Insight Is 20/20

Exploring the pervasive, and unperceived, patterns that govern our lives

How to Decipher Your Date

Responding to what's become a social epidemic.

Although dating is supposed to be more hedonistic than masochistic, countless men and women looking for a relationship inevitably find the whole process to be kind of awful. The reason? It’s often difficult to figure out what the person you’re dating is thinking—or whether they are truly interested in you at all. As a psychologist who specializes in relationships, I hear men and women alike sit on the couch in my office and reveal a list of ways they’ve been brushed off, without ever being told directly, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think we’re a good fit.” Rather than use that simple sentence—which take a total of four seconds to utter—scores of daters rely on one of the following brush-off techniques to do the dirty work for them. 

If you are on the receiving end of a brush-off technique, quickly identify it as such and then consider moving the heck on. After all, what you need in a romantic partner is a bona fide grownup, one who can handle actual adult conversations—awkward as they may be. If you start dating someone who ends up using one of these cowardly techniques on you, tell yourself, Good riddance, because that kind of person isn’t the kind of person you’d want to be with anyhow. If you’re in it for the long haul, you want someone with character and integrity.

Texting or emailing in response to your phone call

If your new date occasionally texts in response to your phone calls, don’t overthink it. But if he regularly texts you when you call him, understand that you—or your needs—are getting brushed off. Even if he doesn’t love talking on the phone, he should be willing to talk on the phone with you a few times each week. If he can’t meet this need, it’s time for you to keep looking.

Postponing plans due to sickness or a busy schedule

As a therapist, my skin crawls when clients tell me they lose interest in someone and stop returning calls and texts altogether. As a community, we can do better than that! If you meet someone you like, make a concerted effort to not break plans in the first few weeks of dating. This period is filled with enough uncertainty, and you don’t want to give someone you like the wrong message. But if someone you’re newly dating breaks or postpones plans more than once with you, it’s a bona fide brush-off. Your date’s behavior shows how conflicted she is, and she could be conflicted for different reasons: she recently met someone else whom she’s getting to know; she works a lot and isn’t sure she has the time to devote to a new relationship; she wants to start something new but still feels scarred by an ex. Bottom line: Nothing crushes self-esteem like not being prioritized, so identify the brush-off for what it is and start focusing your energies on someone new.

Avoiding the possibility of you meeting their friends

The usual mistake many people make early in dating is introducing a new date too soon to friends. The situation sounds harmless on the surface, but friends typically end up scrutinizing every detail of the new man or woman you’re dating, and that makes your date feel uncomfortable. What happens when you want to meet your date’s friends, roommates, and so forth, but you haven’t been given the opportunity? If you’ve been dating a couple of months but haven’t met a few of the major players in your date’s personal life, it’s safe to assume that you’re being brushed off.

Scheduling daytime or early evening dates

In the beginning, it makes perfect sense to schedule a get-together with a new date over lunch or early evening coffee. However, if your date is truly interested in you, you will soon be scheduled during the highly coveted Friday and Saturday night slots. If you keep getting offers to meet him or her during other periods of the week, it’s safe to say that your date doesn’t yet consider you prime-time material. If you’re still dating or talking to someone at the one or two-month mark, you should be invited to get together during weekend evening hours. If not, it’s a brush off—and your self-esteem is begging you to move on.

Addressing the Brush-Off

The worst place for fears and insecurities to live is inside your head. When you are dealing with upsetting thoughts or feelings, find a way to express them so that they don’t get stuck and cause you to feel depressed or to become obsessive. If your internal security system tells you that you’re getting blown off, handle the situation right away. Identify the root of your concern and share it over the phone or in person:

“Hi, it’s Jason. I have the feeling that I’m getting brushed off by you, which is okay if you’re not really interested. Either way, can you let me know? I'd appreciate it if you could tell me what’s going on. I’m a big boy and can handle it.”

If you want to know how he or she really feels about you, simply ask. It is always better to know how the other person is feeling so that you can determine how much more mental energy you should invest in the relationship!

If you don’t want to address the brush-off on the phone or in person, the second best alternative is to detach with the goal of potentially moving on—but not to elicit a reaction. Men and women alike can smell games from a mile away, so don’t even try. If you choose to detach, it’s okay to send an email and say that you need a week or two to think about the relationship and whether you have similar enough goals for the relationship. If you take a week or two off, don’t respond further to his or her efforts to meet with you or communicate with you. Take this time to poll some of your closest friends about whether the relationship is stalling or moving forward. At the end of your break, you will have a better sense of whether your brush-off-prone date is worth the drama.

Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.

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