Dating: The Bitter Truth
By Susan Dunn, MA, Life Coach
I don't know about you, but when someone says to me, "I'm going to be brutally frank with you," I usually say, "No, you're not," and walk away.
It's a common misconception that telling someone your version of "the truth" is helpful to them, and evidence of virtue in you.
Actually it often amounts to a projection or rationalization that harms, serving your purpose and not the other's.
There are professions where delivering bad news is what they do. Physicians, psychologists, and managers routinely must tell people they have stage four cancer, or are mentally ill, or are going to be fired. It's their job.
Teachers and parents are also required to instruct children about behavior, manners, appearance and character.
However, this does not carry over to the private lives and relationships of adults.
Dating involves the risk of rejection. Typically it involves ambivalence. We start out testing at every turn who the person is, what it's like to be with them, and how good the fit is. It provides many opportunities for kindness or meanness, many opportunities for you to be at your best, or at your worst.
"Discretion is the better part of valor," said Shakespeare'. This means be brave but also sensible. Be courageous, not reckless; authentic but also sensitive.
If you have a criticism to make of someone you're dating, use your EQ. Think it over carefully before you speak. Be especially careful in intimate moments when the chemicals are dreamy and inhibitions are down. You can blurt out something you may regret at a time when they're wide open.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Is it projection - something you've got yourself that you're passing over to the other? Is it really your temper you're concerned about and not theirs?
- Will what you have to say cause more harm than good?
- Is it something the other person can do something about? (I can lose 20 lbs., but I can't become 10 years younger.)
- Is it more important to you to be "right" than in relationship?
- Are you observing sloppy boundaries, dragging your last lover or partner into this new relationship and comparing?
- Is it really a control issue?
- Is there a better time and place to say this, or a better way to address it entirely?
- Might it naturally take care of itself?
- Are you emotionally unavailable, destined to find fault with everyone?
- Are you coming from your ego, or from your heart?
Consider also the circumstances, patterns and the likelihood of something recurring. In other words the plain-out appropriateness of what you're thinking of saying.
For instance, you're on your third date, he's taken you dancing, he's sweating like a stuck pig and smells bad. Yes, you could tell him. On the other hand, you're in an open-air dance hall, it's 90 degrees on the dance floor, they've been playing nothing but polkas for 30 minutes, and there's nothing he can do about it at that moment. Wouldn't the kindest thing be to ignore it?
You will either (1) never see him again, or (2) be around him next time you're getting ready to go out and can suggest a bit more deodorant. "Remember how hot it was last time we were dancing?" say you. "Don't forget the deodorant, darling."
Or you've had a couple of dates with a woman you thought you were in love with and have suddenly decided she's too fat and you're going to tell her because "it's about her health." Have you measured her body fat ratio? Who put you in charge of her body and her health? Aren't there really other things you dislike and you've just rationalized an easy way out? Or is this a test you're not mindful of to see how much control you'll be able to have over her in the future? If you do this for a living, get off the time clock. If you're practicing medicine without a license, stop.
THE MALE SIDE
If you're a guy, think it over especially carefully. Typically men take longer to process emotions and can take hours to figure out what they were feeling at the time, author of "What Could He Be Thinking?" When the thought "I can't stand her crooked teeth" pops into your mind, let it stay right where it is. It could be indigestion.
There's also that "honor code" thing. You know it's gotten you in trouble in the past. Why do you keep doing it? That's not smart.
If she asks you if those pants make her butt look fat, tell her she's beautiful and you love her. That's not a lie; it's answering the question she's really asking. You're big enough to do that, aren't you, to put her feelings above your logical assessment of what you consider to be a factual matter? You aren't after all, the World Authority on Pants That Make Women's Butts Look Fat.
THE FEMALE SIDE
If you're a woman, beat the mothering out of yourself and censor your criticisms. He's not your kid, he's a grown male. If you have a list of 25 grooming and dressing aids he needs to adopt, and it's growing, STOP. If there's that much wrong with him, just leave. If you're preparing to remake him to fit your mold, I hope he leaves you.
If every encounter involves something he's said or done wrong, get your boundaries back. Are you a miserable person who's assuming he's going to make you happy so he must say exactly what you want, when you want it, and how you want it? Catching him doing it right and reinforcing this behavior works a lot better than nagging.
IS IT 'GOOD ENOUGH' OR IS IT OVER?
Finding a partner means dating imperfect people, just like yourself. Be after "good enough," not "perfect. At no stage in the relationship is the other person "yours" to redo,
When you know this isn't the person for you, exit gracefully. There's no reason to leave mass destruction behind when you do. After all, it's over, so there's no need to go into a litany of things you found wrong with him, nor, for that matter, the things you found right.
If you cared enough about the person to get involved with them in the first place, there were plenty of things about them you did like. Saying, "I'd still like us to be friends," doesn't help. Saying, "But you like to sleep til noon and I like to get up at 6:00 a.m." doesn't quite cover it. Airing your list of grievances is like rubbing salt into the wound, but at this point, so is airing your list of affirmations.
And, yes, we don't have to believe or accept what other people say about us, but we don't have to hear it, either, if you practice discretion.
Remember what you once felt, or your compassion for people in general, and pray for something to say that's kind and respectful and will preserve the dignity of both of you. Then bless the relationship, let it go, and leave the brutal honesty for brutes.