If the first date isn't great, why go out with him again?

I'm a busy divorced mom in her 30s. I don't want to hurt men's feelings, but why pretend?

Published December 3, 2007 11:38AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I'm a single 34-year-old mom (divorced) who has recently reentered the dating world. Because of my responsibilities to my kids and my job and my home and my ... (you get the idea), I have very little time for socializing or game playing. For this reason, among others, I thought that online dating would be practical. Besides, I'm shy and I hate smoky bars.

I've found that most people don't look much like their online photos. Occasionally they are better-looking in person, but usually it's the opposite. I understand this; my own pictures were taken on an exceptionally good-hair day, which doesn't happen all that often in real life. I understand it, and I accept this, and because I've learned that you can't judge the presence or lack of chemistry with someone from a photo and a paragraph, or from an e-mail conversation, I usually go out with a guy at least once, even if I'm not terribly optimistic about our compatibility.

So I go out with a guy, and I try to imagine kissing him or holding his hand or touching his shoulders or relaxing on the sofa with a video and popcorn with him. If I can't imagine these scenarios easily (or if the thought makes me shudder), I try to make him laugh and have a pleasant evening regardless, just because it's polite. And hell, we can all use more friends.

My problem arises after the first date. If I haven't felt any chemistry, or at least the potential for chemistry during the first date, I see no reason to continue on to a second. This happens nine out of 10 times, at least. I hate rejecting people; I have no idea how to do it tactfully and without hurting their feelings. And they're confused because I seemed to enjoy myself during our date.

Further, my best friend says that I'm a picky snob to reject a guy after only one date. She says that I'm giving up too easily and not really giving any of these guys an opportunity to make my heart pound with excitement. My argument is that chemistry and excitement and sparks can't be manufactured -- either it's there or it ain't.

I don't want to be a snob, and God knows I'm not getting any younger, but it seems like such a waste of time to go out with someone I'm not attracted to. What do you think? And what's the best way to tell someone that you're not interested?


Dear Pickypants,

If you're not having a good time, why pretend? I think you do need to be more upfront about what you want.

What I picture is something more like this. You agree to meet in a cafe. You settle yourself at a small table in the late afternoon/early evening, with the sun just setting and glinting off the windows of the houses across the square from the cafe.

He walks in and you notice that in his online profile photo, where he was standing shirtless on the beach at Maui with his surfboard and his golden retriever, he seemed shorter.

He comes in the door, wearing a shirt now, and a jacket, and framed by romantic late-afternoon sunshine but otherwise pretty much like the photo except taller, with broader shoulders and with a better smile.

He walks up and says, "Hello, you must be Pickypants."

"I'm not feeling it," you say.


"I'm not feeling it. I don't know. This might not work."

"I'm Jim Thorpe. We met online. You are Pickypants, right?"

"Nothing's happening yet. I don't know. I should be getting a tingle or something."

He regards you closely to see if you are actually talking to him -- or if you have one of those Bluetooth phone things in your ear.

"So, would you like a drink?" he says.

"You don't really sparkle. You know that, don't you?"

"I don't sparkle?" he says.

"We need to talk."

"Let me find us a table."

"There's no time for that. We need to talk now."

"OK," he says, his ebullience cooling a slight degree. "I am capable of talking."

"How long have we been dating?"

"You mean, you and me?"

"And who else would I be talking about?"

"I kinda thought we were just getting started," he says sheepishly.

"Well, in case you haven't noticed -- and that's typical -- we've been dating now for at least a minute. Maybe longer."


"I don't know. I'm just not feeling it. I'm getting nothing. I just don't think this is working out."

"Don't you think we should give it time?"

"Well, How much time? I mean, how much time does it take?"

"How about 35 seconds? Would you be willing to give it 35 seconds more?"

You nod disconsolately, watching the light drain out of the day. He runs out of the cafe. You glance at your watch, timing him. You can't help it. You've been led on and strung along and lied to so many times before. Men say 35 seconds, they come back in 40. Time and time again. You watch the second hand of your watch. It seems to creep along almost like a minute hand. It feels like ages before he returns with a bouquet of red roses, a box of Joseph Schmidt chocolates, a beautiful West Highland terrier puppy and Cary Tennis' new book. But, disconsolate and bored though you are, you've been following the second hand closely and it has indeed been fewer than 35 seconds. Hmm, you think to yourself. Nah. But then, Hmm.

"Sorry I was almost late," he says. "I ran into traffic. There was an injured child in the middle of the street. I had to operate."

"It's always some excuse, isn't it?" you say.

"So, can I get you a table?" he asks.

"Well, it's getting kind of late," you say.

"I'll be back in a flash," he says.

"I've heard that before," you say, but before you can even finish speaking, he has disappeared in a literal flash of white light and returned in a flash, too, with even a little bit of sparkle around the edges of the flash. And a table is set, with a white tablecloth and the red roses and the box of Joseph Schmidt chocolates and the little Westie puppy on a cruelty-free, diamond-studded leash.

"I don't know," you say as he pulls out your chair. "I just don't know if this is going to work."

You look at your watch. It has already been probably three minutes, and now you've been the whole route with him, and it's getting old, with the flowers and chocolates and the puppy, the fighting and making up, his almost lateness, and you know he can't be trusted because if he knew there might be traffic and an injured child, if he knew he might have to operate, why didn't he leave earlier then?

So what do you do? The waiter is standing there. He compliments you on the color in your cheeks. He seems to be French. But he might be Bulgarian; it's hard to tell. Perhaps even Algerian, though he does not seem to bear the psychic scars of colonization. Perhaps he hides them well.

So what do you do? Time is running out. Do you go through the motions one more time, the same dull round, and listen to him talk about the millions in philanthropic assistance his startup company is giving to Darfur aid groups to manufacture windmill-powered machete shields? "What are windmill-powered machete shields?" you want to ask, but why bother? How many times can you hear the old "millions in philanthropic assistance to Darfur aid groups" story? Even with the twist about "windmill-powered machete shields"? Yada yada yada.

Sure, you might laugh at his jokes about how the windmill-powered machete shields occasionally malfunction, causing the most hilarious -- if tense -- diplomatic imbroglios.

But you are quite right to observe that when your date sees you laughing and having a good time, benighted fool that he is, he is likely to misinterpret and think that you are laughing and having a good time. You don't want to be giving him the wrong idea.

You don't want to be leading him on.

A guy like this, you might give him a second chance. But that's it! If it isn't there, it isn't there!

And don't take yes for an answer! It only encourages them.

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