Friday, October 14, 2011

Your Mind Wants Answers

So, you doing the whole online dating thing. You've been writing some guy and he seems interested. Maybe you've talked on the phone, and even gone on a first date. It all appears to be going in the right direction. And then - poof! He's gone. What happened?

Unless someone tells you directly why they've chosen to stop contacting you, the answer to that question is always another question: "who knows?" In fact, even if someone tells you something directly, it might not be the truth. Or the full truth anyway.

Being a student of meditation, I have become familiar with the way the human mind likes to work. And one thing it desires whenever facing something unpleasant is resolution. Usually in the form of an answer. Or set of answers.

Now, there's nothing wrong with thinking that someone disappeared because "he/she wasn't interested." Or that "he/she must have met someone else." Either of those answers might very well be true. And no matter what you do, chances are that you're brain will produce that kind of story to help sooth your feelings.

The problem, in my view, comes when you 100% believe in the story. A story that, if not told to you directly from the other person, you can't 100% prove is correct.

Further trouble comes when you take this same story and begin applying it to everyone who does something similar.

I can hear a few readers shouting "But that's just common sense, using the past to predict the present." To which I'd like to say "Yes, but also remember that everyone is different as well."

Here's the thing. If you have decided that you want to move on from someone, then thinking something like "he/she isn't interested" is useful. It might be the very thing to help you detach from any emotional connection that may have developed.

However, there's a big difference between using an answer like that to help you move on, and allowing an answer like that to dictate how you're going to respond to someone who you're still interested in.

Letting assumptions control your behavior often leads to missed opportunities and shoddy connections.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard or read a woman describe a dating situation where a guy didn't write or call her back within a few days, and she decided "he wasn't interested," I'd be rich. Filthy rich. This kind of narrative seems less common amongst men, but I have to say that I was guilty of writing off at least a few women in the past as "not interested" for not responding quick enough.

There's another nuance to all of this worth mentioning. Like many things in life, perceived trends or patterns of experience can help to significantly reduce the amount of time involved in determining a course of action. Certainly, if you're experience has been that most people who don't contact you after X number of days aren't going to contact you - or aren't going to display a serious level of interest - then it makes sense to believe that the same might be true in the current place. I often make decisions based on trends or patterns, and so this post isn't about dismissing that.

The difference though, is that when I'm choosing to act based on a trend or pattern, I do my best to remember that I'm choosing. And that there's always a chance that the choice might be wrong. That recognition that the trend or pattern might not be true in the current situation allows me, when I experience it, to remain open to something different happening. That maybe the person on the other end is unexpectedly busy, or is waiting to see what happens on another date, or simply doesn't respond as quickly as everyone else.

It's vitally important to realize that it's in your mind's nature to want answers. If there's a lack of a clear answer, it will make something up. Learning to hang without an answer when there isn't one, or only a partial one, is a major dating and relationship skill. One I'm still trying to master.

How about you?


  1. Brilliant post!

    In the past couple of years, I've come to the realisation that I can't control or predict what another person will do or feel in this way, but I can control how I deal with it emotionally when there is a long pause.

    I used to have a rule that if I didn't hear within a week from someone I contacted on a dating site, then they had obviously deleted my message and weren't interested. Then, I had a reply from a woman, 2 months after my initial message. She'd spent the time googling me, and reading everything I'd written on my blog, before deciding, "Yep, I could go for this guy". It was promising, and we went on a couple of dates that eventually didn't lead anywhere for other reasons.

    However, I still operate a similar rule (I know tend to allow two weeks before giving up, but it's basically the same). However, it is now not "she must not be interested", but instead, "I can't invest any more emotional effort in holding on to the hope I'll get a reply - time to mark that one down as a no-reply". It's about how I feel instead of about how she feels, and it's about managing my emotional state in a healthy way instead of effectively blaming someone else for it.

    So now, I'm always aware of the possibility that I'll get another reply from a researcher type, 2 or 3 months down the line from my initial show of interest. I just don't invest any hope in it and let it be a happy surprise if it happens.

  2. "However, it is now not "she must not be interested", but instead, "I can't invest any more emotional effort in holding on to the hope I'll get a reply - time to mark that one down as a no-reply". It's about how I feel instead of about how she feels, and it's about managing my emotional state in a healthy way instead of effectively blaming someone else for it."

    This is such a key pivot. I really like the way you phrased it as well - "I can't invest any more emotional effort..." That's taking responsibility for what you can do in the situation, which I think is so much more helpful in the long run.

  3. So, what's the practical application? Whatever the reason the person isn't writing to me, the fact remains that he is not writing, so I cannot get in touch with him and there is nothing I can do about it. What can I do, other than to get on with my life? You don't recommend that we put our lives on hold to sit around and wait for the person to write back do you?

    The way I see it, by disappearing for a lengthy period of time, the guy takes a risk. When he comes back two weeks later, I cannot guarantee that I will still be there. Same goes for me if I decide to disappear on a guy. As long as the person doing the disappearing is aware of this risk and realizes that the other person is not obligated to wait for them, all is good.

    Also, if an LTR is anywhere in the cards, I'm not sure that I want a guy with this pattern. I don't want him to disappear on me for two weeks at a time *after* we've become exclusive and I've committed to him, because then I *will* have to sit around and wait.

    "I just don't invest any hope in it and let it be a happy surprise if it happens."

    I like it! Happy surprise is a good way to put it.

  4. @ Goldie: I think the practical application is in taking responsibility for decisions, rather than laying the responsibility on someone else, whose actions may or may not mean what you think they do.

    I think the next step is to be clear about what your needs are: at what point does waiting become uncomfortable, and at what point does it become unacceptable? I like to be "cards on the table" about this sort of thing so that a partner knows how often I need to hear from them in order to feel wanted, and then repeated failure to meet those needs means that (regardless of their motivations or causes, and without making any value judgement about their behaviour) that the person is not a good match for me, and it's a good idea to move on. Someone else, i.e. someone who needs less contact than I do, might enjoy their company better.

    So, the practical application is that you decide how long it's okay for you to "put your life on hold to sit around and wait", and at what point you're going to "get on with your life", rather than making it the responsibility of the other person for their "not being interested".

    Incidentally, if I don't hear from someone for a while, I usually send a short message once the wait has become very uncomfortable, just asking if they're okay - and use that as a signal to indicate that I am not okay with waiting that long to hear from them.

  5. I definitely did not want to suggest that we should sit around and wait for weeks on end. In fact, I think it's just fine to decide that someone has taken too long in your view, and that it's time to move on. Or be open to other possibilities.

    In addition to what Snowdrop said, I really think part of the practical application here is learning how to note someone else's behavior without leaping to judgements and assumptions. As Snowdrop says, if you take responsibility for what you want, and for what you believe is important in a relationship, then you can work from that place when someone's behavior doesn't seem to be matching.

    At the same time, because you haven't gotten fixated on the idea that the other person "isn't interested" or "is being an ass" or whatever, you can adjust to other possibilities more easily. To me, this is especially important early on, when you don't really know each other.

    I think one of the challenges with all of this is distinguishing between total deal breakers, and everything else. Things like frequent abusive comments, being violent, drug use, a pervasive failure to listen, and ignoring "no" statements are on my deal breaker list. There are a few others, but most of what happens early on in dating doesn't trigger an instant judgment or rejection from me.

    So, I'm writing from a standpoint of being more open to those things that aren't clear, and could have numerous reasons for occurring. Like someone being slow to respond back to you.

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