Sunday, March 27, 2011

When Online Dates Fail

Sometimes — even when the chemistry online is so hot any other outcome but life-long bliss seems impossible — when you meet said online profile in person, it can be a there’s-no-way-this-would-ever-work-out disaster. This isn’t anyone’s fault. The Internet can only give us so many hints about whether or not we’ll be compatible, attracted to and/or have chemistry with someone when we meet them in the physical realm. Beyond the obvious problems that can potentially arise from dishonest or exaggerated profiles, there are things you get in person — how you feel around them, smell, body language, how attractive they are to you in three dimensions — that you can’t get through IMing, emailing and profile stalking.

So what happens when you encounter an online-arranged date fail? When things don’t stack up in person and you know it, how long do you hang in there before bailing, and what do you say?

I think most would agree that hanging in there for 20-30 minutes is both long enough to show respect for the person who took time out of their day to come meet with you and also to give any potential bonding a fair shot, but isn’t so long that either you or they will feel like they wasted their whole afternoon on a date that went nowhere. The 20-30 minute goal is a perfect argument for why first online dates should be drinks or coffee based, and not meal based. Unless you’re grabbing hot dogs from a street stand, a meal will almost definitely commit you to more than 30 minutes. Anyone who has gone on a few bad online dates knows the wisdom of not roping yourself into an extended period of time with someone you may actively have anti-chemistry with.

As far as how to politely and respectfully bail after you’ve burned your tongue on your coffee in an effort to speed the 20 minutes along, I’m from the camp of just being honest — not brutally so, but honest enough that your feelings are clear about any potential future dates with this person. Something like the following works well: “Hey, thanks for the drink” (if they bought) or “Thanks for meeting me for coffee”, followed by, “It was really nice to meet you, but I’m just not feeling a connection, romantically. I wish you the best.” You’re being straight up about not feeling anything for them, which isn’t arguable — you feel how you feel. Being honest during the date and letting them know where you stand is a more stand-up way to deal with non-connection than to not return emails or phone calls in a few days when they ask you for a second installment.

Sometimes, the anti-romantic chemistry is present on both sides, and being honest will result in a friendship — one you may not have fostered if one or both of you turned to the unanswered emails and phone calls route. If one of you feels it and the other doesn’t, being honest may feel a bit brutal, but will ultimately be respected more than the alternative. I know I’d much rather hear it straight than be ignored.

Yours in stand-up honesty, S