This is a great time to be alive if you’re single and wanting to find a great relationship. Never before have there been so many ways to meet potential partners. The tried and true methods are still available: the workplace, the grocery store, being fixed up by friends, health clubs, churches and nightclubs. But there are a bunch of relatively new ways to meet people, such as on-line dating, matchmaking services, lock and key events, speed dating and even Facebook, to name a few.
This trend is a very good thing for single adults, but it comes with an unintended consequence. Since you can easily have two or three first dates in a week (I know this is true from personal experience), the problem is no longer getting into relationships, but getting out of them!
Here’s the dilemma: With the plethora of new ways to meet people, your chances at meeting someone with whom you share chemistry and compatibility skyrockets. That’s the good news. The bad new is—and this is the unintended consequence—you won’t like most of them! That means you’re going face a lot more of those awkward “I’m just not into you” moments.
Most people really don’t like the “dear john” type conversations and they avoid them like the plague. That’s understandable. No one enjoys the idea of hurting someone’s feelings. But if we don’t commit to speaking our truth, we risk:
• Staying too long in a relationship that we know isn’t right for us, just because we fear hurting their feelings;
• Dishonoring another human being by simply disappearing and/or not returning their calls;
• Compromising our integrity by making up lame excuses like, “I’m just not over my ex,” or “things are really too busy at work for me to focus on a relationship,” (or some other b.s. line like that);
• Withdrawing from the dating scene altogether fearing the possibility of hurting someone’s feelings if it doesn’t work out. (I have a client who won’t ask girls out because he’s afraid he might one day hurt their feelings.)
If we are to be conscious, loving, emotionally healthy human beings, we must discard these dishonest and ultimately self-sabotaging “exit strategies” and come to terms with this whole paralyzing idea of hurting someone’s feelings.
The Real Motive
At first glance, not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings appears to be a compassionate, noble thing. In my experience, however, when I disappeared on women or directly lied to them about my feelings, it wasn’t their feelings I was protecting, it was my own. My dishonestly was selfishly motivated.
If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll discover the same is probably true for you. You’d rather not have to endure the sad look in their eyes, the hurt and confusion in their voice, their questions as to why or the anger they may express. It isn’t them you’re really protecting; it’s you you’re protecting. So the first thing we have to get straight is that when we withhold our truth, we’re protecting our own feelings, not there’s.
Why am I so sure this is true? Ask yourself this: would you rather someone disappear on you without a trace or outright lie to you—or—would you prefer they look you in the eye and simply say that continuing to see you isn’t right for them? I have never heard anyone say they’d prefer to be left completely in the dark than be told the truth.
A False Assumption
Now, let’s look at is this whole idea that we can actually hurt someone’s feelings in the first place. It’s an assumption and it’s a false one. We cannot hurt another person’s feelings. We aren’t that powerful. We don’t have the ability to cause or control how a person feels. They are responsible for their feelings, as we are responsible for ours.
If you say to someone, “You are a really nice person, but I don’t feel the chemistry between us. I wish you all the best, take care.”—or—“I’ve been thinking about the couple of times we’ve been together and I can tell that it’s just not right for me. I don’t feel like we’re a good fit. Thank you for the time we’ve spent together, though. I wish you all the best.”
If you say something like that and they react with sadness, confusion, hurt, anger or with any other emotion, that’s their choice. You didn’t cause that. You didn’t make them feel bad. You didn’t hurt them. You honored them with your truth and you spoke it with kindness.
If you continue to think you’re responsible for someone else’s feelings, you’ll resort to one of the “exit strategies” I mentioned above. You’ll disappear on them or say something deceptive like, “I had a really good time too. Call me early next week.” In reality, however, you have absolutely no intention of going out with them again or even answering the phone when they call! Feeling responsible for their feelings will tempt you to lose your integrity. If you know right then and there that you aren’t into the person, man-up and tell them. Respect them as a person; dignify them with your truth.
