Just ‘In Like’? How to Know When to Cut Bait

I don’t know why bad dates get all the attention because there’s another kind of date that’s almost as frustrating: the lukewarm date. The guy was nice. The evening was pleasant. The conversation was mildly entertaining. And of course, he wants to see you again.

You start to say to yourself, “No thanks! I’m not interested in pleasant. I’m holding out for fabulous.” But you quickly backtrack. “Well, maybe you should meet him one more time,” you nudge yourself. “Maybe he’ll grow on you.”

Deep down, you know it’s never going to work out, but you remember that story about the friend of the friend who initially thought the same thing, but then forced herself to go on 10 more dates and ended up marrying the guy. When you ask your friend if they are in love, she responds, “They’re happy.” When you ask if the relationship is passionate, she replies that it’s “solid.”

Conventional wisdom isn’t helpful, either. I’ve heard experts say you should go out with someone at least three times before you send the “Thanks, but we’re not a fit” text. Then there’s this doozy: You should actually be grateful for your tepid time together. If your date was too exciting and the chemistry was too electric, that would be a sign that one of you was on the rebound or too emotionally needy. You’d be tempted to rush the relationship and prematurely post couples photos on Facebook and then be embarrassed when the whole thing blew up a few months later.

The most confusing part about pleasant dates is that they’re not miserable. They’re at least somewhat enjoyable. You shared a couple laughs. You connected on some level. You’d probably invite the person to your Halloween party, no matter your romantic status.

Should you give it one more shot? Here are some guidelines:

1) You must feel at least a tiny ember of physical attraction.

It doesn’t matter if you like the same kind of Camembert or both want three kids with names that start with “J.” It’s not important if she has great taste in texting emoticons or if he showed up wearing a shirt in the exact shade of purple that you would have picked. If you don’t feel at least a little bit curious about how it would feel to kiss that person, then you should call it a day. There seems to be a gender divide on this issue. It’s accepted that men must feel a physical spark with a woman from the get-go, yet women are encouraged to stick it out to see if their attraction develops over time. It can only grow if it existed in the first place.

2) Pay attention to your walk, not self-talk.

Even if you’ve convinced yourself that you should go out with someone again, there are some clear signs that you’re just not that into the idea. Did you bother to iron? Shave? Put on lip gloss? Did you ask your date to accompany you grocery shopping? Did you schedule your date in between your dog’s grooming appointment and kid’s hockey practice? Yep, this romance is not taking off.

3) Don’t feel guilty if you’re unsure of your feelings.

Dating is supposed to be a fun, no-pressure way to get to know someone to see if you could eventually fall in love. It’s normal to go on a lot of dates with a lot of people before you have any clarity. Accept that it’s part of the process to sometimes lose interest after the fifth date. As long as you’re a gracious and respectful date, you don’t need to apologize for your feelings.

4) Be fair and decent.

It’s one thing to take your time treading the waters of ambivalence. But it gets a lot trickier if the other person is sending you love texts 10 times a day, cooking you five-course meals or planning expensive dates. Try to maintain your equilibrium by chipping in for rounds of drinks or movie tickets or bringing wine or dessert. Or if your date insists on treating, suggest inexpensive get-togethers, such as free picnics or fall festivals.

Richards-book coverStill just “in like” after a few months? You gave your connection a real chance to blossom. You owe it to both of you to cut bait so you’re free to find someone with whom you could go the distance. It’s okay to start with a ho-hum beginning, but love should eventually turn into something satisfying and spectacular.

About the Author:

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate and Salon.

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