One of my friends is recently single and dating again. Last night, she was sharing how reluctant she is to get back out there. The conversation led to an interesting observation I want to share with you.
As my friend told me about this guy, she kept saying, “But he seemed so nice” and “He seemed so normal.” So many of us have been there. We’ve had relationships, either with friends, co-workers or even family, that have left us baffled at human behavior. People seem to do things that make no sense. This leaves us questioning their thinking, their integrity and sometimes even their moral compass. So, when my friend shared how hot her boyfriend was for her, and then how abruptly he went cold (even breaking up with her via text message) she was dumbfounded. “This was almost like a scene out of Sex in the City,” she cried. How could he be this intense one minute and then gone the next?
After the conversation, I realized she was not dumbfounded by him. Instead, her angst came from her single, unanswerable question, “How was I so wrong?”
During our chat, she shared that her hesitation to date again came not from mistrust of others, but from not trusting herself anymore. She wanted to understand how she didn’t see it coming and questioned her own ability at judging others correctly. Her BitterSweet Score skewed Bitter: she was Angry, Sad and Afraid.
When we meet someone new, we quickly size them up and impose OUR opinion about them on them. This opinion becomes our expectation of the person: who they are, what their values are, how they will act and react. When our expectations about the person are wrong, we are left feeling betrayed by our own judgment. For some, the process is easy. We concede we were wrong about a person, assess our part in the relationship, then learn from the experience and move on. For others being wrong about people shakes them up. Rather than embracing the experience as a lesson learned, they hold steadfast in their belief system refusing to be wrong, or worse, refusing to see their own role in it. Frankly, they put on their blinders.
Blinders keep people from learning, leaving them susceptible to missing vital clues about people. Instead of seeing the warning flags, they miss them because they never actually learned from prior experiences. In addition, because they never internalized their prior lessons, they also miss how their own behavior helped shaped the outcome. Failed relationships require an understanding of self as much as an understanding of others. I am not saying you should blame yourself, but rather to remember that it takes two to tango.
So, the next time you find yourself asking the question, “How was I so wrong about that person?” and feeling Bitter about it, question yourself first. Did this person trigger an emotional response deeper within you by reminding you of someone you once loved? Did this unconsciously lead you to trust them instantly? Did this person fit a bias you hold leaving you automatically making assumptions about the person? For example, people that wear argyle socks are smart, therefore this argyle sock-wearer is smart? Or is your own negative self-image blinding you because you do not find yourself worthy of better behavior from others?
After checking in with yourself, try to identify what you have learned about your behavior when dealing with others. Grasp onto the lessons and this time, internalize them. Remember that being wrong about someone is OK. It doesn’t make you a bad person, it just makes you human. And, while this may create some emotional dissonance inside you, know that true personal growth usually comes about by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
Take some time to learn what your pre-conceived notions about people are and use them to question yourself in new situations. Ask yourself if your bias is clouding your assessment of the situation. And remember, while you cannot control others, you can manage your own responses to them.
Luckily for my friend she has utilized her experience to learn about herself. She is now using her Bitter Emotions to fuel her seeking a Sweeter outcome, and she is back searching for Love. She took off her blinders, learned about herself and is now feeling Joy in meeting new people again.