It Came From The Search Terms: Spring 2020

We are overdue for the blog feature where I answer the search strings people typed in to find this place as if they are questions. Let’s do it!

First, as is traditional, a song:


RIP to one of the coolest, realest artists I was lucky enough to share the space-time continuum with.

:cries for the 100th time this week and it’s only Tuesday:

:cracks knuckles:

Let’s do this.

1 “How to tell someone you don’t like talking on the phone.”

I’m not a phone person – can we take this to [text][email][chat] instead?”

“I can’t do a phone call right now, can you text/email/message instead?”

It’s okay to have strong preferences and needs around how you best communicate, and it’s also okay if those preferences are flexible and negotiable depending on who you’re communicating with, your mood and energy levels at any given time, what people in your life has access to, their strong needs or preferences, etc. You absolutely don’t have to have one blanket rule for everyone in your life or strive to be fair about this.

I wasn’t the biggest phone person before, but it turns out I prefer it vastly to Zoom (there’s a reason for that), and I’m enjoying catching up with people like it’s 1991 again, flat on my back with my feet up, twirling the charging cable around my finger like it’s an old spiral phone cord.

2 “Is it normal to hate talking on the phone when dating?”

It’s normal – or at least not uncommon – to not enjoy the phone or prefer different means of communication (see above).

I think the necessary follow-up question here is: Is it the medium or is it the conversation partner? If you don’t usually like talking on the phone, but your companion makes a normally difficult thing fun and easy, that’s a good information. If you don’t usually like talking on the phone and this person makes the prospect even less appealing, or if you do like talking on the phone with friends and family but not with this person, that’s interesting information about chemistry, compatibility, communication styles, etc.

Social distancing means that in-person dates are on hold for now and people can’t rely on non-verbal chemistry so much so figuring out how and whether you can have a comfortable, connected, enjoyable conversation with somebody is front and center for the time being. I think it’s always good to pay attention to your own enjoyment and comfort levels, especially when first getting to know someone, and “am I actually enjoying this” is perhaps a better question than “am I weird for not enjoying this as much as I think I am supposed to.”

3 “It it appropriate to put a sign on door to let neighbors know you’re resting.”

I love looking at a posted sign – especially a highly-specific rule – and wondering “What’s the story that prompted this?”

This question is a bit like that. There would be no need for a sign if these specific neighbors weren’t prone to interrupting during rest periods, right?

In that case, a sign that’s like “I work nights, please do not disturb” or “Don’t wake the baby” and then redirecting anyone who would be tempted to knock or ring a bell to another means of communication (email, text, leave a note on one of those dry erase boards people hung on their doors in the dorms) might work. “Leave your calling card on the silver tray in the hall, Jeeves will see to it.” 

Sometimes people see general “To Whom It May Concern” notes and think, “Ah, but they don’t mean me,”  so consider having a conversation with said neighbors along the lines of “Please text or email vs. just stopping by and I’ll get back to you when I can, or leave whatever it is on the mat, I’m often resting during the day and would prefer not to be awakened unless it’s a true emergency.” 

4 “My husband teases me always about my health problems.”


If you’ve already had one sincere “Stop it, that’s off limits for jokes” conversation and he’s still doing it, your husband could be afflicted with Irredeemable Asshole Problems.

Post-quarantine I’m envisioning a National No-Fault Divorce Day, with flower crowns and maypole dancing like in Midsommar as everyone celebrates being freeeeeeeeeeeeee. There will be pro-bono lawyers working the crowd, and judges at kiosks throughout the park, and in the parking lot a giant swap meet for household items as everyone tries to rebuild a functional kitchen from their half of what’s left behind. “I’ve got two blenders and a bread machine I never use, trade you for a cordless drill and a decent cutting board?” “No cutting board but there are three jars of coriander in my spice cabinet, I can throw in the drill, some placemats, and a home brewing kit?” “Done!”

Maybe see you there?

5 “Grown men who only want to smoke weed and play video games.”

If you meet an adult man who likes doing this *and only this* with his free time, probably assume that this is pretty much how he is. Weed is relaxing and video games are fun and there’s no upper age limit where that’s not true of the people who find that to be true. Assume that he has chosen freely and leave him to it!

If this is not how you are (just guessing from the “grown men” phrasing), look for partners, friends, housemates, co-parents (!!!), etc. who do things that you enjoy (or at least don’t find stinky, ridiculous, and annoying).

How a person actually is at their current age > How you think a person should be by a certain age, so select for current compatibility, not imagined future potential. You will be so much happier if your relationships aren’t ones where you see yourself as the responsible, permanently irritated parent sniffing everyone’s hair to see if it smells of concerts and view the other people in your life as permanent Large Adult Sons with bloodshot eyes who need to be motivated and molded into something else.

6 “My parents text me too much.”

If you’ve tried asking them to cut this down and it hasn’t worked, or if the pandemic is bringing out old anxieties and old habits that you thought were settled, try responding pleasantly at regular, predictable intervals when you have the energy and capacity to reply, and completely ignoring non-emergency communications from them the rest of the time. They may not like it (and may temporarily increase the flurry or test your resolve) but they will very likely adapt to it if you stay consistent.

You might slightly reduce conflict even further by changing any conversations about this from “You text me too much! Jeez!” to being more about you and your own self-care habits.  “Oh, I’ve been putting my phone on silent so I can read in the afternoons.” “I’m trying to not be glued to the news and social media, so I’m logging out for big chunks of time every day,” “A good window to reach me is between 5:30 and 6:30 pm, if I don’t respond right away I’ll try to check in around that time every day.”

My folks are not frequent texters but this seems like a good time for the story of how I was in class & meetings all day with my phone off and then went to the movies without checking messages since I just needed quiet, and the dark, and solitude, and Thor: Ragnarok on the biggest loudest screen I could find.

I came out of the movies, went to a solo dinner, and finally turned my phone back on to find a bunch of texts and voice mails from my mom along the lines of “Please call when you get this.” “Still trying to reach you, get in touch when you can.” It’s like, 8:30ish my time so 9:30 pm on the East Coast, everybody should still be up, so I call my mom’s cell back. No answer. I call my dad’s cell. No answer. I call the house line. No answer. I leave voice and text messages everywhere, and start to worry. There is zero chance that they are not home at 9:30 on a random Tuesday unless something’s up, so what’s up?

I call my older brother’s cell – is there an emergency? – no answer from him. Now I’m really worried.

Does my aunt know what’s up? She at least texts back that she knows of no emergencies but she’ll check.

When I finally hear from Mom, she tells me she called and texted because she has a question for me. Oh? Ask away! I’m dying to know!

The question? She wants to maybe buy a machine to convert Dad’s extensive VHS collection* to DVD or computer files as a holiday present and did I know which one was good? Otherwise maybe we’d have to find him a new VHS player on eBay because his most recent one gave up the ghost and he had nowhere to watch his stories. And sorry about not picking up phones, they’d both fallen asleep on the couch watching TV as had my brother.

When my heart rate returned to normal, we made a family agreement that thenceforth A LITTLE CONTEXT with any “please call me” texts or messages was ABSOLUTELY MANDATORY.

*Lest you thought I was the most intense cineaste in my family, my dad’s deep attachment to his VHS collection tells a different story. ❤

7 “My husband is not re-evaluating his life at all since the corona but I feel that I must leave because he has shown me that he has no empathy at all.”

There are going to be a lot of divorces in the next two years and that’s probably a good thing and I promise am not making light of how painful that is with all my party planning earlier in the post. (“Two, no make that three, working can openers…who’s got a bread knife?”) 

People get married for lots of reasons, one of those reasons is “You are the person I’d most like on my team when the rough parts of adulting come for us” (sometimes summed up in vows as ‘…or for worse’ ‘In sickness and…’ and ‘…and for poorer’). A partner who knowingly and uncaringly makes a crisis harder on you? Somebody who shows you that they are not on your team? Isn’t the right match for what comes next, even with the best of hopes and intentions. I’m so sorry, I hope whoever searched for this is staying safe and being very kind to yourself and making solid plans for a safe landing.

8 “My partner wants to go everywhere with me is that healthy.”

Pandemic life is making it so nobody is getting a balanced, preferred, comfortable, safe, ideal mix of alone time and togetherness, but in general,  if you’re dating someone who wants a different amount of togetherness than you, it’s 100% an issue of compatibility and 100% worth discussing, like, “You seem to want to do everything together, but I need a certain amount of alone time and one-on-one time with my other friends and family to be happy. Can we agree that I’ll be more proactive about inviting you along when I want to do stuff together, but if I just say ‘I’m going for a bike ride,’ it’s neither an automatic invitation nor is it a rejection?” vs. “Hey, I have a lot of anxiety about being invited, included, excluded, and not reading the room about that stuff so can you make it really really clear when you are inviting me and is it okay if I ask what you mean? I promise I’m not trying to pressure you if the answer is no, I just can’t always tell, and everybody who has ever told me they ‘need space’ broke up with me within a week so it would reassure me a lot if you could be way more specific than that.”  

Maybe from there you can figure something that works for everyone, but “Nope, together, always, or else you don’t love me right!” definitely isn’t the default setting.

Insisting on constant contact and togetherness with a partner (which often goes hand in hand with excessive monitoring of their activities) is a means of control. If this applies to you, I recommend looking at the resources the good people at have put together as a way to start planning a safe way out of a relationship where this is the norm. 

In either case, “Healthy,” “normal,” etc. aren’t reliable markers of what you’re allowed to need and expect. If someone convinced you it was perfectly normal and healthy to want to do literally everything with you, and this is how all other couples everywhere interact, like “We’re in love now, Google it” and you didn’t want that? Then you’re the boss of you and your needs are important whether or not they match a template. ❤

9 “How to respond to a guy on online dating who asks ‘what are you looking for on here?'” 

I’ve answered versions of this many times before, whether sincerely (Be very honest about what you are looking for, including “I don’t actually know” or “I’m hoping I hit it off with someone who will want to get married and have kids someday” and “I am looking for a bag-pipe playing sex unicorn with large feet and a larger trust fund” if those are what’s true for you) and jokingly (“I’ll know it when I see it.” “A willing patsy for a Double Indemnity-type situation.” “Hmmm, you seem like you have an answer prepared, so what are you looking for?”)

Can we be very, very honest today?

I haven’t online dated since 2012 but I did a ton of it before then and I’ve done a lot vicariously through my friends and all of you in Awkwardland.

“So…what are you looking for on here” is a very basic question, an obvious question, and it should be a fairly neutral, easy question with an obvious answer (“I’m looking to…date…people?”). I shouldn’t be mad at it. People are testing the waters, it’s understandable, it’s like “so…what do you do?” in the pantheon of American small-talk. The oatmeal of questions. Not everything has to sparkle, goddamnit.

And yet, I’m pretty sure I’ve never once had an actually good date where I wanted a second one with anyone who has ever asked me that. Just seeing it in my search terms month after month makes me want to yell SWIPE LEFT at it.

