What Do I Do When I Run Into a Guy I’m Seeing While He’s On a Date With Someone Else?

What Do I Do When I Run Into a Guy I'm Seeing While He's On a Date With Someone Else

I’m romantically interested in a very good friend and I believe he is interested in me as well but the timing has always been off. When he was single I was not. When I was single he was not. He also travels 2-3 weeks a month for work and last year was barely here. We’ve agreed to date but not sleep together and see where things go. And he’s been spending time in our small town a lot more and we see or speak to each other 2-3 times a week. He’s met one of my sons, he sends his sons my Facebook posts he thinks they’ll like and they are well aware of me.

At the last minute this week, I went to a lecture at the Ivy league college in our town I thought he might also like so I sent the email invite from the college but he didn’t get it. No big deal.

However, he arrived and sat in the row ahead of me about 5 seats away with another woman. He didn’t see me until about 1/2 way through and he panicked. He didn’t acknowledge me, smile or wave and when it was over he bolted from his date, scooted across the room and stood in line to speak to the introducer. His date seemed utterly baffled at his disappearance and not sure if she should go or stay but finally left. I went to the bathroom and when I was about to leave, she was packing up her things and leaving. By the time I got to my car, within 15 minutes there was an email from him explaining that he was sorry he missed me but the introducer was a dear friend and he wanted to catch up.

I call this bullshit. He was totally panic stricken and had no plan if this should ever happen and so my question is, what is the protocol when you both agree to date others but you run into each other at an event with a different partner? Do you smile and nod, stop and chat, introduce the date? It’s bound to happen again.

I feel he should have at least smiled and waved. And it upset me. I felt dismissed and I think his explanation was not truthful. He even stopped half way across the room and did a little jig trying to decide what to do. I thought we had an agreement that if we dated anyone else we were going to tell each other so we wouldn’t hear through the grapevine. In his email he pretended he was there alone and just needed to catch his friend. But I am sure that isn’t true based on their seat selection and body language before the lecture started and when it ended. He acted like he was cheating and got caught.



Example 652 of why “casual dating” for long periods of time is a shitty idea.

Let’s begin:

Very good friend. Travels half the month. Dating casually without sex or commitment. Already introduced to your kids and has a relationship with them on social media. What could go wrong?

Another woman! That’s what could go wrong. Because when you are not having sex and you are not boyfriend/girlfriend and you’ve agreed to these terms, you shouldn’t be too surprised that there’s another woman. And yet you are. Furthermore, you’re SHOCKED that he would be blindsided by running into you on another date – as if he should have a graceful way to handle this incredibly awkward situation that completely took him by surprise.

Step outside your own shoes and it’s really easy to identify with him.

In other words, of COURSE he was panic-stricken. I don’t know if you’re dating anybody else (from the tone of your email, I’m assuming no), but if you were and he ran into you on a date, how would you handle it? Remember, this is the guy who has been seeing you 3 times a week and talking to your kids. Wouldn’t you feel embarrassed to be on a date? Wouldn’t you feel busted? Wouldn’t you feel like a cheater, although technically, you weren’t cheating at all?

Step outside your own shoes and it’s really easy to identify with him.

You just don’t want to do that: it’s easier to feel aggrieved that the man you’re casually dating is, in fact, casually dating you as well.

No sex. No commitment. No promises. Let’s “see where things go,” in your words.

I have no idea if this friend of yours is a good guy or a bad guy. But that’s neither here nor there. What I do know is that when you date someone without commitment, you’re not allowed to get angry that there’s no commitment.

You came up with the terms of the deal; you just don’t like the terms you negotiated.

In reality, Kathleen, you don’t want to casually date him. You want him to be your boyfriend. So may I suggest that, given your history with him, his relationship with your kids, and this new revelation that you step up and tell him the truth:

In reality, you don’t want to casually date him. You want him to be your boyfriend.

I want to be your girlfriend. I don’t want to see anybody else.

Either he will tell you that he agrees and wants to be your boyfriend, or he will tell you that he enjoys dating casually the way you are now. Which would mean you’d have your answer about where he stands and would (theoretically) be able to cut him loose and find a man who DOES want to be with you.

