Dating Ethically: Addressing Common Frustrations Honestly and Openly

Person sitting in cafe looks at phone with bored or annoyed expressionFrustrations and disappointments are all too common for those who engage in modern dating. Mutual interest and attraction alone can be difficult to find, especially as online dating becomes more of a norm. Sometimes there might not even be an opportunity to really determine whether or not there is a mutual interest.

Given the amount of frustration and pain that can result from the dating experience, it may make sense to consider what we can do to make the experience less painful all around.

Of course, it isn’t possible to control or change other people. What we can do is to save ourselves the pain of a guilty conscience while simultaneously saving others from the pain of being treated poorly.

Consider some of the following common dating behaviors—and more ethical alternatives that honor the universal golden rule: the idea of treating others with the kindness and respect we wish to be treated with.


One common experience in the dating arena is blowing someone off, or “ghosting,” as it is sometimes called. It’s true that the experience of looking at numerous dating profiles and talking to potential dates can be overwhelming, and responding to every interested suitor is often not feasible.

Choosing not to respond to a communication from someone you are not interested is not unethical behavior, but if you have engaged in some sort of substantive communication with someone, perhaps even met them for a date, ghosting that person after they have invested time and emotional energy into getting to know you can amount to treating that person poorly. (This does not include instances where a person harassed or threatened you, disrespected your boundaries, or made you feel otherwise unsafe.)

Ghosting behavior can communicate the message, “Your feelings mean nothing to me.” If you find you are not interested in continuing the process of getting to know someone after there has been substantial conversation or an initial date, a better way to handle the situation might be sending a simple message letting them know you have lost interest. You might also choose to include a brief and tactful explanation as to why, if appropriate.

For example, if after a first date you realize you aren’t interested, you might send a message saying, “Thank you for taking the time to meet me. I am sorry to tell you I just wasn’t feeling the chemistry. I wish you luck!” This message will take little time and gives you the satisfaction of knowing you’re not leaving a loose end. Further, you are saving the other person from the potential emotional pain of being in the dark about where you stand or why you lost interest.


Another dating practice that can potentially cause pain, sometimes referred to as “benching,” involves sending mixed messages that can effectively lead a person on by not letting them know where you really stand or your true goals with regard to dating.

If you realize after meeting someone that you are not sufficiently into them to invest in an exclusive relationship, the best course of action is to be clear and honest about this. If you let the other person think you are still interested in the same type of relationship they are, you are not acting with integrity. Toying with a person’s feelings and sending mixed messages can simply be different versions of the same behavior: In short, you are not being clear and honest about your true intentions.

If you realize after meeting someone that you are not sufficiently into them to invest in an exclusive relationship, the best course of action is to be clear and honest about this. If you let the other person think you are still interested in the same type of relationship they are, you are not acting with integrity.

As an alternative, why not simply be honest? If you aren’t ready for or interested in anything more than a casual relationship (for example, you would like to have sex with the other person), tell them so and let them make an informed choice about the matter. They could very well feel the same way, and a mutually beneficial “friends with benefits” type of relationship could ensue. It could also be that a purely sexual relationship, or “fling,” is the last thing the other person wants. By being honest about your intentions, you avoid burdening your own conscience, but more importantly, you can avoid inflicting others with undue pain by giving them all the information and letting them make their own choice.


Another unethical behavior may be more difficult to spot or even recognize in yourself. What I’m referring to is the exploitation of another person’s interest.

Consider, for example, this situation: You have been honest with a person you have been seeing about your lukewarm interest, expressed the absence of romantic feelings on your part, and conveyed that your interest is perhaps only in a physical, non-exclusive relationship. The other person has agreed to these terms.

On the surface, this scenario might seem just fine. After all, you were honest about your feelings, and the other person agreed to the level of involvement. And it might, in fact, be fine. But it can become unethical if, say, the other person is harboring secret hopes that you’ll “come around” to the idea of a relationship and/or that their feelings for you will eventually “catch” and be reciprocated, and you realize this but let things continue as they have been.

If it becomes clear the other person has feelings for you and may be going along with your proposition and the level of involvement you have expressed being interested in, hoping you might change your mind and want an actual relationship, the best thing to do may be to end the involvement. Continuing it could not only lead to an exploitation of the other’s unwillingness to end something that isn’t quite what they are looking for, but also consider that by being less than honest about what they truly want and/or their relationship needs, the other person is not respecting your needs.

At this point, the best action may be to simply let the other person know something just doesn’t feel right and end the relationship.

In Summary

Some may find it easy to attribute certain dating practices to individuals on basis of gender, but generally speaking, I do not believe any gender in particular is more or less at fault when it comes to to dating behaviors that may be inconsiderate or unkind. We can all work to treat other people with greater kindness and respect. The dating experience tends to contain enough pain and frustration on its own without the additional layer of pain we can add by treating others carelessly, whatever our intentions. Those who are dating may find it helpful to keep the golden rule in mind. Consider how you would feel if someone ghosted you.

If you find you sometimes engage in behaviors you are not proud of, behaviors that don’t line up with your values, you can work to address these by finding a skilled psychotherapist who can empathize with you for the ways you may have been treated poorly while also helping you understand and resolve the underlying drivers of your own behaviors.


  1. Hogi, F. (2016, August 15). Ghosting, benching, and zombieing – A modern dater’s guide. Huffington Post. Retrieved from
  2. McNamara, B. (2016, June 9). “Benching” is the cruel new dating trend that’s even worse than ghosting. Teen Vogue. Retrieved from
  3. Young, S. (2016, December 20). Ghosting, benching, and DTR: What these 13 popular dating terms really mean. Independent. Retrieved from

© Copyright 2017 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Johannes Kieding, LMSW, Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Lily

    October 16th, 2017 at 11:02 AM

    Can’t we all just learn to be adults here? If you like someone then show them that you like them. If you don’t and don’t wish to continue the relationship, then be a grown up and break up with them. Don’t just leave someone hanging because how would you feel if they led you on that same way?

  • Johannes

    October 16th, 2017 at 2:42 PM

    There you go!

  • burt

    October 18th, 2017 at 11:16 AM

    Call me old fashioned but I would be embarrassed to treat anyone this way, whether or not I wanted to date them.

  • Johannes

    October 18th, 2017 at 12:33 PM

    My hope is that the golden rule never becomes “old fashioned.” Sadly, in many respects it seems to be that way though.

  • burt

    October 18th, 2017 at 1:58 PM

    You are so right Johannes!
    I haven’t thought about it that way but yeah, it too often seems that we are the ones who are ridiculed by trying to keep up some modicum of decency while the rest of society goes to h*** in a handbasket!
    I am embarrassed to say that even I, who have great manners and freely admit that this kind of treatment is wrong, would probably sit by quietly if I saw this being done instead of speaking up and saying something.

  • Johannes

    October 18th, 2017 at 2:18 PM

    Thank you for your spirited engagement with this topic and for your self-reflection! We need more of that type of self-reflection…

  • Terri

    October 24th, 2017 at 3:33 PM

    Things that make you go hmmm… we all are expected and in reality SHOULD behave online but the commander in chief can go on Twitter and spew out all kinds of crap.

  • Johannes

    October 24th, 2017 at 3:40 PM

    Terri, I too wish we had better role models.

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