Theories as to why it bugs me so much:

  • I didn’t use online dating to meet women (browsing in feminist bookstores while sporting a strong shoe-and-glasses game worked for that), so my online dating experience is 99% with straight cisgender men and this immediately reads to me as a question that a guy asks every single person they write to right off the bat whether or not he’s read your profile. The dude who was just playing a numbers game of sending the same message to everyone to see who bites? That dude had nothing for me, nor I for him.
  • It’s not a connecting sort of question, it’s a weed-out sort of question that makes a flirtation suddenly and immediately feel like a job interview.
  • I feel like there’s always a secret question in that question, and it’s never a cool secret question, it’s more like:
    • “I can’t think of anything else to ask and I have no idea what I’m doing.” Honestly, fine, this is the most benign, salvageable version of this, let’s just get through this in one piece.
    • “Let me zero in quickly on whether you are looking for the same stuff I am, but in a way that makes you put it out there first.”
    • “Let me zero in quickly on what you’re looking for so I can pretend that’s what I want, too, just long enough to possibly have sex with you with the minimum effort on my part.”
    • “Let me zero in quickly on what you’re looking for in a way that makes you try to guess what I’m looking for and tailor/audition your wishes to what you think I want.”
    • “I get more casual sex when I pretend that I’m looking for a relationship and less when that becomes apparent so I like to keep my wants ambiguous until I know what I’m dealing with.”
    • “If I know what you are looking for, I can selectively edit my life correctly to seem like I fit the bill long enough to entice you to overlook the sketchy stuff like how ‘separated’ means ‘I absolutely intend to tell my wife someday that I want to separate, once I’ve met the right new woman’ and ‘single’ means ‘separated.'”
    • “Let’s not waste time with small talk, a total stranger I just walked up to in a virtual bar. Are you going to try to trick me into making babies with you right away or are you going to be cool and let me date you for 8 years while I wonder if parenting is really right for me and then leave you when it’s too late for you to make babies because I got my 23-year-old assistant pregnant on last quarter’s sales retreat and now I think it’s time to really follow my dream of being a dad?”
    • “You’re not going to try to gold-dig my $27,3000/year salary like all those other lying vultures who couldn’t appreciate a REAL MAN who is NICE, right?”

It’s an obvious question so the answer should be obvious, too, right? So why is it a constantly recurring question in my inbox and my search data?

I think at least some of the anxiety about answering it is about sensing there some kind of a test being administered by someone who is already showing they haven’t put much thought into things. Like, there is clearly a right answer, something they are looking for, so why won’t they just say? Or, it gets asked so often, like one of those job interview questions like ‘what is your greatest weakness’ so surely someone has written a guide to turning it around, like ‘my greatest weakness is actually how awesome I am,’ so can someone put out the cheat codes already?

“It’s just efficient for figuring out if you’re on the same page or not.” You know what’s efficient? Actually reading people’s profiles and only messaging the ones who seem like they might like you and vice versa. See also: Leading with what you are looking for.

If you have asked this question in the process of dating, or love someone who did, I don’t think you are inherently boring or bad. “Do we want the same stuff y/n” is an important question for finding someone who is compatible with you, so please do not feel the need to share examples of how this is good, actually, I blanket-believe you and blanket-support you in your happy love story and I will die content in my theory that it worked out because you quickly skipped past this awkward question the way people fast forward past “so what do you do” and found something meatier to talk about when the formalities were over.

But my answer to the general “how should I answer this?” is, now and forever:

Answer it literally however the fuck you feel like answering it at the time. Do not worry about giving a “right” answer, secret or otherwise, because there isn’t one. There’s only what you actually want and how it intersects with what the other person wants.

However you answer, it will either lead to a fun conversation where you learn something true about each other (because everybody starts asking & answering more specific questions), or it won’t and you’ll probably never have to talk to the person again.

If you fail a total stranger’s boring secret test? OH WELL, GUESS YOU WANTED DIFFERENT THINGS FROM LIFE.

Please never, ever worry that you will get this wrong somehow or that there was some magical, maximally palatable way with just the right mix of reassuring and fascinating and sexy but unthreatening way – like the hot girl taking off her glasses at the end of a 1990s movie about prom dates and becoming the Objectively! Hot! Girl! for a moment and then putting them back on and becoming accessibly hot once more-  that  you could have answered  that would guarantee that the person would have fallen in love with you if only you had known what it was.

Thank you for coming to my Ted talk.

10 “What to say when someone says ‘why should I date you.'” & “What does ‘Give me one good reason I should date you’ mean in online dating.”

I had just typed the answer to #10 and then dipped back into the search terms to see if there was anything else, and found…this. Okayyyyyyyyy.

Why should I date you?” 


Why should I date you?” 

Sounds like a you-question.

Why should I date you?” 

Sir/Ma’am, this is a Wendy’s.

Why should I date you?” 


“Give me one good reason I should date you.”

You…messaged…me? I don’t actually know who you are? Wat?

“What’s one good reason I should date you.”

Lol, I’m not going to date you, but I’ve got five minutes, so be honest – does that actually ever work? Do people actually start listing reasons like they’re trying to convince you that you should take a chance on them? Tell me all about that!

Look, there’s an outside chance that “what are you looking for in a relationship/ on this site” is a sincere question with no hidden messages or tests, we all start somewhere, basic is always better than mean.

“Why do I actually want to date this person” is a question to ask oneself, definitely explore that.

“Why should I date you?” is what you ask when you think Alec Baldwin is the hero of Glengarry Glen Ross and you practice the speech in the mirror to yourself in the morning when you think no one is looking but hope that at least one of your housemates is awake enough to overhear how hard you nailed it today and you jerk off in the shower to the tantalizing prospect of a worshipful secret audience while your housemate desperately googles “Best earplugs for total silence.”

“Why should I date you” is for when you are actually contemplating becoming a contestant on The Bachelor and you know that the dullard-of-the-month-club is 100% going to ask you that on camera and you need to find the right mix of charm and smarm to snag your rose and the opportunity to go on a humiliating hot air balloon ride “solo date” while America watches you resist your impulse to toss this polo-shirted absolute void out of the basket like excess ballast and rise, rise, rise forever into the sky, victorious and alone like some avenging Valkyrie, in which case, carry on.

“Why should I date you” is a “neg”, in my opinion, which is a gross, pathetic pick-up-artist strategy designed to manipulate you into auditioning for being worthy of someone who would ask you THAT instead of wondering wait, why the hell am I auditioning for this person’s approval? Can’t they see I’m hot and cool and nice? Is this actually a job interview? I don’t actually want to be on The Bachelor?

Friends don’t let friends reward negging. Never answer this question. It’s a trap.

Comments are open. Be gentle. Be gentle specifically with me, I’m rusty. ❤

183 thoughts on “It Came From The Search Terms: Spring 2020

  1. yay!! search terms posts are my favorites and I’ve been waiting for this very eagerly. thanks captain!!

  2. “Why should I date you?”

    Gag me with a spoon, do people really ask that? I’d probably burst out laughing.

    1. Right? It’s like, if you need me to tell you why you should date me, clearly you’re not on my plane of awesomeness and should go find someone else to date.

    2. This reads like someone attempted to adapt behavioral questions from a job interview for dating. Yucko.

      1. I suspect it’s more sinister than that. The PUA folks think that if they put you on the defensive, it’s will make you more eager to please.

    3. I feel like my response to that is: “I’m asking myself the same question, and not really getting a good answer.”

      1. I love this. Honestly, these days, anyone who tries negging me get raucous laughter.

      1. I mean, I think I’m delightful and I wouldn’t date me out of fear that the combined awesomeness of two of me might open a void in the multiverse.

    4. It’s basically “Why should I like you?” in thin disguise. It’s entirely up to taste; whether an answer is “right” or not depends on the person hearing it. “I’m a loner scientist who prefers to avoid crowds” isn’t appealing to a lot of people, but to my introverted engineer boyfriend who also doesn’t like crowds those are very appealing traits indeed.

      The question is a good question when asked to yourself in your own head, but spoke out loud to someone else it’s useless. The only person who can truly answer that question is the one asking it.

  3. 4 and 5 remind me so much of my ex husband. He got so annoyed when I asked him to repeat himself because of my partial deafness and was really “jokingly” hostile about it near the end of our relationship. We didn’t share hobbies, either. I’m so glad we aren’t together during the corona shut-in.

  4. “polo-shirted absolute void” is *chef’s kiss*, applause all around for this post

  5. Responding to 9 re being asked what you’re looking for:

    As a late 20s millenial who has used dating apps on and off for the last few years, I have a very different take on this question from the Captain. Sure, it definteily could be a shitty person trying to figure out how shitty they can be. However, I think it’s more likely that it is the other person not wanting their time wasted if you and them are on different pages about commitment/long term goals.

    I would assume it is the other person asking if you are looking for something casual, looking for a relationship, OR if you are unsure what you want. It’s definitely possible to get stuck in a rut of going out with great people, connecting, and then realizing a few dates in that you two are on very different pages in terms of commitment and needing to end things. I myself have moved to asking potential dates that question, as I was very frustrated after going out with FIVE people in a row where I really clicked with them, but who were less than three months out of a serious relationship and weren’t seeking a committed long term relationship as I am.

    Respond to that question as honestly as you can, and move on if everyone is looking for different things. Also, if you’re really something more serious but don’t want to “scare” the other person away- fuck that. Just tell them you’re looking for something serious. You can’t “trick” someone into dating you seriously by pretending you want something casual.

    1. #1 – If needed, you can absolutely say “Stop calling me.” Blunt like that.
      You can also be more specific – “Do not return text/email with a call.” and “I will no longer answer unscheduled calls.” and “You are being rude by calling after I’ve asked you not to.”

      “I prefer text” or “I’d rather not talk on the phone” will just not be heard as a “no please stop” by some people. Probably the same people who think signs don’t apply to them as in #3’s answer. Some people hear a preference and automatically think they get to override it. Stating your preference again won’t get through. I’d be great if everyone listened to soft nos and respected boundaries but sometimes they won’t.
      This is permission from an internet stranger to say a hard no next time.

      (Obviously sometimes you can’t be blunt – if it’s going to hurt your employment status or cause more repercussions than you can or want to take on or or or – but sometimes you gotta break out the bluntness to get people to listen. to your words. at all.)

    2. I can see this way of thinking too. Like if what you are looking for is someone to join your thruple? Prolly not gonna be me so we can get that out of the way and move on quickly, good luck to you!

    3. We agree on most of this! I don’t have a beef with weeding people out quickly or asking questions (or casual dating/sex!). Still “I’m looking for x and y, does that work” is *just* as “efficient” as “What are you looking for” so why don’t more people do it that way? (Because they want the other person to put it out there first, is the answer)

      1. So true! t’s like those folks who don’t post a picture or fill out a profile and yet reach out to me anyway (with my multiple photos + wordy profile). I prefer people who are just as open and honest as I am!

        1. A friend of mine had a fairly succinct profile that had, at the end of it, “Please make the subject line of your first email ‘Brown M&Ms’ or I will not respond.”
          She found it a great way to weed out people who couldn’t be bothered to read a short paragraph before firing off an email consisting of “oh hi”.

          1. Plus she can weed out all the ‘splainers who assume she doesn’t know the Van Halen brown M&Ms story and explain her own reference to her 🙂

      2. Exactly. It’s the dating parallel to a company asking you for what salary you’re looking for rather than saying up front what the range for the job is (which I guarantee they’ve already decided).

      3. Also, it is perfectly possible to write in your profile exactly what you’re looking for, and I do. This means that anyone who asks me what I’m looking for either hasn’t read my profile, or has read it but hopes they’ll get a different answer (usually a less specific one that they can wear down into accepting what *they’re* looking for after a couple of dates through their studly charm) if they ask me directly, because women conditioned to attempt to please, etc.