Without any judgment, this current arrangement is just not working for you. It’s up to you to change it.


  1. OMG. I just cut a guy off this weekend who I have been casually dating for 8 weeks. We are both divorced (his is more recent than mine) and when we had the talk we both brought up that we had not dated others during this time. He, however, encouraged me to date other people and said he isn’t ready for a relationship. That’s when I knew I had to bail.
    It was very difficult for me because I REALLY liked this man. A lot. But not enough to compromise my own needs. It is hardly an earth shattering commitment to date one person after 8 great weeks. I just cannot handle being an “option” for an extended period of time. If I wanted to be with a man who was dating other women, I would have stayed married!

  2. GoWiththeFlow

    It’s easy to slowly slide downhill into these situations.  At the beginning you decide to “Let’s see where things go.”  The problem is that they start going somewhere for you.  You develop feelings and get attached.  But things stay the same for the guy.  You’re essentially in a friend zone situation.
    Evan is correct that the only thing to do is tell him what you want.  If that’s what he doesn’t want, cut him loose.  Take the time and energy you were putting into him and put it into finding someone who wants the same thing you do.
    A good book to read is “Why Men Love Bitches” by Sherry Argov.  And no it’s not about being a screaming shrew.  It’s about setting boundaries so situations like this don’t happen.

  3. Hi GoWithTheFlow,
    What would you do if you are talking to 3 different men online, been on multiple dates with each but you still can’t decide which you want more yet; and guy 1 spotted you out on a date with guy 2….
    What would you do in that situation?
    …   …   …
    In your opinion why do some people (men and women) think a person with options would wait on them and pass up others when the other man or woman doesn’t have the __ dating rule?
    The original poster’s was no sex (and probably no making out at all), but it doesn’t have to be sex it could be other “personal” rules people set for dates that are not normal.
    In your opinion why do people think someone with options would wait on them and their rules when they could just as easily date someone without such strict dating rules?
    …    …   …
    Last question, the term “a man or woman with “options” is thrown around a lot. Besides having great physical beauty, to you what else would qualify a person as having lots of options when it comes to dating?
    Or are a person’s facial beauty and sexy body the core ingredients to giving them more options?

  4. Emily, the original

    I’m confused by this idea of “having options” that you have referred to repeatedly in other posts. I’ll use a college friend to illustrate what I think of as “having options.” We were going to school in New York City. She had a long-term, long-distance boyfriend she met in high school who lived in Virginia. She met another guy in school and began hooking up with him, but he didn’t want a relationship. She felt very conflicted. So did she “have options”? Yes. Two options for sex and one option for a relationship. A lot of women would look at that situation and determine she had only one option: the boyfriend. The other guy wasn’t offering her anything real. I don’t know anybody who has several quality people waiting in line, clamoring to be with them in a serious, exclusive relationship. They may date a lot, but I think a lot of dating is casual until they find someone they are really interested in.

  5. GoWiththeFlow

    Hello Adrian!
    “What would you do if you are talking to 3 different men online, been on multiple dates with each but you still can’t decide which you want more yet; and guy 1 spotted you out on a date with guy 2….
    What would you do in that situation?”
    Okay, that would be a highly unusual situation!  Usually people fall off quick and one contender comes to the forefront.  That being said, I have been in uncomfortable situations where you run across someone and either they’re with someone, you’re with someone. or both are with someone else and it’s awkward!  Depending upon the setting (and the backstory) it’s either let’s pretend we don’t know each other, or a brief acknowledgement of the other person with a hand wave or a nod.  Maybe if there is some brief private interaction I may say “Okay this is a little awkward.  But I’m not into scenes so carry on and I’ll do the same.”
    As for your second question, I think the rules were mutually agreed to at the beginning of the poster’s “relationship” with this guy.  Like Evan said below, there was a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in effect with regards to whether there was outside dating going on.  So I don’t know if it was so much that she was being unreasonable to “expect” him to go without sex.  Rather she started with a casual attitude about it and things changed for her but she never talked to him.  Maybe she was expecting him to bring it up, or she didn’t want to rock the boat.  And it sounds like he was fine with things as they are because he never said anything either.
    As far as to what having options in dating means, sure there are people that will be able to break up with someone on Friday and have a new date on Saturday.   I think those people are a rare breed.  A person has options if they are confident that there will be someone else out there for them, that the person they’re with now isn’t the last man or woman on earth.  That doesn’t mean they are in a new relationship the next day.  It means they know in the coming days, weeks, and months they will be meeting new people and will have new opportunities for a relationship.
    Lastly, there is being comfortable with NOT being in a relationship.  I’m sure everyone has gone out on a date at one point and thought, I would have had a better night if I had done laundry and gone to bed early.  Being comfortable with yourself gives you the option to cut a person loose if it’s not a good situation for you without any expectation that a new romance is around the corner.  Kinda like, I’d rather be alone with a houseful of cats than put up with this!

