One of the trickier aspects of improving your dating life is that there’s always another level to master. It’s easy to assume that once you’ve made it past that initial hump – building a cool wardrobe, getting over your approach anxiety and generally learning how to connect with potential dates – that it’s all smooth sailing from there. But as I’m always telling people: mastery is just the realization that there’s more to learn. Getting that first date is a major step. Now you need to get that second date. And the third. And that’s where new and different problems come sneaking in.
One of the things I hear about regularly from my readers – both here and over at my column at Kotaku – are people who keep experiencing what’s known as “the fade away” or “ghosting”.
Things seem to be going well, but they’re consistently meeting women who like them well enough at first, but lose interest by the third or fourth date. Suddenly, their dates are always “busy” before they quit returning their calls or texts.
Now to be fair: this is part of dating. You’re not always going to be a match with someone, and it may take a couple dates to realize this. It sucks, but dating at it’s core is a number’s game. You’re going to hit a few false-positives before you find someone you click with. But when it’s happening to you consistently… that’s a different story entirely. As I’m always saying: once is happenstance, twice is coincidence. Three times is
enemy action an indication that you’re doing something wrong. If you’re regularly getting the fade, the odds are good you’re having one of a number of common issues. Let’s do some troubleshooting for your dating life, shall we?
You’re Not Compatible With Your “Type”.
Whenever I talk to men who regularly have issues with women pulling the fade away, the hands-down most common issue is that who they want doesn’t line up with who they’re actually compatible with. Just being attracted to somebody doesn’t mean that the two of you have anything in common.
It’s easy to let attraction be the justification for everything else, especially when you’re relatively socially inexperienced. The classic example is the nerd developing a crush on the cheerleader without knowing anything about her; he’s built up this elaborate fantasy about who she is and what she’s “really” into without any regard for reality. It’s a function of the halo effect – we assume that people we find physically attractive are also smarter, kinder, friendlier and so-forth. But that’s just your junk talking. Physical attraction is great – it’s incredibly important for any romantic relationship – but it’s not the only thing. In fact, personality counts for more in the long run than looks. Wanting to knock boots is great, but if you can’t stand to talk to them when that “need to get laid” urge has faded, then there’s really nothing compelling to keep people around.
Believe me: there’s nothing quite so startling as the realization of “wait, I can’t stand you” as that post-orgasmic clarity sets in.
One of the common subsets of this issue is the tendency to date people you think you should be attracted to. This tends to be more of an issue for young men, but people frequently bow to social pressure and look for a partner who would impress their friends or peers than who they actually like. You often see this in the PUA scene – club-girls, cage dancers and the like are held up as the ultimate status symbol, and dudes are encouraged to chase them over others… regardless of whether you’re interested in that type or not. It becomes a form of validation seeking, rather than actually finding someone you connect with. When you don’t have that baseline of mutual interest and compatibility, you aren’t going to be able to hold their interest.
At the same time, fetishizing someone for their interests doesn’t help either; just because you’re both geeks doesn’t mean that you’re actually compatible. Compatibility goes beyond the surface; it’s about how well your personalities and lifestyles mesh up. You may not like the same TV shows – you’re all about reality competition shows and she’s mainlining the CW line-up – but if you’re both “stay in with Netflix and a pizza” types, you have far more long-term compatibility than two Game of Thrones fans who constantly argue because one of them loves to go backpacking in the Adirondacks and the other believes that “roughing it” means having to pay for the wifi at the resort. Do you the two of you share the same sense of humor? Do you have similar personal values and long-term goals for your life? Are you able to respect their interests and their desire to participate in them, even if you don’t share them? You might not know Stephen Universe from Stephen Colbert… but can you accept that your date loves it? That means to whether you really click more than whether or not you both want to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron on opening day.
You’re Not On The Same Page
Another common issue is that you’re simply not looking for the same things or aren’t in the same place in life. This can often trump compatibility; after all, it doesn’t matter that the two of you get on like a house on fire if what you’re looking for in a relationship is diametrically opposed to what the other person wants. Yeah, you’re great together, you make each other laugh and the two of you give off enough sparks to make it dangerous for you to visit gas stations together, but one of you is looking for a no-strings-attached, friends-with-benefits situation and the other is looking for someone to settle down with. You might have fun in the short term, but in the long term, those clashing desires are going to end with someone getting hurt in the long-term. Many people, especially those who’ve been down that road before, would rather pull the fade out early and spare everybody the heart-ache and passive-aggressive Facebook status updates.
On occasion, it’s not a matter of contrasting desires but fundamental conflicts in values. You may want a house full of kids and she has no interest in children, ever. You may be a hard-core atheist and she finds comfort in her deeply-yet-quietly held religious faith. These are frequently areas where there isn’t much – or any – room for compromise. Even if you’re sure that you can make this contradiction in values work, she may not be, and you can’t debate someone into agreeing to a long-term relationship with that sort of a ticking time-bomb at it’s core. They’d rather simply cut ties early and find someone who’s more in line now with what they’re looking for than trying to sand the edges off a square peg in hopes that they can cram it into a round hole eventually.
