The Unavailability Dogpile

in category of Bad News Suz, Suz Baldwin

Hi, my name is Suz and I worry a lot about text messaging.

Hi, Suz.

When you start dating—or hanging out—with someone, texting instantly becomes a loaded issue. When is it okay to text? When is it not? At what point does “Aww, she texted me!” turn into “OMFG she is a total clinger”? Why does it matter if I respond to a text when I receive it? Am I really supposed to wait two hours after receiving a text to ensure the person texting me knows I’m out living a fabulous life? Does it actually matter who starts texting as long as the conversation flows? Does this person really want to reschedule, or is he just trying to get rid of me by never being available? 

Holy shit, that’s a lot to keep track of. No wonder I’m so tired whenever I stick a toe into the dating pool.

Texting with friends is straightforward. I know them, they know me, it’s all good. Texting with someone I’m interested in is more complicated. Not just for all those ridiculous reasons I listed, but because texting can be used for nefarious purposes. For example, the person you have been hanging out with might use texting as a way to squelch things with you without actually having to do any squelching.

This is because texting makes it easy to lie. Just last week, Melisandre texted me with the following: “How’s your day going?” 

I looked around at the shambles of my apartment, at the three deadlines stacked on top of one another, at the empty wine bottle in the sink, at the Bad News Bird swearing at me because I wouldn’t let him out of his cage. “I’m great,” I texted back. “Lunch?”

Yes, it was a lie. That’s not the kind of lie I’m talking about, though. I don’t think anyone has an issue with the little white lies that crop up during daily life. No, I’m talking about the kind of lie you tell someone when you really, really want them to go away but can’t bring yourself to actually make them go away, so you just keep on dogpiling them with reasons you can’t meet up or talk, hoping they’ll get tired of your shit and depart on their own, thus sparing you the need to have an unpleasant conversation.

Holy shit, Suz, I can hear you saying. You’d do that to someone?

No! Absolutely not. That sounds really passive-aggressive, right? That is not something a decent person would do once they hit their late twenties (I’m excusing youthful stupidity here; we’ve all done it once or twice). Why would I even hang out with someone who thinks The Unavailability Dogpile is a good thing?

The answer to that is I usually try not to. But sometimes you can’t tell if someone is pulling that trick on you—it’s one of those nasty little character traits that only pops up at a certain time (like when they decide they find you boring and want you to leave them alone). I try to give the men I date the benefit of the doubt right off the bat…but after hanging out with a guy I kind of dig, long-buried fears are surfacing, and the result is not pretty.  

“What does this mean?” I asked my mother a few months ago, after reading aloud a message a particular gentleman had sent me.

She listened. “It means exactly what it says, dear. He’s busy but he wants to see you next week.”

Logical Suz probably knew this was the case. Unfortunately, Logical Suz was on vacation in Maui, sunning herself on a beach while being fed grapes by seven Han Solo lookalikes. In her place was Stupid Suz, who is…well, she’s stupid and should really just be banished to a dark cave somewhere. 

“But what if that’s just what he’s saying,” Stupid Suz said. “What if he’s saying he wants to see me next week, but he really means I will see you never!

She looked utterly perplexed. “Then he would just say that, wouldn’t he? Can we get back to The Walking Dead? That redneck with the crossbow is mumbling and I can’t hear him over you.” 

My mother, of course, wonders what kind of men I have dated if I’m this neurotic about what a guy says versus what he means. I wonder this same thing at times. The weird thing is, aside from a couple of nasty little outliers, I’ve mostly dated decent men. Unfortunately, it’s the nasty little outliers that stick with me. One in particular—who shall not be named—asked for my number in a coffee shop. He was a pretty nice guy, or seemed to be; we got along well, we both liked action movies, and of course we drank a lot of coffee together. All seemed well, until after about a month he started getting busier and busier. He would turn me down for a date…but he would instantly reschedule. Cool, it happens. Except when the time came to meet up something would change and he’d reschedule that meeting, too. This dragged on for a week and a half. I, not knowing any better, believed him when he apologized, and went along with it until I finally pinned him down for coffee and called him out on it. His response, verbatim: 

“Well, I’ve been making up excuses not to see you. I thought you’d figure it out.”

I wish I could say my Asshole Alarm went off and triggered some sort of ball-twisting reflex. Instead, I just stared at him. “But…why wouldn’t you just tell me you didn’t want to see me anymore?”

“I didn’t want to be mean.”

Oh. Well as long as you weren’t mean, you dickless piece of shit. Because it’s not mean to string someone along like that, no, not at all! I was in my mid-twenties at that point. I think thirty-year-old me would have clocked him or at least dumped my hot coffee over his head. Twenty-something me sputtered an apology of all things, went home, and took his criticism to heart. I read his texts over and over again, trying to figure out where, exactly, I missed his apparently explicit rejection.

Five years later, I no longer have the texts and I still can’t remember anything in them that screamed “GO AWAY SUZ!” Now, being older and somewhat more jaded, I’d probably take the hint because that’s the sort of asshattery I’ve come to expect in the dating world.

If it makes everyone feel better, I forgot about him in a week or so, but after that I paid much more attention to text messages. Too much attention, frankly—and I’m sure I sabotaged myself at times, reading between the lines, looking for hidden messages that weren’t there. Fortunately, most of my actual relationships have been with good men who did not encode their dissatisfaction with me in text messages.

Eventually it got to be too much. I stopped caring. Or, more specifically, I stopped getting much further than first dates and no longer gave a damn whether a text was full of mixed messages or not. Until I met someone I liked, at which point I started wondering if I was actually funny or if I was the most obnoxious person he’d ever met.  

Men and women of the world, please, heed my advice. Don’t worry about being mean. Sometimes you must be cruel to be kind. If you’re not into someone, tell them and then go about your way. Do not keep being busy. Do not just vanish into the Lost City of Annoying—that’s gutless, too. Man up (or woman up) and put an end to things. And for God’s sake, don’t sit there and string someone along figuring they’ll get frustrated and dump you on their own. They might eventually do just that, but come on, do you really want to be remembered as That Jackass? 

Maybe you do. Maybe we need That Jackass in our lives to remind us that dating is a freaking hazard. Texting while dating doubly so.

Just please, for the love of Thor, don’t pull the dogpile. Texting is confusing enough without you trying to muck it up more.

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