It's Not Me, It's You

Why a little honesty in dating would go a long way.

By , Columnist
It usually goes something like this: You meet someone, flirt a little, agree to a date next weekend, go out once or twice, start imagining a tentative future, and then BOOM. You hear this: "I'm just not ready for a relationship right now. You're awesome. It's not you, it's me. I have trust issues from my past relationship and I've got so much going on right now with work and my family is a mess and my dog has this weird hacking cough thing and I'm worried about that and it's really, really not you.

Except, it kind of is.

For whatever reason, this person didn't want a relationship with you. Maybe they didn't feel any chemistry, or they thought you were too much like their ex, or your breath was particularly kickin' after those garlic cheese balls you munched on before your date. Either way, the reason was definitely you, not the other person.

Because if you had been someone they could envision themselves with in the long run, if you had clicked and if this was really meant to be, they wouldn't be feeding you half-hearted excuses about their "trust issues" and their dog's feeble health. They would be asking you out on a second, third, and fourth date, and they absolutely wouldn't be able to get enough of you.

Have you ever been the one charged with the task of letting someone down easy? Have you ever gone out with someone and just felt... nothing? Or perhaps you went out with someone who was desperate, or who was clingy, or who took the prize for Most Know-It-All Asshole in The World? What happened when you knew without a doubt that this person was not right for you?

Chances are you didn't tell the truth. You didn't say, "You were a Stage Five Clinger and I don't want a leech for a girlfriend," or "You were the vainest man I have ever met, and you are clearly overcompensating for something." You probably took the route above: You told them how nice they are, how fun they are, how great it's been, but that there was something up with YOU.

We lie because it isn't particularly fun to hurt someone's feelings. Easing the other person down is the very least we can do to in light of the fact that we're rejecting them. We might as well save them as much pain and injured pride as possible, right?

The problem lies in the damage we're doing to those on the receiving end.  Some are probably savvy enough to understand that you didn't want to tell them the hard truth about why you weren't interested. But some people buy into those white lies. They're just naïve enough, or inexperienced enough, or in deep enough denial to believe or want to believe that your rejection really has nothing to do with them.

This creates a very dangerous pattern for the person being dumped. When someone is let down easy by a string of people, their opinions become warped. A woman may begin to think, "Wow, I have horrible luck with dating," or "I just can't seem to find a good guy," when, in reality, any one of the men who let her down easy could tell her what was really going on.

Because they've been assured that it's not their problem, they don't have to take ownership of issues that might need to be fixed. They may begin to take the lie to heart - convincing themselves that they're ready for marriage, even though they aren't, or refusing to date people who are dedicated to work because "they've dated that kind before." Feeding people lines can inadvertently set them on a completely wrong course, far away from the path they should be on.

Do I think we need to be brutally honest, no matter the circumstance? Of course not. Like most situations in life, there is a fine line to walk between telling someone the complete truth and sparing their feelings. But there is certainly something to be said for honesty and for cultivating a dating population that's a bit less deluded and a lot more self-aware.

If you think someone is meek, or boring, or not rich enough, or not the exact replica of Patrick Dempsey you intend on marrying, for the love of God don't tell them. You might find them uninteresting or not handsome enough, but that doesn't mean that someone else won't fall for them. People shouldn't have to change key aspects of their personality or character simply because it isn't compatible with your personality and character. Don't crush their ego if what you didn't like about them is extremely subjective, or clearly a deeply ingrained part of who they are.

Likewise, there are some people who have absolutely nothing wrong with them. For whatever reason, you just aren't feeling it.  In both of these scenarios, simply telling them that you didn't feel enough of a romantic connection will suffice. You aren't telling them a lie, but you aren't hurting their feelings unnecessarily either.

When you absolutely should speak up is when you encounter a Dating Disaster. What exactly is a Dating Disaster? I'm sure you've all seen one. Maybe they're rude, or extremely vain, or abrasive, or clearly desperate or have the worst attitude you've ever experienced.  All of them, however, have the keen ability to make you want to run away after no more than a few weeks. 

Things like desperation and an abrasive tone are often fleeting. They aren't always wired into someone's DNA. So if you have good reason to believe that something about their behavior, not necessarily their permanent personality, would repel not only you but most people who encounter them, then summon the courage and say something.

That's why I hope some people pluck up the nerve to say, "The reason I don't want to date you is because you were abrasive," or "I don't think you realize how much you talked about yourself, and how little you asked about my life." It could lead to a moment of epiphany. Those people who have been fumbling their way through the dating world, unable to figure out what went wrong, might finally understand the real reason they can't lock down a significant other.  By hearing the truth, they might be able to gain some self-awareness, adjust their attitude, and find someone right for them.

Maybe, after that, we can begin to build a dating population who are conscious of their actions and behaviors, who recognize how others perceive them, and who have a savvy understanding of what they want and need in a romantic partner. Instead of making the same brutal mistakes over and over again, we'll evolve into a more intelligent species of daters.

Of course, do I think most people will agree with me and take up the torch of honesty to become fearless avengers of dating justice? No, I'm not crazy. But I hope a few might just be bold enough to help stop speeding Dating Disasters in their tracks.

Each week in "Relationships by Rachel," TMR columnist Rachel East tackles relationships in all their blissful, heartbreaking and mind-boggling glory.

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Rachel East is a freelance writer specializing in relationships and relationship advice. In addition to her regular column on TMR, Rachel contributes relationship content to the Levo League, formerly known as Pretty Young Professional, a website for young, professional and ambitious women. Her writing…

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