        Either way, it doesn’t matter a lot to me. I don’t date people who don’t read the profile before messaging me and I don’t date people who try and manipulate me into taking something that isn’t what I actually want. So I don’t see a need to care which the real answer is on a case by case basis.

      4. It could be he or she isn’t confident enough to say what they want. Like it’s not intentional, it’s just a habit of not taking responsibility. It’s the same thing as criticizing someone ie “You never listen” instead of asking for what you want, ie “I need you to listen to me now.”

        1. I’ve run into a variant of this a couple of times IRL: guy says, “Someday I’m going to ask you out.” Yeah…? They, of course, never do. And with a lede like that, I’m unlikely to say yes, anyway.

    4. I think the Captain’s point is that if you want something specific, you should just say that: I’m looking for a relationship, I’m looking for something casual, I’m looking to join a thruple. If there’s only one correct answer, why are you asking an open ended question? If you’re not interested in getting to know someone, don’t ask them a personal question. If you want to know if they’re down with unicorn furries, then just ask that.

      1. Heh. I wonder if this is a manifestation of Ask vs Guess culture? (I mean, when the asker isn’t just being a manipulative douche.

    5. I just posted a comment about this topic – though I think it got caught by the spam filter for some reason. I think the deciding factor here is whether the question is accompanied by a statement about what you’re looking for. In my story, for whenever it showed up, I had framed the question as “What are you looking for? I’m not looking for anything serious.” Still open-ended, but being upfront about my own motivation.

    6. I think it depends very much on the style/culture/layout of the dating site you’re using. A lot of dating sites ask you what sort of relationship you’re looking for and put the info right there in your profile. For me, who HAS put it right out there up front and centre, anyone who asks that kind of question is a write-off because they’re not reading what I’ve already told them.

    7. I think #9 is something I’ve probably asked in a state where I’d got pretty fed up with online dating, and it was a sign I needed to take a break.

      Online dating can feel like a toxic mix between a game and online shopping, except the “product” can reject you. Also, you are also a “product,” and I have felt simultaneously objectified and guilty over objectifying others in the whole process.

      It seemed like the object of the “game” was to find someone else who wanted what I also wanted, but it was against the rules to ask directly, for some reason, yet the ambiguity gave others cover to mislead and rationalize.

      So I got blunt and just started asking directly. It didn’t actually work (I don’t think it works for anyone except maybe two people who legit just want casual sex?)

      I mean, it worked because it did weed out people who were put-off when I said, in response to them asking the question back, “I’m looking for a serious relationship, to get married within one year, mutual respect, financial stability, and open-ness to fostering teenagers.” Just, it turned out that weeded out… everyone.

      In retrospect, I guess I knew that would be the effect, and I was probably self-sabotaging because on some level I knew online dating wasn’t great for me, at least not at the time.

      It’s very weird. I have a partner now, and I love them, but it is a bit frustrating to let go of the idea of finding someone who’s a perfect fit when that’s been advertised as possible by movies and apps for ages.

      I don’t want to be the person trying to change someone else, but it turns out the other options are to let go of something I really want, or figure out how to do what I want single. And that’s… frustrating.

      1. If it makes you feel better, I have met precisely zero people who online dated and found a partner who was a perfect fit. Most of my friends found it an embarrassing morass of awful, and my one set of close friends who met on okcupid are very happy together, but are slightly less compatible than the set of close friends who got together after getting shitfaced and hooking up at their college’s alumni weekend. So.

        1. +1 I appreciate it.

          I think also, some desires and traits are more common than others.

          That’s not a good or bad thing, it just makes it easier to find someone who’s a close-to-perfect fit when there are more people in general who want what you want.

          It kinda feels like the options are:
          1. Go solo / be single, mourn and make peace with sacrificing romantic desires to pursue other life goals

          2. Date someone who’s decent and drive yourself up the wall trying to change them into a “perfect fit” so you can “have it all.” Be slightly unhappy all the time.

          3. Date someone decent, accept them as they are, mourn and make peace with letting some of your other desires and life goals go to invest in a loving romantic relationship

          The fourth option, find a genuine perfect fit, someone who is your partner in everything and you mutually support the pursuit of each other’s desires and life goals 100%– it’s just not likely to happen if my goals diverge from the norm even slightly.

          And that makes sense when I think about it. It’s how real life works. It’s just I’ve been sold the notion that having it all is possible, and I need to do the work of unlearning that.

          1. I’m heading into late middle age and I understand exactly what you mean, Igmerriman. It’s *hard* realizing you can’t have everything in one lifetime, however you work it or plan for it, when there’s no guarantee we’ll ever get any more than that. It’s hard in romance and in everything else, too… but the ways we choose to compromise in romance tend to sharply influence what we can have in all the other ways, because so many choices have to be made in tandem if you live with someone.

            I’ve been trying to find variations which allow for the greatest possible range. I found someone decent and try to accept him as he is, but we negotiate regularly about how to allow each other the greatest freedom we can to explore what matters to us individually, where we can’t do it together; and we keep our mental filters open wide for the signs of an opportunity that fits for both of us when we find them. For example, I wanted a foster child; he wasn’t comfortable with that. But when an 18-year-old friend whom he already knew was looking for a place to live in our city, we both found that inviting them to live with us was a good fit for meeting the emotional needs that drove our original positions. Where we can, we do things separately that we can’t do together — I’m going to Africa and the Netherlands on my own for a month once this pandemic is sufficiently under control to allow for things like international travel again.

            I guess the reason I think that #3 is the best of the options for me (not that there’s anything wrong with #1 for people who prefer it!) is that decent people are often capable of a surprising amount of creativity in helping someone they care about get what is important to them. Even if it’s something they don’t want for themself. Sometimes there is no possible compromise — “I want to raise children with my partner/I don’t” is pretty much a hard boundary that should usually be handled by separation, as is monogamy/polyamory where both people care deeply about their preferred relationship format. But there are a lot of things which are dealable with either by compromise, taking turns, or doing some things separately and then coming back together to enjoy talking about the experiences we’ve had on our own.

          2. I think there’s something to that; but I also think that if one’s desires and life goals are both extremely specific and non-negotiable, that’s going to necessarily limit the process no matter how common they are in a macro sense. Taking your examples, I don’t think that marriage and kids, broadly, are unusual goals. Limiting that to ‘marriage within a set timeline’ and ‘fostering kids’ is going to limit your target audience; limiting it further to ‘marriage within a year’ and ‘fostering teenagers’ is limiting it even further. If you state those as non-negotiables, then respectful people will treat them as such and will exclude themselves from the process if they are not willing to commit to those goals from the get.

            The only difference I see between meeting them online and IRL is that putting that in your online profile means that you don’t meet them at all; whereas IRL this conversation is unlikely to be your first (‘hi, my name’s Tim Tam Girl and I want…’ is an unusual opening gambit) so you’d meet them before presenting your list of must-haves… at which point, again, the respectful ones would self-exclude.

            This is not to say that you shouldn’t look for what you want. Go for it, 100%. I do reckon it’s easier to find a partner one is happy to compromise with if one’s goals and desires are *broader* (as opposed to simply more common) because there’s some built-in wiggle room where one can still get most of what one wants even if the exact presentation is a bit different. This can take one’s life in new and unexpectedly delightful directions; but for someone like you, who is deadset on a very specific path (and again, I’m not judging that), I don’t think it would feel delightful, I think it would just feel like straying from What You Really Want, even before you take the whole ‘having it all!!!!’ bullshit into account.

          3. I dunno, I feel like “broad” vs “common” is a distinction without a difference.

            I’m not even saying everything I’m looking for is non-negotiable. I just know that losing those things (especially marriage within a year and open-ness to fostering teens; financial stability, I’ve come to realize, has very little to do with things an individual can control, and mostly has to do with corporations and lobbiests and your parents’ income, and I’ve been working to unpack some shame around my own poverty which led me to judge others really unfairly)

            Anyway, giving up marriage in a timeline that’s solid and has checkpoints I can work towards, and the emotional and financial well-being that leads to, and giving up signing up for foster parenting classes next year in the course of negotiating a life with someone has been hugely painful. There’s been a lot of grief for me to work through.

            I genuinely don’t understand how people’s lives just happen to go in delightful, unexpected directions. In my experience, every single positive thing in my life happened because I first worked up the courage to want it, then chose to pursue it, then strategized and built my own resilience and tenacity (with therapy and practice) when I inevitably failed the first time, second time, third time.

            It took me six years to graduate from college but I FRIGGIN’ DID IT. So many people thought I was going to flunk out. I failed three classes withdrew from five classes.

            But I DID IT.

            That wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t work up the courage to try, and keep trying, and learn from my mistakes. Graduating from college led to writing for nationally syndicated magazines, improving a craft I take joy in, creating things that genuinely help people, and staying solidly in the black (until, you know, this plague happened): these are great facets of my life that I CHOSE and *kept choosing.*

            And I don’t know how anything positive happens to people who just… don’t try? I know there are real people out there who just do *whatever* and “delightful surprises” fall into their lap.

            I’m just not one of those people.

            This is my first long term relationship ever, and I’m going to be 28 this year. Maybe tmi but I had sex for the first time last year, with this person, which is another thing I thought would never happen.

            That happened because I did a lot of work in therapy and spent probably too much money on a matchmaking / dating coach service that took precautions for safety. I had sex, went on dates, and ultimately found someone I’m compatible with because I chose those things as a goal, worked towards them, and took breaks to emotionally process setbacks.

            Even doing all that! I had to own the fact that odds are against someone ever loving me, being attracted to me physically, *and* also supporting and cheering on all my dreams and goals.

            I’m making peace with only getting 2/3 right now, but it’s painful and really, really hard. It’s also frustrating because I have accepted all of my partner’s terms in negotiation, so they’re not compromising at all. I actually genuinely do support all their dreams and goals, and love them, and am attracted to them physically.

            But what I want is less common than what they want. Or, in your term, “more narrow.” So if I want to be loved and desired at all, I have to give some of that up.

            And it just really sucks. I don’t think I’m narrow-minded to recognize that. I also don’t think it’s wrong to choose #3 over #1 here. I’d rather deal with not getting to marry or be a foster parent on any reasonable timeline I can take steps along (so, in practice, probably…never) than I can deal with losing this person who means so much to me and whom I care deeply about.

          4. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with choosing any of them to compromise on: you make the choices that work best for you, and if compromising on #3 works better for you than compromising on #1, 2 or 4, then that’s the right choice (even if right doesn’t = easy, as is so annoyingly often the case).

            It sounds like you are really good – unusually good – at setting goals for yourself and busting your ass until you achieve them. That’s a superpower and I respect it. It also sounds like none of these things you had to fight so hard for happened in a straightforward fashion or without a lot of committing and recommitting to the process (as you put it, you ‘chose and kept choosing’ – a good phrase that I am filing away for future use). My hope, then, is that you are able to find some way to get closer to the things you want with your partner, even if it takes longer or doesn’t look exactly like you expected. I personally believe that reshaping/ adapting your goals doesn’t mean giving up on them; I don’t know if you agree, but it’s an outlook I have found useful, because it helps me not get bogged down in the idea of success and failure as fixed concepts.

