A few years ago, I went on a date with a guy who travels around the country and gives talks and interviews about compassion and kindness. He's written books and he's been on all kinds of television shows. He's extremely charismatic, funny and smart. We met through mutual friends and he asked me out and of course, I was very excited. I thought we had a similar outlook on life, and I liked the fact that he seemed so down-to-earth.
When the night of the date came, he picked me up and off we went. The conversation was easy and deep. Definitely no small talk. By the time we were at the restaurant we were so in the flow that we never made it past a pitcher of mint lemonade! We sat at the table for three hours, drunk on conversation. He made all kinds of references to things we had to do, friends of his I had to meet, places we had to go. There was not an inch of me wondering whether we'd be going out again. We exchanged a few emails the next day, but he didn't mention any plans — I just assumed he was going to call to do that. So you can imagine when I still hadn't heard from him a week later, I was pretty surprised and confused.
I decided to be direct and sent an email letting him know I'd had a great time. I told him I was really looking forward to getting to know him better. I told him about a TEDx talk I'd since given, that we'd discussed the night we went out, and how I was pleased I hadn't died from fear, after all. Radio silence. He never wrote back and I was left with the sting of having made myself vulnerable. I didn't say anything to our mutual friends because I didn't want them to feel badly, and I also didn't want anyone else to get involved.
After numerous conversations with trusted girlfriends and a couple of close male friends, I finally let it go. It's one thing to talk about kindness and compassion, but quite another to actually have some.
I found out much later he'd been dating someone off and on for a long time. When we went out, they'd been off, but at some point the week after our date, they were on again. I've been in those relationships before. The ones that are so hard to end. The ones where you feel so hooked you're convinced it must be love, so you keep going back — even though you know nothing will be different.
Anyway, when I realized what happened, I felt a little soothed but also angry. It would have been so easy to simply shoot me an email and let me know. It would have been kinder than leaving me to second guess my own experience. To replay the night in my mind and wonder if I'd missed something.
Who knows why he handled it the way he did. My guess is he probably wanted to keep me on the back burner for when his on again went off again. Because I did get an email a few months later, asking if I'd like to have dinner. But by then I was done. I would never pursue something with someone who can't or won't communicate honestly. Most of the time people are not setting out to hurt us, and this was not a major heartbreak, obviously. It was one date. It just so happened it was my first date out of the gate after my divorce, the first date I'd been on in eight years. So the timing wasn't great. But it was a sting, not a wound.
Usually people are doing the best they can with the tools they've got, but sometimes people are selfish and prioritize what's good for them over what might be hurtful for someone else. The thing is, it's never really OK to put your discomfort ahead of another person's heart. Awkward conversations aren't fun, but the truth is so much better than leaving someone in the dark.
The other thing to remember is that sometimes a person presents themselves in one way, but one-on-one, it's a whole different story. This is a guy who does a lot of good for the world, legitimately. But his interpersonal skills need a lot of work. It was a good reminder to me that we should never look at someone's public persona and assume it's the same as what's happening behind closed doors. It's easy to take things personally, but most of the time it's just a reflection of where someone is on their own path and not a reflection of anything lacking in you.
I get so many emails from people struggling with this stuff. The truth is, if a person is really into you it's not going to be a mystery. You're not going to have to wonder, or chase, or second guess yourself. Save your time and energy for people who are coming at you with everything they've got. And keep your eyes, ears and mind open, so you can see clearly when there's a disconnect between someone's words and their actions.
I find that it helps to remember the Maya Angelou quote, "When people show you who they are, believe them."
Here are four simple dating rules to live by, to remind you of who's really worth your time:
1. Communicate Honestly
2. Be Discerning
3. Don't Take Things Personally
4. Never Chase Love, Affection or Approval
Photo courtesy of the author