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Dating Truths: See what I did? I didn't let it lie.

Here's a dating truth:  People will tell you things you need to know if you're listening.  In a perfect world, people would always communicate openly and clearly, but in the real world, where everybody's just doing the best they can with all their hopes and fears and uncertainties, sometimes you have to listen.  To jokes.  To off-handed comments.  To remarks that seem off somehow, and especially to anything like that that's repeated more than once.

For example, a personal fav is "you're too good for me."  This comment is a MAJOR RED FLAG.  It's backhanded in that it can sound like a compliment, but actually means, "I don't think you're anyone I'm going to expend too much energy on, or at least not as much as you are on me" and/or "I have self-esteem issues."  When someone says they aren't good enough for you - BELIEVE THEM.  Suggest they get good enough or stop wasting your time.  Honestly, this one isn't a walk-away-immediately, but it is a heads up to start paying serious attention.  At the very least, it means the person is lazy.

Perhaps that one sounds a little too "code-phrase."  I don't want to distill down to that, because what people are communicating in ways you might miss can actually be very clear.  But it's framed as a "joke" or something they just slide in so they can feel like they've communicated something without actually engaging in clear conversation.  For example, joking about the relationship not lasting or joking about cheating.  These things aren't funny, and you shouldn't let them lie.

I've even had a situation where a guy I was dating exclusively blurted, "It's not like I'm going to just have sex with her or anything!"  It was said in a defensive, angry tone that was completely outside of our discussion, as though it was a reaction to my being very upset and questioning him, which I wasn't.  (At the time, I stammered, "Uh, yeah, I don't think you are.")  It felt completely bizarre.  And what he meant was, "I'm pretty sure I'm going to just have sex with her at some point!"  It was quintessential "protests too much." 

So what do you do when you feel like you're getting a message, but it's nowhere near loud and clear?  You flat out ask.  Recently, I tried, "Hey, what's up with this thing you keep saying, is that supposed to be a joke or are you actually trying to tell me something?"  And out it came.  Open communication in two steps ensued.  (That would be the step where we broke up and the step where we got back together.)

Sometimes what happens is that your partner is defensive or tries to turnaround and make you feel bad for asking questions.  RED FLAG.  If you're just reasonably asking questions, why not just answer them?  Why turn it around on you?  One time I said, "Hey, I'm feeling a little insecure and unsure about this thing here, so just give me twenty minutes to ask my questions, and then you answer them, and then I won't have to bring it up again and we'll just move on, OK?"  Worked great.  (Obviously, this was not with cheater guy!)

BTW, Annie Dennison had a great post recently (over at Smart at Love) called Are you just being insecure? that covers this issue:

Think of it this way. If you can’t communicate with a man in a direct, basic (hopefully calm…) way about things he does that make you feel insecure -- and maybe even unsafe -- your relationship with him is probably doomed, anyway. So, his reaction to you openly expressing your concerns is valuable information.

So here's the hard part, when what you're hearing isn't what you want to hear, what do you do?  Do you really just walk away?  Well, that's your call, and every situation is different.  But as you feel more confident in knowing that you are in fact hearing what you're hearing - even when it does seem like it's spoken in code, you become more and more able to go with your gut.  You become more and more able to walk away, no matter how much it hurts.

Personally, I feel like there are people who are really good at this, and I don't know how they do it.  Doing the right thing, doing the hard thing - it doesn't come with confirmation, and yeah, it can be really, really difficult and scary.  All I've found is that confidence in who you are, what you believe, and what you deserve makes it possible.

So listen to what people are saying, and believe what you hear.

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Comments

Excellent comments. Yes, it would seem that the trick is really to learn to distinguish between what you need to be hearing and what you should let go. All I can say is, listen to your gutt!

And I really liked this: "If they're not willing to discuss things, or pay attention now, just imagine their level of participation in five or 10 years." It's so true - if you can't bring up a concern and talk about it... then how's that a "relationship"?

There are some things that one shouldn't make a big deal about---however, some things definitely scream RED FLAG.

Alot of other signals---not just what one says, but what one leaves unsaid also can be a marker of deeper issues.

Liz,

Great post-- speaking from a guy's perspective:

Stop dating people who are "lazy." If they're not willing to discuss things, or pay attention now, just imagine their level of participation in five or 10 years.

Stop the sex-- relationships get complicated when sex is introduced. Put if off as long as possible. How long is up to you. It's much easier to walk away when you don't have that issue.

Learn to forgive the little things someone might say that irritate you. Some people's sense of humor may not match. I don't feel that you should be punished for one mis-phrase or one word mispoken.

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