            As to the unexpected and delightful… look, I am almost pathologically pragmatic and don’t deal well with surprises, so know that I’m not some fairy-floss-wrapped Free Spirit to whom Things Just Happen!. But my life with my partner and the compromises we have made for each other have led us in lots of unexpected directions, and most of them have been great. Not 100% of them have been 100% great – hell, one of the biggest is wonderful and terrible for me in about equal measure, and that’s something I struggle with and have put a lot of work into – but all of them have led to at least some good things, many of which I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. For me, that counts. But I also recognise that putting all of that under the header of ‘unexpected and delightful’ glosses over the hard work and hard times. The net gain doesn’t come without some loss. Opportunity costs, at the very least. But on the whole, it’s been worth it and both my partner and I are doing awesome things now that 10 years ago would have seemed utterly ridiculous to suggest. For us, that works.

          5. @Tim Tam Girl– I feel you. And I’m sorry for implying that things just happened to you without you trying. I guess that’s not really true for anyone.

            I hope I’m able to get closer to the things I want too. I guess I just wish I knew…what that looks like, if it doesn’t look like what I originally thought it would look like, and how I might figure out how to get there.

            It’s weird. I’ve never thought myself super good at achieving my goals, especially since it seems to take me so much longer to achieve my same goals as my peers (that is, college in six years instead of four, first LTR at age 26 rather than age 16 like my friends deciding to try dating in high school.) My highschool best friend decided she wanted to lose her virginity with this one specific guy at Junior prom, and she just *did it.*

            Even my partner has had a LTR before this one, graduated from college, graduated from grad school, has a career-type job, and it considering getting a PhD. And we’re the same age.

            They’ve also never failed a single class. Ever.

            I know, like, it’s not a race, or a contest. It’s just…I dunno.

            I just really…like I want something to be easy for once. I guess on some level I hoped this relationship would be the easy thing. That I wouldn’t have to fail and regroup a bunch of times.

            It’s just exhausting.

            I also feel like…like I’d be kinda lying to myself if I’m like, “Well actually leading a girl scout troop twice a month is just as good as fostering teens” or “a loving relationship without formal legal protection or a path to get it, is just as good as knowing for sure that if I end up in the ICU, the person I love most will be there to hold my hand.” <—worryingly, not as hypothetical as I wish it were at the moment.

            Like, maybe I'm wrong? Maybe if I loosened up I'd find that these alternatives really are just as fulfilling as what I want.

            I just…I just don't know. Maybe I'm wrong and I'd be happier if I changed what I wanted. Or more open to surprises.

            I'll think about it.

          6. Haha I feel that. Try doing all this but also being trans.

            But it’s okay. The fact is, I don’t think an exact match exists for anyone. I think the most successful relationships are those where you learn what things of your are deeply important, which ones are fine to let go of, and which new interests your partner can lead you to.

            My partner and I met on OkCupid. We both agreed we weren’t looking for anything serious, just some good friends with benefits situations. And you know, we have almost gotten internet married multiple times during this quarantine (hehehe).

            I think it is less about what percentage of your current desires get fulfilled and more about how satisfied you are in general in your life, how you and your partner can support each other best.

          7. About “unexpected happy surprises” falling into one’s lap, I’m a poster child for both this happening and it not happening. The “best thing” that ever fell into my lap (as it appeared at the time) turned out to be *both* a horrible mistake leading to a traumatic, abusive situation I’m still working on mitigating the damage from, *and* has led to most of the positive elements of my life right now. Would my life have been better if I’d taken a different path? Probably. Would I have lost some important people and things that I would, as I am right now, deeply grieve at the notion of not having in my life? Also true.

            What I’ve found is this: 1) There is no such thing as a positive thing that falls into your lap. There are, however, *opportunities* that fall into your lap; it’s up to you to recognize them and grab them and make them work. 2) There is no realistic way to tell whether a major change will be primarily good or primarily bad for it before it happens. Major changes, by their nature, also change too many other things. All you can do is take your best shot and deal with the results as they come up. And 3) Even if you basically get it right about whether the results lean toward the positive or the negative, it’ll almost certainly have a large chunk of both involved, whatever it is. Part of the job of the person living it is to try and tweak those results toward the better side, not just once, but every time they veer, in whatever ways one can. Those, too, are opportunities that fall into one’s lap — the opportunities to take a previous mistake, or a previous choice that worked but not entirely without downsides, and make something better out of it than it would be without your active involvement.

            Even accepting the “happy surprises” doesn’t come without effort and participation.

        2. I online-dated (using OKCupid) like it was my job for about five years, and while I was doing that (and gathering some amazingly terrible first-date stories) I met my husband on Twitter. For me, online dating made me feel like I was doing something. I’m not sure I really expected a great relationship to result from it (and my low expectations were mainly fulfilled), but I’m a big believer in doing something about it if you’re not happy with it, so for me, dating was the something, and online dating made it easy to actually meet people who were looking to meet people.

    8. Sure, but then why wouldn’t *you* say, “I’m looking for something casual,” or “I’m looking for a relationship,” rather than making the object of the question handle it for you? It’s like an employer asking the candidate for their salary minimum, versus posting their pay bands. The latter is better.

    9. I mean, you’re right that some people want to to be on the same page when they’re asking what you want like this, however, I’ve had too many guys LEAD with this question in online dating. No conversation. No other questions. No basic chit chat to signal to me that this person recognizes that I am also a human being with needs and wants. There are LITERALLY CATEGORIES on my dating profile for this. It’s one of the most basic check boxes on most dating websites, so why ask? Personally I can’t really answer this question before I meet the guy at least once in person, but so many people ask you this question before you even go out on a date, as though you are supposed to intuit whether you will click with them immediately and then hold to that as though it were a sworn blood oath lest you be made a liar when/if you change your mind a few dates in. Unfortunately, dating simply is trial and error, as frustrating as that can be.

      Also- Captain, I agree with you about your gut reactions to specific online dating quirks. I have the same ones you mentioned above, and my other big one, which is when a guy doesn’t even bother to ask a question or keep the conversation going, instead forcing me to do it. I’ve gotten to the point where if a guy doesn’t follow with a question or at least some content filled remark that I can comment on, I will let the conversation die a quick and horrible death. If they can’t be bothered, why should I?

      1. I had a “three questions rule,” meaning that I would ask no more than three questions in a row in an online dating interaction without reciprocal questions before cutting off the conversation. If I’m already doing all the emotional labour to keep a conversation going when we haven’t even had coffee yet, what hell is it going to be to date that guy?

        1. I’ve gone strict tit-for-tat. I ask a question, you answer. Then you ask a question, I answer. &c. Don’t return the serve? Bye!

    10. I’ve been asking it too. Generally if I want to talk about a topic I’m going to start with asking the other person what they think before giving my own opinion because if I’m on a date I’m interested to know, but thinking about what the Captain wrote, maybe it is better to do it the other way around on questions that might seem like a test (“I’m looking for a committed relationship, is that what you’re looking for too?” or “I’m pretty casual about dating, how about you?”).

    11. You could accomplish the same thing by volunteering what you are looking for and then asking for the other person to reciprocate. That has the added advantage of demonstrating the specific type of information you are seeking, while not asking the other person to go first.

      My reflexive answer to that question has always been “genuine connection with another person” which makes sense to me because I am less worried about the duration and seriousness of the relationship and more worried about weeding out people who are seeking casual sex. Whereas, if you prefaced your question by stating, “I am looking, ideally, to meet someone with whom I can have a committed relationship,” my response would likely be more applicable to your needs and someone who is shy about wanting commitment would feel safer stating that they do.

    12. I am specific in my profile regarding what I am looking for and still get that question, so I take it as a sign they haven’t actually read my profile. I’ve been known to respond with “As I mention in my profile..”, which is really the online dating equivalent of “As per my last email…”. I think it’s valid to ask about early on if it’s not in someone’s profile.

    13. I get that, but also, as the Captain said, you can tell a lot about compatibility from actually reading the profile. The ‘so what are you looking for’ question tends to come up early enough in message exchanges that laying out your long-term wants can feel like oversharing, especially if your wants include commitments and/or kids. I wouldn’t bring those topics up on a first date, and I don’t think that’s really about trying to be The Chill Girl, it just feels weird to discuss with someone when you don’t yet know how you feel about each other. But putting requirements and dealbreakers in your profile allows someone who’s a bad fit to self-select out.

      That’s basically my two biggest peeves with this question in a nutshell:

      1. Asking it means you didn’t bother to read my profile before messaging.
      2. It feels like putting the cart before the horse, because you might firmly want X, but upon further communication with this specific person who’s asking, you might decide they would only fit into your life as Y (a hookup, a friend, a restraining order…) and you’re setting yourself up for ‘But you told me you wanted X!’

    14. Yeah I also used to hate that question, it’s the worst. But kinda had to start using it when I started taking dating seriously. I wanted a serious, long term relationship. But I also wanted to have sex in the meantime. And I was absolutely down for one night stands or a casual FB set-up if my only mental labor involved a “u up?” text when one of us was in the mood. When you are looking for something(s) that is very specific – you have to be pretty direct in what those things are and that, very unsexy question, can be a way of doing that.

      I did see one dude’s profile I loved that said “open to a serious relationship, something more casual, or one night of fun – just let me know what you’re looking for.” Which was great! Swiped right for sure. But as a femme – I absolutely did not feel safe including that in my profile. Promiscuous women are often perceived as easy targets by predators and run of the mill jerks. Dating is hard enough without adding sexual harassment and/or assault into my life for the sake of transparency in my dating profile. So while my profile indicated the qualities I like in people, it did not include what I was open to romantically/sexually because it would either be dishonest (leaving out my slut-tastic-ness) or potentially dangerous.

      So I had a lot of “what are you looking for” conversations, and my script was some variation of: “I ultimately want to find my person and build a life with them, including a family. Until I find that person, I want great sex with kind, sexy people.” But that’s also because I knew exactly what I wanted – a lot of people don’t and that’s totally ok! Just be honest about that. [Bonus: if they were the type of person who was freaked out at the idea of dating or committing to someone with a lot of sexual partners and experience – they were definitely not My Person.]

  6. Am online dating (not during Corona, but in general). I have thankfully been with enough jerks that if even a whiff of something neggy comes up online, or a whiff of “You need to show you’re good enough for me”, I am *entirely turned off*.

    In the online dating world, space is often at a premium. If you have dedicated a portion of your profile space to complaining about online dating, about your exes, about the type of person you don’t want, whatever, no thank you. Use that space for info about yourself or what you want.

    If you can’t get through three days worth of texting with me without complaining about online dating, or exes, or saying vaguely negative things about me, or asking me to do Intense Emotional Labour for you (like lamenting your loneliness or your past relationship horrors), no thank you. And my God, it’s amazing how often those things happen. If I’m “arguing” with you or bothered by your behaviour before we’ve actually met, time to bounce.

    “What are you looking for here” is probably meant to be innocent enough, but FEELS like a trap with Right Answers and Wrong Answers. Especially as a lady-person in her 30s still hoping against hope to have a family someday. (There’s no non-crazy-sounding way to say “I want to get married and have babies like SOON” that early in the game.)

    1. I have thankfully been with enough jerks that if even a whiff of something neggy comes up online, or a whiff of “You need to show you’re good enough for me”, I am *entirely turned off*.
      I think the thing that astonishes me most about dudes metaphorically swaggering around like this is, are they not aware of the landscape of online dating? I hear constantly from men about how little response they get from dating websites. Women, on the other hand, routinely have to block guys who send them unsolicited photos of their junk, and there are men out there who think that *they’re* the ones who get to demand to be impressed?

