Archive for the ‘Second dates and beyond’ category

Noticing what’s positively eliminated

November 30, 2007

In relationships — even dating relationships — you often discover behaviors in the other that drive you batty. These behaviors aren’t deal breakers, just minor annoyances. So you non-judgmentally share your irritation with your guy and ask him if he would be willing to work on reducing this. He is accommodating, apologizes for it whatever it is that irks you, and says he’ll work on it.

Let’s say his irksome behavior is poking you in the ribs when he’s teasing you about something. You don’t really mind the teasing, but it’s the poking that smarts a bit, so you tell him. He agrees to be more conscious and stop doing it.

A few days pass. He says something teasingly. No poke. But you don’t notice the absence. The next day he teases you, along with a poke. “You did it again. I told you to stop poking me!” He apologizes and says he’s working on it. Another day, another teasing; no poke. And another. The next one is a teasing/poking combo.

“You must not care that this irritates me because you’re still doing it!”

“I’m sorry. I’ve been really working on this. It’s an old habit we’ve done in my family for decades. It will take a little time for me to undo it.”

You haven’t noticed what’s missing — the poke. You only notice when it’s still present, not the times it’s absent.

This is human nature. Congratulations. You’re part of the human race.

The hard part with any requested behavior change is noticing progress when that improvement is actually the absence of something. It’s hard to notice when something is no longer there. Unless you’re really conscious.

swear wordsI remember many years ago deciding to severely limit my cursing, which previously had been liberal. My ex and I had discussed how it sounded unprofessional and unladylike when I would let loose a curse word, when a non-curse word would suffice. At first it sounded a little silly to say “drat,” “darn,” and “sugar” instead of the more profane versions, but I made a huge effort to utter these. However, an expletive would occasionally leak out and my ex would hear it. He didn’t notice that I’d eliminated 90% of my cussing, and only heard the few swear words and thought I hadn’t made much progress.

So when you ask your guy to make a shift to eliminate some vexing behavior, be sure you notice the progress. Sometimes absence is progress.

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Being played by a pathological liar

November 27, 2007

I think of myself as a good judge of character. I usually trust my gut and can often feel when something isn’t right. If something doesn’t make sense, I question it. While I generally trust people and look for the good in them, I am also skeptical. I am not easily fooled.

But he did it. He spun plausible stories, so even when his explanations were a tad over the top they seemed believable. He even admitted things sounded crazy. His voice was so convincing, I decided he would have to be a very good actor if what he was telling me wasn’t true.

He was. It turned out he was a practiced liar. So much so, his family members repeatedly encouraged him to get psychological help.

How do I know? After talking to him daily for nearly a month, going out on a few dates and his expressing his deep connection to me, I didn’t hear from him for a few weeks. The last time we spoke he said he’d call me back in an hour. He didn’t. I became concerned about him. A week before that last conversation, he’d totaled his car and was in the hospital for a few days. I was worried that he might have had a complication and was back in the hospital.

I left him a few voice mails and emails trying to see if he was okay. When I didn’t hear back, I imagined him in a hospital bed. I knew where his sister worked, so finally braved calling her to see if he was all right. She was sympathetic and helpful.

“My brother is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. But he is not all that he has led you to believe.”

“What do you mean?”

“He embellishes and fabricates.”

“He lies?” I wasn’t surprised, just wanted to confirm.

“Yes.”

We went through the things he had told me. Some were true, others weren’t, and some she wasn’t sure about. Yes, he owned a Lexus as he told me, but she didn’t know about the other car he supposedly rolled. She hadn’t heard he had been in accident in the last month, even though they talked just last week. She confirmed he wasn’t married and didn’t have a girlfriend. When I asked what he really did for a living, she said what he told me is what he had told their mother, but they weren’t really sure. Yes, the story he shared about his past girlfriend was true. But the cousin he told me died in his arms was still alive. And she had no knowledge of his being offered or taking a job out of state.

He is really eleven years younger than he told me. Instead of his being seven years older than she, he is really three.

I shared with her, “I found a listing on the Internet in his name in his town for a driver’s license suspension in 2004. He denied it was him.”

“That was him.”

“Odd thing to lie about.”

The things he lied about were strange. People usually lie to get out of something and/or to present themselves as someone they aren’t. So why would he lie about his cousin’s death and the age difference between him and his sister? I can see why he might lie about the job, but he spun an elaborate tale about that.

“My mother, father and I have all told him he needs to get psychological help for his lying. He hasn’t sought any. He learned to lie at an early age as a way to survive in our tough childhood neighborhood. Now there’s no reason to lie, but he still does it. We don’t know if he’s bored and this makes life more interesting, or why he does it. We don’t believe most of what he tells us until we have proof.”

While I felt foolish to be duped, I was actually relieved to get answers. I like mystery movies and when the riddle isn’t solved cogently, it’s unsettling. My feelings for this man had dissipated but I wanted to close the book having some questions resolved. Don’t we wish every man who says or does something that doesn’t make sense had such a forthcoming sister to tell us the truth?

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Giving and receiving emotional support

November 16, 2007

emotional support“My ex-girlfriend wanted me to support her emotionally, but she didn’t do the same in return,” my sweetie shared.

