Dating is a competition – and I’m losing

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Hi there,

I am in my late-40s and have been divorced/single for awhile, and one of the challenges I've encountered since I was a teenager – and even when married – are aggressive rivals going after the person I'm with/want at the time. The worst is when the dating situation is just moving toward a romantic place, but then … it's blown up by a rival.

I am not necessarily a wallflower, but there's an uncomfortable dynamic in these competitive situations where some people will seriously ratchet things up to get their way. Maybe as I get older it seems worse, but dang, it's rough out there! I've been shocked that the target of my affection chooses to go after these pushy, manipulative people. Or maybe it's me and I can be on the timid side in this regard. Not always, but when I truly care, I do prefer to go slow. And then I don’t get the chance.

I also tend to bungle it anytime I try to match these competitors. I'm not very good at beating these people at their game. Part of me wonders: do I just not fight hard enough? Do I not have good game? Another part of me doesn't want to get into the mud either. It makes me feel uncomfortable to be so aggressive. Unfortunately, this happened again, and I lost what seemed like a real one. It hurts something awful. I'm wondering if anyone else has been through this, and how did they handle it? Thoughts?

– Losing

Are you a contestant on "The Bachelor?" If not, this whole dynamic is strange. Real-life dating isn’t "The Hunger Games." If it feels that way, you're not seeking out the right people or seeing things as they are.

From now on, let's assume that anytime someone chooses to be with another person – or to be single instead of dating you – it's because ... that's what they want. It's about free will, not a grand manipulation on the part of a competitor. Let's also assume that yes, if you're on an app, people will want to whether you're interested, and it's worth being clear. If you state your intentions (even if it's that you want to get to know them better, at a slow pace) and a person moves on anyway, it's OK. Better for them to leave than stick around and confuse you.

Your letter has me making some guesses about friendships and what other singles are in your life. It can help to be friends with other uncoupled people because a) it's fun and b) it helps you understand that you're not the only vulnerable dater in the mix. It can remind you that many people want to help each other find love, as opposed to intercepting opportunities. Maybe if you broadened your group of platonic companions – more singled and coupled people are welcome – you'll have a better idea of what's really happening out there.

Yes, some people are looking for games. Others just want to find someone nice without losing too much along the way. They're out there. Tell them you're looking for them.

– Meredith

Readers? Has it ever felt like this for you?