Writer’s note (31 March 2019): This piece was written when I was targeting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) women who were having dating troubles. Now I help all women who feel anxious and insecure in their relationships find peace. Learn more.
This seems to happen far more often than necessary, like bad Tinder matches: stringing someone along in your dating life because you’re playing games, you’re confused, you don’t know how to say “no,” or whatever the case may be.
While I was once guilty of doing the same thing when I was younger (and have also been a victim of it), I learned to be honest when I wasn’t interested in or couldn’t commit to someone or something and move on when the other person wasn’t being explicit about his or her feelings.
Basically, I learned to grow up, like Tom Haverford from the show Parks and Recreation.
Let me illustrate with a story based on recent events.
I stumbled upon a website and blog dedicated to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) women. All sorts of amazing women shared stories of trials and triumphs in a blog post or podcast episode, all of which a female engineer hosted. She seemed nice and hard-working, like Parks and Rec’s Leslie Knope.
Like a giddy little girl, I decided to reach out to her about a possible partnership. I told her my story (a science writer and editor by day and a certified dating coach for millennial STEM women by night), asking if it would serve her audience to know that someone out there could help these women through their dating struggles using a very effective coaching technique.
Days went by without a peep. Knowing that messages sometimes get lost, I followed up a few weeks later and heard back.
“Sorry for the delay in replying. I’d love to collaborate with you,” she replied, providing her availability for a phone call and instructions for putting together a blog post. How very Leslie Knope of her, or so I thought.
I “Knoped” her back: I told her I’d be happy to put together a blog post and gave her my availability. I also told her I’d like to touch base to make sure I’m producing what she wants.
I went ahead and composed half a blog post in a Google Doc as a “sample” and decided to wait to finish in case she had something else in mind.
I followed up the week she said she’d be available to chat.
I followed up the next week, and she replied with a chosen date and time and her phone number. She asked me to send her my blog notes.
I sent her my Google Doc, gave her “commenting” rights in it, and told her I’d call her at the appointed day and time.
When that day and time came around, I went to a quiet space and had my laptop open to the doc, which didn’t have any notes from her. Hmm, not very Leslie Knope of her, I thought. My intuition was knocking from behind a locked door, telling me something I didn’t want to hear.
I gave her the benefit of the doubt and called her right at the appointed time. The phone rang and rang and rang and went to her voicemail. I left a friendly message.
I looked at the clock and gave it another ten minutes, my intuition knocking even louder.
I called again. It rang and rang and rang and went to her voicemail.
At that point, I let in and listened to my intuition and acted on it in a final voicemail.
“I’m going to take this as a sign that you don’t really want to work together,” I said. “You might be too busy or not interested, and that’s fine. If you’d like to work together in the future, great; otherwise, I’m going to move on.”
No call back.
Immediately after leaving that voice message, I felt like that was too nice, like I should have said something like “I’m here, prepared, and I wish you could have been more honest up front about not wanting to collaborate.” But I left it at that.
I was done wasting my time with someone who wasn’t showing the same dedication as I was. I was prepared like I am with my clients and other collaborators and wasn’t receiving the same in return. I felt some “Level 1” energy, or “victim” energy, as graduates of my life coaching alma mater (The Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching, or iPEC) call it.
Instead of moping around, though, and being the opportunist that I am, I realized I could make lemonade out of this situation by squeezing out dating-related lessons for you.
#1 It bears repeating: Stop playing games and be fucking honest up front if you’re not interested in seeing the person.
Sometimes the idea of rejecting a man can sound scary, for fear that he might retaliate. It’s totally understandable to worry that might happen, given the world we live in.
However, let’s switch roles: You’re trying to pursue someone who feeds you bread crumbs of love instead of the whole loaf. You take those bread crumbs as a sign that it’s going to work out and rationalize the rest of the person’s behavior (“Maybe he’s just mysterious”).
You’re frustrated and try so hard to make it work to no avail, like continually injecting pennies into a slot machine. (You had three strawberries in a row! Keep trying your luck and you might get all strawberries! Or however slots work these days…) You end up wasting your time when there’s someone better for you out there.
In the end, that person isn’t taking you seriously enough, and as a smart, successful, and fiercely independent millennial STEM woman, you deserve more than that. As I illustrated in my story, I knew I deserved a better partnership after the way I was treated.
#2 It’s okay to give someone the benefit of the doubt, but know when to move on.
To protect ourselves, sometimes we assume the worst in any given situation, like fake news of the mind. Maybe you’re right to assume the worst if you don’t hear from a date.
However, through open-ended, empowering questions, life coaches from my alma mater are trained to help you look at a situation from various angles, like the movie Vantage Point. It’s a gray world, after all.
In other words, I’d argue it’s okay to have a little faith in someone if they’re not responding to you as hoped. If he or she drops off the grid after forming a connection, it’s safe to wonder if life circumstances got in the way, such as a family loss. You have the right to be patient, as that person could reappear, apologize, and explain. It’s totally possible.
You also have the right to distract yourself if this happens, being ready with open arms if (s)he returns. If the crickets continue, though (as they did for me), and if the behavior becomes repetitive (as it did for me), it might be time to be honest with yourself and move on. You’ll know when it’s time.
#3 If you’re pulling your weight in the relationship and it’s not reciprocated, then know your worth and find someone better.
Some of my STEM ladies (and, of course, women outside of STEM) are givers, nurturers, and can get “nurture fatigue” when they feel like they’re not receiving enough love in return. They might feel taken for granted and resentful, which is totally valid. Beyond valid.
Take a stand when this happens. You can talk this out; communicate your feelings with “I” statements (“I feel like I’m pulling a lot of weight in this relationship, and I feel burned out and underappreciated”). I would even argue that reasonable ultimatums might be okay in this situation (yup, I said it).
If nothing improves, then as the CEO of your love life, you have a couple of choices: stick around or end it. Trust yourself to know if this is a dead-end relationship; if it is, trust yourself to know that someone else out there will know your worth as much as you do.
It was easy to see that I was pulling more weight between this person and me, given that I initiated most of the communication and showed up prepared. I was fed up. At that point, I knew I could find a more professional podcaster with whom to work.
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