When you match with someone you’re interested in on Tinder, those very first messages are supercharged. Every time your phone chimes, your stomach flutters under your ribs. Every time you send a message off, your stomach sinks to your heels.
As you send off blue bubbles of hope and wait for white bubbles of validation, you’re trying to be cautious while intentional, slick while flirty, and mysterious while personal. Oh, and, you’re attempting to obtain as much information as you can without giving too much away.
If you’re lucky enough to vibe with your match, the messages slowly start to become a bit more human. Your posture relaxes as you type away into the night. You start to show a bit more of your personality — you’re playful so you use the puppy dog emoji instead of the smiley emoji. You’re honest about what you’re up to — you’re home watching “Seinfeld” reruns, not at a cool club in the city. But in the back of your mind, if the conversation is going well, you’re not hoping to chatter on forever; you’re hoping to meet in person.
At dinner recently, one of my girlfriends described conversations with a match she had an instant connection with. Their banter was good enough for a sitcom, and they lived within a five-minute walk of one another. “I waited for literally weeks for this guy to ask me out, but he never did,” she said. “Finally I stopped responding because I didn’t feel comfortable telling him what I ate for dinner every night when he wasn’t even willing to have dinner with me in person.” The conversation quickly moved around the table and turned into a show and tell of flirty conversations that never led to dates. Nearly all of my friends had an experience like this and yet none of us could understand why it was happening. “It’s a dating app, don’t they want to date?” one friend asked. Are they trying to keep their options open? Are they shy? Are they not really ready to start dating? And why is this phenomenon so common? Research shows that a whopping one-third of people who have used dating apps have never actually gone on a date with someone they’ve met online.
“Some people fish to nourish themselves, while other people simply enjoy the process of fishing,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Alex Lash. She likens men who don’t set dates on Tinder to men who fish for fun. “Once in a while they might catch a big fish and want to keep it.” But that’s the exception, not the norm for where these individuals are at this point in time. That said, there’s a lot of gray area. If the guy you’re talking to thinks you might be a big fish and is considering “keeping you,” i.e., meeting up, he might still stall. His reasons, however, may be less about you than you think.
“A guy might enjoy spending the night texting you and getting to know you — from a distance — so that they don’t have to yet worry about what to wear or how much they can afford to spend on food and drinks,” Lash explains. That guy may eventually ask you out, but he needs to feel a little bit more confident in the connection before setting the date. Or, he may be lonely but looking for more of a pen pal than an IRL commitment. He likes to send you pictures of little moments throughout his day and wants to know what you’re listening to on your run, how your breakfast was, and what you think about the links he sent you at 3 a.m., but he’s not ready to meet in person and he might never be. “Why someone does not set a date with you is most likely a result of 18,000 variables and not one of them is you,” Lash says.
So what can you do about it? The way Lash sees it, you have two options: You can find your inner patience, put in some time getting to know each other online, and hope he builds the confidence to ask you out. Or you can go ahead and ask him out yourself. After all, there’s no better way to stop playing guessing games and find out the truth.
Look, it’s disappointing when things don’t progress in the way you hope. But it’s important to realize not everyone on any dating platform shares the same objective — and that’s not all that different than what you face when you meet someone at a wedding or a bar. If you’re willing to broaden your expectations, you might broaden your own experience, too.