Two years ago, I met a guy online. A smart, interesting and witty guy who, needless to say, completely charmed me into agreeing to a date. We met on a Sunday afternoon for coffee, which turned into dinner, and later, a walk along Robertson Quay – where, in true romcom fashion, we met and cooed over two adorable pugs called Popcorn and Kernel. At 9pm, some six hours after we first met, I reluctantly made my excuses, because I had some grocery shopping to do. To my surprise, he offered to come along.
The conversation continued to flow, we laughed a lot, and when we finally parted ways at 9.30pm, I went home happy. I definitely had the feels, and if my hunch was on the mark (because seriously, how many first dates last six hours?), so did he.
Turns out I was wrong, because I never heard from him again.
The one-date wonder
I’ve since written this off as “one of those things” in my dating history.
But I’ve always wondered what happened. Was it something I said? Or did I read all the signs wrong and he wasn’t as into me as I thought? Then why did he hang out with me for so many hours?
The Internet assured me I wasn’t alone in my bewilderment.
Over half of 40 Singapore women I polled online said they too have had great first dates turn into vanishing acts. And we’re not talking about a run-of-the-mill meet-up over coffee where pleasantries are exchanged, and the date filed away as average. These women genuinely believed there was mutual attraction, undeniable connection, and that they had perhaps found their happily ever afters.
Take Jessica R* for example. She hit it off with a guy on Tinder, who unwittingly asked her out on her birthday. She was upfront about it, and told him she was happy to reschedule so he wouldn’t have the added pressure of making her birthday special on a first date. He insisted on keeping to the original plans, so they went out and had a great time.
“He was charming, and the conversation flowed super easily without the aid of alcohol, which in my experience, is really hard to do on a first date,” she lamented. “We didn’t just talk about our interests and hobbies. We talked about the things that mattered – like what we do for work and why, what our families mean to us, and significant events that changed our outlooks on life.”
When the date came to an end, Jessica was certain that she would hear from him again – and she did. Almost immediately after they parted ways, her phone buzzed. It was him – sending her a link to a song they had talked about over dinner. Then, inexplicably, he pulled a Houdini.
In some cases, as great as a date seems to be going, the men don’t even wait until the end to vanish – a horror Rebecca* had to live out. “We were sharing a whole chicken at Poulet, and he saw me struggling to cut it up. Immediately, he started deboning the meat for me, giving me the drumsticks and thighs because he remembered me saying I don’t like the other parts.
“Throughout dinner, he was incredibly attentive, and after that, we proceeded to drinks and a movie. Post-movie, he went to the bathroom – and poof. He never came back, and I never heard from him again.” The guy blocked Rebecca’s number, so she wasn’t able to contact him further.
Like me, Jessica and Rebecca couldn’t understand why these guys bailed – even though it seemed like they really enjoyed their company. We found ourselves agonising over what could have gone wrong, and spent hours analysing how we could have so badly misread the situation. Then came rage that he had dared to vanish without a proper explanation.
I’ve seen friends check their phones constantly, hoping for the text that would put an end to their misery. It never came.
Chasing him down
After hearing their stories, I decided there was only one thing to do. I put my pride aside, sifted through my phone history to find Guy’s number (you know, the one who spent six magical hours with me, then never called again), and sent him a text. “Hey, this is really random. But how have you been?”
I held my breath. It had been almost two years since that date. Would he still remember me, and more importantly, would he finally give me an answer as to why he ghosted all those months ago?
“Heya,” came his reply. Yes, he did remember me.
And he assured me that we did get along well (great to know I wasn’t completely delusional). “I was going through a phase where I was pretty playful and wasn’t ready to settle down,” his text read. “I just didn’t feel that it was right to continue going for it, knowing that I wouldn’t be serious in the long term.”
Oh. You could have just told me, I shot back.
“I wasn’t really sure how to say it – ‘hey, sorry, I’m actually just looking for sex’?”
Fair point. This made me realise that no matter how great the chemistry, a good thing doesn’t go anywhere if you both aren’t looking for the same thing. I couldn’t give that guy the no-strings-attached sex he wanted, and neither could he give me the hearts and flowers I craved.
But if you’re waiting to hear how we rekindled our friendship and went on a very belated second date, that’s never going to happen. He’s put that part of his life behind him, is now in a committed relationship with someone else, and very happy. So am I – both for him and for some much-appreciated closure. In hindsight, it’s just as well it ended that night at Robertson Quay.
