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I feel a bit burnt out from dating apps, so I started dating my IRL communities. I recently went out with some girls in my improv group and encountered a new, more modern problem: everyone is so used to ghosting their app matches that no one knows how to break up in person!
These girls never go out and say, “We’re better off as friends. Instead, they give me mixed signals or send chills down my spine. The result is that we find ourselves in this ambiguous place which puts a strain on the dynamics of the whole group. It makes me embarrassed – I feel like everyone knows what happened, and I don’t want to be seen as a serial dater.
Is there a way to enjoy my IRL communities while exploring romantic relationships? Is there a way for us to stay friends? Should I start making the girls sign a contract that if the dates go bad, we’ll both do it eternal sun get them out of our brain?
Dear Serially Confused,
You call it a modern problem, but I think what you’re dealing with is sort of premodern. Back when we all lived in small towns or whatever, everyone knew who everyone was dating, and you couldn’t just avoid your ex because she was your neighbor or the blacksmith’s daughter . You just had to suck it in and figure out how to behave.
You say “no one knows how to break up” and your dates aren’t upfront about their feelings, but I think the real problem is that you don’t know how to act around people you’ve had romantic interactions with ambiguous with. Maybe you’re just out of practice: after so many years of using dating apps, we’re all pretty used to ghosting and retreating into our respective lives, maybe throwing an Instagram at each other like from time to time. But when these behaviors spill over into real life, they can cause problems, and if you can’t stand the ambiguity, you’ll need to take a more active role in addressing it. Fortunately, there is an easy way to do this: communication.
I know that might sound logical, but I think we could all benefit from a refresher after a decade on apps and a few years of the pandemic that made us all socially awkward. So here’s what I would do: If there’s someone you’re feeling weird with, text them and see if they’re willing to talk. Once you are face to face, communicate directly about how you feel. Stacy Hubbard, a therapist and relationship expert, suggests starting the conversation by sharing your feelings, then asking open-ended questions such as “What did you expect from our relationship?” or “What do you think about what happened between us?” Give him a chance to talk and make sure you listen without being defensive. Once everything is out there, it will be easier to figure out how to move forward.
Say you’re talking about it and find out you’re not on the same page. Maybe you want a relationship and she doesn’t – maybe it’s the other way around! Either way, you might decide to stop logging in (if you haven’t already). It will be awkward at first, but people have survived worse and they have some advice for you. Take Cami, who met a friend who was about to become her roommate. The friend started dating someone else shortly after moving in together, and Cami had no idea how to act.
Like you, she couldn’t just ghost, but it ended up working for her. Since living together, they’ve been “forced to talk about practical matters and just hang around and shoot shit,” she says. Of their return to friendship, Cami explains, “It was kind of ‘fake until you make it’.” It won’t be easy to share space with these girls, but you can try Cami’s approach: just act normal, and maybe everyone else will follow suit.
Of course, returning to friendship after a romance isn’t always possible, especially if stronger feelings have set in. Take Maria, who joined a salsa group a few years ago and has since been intimate with some of her fellow dancers. “For the most part, I remained friends with everyone except one guy who I seriously tried to date,” she says. After their breakup, she “would be intentionally friendly towards him in class and in hangouts.” Eventually, that really deliberate courtesy paid off, and even though they weren’t close, it was better than avoiding her in front of the group and making everyone feel weird. Now they can “still share the space in a friendly way,” she says, and both still enjoy their salsa lessons.
When it comes to your feelings of embarrassment around other band members, know this: people just aren’t as invested in your love life as you think. Maria was also wary of other dancers judging her, but she quickly turned a corner. “I realized a lot of people didn’t care as much as I thought they did,” she says. “Other people were also using the group to hang out and connect.” In short, Serially Confused, you’re only human, and you’re doing something very normal by seeking connections with the people around you. Give yourself a break!
So how to move forward? Here’s my advice: in the future, instead of having to do damage control after hooking up, you should tell your next crush what you’re looking for. before you become intimate. After sharing your intentions, Hubbard recommends saying something like, “If it turns out it doesn’t work for any of us, let’s just be honest.” No strong emotions.” It’s not exactly eternal sun-putting it out of your brain, but that’s as close as it gets without otherworldly intervention.
Ultimately, dating IRL isn’t without its challenges – meeting people by joining clubs is fine, but don’t join anything, time everyone you think attractive and ask them out. You have apps for that. Joining a club means you get to know a lot of people overtime. The same goes for school or work. Personally, I think a potential romantic relationship might be worth the risk of a few temporary bad vibes. Maybe you feel different, in which case you can just enjoy your improv band without entertaining the possibility of falling in love. The choice is yours.