Mistaking nice for interest

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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10 responses to “Mistaking nice for interest”

  1. Mary Avatar

    I try not to be nice, that solves the problem. I am so serious. I am in my 40s and single, and that seems to signify to a lot of people that I want a man, the search is on, hell, any man. Not the case for me, but I have found both men & women believe this. I do know many women in my age group who constantly say they are not trying to get married, they have standards, goals, they won’t settle for just anyone, but trust me, some seem to date just anyone, and as soon as a guy they know gets out of a relationship they swoope down on the poor thing. I do not do this. But in any event, I have found just being nice to someone makes them think you are interested so in the beginning I am not all that nice. But of course I have found that turns them on too. ~Mary

  2. Seductress Within Avatar

    I have been in the same exact situation before. I understand your discomfort at being blunt and straightforward when someone has been so kind and is interested. You don’t want to crush them.

    What I have done, right, wrong or indifferent is the same thing as you did. Body language and non-committal responses to avoid the face to face discomfort.
    Then the following day I sent a very gentle email telling him that although I enjoyed his company, I realized that I just didn’t feel enough of a connection. Then thanked him again for a lovely evening.

    Is this the reason for your coffee only rule on a first meeting?
    Makes sense….

    But hey, a girl’s got to eat. Even if there are no sparks, a date has to be pretty bad for me not to enjoy meeting and talking with someone new and enjoying the food in the process.
    But that’s me, I love food and can’t imagine a date unless it involves at least an appetizer!


  3. Samantha Avatar

    He was acting so needy that your reaction is to be expected!

  4. Samantha Avatar

    And, most of the time, they suggest dinner. I’ve never had a problem with that. They know the date is over once dinner is done, as it usually a bit late in the evening anyway.

  5. Lenya Jones Avatar

    I had a similar experience recently. It’s a fine line, rejecting someone nicely because however way you slice it, rejection is rejection.

  6. Becky Avatar

    I’ve been through this myself, and I guess any of us that date have been. What always bothers me, is that the ones that you don’t really have that much interest in, but seem to be falling for you (immediately) want to “remain friends.” This is all well and good, but I think it may give someone false hope that you might change your mind. And, that’s possible, I guess, but in most cases, if you can’t picture yourself with them, why prolong the agony? I’ve tried to be nice but that seems to give them the wrong idea. I think you handled the situation well, and it was probably what I’d have done given the same situation. Letting someone down gently is harder than you think. I know how I’d want to be treated though, and I’d rather someone was crystal clear to me about how they felt from the get go. So, do unto others…..

  7. bill austin Avatar

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  8. Mitsy Avatar

    I’m guessing this was an online date if you had not really met before. I remember wondering what kind of impression I’d made with some of those online guys. My tales of woe are similar in that either I was way more interested than they were, or they were interested to the point of looking/feeling needy and that was a complete turn-off for me. In reading this story, I’m getting that the guy acted kind of presumptuous with his “hands on” act. That might turn off almost any woman if it’s too soon and a first time date would be too soon for most people. Another thing that makes it rough is if there is distance involved. If you live an hour or more away, it almost guarantees that the relationship will be short lived. Long distance is hard to do even if you click in the beginning. That was something I learned early on with online dating. If you have to make long, drawn out plans to see each other, more than likely, they won’t make the effort.

  9. Tokai Avatar

    I think you handled it as best you could. Try to exit from the date as soon as you can. Be polite in declining requests for future dates.

    Just because someone has crossed the line (advances not appropriate for a first date), doesn’t mean that you should be less of a person in politeness. I’m guessing that your inability to be articulate in response to his unwanted advances was because you wanted to be polite, but couldn’t think of a response that would not hurt his feelings. Unfortunately, when someone is crossing the line, it is hard to point that out without calling attention to their inappropriate actions, and thus shaming them.

  10. Jack Avatar

    You were kind to him and thats a good thing. I find this very tough and really don’t even go out with someone if I know I’m not interested. I may miss a good catch if they’re different from my impression of them and that would come out if we dated a few times but I still trust my gut.