These days, it’s in vogue to ask for dating feedback. My friends and I receive messages from guys we spurned after a first date, requesting an explanation. To ask your exes what went wrong between you is considered the ultimate act of self-reflection (I consider it more a harrowing form of investigative journalism).
I get it. I always used to be the person who wanted to know exactly why it didn’t work. I would text guys who sketched out grand designs for our first date then suddenly just stopped messaging, asking, “So did you actually want to go for a drink?” What I hoped for in response, I don’t know.
Recently though I’ve realised that trying to understand why someone rejected you is a symptom of everything that we get wrong in dating. It implies dating is like a job search, that we need feedback to improve or know our worth. It reinforces a subconscious sense among many single people that we exist in a premier league of romantic attention, performing in the hope of moving up the table.
We ask questions after being jilted because we want closure. We need something — anything — to confirm or deny an internal dialogue that projects our innermost insecurity. Yet these questions rarely get us closure. In the unlikely event that the person is honest enough to tell you what didn’t work for them, all you find out is what that one person didn’t like about you, their personal predilections and tastes. This results in you twisting yourself into different shapes for different people, a glassblower back to the furnace to re-melt and re-sculpt in the hope of appealing to someone, all at the expense of finding out who you really are.
We mock the skewed, binary worldview of incels, their conception that dating consists of a hierarchy in which beta males could never attain the most attractive women, “Stacys”, and the hunkiest men, “Chads”, would never stoop to date average “Beckys”. But then again, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t make rejection about inferiority, particularly given the dating apps so many of us use, which any single person will tell you seem to rank potential dates based on questionable criteria. Hinge even has a “Standouts” category filled essentially with Adonis types who, OK we get it, also read widely. And even when we are trying to counter the narrative that a friend was dumped because they weren’t good enough, we feel the need to turn the explanation on its head: “He dumped you because you were too good for him.” The overcompensation cloys because, deep down, we know it can’t be true.
Worst of all, our conception of rejection as personal means that when we sense something isn’t working, many of us feel obliged to shield our date’s feelings either by ghosting them to avoid the confrontation or telling perhaps the most insidious lie in dating: “I’m just not interested in something serious right now.” As the self-help book and film He’s Just Not That Into You tried to teach us more than a decade ago, those words actually mean: “I’m just not interested in something serious with you.” In turn, this can lead to more pain. I’ve invested heavily in someone’s replies to my Instagram stories for months, years, waiting for the day when they finally realise they want something serious (they basically said I’d be the first person they’d call on when things changed, right), only to feel a sucker punch when their WhatsApp photo flicks to them and their new girlfriend.
Perhaps it’s no wonder we want to know why people don’t fancy us: 2022 is a year of post-pandemic self-reflection. But we forget that romance and sex is a special case — it’s not so much about good or bad when it comes to a potential match, more just compatibility. When it comes to chemistry you cannot predict who will click and fizzle and spark. The point of dating is to find out.
I am so girlishly pleased by this realisation that I now just send one message when I don’t care for another date: “I had fun, you’re great — I just didn’t feel the chemistry.” It gets positive responses. People say it’s refreshing as compared to silence, awkward waits or wondering, self-flagellation over an imagined weakness (“I was too talkative! Too serious. Too nervous”).
If we could all look at dating as being about compatibility and care less about the whys of rejection, I wonder if we might enjoy it more. The way I see it is that ultimately, even if you’re the latest iPhone, if he’s a Windows PC he’s only going to sync with an Android.