Do You Want to Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too?

This week, I was on the phone with a client who came to me eight weeks ago with no dating prospects whatsoever.

But armed with a new perspective on dating, online dating, and understanding men (not to mention a new online ad campaign), this woman found herself in a new position: the object of desire to a thoughtful, considerate man.

Tara, 39, went out with Ted three times. Each time, he called her in advance, made the plans, paid for her, followed up the day after, and let her know that she was a priority in his love life. Without being over-the-top smothering, Ted made it clear that he wanted to be her boyfriend.

Yet even though Tara invested a lot of money with me to ostensibly find herself a boyfriend, suddenly, when confronted with the prospect of focusing on one man, she found herself pulling away emotionally.

You know that the guy who is casually “seeing” you once a week for three months NEVER becomes your husband.

Even though he’s a great guy. Cute, smart, successful, kind.

Even though he’s done everything right.

Even though she wants to be married one day and this man is on board – Tara just couldn’t help but feel that she needed more time being single.

“More time than 39 years?” I asked.

“It’s more that I’m not sure I’m ready to commit to HIM,” she continued. “So what I’d like to do is continue to date Ted casually for the next couple of months, put my profile up on, and see what happens from there. He IS a good guy, and I don’t want to throw things away. I just want to explore my other options right now.”


Tara’s proclamation sounds eerily like the thoughts of the man who played with your heart in the past. Like your heartbreaker, she came on strong, she made a real connection, and now she’s silently backing away… sort of.

Because Tara – like your heartbreaker – doesn’t want to actually break up – she just wants to keep her distance and downgrade Ted from “future boyfriend” to “one of three men I’m seeing right now”.

Which means that, whether Tara likes it or not, Ted’s going to be on pins-and-needles, wondering where the spark and momentum went.

He’s going to be wondering what happened, what he did wrong, and how he can turn things around again.

Essentially, Tara wants to have her cake and eat it, too.

Not because she’s evil and malicious and doesn’t care about men, but because continuing to date Ted casually while exploring her other options maximizes her selfish desires.

So she gets to keep the door open for Ted, experiment with some exciting, unpredictable men on Match, and make her decision down the road.

Except that’s never how it goes.

You know that.

Because you’ve been in Ted’s position more times than you’d care to admit.

And you know that the guy who is casually “seeing” you once a week for three months NEVER becomes your husband.

How do you know this?

Because if he wanted to be your boyfriend, he’d have tried harder from the very beginning. His very indifference and ambivalence to you – shopping around for other women while keeping you in the loop – tells the entire story.

I don’t have to stick around to see the end.

Neither should Ted.

Every second you’re with the wrong guy is a second you’re not looking for the right guy.

And neither should you.

Your takeaway from this blog post should be twofold:

First, realize that men and women are no different. And although it’s easy to berate men for being selfish, for using you, for not telling you their true intentions, the real truth is: this isn’t a man thing, it’s a people thing.

I just told you Tara’s story, but I literally have THREE clients right now going through the exact same thing.

Three women with no prospects 8 weeks ago; now, all three are putting OFF having a boyfriend because they want time to date and explore and maximize.

I would probably quibble that they should consider the devoted guy instead of looking for a more exciting, unpredictable player on the Internet, but that’s neither here nor there.

All you need to know is that you have two choices: act with integrity and let your man go find a woman who’s into him, or give up on any sense of moral high ground that you might maintain when complaining about non-committal men.

You can’t have it both ways.

The second takeaway I’d like you to have is to internalize the idea that the guy who is keeping you at bay for more than 6-8 weeks is probably never going to step up to the plate to be your boyfriend.

So dump him NOW and go out and find yourself a man who is EXCITED about you.

Every second you’re with the wrong guy is a second you’re not looking for the right guy.

Join our conversation (92 Comments).
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  1. 1
    J0hnny S

    Maybe they’ve become infatuated with the thought that they are now desirable and want to experience what it’s like to actually options after years of rejection. That power of choice is intoxicating for someone that hasn’t been in that position before. 

  2. 2

    Excellent way to make the point Evan. 🙂

  3. 3

    Excellent advice as always Evan: you’re right, it’s not a man thing, it’s a people thing. The sooner we stop seeing the other gender as an entirely different species the better! I have been in both Ted’s and your client’s positions.

