How Do You Date When You Don't Know What You Want?
I met a guy through online speed dating and we were a match. He emailed me and asked if we could speak on the phone. During our conversation he asked what I was looking for and I told him I was looking for a relationship, he said he was looking for friendship or maybe a relationship. He didn’t seem to want to meet in person and was kind of nervous on the phone. Is there any hope here? - Sue, Boston, 43
When someone you match with through a singles event, speed dating event or dating app asks what you're looking for, that's usually code for, "I'm not looking for anything serious or long-term."
They're posing that question so that you will respond in kind. That's how they initiate that conversation and get it out there that they are looking for something casual.
Now, that said, there are two reason someone might not be eager to jump into a relationship.
They're newly single and are slowly re-adjusting to not being in a relationship.
They're just looking for casual sex.
Note: Neither of these reasons makes someone a bad person or means what they're doing is wrong. Granted, I wish people who didn't know what they wanted would stay away from events with the word "dating" in them if they don't want to actively date. THE WORD IS IN THE TITLE, PEOPLE!
This approach is counter-intuitive and clumsy, as it's a bucket of ice water thrown on whatever possible relationship that might result from the connection. That genie can't be put back in the bottle once it's out there. If someone is ambivalent or unsure about dating, the onus is on them to proceed in a way that ensures they don't hurt or mislead anyone. (We have a whole coaching package for those singles back on the scene after a split, hiatus or loss of a partner.)
To do that, they could throw a mention in their profile that they are "newly single." That, too, is a code of sorts. It's often used to let people know they probably won't be jumping into a relationship too quickly and are getting their dating bearings back. They shouldn't come out and say that in their profile, though. ("That negates the breezy!" - Joey Tribiani) A simple "newly single" will do. Same goes for speed dating or singles events. When talking with potential matches, they should work in that they're newly single. That allows potential dates to decide for themselves if they wish to select them as a match.
To those newly single: The upside of being upfront about your status is that you very well might attract someone in a similar emotional place who will also prefer to take things slow. Whatever you do, make sure you know what you can reasonably offer someone at that point in time. Not knowing will only cause you unnecessary chaos .Here's a truth you need to know: those who are ambivalent about dating tend to attract the very thing they're trying to avoid. You want to get right with yourself so you don't do wrong by others.
Ambivalence really can be a death knell for your romantic life. Not only will it cause you to behave in a way that is confusing and possibly hurtful to others, but it will keep you stuck on a path filled with pot holes. You're constantly doing the emotional cha-cha, taking one step forward and another back.
Like anything else, finding a relationship requires a clear idea of what you want to achieve. When you want to buy an apartment, what do you do? You come up with a budget and do your best to follow it. Same goes for learning a skill or getting in shape. You decide what you want it all to look like and then you put the steps in place to get there.
Also important is to know you are not bound by any law to be in a relationship. Your contribution to society and value as a human being does not hinge on whether you have a standing date for Valentine's Day or New Year's Eve. I think a lot of us have been brainwashed to believe we're supposed to want a relationship.
We're not. We can find connection and companionship and intimacy in a variety of ways, none of which involve a ring or joint bank account. I truly believe that ambivalence many of us experience is an internal conflict between what we're told we're supposed to do to be "normal" and the satisfaction we feel with our single lives, as is.
So, before you do anything, examine why you're dating. Is it to find a long-term partner? Is it just to have some companionship and sex? Because both are valid. Once you decide on a definitive answer, your journey to that goal will be less bumpy.