At first, things were amazing — dates that lasted fourteen hours, a constant string of flirty emails and texts. You discussed what your kids would look like and whether or not you’d both be happy living in Albuquerque. The dude was seriously into you.
Until he wasn’t. Suddenly communication ceased. He was “busy with work” or “had a lot of stuff going on” or, worse, offered nothing but radio silence.
So you did what you had to do. You cried. You complained to your friends. You binged-watched Orange Is The New Black and reminded yourself that at least you’re not in a minimum-security prison for a youthful indiscretion you committed ten years ago. And after some time, you started to feel better and even began wondering what you ever saw in that jerk.
And then it comes: The ping ping of your phone: “Sorry I disappeared. Work was crazy. What are you up to tonight?”
What you are up to is Season Four of Mad Men.
At first, you’re elated. Work was crazy! That explains it all! And you very much want to dash over to his place for an evening of take-out Thai food and kissing on the couch.
But something holds you back. You think of that annoying friend who’s always scolding you and quoting relationship self-help books that say that you have be an ice queen to get guys to like you.
You have many arguments for this friend. First, you’re not some twit who slavishly follows dating guides. You’re a modern, independent woman who does whatever she wants. You don’t believe in manipulating men to get them to like you; you believe in being real.
On the other hand, dropping everything to see this guy doesn’t feel quite right either. So what to do: Should you stay or should you go?
I’ve been hearing a version of this question a lot lately, and it fascinates me because I have two completely different responses.
First, there’s what I used to do in this situation—more often that not, I went. Because life is short, and because I wanted to.
And yet, now when people ask me about the exact same dilemma, I always want to say DO NOT GO.
So what’s my deal? Have I become the smug-married enemy?
I still hate it when dating guides tell women that men will like them better if they’re aloof or withholding. Any guy who needs you to act like a bitch in order to be interested isn’t worth having, in my mind.
But I don’t think politely declining this kind of invitation is being manipulative. Actually, I think it’s the more honest response.
This person was careless with your feelings; he hurt you. Pretending it’s no big deal is just as dishonest as pretending you’re not interested.
I’m not suggesting you unload about how unhappy you’ve been for the past two weeks. I’m suggesting you set some standards for how you would like to be treated in the future: “Sorry, I’m in for the night. But I’m around next week if you want to make a plan.”
It might not work. He might move on to the next chick on his contact list. So while sure you could miss out on a night of passion, I do think you ultimately gain something more valuable: your dignity.
This is not about meeting someone else’s standard of how a young lady should behave. It’s also not about trying to get anyone to fall in love with you—people are going to feel how they feel.
This is about setting your own standards based on what does and does not work for you. It’s about making the decision that you will look back on a week or a month or a year from now and think, “I’m glad I did that.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean declining. If you’ve considered the emotional pros and cons and then decide to quickly spritz your hair and re-apply some eyeliner before dashing out of the house, good for you. Pretty much everyone who is alive has been there, and sometimes you just need to say, hell yeah.
If you later regret that decision, don’t stress it. Life is an ongoing experiment; we’re continually gathering data about what does and does not make us happy. The important thing is not how this other person responds (even though it of course seems very important in the moment) it’s what the experience teaches you about how you want to live your life, and the type of person you want to share it with.