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I have these dating filters, right?

They’re not foolproof, I promise. They’re not going to make your life perfect. Terrible things could still happen to you, and probably will! I’ve had this fucking cough all this week, and my filters did absolutely nothing to prevent it.

Right, so, say you’re in contact with a person you’re interested in. You can be in several different stages of the relationship, but generally, let’s say that these filters work in any situation prior to some kind of official relationship declaration. You could have gone on a few dates already, or you could be in the stages of setting one up, or you could have just sent this person an OkCupid message and are doing that horrible ritual of jumping at your phone every time it buzzes for the next few days, only to find out that it’s just your turn in Words With Friends or whatever. I know, I do it too.

The situation is: the person you’re interested in has stopped responding.

Calamity!

This is just the worst, isn’t it? Clearly, you’re a radiant and charming person of the world. Why can’t this other person recognize your inherent sexiness and sleep with you immediately? I mean, wait, not that. Why won’t they write you back? They must not have received your text. Time to send them like five more, each one getting more and more desperate and incoherent, until you end up appearing on this site as its most-read post. You could do that.

Don’t do that. I’ve never done that, because before I got to the point where doing that was a possibility, I came up with my handy-dandy filter system.

Do this instead:

The reason said person has stopped responding to you can be broadly summarized in three categories, with a fourth corollary that takes aspects of the first three. They are as follows:

1) It’s a problem with you
Maybe you misspelled something in that text. Maybe you talked with your mouth full of food during that date. Maybe you adhere to the philosophical principles of Ayn Rand and believe compassion is a weakness and love is a financial transaction. Maybe you’re just not that interesting. Take heart! Lots of people have these very same problems, and the great thing about them is that they’re all fixable*. That means you can work on them and mitigate, eliminate, or mask them the next time around. Which won’t be with the person who’s not responding to you, because you blew that chance. Don’t worry about it. Maybe you’ll meet them around after you’ve undergone your little bout of self-improvement, and they’ll be totally impressed and actually send you a text this time around. Even if they don’t, you should still stop talking with your mouth full of food, because that is just gross.

*Problems that are not fixable: generally, anything that could get you ten or more years in prison or dragged before the War Crimes tribunal at The Hague.

If it’s not a problem with you, then:

2) It’s a problem with them
So you’ve gone over your prior interactions in your head, and try as you might, you can’t find anything you did that was so utterly offensive or off-putting that the person you’re interested in had no choice but to sever contact. The next possibility is that it’s just a problem with them.

Look, with the possible exception of Mr. Rogers, who is dead, we are none of us perfect. Some people idealize the person they’re interested in, but that person’s got flaws too, right? Perhaps they have commitment issues. They could have a superiority complex. They could have an inferiority complex. They could have been too busy planning the robbery of a local orphanage to write you back. They could be a Space Fascist. I don’t know! You don’t either.

It’s not your problem.

That’s the great thing about it — it’s not your problem. You don’t need to worry about it. You might have dodged a bullet.

If it’s not a problem with them, then:

3) It’s just a fundamental incompatibility
Obviously you don’t believe this, because you still want the other person to text you back, but again, no one is perfect and there is no such thing as omniscience. The other person may simply have noticed something you haven’t yet. You could be really conservative, she could be really liberal. You have a faux-hawk, he can’t stand that particular haircut. You talked past one another but neither of you ended the first date early, because that would have been rude. He really wanted to message you back, but you’re just too far away from him, and he didn’t want to give you false hope, so he kept silent.

These aren’t problems. They’re obstacles to you two getting together, sure, but they’re not problems. They’re just … things that happened. Unfortunately there’s not much you can do about them, but the good thing is that they’re unique to that one person. You don’t need to do anything except move on.

4) The corollary
They’re seeing someone else instead.

This sucks. No dancing around it — what it is is a form of losing, and no one likes losing. I’m not going to say that you should feel great about it, but what you should be is gracious, because it’s really just a slightly less-tolerable version of the first three rules, in any configuration or combination. You’re not this other person, but that doesn’t mean you’re worse than them*, it just means this single person out of the world’s seven billion people finds them more attractive than you. The thing is, this is true in hundreds or thousands of situations. The only difference here is that you’re particularly aware of this one. I feel you, man. Or lady. What you need to remember is that it won’t be true in every case for everyone.

*You might objectively be worse than them, but again: fixable unless you’re truly horrid.

So, the next time you’re in this particular situation, put it through these filters. If you find any of them to be remotely applicable in your case, then hold off on sending that next text. Maybe — MAYBE — if you’ve actually gone on a date with them, and they haven’t responded to the last thing you’ve sent, then you can send one more, so long as it’s not cloying or bitter or otherwise horrid and embarrassing. Just let it go. You are in a hole that is half a foot deep but happens to be two feet above an active river of nuclear runoff. Go dig somewhere else.