As a middle school teacher, I asked questions—lots of them—to keep my students engaged. It’s a tougher task than it sounds; you’re never quite sure what your hormone-charged students will say—or if they will say anything at all. One valuable trick I learned to make sure my pseudo-Socratic method worked was called “wait-time.” I would ask a question, and then—the impossible—I’d wait. I’d stand there, watching an ocean of blank or unreadable faces, letting a heavy silence flood the room, anticipating a wave of potentially wrong answers as seconds drip by one slow drop at a time: Did they understand my question? Are they following along? Am I teaching the best that I can? Am I a travesty? Is this lesson a tragedy? Panic! At the Classroom.

Miraculously, at the end of the pause-that-would-last-forever (or ten Mississippi seconds, at the most), the Red Sea would part and reveal a hand in the air. If I was lucky, there might be two. And if I was doing my job, the student I would call on would be close to a right answer. Wait-time allowed my pupils to think and debate about possible responses while I recollected my thoughts about how to follow-up and lead the class. Ta-da: the fruits and labors of sitting—or standing—at the edge-of-your-seat without saying anything at all.

In the dating game, I’ve found a similar phenomenon: the wait-time between your date and your call, between your call and his call, between dates and dates later, between dates and nights and the bent knee proposal to forever. How long is too long? Or, perhaps more appropriately for an antsy and impatient guy like me who operates on five-year and ten-year plans, how soon is too soon?

You’d think it’d be easier when you don’t have thirty middle schoolers staring back at you. You’d think that because you’re an adult and you’re dealing with an adult, that these waiting periods would be less of a strategy and more a consequence of the busy bee lives we lead.

False. In dating, wait-time is a wait-game. It’s not fun, but it’s the rule; it’s a political move to be taken despite everything we say about love. That stuff about listening to your heart and then acting on it? Bullshit. If I listened to my heart, time would not be in the way of me and the people I want to date. My mind would draw unswervingly straight lines from thought A (“Wow, I really enjoyed hanging out with that guy”) to thought B (“I should ask him out again”) instead of tweedling over to paranoia-laden distractions like thought A.2 (“The ball’s in his court, so I’ll wait for his call”) or thought A.83765 (“I shouldn’t seem too excited, so I’ll wait exactly 48 hours”).

The wait-game is torture. Instead of doing what wait-time does in the classroom—giving students and teachers time to collect their thoughts into articulate arguments—all that the wait-game does is allow the butterflies in your stomach to multiply. Is it fair that they get to reproduce while you sit by your phone waiting for the chance to reproduce?

Throwing wrenches into an already sweaty situation is what I like to call the technological hierarchy. How much value should I place on a call versus a text? An email versus a text? An instant message versus an email? A Facebook poke versus a G-chat drop-in? Do waiting periods of non-communication differ depending on how I want to communicate with you next? Can I poke you two days after a date, or is it more efficacious to have a G-chat conversation after three days or a phone call after five days?

I’ve always felt like the wait-game has been detrimental for me. In my first dating experiences, I remember wanting to talk on instant messenger whenever I could; this stemmed out of a naïve understanding of love as togetherness—if not literally physical, then at the very least, conversationally. I soon learned that this was something called clinginess. I discovered that personal space and time was valued in the early phases of dating; love would be something to be planned around later on, but if you were just dating, you were supposed to let the tension between you and your eyed-one come to a slow boil. You couldn’t just jump into the deep end of a relationship; every cup of coffee or glass of beer you shared on a date was but a small contribution of water into a pool you had to fill. And you had to digest before attempting the next serving.

I’ve worked on this. In each of my relationships, I’ve tried to remind myself not to get too excited, not to always make the first moves, not to, as I desperately want to, wear my heart on my sleeve. I’ve been told that the acceptable thing to do is to keep it in my chest where it belongs, under layer and layers of pretense called, “Getting to know you.” (Some people also wear alternative layers called “hooking up.”)

But if love were about chemistry, sparks, and connections that either are or are not, then why put yourself through the wait-game? To prove to yourself that these are feelings that last? To make that which is after the wait worth so much more? Why do we put these connections on hold instead of understanding that what will be will be—and still will be whether accessed now or later?

When I was a teacher, I knew exactly what I was gaining by waiting. As a dater, though, I’m lost for words to explain my purposeful word loss: what exactly do I get aside from lost time?

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