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Mistaking nice for interest

Posted Feb 10 2009 10:20am

One of the hardest things in dating is when one of you misinterprets the other’s niceness or politeness for interest. I’ve been on both sides — the misinterpreter and the misinterpreted. Last night I was on the latter side. Neither feels good.

I’d made an exception to my “coffee-only” first date rule and agreed to meet for dinner. He was sweet and a gentleman during the several get-to-know-you phone calls and we were both traveling an hour to meet. So insisting on just coffee seemed harsh.

From the calls I knew that for all his sweet disposition and growing fondness of me, I doubted we were a match. Yet, having experienced seeming pre-date mismatches turn into beaus, I thought “what the heck” and accepted his dinner invitation.

When I approached our meeting spot I could see that his profile pictures were about 10 years younger than the balding, slightly stooped 49-year-old man before me. Okay. People often look different than even recent pictures portray.

He was sweet and considerate as we walked the downtown district looking for an enticing restaurant. We decided on an unusual ethic cuisine. We enjoyed the stellar food and service as we chatted about life. He was an acceptable conversationalist, periodically asking about my interests or life, and only interrupting occasionally. I asked about him and offered my stories and information that pertained.

Throughout dinner, he peppered his comments with “I’d love to take you to…” or “We could go to….” It was clear he was hungry for a life companion and he hoped that would be me. Since I didn’t share his perspective, I did not encourage him when he let those comments drop.

After dinner, he suggested we stroll and explore the shops and galleries. He stumbled to help me with my coat; clearly this was not something he had done a lot. He grabbed my hand telling me how much he’d looked forward to this night. Feeling uncomfortable holding hands with a man I knew didn’t interest me, I gently dropped hands to button my coat. He put his arm around my shoulders. I switched my purse to the inside hand so it would not be easy to grab again, and lengthened the distance between us so it would not be easy to put his arm around me.

How does one gracefully dissuade a man from making advances? Aside from overtly saying something, which seemed hurtful and ungrateful after his treating for a splendid dinner, I did what I thought were enough signals for him to get the message. He didn’t. In retrospect, I suppose I could have said, “I’m uncomfortable with PDAs on a first date,” although if I’m into a guy that’s not true.

He asked, “So do you see yourself dating a man from (his city)?” I know this was a perfect opening for me to say, “no,” but that just felt mean. So I stammered something about being geographically undesirable. Ugh! For someone who usually considers herself to be forthright and articulate, I was coming up with nothing!

At my car we started to hug goodbye but he kissed me. I quickly broke it off and just hugged him. He held me longer than I’d have preferred and then kissed me again. I broke it off. He said, “Would you like to do this again?” I felt his loneliness, his pent-up craving to have someone in his life, but I could not agree to it. As nicely as I could, I uttered a noncommittal, “We can discuss it on the phone.” and got in my car.

I wondered if I should have been blunt with him since he was not catching my distancing clues. It just seemed cruel to do so. However, I know it is also cruel to let someone have false expectations. I will tell as gently and compassionately as I can on the phone that we are not a match.

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Attract Your Next Great MateRead Dr. Karen Kan ’s description of the new Adventures in Delicious Dating After 40 books. Dr. Karen is one of the contributing authors to the eBook Attract Your Next Great Mate: Dating Advice From Top Dating Experts , which is our gift to you with the purchase of any of the Adventures in Delicious Dating After 40 books.

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