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I had a shocking lesson in dating this week. Something that has never happened to me before. I got stood up.
As I drove to the cafe, I heard the familiar ding of an incoming text. I glanced at my phone and saw a brief message.
“I’m caught in a meeting. Is it okay if we push coffee back by thirty minutes?”
At the next stoplight, I responded, “Sure, no problem!”
I found the cafe my date had chosen and parked. It was a quick trip from home. A new spot I’ve never visited.
As I walked in, I noticed some people wearing masks, and others aren’t. The place was busy. There were no open tables.
I got in line and ordered Chai Latte.
An inside table came available. I nabbed it, then pulled out my phone and sipped my hot tea to kill time.
Three minutes before my date was due to arrive, I texted, “I found a table! I’ll see you soon.”
Several people entered the shop. Each time I heard the door open, I raised my head to look.
Five minutes passed. I rubbed my hands nervously and told myself it’s normal for someone to run late. Maybe this guy’s meeting ran long.
Ten minutes. Then fifteen passed.
I checked my messages to be sure I didn’t miss an incoming text.
He was no longer fashionable late. This behavior bordered on rude.
Now I faced a new dilemma. When do I call quits and walk out?
I stuck around ten more minutes before I gathered my purse. I knew he didn’t deserve kindness, but I couldn’t help myself. I texted one more time. “Sorry to have missed you. I hope you’re okay.”
I never heard from him again. He’d stood me up and then ghosted me.
I’m not new to dating. I’ve been using online apps for a couple of years and have had countless first dates. Maybe fifty or more meetings. In all those times, I’ve never been stood up. Not ever. Not once. This was my first.
To be honest, it stung.
This guy seemed different from the average fare on dating apps. He initiated conversations and asked interesting questions. “What’s your favorite childhood memory?” Then we would swap histories.
Our back and forth banter was balanced, a mix of open yet careful revelations. Neither of us raced ahead with romantic affirmations or declarations. We were frank about our online dating likes and dislikes.
In short, our connection felt real.
Most men either ply the initial conversation with sexual innuendos, ask outright for a hook-up, or act like they’ve met the love of their life. Others don’t seem to know how to strike up a dialogue. I get updates on the sports game they’re watching, or they tell me they’re not doing much. These men lack the energy or interest to carry the relationship forward.
This guy seemed different until he wasn’t.
I’ll never know why he didn’t show. Maybe he couldn’t leave work but felt so bad about how he’d left it, he decided not to say anything. More likely, he chickened out from telling me he’d changed his mind.
Whatever the reason, this experience rattled me. For most of the day, I didn’t talk about it to anyone. It had hurt too much.
I have a rule. Never get emotionally invested in someone I meet online until we have met in person. Too often, the individual who shows up for our first date bears little resemblance to the mental image I’d created. Phone calls don’t seem to help much with this. Maybe because most people don’t have long conversations like we used to, but prefer to rely on text. So, I’ve promised myself to stay emotionally detached until I’ve met face-to-face.
This time I broke my rule. I started to get hopeful.
As I lick my wounds, I’ve learned a few valuable lessons. Here are my takeaways.
This guy didn’t reject me. He can’t; he doesn’t know me. And even if we had been intimate partners, no one gets to decide my worth. Only I do. If I rely on others’ validations, it’s because I haven’t done the necessary work to accept and love myself.
Until this pandemic, the thought of being single frightened me. I couldn’t imagine being alone and having no one to talk to or see day after day. Six months later, I’ve discovered my fears were groundless.
Relationships are fantastic but must be built on a stable foundation of self-love to find balance. Unfortunately, I’ve learned this lesson late in life, but I have never felt more confident in who I am and what I want since I’ve had these six months to myself.
It’s tempting to see meaning in this guy’s failure to show up. Maybe I said something that turned him off. Or perhaps he had second thoughts about my lifestyle. He could have met someone he liked better since our first introductions. I’ll never know.
I could make all sorts of interpretations. My date’s no show provides a blank slate or a mirror; any guesses I make about his decision are simply reflections of me. All they reveal are my insecurities.
Regardless of the plausible reasons for cancellation, this guy handled it poorly. He could have texted that he changed his mind. To say nothing is cowardly.
Now I know this guy retreats into silence when intimidated, hurt, insecure, or nervous. He runs from conflict and vulnerable conversations. And he lacks the courage to be honest.
This experience is a painful reminder that I mustn’t get my hopes up until I lay eyes on someone. It is just too easy to fill in knowledge gaps about someone I haven’t met with my hopes and wishes. In the beginning, it is best to protect my heart by staying detached.
I let my guard down and got hurt. I won’t be forgetting this painful reminder soon.
Last night I got another notice that someone liked my dating profile. I opened the app to look.
The guy who stood me up was online. Next to his name was a green dot. For a brief second, I considered texting him as my insecurities got the best of me. But I knew it wouldn’t achieve anything useful since nothing would remedy the situation.
I thought better of it and closed the app instead. He’s not worth a minute more of my time.
Kerry Kerr McAvoy, a psychologist, author and writer, is in cultivating healthy relationships, deconstructing narcissism, and understanding various other mental health-related issues. Her novel based on a true story, which explores the devastating impacts of deceit and betrayal, is due out in 2021.
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