Dating ambivalently is more dangerous than it sounds.
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DATING DEFINED: "Hesidating"
Credit: Getty Images/InStyle

From inadvertently finding yourself in a situationship to being love-bombed or experiencing FODA (aka fear of dating again), there's a bevy of ways that a well-meaning foray into the dating world can go sideways. Now, dating experts are pointing to a new 2022 trend that's more pervasive than you might realize: hesidating.

Coined by dating site Plenty of Fish, the trend is, unsurprisingly, a downstream effect of the pandemic and the perpetual feeling that life is so uncertain at the moment. "From socially distant walks to video chats, to finally, meeting IRL for the first time, for many singles, dating can be a lot and the idea of getting into a relationship feels even more overwhelming," Kate MacLean, resident dating expert at Plenty of Fish, tells InStyle

In fact, MacLean says that POF's findings show 70% of singles are unsure about their relationship status and whether they want something serious or more casual. In other words, they're hesidating. Ahead, experts break down what the term really means and how to contend with it, whether you've matched with someone who's hesidating — or you're doing it yourself.

What Is 'Hesidating'?

In short, hesidating is "feeling indifferent about dating, unsure if you want to date seriously or casually because life, in general, is so uncertain right now," according to Plenty of Fish.

And dating experts we spoke with can absolutely see why so many daters are experiencing it right now. Stephanie Macadaan, LMFT, a therapist in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, explains, "The last few years have been full of uncertainty, and for people who may already feel anxious or avoidant around relationships, this lack of safety and security can translate to fear of commitment and hesitation around getting into a relationship."

Hesidating could also be the result of a person attempting to gauge their emotional and social stamina following the pandemic, says Emily Simonian, LMFT, Head of Clinical Learning at Thriveworks in Washington, DC. "The last two years halted socializing in a major way, so it makes sense that people may not want to throw themselves into dating, which can require a lot of emotional energy," she notes, adding that she's worked with people who experienced positive personal growth during the pandemic and found that the more time spent alone reduced their fear of loneliness. "That experience, which is called a corrective emotional experience, possibly created a sense of indifference toward dating for some." 

Even people who are determined to start a serious relationship might end up hesidating, because they're not sure if their match possesses all the qualities they're looking for in a partner, points out Maria Sullivan, dating expert and Vice President of Dating.com

"In the mind of a hesidater, they will typically pull back or seem uncertain when things start to progress in a relationship due to their own internal struggle when it comes to making decisions, both romantically and in general," she explains. "For many hesidaters, the idea of a long-term relationship with someone who isn't a true match is overwhelming and scary, as coming out of Covid-19, nobody wants to lose even more time. This leads to the hesitant attitude and, in some cases, even prevents a relationship from becoming committed or serious altogether."

How Do You Know If You've Matched With a Hesidater?

While there are plenty of dating app profiles that make it painfully apparent that someone's only mildly invested in connecting with someone, it's also possible that you'll match with someone, start talking, possibly even go on a date — and start seeing signs that they're hesidating.

A few tell-tale signs to watch out for:

1. They shy away from vulnerability. Molly Godfrey, a trained dating and intimacy coach in New York City, recommends throwing out a small "test": reveal something vulnerable or personal. "If the other person is receptive, open, and kind, they're likely someone with the capacity for intimacy and has emotional depth," she notes. "If the person is defensive or shies away from vulnerability, they may not be totally emotionally available."

2. They're not all that engaged. "If a potential partner seems less interested — they're slow to respond to texts or cancel plans at the last minute — they may be hesidating," says MacLean. 

3. On the flip side, they might have too many questions, expectations, or be overly particular. "Sometimes, it feels as if some people are searching for reasons most any match won't work," notes Julianne McGowan, Relationship Manager at global matchmaking firm Kelleher International. "This is often a sign they are not truly open to a relationship due to unresolved and unconscious issues that are manifesting as avoidance in this case."

4. You feel a shift in the energy they're putting into your interactions. "When a match goes from seeming very happy and excited to talk or hang out to communicating in a manner that feels dry, short, and uninterested, there's a good chance they are hesidating," says Sullivan.

5. They avoid answering "heavier"-hitting questions. Asking questions like "what do you want in a relationship?" or "where do you see this going?" is challenging, full stop, but the pandemic encouraged singles to focus more on emotional intimacy, says MacLean. In turn, these "hard conversations'' have become less taboo, even in the early stages of a relationship. But if your match is avoiding these dialogues, they may be hesidating, she notes.

6. They flake at the last minute. If you have plans and then they bail at the eleventh hour, they're likely hesidating, says Logan Ury, the Director of Relationship Science at Hinge.