  4. 4

    well i had a friends with benefits relationship and i made it clear from the beginning that i wanted no relationship….after 2 months he fell for me and now wants me to be an official boyfriend. (it’s now the 3rd almost 4th months now)…
    i think guys take a lot of time to commit so maybe 6-8 weeks is still not a lot?

  5. 5
    Happy Person

    I think the sequence of photos here is funny. Having your cake: three cute tushes, propped up on elbows, gal in the middle. Single mom: three smiling faces, propped up on elbows, gal in the middle.  If the camera pans from cute tushes around to the front shot of the single mom with smiling kids it would be an amusing commentary on the life cycle of the gal’s relationship. 🙂  

  6. 6

    Evan, you are most definitely correct here.

    However, I couldn’t help but think, when I read this, well, hey, we girls go through it ALL the time, and it was the story of my dating life, for months.  Of course the behavior is not nice, it’s cruel, it’s immature.

    But still, the thought ran through my head: “Well, maybe if guys experienced this, maybe they wouldn’t treat a woman like that, in the future, because they know how it hurts.”

    Now of course, I am not saying all guys do this.  And again, I am not condoning this kind of behavior.  I certainly do not behave that way towards men.  I let them know, let them down easily, and will not keep them on the hook.  And I do that because I know way too well, how much it hurts to be used, rejected, lied to.  I get it.  And I won’t screw up my karma by doing that to someone else.

    Just a thought here. 

  7. 7

    Thank you for posting this article, the way you articulate complex issues opens my eyes regularly and today is no exception.  In fact today you did more than open my eyes; I realized I am a ‘Ted’.
    I have been dating a smart, strong, and successful, not to mention beautiful, woman for the past several months.  She came on strong, we had a connection, and then she backed away silently.  The spark and momentum disappeared completely.  I tried to talk openly with her about it but I could never get a straight answer, I only got just enough to keep me hooked. When her dating profile went back up my exact thoughts were “What happened? Where did I go wrong? How can I fix this?”
    The more I read, the more your story resonated with me.  Desperate for answers, I sent your article to her and without judgement asked ‘do you feel like Tara?’  I received defensive and hostile responses; until finally being informed that I had “no long term potential, but do I still want to get together Friday night?” 
    Being put on the back burner while your partner searches for something better is incredibly hurtful, to both sexes.  Without your help I may have wasted months in ignorance debating where I stood. 
    I think the greatest thing your site offers are the tools to quickly and accurately assess where you stand in the other persons eyes. 
    Keep up the great work.     

  8. 8

    So, Evan, please remind those of us who are being treated as an option- what are we supposed to say to cut the drama short ?

  9. 9


    There’s really not much to say.  If you know for sure that you’re being treated like an option, you can either continue to see them and live through that drama, or end it.  I realized a guy I was seeing, last summer, saw me as an option.  I accepted a date from another man, and guy number one who was treating me as an option, was cut off.  I informed him that I do not tolerate guys who disappear, or who make plans but do not follow through.

    I’ve unfortunately had this happen to me alot, and was really devastated over it, until I read some dating blogs similar to EMK’s and realized I have power.  I don’t have to put up with bullshit.  So I began cutting guys off if they mistreated me.  I told them to leave me alone.  I informed them that being mistreated will not fly with me and if that’s how they behave, that I certainly am not the girl for them.

    I received some hostile responses, but I stood strong.  Now I’m dating a nice guy with NO drama, and he says he respects how feisty and independent I am, and that I don’t put up with stupid stuff.

    Just get rid of the guys who treat you like an option.

  10. 10

    Great article! Evan, is the man! By the way, these are some very selfish women in this article…

    1. 10.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Thanks, Margo. But I still disagree with you. I don’t think these people are selfish. I think they’re humans with mixed emotions and desires.

  11. 11
    Katarina Phang

    Evan, is it possible that maybe she has reservations and isn’t entirely sure how she feels for him yet?  Or she’s just not that into him?

    I think timing varies from one person to the next depending on where they are in life and circumstances.  Sometimes it takes longer than a couple of months for two people to be sure they want to be in relationship. 

    When it feels right for both, it feels right.  Till then, I don’t think it’s wise to force it. 

  12. 12

    Jackson, I hope you don’t need any new information to know that you need to let this woman go on about her business especially since she became hostile. Don’t let her use you. Let her go, and find someone else more deserving of your time and attention.

