ve encountered who fit into these condensed labels I’ve constructed.

Neanderthal

  1. Doesn’t engage in thoughtful conversation or texts. Gives one word answers and relies heavily on chat acronyms (TTYL, EOD, IMHO, etc). Doesn’t keep the conversation flowing. Doesn’t ask reciprocating questions.
  2. Quickly directs the conversation to a sexual tone.
  3. Sends dick picks.
  4. Mysogynistic.
  5. Immature.

Example: At one point last year I was looking for something very casual, easy, and straightforward. I connected with someone who said they wanted the same thing. We agreed to meet up. He changed the plans twice over one weekend. On the third, and last, attempt to meet he texted me less than two hours before the pre-determined time to say he didn’t think he was going to make it. When I confronted his behavior and asked if he was a catfish, he finally confessed that he has a girlfriend. I let him know that between his relationship status (he was not in an open relationship) and his flakey behavior I was definitely not interested in pursuing anything with him. He begged for me to meet him, saying he’d get in his car to drive to me right then and there. I repeatedly told him “No” and reiterated why. His response? Send dick picks to convince me to change my mind. I blocked him on my phone. The next morning I opened up the dating app I was using at the time to find that he had sent me more messages. He still wouldn’t take “No” for an answer and saw nothing wrong with his behavior. It was borderline alarming. I blocked him on there as well and reported him to the app’s admin. Customer service did absolutely nothing, didn’t even bother to respond to my complaint. I deleted the app entirely.

The Lazy Casanova

  1. Charming.
  2. All talk and no intention.
  3. Uses texting as a crutch to avoid being vulnerable.
  4. May go on first dates, and they may even go well, but has no intention of developing a relationship. It’s a fabricated “spark” that is used to lure the woman into a sexual encounter.
  5. Prone to ghosting.

Example: A few years back I went on a coffee date with a yoga instructor who was new to the area. Things went well enough that he segued our date from coffee in the park into brunch at a nearby café. After heading to our respective homes after the date he texted to say that he enjoyed our time together and was interested in seeing me again. He was about to head out of town on a trip for a week but wanted to meet up again upon his return. I let him know I was up for it. I never heard from him again.

Long Distance Catfish

  1. Very engaging with initial communication (text/email/phone calls).
  2. Lighthearted and fun personality, has shared interests.
  3. Enjoys “the chase”. Goes out of their way to keep in contact on a regular basis.
  4. Lives outside of my immediate area.
  5. States intention to meet in person, but ghosts.

Example: In my early twenties I connected with a guy online who was from a city two hours away from me, though at the time we “met” he was finishing up his last semester at college on the East Coast. We emailed extensively for over two months and made plans for a date once he was back home in California. I had coordinated our date to take place over a weekend when I would already be in his city, as I had pre-existing plans to visit a good friend of mine that lived in the same area. I sent him a text when I was leaving my friend’s house and heading to the restaurant where we were set to meet. He didn’t respond right away so I figured he was in the car driving. I arrived at the restaurant and parked. I texted him again to let him know I had arrived. I waited in the car for awhile so I could give him time to respond. Ten minutes passed. I tried calling him. It went to voicemail. I waited another twenty minutes and left one more voicemail before driving the two hours home. I was naïve, confused, worried and dejected. I never heard from him again.

The Lonely Dreamer

  1. Enthusiastic about the idea of me, but not an active listener. Puts me on a pedestal and doesn’t really get to know me.
  2. Eager to get into a relationship.
  3. Exaggerates their interests and attributes so that they seemingly line up with my own.
  4. Wants to move things along quickly. Ready to fall in love, right now, regardless of reality.
  5. Has major underlying issues that they cannot/will not address, and uses relationships as a way to cope with their insecurities and past traumas.

Example: I wrote a whole long paragraph about this but deleted it because I don’t want to re-hash in detail my grievances regarding the person I was in a relationship with last. To put it simply, he was a good person, but very lost ad used me as a Band-Aid for the troubles he couldn’t face. Thankfully I figured out the facade fairly quickly and avoided a situation that could have gotten much, much messier.

Catch and Release Fisherman

  1. Able to carry on normal, get-to-know-you conversations.
  2. Asks me out on a date within a week or so of meeting online. Likes to see if we click in person as opposed to gauging our chemistry on several prolonged weeks of texting.
  3. The first few dates go really well, and it is easily apparent that they’re into me. They make the first moves (initiate the first kiss, hold my hand, compliment me, say they want to see me again, etc).
  4. Dislikes vulnerability; emotionally stunted. Often hasn’t been in a relationship in a long time, or recently ended a long-term relationship.
  5. Derails any potential for us by abruptly breaking things off via poor communication or baseless excuses, all in an effort to avoid vulnerability or the potential for rejection, despite the obvious mutual attraction we share.

Example: The last person I went on an in-person date with really impressed me initially. They were engaging and easy going, seemingly well-rounded and quietly confident. I liked that they were independent, financially stable, and seemed genuinely interested in getting to know me. I arrived at our first date early and bought myself a coffee so I could avoid the dreaded and awkward “who pays for what” situation. Immediately after our introduction he noticed the coffee in my hand and said, “You bought your coffee already? I would have gotten that for you.” I smiled and replied, “That’s sweet of you. You can just get my next one.”

