Farhad Manjoo: Hi, Janet. Oh, I’m sorry to hear your cable is on the fritz, but does that really mean you have to cancel our date?
Emily Yoffe: I’m Emily Yoffe, Slate’s Dear Prudence advice columnist.
Farhad: I’m Slate’s technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo. And this is Manners for the Digital Age.
Today’s question is from a man who’s taken up Internet dating, only to encounter the flakiest women in cyberspace. He writes, “Dear Farhad and Emily, I am a single male in my early 50s. In the last couple of years, I’ve tried online dating and have noticed a disturbing trend. After meeting two or three times, we make plans for another date. Then, mere hours before the appointed time, I receive a text message with some lame excuse to cancel. There’s never a phone call or an apology – just flimsy excuses like ‘I have to drive my teenager to the mall’ or ‘I have an important exam three weeks from now.’ These are all grown women of varied educational and economic situations, and depending on our plans, canceling can be very inconvenient. Is it safe to say that in today’s world, people use text messaging to avoid difficult conversations? How would you suggest handling this situation in the future?” Signed, Doubting Dater.
So, Emily, how would you deal with these really lame excuses over text message?
Emily: Well, this is really cruel and inexcusable. This is not you’ve exchanged a few e-mails and you’re planning to go for coffee and you cancel. I think that’s sort of par for the course. If you’ve actually gone out on two or three dates and you realize you don’t want to make it a fourth, you can’t say yes and then send this text. Obviously, you can – people are doing it.
For people who don’t want to go on the date, here’s my advice. When you get asked, you just say, “Look, I’ve really enjoyed meeting you, but I don’t think this is going to go anywhere, so I don’t think we should continue.” Just spit that out. Say it; be polite.
However, what this guy needs to do when he gets these really rude, flaky responses is to translate that into that statement. I think when he gets one of these things, he shouldn’t say, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear about your exam,” or “Oh, I understand about driving teenagers to the mall,” or “I don’t understand why that means we can’t go to the dinner that we planned an hour from now.” He should not escalate the rudeness, but say, “So sorry to hear that.” That’s the end. Don’t have any more contact with this woman.
Farhad: I agree that, ideally, that’s the way people should respond. People should be direct and say it. Ideally, not even over text message, but in person or perhaps on the phone. “I don’t want to make a fourth date, because I don’t think this is working out.”
However, I really do understand this temptation to try to let someone down easily and to try to do it in a way that saves you from feeling really awkward. Text messaging is just such a convenient way of doing that. It absolves you of having any kind of guilt because you can just send a text message, come up with some lame excuse and no one can really judge on a text message whether you’re being honest or not. Obviously these people are lying, but there’s some plausible deniability there.
These women are wrong, but I think the second point you mentioned is he seems to be pressing these women. In his original letter, he gave us more of a correspondence where one of the excuses was, “I was in the hospital last year,” and he responds, “Sorry to hear that, are you feeling better now?” and then he continues the conversation and asks several more times whether she wishes to go on the date. It becomes pretty obvious that she’s trying to make an excuse.
I think he should, as you said, interpret these as just them trying to let him down easy. I recognize that temptation.
Emily: I think you’re absolutely right. Back in my day, the thing you said was, “I have to wash my hair.”
Emily: That was “Don’t ever call me again.” But you actually had to say it. What’s bothering me is that they’re saying yes and letting the clock tick up to time to get in the car and meet, and then they’re blowing him off.
I was going to say I’m going to put on my Prudie hat, but you did it very well, Farhad. This guy needs to do some serious self-examination. He’s either pressing too hard; he’s too desperate; maybe he’s picking women who are, “Hey! She’s my ideal.” But if he looks in the mirror, he may not be their ideal.
He needs to actually talk to some friends and say, “This keeps happening to me over and over. I want you to be brutally honest. What am I doing wrong? How should I change my dating strategy?” This is a single man in his early 50s who’s presumably employed. That means women should be beating each other off with sticks to go on a date with him. Something is awry here with him.
I also agree with you. Once you’ve gotten a very rude, lame excuse, you don’t pursue it. You just say, “Sorry to hear that.” Boom. Over.
Farhad: He does mention he’s in his early 50s. He also says that the women he’s going after are grown women, but he doesn’t say how old they are. I get the sense that because they’re corresponding with him mainly by text messaging that he might be trying to go after younger women, I suspect.
Emily: One of them says, “I have to drive my teenager to the mall.”
Emily: I read “grown” as his way of saying these are fellow adults; these are not college students.
Farhad: I don’t get the sense that someone in their early 50s would use text messaging as the primary way to conduct a relationship.
Emily: Unless you wanted to blow someone off.
Farhad: Right. Whatever age you are, it’s the best way to blow someone off.
Emily: But you’re right. This is a new technology. The genius of it, there’s no pause and gulp on the other end. It’s just “I’m sending you the text. Kaboom. Over. I’m moving on with my life.”
Farhad: In all forms of online relationships … I have tried to give away free stuff on Craigslist multiple times. You would think this would be totally easy, but you arrange with someone to take your free stuff and they just don’t come by. There are just flakes all over the Internet. It’s easy to promise something on the Internet, and if you don’t live up to your promise, there’s no punishment. In the digital world, there’s no repercussions for your actions here.
Emily: Cyber stalking, Farhad. You didn’t come get my stuff. Your life is going to be worthless.
Farhad: I will go after you.
Emily: My bottom line is this is a very rude way to blow someone off. Nonetheless, if you’ve been blown off this way, that’s the end. Move on. And this guy also needs to do some self-examination as to why this is happening so often.
Farhad: I would second that. I say if you want to reject someone, do it on the phone, do it in person – don’t do it by text message.
Emily: Send us your questions about shifting etiquette in the online age. Our address is email@example.com
Farhad: You can also join our Facebook page where we carry on the conversation throughout the week. Go to www.Facebook.com/digitalmanners.
Emily: And we’ll talk to you next time on Manners for the Digital Age.