Two months ago, I went on a first date. We had matched on Coffee Meets Bagel, and he appeared to be the whole package: handsome, tall, muscular, intelligent and well-traveled.
As soon as we sat down to a brunch in the East Village, my date started scrolling through Slack chat on his phone and checking his emails, throwing out some small talk while his eyes stayed glued to the screen.
After the waiter took our orders, he finally gave me his attention, only to drone on about himself. He recounted childhood growing up in Singapore, the years he worked as a firefighter, and his current banking job — stopping every 10 minutes or so to type a reply or laugh at a joke on his phone.
“I’m sorry, it’s just my friends from work on a group chat,” he said.
I stirred the ice in my water, nodded and smiled. I asked him prompting questions and waited for him to ask me about myself, anything about my life. But no such questions came. I wished that I could have just enjoyed my shrimp and grits in silence.
When the check came, I was relieved. I wanted to pay my half of the check so that I wouldn’t feel obligated to see him again, but a part of me hoped that he’d offer to pick up the check. He didn’t.
“Hey, so would you want to do this again sometime?” my date asked as we stood outside, zipping up our jackets.
I wasn’t sure what to say. In the past, I would have chirped “yes” just to be nice and then make up some excuse when he followed up later. It seemed awkward and cruel to reject a guy to his face. After all, I have always considered myself a “nice” girl. I didn’t like making other people feel bad, and deep down, I wanted people to like me, even if I didn’t particularly enjoy their company.
A little lie implying there might be a second date happens all the time. In the short term, it saves women their self-image and men their ego.
So it was tempting to give the easy answer. But then a voice sounded in my head, “Would you really want to do this again? To spend time with a guy who showed no interest in you and made you feel invisible and unimportant?”
My answer was out of my mouth before my “nice” self could stop it.
“No, thanks,” I said. “It was good meeting you, but I don’t think we are a good match.”
He looked taken aback. “Oh, okay. Well, I guess … it was good meeting you, too.”
We nodded awkwardly and walked away.
Fifteen minutes later, he texted to say: “Hey, still super cool to have met you, let me know if you want to grab a coffee or drink sometime anyways?”
It would have been easier to not reply or blow him off with an excuse like, “I just didn’t feel the chemistry.” Then I remembered how I teach my writing students. If I don’t give them specific, actionable feedback, they will have no idea how to improve or that they’d made a mistake in the first place.
I complain about men who act rude or inconsiderate on dates, but how many of them actually receive honest feedback from me, or from anyone? Probably not many.
Instead of lying to my date, I wrote: “I don’t think so. You were late and you didn’t even offer to pay for me. And you were on your phone the whole time. I felt really disrespected.”
My heart pounded as I hit send.
In a few minutes, he wrote back, “Uh okay. Didn’t realize you felt so strongly about all of that. I wish you well.”
As much as honesty might chafe, he probably doesn’t use his phone during dates anymore. It felt freeing, knowing that I didn’t need him to like me. More important, I like myself so much better when I say what I really think — and that is a relationship I’m learning to value just as much as my relationship with anyone else.