Thanks as always for your tireless service! You are definitely still the best purveyor of dating advice on the internet. I think I have an issue that I haven’t seen you talk about before…
I (30, cis, straight, F) have been single for a *long* time, and in general I find that when I meet someone cool whom I’m interested in, I tend to be the one who does most of the heavy lifting (i.e. suggesting meetups, initiating contact, etc). That may or may not be a sign that I’m just setting my sights on people who aren’t actually interested – definitely a topic for my therapist but that’s not really what I’m writing to you about. The point is that I’m not shy to make the first move as a woman but am having zero success so far.
The issue is that I’m living in an area where people in general are quite restrained and well-behaved; everyone is friendly and kind and welcoming, but it rarely goes beyond that. People don’t really flirt or open up to you unless you really make an effort to get to know them properly, and even then it is borderline impossible to tell if someone likes you or *likes you’-likes you. There also isn’t really much of a vocabulary surrounding dating (the people here don’t speak English); there are no phrases for saying “Want to go out sometime?” or “I’d love to invite you on a date if you’re free next week” and so on. I asked a friend what they might think if someone up-front asked them on a date, and they said that sounded “way too direct”.
Generally this therefore means that I am in a pattern of inviting cool people for ‘drinks’ or ‘dinner’, only for them to interpret that as a literal invitation to go and consume food or liquid as acquaintances and then go home. I can’t think of an elegant way to make clear that I mean ‘drinks’ like ‘romantic flirty drinks’ rather than ‘two people ingesting beer in the same general area’. And because men here are very respectful of women’s boundaries, they sit politely on the other side of the table and keep their hands to themselves regardless of what kind of signals I try to send over. I think they are often quite nervous about potentially offending women by overstepping. I don’t want to violate their boundaries either so I don’t push it. We have a nice drink or dinner, go home, and nothing *ever* happens. Lather, rinse, repeat.
I guess I am wondering how I can make it clearer in my communication and body language that I am interested in these people so that things don’t just end up stuck in neutral like this. If anything, it would be good to get to a point where I can get an honest rejection from them so I at least know that I can move on and stop wondering. As it is, because I never get the up-front rejection, these things tend to stretch on for months and it can be quite emotionally draining.
Some people say that part of the problem is that guys don’t pick up on subtle signals like hair-touching and all that other stuff that women are told to do to show someone that they are interested. Is this true or is this just part of the usual ‘lol men are so oblivious’ genre of crap dating advice?
Ultimately the questions are:
– how do I make it crystal clear to someone that my invitation to meet up is a romantic move and that therefore they should say no if they’re not romantically interested?
– what are some things I can do as a female human to signal my interest, clearly enough that someone would get the message, without coming across as creepy or desperate? Or – worst of all – *intimidating*?
– what are some things I can do on these meetups to loosen up the vibe and encourage the other person to sit closer/reciprocate a touch/relax a bit and possibly even engage in some light flirting?
Thanks so much!
Why Don’t They Get It
There’s a lot that can be frustrating when it comes to dating, but few are more aggravating than trying to parse whether something is a date or not. A friend of mine recently told me about the dating dilemmas in her social circle, including friends who were in the quantum wave of both “on a date” and “not on a date”, and how difficult it was to tell which it was this time.
As I recall, the answer was “if he’s wearing aftershave, then it was a date.”
Unfortunately, the “is he wearing aftershave” question doesn’t really work, especially when one person thinks it is a date and the other either thinks it isn’t or isn’t aware it’s supposed to be a date. And while this can seem like the set up for all sorts of wacky sitcom hijinx, the fact of the matter is that this ambiguity isn’t just frustrating, it’s a waste of everybody’s time. If you’re trying to date someone and they think that you’re either just interested in being friends or they’re unaware that you’re interested in them, romantically or sexually, then you’re setting yourself up for heartbreak. Especially if the unsuspecting person discovers that they were on a date that they had no interest in going on; many women in particular have been shocked or upset to discover that someone they thought was hanging out with them as a friend saw their hangouts as steps towards sex or romance.
