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Early this past Sunday I read an email from a reader in Lexington, Kentucky. I scrolled through it on my iPhone while sitting on the church pew, waiting for the service to begin. Even as fellow church-goers were filing in around me, I couldn’t take my eyes off the email. Long story short: It made my day.

But, let’s get real. Who reads my blog for long stories made short?

Molly* is funny, smart and sweet. I can tell from just the first few sentences of her long email. Her best friend — just two months into wedded bliss — has become obsessed with hooking Molly up so that she, too, can be half of a “happily married couple.” (Funny how couples just love hanging out with couples, eh?) After much insistence and nagging, Molly’s friend convinced her to try online dating — even paying for her first three months of eHarmony as a birthday gift.

Molly had never been a fan of the online dating concept. It seemed impersonal, weird and unrealistic. But one month ago, she cashed in on her birthday gift, set up a profile and hit the Internet running. She quickly met a guy who lived some 800 miles away in Florida. They communicated for about a month and it was going well. After lots of longs emails and several phone calls, she could tell he was a really nice guy. Then he popped the “meet-up” question — he would be nearby for a job interview, and suggested he drive to her so they could finally meet. She accepted, nervous but excited. The butterflies were definitely fluttering.

“Then we met,” explained Molly, “and within five minutes of meeting, I had that sinking feeling in my stomach that told me ‘this is not, as much as you’d love it to be, ever going to be a good thing.’ ”

Call it women’s intuition. Call it a gal’s gut instinct. She just knew.

Molly finished the date as best she could, trying to stay engaged even though she knew in her heart there was no spark. She was nice and friendly, but careful not to send the wrong signals. She thought he might have felt the date went better than she did, considering he alluded to marriage (red flag!) and gave her a lingering, awkward hug goodbye.

So, the date is over. Molly survived. But being the sweet and kind girl that I described earlier, she still felt bad. He had driven so far to see her and paid for a nice dinner. It’s hard to let a guy down when he’s really doing all the right things according to Dating 101 etiquette. So late that night, Molly sat at her computer and emailed me.

“What’s my gracious escape strategy?” asked Molly. “I don’t want to be a jerk about it. He treated me well and he put time and money into seeing me, so how do I end this well? I mean, the man made marriage innuendos. He’s in it to win it. Help a girl out here.”

I thought about what to write back. I’ve been where Molly is sitting. And I’ve also been where her date is sitting. It’s not easy on either side, especially if you’re a kind person that has no desire to hurt someone else.

There are three lessons learned from Molly’s experience.

1. In the dating world, putting yourself out there is key. And Molly did just that. She didn’t initially like the idea of online dating, but trusted her friend and went with it. She gave it an honest try (communicating with a guy for a month proves it!), and I’m sure she’ll continue to do so during her three-month eHarmony subscription.

2. A first date is always a success, whether or not there is ever a second date. This is a big one for Molly, me and many others. Just because it doesn’t work out with someone on the first date, doesn’t mean you’re a big failure who stinks at dating. It means the opposite, in fact — you’re brave, you’re open and you’re adventurous. You gave it a shot and it didn’t work out with this one particular person out of the billions on the planet. Big deal! You made it through the date and are stronger and smarter for it. Success!

3. In dating (and life), kindness is always the best approach. Molly didn’t feel anything special with her Florida man. When I wrote her back, I encouraged her to remember this important third point — to be kind to him. This doesn’t mean she has to accept a second date or continue communication. Not at all! But, it does mean that we should show kindness, respect and humility when we let that person know we are not interested. And I’m sure Molly did just that.

I loved receiving Molly’s email. Forget the fact that I responded to her while the ushers collected the offering. The important thing is that we connected — two girls located in different states leading completely different lives, whose paths might have never crossed otherwise. It gives me shivers thinking about it!

Dating is tough enough. Going it alone can’t help. That’s why I’m so encouraged to know we’re in this together.

Do you have a dating story you’d like to share? Want some advice on a particular dating dilemma? Email me and let me know all about it. We can learn from each other, and I might even use your story in a blog post someday. As Molly said: “There’s something about the blogosphere that makes complete strangers feel trustworthy.” That can be a scary thought! But in this community, I hope it’s a comforting one.

~Ruth

*Name changed to protect this super cool girl’s privacy