  13. 13

    Evan says: Essentially, Tara wants to have her cake and eat it, too.”

    What would you call this if not selfish??

    1. 13.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Everybody’s selfish, Margo. We look out for our interests first and others’ second. We don’t want to hurt people but yet people unintentionally get hurt. Men hurt women. Women hurt men, as you can see in this piece. Doesn’t mean they’re bad so I suggest you stop passing judgment on everyone who isn’t a pure altruist and is trying to maximize her happiness. It’s unbecoming.

  14. 14

    This is par for the course for most women.  Tara is clearly leading Ted on.  She has probably gotten a big ego boost because he is being “nice” and doing the right thing.  Well if he is that attractive he will give up soon and find a woman who appreciates him more. 
    At her age Tara is playing with fire.  How many great guys are going to want to settle down with a 39-year-old woman?  Most of those guys probably want to start a family but if she plays the field for much longer, she’ll miss her chance.  
    I honestly suspect that sometimes women assume that a guy is way more into them than he actually is if he treats her well from the start and it is better than she has been treated in the past.  I’ve met women before who made the same assumptions and tried to get away with certain things, yet were shocked when I told them I didn’t want to date them anymore because of their behavior. 

    1. 14.1

      Or sometimes the guy isn’t sure yet either, and it’s a good idea to keep other options open! I think it would be natural to worry about committing to someone too soon, especially if you haven’t dated too much.

    2. 14.2

      Oh, “most women.”  There are 3.5 billion women on the planet – why do we keep having to make or hear these silly generalizations.  Most women have two X chromosomes, and we differ significantly on pretty much everything else.  My experience, returning to the dating world at age 44, was that there are plenty of great men willing to commit to a woman over 39.  Trying to scare women into “settling” is bad for both the women who fall for it and the men they settle for.  And I’m using settling to mean deciding to pursue a relationship with someone you’re not genuinely excited to “settle down” with.

  15. 15
    Karl R

    Heather said: (#6)
    “the thought ran through my head: ‘Well, maybe if guys experienced this, maybe they wouldn’t treat a woman like that, in the future, because they know how it hurts.'”

    As a man who has experienced this, I developed thicker skin.

    Take responsibility for your own best interest. If you want someone who is interested in a serious relationship, dump the guy who isn’t (or at least start dating a second/third man). If you think it’s his responsibility to dump you, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

  16. 16

    I have three first dates lined up in the next week and am feeling duplicitous even though I haven’t met any of them yet. This multiple dating thing doesn’t sit too well with me. In any event, I am a believer in treating others as we would want to be treated ourselves and we can’t really complain about how we are treated if we don’t.   There is nothing wrong with not being in to someone after 3 dates but stringing them along is just not on.

  17. 17

    Just a thought…….sometimes I think that we are so used to being kept as a option that we don’t recognize a WONDERFUL MAN when we see him. I know that I was so used to men who did not come through for me that when I met my fiancé, I was (almost) surprised by the lack of drama. Surprised by how easy and how wonderful it has been.  Still no drama from him – and we continue to have a phenomenal relationship.

  18. 18

    Self interest is NOT being selfish.

    I wonder, how much dating has this women done in general?  I’m thinking proably not much over her adult life since she’s hiring a dating coach and then at age 39?  If so, perhaps the goals need not be to get a boyfriend, but rather than experience dating and experience dating different kinds of men so she learns what she finds attractive or not.   There is NO substitute for experience.

    Just a thought…   

  19. 19

    Ay, this article really resonates with me. I admit that I’m Tara and I appreciate Evan’s comment #11 saying that we’re not selfish but human beings with mixed emotions and desires. That describes me! Because I don’t want to be selfish, I did not put my profile back online after finding myself with a good man who seems loyal and true. But I find myself thinking that perhaps I wasn’t single long enough after ending a very long marriage. And I find myself wondering if I’m settling when I should be out exploring. I can’t help but think that I might be making a mistake. But I do love him and he’s so good to me. I just have second thoughts and mixed emotions and desires. But one thing is certain, if I’d be putting myself out there, it would be unfair for me to keep stringing my guy along while I explored. It is only sensible to either end the relationship or let it be an open and casual relationship which goes BOTH WAYS. If I explore, he should be free to explore, too.