It also doesn’t help that, yes, men are often bad at catching how women flirt or the signals they send. But then again… people often mistake the signals men send too. God knows that I’ve had times where I missed out on the fact that someone was asking me up for a hot cup of “fuck my brains out” until weeks or months after the fact.
This is why one of the things I can’t advocate enough is the value of being direct about your intentions and communicating exactly what you’re looking for. It not only means that everybody is on the same page, but everyone understands what you’re intentions are and what you’re actually asking for.
Unfortunately, this often bumps up against social mores in countries where people are more indirect, women being socialized to not initiate or to do so incredibly subtly and the tendency for men to react badly when women make the first move. So it does become a matter of a weighing the risks and taking your chances.
Now with that in mind, let’s talk about your situation. You’re in an area where not only are folks fairly indirect, but also where there’s a language barrier and folks are incredibly reserved. This seems to be the perfect set-up for two people to be crazy for each other… but not have any way of actually letting the other person know. And in situations like that… well, somebody’s gotta be the one to break the “rule” first. So it may as well be you.
I wouldn’t worry too much about being coming off as creepy or intimidating. While it’s certainly possible for women to be creepy or excessively forward — I’ve had it happen to me — the physical differential between the average man and average woman means that women are rarely a physical threat to men the way men are to women. If you accept a “no” or even a “not picking up the clue you just dropped” with good grace, you’re less likely to come across as creepy or desperate except to people who are going to see that no matter what you do. And as for intimidating… well, again, unless you’re flirting like Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender, I think you’re better off not dating folks who think you’re just too much by virtue of making the first move.
Depending on where you are and what the culture is like, you may be in a position to take advantage of the “Oops, the foreigner doesn’t know the rules” gambit; being more straightforward may be unusual, but could potentially be worked as “it’s just what makes you quirky and different”. While it might be seen as being forward or unusual, playing the “oh, I’m sorry, that’s’ how we do it where I’m from” might give enough permission for both you and your potential beau to break “the rules” and relax just a little. I think there’re worse things that you could do than to say “Hey, listen, I like you and it’s totally cool to say ‘no’, but I would love to go do $COOL_THING with you next week. What do you say?”
Failing that, I would suggest dropping hints that are only just this side of punching them in the shoulder and pointing out that you’re hitting on them. If, for example, someone is sitting across the table from you, you could mention that they seem so distant and wouldn’t they like to sit closer so it’s not so awkward or weird with all the stuff between you? You could reappropriate some of the old PUA routines of “rings on fingers” or palm-reading or whatnot to invite and encourage some mutual and flirty physical contact. You could mention that you’ve been in town for X days/weeks/months without having gone on a date and say very pointedly that you wish someone would ask you out. You could even get meta about it and ask what flirting looks like in their culture and ask them to show you and hey, wouldn’t the best way to do that would be to flirt with you?
But even those run the risk of being too subtle or too understated for folks to catch… which just leads back to “well, just tell ’em straight up.” While yes, that runs the risk of being incredibly forward, somebody’s gotta make the first move if anything’s going to get started. And like I said: may as well be you.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I’ve been talking to this girl I met online for almost a year now, let’s call her W. I wasn’t actually looking for a relationship in the first place, since we can’t go out and meet people in person, I just wanted to talk with new people during this pandemic. I swiped her right and we start chatting, times passed by and it’s been almost a year since we started we messaging one another. We shared the pictures of what we eat, she recommended some shows she watched and we talked about almost everything except some personal stuffs (coz she’s quite private about her life and I didn’t wanna ask too much)
I’ve enjoyed the conversation with her and we texted each other almost every day, I thought “wow this is rare, it’s been awhile since the last time I actually feel comfortable with someone that I can actively chat with them and not get bored.” Then things changed when my ex texted me and asked if we can get back together. The weird thing is, instead of thinking about my ex and our history, the first thing that popped into my mind was W. Admittedly, I felt weird cause at that time I still saw her as an online friend, nothing more, but “thanks” to my ex, then I realized that I actually felt something for W and she’s actually more than a friend to me.