  7. I’ve been doing online dating off and on (thankfully off now, yay!) for 20 years now, since back in the days of MSN chatrooms and AIM. I’ve heard #9 probably, oh, a gazillion times and in my experience, as a cis women seeking cis men, 99.9% of the time it meant “I want casual sex, do you?”. In the last couple years, though, I started getting hit by scammers right and left and they *always* opened with either this line or “have you been married”, and it was clearly a way to figure out how to loop you in.

    #10 was a hard SWIPE LEFT, possibly preceded by some sass if I was feeling it.

  8. I *think* it was Captain Awkward who said that if someone you’re dating tells you that if you break-up with them you’ll die alone and be eaten by cats that the correct response is always, “Cats! I choose cats!”

    I’m getting strong “I Choose Cats!” vibes from these search terms.
    I am allergic to cats and strongly dislike them and would still rather get a cat who one day eats me than date someone who asks why they should date me.

    1. I once had a dream where my then-fiance told me I had to choose between him and our cat. Luckily, when I told my then-fiance (now husband) about this dream, his response was “Well I hope you chose the cat! Dream Me is a total jerk for asking that!”

      So yeah, basically Always Choose The (Metaphorical or Actual) Cat, anyone who even asks you to choose has strong House of Evil Bees/Darth Vader Boyfriend vibes, in my experience.

      1. I made the mistake of allowing a (now mercifully former) abusive partner to prevent me from having pets for the years we were together. It wasn’t particularly wrong of her not to want to live with pets, but it also wasn’t wrong of me to want to live with pets, and instead of accepting that it was unreasonable of me to want something she didn’t want, I should have recognized from the beginning that 1) compatibility matters, no matter how good the chemistry is, and 2) nobody who makes me feel Wrong and Unreasonable for having a want that is incompatible with theirs is good for me.

        After I left that relationship, the first thing I did was go to the pet shelter. I’ve been living with cats ever since… and foster kids, and chosen family, and whoever/whatever else I want to live with that also wants to live with me. When my now-husband and I got involved, one of the ways I knew that we *were* compatible is that he was entirely comfortable moving into the house I shared with seven other people and three beasties, because that was where he wanted to be — the whole lot of them were wonderful added bonuses to him, not stuff he had to put up with as the price of admission.

        Choose the cat.

      2. My husband actually told me that he didn’t really like cats (& I had 3) while we were dating. I informed him that if I had to pick him or the cats, the cats would win… every time!

        He thought I was ridiculous. (*HE* IS RIDICULOUS.)

        We ended up getting married & got another 5 cats over the last 15 years. We had a total of 5 @ once with 1 dog.

        Unfortunately, we are have only 3 cats & 2 dogs right now (other 5 cats passed away from old age & health issues). I regularly tell him that we have 8 cats & the other 5 haven’t found their way here yet… He just sighs.

        My ridiculous husband LOVES the cats & brags when they act like they love him best. I don’t know what his deal was originally, except he was weird from being raised without cats. BUT if he ever tried to make me pick? I would still pick my pets over any relationship.

    2. If you are not familiar with, I suspect you might enjoy, the song “Fuckton of Cats”!

        1. ♫ this is Congress, he’s dumb* and he doesn’t do anything ♫

          *that is the lyric in the song, whatever general-your feelings on its content

    3. It is the modern version of the Mr. Collins proposal speech. And yes, likewise re: cats.

      The Last Ex didn’t tell me *that*, but did tell me I would become “the forty-year-old trying to party with the club kids and feeling pathetic,” when we were having the conversation wherein I really didn’t want kids or monogamy. So that was A Thing. I still broke up with him; at 37, I continue in no way regretting that.

      1. Ugh! Congrats on breaking free! May you happily continue dancing well into your 80s if that’s a thing you enjoy. I can tell you I dance with so many people of all ages and we have an excellent time. Also firmly on team no-kids.

        1. Aw, thanks! And yeah–I went on a month-long trip last year wherein I went clubbing and saw a lot of people apparently my age, and *also* got proactively hit on by cute dudes in their late twenties, which…not that this is a general metric of success, but I did kind of want to send pictures to said ex all “he asked for my number, I told him I was 36, he continued asking, BOOYAH”.

          I did not, for a number of reasons. But it was tempting af. 😛

        2. Thank you for this blessing. I’ll just come in for a share of it too, if that’s all right. Normally I have a wonderful time going to concerts and dances/clubs at age 38, and hope to continue doing so all my life. I can use the encouragement right now. Just before the pandemic hit, I had a conversation where a jerk made a backhanded comment that I ~must~ have felt self-conscious at a past event, being so much older than everyone else there. It was the sort of plausibly-deniable insult that you only put together later.

          For the record, I didn’t feel out-of-place at the past event. I hope to never feel out-of-place at future events, either (and there are a good mix of ages at all the worthwhile ones). But it does make me angry and mistrustful of people to realize that there are jerks like him out there, with an interest in making me feel badly about myself. I wanted to go clubbing again, which usually makes me feel good about myself and other people. But then the pandemic hit, so I haven’t been able to go anywhere, and I have been pining for a dance, more than usual. If I could attend my local goth night and really go wild, it would be a good reminder that most people just give out casual friendliness and validation or else they leave me in peace. Your comments are doing the same good deed for me right now, so I appreciate it.

      2. I am 45, and part of a wonderful crew of OG ravers who threw parties in their twenties when everyone was young and starry eyed, and continue throwing amazing parties in our thirties, forties and fifties. I especially love the multi-day campouts full of kids and teenagers who’ve been coming since they were babies. The music is DJed, for love not money, by people who’ve spent decades perfecting their craft. These are not publicly advertised events and people like your ex have no idea they exist.

        So there.

    4. Same. Well, I don’t actually dislike cats, but otherwise I’m right there with Thistledown.

      Dear Abby, Dear Abby, I can’t find a date
      Who isn’t a jerk. I’m resigned to my fate:
      To die all alone and get et by my cat;
      Unfortunately, there’s a problem with that.

      Signed – Allergic

    5. Also every episode of My Cat From Hell where the partner hates the cats (usually because they’re … being cats. and doing cat things.) and gives the “me or the cats” ultimatum and I scream at the TV, DTMFA, take the cat-training sessions and find the better partner you deserve.

      1. Oh yeah, I used to have a dog who basically personified all of the things cat-people dislike about dogs. It was an absolute deal breaker if someone didn’t actively like (not just tolerate) my dog.

  9. Oh, how I love these posts. They always make me smile. Thanks, Captain.

    I have a story about #9, and a time that I asked that question of a man I’d met at a bar and exchanged numbers with. I asked in the first place because he was in his mid 40’s and I was in my early 20’s and while that didn’t rule him out as a potential casual partner, it was reason enough for me to be cautious. We were texting about setting up a first date, so there was zero real investment on either of our parts at this point. Here’s how it started:

    Me: What are you looking for? I’m not looking for anything serious.
    Him: Oh, I dunno, let’s see where this goes.

    Something about that made the hair on the back of my neck go up, even at the time. The answer would have been perfectly fine if I hadn’t told him what I was (well, wasn’t) looking for, but I had, and he chose to dodge the question instead of answering honestly. And sure enough, when the conversation moved on and I told him that I was already seeing someone and was open to a casual relationship but wasn’t looking for a monogamous commitment, he exploded at me. Absolutely apoplectic with rage that I’d had the audacity to… flirt with him in a bar and exchange phone numbers when I wasn’t available for what he wanted.

  10. Yay! I love “it came from the search terms.” This is balm for my socially-distanced heart.

    I am, thank God, no longer online dating; I met my wonderful partner on Tinder a few years ago. But I like to tell the story of ANOTHER guy I met on Tinder a few years back because I think he offered a master class in How To Kick Off The Awkward Tinder Introduction, and everyone everywhere can learn from him.

    HIM: Do you like cake?

    ME: Yes! Why do you ask?

    HIM: Well, I went to dinner by myself the other night and they brought out the dessert tray and they had this amazing-looking cake, but the slice was like the size of my head. So I told myself if I saw someone on Tinder I wanted to meet, I would invite them out for cake and we could split a piece.

    We proceeded to chat a bit. Having established that he was single, sane, childless, liberal, and all my other must-haves, I agreed to meet him for cake. It was a nice date, though we didn’t end up together. The cake was delicious. He swore up and down that he had never previously used that approach, but I told him it was pure gold and he should definitely keep it in his arsenal for future use.

    1. I’ve never used Tinder or any online dating service, but I feel like this line would work on me (assuming that he came off as genuine)! I love cake and other desserts, and I love doing relatively low-stakes activities like that even with established friends.

  11. I’m single for the first time in 5 years and tried online dating for the first time in about a decade and it’s amazing that straight white men are exactly as boring as they were 10 years ago! Inbox full of “hey”, “what are you looking for”, “tell me something about you”, “what’s something you want to know” and it. drives. me. mad!! When you are dating online, making me do all of the work in the conversation is the FASTEST way to get me to gtfo. Even faster than when private parts end up in my inbox. If you’re not going to make even an iota of effort in our FIRST INTERACTION you’re a goddamn idiot.

    1. I can only say in their defense that, according to the dudes reporting from dudeland, they get so few responses to any of their queries that writing personal heartfelt opening gambits becomes futile. Honestly, as someone who has both pursued women and been pursued as a woman online, I think the sites freaking suck and bring out the worst impulses in everybody.

      1. That’s also generally true, but having pursued dudes online, I’ve found that if I can’t think of a non-body-part thing to comment on about their profile, I shouldn’t be contacting them.

        Like, it doesn’t need to be a heartfelt missive (in fact, I really never wanted one of those, because wow too much too fast), but “Oh, hey, I like Stephen King too! How about that Dark Tower series ending, huh?” or “That dog in your profile is adorable! How long have you had them?” takes like five minutes.

        1. Yep yep yep. This exactly. The line between copy/pasted bland spam and multi-paragraph feelingsvomit is not actually narrow or difficult to walk, and your examples follow the perfect format of the (sadly seldom) messages I actually enjoy receiving:

          1. Mention of a thing from my profile so I know you’re actually interested in dating *me* as opposed to any female with a pulse, and have already screened said profile for any dealbreakers you may have.
          2. Conversational hook I can easily respond back to.

      2. “I can only say in their defense that, according to the dudes reporting from dudeland, they get so few responses to any of their queries that writing personal heartfelt opening gambits becomes futile”

        To me this seems like a chicken and the egg problem – their messages put all the effort in the woman’s court, so she does not answer, then they get upset so few women answer, so they keep with the short boring messages bc they are low-effort and there’s no point in putting in the effort, bc – few answers.
        The question is – where did it start? Did they write interesting, ‘im taking the labor of conversation’ messages at first and then stopped bc they got no answers? OR did they always wrote those very short ‘you take the wheel!’ messages, expecting the woman to do all the work, and then decided they’re okay becausec women don’t’ answer?
        My vote goes for the second option tbh and I think it’s a part of a more general pattern when women are – in their eyes- the one to entertain them, no the other way around. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, really. At least my experience with talking to dudes online is that they give the absooolute minimum of effort, even when the convo is already rolling and I already answered – so if their reason (women don’t answer!) is legit, should they not start putting effort now when I answered?
        Nope, I have to clap and dance to keep the convo going/keep them entertained/ask a thousand questions bearly getting any in return, even tho they talked to me first. And then they wanna meet bc why wouldn’t they? For them, the conversation is probably fun. I get out of it exhausted and drained.
        But maybe I was just really unlucky, that could be it

        1. There’s a third option there – “Women get so many messages on dating sites/apps, what are the odds that she will even read mine?” My girlfriend and I are together by chance; she had seriously considered deleting the message I sent her without reading it because she was so tired of men online.

