In everyday exchanges, men are definitely more straightforward and seem to mean what they say, but in the strange “mating dance” of the dating culture, a peculiar transformation happens. In an effort not to hurt a woman’s feelings perhaps, they do the very thing that winds up hurting more than honesty—uttering words that are utterly insincere. I can imagine the rash of responses I will get from male readers decrying how many times a woman has said or done things to falsely encourage them, yet being myself a woman with a bedrock core of honesty, this is unfamiliar territory to me. I think back over times when I’ve told someone—or been told by someone—that “I’m just not that into you” (in kinder words) and remember feeling relief at knowing, or telling, the truth. A person can deal with the truth; what’s not so easy to deal with is a combination of gestures and words that say “green light” when you really mean “red light.”

In the interest of fostering a more sincere dating landscape, I propose two simple ground rules:

  • Say what you mean, not what might “get you out of jail free” in the moment. If you reach the end of an awkward first date and realize you don’t want to see that person again, it is acceptable to shake their hand and say, “Thank you for coming out to meet me. It was very nice meeting you”—yes, that’s a social nicety, but it’s on par with saying “have a nice day” and a far cry from the false “I’ll give you a call sometime” when you have no intention of ever seeing the person again.
  • Don’t pull a disappearing act. This one is the absolute worst and is most often encountered in online dating, though it applies to regular dating as well. I’m not talking about a non-reply to someone you’re not interested in. To me, it’s perfectly acceptable not to reply when you have no interest at all (many people get dozens of online inquiries in a single day). But when you’ve already established contact and shown a level of interest in someone, it is more honorable to offer a word of closure than to pull an abrupt disappearing act. The world of online dating is rife with abuse of this nature because it’s so easy to “disappear” behind a veil of anonymity, but we must remember that real human hearts lie on the other side of our computer screen.

The bottom line of this issue for me can be summed up in a scene from another movie, You’ve Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Hanks’ character Joe Fox is coaching Kathleen Kelly (Ryan’s character, whom he’s falling in love with) on how not to take business matters too personally, but she gives this classic rebuttal: “What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn't personal to you. But it was personal to me. It's ‘personal’ to a lot of people. And what's so wrong with being personal, anyway? Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”

A.J. Kiesling is the author of  Where Have All the Good Men Gone? (Harvest House) and the novel Skizzer (Revell).  A religion writer for Publishers Weekly, she has written more than a dozen books.  You can reach her at www.ajkiesling.com.

**This article posted on February 26, 2009.