Hi Captain Awkward!
I’m in need of your spot-on dating advice and I’ll get right to it. This evening, I went on my fourth online dating website “date” (which usually is just find a place to chat for a couple hours) and, like the previous three dates, I have realized that the girl that I’ve chatted with for a while online just doesn’t seem that interested in me. (She still could be, but I just got back from the date and I think it’s smart to take a break from texting – don’t want to overwhelm her/appear clingy.) One of the main indicators that she just wasn’t interested in me was the fact that she wasn’t really trying to establish any physical contact. Being an introverted geek, where dating doesn’t come naturally to me, I’ve read about “breaking the touch barrier” and trying to create a (even slight) sense of intimacy on the first date. No, this doesn’t necessarily mean “make out” on the first date, but I always introduce myself with a hug; establish eye contact whenever possible; and give occasional friendly taps on the shoulder to establish a welcoming persona. I’m really trying my best to be better at dating but I’ve realized my problem is that I have a hard time creating intimacy on the first date and appearing like a desirable guy to my date. In short, I get the sense that even though we agree on a lot of topics and hobbies, I can never get my dates to “want” me like some other suave guys can do. Also, in between chatting about our hobbies, where we come from, what we like, etc., I tend to have a few awkward pauses during my dates. I’ve reasoned that it’s best to ALLOW these awkward pauses to occur, even if we’re just awkwardly sitting in silence, because a) You want to give her time to think/process what’s happening and b) you don’t want to appear like the blabbermouth who doesn’t know when to shut up. So I allow awkward pauses to happen, even if they sometimes seem to kill the mood. Should I do something differently there?
Dear Padawaan Dater,
Someone is gonna want you when they want you and it won’t be because of any strategy you had about “breaking the touch barrier.” You say you are an introverted geek for whom dating does not come naturally. Your optimal dating pool is most likely made of geeky introverted women who also feel awkward about dating. Being “smooth” at them won’t help because they are also inside their own heads like, “Did he just touch me? Should I touch him? What does it mean? Am I doing this right?” Furthermore, all these calculated little hugs and shoulder taps are elliding the fact that every woman you date is different and has a different response to being touched, including some women who don’t want to be touched at all until they know you a little bit better. Your strategy of frequent, escalating touching from the start is very likely making some of the women you meet shut down until they can get away from you.
Touch & flirting on dates can be fun and it’s true that it’s part of figuring out if you have chemistry with someone, but it’s much better when you take someone’s hand or hug them because you’ve gotten to know them a little bit and it feels good to touch/flirt with that person, specifically, vs. All Of My Dates. Treating it like a game you are trying to win is alienating you from your dates and also alienating you from your own heart. How can you even tell if you like someone if you’re trying so hard to impress or seduce her?
It’s summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, which is a good time to review ideas for things to do on dates:
- Go to an outdoor concert or performance + picnic. Pro-Tip: Scout out seating and nearby safe bathrooms/transit beforehand. Bring bug spray.
- Go to a bookstore or a comic book store and pick out a book for one another. Pro-Tip: This is not an opportunity for you to show off your impeccable taste, it’s more of an opportunity for you to learn about her taste and to see if you can match something to it. Geeky ladies are very used to guys pushing their tastes on us, and it’s actually an attractive novelty when a geeky dude says “I don’t know, recommend me something!” and then actually reads whatever it is. I will also give you the advice I give every young heterosexual guy who asks me for dating advice: Read/watch/listen to more work by women.
- Go to a bar or cafe that has board games and play a game or two. Pro-Tip: Choose a game you both know or a game that neither of you know over a game that you know well and she doesn’t know.
- Go to the second run movie house or the drive-in for a midnight showing of an old (geeky) favorite.
- Find an inexpensive performance or art show or live music or poetry slam or reading or comedy night where you live and go. The show/art gives you something to talk about to fill the awkward pauses. Pro-Tip: If the art sucks, it gives you even more to talk about.
- Take a class or a lesson in something – archery, cooking, pottery, photography, fire-spinning, ukulele. Look at Groupon (or similar) for deals. Pro-Tip: Taking a class can be a great way to meet people in general and to get into a mode where you are vulnerable and engaged with what you are doing.
- If your local museum sells memberships, invest in one, since they usually let you + a guest in for free. “Let’s go look at art/dinosaur bones/suits of armor/the planetarium/super-cool rocks.”
- If organizations like One Brick have a chapter near you, find a 1-time volunteering event to go to together.
- Consider: Karaoke at the dive bar, bowling at the weird old bowling alley, miniature golf, hitting balls at the batting cages.
- See also: The State Fair, neighborhood street festivals, church festivals, anywhere you can ride a ferris wheel and eat things-on-a-stick.
Whatever you choose:
- It’s not about having the coolest/best plan, it’s about finding a venue and an activity where you can enjoy yourself for an hour or so and then doing that thing with someone else. That means, plan something that is genuinely interesting and fun for you. Is this an event or pastime you would want to at least try out with a very good friend as your company? If you hate karaoke, don’t make yourself do karaoke.
- Be vulnerable and don’t be afraid to look like a big goof at whatever you’re doing. If you do karaoke, enthusiasm counts as much, if not more, than talent.
- Don’t spend lots of money on early dates. Do things that are inexpensive or free and easy to get to.
- Think about doing things or going places that are new to both of you. Ignore the dating literature that tells men to try to impress women with their expertise & taste. Maybe IMPRESSIVE MODE works for some people. May your mode is “I don’t know, let’s figure it out together.“
- If I wasn’t clear before, stop reading sexist dating advice about “breaking the touch barrier.” Your question was basically, how can we make all that sexist “seduction” advice work a little better for you? Answer: Women are people, and we can’t be hacked.
- This is trial and error for everyone, and it takes time for everyone to figure out what and who they like. Be gentle with yourself. Go slow.
- When in doubt, ask. “I have no idea what to do to end a date, but I’m having fun with you. Is this the part where we hug goodbye?:
- After a date, check in with yourself. Did you like her? What did you like about her? Did any red flags or incompatibilities come up? If you did like her and want to see her again, tell her so the next day. “I had a great time and I really liked meeting you. Can we do that again soon?”
- During the date, check in with yourself. Are you having fun? Is it easy to hang out with this person? Are you glad you left your house or are you anxiously waiting until you can get home and hit “play next episode” and relax? Pro-Tip: If you’re having fun, you know what might work better than hugs and shoulder touches to create intimacy? A sincere “I’m really enjoying myself, thank you.” A sincere “You look great.” A sincere smile. Use your words to fill some of those awkward pauses: “Meeting new people is awkward, right? But I’m really enjoying myself with you.Thank you for making an awkward thing really fun.“