Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Endless Evidence Gathering

A comment on a post over at Evan Marc Katz's blog got me thinking. Jennifer writes:

It seems like women often feel they need to gather overwhelming evidence or catch their boyfriend red-handed in order to leave him. Here’s my thought: If he’s making you uncomfortable, and he doesn’t care, it’s okay to leave. You don’t have to work so hard to justify it.

Although this is citing behavior around suspected cheating, I actually think that this issue of overdoing evidence gathering is applied to a lot of rocky relationships. And men do it as well, although I do wonder if the crooked gender socialization many of us have grown up with has made it easier for men to leave relationships where they are unhappy. I'm not sure about that one, but it's an interesting thing to consider.

In my opinion, people tend to operate within a binary. Specifically, you have those who cut and run the moment things get difficult. And then you have those who spend months, years, even entire lifetimes sticking it out with partners that they slowly grow to hate, but can't quite leave.

In my 20s, I was an endless evidence gatherer. In fact, that even was true with women who I never dated. I recall one in particular who demonstrated a bit of interest a few times, but then didn't really respond to my "let's get together sometime" kind of comments. I sat around for weeks, rethinking the conversations we had had. Did that look mean she was interested? She really liked the poems I had written. That must be a sign. But she didn't want to get a drink with me? Is she a recovering alcoholic? Should I ask her about that? The questions were endless, as was the tallying. All for a woman who probably thought of me as some nice guy she had a few conversations with, and that's about it.

I have had to train myself to cut off the evidence gathering mind. To know when enough information is enough, and when it's time to make a decision. You have to learn, for example, how your mind rationalizes the poor behavioral patterns of a partner, or the ways in which you discount or marginalize your own needs in a relationship as a way to keep the peace. Or out of a fear of losing the person. The biggest problem with much of the evidence gathering we do in relationships is that it's not about seeing the situation clearly, and then noting the patterns that are occurring. When you fear loosing a partner, or constantly discount your needs, everything ends up having an emotional tint that blurs the truth, and makes it that much harder to make level-headed decisions. You stay when you should leave. Or you leave when you should stay. And then wonder why you're constantly miserable.

When it comes to those of us who have challenges with leaving, it's really important to remember that you don't have to justify everything. You don't have to have reasons for every last thing you don't like about the relationship, nor do you have to explain all of that to the other person. Offering some of that to the other person, especially if you've been together a long time, is probably a kind thing to do. However, if somewhere in your mind you believe that you have to explain your way completely out of a relationship, then what you have built is a prison, not a relationship.

Finding a balance between kindness to yourself and kindness to your partner (or ex-partner) is really the key to doing relationships consciously. And knowing that this will look different with each relationship - that what's kind in one situation might be cruel in another - is also important.

Anyone out there have trouble with endless evidence gathering? Or are you the opposite?


  1. This sounds a lot like another facet of the whole "overthinking" thing, which as I said before, is something I do to everything, all the time! I am thankful that I have generally been in relationships that were very open in this sense, so guessing, "gathering evidence" etc weren't really necessary: if something had me confused, I could just say, "I don't get this, what does it mean?" and that was okay.

    "You don't have to have reasons for every last thing you don't like about the relationship, nor do you have to explain all of that to the other person."

    I think this is definitely something I have had to learn to find balance in myself.

    "However, if somewhere in your mind you believe that you have to explain your way completely out of a relationship, then what you have built is a prison, not a relationship."

    Definitely. I find it happens even in the shortest situations, it takes me some fortitude even to tell the telemarketer, "Nope, not interested," and put the phone down, without offering a reason or waiting for permission to end the conversation! I think there are a lot of ways that some types of people rely on the "prison" of others feeling we have to justify our feelings, to take advantage of those around them.

  2. We have endless evidence destroying...
    (Just kidding.) ;D

  3. I think there are extremes on both sides, and the best is something in between.

    If you're married or have made a long-term commitment to each other, then I would hope that any decision to leave would only come after the gathering of significant evidence, as well as communicating with your partner about what the evidence means for your relationship. You shouldn't let things build up in your head until it's too late to salvage the relationship, and you shouldn't cut and run the first time things get rough, as they will.

    On the other hand, if you're trying to figure out whether someone is interested, or have only gone out on a few dates with them, you should listen to your gut, because you may not know them well enough to be able to gather all the evidence you need, and they're not going to be playing all their cards so soon either. You shouldn't be inventing silly reasons to move on, or non-existent justifications to hang around, but you should be attuned to what's being said and what's not being said.

  4. I do it all the time, I’ll keep thinking and rethinking about something till I feel terrible and then I’d start gathering data, it's very funny, but I think I’m a kind of obsessive person.

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