What to Do If You're Dealing With a Hesidater

If you're dating intentionally and you match with someone who's hesidating, you run the risk of getting hurt because you're not on the same page about what you ultimately want, acknowledges Macadaan. For that reason, you'll do well to head any hesidating behavior off at the pass. 

A few ways to do that, according to experts:

Start the relationship from a place of honesty. 

Not only is this a great way to connect emotionally but it sets a strong foundation, notes MacLean. You can also think of this as setting a boundary to protect your energy and ensure your needs are being met, says Godfrey. If you're not sure you're on the same page, you can say something like, "I only have sex with people I'm interested in deepening a connection with and who are interested in a serious relationship" or "I'm really clear at this stage in my life I'm looking for deep, meaningful, serious connection which includes consistency in all our communication. I want to check if that is something you're desiring as well?" 

Take the root cause of the hesidating behavior into consideration.

While some hesidating might be attributed to ambivalence or a lack of emotional availability, it's possible a hesitant match's comfort level is simply different from yours at the moment. "Remember, everyone's comfort level is different right now," says Ury. If this is the case, she suggests trying to ease them back into dating by suggesting a video date first to get to know each other before meeting IRL. 

But if you're ready for more, Darcy Sterling, LCSW, relationship therapist, and the host of E! Network's Famously Single, suggests offering your version of, "I'm enjoying getting to know you, but I'm looking for IRL connections. Give me a call when you're ready to meet up."

Be willing to walk away. 

If the person you're dating does, in fact, turn out to be on a different page entirely, it's important to hold your ground and be willing to walk away in defense of your needs, says Godfrey.

"Don't waste your time trying to convince a hesidater that you're 'different' or 'special,'" warns Lauren Cook, PsyD, MMFT, a San Diego-based psychologist. "If someone is not in an open space to connect, you're going to exhaust yourself trying to tap dance your way into their heart. It's better to not personalize when they're not ready to commit." 

Consider updating your app profile.

If you're starting to feel like a hesidater magnet, it might be worth taking a moment to assess and update your app profile. You want to be sure that you're being direct about what you're looking for, says Ury. 

"This small step can help you avoid the stress and attract the relationship you want," she says. "And when you're upfront from the beginning about what you want, you'll turn the right people on and the wrong people off." 

How Do You Know If You're the One Hesidating?

If you're confused about what kind of relationship you want — if at all — you might be the hesidator, notes MacLean. 

Here are some other signs you're ambivalent about hitting it off with someone new:

1. You're putting in minimal effort. "You might download a dating app, but you don't actually put in the effort to match and have meaningful conversations with people," says Ury. "There's a voice constantly in the back of your mind that says you're not ready yet."

2. You match with someone who checks your boxes but still hem and haw. "If you matched with someone who objectively meets your criteria and you're on the fence/feeling apathetic about meeting up, you probably need to cut them loose," says Sterling. "Whether or not you're a hesidater, it's probably not the right time for you to be dating."

3. You can't find the time. Whether you've booked a date and keep postponing or can't seem to nail down a plan at all, being unable to find the time to meet up means you're probably not ready to date, says Sterling.

How to Stop Hesidating 

If you're hesidating, you might want to take a time-out to ask yourself the following questions that can help you to clarify your needs, notes MacLean. 

  • Are you not sure if you want something casual or serious? 
  • Or are you thinking you might not actually want to date at all? 
  • If you want to date, are you at the best place emotionally to commit?

A few more tips for contending with and curbing hesidating:

Remember dating is a skill. 

"The only way to get better at dating is to actually date," points out Ury. If you're looking for love but you're worried about getting back out there, she suggests remembering that you are not alone, and this is completely normal. 

Dive into self-work.

Talking through your hesitations and needs with a psychotherapist can be truly eye-opening. Two out of three (66%) Hinge users in the U.S. are currently in therapy or have been to therapy in the past, notes Ury. 

Be clear with matches.

"When you match with someone and you feel unsure about getting serious with them, it's OK to communicate that you're still deciding (in a nice way) rather than leaving them in the dark," says Simonian. You might say,  "I'm still figuring out what I want" or "I think we need more time to get to know each other before we get serious," she suggests. Either can be an appropriate way to tell someone that you're not all in just yet.

Remember there's no such thing as perfection.

"We have fallen for the trap of thinking there's always someone better out there," acknowledges Cook. If you're hesidating, bear in mind that every relationship will have flaws, but finding the one is about finding someone with flaws you can live with, she says, advising, "Hold that balance as you go into the dating game."