Are We Dating Yet?

A while ago I wrote about not-quite dates, and how much of a turnoff I consider them. Well, this article is by a guy, and he also decries the “not-yet-a-date.” He says that it kills the romance by placing you immediately in the friend zone. Instead of getting flirted at, you’re held at arm’s distance, because the woman has no clue what’s up and whether she should consider you differently.

In the Valley of the Shadow of Date

There’s a class of emails I occasionally get that can be summarized like this:

“Hey Bad4, I read your blog and you sound interesting. Tell me more about yourself so I can decide if I want to date you or not.”

My kneejerk response is always, “You have a blogsworth of material to work with. Why don’t you tell me something about you so I can decide if I want to tell you more about myself so you can decide if you want to date me?”

A forthright approach deserves a forthright response, don’t you think?

I have nothing against casual interaction as a prelude to dating. (Yeshivish friends cover your ears.) A first date means going from zero to sixty with someone in an evening; yesterday you didn’t know their name, today you’re sharing your entire life history. It’s frequently awkward. And when someone sounded so so promising on paper, it’s a dasher of expectations. Knowing someone somewhat beforehand means you have a pretty decent idea of what you’re getting into, and you’re okay with that, and still want to get deeper.

That said, there are casual encounters and there are casual encounters. There are casual encounters like a Shabbos table, a book club, and a fund-raising event. And there are staged casual encounters, like “Let’s carry on an extensive email conversation so I can figure out if I want to go out with you.” Or “Let’s meet at the library so you can recommend some books to me.”

It’s like the uncanny valley of dating. The uncanny valley is a location in aesthetic design where obviously not-human blends into obviously human, with results that are just a little bit creepy. You stare at it wondering, “Is it real? Is it fake? Probably fake…” And all the while your skin is crawling. That’s exactly how the staged casual encounter feels.

Is it? Isn't it?  It is -- a creepy humanoid Japanese robot.

Is it? Isn’t it?
It is — a creepy humanoid Japanese robot.

“Is it a date? Is it not a date? Is it an overture of friendship? Or is he going to disappear after deciding I’m not datable? What is going on here?” And the longer you think about it, the more the hairs on the back of your neck tingle.

A staged casual encounter is worse than a first date. It’s like try-outs for a first date. As well-meaning as the stager of an encounter may be (and I get the reason for it), it comes across as arrogant. It’s like saying (read in a peering-down-the-nose voice) “I would like to audition you to decide if you are worth spending my time and money on.”

Guess what guys: a girl who takes you up on that is either sorely lacking in dignity or has you so firmly in the Friend Zone that she doesn’t realize what you’re up to.

In fact, a friend of mine had exactly that experience. She thought she was studying with a guy who happened to be a friend. Her mystification turned to indignation when he disappeared after a couple of study sessions, having decided that she wasn’t a romantic possibility.

What a creep.

There are women who will take you up on a staged casual encounter. I did that once for an emailer. But that was because our email correspondence had been so amusingly tortuous that I was sure I would get a good story out of our meet-up. (I did.) I never thought for a second that my Encounterer might get a date.

I suppose it’s possible for a She to also want to prescreen a guy. I’ve done that too, for the less blatant emailers. And if you’re actually interested in a guy, well, some girls consider this an opportunity to woo.

But a majority of the aidel maidels (and less aidel maidels) that I know consider this sort of subterfuge crude, unthinkable, and yes, a little bit creepy.

And you don’t want to appear creepy, do you?