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.