“Hmm. I’m not sure I’d know the signs that someone was wanting emotional support unless they were crying or upset. What are the signs you want or need emotional support?” I asked.

“Good question. I don’t really know. I just know I didn’t get what I needed from her when I had an upsetting day.”

“What was missing that you wanted? If I were to emotionally support you, what would that look like?”

“Again, a great question. I’m not sure.”

So he didn’t know how to tell he needed it, or what it would look like, but he knew he didn’t get it. Sounds a bit convoluted, but I think we can relate to knowing something is missing, but not knowing exactly what that is. For some, it would be a lack of compliments or positive acknowledgment of your accomplishments. For others it is listening when they’ve had an upsetting event or a bad day, without trying to offer solutions.

Being a bit unsure myself of what emotional support meant exactly, I asked a very emotionally supportive friend for her definition.

listenng signpost“When someone is upset, you don’t try to solve the problem, especially since some are without resolution, especially around kids or spouses. But instead, just to actively listen, and ask about the person’s feelings. Things like, ‘How did that make you feel?’ or ‘I bet that hurt your feelings,’ or ‘Why do you think that comment hit you so hard?’ You don’t focus on activities, outcomes or solutions, but instead on helping them identify their feelings, and then, if they are interested, on the source of those feelings.”

In my life when I’ve been upset and someone has commented on my emotions, I’ve felt absolutely heard. If someone focuses on just the solution, I feel less heard. We know this intellectually, and many of us have taken (or taught!) courses on active listening, but sometimes in our romantic relationships we forget to apply what we know.

How do you let someone know you need emotional support? Early in my marriage, I tried to offer suggestions to ease my ex’s upsets. (I know this is counter-stereotypical.) He finally told me he needed me to hear him out first, before offering solutions. For a while after that I’d ask, “Do you want me in active-listening mode or in problem-solving mode?” Nearly always he’d say the former. I learned to listen first and he’d let me know when he wanted some ideas for solutions.

Do you know how to let someone else know you need emotional support? And what exactly it looks like to you — active listening, being held, only asking questions, not solutions? And do you know how to detect when your guy wants emotional support? What does it look like to him? It may be very different than what you need.

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Is your guy “spoilable”?

November 15, 2007

We’re usually more concerned with dealing with a man who is spoiled — self-centered, immature, and thoughtless. Ditch those guys immediately.

I’m talking about the opposite — someone who is so other-focused that it is hard for him to receive.

spaMost of us — at least me — like to be spoiled once in a while. It feels great to receive without the necessity of reciprocating — at least immediately. I think it’s why spas are so popular, especially among women. We typically give so much to others every day, that at the spa we can just kick back and receive. Of course, we remunerate in tips and fees, but it seems we get way more than we pay.

It is hard for some people to receive without needing to reciprocate. That’s why birthdays are great — you can give (or receive) and there is no concern about the favor/gift being immediately matched. The only expectation is a sincere thank you. And if the gift is truly liked, a big smile, hug, etc. will telegraph the appreciation.

It feels great to give something to someone you know the other will really enjoy. I work to notice what a sweetie likes and give him more of it.

Recently, I told Prince Considerate how much I appreciated his spoiling me and want to learn what makes him feel spoiled. He said, “That will be interesting. I don’t really know, as no one has ever spoiled me.” That includes his mother, ex-wife and past girlfriends. He’s mastered the art of giving, but has little competency in receiving. Not that he eschews receiving massages, favorite foods or compliments, but it is harder to be given to than to receive.

Some would say that not everyone needs to be spoiled. Perhaps. But if you can’t receive readily and without feeling you must repay in kind, there is a block to receiving love. Love, in part, is feeling special around another person. Receiving — even spoiling — is part of that.

What have you noticed about spoiling men? Are the ones who are good at spoiling you equally as good at receiving spoiling?

(See related posting, “Are you open to receiving?“)

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Easy way to ask hard questions

November 14, 2007

Intellectual ForeplaySome people find it difficult to ask probing questions to uncover their date’s values, beliefs and preferences. Enter Intellectual Foreplay: Questions for Lovers and Lovers To Be, a book designed to help you easily dive into potentially difficult conversational waters.

The book is designed to be used by both of you. It is broken up into topic-focused chapters, with a strong warning not to start with the sex chapter! I’ve begun using it with Prince Considerate, not that we have difficulty exploring intimate topics, but I’ve found it makes it really easy on car trips or sitting on the couch to say, “Let’s dip into a few Intellectual Foreplay questions.”

We’ve taken turns choosing and answering questions. No matter what the question, you both answer it. I especially liked, “What attracts you to your partner?” There are questions on communication, hobbies, entertainment, morals, values, ethics, trust, romance, religion, health, money, work, family, food, vacations, and of course, sex.

The authors suggest you can either go through all the questions in a chapter, or choose specific questions from a section, or just open the book and randomly pick one. You can do this in person or on the phone. I’d suggest not doing it via email or IM as the person’s voice tone tells you a lot. So ideally, you’re in person, facing each other so you can see the other’s body language.

