Hey Doc, I’ve found your advice for online dating really helpful recently, and this situation has me stumped.
I matched with this lady online and we hit it off well! But when I asked her if she’d want to meet up in person, she said she won’t be able to for over a month or so as she needs to revise. We’re still talking for now and she seems keen to meet, it doesn’t seem like excuse. But we’ve only been talking for a week and it seems like a relatively long time in advance to plan and to be patient for, but mostly I’m concerned we’ll lose that ‘emotional momentum‘ you’ve mentioned in previous posts, or that there’ll be expectations or assumptions built up over time.
Do you think there’s a way around this?
Newton’s First Law
First of all NFL, congratulations on finding a match and that it’s been going well for you! It sounds like you’ve got a fairly good connection going on here, so I wouldn’t worry overly much about things fizzling out yet. However, it’s understandable that you’re worried about this connection going stale on you. After all, a month does seem like it’d be a long time to wait for a date, and it could seem like that excitement could fade over the time while you’re waiting.
So let’s talk a little about just what emotional momentum is, why it’s important to dating — especially on dating apps — and when you should and shouldn’t worry about maintaining it.
One of the common frustrations folks have with dating is how seemingly promising connections seem to fade out, often before they’ve even arranged a date. It seems like everything is going wonderfully and then the responses get shorter and shorter until, finally, it’s just radio silence. This is especially common on dating apps or when you’ve met someone through a cold approach. What gives?
Well, more often than not, what’s happened is that the emotional momentum from that initial connection has faded out. Our emotions follow patterns that are akin to laws of physics; in this case, the emotional excitement we feel tends to fall back to low levels unless there’s something acting to maintain that excitement. Much of this has to do with frustration and expectations. Think of how exciting it can be to find out that, say, you have a chance to get a PS5. Now, your window of opportunity will be weeks or even months down the line and it’s not guaranteed that you’ll have a place in line, but hey: it feels like you’re finally getting a next-gen game console! For a little while, you’ll probably be thinking about what games you want, whether you need a second controller and so on. You’re keeping that thrill alive with the sense of “well, this is finally gonna happen!” But without anything to maintain that emotional state, it’s hard to maintain that level of excitement and interest. Maybe you’re seeing other folks getting theirs and you have a twinge of excitement at the idea of getting yours… but there’s also going to be a certain amount of “well, hurry up already!”
And then after a week turns into two, then four, then eight and you’re still waiting to find out when — or if — you’re going to have your chance to buy the PS5… well, you’re going to get increasingly frustrated, even annoyed by the whole process. Yeah, you’ll be happy when you finally get to queue up, but that happiness is still going to be tinged by the annoyance and exhaustion of that long wait. Now imagine if, at the end of that waiting period you found out that you were going to have to wait longer.
We go through similar emotional journeys when it comes to connecting with folks, especially with relatively weak connections. And, quite frankly, our connection on dating apps and the like are weak connections. We don’t really know them; they’re a name, a picture and a notification in an app. That initial thrill of a match is lovely, but it’s fleeting and tends to burn out faster than we realize. The same holds for times when, say, we meet someone at a bar and get her number. A lot of the time, it’s a fleeting moment without much to anchor it into our consciousness; a great moment with someone, but not someone we’re overly excited about. Without reason to feel more excited and eager about us, that excitement and interest tends to fade.
Yeah, it may mean a lot to you — especially if you’re putting a lot of importance on this specific match or phone number — but for the people you’re matching with, it’s a moment, not the moment. Not because you’re not special or interesting or desirable, but because… well, you’re a stranger. If we got invested in every single stranger we met, we’d burn out like birthday candle being lit by a blowtorch.
This is why I always tell people that matching on dating apps is just the start. One of most important things you can do when you’ve matched with someone on a dating app is get off the app as soon as possible. Ideally, you want to move to meeting in person as quickly as you can. At the very least, you want to move the conversation from the in-app chat to texting or something like WhatsApp. Even then, however, you want to be making forward progress towards meeting in person; otherwise you run the risk of that emotional momentum fading.