Other times, it’s a matter of conflicting expectations – you think you’re on a date date, while she thinks that this is a platonic get-together with a new friend. I see this happen over and over again, especially with men who are uncomfortable making their intentions known. They make the mistake of trying to trade on the ambiguousness of the situation – a Schrödinger’s Date, where it is both platonic and sexual at the same time, so long as nobody actually tries to put a label on things and collapses the waveform. The only problem with this approach is that it never works. It doesn’t take very long for the other person to recognize that you’re trying to leverage a date out of a friendly get-together and they’re more likely to peace-out than have a long and uncomfortable “Let’s Just Be Friends” talk.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that the answer to avoiding getting ghosted is to have a defining-the-relationship talk by the third date. But if you’re looking to avoid having people fade away, then you need to make sure that they’re looking for the same things out of a relationship as you are.
You’re Not Creating Chemistry
This is a big one. When you’re going on dates with someone, it’s important to remember you’re on a date. You’re there looking to see whether this person is a possible sexual and/or romantic partner for you, not someone fill in the fourth chair in a game of pinochle.
While there’s an understandable hesitancy to be overt with your interest or flirting when you’re starting out lest you make the other person uncomfortable, it’s still important to establish why you’re out with them. One of the reasons why people pull the fade is that they don’t feel any chemistry. The situation becomes too ambiguous and hard to read and your date is left wondering whether you’re into her or not. There’s practicing restraint in hopes of making sure that you don’t cross a line or push too hard and then there’s being so hands off that you’re coming across as a potential BFF instead of someone who they might want to tear the clothes off later.
One of the mistakes that people make on dates is that they let the chemistry just happen. It becomes a sort of “sexual-desire-as-fate” form of magical thinking; if the chemistry is just “not there”, then clearly it’s not meant to be. But chemistry and attraction isn’t something that you should be leaving to chance. Your love life is too important for you to be a passive non-participant. If you want that second or third or fourth date, you have to quit treating chemistry as something that occurs by chance. Chemistry is something that you can make happen through flirting, through touch and through building emotional connections and finding commonalities. If you’re interested in someone, it’s important to make that clear, to build on that interest and give them reasons to be into you. Otherwise you’ll end up with more dates that fade into nothing, leaving you wondering “what happened?”
You’re Repeating A Pattern
One of the truisms of dating is that the only common denominator in all of your dates and relationships is, well, you. If you’re doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same exact results – whether it’s consistently dating “crazy” women or dating women who leave you for other people – then the odds are that you’ve fallen into a pattern. You’re the one choosing the women that you’re pursuing after all; if they all are pulling the fade-out, then you need to start doing some self-examination.
There’re a number of common patterns that men fall into. For example: you may be emotionally overinvesting in this one person after a handful of dates. Yeah, they may be awesome and you love getting caught up in the excitement of the new, but if you’re letting that excitement bleed into your behavior – pushing for commitment too soon, for example – then you’re going to chase off potential partners by coming across as too needy or poorly socially calibrated.
Another common issue is chasing after women who you make up for a quality that you feel you lack. A man who is uncomfortable expressing himself and is quiet and withdrawn may find a partner who’s emotional and impulsive to be appealing; he’s not looking for a partner so much as someone who will fix him and make him better. This is part of the appeal of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl1: it’s less about finding a person than an accessory, someone who will make you cooler, more stylish or a better person through the transitive properties of relationships2.
It may also be that you’re engaging in a form of self-sabotage; you may be afraid of pursuing what you really want and so you pursue people who are attainable, even though they’re not right for you. Some men are afraid to chase after the relationships they really want for fear of being rejected and so settle for something lesser, even knowing that they’re setting themselves up for an unending string of emotional dick-punches. But that lack of enthusiasm and sense of “well you’ll do” is pretty obvious and most women would rather pull a ghost than be the relationship equivalent of the boobie prize.
You’re Pretending To Be Someone You’re Not
One of the ways that people try to compensate for low self-esteem and self-confidence is by trying to become someone else, someone they think is cooler and more desirable. They’ll try to impress their date by subtly (or not subtly) inflating their life’s resume, rounding up whenever possible. Thus the guy working in data entry becomes a high-end coder, someone who noodles around with Audacity becomes a DJ and the like. This is something you’ll see fairly often in the PUA scene, especially in the schools that teach the use of pre-scripted stories that “demonstrate higher value”. Because they lack an interesting life, they’ll borrow somebody else’s, in hopes of impressing women with “subtle” hints that they dated models or strippers.
The problem with this is that women aren’t stupid… and you’re too busy trying to trade on stereotypes of what they want to realize this. You can posture about being an MMA fighter all you want, but it doesn’t take very much for people to realize that you’re full of shit and vanish. It doesn’t matter what pretty shell you erect around yourself; you’re still you on the inside and that truth will always come out. Those little ticks and insecurities that you’re trying to hide don’t stay hidden for very long, and you aren’t a good enough actor to keep up the charade for long. Your real self is going to shine through and your dates aren’t going to appreciate your trying to trick them. Small wonder they give you the fade…
As scary as it can be, the answer is to be your best, most authentic self, rather than some false front cobbled together from mistaken ideas of what women want. Finding and living your truth may not have the reflected glamor of a fake club promoter, but it means that women will be connecting with you, not your persona. It means the people you connect with will be attracted to you, not some illusion that will fall apart before too long. It lets you build an authentic connection with people. And that authenticity is what will keep them around and mean that you won’t have to suffer through women giving you the fade again.