Fast forward to last month, she told me that she’s feeling unwell for a week and I was worried that she may have caught COVID. In fact, I was so worried that she might be seriously ill that I ended up confessing to her. She kindly turned me down and said that she doesn’t reciprocate my feelings, that she finds me interesting but nothing more and she hopes that she doesn’t hurt me that way. After the day I confessed to her, we still talk a bit about some casual things but then the conversation ended on my end. I didn’t reply cause you know, I don’t wanna force the conversation when there really is no new topic to talk about. It’s been almost 2 weeks that we haven’t chatted, there are times that I wanna text her but I know that it ain’t right, cause I still have feelings for her. But on the other hand I don’t wanna lose her as a friend.
Do you think that by not reaching out to her is the right thing to do? ‘Cause, personally I know that this might not end well if I still talk to her while I still have lingering feelings, and I too am afraid that things might be awkward now cause we haven’t talked with each other for awhile now. I kinda guess that this might be the hard yet right decision but still I want a second opinion about it.
Thanks in advance,
You’ve got a crush on W. It happens. You confessed your feelings and got the “let’s just be friends” speech. This also happens. The thing is: if you actually want to keep her as a friend? Then you have to act like a friend to her. Maintaining a friendship while also having complicated pantsfeels for them isn’t a violation of The Friend Code, TS. It’s just continuing to be their friend. After all, when you and W were chatting before you realized you were interested in her, it was hardly as though you were trying to Nice Guy your way into her pants. The same with when you realized that oh, hey, maybe your feelings for her are slightly more than platonic; I presume you and she weren’t behaving any differently than you had been before.
The only difference now is that you feel awkward about things and you’re letting that awkwardness get in the way of your friendship. But here’s the thing: what you’re doing right now is setting you on the path of losing that friendship. If you want to keep W in your life as a friend, then you’re gonna have to do what friends do when shit gets a little awkward: you power through it. And the first step to killing the awkward is to acknowledge the awkwardness. Call it out, specifically: “Hey, I know we haven’t talked in a bit because, honestly, I was feeling a bit awkward about things after the whole ‘I like you’ thing. And look, I like our friendship, I want that to continue, so how about we agree that things may feel weird for a bit, but we’ll both resolve to just power through it and keep on with what we have? Cool? So check this out, I found this recipe for making bulgogi in an Instant Pot and…”
And from there, you act like you did before. Share meals, talk about TV shows and games; if things start to feel a little strained, just push through by continuing to behave as before. If need be, you can even have a little signal of “oh, ok, that got a bit on the awkward side” — I know friends who use a turtle emoji for such an occasion.
Also here’s the thing about crushes: they’re like fires. Quit feeding them and they go out on their own. While crushes can be inconvenient, part of how you defang them is to simply note and name those feelings. “Oh, yes, I’m feeling that inconvenient crush on W again. Good to know.” Noting and calling out the feeling to yourself — and again, noting it as “I am feeling”, not “I am” — acknowledges how you’re feeling without trying to do anything with it. Trying to force it away doesn’t work; it just makes seem more intense. Trying to ignore it doesn’t work either; that just makes you much more aware of it as you continuously try to distract yourself. Acknowledging it to yourself and then just moving on to other things means that you feel it, you recognize it’s there but you also don’t feed it. You’re simply letting it do its thing until it runs its course and burns out.
But again: this is all contingent on your wanting to maintain a friendship with her. If being friends with her is too much for you or it would be like sandpaper to your soul to have her in your life… well, nobody says you have to be friends with someone when being friends with them hurts. In that case, yes, cutting ties would be the best move; you have to do what’s right for you. But if you want to actually “just be friends” after getting the LJBF speech?
Then act like her friend, same as you did before.