  20. 20

    You’re right, Evan. Selfish was the wrong word for this woman in this situation. It’s her right if she wants to explore more guys before picking one, with the caveat that it’s only right to tell her man of interest what she’s doing so as to not lead him on.

    That is the only thing I would have issue with, not telling someone that you are dating/looking for others.

  21. 21

    I think if she really loved this guy she wouldn’t be wanting to continue to explore other options, which is every person’s prerogative. i agree with the first comment from Johnny S, that she may want to enjoy her “power of choice”, something more often associated with men. Admittedly, my opinion is from someone a little older, with no biological clock issues and no need to marry for financial security, etc. Women should enjoy men and not feel pressure to commit just because a caring guy has come along. if nothing else, it is confidence building to date a number of different people. i agree with Evan though, that she should not string this nice man along if she doubts she would ever really be with him long tern. The important takeaway for me here, is YES, it’s great to meet a good guy who steps up to the plate, but it has to be the right one.

  22. 22

    hm… well, i’ve been on both sides, yes.
    but.  it took for me years to reilize why exactly i pull off every time i meet a good, carying guy and why i subcontiously looking for emotionally unavailable men.
    no, i’m not a heart-eater, not a player, not a man-phobiac. i love men. i really do. i admire them, their personalities and abilities which are so different from ours. but to overcome this huge, strong, life-long lasting block inside, with deeply engraved “do not trust!” – it’s hell of the deal.
    yes, it started in childhood, yes, it was fed during the early years, yes, i understand it now – but it’s just so hard to trust, even if i really, really, really want to.
    so, don’t hurry to throw the stone at such women – they suffer from that, too.

  23. 23

    EMK, you have written about clients like this one before. They spend money hiring a dating coach, then don’t take your advice, and decide they want to date around. Surprising, because you’d think that someone who goes to the trouble and expense of hiring you would be more motivated. It sounds like you have a number of clients who contact you after having recently ended long marriages. I get the sense, as SusieQ (#21) said, that they don’t have much dating experience, but then realize that they are just not ready for another serious relationship yet.

  24. 24

    Tara is being selfish. She is not acting in self-interest. She does not consider this man a “future boyfriend” and wants to “explore [her] other options”, so her plan is to use his feelings for her to keep him around while she searches for the BBD. If she were acting in her self-interest, she would end the relationship while she continues looking. She would not use him as a backup, and even if his well-being was not her intent, it is ultimately in his best interest. I would call her a jerk and a user.

  25. 25

    I don’t think Tara is doing anything wrong. If she is now finding a lot of good men to date thanks to Evan’s coaching and good advice, it’s up to her to find the best guy for her if she is looking for marriage and possibly children down the track.
    Tara may be having a great time dating a few different guys and is having a lot of fun for the first time in ages.

    After 8 weeks if she wants to date other guys then she isn’t feeling it 100% for Ted. I know Evan has said if the chemistry is off the charts then run like hell, and that is very good advice if you have ever met someone who rocks your universe like never before and, yeah … where are they now!! 

    The first 8-12 weeks is sorting out whether there is some really good things happening between you or if there are things that are going to be a deal breaker. You can’t really afford to skip this step and need to take the time to get to know the other person. Everyone is on their best behaviour at first and you need to see the other person in all sorts of friends, family and social situations. 

    If you don’t love someone and know it, let them go to find someone who will love them. I know it’s very hard to tell someone you don’t feel the same way but staying with them when you don’t love them is pretty bad form. Better to be single for a bit longer and feel good about yourself for doing the right thing than 
    going out with someone you don’t like. Believe me, they do know and it’s a rotten feeling! 

  26. 26

    I’m interested in the time frame here. In the article Evan you state Tara went out with this man 3 times. How many hours does that translate to? 5? 10?  I believe it’s possible to know within that time frame that you want to focus on each other – opposed to dating others –  but not necessarily. Unless you were acquainted prior to dating, you barely know each other after only 3 dates. Why should one have to make a ‘commitment’ of any kind to someone they’ve spent so little time with?
    Suzie Q (Tara), you write you do love him. Do you? I will venture most of us when we love someone don’t desire to see what else might be out there because – well – we are in love. If you’ve only gone out with Ted  a few times, how can you be sure you love him? For me, it takes a couple months to develop those feelings and the result of seeing him nearly, if not every day. Many, many hours, not just a dozen or less. So I’m puzzled by how much time you and Ted have actually spent together.