  6. I disagree with your assessment Evan. I don’t think she was shocked that he was with another woman, I think she was just dismayed and felt dismissed by his behavior when he saw her halfway through the lecture. She does not sound heartbroken or devastated (smart that she is not sleeping with him), that he was with someone else, she just sounds annoyed that he wasn’t more mature in his response to the situation. In a way, the incident revealed plenty about his character. He lied to her about what was going on and he put up a big pretense to try and cover his tracks, when there was no need to do so. Had he smiled, waved and casually introduced this other woman to her after the lecture, it would have been easier for everyone. Sure, she’s disappointed knowing he was there with someone else, but later, she could still take your suggestion and tell him the truth about her wish to be his girlfriend. If people are going to date several people casually at the same time, there should be a protocol so things don’t become a huge deal.

  7. Evan Marc Katz

    “If people are going to date several people casually at the same time, there should be a protocol so things don’t become a huge deal.” 
    The protocol is called “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Incidents like this blow that up and there is no way of knowing (nor discussing) the best way to handle the thing that you’re not talking about.

  8. But when an incident like this does blow up, isn’t how the couple handles it indicative of whether they will be able to continue and weather other unexpected events?  Not everyone becomes exclusive so quickly so the casual dating thing can continue for some people for several weeks.  Sure, no need to discuss it beforehand but I think he could have handled it a bit better than that e-mail 15 minutes later. (And wow, leaving his date. I bet she’s majorly confused.)  On Kathleen’s part, it’s now up to her to decide how she can best handle it going forward.
    It’s blown up now.  I wish them both all well with it.

  9. Sex. No commitment. No promises. Let’s “see where things go,” in your words.
    Men want this all the time.  (Note I say ‘want’ not ‘get’.) I just took out, no sex, because they want sex too. So the ‘let’s see where this goes’ line can come from either pary.  I agree if you agree to be casual you should expect each other to be dating other people.  It’s actually more interesting if you’re not dating others.  I’m not sure what to call that situation. Early dating?
    That all being said whenever you meet the other person with someone else it’s awkward. It’s even awkward after a breakup.  Should she be friendly to the other date? The other date clearly has no clue.  I’ve never done this but even in a large city I have run into exes unexpectedly. Not when I’m with another date, but sometimes we meet a co-worker of mine (ugh) or at another dating event. It is always awkward even when another romantic interest person isn’t even involved.
    You’ve decided she doesn’t really want casual.  That’s fair from what she wrote. My question is, what if she or the guy really did want casual?  It’s still odd, Evan.  For me on other side, I’m supposed to be making the guy (or guys :-)) I’m dating feel like they are special. It would be weird for them to then see me someone else.  Even if it’s only been a few weeks, in those early weeks almost anything can throw off the momentum.
    What is the protocol for when you meet someone else’s date or they meet yours? I personally think be polite and even introduce the person.  Then move on with your evening.  If the person not on a date has an issue with it, they should bring that up later privately.  Some people casually date for a while.  If everyone knows and agrees to it, I just say be adult and graceful about it.  It’s not cheating at all, need to act or even feel guilty.  It’s awkward but none has done anything wrong.
    Should he have smiled and waved at Kathleen? Eh. “Shoulds” are tricky.  It would have been nice. Even if he didn’t and just later admitted he panicked they could have had a discussion from that.  Anytime you meet someone outside of the normal place you know them, it’s odd if they ignore you or pretend you aren’t there.  Even if you aren’t dating the person.  Usually those kinds of friendships, relationships, whatever, don’t go far.

