The details of my date are quite inconsequential. We met at a dance class. A few weeks later, we went for drinks, chatted, laughed, danced. I asked if she wanted to check out another bar, and she said she was ready to part ways. In the moment it felt like an abrupt ending, but then again, we’d been hanging for like four hours. Later, I asked her out for a second date, and her response was unlike anything I've ever seen. I got rejected and it was actually awesome.
Before I get into the specifics, let me just say this: We all have that rejection story. You know, the one where we were ghosted, flaked, manipulated, lead on, lied to, avoided, or pummeled into submission and resignation by excuses of increasing flimsiness through texts of decreasing frequency. Mine is the time I reconnected with a childhood friend, set up a rendezvous for drinks, confirmed plans the night before, solidified logistics the day of — and was 100 percent, completely stood up with no communication, no explanation, no apology that night, the next morning, the next month, the next year. To this day, nothing. I still don't know what happened there.
The sad but true thing is, most of us have also been on the other side. We’ve been the flake, the sketchball, the ghost. I’ve never straight-up stood someone up or been blatantly inconsiderate, but I’ve made excuses, avoided the truth, and lied. One time I went on a first date; I could tell she was into me, and I just wasn’t feeling it. A few days later I texted something weak (and untrue) about “going through a rough spot” and “needing some time to myself” and “looking forward to reconnecting soon.” I had no intention of reaching out.
We’ve all done something like this, but just because it’s common doesn’t make it OK. I’m not sure the cause (dating apps? social media? something else entirely?), but there’s this weird dissonance that can sometimes make us view others as disposable. We sometimes treat people in a way we’d never want to be treated ourselves. And in the process, we normalize these behaviors, perpetuate the cycle of bad karma, reinforce subpar dating norms, and ultimately condone others doing the same crappy stuff to us in the future. I guess what I’m saying is, it’s bad form. I’m also saying there’s a better solution out there.
So back to when I suggested a second date. Here was her response:
Sure, I felt disappointed when I received her text, but the subsequent — and prevailing! — sensations were the opposite. I felt relieved: I didn’t have to wonder or guess how she felt or where we stood. And I felt optimistic that there are great people out there, and that someone will want what I’m offering, even if this particular person doesn’t.
Her straightforwardness also did me another favor. In proving she’s a stand-up person, she gave me the opportunity to prove the same. She was direct; I was gracious. She was honest; I was accepting. She said, “You’re great, but you’re not for me”; I said, “I’m disappointed, but I respect you above my own desires.” It was on her, the rejector, to tell it like it was; it was on me, the rejected, to be OK with that. It’s a two-way street.
Telling someone “no” is hard, and especially for women and feminine-presenting people, can sometimes even be dangerous. According to the mother of one of the victims, the Santa Fe school shooter allegedly killed one of the victims after she stopped his aggressive advances by turning him down in public. We can’t ignore toxic masculinity and the reality of gender-based violence as they pertain to breakups and rejections. In my situation, fortunately, after our text exchange, I emerged safe and relieved. Ultimately, I hope she did, too.
I know others feel differently, but for me, asking someone out and receiving a “no” feels like competing in American Ninja Warrior. Like I’m trying to do this really challenging thing, aiming for an improbable feat, and I fall off the bridge or the ladder or whatever. Sure, it hurts for a moment, and I might wish that things had gone differently, but I tried my best, did it with enthusiasm and integrity and respect. I failed. And what was the consequence? I learned, I got up, and like Big Sean, I bounced back.
And sure, there are caveats and exceptions and extenuating circumstances. By all means, if we’re uncomfortable or endangered, absolutely, let’s do whatever’s necessary to rid ourselves of creeps or sketchballs or D-bags or predators. Those situations don't always warrant a response. And of course, in most situations the rules are unclear. What kind of communication do we owe each other after a great one-night stand? A lackluster one? A 15-minute pre-date screening/coffee meet-up where you realize there’s no chemistry? A rendezvous where you thought it was a date but they didn’t? Or vice versa?
I don’t have a precise answer for any of the above, but I think it’s worth considering them with some intention. After all, for anyone who’s dating, these in-between situations are bound to happen. While the first-date and second-date stories we often hear and tell and internalize are generally the outliers — the nightmarish or hysterical or magical or bizarre — the reality is, most of these early meet-ups fall in a gray zone: iffy, unclear, OK, meh. Most of these dates won't work out.
So knowing that the majority of our relationships are going to be short-lived, how do we make these parting-of-ways a little easier? How do we approach situations with a little more courtesy, a little more honesty, a little more empathy? What would be the kind thing to do? The adult thing to do? The thing we’d want for our best friend or for ourselves? Call me old-school or idealistic or naïve, but all I’m looking for is some time, some kindness, and some communication. I think we should be able to expect to receive that, and be expected to give it, too, whether we’re the one saying or the one hearing “no thanks.” Truth is, most of us will, at some point, be both.
Because this whole thing is emotionally scary. Dating is scary. Living is scary. We’re all out here being vulnerable, trying again and again despite the risk — the inevitability! — of at some point being met with ridicule or humiliation or rejection. We’re all being brave despite the loss and hurt and anger and anguish all of us carry. So let’s be a little bit better—if not for others, at least for ourselves. If nothing else, we could all use some good karma.