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Dating Maze #384: Left Hanging
Dating Advice 384

Dating Maze #384: Left Hanging

I keep meeting guys who say they’ll call – then don’t. Are they all that way?


Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I've been divorced for a number of years and would like to get married again. It seems to me that the dating situation has deteriorated over the years – and I’m not just saying this because I'm getting older and the pool of available men is smaller.

In the past few months, I’ve met a number of different men, gone out on dates with several of them, and have never gotten to a third date.

Recently, a man asked me to message him on Facebook. A few days later I did so, saying that I was going to a Jewish event that night. He called me, offered me a ride, and the evening turned into a date. He took me to dinner after the program and we had a very nice time together. After this, he called and we spoke on the phone almost every day. He kept saying we would go out again, but never made plans to see me. Eventually he stopped calling me, which hurt.

A few weeks later, a male acquaintance and I were both guests at a holiday meal and enjoyed some great conversation together. We later spoke on the phone for 45 minutes to set up a date for the following week. He said he'd call me on Sunday to confirm plans – but never called. Where is the common courtesy?

This is very frustrating. What is the deal with men today? I'm losing faith that I'll ever get married again and I don't know what to do anymore.


Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

Rosie and Sherry's Answer:

Dear Michelle,

We understand how disappointing and frustrating it is to expect a man to follow up on plans and then never hear from him. When this keeps happening, it's easy to get discouraged and lose hope that you'll ever meet someone who wants to build a relationship that leads to marriage. But be assured – there are good men out there who want the same things as you, and we have some suggestions to make it easier for you to meet the right one.

On the surface, it seems as though the two men you described have a phenomenon called "approach avoidance." This results when an individual has mixed feelings about a goal – in this case being in a relationship or getting married. Part of him genuinely looks forward to the love and companionship of marriage. But part of him is afraid. He may worry that things might not work out, or that he won’t be a good husband, or that the woman won’t like him when she finally gets to know what he’s really like, or that he'd have to disclose something he'd rather keep secret. Or he may feel under pressure to look for a wife even though he is unsure if marriage is something he really wants.

He may be afraid to disclose something he'd rather keep secret.

Any of these issues can lead him to take steps toward marriage, and then to back way, either by avoiding the follow-through or by somehow sabotaging things – so that he is “prevented” from achieving what he “says” he wants to accomplish.

For example, a man with this problem might make arrangements for dinner and then show up at the restaurant an hour and a half late without letting you know in advance. Or he might telephone you to talk about plans, get a busy signal, and say to himself, “Well, I tried to reach her,” with an unconscious sigh of relief that he couldn’t.

Approach-avoidance could be the reason why these men have seemed genuinely interested when speaking with you, and even set up tentative dating plans – but then dropped the ball.

Warning Signs

People who have this problem (and yes, there are "approach avoidant" women as well) typically don’t intend to be inconsiderate. They often know they are ambivalent, but they’re not prepared to reconcile the tension between desiring a relationship and the fear blocking them from moving forward. And until these issues are addressed – either on their own or optimally with the help of a therapist – this pattern of approach-avoidance will continue.

If you see this pattern with other men you've dated, it could be that you are ignoring certain signs of “approach avoidance.” It’s easy to miss the early warning signs, because at first such a man may flirt with you, engage in active conversation, and display great interest. It’s what happens afterward that gives him away:

  • If he seems non-committal about arranging to meet again
  • If he makes indefinite plans and doesn’t try to finalize them within a day or two
  • If he says he'll call and doesn't
  • If he asks you to call him or to send a message, rather than taking the initiative himself (like the guy who asked you to message him on Facebook)

Any of these may well be signs that he's experiencing conflicting feelings – and that the negative ones are prevailing over the positive ones. This is certainly the case if, later in a courtship when things seem to be going well, he does something to sabotage things before the couple moves to a deeper level of conversation and trust, or if he repeatedly breaks up and reconciles.

So here is our advice: If you have just begin to date a man, and you realize that he is approach-avoidant, we think it’s best to quickly leave the situation and move on.

It’s harder to break away when you’ve already developed emotional feelings for him.

