Monday, March 13, 2017

Cruel to be Kind: Why Rejecting is So Much Harder than Rejection

When we go on a date, or enter into a relationship with someone, it's (usually) with the hopeful optimism that it's leading somewhere. Sometimes it works out and we end up spending the rest of our lives with that person, but a lot of times, it doesn't. Whether it be after one date, one year or one decade, we find ourselves having to partake in the inevitable "Not seeing each other again" conversation.

I hate those. Who am I kidding? Everybody hates those, except maybe sociopaths. (Stay away from them!) But as a general rule, there are a few things I hate more than having to tell someone I'm not into them.

So I don't. I, a person who champions honesty and transparency, am a complete coward and hypocrite. I am notorious (this is annoying to my friends) for not being interested in perfectly eligible men for reasons they-my friends- find trivial but I hold steadfast to. (We'll talk about standards in another post) So I lie. I make up excuses.  In the event of an emergency, I ghost...anything, really, anything but telling someone that I just don't see it happening, or they're not my type.

I've spent a good deal of time trying to convince myself that this makes me a good person, a considerate one, for not hurting people's feelings. But just as I am lying to those poor men, I'm also lying to myself: it's not remotely nice, it's mean and deceptive. And it's also something I would hate if/when it is done to me. Yet the cowardice continues.

The good (or bad?) news is that I've discovered that I am not alone in this. Most people would seriously consider limb amputation or a root canal rather than face the wrath of someone's rejected feelings. Because we're good people, right? We don't like causing someone pain, right? The more I think about it, the more I'm believe that our hesitation to reject someone is actually: Us not wanting to feel uncomfortable. Our altruistic act is actually one of selfishness driven by the fear of the unknown.  If we reject someone, the outcome is unpredictable. We don't know what their reaction will be (volatile? docile? hysterical? indifferent?) or what the fall out will be (will they let us go gracefully? Or will they start showing up at our front door at 3am drunk and crying?)  The risk of it shaking up our lives terrifies us beyond description, so we protect ourselves by claiming to be considerate. 

However, the consideration is only to ourselves, and if we're honest with ourselves, we'll admit that.

 I've had conversations about this with people, and, across the board, (This has never happened!) everyone agreed on five things:

1. We hate having to reject someone. 
2. If someone rejects us, we are sad/hurt feelings, but we move on "at least we know" It's hard not to feel slighted or a jab of pain when someone tells us they don't like us. But we get over it.
3. We would rather someone tell us they're not into us than lie because (again) "at least we'll know" and "we won't have false hope") 
4. Despite appreciating #3, we can't bring ourselves to do it. We know that if someone isn't into us, we'd rather they tell us so we can't stop pining, hoping, ordering monogrammed towels and move on. We know this yet we don't follow the golden rule.
5. Rejecting is harder than rejection: we would, as a general rule be hurt than be responsible for someone else being hurt. Again, I am not sure if this is because we are kind hearted or simply don't want the extra burden of guilt. 

I had a conversation the other day with a friend of mine whose colleague is making advances towards him which makes him uncomfortable because he's not interested. When I asked how he's dealt with it, he told me he was just ignoring it because he "didn't want it to be awkward" and "figured she'd stop eventually." I told him to just flat out say no to her, that by saying and doing nothing was giving some kind of hope to her, and his disinterest clearly wasn't getting through. he still doesn't want to, mainly because the fallout is out of his control and he isn't sure he can handle the awkwardness. I called my friend selfish and mean, but quickly admitted to him, that I was a hypocrite and would probably do the same, sharing with him some of my go-to "go away tactics. The worst of which I will share at the end of this post as a "Top Tip." 

While the above is written in the frame of mind of early stages of dating it can also be relevant to people in established relationships. Leaving is never easy, though in my experience, leaving something long term is hard for different reasons-as we seem to have little problem telling those we've known and loved for a long time everything that's wrong with them. Ironic, right? That relative  strangers receive more outward consideration than those we have shared our beds, lives, and hearts with for months or years. The fact is, we don't generally hurl scathing insults at people we don't know-or exploit their weaknesses, but we do to ones we once loved. Which isn't good either.