Unfortunately, a lot of folks tend to dither and take their time after matching with someone. It’s understandable, especially if you’re relatively socially inexperienced. A lot of people are worried about rejection and want to make sure that they’re guaranteed to get a “yes” if they ask someone out on a date. The problem, however, is that they’re taking so long to get around to actually making a move that the person they matched with has gotten bored. They, quite reasonably, start to wonder if they’re actually interested or not. Meanwhile, they’re still talking to other folks who matched with them… folks who actually do ask them out on a date. And since someone can’t go out on a date they weren’t invited to, that other person gets the date and the ditherer gets radio silence.
A similar process happens with cold approaches; when people aren’t moving the interaction towards an actual date, there’s little reason to be excited or interested in this number they got. The excitement of that initial connection has faded because there was nothing to maintain it. In fact, this can happen even faster from cold approaches, because you didn’t necessarily meet in a dating frame of mind. And if you met at a bar or club, then there’s also the interaction of alcohol or heightened states of emotional arousal that can change how they feel in the moment and afterwards.
So how do you keep that momentum from fading? You give people reasons to be excited to hear from you and to see you. Proposing an actual date — not just to “hang out some time”, not to “get together”, but a specific activity on a specific date and time — is one of the best ways of keeping the momentum going. A specific activity gives them something to say “yes” to, where “hanging out” or “getting together” with someone you don’t know is so impossibly vague that you can’t really get worked up about it. Is it a date? Is it a friend thing? Is it just trying to get laid? It’s hard to say. Worse, for a lot of women, that uncertainty can make them feel unsafe. Knowing what you’re doing and where gives more of a feeling of security.
Similarly, “some time” is meaningless; at best, it means “find a place where you might be able to fit it into your schedule.” Locking down a specific date and time means that they’re making a point of carving out time specifically for that date. If someone is making a point of reserving time for someone, they’re investing in you, emotionally. The act of making that investment helps keep the emotional momentum going, because they’ve made seeing you a priority. And by that same token, having a specific day and time means that there’s that sense of anticipation that keeps the excitement high. It’s giving them something to look forward to and get excited over, something they think about and anticipate and hype themselves up over.
Now, not everyone is going to feel comfortable going out on a date right away, regardless of how you met. It’s often a matter of feeling safe as much as it is about attraction. Other times, life just gets in the way and people’s schedules are so crammed that they can’t make time to see you. This doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to watch the emotional momentum fade. As I said: the excitement fades unless something happens to maintain that excitement. One of the easiest ways to maintain that excitement is to give them reason to look forward to hearing from you while you’re building that sense of comfort and safety. When people get a little thrill seeing a notification from you pop up, their emotional momentum gets another little push.
How do you get them to look forward to hearing from you? Focus on how to make them feel good. We inherently prioritize the relationships that make us feel good and work harder to build and maintain them. Flirting is the most obvious way of making people feel good; you’re showing interest in a fun and engaging way. Being able to make someone laugh is another; humor is attractive, demonstrates emotional intelligence and it makes people feel happy. So does having great, meaningful conversations. All of these help give little hits of oxytocin and dopamine, which makes people that much more eager to see you; they’re literally getting a high from you that feels amazing. That feeling keeps the excitement high and gives their emotional momentum another push, keeping things moving in the right direction while you work towards meeting up in person.
Notice how much I emphasize meeting up in person? There’s a reason for that: once you’ve met up, you’re no longer just theoretical. You’re an actual flesh and blood person, and you’ve got the chance to see if you have chemistry in person, instead of just over text. Once you’re together in person, you can have those amazing conversations and those exciting experiences together that help solidify your connection.
So with all that having been said: I think you’re in a pretty good place, NFL. You and your friend are having some great conversations, you’re both eager to see each other… it’s just a matter of timing. She’s busy as hell, which can’t really be helped. But the fact that she’s telling you when she’s able to see you again is a good sign: she’s letting you know that she’d see you sooner if she could. What I would suggest right now is a variation on my general advice: lock down a day for the two of you to get together and then start planning a date together. Start with a vague plan — “how about we do X as a starting point?” and work out from there.
Knowing that you have a specific day gives you both something to look forward to and to let that anticipation build. Meanwhile, talking about what you two would like to do on your date helps create a collaborative frame; you’re working together to create this exciting experience for the both of you. That sense of “ooh, what if we do this?” can get you both hyped and eager to go on this date while you discuss possibilities. You can even say “well, how about we do X on Y day and then we can do Z next time?” — the implication, of course, being that you’re both expecting the likelihood of a second date.