  10. Hi S,
    I think the first thing that needs to be done is to understand who you are dating, how would they react emotionally. Most adults who date online know that a person is most likely talking to others while talking to them.
    So I would be curious to hear what others would do if they ran into someone that was on a date that they were talking to from online. You have no technical right to get upset but if you do are you wrong? If they called you afterwards and tried to act normal would you allow it or lose all interest and cut off contact?
    Saying we know this is how online dating works and actually being in that situation are two different things, especially when it is someone you really like.
    …   …   …
    As far as openly admitting to casual dating; again I would judge the person who said it. I once dated a girl in college who wasn’t sure she wanted a relationship but she wanted me to tell her if I dated someone else. Simple minded me made the mistake once of telling her about a date and her anger and jealousy was apparent.
    I personally think that many people in situations like the open casual want to have their cake and to eat it to (what a silly sounding saying… If it’s my cake of course I am going to want to eat it…).
    Anyway, I think many casual daters want the time and freedom to date around and see what they want but if the other person is a good catch  they don’t want them to actually date others (even if they said they could) because they recognize the danger of possibly losing such a great person to someone else.

  11. When I think ‘casual dating’ without sex, I think about the first few weeks to months when the people aren’t girlfriend and boyfriend yet.   Time goes by because of many things.  Travel, incompatible schedules, holidays, illness. It’s not unusual for several weeks to go by.  Some say that means they don’t really like the person. It my experience on both sides of it, it may simply mean you just don’t know the person well enough yet.  Not everyone jumps in with both feet in four weeks.
    After two months, I don’t know.  Is it still casual dating without sex? Depends on the couple and what they are doing together.  Not just physical intimacy but emotional intimacy.  I’m not sure if Kathleen was there emotionally yet with her person described above.  It’s hard to tell.
    If anyone who knows me, sees me elsewhere and doesn’t acknowledge me, I start to wonder how much this person really likes me at all.  And that’s kind of a snub, isn’t it? I can’t see a situation, dating or otherwise, where that’s okay.  You can always say hi.   That’s it. Then move on. If a man I was dating did this, what do I do? Pretend as well that we never saw each other?  This is way too much drama.  Just say hi. If it bothers you, bring it up. If it doesn’t, move on with getting to know the person. The thing is, why get worked up over a person you might not really end up dating anyway? That’s what I tell myself.
    If I really liked a guy or was sexually attracted to him and considering sleeping with him, then I’d think less about sleeping with him because I’d assume he was getting his needs met elsewhere.  I’d assume he’d think the same about me if the situation was reversed. ????  If it bothers either of us, one of us needs to initiate steps toward exclusivity.  If no one does, then maybe the other person (or people) are the better matches.  You’re right.  Great people don’t stay available indefinitely.  Eventually someone has to make a decision.

  12. You gave me pause for thought. I said this to my last (and only) boyfriend and if I really examine my feelings in light of this blog post and your comment whilst I said let’s just be friends with benefits,  I would have been really hurt if he slept with someone else!  It didn’t even occur to me that he may and that indicates a huge blind spot in my thinking because I can’t even contemplate sleeping with more than one person at a time. I also didn’t want to date others – I just didn’t want to make promises I couldn’t keep as we were long distance at the time. It was never about wanting to see others while seeing him. I was just trying not to get hurt. He wasn’t happy with the friends with benefits suggestion and wanted full blown commitment, which is what I gave him and I’m now glad that there was no grey area.  There was plenty of things wrong with that relationship but knowing that we were exclusive and stating it up front was, at least not one of them.

  13. I  am confused here. They are not even sleeping with each other!! How is this “dating”? He owes her nothing and done nothing wrong. If I was the OP I would have pretended to not see him myself and went to a place where he wouldn’t see me to avoid inevitable awkwardness.