          That said, the content of my message boiled down to “You seem smart and funny (she is both of these things), let’s chat.” It wasn’t especially deep or heartfelt but it also wasn’t “hey.”

        2. You weren’t just really unlucky!

          I’m trans and I have online dated while presenting as a woman and as a man, and the experiences are quite different. I can confirm that men specifically but also just people in general expect more from women when it comes to upholding the conversation.

      3. I hear this a lot, and my response is always the same: Who said anything about heartfelt? Don’t pour out your heart, just read the profile and write 1-2 sentences highlighting a connection or mutual interest. I’m not on the dating scene anymore, but if a guy is literally just looking for a female-shaped person and not reading my profile at all, sorry, I in fact am not interested. And yes, I used to send plenty of first messages.

      4. I suspect these dudes would get it if you pointed this is like complaining your carbon-copy cover letter never gets a company to call you back for a job interview – they’d understand that tedious and time-consuming as it might be, you have to spend a little effort tweaking a your cover letter to make it sound like you at least bothered to read the job description and know what company you’re applying to.

    2. I think some (many? a certain type of) men are just trained to assume women will do all the work? My dad is very much of the “Emotional Labor is women’s work” camp so he’s a good barometer: He’s so bored in quarantine and will call me up and say “Hi, how you doing?” and then say “Nothing much to report here.” And then there’s just this long silence as he expects me to just entertain him for half an hour.

      1. As a dude in the mid-30’s, I hear a lot about men should be more polite, ask more questions and listen to answers instead of sucking up most if not all oxygen in any and all conversation. And dabbling about in online dating, I do read profiles before wrting something. I wouldn’t use “What are you looking for?” as an opener, but I could absolutely see myself somewhere down the 3rd-4th exchange asking someone to perhaps go a little more into detail about the specifics in the profile (just as I would be in return, if/when asked).

        Just my 2 cents. I realise women do a lot of emotional labour, and that you face a lot of deliberate jerks.

      2. That reminds me, I should call my daddy before he’s drunk. (He’s not a narcissist like many parents of folks here, just enough that if you aren’t in front of him you don’t exist for him. Very flawed, I love him anyway.)

  12. I so feel your story in #6! My sister’s voice mail messages invariably consist of “Hi, Mkitty, it’s Sister. Give me a call,” spoken in a tone of voice that says “this is bad news that I can’t leave in a voice mail message.” My Panic Brain immediately goes to “someone died!” and I call her back expecting the worst, only to learn she just wants to catch up. I’ve asked her to leave a message that includes some version of “just calling to catch up,” but nope, she just can’t do that. Yikes.

    1. My mother in law had an artery blockage and a stent put in last year. About 2 weeks later my husband gets a text from his dad (who almost never texts) in the middle of a workday asking him to call. So naturally he drops what he’s doing to call right away because clearly my MIL is dying right?
      Then my FIL doesn’t answer, so my husband calls MIL who also doesn’t answer.
      10 mins of panic later my FIL finally calls back: he’s at the craft fair and wants my husband’s opinion on what to get me for Christmas.

    2. Oh. My dad does this kind of thing regularly. He leaves these terse, urgent-sounding voice messages and texts things like “NC please give me a call.” Without fail, and with some justification, I assume The Worst. (For a period of 10 years or so there were several close relatives in and out of hospital and there were many calls about ER visits, dementia-related emergencies and cancer stuff.) But lately he just wants to know if it’s sunny in my city today, or am I at work right now or guess who he ran into last week?

    3. My mom once texted “hey, please call me” when I was at work. I steeled myself to hear about a death, called her up, and… she wanted to tell me that she saw on Facebook that her friend’s son had, as she put it, sisterwives.

    4. Oh yes – my MIL is queen of this habit. A few weeks after my now-husband’s dad was hospitalized with pneumonia, MIL called to say, somberly, “Steven, it’s your mother. Please call me back.” When he finally reached her, mentally prepared for the worst, she was just calling to offer Grandma’s wedding ring set, in case he was thinking about proposing to me.

    5. This would trouble me too!

      After a close family member died suddenly a few years ago, those of us remaining became spooked by any voicemail or text that just said “Please call” without any further context. So we came up with a code word to use to forestall that sudden pit of unspeakable dread that forms when you’re assuming the person must be trying to reach you with bad news. The code word is the name of our childhood cat so it’s easy for everyone to remember. I still freak out when I see “Please call”, but if I see “Please call – Toby” I know I have nothing to fear.

      Luckily, my whole family was willing to buy in and it’s worked really well for us. I’m sorry your sister isn’t willing to be similarly cooperative 😦

    6. My mother will, if I haven’t responded to a call or text or whatever in what she thinks is an appropriate period of time, text my partner and instruct him to tell me to call. She claims it’s to make sure I’m “all right”, when, if I were not all right, it is Partner who would be texting her. She seems to have this weird belief that I might be in a coma and Partner would neglect to tell anyone.

  13. Re: #9, great advice! And worth noting that if you’re the sort of person who asks this question in good faith, you can make it seem much less like some sort of secret test by stating what YOU are looking for first.

    Also! “You know what’s efficient? Actually reading people’s profiles and only messaging the ones who seem like they might like you and vice versa.” Indeed; that’s the entire conceit of online matchmaking services. Sadly, lots of people, from our hypothetical questioner to zir hypothetical questionee, don’t approach them that way. Sooooooo many profiles with sparse-to-no information.

    If you get this question a lot even from people who turn out to be acting in good faith and HAVE clearly read your profile, check whether perhaps your intent isn’t cleam from your profiler. This may be especially true for people who note that they’re already in a relationship/have a primary partner or aren’t looking to date anyone or are asexual, precluding the majoritarian model of what people consider “dating”, but fail to note what they ARE looking for on a dating website; in those cases, the default, implicit assumption clearly doesn’t apply, so an alternative explanation is necessary.

    And, yeah, #10, wow. The narrow answer is definitely, “It means the person is a manipulative asshole you should avoid.” There’s also only one real answer to the root question – “You should date me if/because you decide you want to.” – and because of that, we know the question really can’t be good faith engagement.

  14. Captain. Thank you for this. Thank you for all the work you do here. I would be much worse off in many ways if it wasn’t for you and the website. Actually crying.

    You have made such a difference in my life by writing about how people you love shouldn’t treat you like shit. And shitty though this lockdown is it would be MUCH WORSE if I was still married and if I had never found your site I would never have thought hi Kent.

    You do amazing work here. Thank you ♥️

  15. One of my lesbian friends puts nothing but a single photo on her profile and also never messages anyone first. I have zero idea how she has any success, and yet she does.

    For your insightful deconstruction of messages on dating websites!

    Before I message someone, I thoroughly examine their available information – not just their profile, but also any answered match questions (or a large number of them, if there are prohibitively many). I do this mainly for my own sake – because I’ve weeded out plenty of awful humans (like, transphobes looking only for sex despite me clearly saying I’m trans and sex repulsed? what?) – but if someone messaging me cannot equally be bothered to investigate whether they’d potentially like me on their own time, like I do for everyone I message, I feel pretty safe concluding we’re not going to be compatible because I’m disinterested in signing up to be their nanny.

    I cannot even begin to describe how much trouble I saved myself when I started assuming that the way someone treats me from the very first message is as good or better than they’re going to treat me for the rest of the relationship.

  17. Oh good, I enjoy these posts. The last search term here reminds me of an all-time favorite Sarah Nicole Prickett line, about a misogynist: he “begs our most individuating question—“why don’t you love me?”—by proving himself repeatedly unable to individuate another”

  18. As someone who doesn’t know how to use dating apps but probably should since meeting people in person isn’t working… This post and its comments section are making me wish for a post on “Captain Awkward and Friends give advice on online dating.”

  19. I’m testing a theory that some of these are same questioner trying different searches to get their answer. So like, the neighbor is the one who likes to call during the day. The partner with no empathy is the one who wants to hang out 100% of the time and also smokes weed and plays video games.

  20. I don’t date people who don’t read. If someones asks “What are you looking for in a relationship?” it means they didn’t read your profile. End of story. Also avoid anyone who says their favorite book is “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Catcher in the Rye.” It means they haven’t read anything outside of their English class.

    1. All of this.

      And also, never ever ever date a straight white cis dude whose fave is “Catcher” or “Fight Club,” or whose favorite movie is anything Batman-related. Just…no. Those are like the coral snake coloration of media. (See also: Ayn Rand from just about anyone, or Orson Scott Card/Terry Goodkind if you’re dating in SF circles.)

      1. Hey, I would totally accept Lego Batman (the BEST Batman movie); or the super campy George Clooney nipple suit Batman – Michelle Pfieffer is great in that! Just any of the horrid dingy gritty recent ones are the yellow/red flags.

        1. I was today years old when I realized there was a Lego Batman movie, and now I must see it, so totally agree with you! (IDK about Original Flavor Burton Batman, like, could go okay, could be Excessive Goth Whimsy Guy.)

          1. Re the Lego Batman Movie: there are actually two movies with the words “LEGO” and “Batman” in them (or possibly three now, but there were two when I first got confused by this). The one that’s actually called “The Lego Batman Movie” is awesome, I love it, I watch it whenever it comes around again – it stars Will Arnett as Batman and Michael Cera as Robin (who utterly steals the movie) and Zach Galifianakis as the Joker (who… also steals the movie?), and it’s adorable and hilarious. The other one… called “Lego Batman: The Movie”… did not amuse me, though your mileage may vary.

  21. Read the article about Zoom chat fatigue, and I realised… Zoom chats (and video chat in general) make neurotypical people feel the same way about social interactions that autistic people feel ALL THE TIME. Which is something we maybe should be pointing out. Seriously, that combination of “I have to be On all the time” and “constantly monitoring body language” and “I really don’t want to be here” and “I have to be here” and “I am being constantly watched” is the way a lot of autistic people feel when we’re in ordinary social situations. Life for us is one long video chat where we can never mute the mike or switch off the camera. Which is probably why the video chats I’m in don’t bug me in the least – it isn’t a whole new experience for me, it’s very much “same as it ever was”.

    Oh, and for number 10, I suspect the sanest response may be to flip the question back to them. “Yeah, that’s a good question – why should I be letting you date me? Bye!” (then end the interaction and block the fool on the other end).

    1. “Why should I date you”?

      “Good question, thanks. I can’t think of a single reason I should date you. Thanks for the clarification. Bye.”

  22. Let me preface by saying I’ve never been an online dating site. I wonder if you could weed out some folks by putting something in your profile that would indicate the person contacting you had read it. Something simple like “Tell me your favorite scene of The Princess Bride in your first message.” Might not filter out all the weirdos and jerks but would at least identify the ones who a) can’t follow directions and b) have poor taste in movies.