It’s harder to break away when you’ve already developed emotional feelings for him and then he begins to pull back or self-sabotage. In that case, we suggest that you speak with him about your concerns and ask if he will agree to address it with a therapist. Usually, he’ll deny there’s an issue, or may admit he has a problem but avoid dealing with it, or break up with you before you have a chance to break up with him.

Be warned: It is very rare for a man to confront his problem and see a therapist. When he does, it’s primarily because he’s been thinking about doing so for a while, and less because you asked him to get help. That’s fine, because the motivation for therapy has to come from within him. Nevertheless, it’s important for you both to understand that therapy will take time and that there are no guarantees that your relationship will move forward.

Ground Rules

We want to explore the possibility that there are other explanations for what has been occurring with your dates. It's possible that you’ve thought things were going better than the man did, and he really wasn't interested in continuing but felt pressure from you to continue. Or, you may have been overly eager or enthusiastic, or opened up with very personal information with someone you were just beginning to get to know. This can easily scare off a man, even if he has great potential. Men generally like to be the pursuer and to set the pace in a courtship, and will shy away when a woman does this instead. And many people of either gender can feel uncomfortable when an almost-stranger starts to confide in them before they’ve built a degree of connection and trust.

We agree with you that a man who says he'll be calling to arrange or finalize plans for a date should be courteous enough to let the woman know that he’s changed his mind. All it takes is a single call or voice mail: "I thought it over and don't think it will work out.”

You may want to read our Dating Maze article, “8 Rules for the Next Date,” with suggestions for how to be more considerate of dating partners.

We urge you not to give up on your goal of getting married. There are some excellent men who are also looking for love and commitment, and we hope that you will soon meet the right one for you.

Rosie & Sherry

July 27, 2013

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 18

(12) Anonymous, June 19, 2016 1:22 AM

This article really makes sense. And does not put the blame on the woman and some "rule" she forgot to follow. You did not show interest? You showed interest? Ummm, if you accept the invitation to go out to dinner next week then it is up to the invitee to suggest a time and place to meet, not ignore the fact that they invited you and you responded yes, over a week ago. Approach avoidance , I believe it spot on,it is paasive agressive and and a characteristic of an immature person. Honest communication is much better. Even if they come back ans say, hey , I spoke too soon and am not really comfortable dating right now. Too busy, too shy, too all those other excuses are just not honest. Thank you for this article.

(11) Anonymous, September 23, 2013 1:32 PM

"Rules" idea is basically correct, but there is no perfect rulebook

I agree with everyone saying, since some men are not sincere, you have to sort of follow the rules. You have to bid your time and see if a guy is for real. I got married at 43, after many terrible dating disasters with men who were not for real. If I had followed rules, I probably could have avoided the worst experiences. The guy i did marry is brilliant and amazing but not alpha-male (obsessed with agressive/competitiveness) at all, and he did pursue me and i did " wait and see". With the guy i did marry, at one point after about 2 months of dating, he broke a date in a phone call, and instead of me saying," oh, well can you meet the next day" etc, I just backed off and was sort of not happy. I thought to myself, that's the end of that. I think my backing off made him even more interested. after 3 months, I asked whether he was interested in marriage (in general) or not, and he said yes.
The guy who said that men can use the rules to their advantage, he might be right, a complete liar can trick a woman. But if you avoid alot of intimacy until you are married, you are pretty safe from such a trickster. That is also part of the "rules". Its not true that only alpha males can pursue, any guy can pursue.

(10) Anonymous, August 20, 2013 1:14 PM

I need this article as well i have encountered this many times with jewish men and im still single looking for a husband.

Im going to try to follow this article because im 41 and still single and i dont' want to be alone forever..thank you.

(9) Jane Smith, August 13, 2013 9:39 PM

Both men showed interest and expected you to show some interest back. You never did. So they gave up.

This is the problem with women

(8) Devorah, August 13, 2013 12:47 AM


common courtesy would be a guy saying at the end of the date "it was so nice meeting you" and not mentioning that he'll call unless he is really going to!

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