The point is, leaving, telling someone you don't want them is always complicated and often times, it is the leavers who struggle more- for they not only have to take action to end it (whether it be ghosting or being a kind, mature adult and saying it face to face) but they have to stand by their decision: even if it means watching tears, listening to angry words, or having the other person try and question or contradict their decision.

If you are no longer interested in someone, then prolonging your relationship is doing a disservice to the both of you. But it's how you end it that  is one of the things that we just can't seem to get right...but what if we really tried to challenge ourselves to honesty-both within ourselves but also to those around us? What if we challenged ourselves to overcome being uncomfortable with being direct, and telling someone the truth-with tact and compassion-but without an excuse or escape. If we relinquished control and trusted those we reject to accept the truth with their honest reactions (stalking and crazy is not ok) so then we could just move on, truly. Because when there are lies and excuses involved, often times, only one party gets over it, and the other one is left pondering or revisiting.  

That would be my suggestion. And it's really hard and maybe some people will hate you and berate you, but wouldn't it be better to be in the firing line for someone you are versus someone you're not? It's not just about the other person, but also about having the integrity and strength of self to own up to your actions and feelings. You can do it. I can do it. We should all at least try.

Top tip: don't tell someone you're moving out of the country unless it's 100% guaranteed you are...because it's extremely awkward to be invited to a intimate dinner party a year later to discover one of the other guests thought you had moved to Africa. To be fair, I had been thinking about it- and "I am looking into conservation roles so might move to Africa and don't think it's the right time to  start a relationship" is SO much nicer than, "You're needy and borderline creepy, I felt smothered after one date."

Thanks to everyone who took part in conversations surrounding this subject and post. To the men who were always honest with me and to the friends who challenged me to practice what I preach. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Virtual Insanity: The Downside of Digitalised Dating

From the beginning of time, humans have wandered around searching for their other half, the one to share their life with: build a family, make memories, and take on the world with. While our quest to allocate this person hasn't changed, the methods of how we conduct this search have evolved considerably.

When I joined the dating scene 17 years ago (oh my gosh, I'm old!) people met at weddings, parties, bars, through friends or work.  When online dating first appeared, it was regarded as a bit of a taboo, raised eyebrows and spoken about in hushed tones with the implication that it was weird if you "couldn't" meet someone the traditional way. 

Nowadays the norm is downloading an app, swiping left or right, chatting about relatively boring things before agreeing to meet up in real life and see how it goes. Romance is when the person you've been seeing deletes Tinder. 

I'm still trying to wrap my rather old fashioned head around this approach because, despite seeing the benefits (widening options, convenience for hectic lifestyles, accessibility) and having many friends who have met their S.O. online, I am more struck by the negatives (not just my fear of crazy stalker killers) and think that perhaps in our quest to digitalise dating, we've lost the human aspect of it.

I've noticed that people don't talk to one another anymore. We are in an era of instant gratification, we can have anything at any time and that now extends to romantic dalliances. These apps dehumanize people and objectify them: We swipe left or right based on purely physical attraction, when in reality, chemistry and attraction can manifest after a good conversation, shared joke, or simply time. By limiting our interactions to online, we are potentially losing out on those moments that build truly great relationships. 

I'm not, for a single second, saying they can't exist within the confines of those who we've "matched" with, nor am I discounting the importance of being attracted to your partner but simply pointing out that attraction stems from more than a great smile and chiseled abs. The last person I fell in love with was someone who, while good looking, also made me laugh beyond what I thought capable and it was THAT which resulted in me finding him the sexiest man on the planet...something I might not have discovered if I'd come across him on an app. 

The online dating from 5 years ago, the Match.coms of the world differ greatly from popular culture apps like Tinder. The former are based on algorithms promoting compatibility whereas the latter is far more superficial. 