  23. Well, that Zoom article has definitely given me something I can toss into the family group chat I bowed out of weeks ago if any relative wants to know why I’m the only non-participant in our weekly family book club Zoom meeting. Maybe they can use that as their weekly topic…

    The take I had as to why I’d been dodging Zoom requests left and right (besides the fact that in the specific instance of the book club, it would likely bring up too much residual trauma from my time as an English major) was that my home is my sanctuary from other people. I am at the tail end of the introvert-extrovert bell curve on the “introverted” side, to the point where I haven’t missed human interaction AT ALL in the past month and a half. For someone to be allowed in my home, there needs to be a deep level of trust, there has to be a predetermined limit, and I need time to mentally prepare for the invasion – I mean, gathering. I haven’t figured out a way to brace myself – er, prepare – for even my nearest and dearest entering my home by means of a screen, especially when current circumstances prevent an easy out of, “Gotta go, got places to be!”

    That said, I don’t mind phone calls as much as I used to…well, at least, I don’t them with a very specific group of (two) people, one of whom I have a massive crush on. I haven’t spoken to him in nearly a month, and I’d really like to again, even though the last conversation meant I was on the phone for 6 hours until 4:30 a.m. in my time zone (an hour later in his!). Seems like that should be enough for me to reach out, though I’ll probably need a few days of massive overthinking before I do so. :p

    1. I can relate to this! I’m a little less introverted than you describe yourself, but I still see my home as my “haven”. I miss being able to go out to do my socialisation and then come back home to my haven to switch off.

    2. This so much. I’m introverted but also really enjoy seeing people *in my time and on my terms*. I miss lots of people! It will be wonderful when I can resume mentally and logistically preparing to see them, doing a Specific Thing For A Specific Time Period in their company, and then walking away!

      However, I’m much happier not interacting with them at all in the interim than trying to define virtual socialization boundaries.

      (And yes, least of *all* in my home.)

    1. I’m just feeling old – In My Days we would blu-tack a piece of paper to the door, and likewise stick up a biro or pencil next to it…

  24. I’ve got a fairly simple method of dealing with #1 that, alas, is probably not gonna work for most people? It helps that I’m self-employed & my family is reasonably cooperative, I think. But my method is thus:

    1) Tell people who ask for my number that phone calls give me panic attacks.

    2) Let my voice mail fill up until it won’t accept messages any more.

    3) Turn off the ringer & never answer my phone.

    … yeah, probably won’t work for most folks. Wouldn’t it be great if it did?

    1. My soon-to-be-erstwhile carrier (sprint) charges for voicemail-to-text. Fair*, if inaccessible.

      Google Voice does not, and it will email me transcripts, or “transcripts”.

      Sprint does let me forward unanswered calls to an external number.

      On days when I’m not up to answering cold calls, I let voicemail deal with it. (My voicemail message does include the fact that email is the most reliable way to get through to me.) Then I get the fun of reading what is usually someone who found my resume on Monster attempt to pronounce my name, and I don’t bother to call back the ones who think I should take a job in a position with an hour+ one way commute at the same rate I would accept for just down the street.

      * I assume the transcription includes a chunk of human labor, and those people deserve to be paid. A better tactic might include, oh, I dunno, splitting it up and letting everyone have access?

  25. I have mixed feelings about #9.

    On one hand, I totally agree on principle with stating what you want upfront.

    On the other hand, I have done my time with the whole “dude says he wants the same thing I said I want, and then ends up dumping me because I want what I said I want and not some other thing he secretly wants” thing. So I’d rather have the other person say what they want first, so I know they’re not just trying to present themselves as compatible with me.

    Really, online dating should only be matching people who are looking for the same thing. If you’re in the “casual” section and I’m in the “serious” section, we don’t even see each other’s profiles. But the problem is people could still lie.

    As for #10, If someone actually in real life said to me “Why should I date you?” I’d hear it as they don’t want to, and my immediate visceral response would be to start letting them off the hook. “Oh, you don’t HAVE to date me! Online dating matches are entirely optional! Go ahead and move on to a more appealing match – no hard feelings!” Like it wouldn’t even occur to me that it’s some kind of ploy, I’d legitimately think they just don’t understand how online dating works, and bustle around reassuring them that they don’t have to date me if they don’t want to.

    1. I hear you, but… people can still lie. They can still check the ‘serious’ box when they’re looking for something casual. They can respond to ‘what are you looking for’ with a canned answer that fits what your profile suggested but has nothing to do with what they really want. Less maliciously, they can be very out of touch with what it is they really want or whether they’ll end up being “getting what you want means getting what once you wanted”.

      And they can be concerned that “no, you go first” means that you’re doing the same thing – waiting to hear what they want so you can tailor the answer to that – and nope out.

    2. Really, online dating should only be matching people who are looking for the same thing. If you’re in the “casual” section and I’m in the “serious” section, we don’t even see each other’s profiles. But the problem is people could still lie.
      There is no way for a woman to express a desire of any kind without a man somewhere finding a way to make all about him. I for real once posted on Craigslist looking for another woman to split the cost of accommodation to a specific event. I got one person who was interested and a man who lectured me about how spending money to go to this event was stupid.

  26. I 100% use “what are you looking for on here” as a test. If I say what I’m looking for first (nothing serious), I’ve found that a lot of guys will say that’s what they want too, even it is 100% false (#notallmen but like #enoughmenformetoknowbetter). If I ask first, then it’s more likely he’ll say what he actually wants, and then I can assess if I want that too. Nothing healthy has ever started with one person pretending they don’t want what they want, or worse, one person trying to mold the other into what they want. Putting on makeup and pants and leaving my apartment is a hassle and I don’t need to waste my time or effort on someone who thinks I’m going to meet their mom someday. I also don’t appreciate having to break up with someone who thought I was going to meet their mom someday, especially when I was clear from the beginning that I am looking for a mom-free kind of relationship. It’s better if we both had spent that time and effort looking for people who want the same things as us.

    Please take her advice and just say what you actually want out of online dating. You’re the boss here and you’re always better by yourself than with someone with whom you have to live a lie just to get some version of love that will never fulfill you. There is nothing shameful about wanting a committed relationship or any other kind of (consensual) relationship, and anyone who is a dick about it should go on your list of “bullets dodged.”

    1. Oh my God, That Guy. I just…okay, saying you’re looking for something serious when you want casual sex makes tactical sense, in a horrible and unethical kind of way: you get laid, you ghost, you’re not a good person but a lot of people don’t seem to want to be.

      But the guy who says he’s not looking for a serious thing when he totally is…WHY? Do you, Hypothetical Dude, not look down the road and see yourself getting emotionally invested in something you knew from the start was going to fail? This is a first date/dating site message with someone you don’t know (I can understand, albeit it is a HORRIBLE BAD IDEA, fooling yourself into thinking you’re on the same page if you’ve fallen for a friend, hello Stupid College Tricks of my past), so why not find one of the many, many other people who do in fact want an LTR? How do you not do the math and figure out that the other person will eventually dump you because you want a marriage-and-kids thing and they don’t?

      I mean, it’s probably the sexist assumption that all women really do secretly want marriage and babies and the ones who say they’re into NSA/FWB stuff are lying liars/deluding themselves/will change their mind once the biological clock kicks in*. But that still seems a lot of effort, and if you want a challenge maybe take up playing the guitar?


      1. I don’t think we need to encourage THAT guy to pick up the guitar! It’ll just make it worse!

        But you hit it on the nose- it’s the sexist assumptions that either 1. All women want marriage and bebés despite the words they chose to express themselves 2. Women don’t actually have wants or needs that need to be respected or 3. Women are like blocks of sexy clay just waiting to be molded into a dream girl/mommy you can bone. Unmatch!

        1. Ha! This is an excellent point. Cross-pollinating I Know What You Really Want, Little Lady Guy and Someday My Band Will Make It Big Guy is, in retrospect, probably a horrible idea.

      2. I suspect some of these folks think they are so magical and wonderful that if they can just get you to start dating them, you’ll soon fall madly in love with them, see the error in your casual-relationship-wanting ways, and settle right on down.

      3. This is such a strange phenomenon! I’m poly, and married, and with apologies to the honest single guys who know what they want, I’ve given up trying to date single men entirely. They usually end up wanting to cowboy me, or at least reach primary-partner levels of involvement despite me being very clear early on I can’t do that.

        Meanwhile all these women are lamenting “why can’t I find a guy who wants to settle down and be monogamous?” The answer is they’re over here for some reason hitting on me, the poly married woman. Truly it baffles the soul.

  27. #10: The functional advice is unchanged even if the context if different than Captain believes (say if your style is persistent date requests accompanied by aggressive compliments, and a refusal to stop asking). Stop messaging them.

  28. Thanks for the search-terms post!
    In regards to the image of lying on the bed (also dressed in 90s clothes, right???) while winding your phone cord around your finger and chatting – I recently learned that a hair dryer + pencil can turn a regular boring phone charger into an awesome fidgety coiled one!

    “coiled phone charger cord” will return a plethora of how-to videos 🙂

  29. I was already at “nope” when I read “My husband always teases me” and the rest of that sentence only made it much, much worse.

  30. My (otherwise lovely) mum used to be the Queen of the ‘Call me asap’ text messages while I was at work and unable to take/make a call. MOTHER, I HAVE AN ANXIETY DISORDER AS YOU WELL KNOW, CONTEXT PLEASE! So now I get ‘Call me asap, nothing wrong’. Which is an improvement although I believe she would still say this even if it was something devastating.

    The very worst example of this is when I received a text from her ‘Come round straight after work, Dad needs to talk to you’. WTF?? That’s very not-my-dad. I immediately begin the anxiety spiral “oh god, this is bad. Dad is ill, maybe dying even. Ohgodohgodohgod” *heavy breathing*

    I text

    “What’s going on, why does Dad need to see me?”
    “Just come round straight after work, don’t go home first”
    “Dad says to come round”

    Ohgodohgodohgod *panic intensifies*

    After work I’m driving, already at about a 8/10 anxiety-wise. My mum rings:

    “Are you on your way over”
    “Yes, WHAT IS GOING ON???”
    “Just come round”
    “Just come round”

    At this point my brother takes the phone off her and tells me
    “Everything is okay, just come round”

    Which dials me down to about a 7/10 but I still cry the entire drive over.

    And do you know why they wanted me to come over?

    What was is that they let me stew and cry over?


    They adopted 2 beautiful kittens and wanted to surprise me.

    I tore out of my car and into the house and saw my dad grinning and holding 2 gorgeous little black kittens.

    I literally fell to the floor in relief. Then I cuddled the kittens. Then I scolded my parents.

    They still make fun of my reaction but I can laugh about it now. Any they don’t do that anymore so I guess they learned?

    1. And, what exactly was wrong with, “We have a fantastic surprise for you, you’ll love it!”?
      I hate it when my mother texts with “I/your father/we need to talk to you”. Dude. About what? Give me a general topic here. A death in the family, plans for the weekend, a piece of mail that you want to know if you can throw out?
      Yes, that last one really happened once – Mom has somehow internalized the idea that you should text before you call, but doesn’t seem to have grasped exactly when texts can replace phone calls altogether. Recently I got a message said, “CALL ME – FAMILY NEWS” To which I texted back, “If you mean that [cousin] and [cousin’s spouse] had their baby, yes, I know. They put pictures on Facebook”. And I was pissed, not only because she assumed I had no way to be looped in on FAMILY NEWS on my own, but because I felt like it was a way of tricking me into phoning her. If I hadn’t known about the birth, I would have assumed someone was dead or in the hospital – and at that, it would have to be my father, my brother, or one of my mother’s sisters (all my grandparents are deceased and no one else in my extended family would consider me an emergency contact who’d need to know right away).