Time flew by and the date lasted for four hours. When we walked back to our cars he asked if I’d be up for getting together again. I loved that he was visibly a little nervous when he asked because it led me to assume he liked me as much as I liked him so far. Our second date went even better. When I walked up to him at the start of the date we hugged and then he kissed me on the cheek. I was surprised at the gesture but delighted that he was confident enough to show his interest in a straightforward, sweet way. It’s not something I can recall anyone else ever doing early on in the dating process. The second date lasted about five hours and ended with an electric make out session. He walked me to my car at the end of the night and texted me later to make sure I got home okay.

A few days passed before I checked in with him to see if he was interested in going on a third date. “Of course,” he replied. I told him I’d leave our third date plans up to him since I sort of chose the first two dates. Over the next few days he wasn’t as engaging with his texts to me, knew that we both had the upcoming weekend off, yet he didn’t initiate any plans for a third date. Deducing from how the first two dates went, and his reply to my question about a third date, I decided to call him and get the ball rolling. Maybe his nerves were showing again.

He was thrown off by the call. Apparently he doesn’t like talking on the phone. We made plans to get together toward the end of the weekend, but he stated that they were “tentative”. Immediately I took this as a red flag. The enthusiasm and directness he had during our initial interactions was apparently waning. Sure enough, on the morning of what was to be our third date he texted to say he was having second thoughts about dating. I tried calling him right after he texted, but he refused to talk on the phone. It turned into a three-day, sporadic text conversation that felt like pulling teeth to get him to communicate. I assumed he was backing out of dating me, for whatever reason, but he further confused me by saying that it wasn’t his intention to end things with me. Huh? After a little more back and forth I finally told him that although I really and truly enjoyed our first two dates, I am looking to date someone that is an excellent communicator and knows what they want. He never responded and I haven’t heard from him since.

Divorcee Rebounder

  1. Excellent communicator.
  2. Open about their situation: single father looking to get back into the dating scene.
  3. Mature and responsible.
  4. Outgoing and kind.
  5. Not actually ready to date, which only becomes apparent after several weeks of dating.

Example: Recently I spent about a month messaging and texting a man who has sole custody of his kids. I was attracted to his outlook on life, his morals, his willingness to work hard to achieve his goals, and his passion for enjoying life through exploring and learning. I have a wordy texting style (I prefer to spell out words and use complete sentences instead of relying on memes and abbreviated wording), and appreciated that he does as well. We didn’t communicate every day of the week, but most evenings we’d spend an hour or two getting to know each other before nodding off to sleep. With the pandemic causing both of us to be mostly stuck at home taking care of our respective families (i.e. my mom/his kids), we looked forward to eventually arranging for a day to meet up for a socially distanced date outdoors. After four or five weeks of our routine texting courtship there was a several-day lull in communication. I reached out to him finally to check in and he confessed that he decided he wasn’t actually ready for anything serious yet. I appreciated his honesty, and told him as such, but made sure to re-clarify that although I’m looking for a relationship I’m not in a rush. We hadn’t gone on a date yet so we didn’t even know if our connection would translate in person. He was set in his decision. Understanding, but disappointed, I expressed that although it doesn’t do anything to change the situation, I wished that he had figured this out about himself before meeting me on a dating app, and especially since very early on we had discussed what each of us were hoping to get out of using the app. He apologized and we ended things amicably.

I could write an entire book solely on my dating experiences, clearly I have bountiful material on the subject. (Don’t we all?) For now though I have decided to delete the dating apps on my phone, again, and put romance on the back burner once more. It takes a lot of energy to navigate and interpret other adults, especially when the results of my efforts are consistently fruitless very early on in the process. My honesty and intentions feel of little value when the men I meet don’t reciprocate the same from the get-go. I don’t want to give up hope that I’ll come across people who align with what I’m looking for, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not discouraged.

I’ll put myself out there again eventually, but for now it’s time to step away and re-direct some of my focus on other aspects of my life. I only have so much energy to spare these days and I’m not willing to waste it on people who don’t value me. I want to grow with someone, have them positively challenge me to be better, and vice versa. I do not want to be in a position of having to mentor someone through how to conduct themselves when dating. So during this self-appointed break I might as well keep getting to know myself. Goodness knows there’s always self-improvement to be had.

I’ll leave you with this sentiment: Know what you want and what you’re looking for, be honest about it, be respectful, and have fun. Oh, and for all of our sake, don’t lie or ghost people. It does no one any favors, including perpetrators.

4 thoughts on “Self Care and Dating as a Millennial Caregiver: Part Three

  1. mikaelankostaras

    I definitely “dated” all of those men before I changed my life/mindset about dating. I think it’s great that you’re a good communicator about what you want. And, I’m definitely team he-pays-on-the-first date.

    Like

    1. Lauren

      Glad to hear I’m not the only one, but also sorry to know you had to deal with the same nonsense. I’m curious, what did you shift in your life/mindset that you found helpful to procuring a better dating experience for yourself?

      Liked by 1 person

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