Now that I had heard from one guy, I needed to know more. After all, I owed it to all the other women who never got a resolution like I did.
So I chased down other men who had done runners to get my answers. And here’s what I discovered – there’s absolutely no way to predict the outcome of a great first date, even if you’re 99 per cent sure he’s going to call.
I’ll tell you why. Deal-breakers. They can easily wipe out the potential for a great first date to turn into something more. Andrew* was looking for a serious relationship, and believed he had found the right girl on a dating app. “She was adorable,” he said. “We had so much to talk about, and I was attracted to both her looks and her cheerful disposition. But midway through drinks, she mentioned wanting to date someone who shared her faith. I’m an agnostic, and didn’t know how to break it to her, so I only smiled in response.”
He was disappointed, but not wanting to be rude, stayed on till the end of the date despite knowing that it was a no-go. “I respect her decision, but in my mind, it didn’t make sense to contact her again.”
Here’s the thing: anything can be a deal-breaker. It all depends on what the other person considers to be a hard limit. For Andrew, it was about different religious beliefs, but it could boil down simply to different lifestyles or preferences. An avid dog lover, for example, might nix a girl who hated animals. At the end of the day, it’s simply about whether he feels it’s worth the effort to compromise – for something that’s not guaranteed a happy ending.
Andrew says once that dealbreaker has been identifi ed, it’s hard to see past it – regardless of how great the girl is. “While I felt it was a pity things didn’t work out, I didn’t feel upset. Ending it immediately was the practical thing to do, and I’ll just keep looking.”
Head over heart
For other guys, it’s about being practical. Nicholas* had been chatting casually with a girl on a dating app. Things seemed promising, so after a week and a half of online banter, he asked her out. “During the date, there was definitely mutual attraction. Even the occasional silences in the conversation felt comfortable,” he said. Things seemed like they were headed in a positive direction, but it was only after he got home and did some reflecting that reality set in. “I realised it wasn’t going to work out. My biggest concern was that we didn’t come from the same background – my family is wealthier and owns several properties, whereas she’s from a more humble family background. I know it sounds elitist, but I think it’s a valid concern,” Nicholas explained. It didn’t help matters that he knew his parents would expect him to make a more suitable match.
Nicholas says it might sound both superficial and transactional, but for him, the perfect match is about more than just love and chemistry. Anticipating that his date’s family background was likely to pose diffi culties in the future, Nicholas decided to cut his losses and avoid putting either party through a “let’s hope it works out” situation. He admits, though, that had their backgrounds been more similar, he definitely would have pursued a second date.
Nicholas’ attitude reflects today’s dating climate – where no one wants to just settle.
Could there be someone better out there?
So how did people get so disposable, even after just one date? Norman Li, Associate Professor of Psychology at Singapore Management University, says we have Tinder to thank for killing the romance.
“Chemistry is always a good thing, but people feel like it’s not as special anymore because it’s not exclusive to one person,” he says. “Dating apps and social media make us feel that we have plenty of options, even if that perception isn’t realistic.Our brains are now wired to judge a person based on how he or she compares to what we see online.” So while he may have thought the date went great, at the back of his mind would be a niggling thought – could there be someone better out there?
“It’s not enough for these people to commit at the stage of first dates, because they feel that there’s always another opportunity that’s just one swipe away,” says Prof Li.
And in the age of social media and #couplegoals, it’s so easy to buy into the concept of perfection. “These online portrayals of so-called perfect romance make people think ‘this should happen to me’,” he adds.
Issues that might not have been a problem just two decades ago are now considered deal-breakers. Nicholas is the perfect example: “I know that some people feel like they have to settle, because their biological clock is ticking or just because marriage is the natural progression after being together for a long time. But I believe that it is possible to get it all, or at least get as close as possible to my ideal,” he says.
So if a great first date comes to naught, chances are it’s probably for the best. We’ve heard ad nauseam that “it’s not you” when things go south, but in these cases, it could really be true.
I spent so much of my dating life seeking closure, because I felt that without it, I’d have no peace of mind. But hey, it turns out you can’t rely on men to give you that. So I’m doing it my way – being cool with not knowing, and just moving on.
*Names have been changed
This article was originally published in the May 2017 issue of Her World.