In this particular case, it doesn’t actually matter what you agree on initially; it’s a way of keeping that ball rolling while you talk about other potential options. Mixing discussion of plans together with humor and low-key flirting — hell, you can even flirt through memes you send back and forth — will help keep your mutual excitement high until you two can actually meet up in person. And who knows… maybe things will open up and you’ll have a chance to see each other sooner than you expected.
Dear Dr. NerdLove;
I’m a 30 year old man with little dating experience and consciously-learned social skills (they never came naturally). I’ve read two of your books, New Game Plus and I Got Her Number. My one real prior relationship developed from a friendship basis and she asked me out. We parted on good terms when our life plans diverged.
I’ve recently been going out with a woman I’ve met on a dating app, and we are texting almost every day. She’s a grad student in biology and I’m a software developer. I’m fairly physically active and she is very much so, and our dates and plans have so far all involved our shared hobbies of rock climbing and hiking, followed by dinner. We have also read books recommended by the other. I’m writing to you because I want to pursue a romantic relationship on top of these and I don’t know how to bring it up / be romantic. Maybe I’m overthinking things? That’s always a safe bet with me. But things like when to touch, kiss or bring up tasteful innuendo kinda escape me. When and how should I do these, and what’s a good segue to more “romantic” conversation and dates?
Making My Move
I think you’re overthinking things, MMM. I mean, you met on a dating app. I realize sites like OKCupid have options for things like “Just looking for new friends” but honestly, the expectation is that if you’re on this app, you’re looking for non-platonic relationships. This is why they’re called dating apps and not friending apps.
Now that having been said, while folks can safely assume that the initial intent is romantic or sexual, how you act after you start seeing each other can directly affect things. If you’re acting like a friend and not showing romantic or sexual interest in them… well, it’s understandable that they might think you’re not into them. So, part of what you need to do is to make sure you’re acting like a potential lover, not just a friend.
That’s not to say you’re doing anything wrong, yet; you’ve actually been going on some pretty good dates. I’m a big proponent of active dates, in part because of how they affect us and how they make us feel. Humans are bad at understanding why we feel the way we do; we tend to feel the physical sensations and assign meaning to them after the fact. We associate those feelings with the person we’re with, rather than the activity. When we do something that boosts our heart rate and gets our blood pumping and our adrenaline surging… well, that may feel like fear, but it also feels like attraction and arousal. Those climbing dates, followed by dinner and sharing books? That’s a very good start for creating those feelings of arousal and intimacy.
However, you need to make sure that she knows you’re into her as a lover, not just a climbing buddy. There’re a few things you can do to help bridge this particular gap. To start with, you have plenty of opportunities for casual touch — taking her hand while you’re hiking for example, or high-fiving and hugging each other after a particularly exciting climb. You can also make a point during any hikes to find particularly scenic or romantic vistas or stopping points where the two of you can get close and bask in the moment. Those also make a great time to move for a kiss. You’re setting the mood with that sense of physical arousal, closeness and gorgeous scenery. When you’re in a particularly beautiful area — maybe by water, or a glen in the woods — and the two of you are enjoying the view, you can look over at her and say “you know, this feels like a point where we should kiss” or — my personal favorite — “I really want to kiss you right now.”
It’s the sort of moment that feels like it would fit right in a classic love story, combined with that direct indication that yes, this is more than just platonic friendship.
However, don’t think that you need to be subtle or that you need a smooth “segue” to be romantic or take things in a romantic direction. Sometimes the desire for “smoothness” gets in the way when you would be better off just using your words. After all, innuendo can be missed, hints can be misinterpreted and moments can pass before you have a chance to make the most of them. But making your intentions clear by using your words and telling her what you want — even if it’s “I love climbing with you, but I want to take you on a romantic date” — means that she will know how you feel instead of wondering or trying to guess.
I realize that folks may think that it’s “not romantic” to say things plainly like that. But you have to ask yourself, which is less romantic: being direct with someone, or missing out because you and your sweetie never knew where you stood and both of you were too shy or hesitant to say anything?
When in doubt, it’s better to speak up and make sure you’re understood than to worry that being straightforward “ruins the mood” or some such shit. Clarity and understanding are far more romantic in the long term than gestures that may or may not send the right message.