    2. My mother once opened a conversation with ‘there’s been an accident’. Tone of doom and all.

      She ‘accidentally’ got sucked into a conversation with a volunteer at a dog-rescue org and ‘accidentally’ brought home a puppy.

      Who was indeed cute! But I’d like those five years of my life back please.

  31. Longtime lurker, first time poster. I just wanted to thank the captain for this wonderful website and for this particular series of answers which made me chuckle and giggle on a morning I was feeling overwhelmed and low. Hello from London and keep up the good work.

  32. Does Zoom have the same little unremovable window showing your camera view as Skype does? I used to just prop a piece of paper on the bottom corner of the screen so I couldn’t see it. I feel sad that I never managed to find a more high tech solution than that, but it did the job. What is that selfiecam thing for anyway? I mean, I suppose it’s useful if you have spinach in your teeth or if there’s an axe wielding zombie ganging up on you, but I kind of hope that if there *was* a pouncing zombie behind me, someone would say something on the call. Or even about the spinach!

    1. Zoom actually lets you hide your “selfiecam” image from yourself! It’s a great feature. Videochats are still exhausing but slightly less so since someone showed me how to do that. (For the curious: click on the 3 dots on your camera view and there should be “hide self view” in there.)

      I don’t work for Zoom, I swear, I’m just enjoying being less anxious during therapy now that I don’t have to look at myself having feelings.

  33. #9 is the one question most guaranteed to suck any joy or flirtation out of any dating conversation I have ever been part of. I don’t believe a single successful date ever came out of any online dating app conversation including that question for me.

    I was once asked “what are you on here looking for?” when my frustration with this question was at my lifetime high (so far), and replied, “flagstones. I am looking to do some landscaping.” He was so confused, and I felt a little bad, but wasn’t it obviously a joke? I am on a dating site; clearly I am looking for a date.

    Anyway. Thank you for validating my bone-deep aversion to this question.

  34. Back when I was online dating (I do not miss those days) I messaged a guy who sounded promising. He talked about himself and his hobbies, he indicated he was looking for a relationship, etc. But his response to my message was that he was really looking for casual sex, so how about it? I still think that was weird. I mean, kudos for being upfront before I actually met you, but there have to be more efficient ways to hook up than pulling bait-and-switch on a dating site. It was one you had to pay for, too, which in my experience meant you were going to see more people who were serious about actual dating.

    I never minded “What are you looking for on here?” on any dating/social site because I always knew and wasn’t afraid to say so. “Tell me about yourself” was guaranteed to make me apoplectic though. Yo, I have an entire profile that tells you about me. Stop being lazy.

  35. I met on OKC a woman who took care of Question #9 right off the bat. She wrote:”I’m not ISO LTR ATM.” I had to ask! “In search of long term relationship at the moment.”

    We had a fun — albeit short! — dating relationship and I still consider her a friend.

  36. On #6 – I managed to set *just my mom’s* texts to silent – they still show in my notifications, but I don’t have the “jump” reaction every time my phone dings anymore. A+ Highly recommend. (I’m running Android 10.whatever on a Pixel 3a).

  37. Love this website, am grateful it exists.

    ‘CALL ME BACK AS SOON AS YOU GET THIS’ – message from older sister early on it my first year of uni, i steeled myself for a family death or something; it was nothing, she just happened to be using her ‘arsy’ voice.

    I love the idea of massive divorce party – [hopefully I won’t be divorcing anyone, but] – I’ll definitely pop down with my collection of superfluous Tupperware and bubblewrap packaging, and I will bring along a batch of handmade ‘Congratulations You’re Divorced’ cards.


    1. I would come to this party! I got divorced a couple of years ago but I was all alone, no big crowds. (Don’t even get me started on why a divorce shower is not a thing.)

      1. OMG, a divorce shower should totally be a thing! There could be like a shower registry of the kitchen gadgets and dvds you need to re-acquire. Or the home decor you really want, now that you no longer have to compromise with someone else’s tastes.

    2. Fun story: there was a changeable letters sign outside a… convenience store, I think? In my memory, it is a somewhat dingy local establishment, on a section of street where there’s not that much distinction between the road, the shoulder (or maybe, MAYBE? sidewalks), and the parking lot. Anyway, for months and months, it read


      I have no idea whether it was a personal sentiment or whether it was paid for by someone. One of the people who lived near there was finalizing a divorce with her long-separated now-ex-husband, and her birth name is [Redacted]*, so it was a good chuckle for her and her partner whenever they drove past.

      To anyone that needs or wants it, GOOD LUCK AND/OR CONGRATULATIONS [NAME] ON YOUR DIVORCE

      *There are quite a few names, and spelling variations, that can give rise to Katie, so I think omitting her first name is anonymizing enough.

  38. A+ for the Glengarry Glenn Ross reference. That made my day.
    My theory on online dating is that many people aren’t looking for someone that is compatible with *them*. They are looking for someone compatible with *the person they wish they were*. I knew a guy who wanted to meet a girl who went to church. He didn’t actually go to church, but felt like he should and that his future wife definitely should. I might say I want someone with hobbies who works out a lot, because that’s like an aspirational version of myself. But in reality, I want a guy who orders pizza with me and doesn’t try to make me get up early to run. A lot of peoples’ ideal” person isn’t really compatible with the person they actually are. And dating online really emphasizes the “is this my ideal person?” question because in real life, we meet people and get to know them without that question in our minds, but online you can’t escape it. I would have never dated any of the people I dated in real life if I had seen their profiles online.

    1. That makes me think about how some of the most successful people I’ve known with OLD have been engineers. It’s uncanny, but I guess they just had a gift for knowing not just east they wanted in a partner, but… what was realistic, and how to gauge it?

      Like literally, I know three engineering dudes (2 straight, one gay), who went on POF or wherever, went out with absolutely no one for like 6 months, then went on a date, and are still with that person 5-10 years later. Dunno how they did it.

      1. I really hope this is me someday. I’m not an engineer, but my boyfriend of a little over a year is, and we met on PoF. I LOVED his approach to it. I also knew exactly what I wanted and was done wasting my time with people who didn’t. I think we pretty much asked the “what do you want” question of each other AND gave totally honest, genuine replies. We probably broke every dating rule in the book by talking about ALL of the taboo subjects right away, but we were both looking for those deal-breakers early on. I think the total honesty is rare; I know I am very lucky to have found him within a few months!

      2. Huh. I’m the second girlfriend of my boyfriend (the first was a short relationship in his teens), while he’s my first boyfriend ever. Don’t think either of us ever went on a lot of dates – or any, for that matter.
        …he’s an engineer, I’m a scientist.

        And weirdly, I have a very exact version of a “dream-boyfriend”, which my boyfriend doesn’t resemble much. And yes, one main reason I deviated from dream-boyfriend is the certain knowledge that dream-boyfriend is for dream-me, which doesn’t exist.
        Also, I avoided what seems to be another common mistake – to widen one’s dating pool by trying to appeal to as many people as possible. Instead, I specifically sought out places and situations where I’d have a good chance of meeting people who like people like me.

  39. National No-Fault Divorce Day….
    “Maybe see you there?”

    Is everything okay in Awkwardland, Cap’n?

    Let us know if we can do anything for you.

  40. I would 95% likely go on this date. “I went to dinner by myself” is also a green flag for me.

  41. That was absolutely brilliant! Specifically the “what are you looking for” response but really all of it. Best thing I’ve read online in a very long time.

  42. #4 National No-Fault Divorce Day, can we please have this as a thing every year? Complete with the flower crowns and fair atmosphere?

    1. As a non-married person (hopelessly single, apparently) I think this is a fantastic idea!!! I’m sure lots of couples stay married if only because the shame of divorce is stronger than the misery they feel being trapped with each other.

      1. Yep! I divorced last year, and I should have done it much sooner. It was daunting to make a decision about a relationship that was so very visible. Especially since my ex husband has the easy story to tell that his ex turned out to be a bi ol lesbian so he’s definitely for sursies faultless in the end of the relationship.

        It was not a good relationship. Good riddance.

        1. I have a friend who has not been loud about it, but has been low-key having marital problems for awhile now. And with the quarantine, has dropped some bigger hints about being unhappy with him. While I shouldn’t wish for her to divorce, part of me is almost hoping they land in the “Covid divorce statistics” bc she deserves to be happier than she seems to be.

        2. OMG r u me? I have gone no-contact with my ex, but I am positive that is the story he is telling – with a healthy dollop of slut-shaming. I am equally positive he knows that narrative is 100% a lie – my queerness is neither a surprise (I was upfront about it from when we first met), nor in any way causally related to my leaving.

  43. Holy crap I wish #9 and #10 had been things I’d read when I was still dating men. The amount of time I wasted trying to audition and shape myself and not scare them off… UGH.

  44. “Why should I date you” is a screening question. Its whole purpose is to screen for possible partners who are willing to consider the question seriously and answer it. So, even if you really want to tell that person what you think of him and his audition, don’t engage.

  45. RE:10 I assumed “why should I date you?” was either a category in the dating profile OR a response to a “heeeey! sexy lady!!!1!”-type opening message. like, it comes with an implied “ugh” at the front, and is sent by the frustrated human who has an inbox full of “hey!” messages despite a detailed profile that mentions being asexual in the first sentence (just a hypothetical example, you understand).

    but people actually open with that? ffs humans.

  46. That thing about men presenting themselves as looking for something serious, when they are in fact just looking to get laid, is 100% a thing. I know because I present myself on OKC, as non-monogamous, in a relationship, and only looking for a fwb type arrangement, and as a queer, lefty atheist – and get a good number of messages from men whose profiles are about how they are upstanding, conservative Christians looking for a good wife. If I’m bored, sometimes I message them back and like wtf would you be contacting me for, considering what you are looking for, and usually the answer is, are you dtf. With them: no

  47. 9 reminds me of job seeking. I didn’t get that you were trying to change careers, put an objective on your resume… you mean you didn’t read the cover letter you told me to write? Let’s be real you won’t look at my resume either…

    (Total digression but it’s been rough!)

  48. I love these. I had a brief stint with online dating specific to my religion wherein the guys would send “flirts” and I would message each one back and only get a freaking “flirt” in return. Then there was the foot fetish guy, who asked me to wear sandals on our first date and if he could paint me toe nails (SKIP!)… and then this really sweet guy I met. He drove two hours to take me on a date, which was really cool. We talked almost every night… then I went down to visit him, he was a little distant (his sister was sick that night) and then two days later I get the “you’re a great girl, but I’ve met someone else email.” Broke my heart and led to a hilarious hair dye disaster. Best part? A few years later, when I joined Facebook, he friended me (married with one or two kids) and then proceeded to flirt with me. Dodged a bullet there.
    I’m happily single with two cats and have decided that divine intervention or deus ex machina will be the only way I’ll date or get married. Because I am so tired of all the crap. 🙂

  49. Reading through the Secret Questions in Q9, I just caught a glancing hint of what the dear Captain’s inbox must look like and… O.O

    Wow. Gotta say, (yet more) mad respect!

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