These days, far too few people seem to understand that along with the benefits of dating (and yes, dating should be fun and beneficial!) there are responsibilities. In fact, most people simply ignore them altogether. But if you want to become a good dater – meaning you have good dating experiences –you’re going to have to accept and embrace the responsibilities along with the benefits.
The Chasm: What People Want And What People Do
Everyone wants to be treated courteously and respectfully. In fact, we demand it, but do you always give that back? Always?
The unfortunate reality is that most don’t – probably including you – whether you realize it or not.
It’s not that you’re a rude jackass (or maybe you are – I don’t know you). It’s that you likely don’t act in terms of courtesy toward others as a “standard”. Many people think of themselves as polite but make choices based on individual situations. We use a thing I call “situational ethics” to help us make these choices.
For example, if he doesn’t open her car door, she decides (often unconsciously) to not tell him he has something stuck in his teeth. She calls at the last minute to cancel a date so he calls one of her friends, etc.
None of these people think of themselves as “rude” despite doing something rude and inconsiderate. They justify the choice by feeling it was acceptable based on the current circumstances. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in online dating.
A Special Consideration For Online Dating
I have seen people do and say things to others they meet online that they’d never do or say if they had met in real life. There’s something about meeting online that throws a switch in your brain telling you the other person isn’t entirely real and thus, must not have real feelings or be due basic courtesy. They then go on to absolve themselves of that responsibility towards the person.
If you doubt this, just look at some of the comments you see on other websites in response to points made by someone, or just check out the “Hate Mail” section of my own website.
These people don’t feel any remorse whatsoever to say the mean, hurtful and cruel things they say because, well, these aren’t real people after all – they are just electronic images on computers floating around elsewhere in cyberspace.
It’s amazing to me just how much we do this with others without even realizing it. We simply don’t see that person we met electronically as “real” and thus, they aren’t due the same courtesy and respect of those we meet in real life.
Being A Citizen Of The Dating World
Nobody lives in a vacuum today – everyone is part of the “collective”. What’s great about that is that you get to choose how you want to live and at the same time to be seen (and yes, judged) by everyone else.
In order to do that well, you have to accept the responsibilities of the dating world and be accountable for them. The very best way to do this is to have those standards I mentioned earlier – where you always express courtesy and respect regardless of individual situations. Situational ethics really have no place in a modern collective, connected society.
That’s even truer of people who seem to be at a distance through the context of your smart phone or computer!
Responsibility And Accountability
The biggest lack of responsibility today seems to happen at two key points.
The first is when you realize that someone you’ve only dated once or just a few times isn’t the right person for you. The second is during the breakup of an actual relationship.
Few people realize that when you accept a date from someone or ask them on a date, you take on clear, specific responsibilities to that other person. One of those is to tell the other person that you aren’t interested in them, if indeed, you aren’t.
Early dating is all about posturing. We don’t know what level of interest the other person has in us so we don’t want to play our hands too early. Nobody wants to be the only person at the party! (Women are notoriously good at getting guys to expose their interests up-front by the way. I’ve written a great deal about this topic. They use a number of misdirection techniques to do this but this often works against them!)
The most common scenario involves going “underground”. The person who is not interested will simply stop returning phone calls or answering the phone. They don’t respond to texts, emails or Facebook posts. He or she hopes that the other person will just get the message and move on. This way, there’s no confrontation, questioning or stress for that person.
This doesn’t consider what happens to the other person however. That person who calls or (gasp!) texts to set up another date expects a response. “Is she/he just busy?” “Did they get my message?” “Should I keep the weekend open?” “Should I contact them again?” In fact, that person gets all the stress, and the person in hiding, if they have any sense of others at all, eventually begins to feel embarrassed and humiliated for being so inconsiderate.
This is a case where little things weigh a lot.
Breaking up has seemed to change a lot with the technology that has become more pervasive in our lives. There are many people who see nothing wrong with breaking up via email or (gasp again!) via texting.
There was a time when the “Dear John” letter was considered a coward’s way out of a relationship or marriage. A woman would end things via a letter – while he was away serving his country at war. The stigma in doing something like this was huge and that also made it rare.
Today, the stigma is all but gone. The “Dear John” email or text doesn’t carry the same heinousness it once did. When things get heated emotionally, many people feel entirely justified in doing these things and sometimes even feel clever about them. They shouldn’t feel either thing. In fact, it’s very selfish.
If you are going to be a part of the adult dating/relationship world, you should be an adult. No surprise there. Adults have responsibilities – and not just to themselves, but to others as well.
Accepting or offering a date carries a responsibility to treat that other person with respect and courtesy. Simply disappearing or trying to dodge those responsibilities takes you out of the realm of “adult” and puts you squarely in the realm of “emotional child” regardless of your age.
So, what should you do?
First, have standards. Accept that you have responsibilities for others and that they have real, measurable feelings. Accept that your choices impact others and have the standards to strive for the best outcomes – not just the best for you, but for the other person as well.
Second, avoid technology to the best of your ability. Technology is a convenience when it’s appropriate, but it’s almost never appropriate in these situations. If someone was “good enough” to meet for a drink or dinner – or to be in an actual relationship with – they are good enough at least for a phone call, if not to be let down in person.
Third, be clear, direct and to the point. Don’t promise to “remain friends” as that’s just insulting to the other person. If you don’t feel a connection, realize that it’s not a crime. It just isn’t there or wasn’t what you hoped it would be. That doesn’t make you bad, it makes you present.
Fourth, get to it! Don’t wait for weeks or months to let someone down. You only prolong their confusion and sometimes, pain. You wouldn’t cut a dog’s tail off piece by piece would you? Of course not – so don’t try to do the “staged breakup” with someone either.
Yes, there are exceptions to these rules, but those exceptions are RARE. Too many people want to make every situation an exception or shrug off responsibility. If you’ve done that more than twice in the last few years, either you’re so self-absorbed as to not know any better or you’re too callous and self-involved to be dating in the first place.
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Copyright (c) 2013, Dr. Dennis W. Neder
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