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I have a friend who will spend that whole first hour of a first date on the phone, asking her date to buy her drinks, if there’s obviously no attraction. At least she’s honest about her intentions. I have other friends who will sit around uncomfortably, waiting to be excused so they can go home and delete their date’s number. I take the more dishonest route of having a real conversation with my date and saying suddenly at the end of the hour “It was SO much fun meeting you! I need to head home and get some work done.”

I have been on a lot of first dates. I mean I’ve been on a lot of dates but the first dates obviously outweigh the rest. My general rule for these first dates, first forays into another person’s mind forest/personality/entire being, is give it an hour if it’s obviously not going anywhere and give it as long as is comfortable if it is.

As someone who has multiple times been in a situation where I have been into my date while they didn’t reciprocate (if I can’t be honest about my failings as a human on the internet, where else can I be?), I know how crummy it is to be led on like that. And yet I maintain that you need to be selfish when you’re dating. When you’re in a relationship, you obviously have to compromise more, but for now I’m untethered by the shackles of romance and long term trust building. My form of being selfish is to give every date a hard cut off but not making my date think they wasted their time too much. My politeness is more for me than them. I also insist on paying for my own food so I definitely don’t feel attached in any way. I have yet to subscribe to new new age feminism in that way and I guess I’ll take my reparations somewhere else.

Back to me and my feelings, when a date goes sour there’s a very palpable sinking feeling. Everything feels a bit more stifling — the waiter’s over-attention, your sweater, the noise — and fight or flight takes over. You don’t want anything else than to leave suddenly and pretend you were never there. Anything can trigger it — you date isn’t as cute in person as they are online, they’re a doctor but have no personality, they’re a banker but have no manners, they haven’t asked you a single question about yourself, they insisted on paying for everything, they called their ex “crazy,” they mentioned their ex on the first date, they’re late, they hate that you’re late, and on and on. It’s such a soft turning point and yet it hits you in the face like a sucker punch.

As a brown girl that trigger point can and often is racial, even when I’m seeing other people of color. The amount of times I’ve gotten “I’m not usually attracted to brown women” or even “I went to India once,” something so small and yet so weirdly insidious. And probably the worst part about these teeny tiny microaggressions is that they create such a hairpin turn. On a first date or a third date it’s easy to be done with somebody quickly. To delete their number. To block them on a dating app and never look back.

I’ve done that often and without remorse. But it’s been done to me too.

And when it happens to you, it’s different. Suddenly you’re a beach comber, sieving through a mile’s worth of jokes and offhand comments trying to look for the single comment you made. Maybe you had a rough day at work and weren’t as charming as you could’ve been. Maybe they just didn’t understand what you were trying to say and thought you were pretentious or stupid.

Whatever it is, you’ll go home and find a single, believable reason to justify your lack of allure in this case. You’ll probably start swiping again just to move past as quickly and silently as possible.

I’ve been thinking hard about the trope of women consoling their female friends that when a dude runs it’s because he’s “intimidated” by them. It’s comforting to think that my power is just too much for some. But I don’t think that’s totally true — I do think that we are all conditioned to leave relationships before they start, but that’s our prerogative. I think more and more that romance and long-term relationships are a product of timing and intention. One day you will get a text back and one day you’ll go on past three dates into the great beyond that is a healthy adult relationship. Until then we just have to keep waxing our mustaches and hoping that one day we’ll meet someone where that won’t be an issue anymore.