I don’t know that I’d bring this book to a first date, but I have shared the concept with someone over the phone and asked if he’d be interested in discussing a few. I cherry-picked a few I wanted to discuss and it went well. The key is you both answer the same question so I offered to go first to reduce it feeling like an interview.

The authors, Eve Eschner Hogan and Steve Hogan used this technique to deepen a long-distance relationship and determine if they were truly compatible. As you can gather by their names, the got married, they say because they got to know each other so well.

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Paranoid or observant?

November 12, 2007

You’ve been dating around for a few years, having second dates or more with a dozen or so men. You have enough experience under your belt to notice that in the past there’s been a shift of behavior that has preceded a guy’s going poof or breaking up with you. There’s a change in something that he had done predictably. Maybe he usually makes contact at least once a day, or typically asks you out for the weekend by Thursday, or wants to have lunch during the week as well as Saturday night.

Because of the behaviors of past guys, you’re on the lookout with the man you’ve been seeing for a few months. You’ve been blindsided in the past, but in retrospect the signs of a change were there, you just didn’t interpret them as pre-break-up or pre-poof signals.

You’re watching for a shift in pattern that might reveal a change in his perspective about you. You are aware if he skips a day of contact, since he typically calls/IMs/texts each day. You contact him on those days, and he seems glad to hear from you (assuming you don’t yell at or guilt him). You try to not be overly sensitive, bordering on paranoid. But you notice when there’s a change in patterns.

You wrestle with yourself to not make more out of it than that he was really busy or distracted by work/kids/life. But the question resurfaces, “Is this the beginning of the end?”

Ideally, you let it be, noticing but not commenting unless it happens a handful of times. At times life gets overwhelming for most people, and as long as a missed day of contact doesn’t spread into 3 or 4 days, you’re probably fine. However, if the pattern of pulling away begins to repeat itself, don’t be surprised if he goes poof or you get one of those dreaded “it’s not working” emails.

Even if you bring it up as gently as possible, with no blame or guilt, it’s a rare man who will admit he’s having second thoughts about your seeing each other. Some will try to cover it up, more from not wanting to hurt you or have a confrontation than from purposefully lying. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring it up — you should see what he says. But even if he comes back with, “I’ve just been crazy busy with work and the kids lately” he will know that you’ve noticed and it may help him feel okay about coming clean. It’s like when as a kid your mom found you doing something you shouldn’t have, at first you may fib to see if she will ignore it. But if you had any conscience and your mother was not crazy, you may have confessed to her after a while.

And this knife cuts both ways. If you find yourself behaving differently toward him than in the past, perhaps your feelings have changed and you just haven’t articulated them yet. If you used to answer no matter when he called, and now you let it go to voice mail if you’re doing something else that may be a sign you’re less engaged. Or you used to invite him to dinner during the week and now you’d rather watch The Bachelor, notice if you’re feeling less interested in your time with him.

So notice the shifts and see if they are signs you should pay attention to or just ignore. If you choose the latter, at least you won’t be completely blindsided when the “Have a nice life” email comes through.

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Prince Considerate

November 1, 2007

Prince CharmingMany women refer to their perfect man as Prince Charming. We want someone who is likable and knows what to say to get along with others. But charm can also be shallow, knowing what to say without really meaning it. And he could be charming to others but lose that capacity with you. I grew up with someone like that — he was charming to strangers but mean to family members.

A man I’m seeing and I were talking about what we liked about each other. I told him how much I appreciated his thoughtfulness and generosity with me. He said, “I’ve never considered myself a Prince Charming. I try to be more of a Prince Considerate. I work to be thoughtful of others.” And he is. I think Prince Considerate is more sustaining for a relationship.

A Prince Considerate, based on the few I’ve had first-hand experience with, is prone to:

  • Call regularly to just say he’s thinking of you, or see how you’re doing. (My PC calls regularly and IMs at least once a day.)
  • Buy you small gifts to show he knows what you like and that he cares about you. (At the movies he excused himself and brought back chocolate for me.)
  • Do thoughtful things for you spontaneously. (My PC regularly gives me foot massages while we’re chatting on the couch, or shoulder massages while we’re waiting in line at the movies.)
  • Be thoughtful of others. (He brought a bottle of wine for our Halloween party hosts, as well as a high-quality chocolate bar for me!)
  • Consider what you like to do. (Knowing I like to see houses decorated for Halloween, he scheduled an hour’s walk in a fun neighborhood near our dinner restaurant so we could enjoy the decorated houses. And he told me ahead of time to wear comfortable walking shoes!)
  • Think through how a suggested activity would be for you. (I explained this in “Is your date sensitive to your comfort?“)
  • Learn your routines and plan around your regular activities. (PC knows what evenings I Jazzercise so suggests getting together afterwards or on other evenings.)
  • Listen to your stories and remember what’s going on in your life, and even your friends’ names. (PC knows I’m going to India and Singapore for January, so suggests movies and restaurants to help acclimate me.)

So, which would you rather have, a Prince Charming or a Prince Considerate (for this discussion, you can’t have both in the same guy)? Why?

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