Now, if you do that and they have an emotional reaction of some kind, it’s because they’re interpreting the situation through the filter of their past. For example, perhaps your moving on triggers an old abandonment wound from their childhood, so they feel hurt and confused by your decision. Or maybe they’ve been rejected in past intimate relationships and so they angrily lash out at you saying, “That’s fine. I wasn’t all that attracted to you anyway.”
Either way, if they take it personally, feeling that your decision means something is wrong with them or that they’ll never find love, they, of course, will have an emotional reaction, but it’s their choice.
Notice that all you did was say the relationship wasn’t right for you. A person’s reaction is based upon how they interpret your truth, what they think it means about them. And that’s not your responsibility. Your responsibility is to honor them with your truth and follow your heart.
It’s their interpretation that frames the whole thing.
Another example: What if they interpret your moving on as an event that is unfolding perfectly, that the universe has them in Its loving arms and that the right person is coming towards them at this moment? Can you see how they might react with quiet joy and peace? It all depends on the lens through which they view your decision. And they choose that. You can’t hurt their feelings. That’s their choice.
This is even true if someone doesn’t communicate in a spirit of kindness. Here’s an extreme example: Let’s say you’re a woman and we’re at the end of our first date and I say, “I had a good time. When can I see you again? What if your response is, “Roy, you disgust me! I wouldn’t go out with you again if you were the last person on earth! Now, go to hell you miserable pig!”
Even in that situation, one that obviously lacks kindness, my reaction is my choice. You can’t make me mad, sad or insecure. You just shared your opinion, that’s all. If I make it mean that all women feel that way, that no one will ever love me, that all women are disgusted with me—that’s coming from within me. You’re not powerful enough to make me feel that way or believe those things.
You are not responsible for someone else’s feelings. You’re only responsible for treating people with dignity and kindness.
Let me be specific, now, on how to end dating relationships in a dignified, kind way. Notice, first, that I said “dating relationships.” I’m not talking about committed partnerships here. I’m talking about how to end it with someone you’ve dated once or a couple of times. (There’s a different process to be followed if the relationship is long-term or has become sexual and exclusive. That discussion is beyond the scope of this article.)
The “dear john” (or jane) conversation should be so short that it can be said in one breath. The example I gave earlier fits this criteria: “You are a really nice person, but I don’t feel the chemistry between us. I wish you all the best, take care.” That’s all that needs to be said. Anything beyond that will get you into arguable stories. Let me explain.
If they ask for an explanation as to why you feel the way you do, or what they did wrong, or how they could fix things or what you mean by not being a good fit, don’t answer. Don’t go there. Not because they don’t deserve the truth, but because you don’t have the truth.
All you have are your feelings and your preferences. You don’t have God’s truth about them. Whatever your reasons are, they have absolutely nothing to do with them. To tell them what you don’t like about them or why you don’t feel compatible with them would be to make your stories gospel. There is nothing wrong with that person and they surely aren’t supposed to change something about themselves because you don’t find it attractive or compatible with who you are.
I tell my clients all the time, when you’re early in the dating process and it doesn’t work out, don’t ever ask or say, “why”. It doesn’t matter. Anything you say or anything you hear will only be stories. All that’s absolutely true is that they don’t like you or you don’t like them. That’s it. Anything beyond that is pointless and irrelevant. You’re both perfect as you are, you’re just not perfect for each other. So stick to the unarguable truth: you don’t feel they are the right person for you, or, they don’t feel you are the right person for them. Period.
So, can we please drop the idea that we can’t be honest for fear of hurting someone’s feelings? We can’t do that in the first place, and as I said earlier, we’re using it as an excuse to protect ourselves. There’s an ancient scripture passage that says, “Speak the truth in love.” That summarizes what this article is all about.
Let’s end the cowardly and dehumanizing “exit strategies” of disappearing and deceiving each other. If you’re going to date, commit to doing it with dignity and kindness—and when it’s not right, end it in one out-breath.