Jaclyn and Andrew,* both in their twenties, were on their fourth date, drinks at a bar. The two had a lot in common: Both loved working out and they shared a dry sense of humor. Andrew spoke "futuristically," suggesting they soon try a sushi spot Jaclyn had heard about and offering to show her around his neighborhood. There was "never an awkward moment of silence," says Jaclyn, who ended the night feeling optimistic about the relationship, especially since he walked her home and genuinely expressed how much fun he'd had.
Then she didn't hear from him for another eight days (before that, they'd spoken every other day). When she did, it was in the form of a text that said "How was the week? Any fun plans for this weekend?"Ã¢â‚¬”with no mention of going out again. "I was angry and frustrated. I felt like I'd been duped," says Jaclyn. And that was the final strawÃ¢â‚¬”she didn't text him back and instead decided on a new, more dramatic approach. (This wasn't the first guy this had happened with, after all.) She embarked on what she called "The Jan Man Ban," refusing to go on any dates at all for the month of January.
Whether a dating hiatus is spurred by a noncommittal guy, a string of bad meet-ups, or a tough breakup, some women are temporarily dropping out of the dating game. A survey of Women's Health readers showed that 88 percent have at least considered taking a dating break, and in the past year, there were 1.5 million tweets related to a #datingbreak or #datinghiatus.
One likely contributor to this fatigue is our modern mode of meeting. "If you're dating online, you could easily line up 10 dates in a weekÃ¢â‚¬”and if not even one of them is great, you're more apt to get frustrated" than if you had just one sucky date, says Megan Fleming, Ph.D., a New York City sex and relationship therapist.
In brief, a dozen coffees with duds, mixed in with some lame texts and intermittent IMs, does not a happy dating life make.
To Break or Not to Break
How can you tell if you need a time-out? Check your calendar: If it's booked with guys you know aren't right for you simply because you feel like you shouldn't be sitting at home, that's one big sign. Suzanne Lachmann, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in New York City, calls this "hysterical dating," and it can easily lead to burnout. "It generates a frenzy of fearÃ¢â‚¬”I'm never going to meet someone!' 'OMG! I'm going to end up alone!'" says Lachmann. "When I see my patients doing this, I advise them to hit pause on their dating life until they can go back in calmly."
The tone of your conversations with close friends can also provide good insight. If your talk is laced with more will-he-or-won't-he-call worry than positive date experiences, it may be time to take a step back. (If you're unsure, ask your pals.)
Another clue you need a break? When dating trumps all else. For example, says Jaclyn, "When guys were like 'Do you want to come over and watch a movie tonight?' I'd think, Sure, I'll skip the lifting class I signed up for. I think that's a sign that I wasn't too secure in the relationship." A hiatus can provide some needed perspective: "When you're so focused on finding a relationship, you may emit feelings of anxiety or desperation, which guys can sense," says Fleming. Taking yourself out of the game allows you to regroup.
There are risks, however, to stepping away from the meet market. You could overlook a great guy because you're forcing yourself to stay single. Or you might feel as if you never want to return. "When you stop dating, you may get caught up in the business of everyday life and forget that a relationship is a goal," says relationship expert Andrea Syrtash, coauthor of It's Okay to Sleep with Him on the First Date: And Every Other Rule of Dating, Debunked. Another potential hazard: You become so comfortable with being on your own that you convince yourself you wouldn't be happier in a relationship. . .even if you really want one.
Setting an end date or time limit can prevent permanent opt-out, and Lachmann says two months is about right for most people. But don't feel as if you're letting yourself down if you end your hiatus early. "A dating break isn't like a diet, where throwing in the towel early is a bad thing," says Fleming. "It's rare that we feel a true connection with someoneÃ¢â‚¬”and if you find it while on your break, go for it."
How to Hit Pause
There are entire books written about the rules of dating, so naturally man-fasts have guidelines too.
Better yourself. Just because you're not dating doesn't mean you should let yourself go. Au contraire! Pursue personal and professional goals and do things that make you happy: Hang with friends, learn to meditate, or simply catch up on missed episodes of The Mindy Project.
Process your emotions. Work through any dating issues by talking to someone you trust, whether it's a therapist, friend, or relative. "You need someone to point out things you may not have noticed about how you date," says Lachmann.
Decide what's important. A man ban IRL doesn't mean there should be one in your head, too. Now is the perfect time to mull over the type of guy you're really looking for. Make a three-column list of your core values, says Fleming: must have, nice to have, and not important. "Having this clarity will help you not waste time dating men who don't match your criteria," she says.
Hang with guy friends. Being with dudes in a platonic way can help you see the good in them again, says Fleming.
Getting Back Out There
When you do start dating again, go slow. There's no need to play catch-up. Instead, ease back in by getting involved in activities you love, like a running club, volunteer program, or wine-tasting group. "You're more likely to meet people you connect with in an environment you enjoy," says Syrtash, "and even if you just meet women, you'll be expanding your social circle, which will likely lead to meeting new men."
* Names have been changed.