  27. 27

    Kurt #15, there will be plenty of men who will want to date a 39 year old. You’ll see when you’re 39. Not everyone wants children.

    I would argue that Tara–nor anyone for that matter–doesn’t have to settle for the first good man that comes along. In fact, I would argue that clinging to the first good man that comes along when you aren’t that into him sounds desperate and fearful. It seems to me that Evan has been successful in teaching Tara how to enter the dating world, showing her that she actually has more than one prospect, and now she wants to see what that’s about. There’s nothing wrong with that and Ted is most likely not the only good man she’ll find in the process, now that she has opened herself up and has put herself out there.

    But, Tara, do Ted a favor and don’t string him along. That’s just bad taste. 

  28. 28

    @ Karl:

    I DO take responsibility for my own actions, and once I figured out that it’s OK for me to be strong and stand up and call men out for treating me like an option, then I did so.  I emailed them and said, “Thanks but no thanks.  I will not be treated like an option.  Leave me alone!”  My point is that maybe if some guys would take away from that experience, that if they don’t like how it feels to be on the receiving end of that behavior, then don’t be on the GIVING end of that behavior, either.  Just sayin.
    @ Brenda:
    YES.  Yes exactly.  I’ve been so used to being treated as an option, especially after the way my ex husband and a couple of post-divorce guys treated me, that I’m genuinely shocked by my current boyfriend’s good behavior.  I still think, “OK, I’m being punk’d.  Smile, I’m on Candid Camera!  Where’s the bad boy behavior?  Let me see it now, before we get too far and I get hurt.  I’m ready to run as soon as I see it, so let’s see it now!”  I’ve gotten so used to telling guys, sorry but you will not mistreat me, use me or abuse me, so hit the road, that it’s just ingrained.  Of course, we are all responsible for our own actions, and I had to learn the hard way, how to walk away from a guy and tell him that I won’t tolerate bad behavior.  I’m a Libra so confrontation and standing up for myself does not come easily.  I totally understand how you feel.

  29. 29

    Tara seems to be self-absorbed in the decision process of picking partner rather than focusing on the building a relationship with someone.  I’m of the opinion that a relationship is a goal to work towards and not some choice you make at the end of a month long taste test.  You are always going to cold feet if you think it’s either 1, 2 or what’s behind door number 3.

  30. 30

    “there will be plenty of men who will want to date a 39 year old. You’ll see when you’re 39. Not everyone wants children.”
    Additionally, Kurt,
    Men in that age range also *tend* to have had children already if they had a strong desire for them. Folks can contend – despite the statistics that say that people marry people within 5-7 years of themselves generally – that men in their 30s strongly prefer women in their 20s, and that a significant proportion of those women are amenable to make such preferences feasible. But you’ve got to be kidding to say that men in their 40s are in the aggregate, going to tell a woman in her 30s to jump in a lake in favor of a woman at “peak fertility,” and the same goes for any scaling up in decades. Youth is relative, there are only so many nubile college aged women to go around (actually way fewer than there used to be), and they will prefer a man who knows their favorite bands, shares their politics, and doesn’t sound like their father. 35 year olds may choose Brad Pitt over Chris Pine – possibly because they have embedded memories of him at his physical prime that they cling to – your average 20 year old woman, not so much.
    The difficulty with dating at later ages is culling. A higher and higher percentage of people who are older singles are going to be single by choice, due to chronic indecisiveness, or other personality traits that are fairly well established, difficult to modify and off-putting to many. People who are not in those categories get jaded running into folks who are and get less motivated to put themselves out there, in an increasingly fragmented social scene where people have to make an effort to find other singles over thirtysomething.
    More than likely both Ted and Tara will eventually move on. This is often going to be the natural result of being advised to date people who you feel lukewarm about until they grow on you. Sometimes they never really do, and the person is faced with the difficult choice of rejecting someone with a personal investment in you and several dates underneath their belt. Rather than reject outright, they choose to do what’s easy for them and string them along. More devious people will extract as much of an ego boost and/or as many gifts and sexual favors as they can from that person while doing so. Sometimes people that just “want a chance” shouldn’t have one for their own good, and people who are exceptionally picky need to be honest about it with their prospective partners and themselves before going forward, and step away from their vision of an ideal partner slowly by degrees, instead of entertaining people who they’d never seriously consider and wasting everyone’s time.

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