When Lora went to the beach for a week with her family, she didn't anticipate finding romance. But during sunset cocktails, she met Max. The chemistry was instant.
Days in the sun and celebratory nights cultivated the connection between the two. Surrounded by friends and family, the relationship held the promise of being much more than a vacation dalliance, despite living in different states.
Upon returning home from the trip, Lora and Max talked every day. Lora turned down other prospective dates because she wanted to focus on the relationship with Max. She visited him, met his friends and began to wonder about longer term plans.
And then one day he just stopped texting back.
It took four days to hear from him because he "lost his phone." Then it took another five days after he moved to another apartment. Then the communication stopped all together.
Max had ghosted, a behavior that can be as perplexing as it is hurtful.
"I really prefer dating one person at a time, but it seems like that's considered foolish now," Lora says. "You're supposed to have backups for a job position, rather than genuine connections."
Has it always been like this?
There has always been callous and hurtful behavior in romance, but it looked very different when communities were more insular. It was harder to meet strangers and impossible to avoid exes. As it gets more convenient to communicate, it gets easier to be rude. Dating apps enable quick connections that may blossom into something significant but also give a perception of disposability. Dating becomes like shopping; which encourages selfish, insensitive behavior.
Many folks become hardened to this climate and cynically approach dating like a sport... or even combat. But that approach not only contributes to the culture of heartlessness, but also narrows the chance of finding a meaningful relationship. Intimacy is only possible when people are mutually vulnerable.
What is wrong with people?
What we consider bad dating behavior varies. We have different ideas what is an appropriate way to approach someone, how to pace interactions, and what to expect of each other. There are few universals, so what seems obvious to one person might be entirely unclear to another. The solution is to be as communicative as possible.
Here are other actions that can to avoid:
Dating crime: Ghosting
Ghosting is when someone ceases contact without explanation. This implies the people involved have had significant interactions: dates and maybe even sexual activity, not just a match on a dating app who stops after a few messages. If you've talked in person while sober and also seen each other naked, that's bare minimum for an exchange that warrants a real goodbye.
Letting a relationship fade away might sound less hurtful than a direct rejection. But if it seems like someone is invested, a clear ending is necessary. Being honest about the lack of connection or mismatching of priorities is way more respectful of their time and feelings.
Dating crime: Flaking
Stuff happens. People fall ill, get called into work or stuck in traffic. When it happens to you, give the other person as much a heads up as possible and express sincere disappointment. Most importantly: schedule the rematch quickly. Not just "let's get together soon," but "7 p.m. on Tuesday." The responsibility for rescheduling lies on whoever changed the original plan.
The earlier in the course of a relationship bad luck happens, the more it affects the way the connection is perceived. Having to bail on dinner after 10 months of seeing each other is a bummer. For the first meeting, though, it can be fatal to the relationship. Trust is built on consistent follow-through and damaged when plans are change without sincere apology.
Dating crime: Using
There are a lot of conflicting beliefs about who should pay for dates. One sure thing, though, is that they are not just opportunities for free meals or tickets to shows. Nor are they business transactions. Unless there's a pre-negotiated deal, don't expect anyone to foot the bill for your night of entertainment. Meanwhile, picking up the check is not the entrance fee to your date's underwear.
Expect to pay your own way, act pleasantly surprised if they take care of it. Offer to cover only if you feel like the chance to hang out together was worth the cost.
Dating crime: Lies of omission
Assumptions are awful, but so is leaving out details that affect decisions. It's unreasonable to assume monogamy until it's been clearly discussed, but it's also uncool to "forget" to mention an existing significant other or child. Each person is responsible for asking about sexual health but failing to reveal STIs before sex might feel like a violation.
It's entirely possible to have a fun time and also be open about intentions and potential deal breakers. Gauge what matters to your date by listening to what they discuss, answer questions honestly and correct them immediately if they wrongly assume.
Dating crime: Generally being rude
As with all social interactions: be considerate. Value your date's time and comfort, make it relatively convenient for them to meet. Respect what they want to do as an activity, check in to confirm they're enjoying the experience and be willing to adapt the plan to fit that. Give your full attention to the person who has made time to be with you and keep your phone away unless absolutely necessary. Demonstrate interest by asking about them, but avoid invasive questioning.
Respect also goes for the others around you. Be polite to wait staff, cab drivers and anyone else with whom you interact. This is an opportunity to showcase the best parts of yourself.
As therapist Noni Ayana says, treat a date as a potential new friend. Dating is supposed to be fun. If we all approach it as an opportunity to form positive connections, everyone wins.
Dr. Timaree Schmit earned her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality from Widener University, where she now trains future sexologists and clinicians. Her passion is bringing rational, empirically-based, sex-positive information to the world, empowering others to celebrate their bodies, build intimacy and experience pleasure.