Tinder, Bumble and even some of the more old school sites also provide a security blanket that we don't get in real life dating: 

1. There is no sting of rejection and little risk. If you "like" someone who doesn't "like you back," the sinking feeling of rejection, warm face, and moment of self doubt doesn't occur. Your ego remains intact. In fact, you're probably swiping right to so many people that you won't even know someone hasn't swiped back for you. There is little risk. 

2. Instant gratification trumps establishing a bond. I have harped on and on about the importance of chemistry and how it either exists or not, but digital dating allows us to make almost no concessions for the notion that, often times, things build over time and we can't get a read on a person or situation over a coffee. Before we had endless options, we'd go on several dates with someone before declaring them a dud. These days, our expectations are so high, and we are so addicted to this notion of perfection that if the first date isn't great, we move on to our next match. Again, i'm certainly not suggesting we settle for mediocrity or continue to date weirdos, but fireworks and cartwheels aren't always instantaneous. 

3. The probability of your ego being validated with a match within each session is high. In real life? Not so much. I don't care how gorgeous, smart, or engaging you are: everyone has dry spells but with dating apps, you never do. There are always more options.

4. You don't have to do much work. It's all there in front of you.  When you're out-why speak to the cute guy/girl a few steps away? That's effort-plus what's the point? You have someone at your fingertips. It means people go out and essentially remain insular within their own group-which is a bit sad. Romantic component aside: the world is full of fascinating people and some of them are standing beside you as you order your g&t. You can never have too big of a network. 

5. We don't see people as people. I'm all about not putting all of your eggs in one basket but "chatting" with six to seven people at any given time is impersonal, not to mention, completely exhausting. It also means they're basically interchangeable and relatively forgettable. It becomes easier to ignore them, ghost them, or write them off for a minor offense. I have often spoken about not settling for less than what we deserve, but am finding that tolerance levels are at an all time low. (I am as guilty of this as the next person, writing someone off for a text that I perceive as dumb or dislike the tone of.) We don't care because we don't actually know the person, we haven't invested anything real so therefore it's easier to delete them from our memory. (To be fair, texts are so often misconstrued from people that we DO know, that strangers barely have a chance to make it past our screens to real life.)

I've had countless conversations about this recently, trying to figure out why. Why people don't speak to one another anymore and the answers are identical: "dating apps are easy" and some variation of "fear/risk/rejection." In our mission for efficiency and self preservation we're  losing the plot and a bit of our humanity. What happened to doing something that scares us? Or the fact that with great risks come great rewards? If you read an interview with the world's most successful people, they talk of risk, the unknown, and how they forged ahead anyway, following their dream. Because in their mind, the positives of potential far outweighed the negatives of failure, or the unknown of not trying. Why not apply these same techniques to love? 

I don't think the answer is to forgo dating apps and sites, because, negatives aside, there are positives, namely the ability to meet someone you would not otherwise meet. What I am saying is that we've gone too far in the other direction. Just as online dating was once met with incredulity, IRL (that's "in real life" for those non millennials) connections are now met with the same shock and wariness. We thinks it's weird and are suspicious if a stranger sparks up a conversation with us, something must be wrong with them. Smiling and eye contact is received with a stare down.

It's almost comical that despite many seeking out a long term partnership, actually securing one is a challenge. It doesn't seem to matter if our end goals are the same, we struggle on the path of getting there for simple and obvious reasons: chemistry, compatibility and commitments. I think the answer is to combine the both: embrace the opportunities and options presented by digital, but don't stop real life interactions. Talk to that cute girl/guy at the other side of the room. Worst case scenario they scream and run away (unlikely) but maybe, just maybe they'll turn out to be the love of your life.

Thanks to everyone who partook in conversations around this subject, including: my friends who met via app; men I met via app who patiently spoke with me about this; friends; and the IRL romances who have kept my standards high, my heart full and my idealism intact.