  14. Since when does sex alone dictate whether or not two people are dating?
    We all know that just because someone agrees to have sex with you doesn’t guarantee there’s going to be a commitment or that they STILL owe you anything more than that.  Commitment is commitment alone.  Sex just happens to become a part of the deal -after- that is agreed upon, for some people.
    At least for me it does.
    If a guy can get sex out of a woman without any expressed mutual commitment, he’ll likely take that and not go further. And running into another woman can STILL and likely WILL happen.
    He is getting relationship benefits without the relationship, given that they both haven’t agreed to a casual sex deal…
    Overall, I think the OP and the guy need to have an honest and transparent talk about where they both want to go, relationship-wise.

  15. I thought we had an agreement that if we dated anyone else we were going to tell each other so we wouldn’t hear through the grapevine.
    Did you have actually that agreement though? Or did you merely assume he knew to do this? And even if he knew, did you ever reinforce explicitly that you’d be cool about it should the issue come up? It sounds like the only thing you’d really discussed was that you wouldn’t sleep together and you wouldn’t be exclusive. No wonder the guy panicked.

  16. Emily, the original

    Karl S,
    No wonder the guy panicked.
    He panicked because he didn’t know how to handle the situation, awkward as it was, but, let’s be honest, he handled it badly. He could have at least acknowledged her presence, and sending that email 15 minutes later telling her he wanted to talk to the introducer was ridiculous and painfully and embarrassingly transparent.

  17. Fair point. It would have been much better for both of them if he’d stepped up and owned the fact that he was with someone else.  Acknowledging her presence is definitely something he *should* have done as a matter of respect. They definitely need to some more honest conversation between them, that’s for sure.

  18. I don’t know. The thing with ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is there isn’t much talking so assumptions abound. I think the thing to do is to address it afterwards.  Seems more graceful.  There is a nuance and poise this kind of situation requires that may have been lost with Kathleen and the guy she was dating.
    Why did he panic? He did nothing wrong.  I mean he panicked with both women, potentially losing out on both of them just because of how he handled it.  It’s an awkward situation to be sure, but to literally run away?  Is that a normal, understandable thing to do in this situation?  It seems a bit much to me, but maybe it really was something he didn’t know how to handle.
    The exceptions to don’t ask, don’t tell is small towns.  Inevitably, you will run into to someone you know and if it’s not someone you’re dating, they know either person.  Best to just talk about it beforehand in that case.  Hard to be so casual in a fishbowl.

  19. I thought that too, Karl. She never says that was discussed prior to this incident – sounded more like an assumption – and anyone who’s dated for a while knows it’s most likely that it was never discussed.
    I know when a guy asks me out on a night I have another date, I’m always pretty vague that I have ‘plans’ that night. As it’s a bit brutal to specifically say you have another date. Like Evan says, it’s typically ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. I’d probably panic in this situation too!
    I get that she’s hurt, but would she really have wanted to be introduced to this other woman? That’s pretty awkward for everyone involved. He also probably wanted to spare the other woman’s feelings – hey this is another chick I’m dating -weird! Or have a stop and chat when he’s with someone else?? Again, that’s awkward and not great for the other woman – how is he supposed to introduce her? At least he sent an email – which shows he cares about her feelings. No matter what he did in this situation, it’s likely the OP would’ve been hurt.  I can completely understand her being hurt, but it’s not the guy’s fault.
    We’re all doing our best out there, and sometimes stuffing up! He sounds like a nice guy just trying to manage a difficult situation and avoid hurt feelings.

  20. Had some version of this happen twice. Both men expressed interest, pursued me instead of the other way round, were very involved in my life. Both were very compatible with my lifestyle and apparently with my values. A big deal in a region where compatible men are non-existent. There was never any talk about “casual” or dating others so I assumed we were getting to know one another organically. Both men turned out to have girlfriends elsewhere; both times the gf’s turned up on public by surprise. It sucks, it’s embarrassing as heck but all you can do is walk away with head held high and behave with dignity.

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