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UNSOLICITED ADVICE: #1

When to run screaming-from-the-room: the dating test you should have waited for.

Getting to know someone? Dating? Haven’t you wished there was a good easy test to see if someone might be a real contender? Sure, he’s interesting- cute- enticing-knowledgeable. But how do I know this person isn’t impossible, like the last 3 guys turned out to be? There ought to be a test—some first-two-weeks-dating-mechanism as simple as looking for the grammar mistakes in an on-line profile.

The red flag system comes a little late. You’re sort of in, sort of watching and waiting and, oops, there goes that red flag. ”I’ve seen that one before, but this time it’s different.” Is he, say, chronically late and doesn’t call in advance irrespective of 2 to 3 devices he carries at all times? But he is SOOOOO busy, the work is SOOOOO important and unpredictable, this is just a difficult time. “I have my own center–I’m not waiting. But wait—I’m composing speeches again about how I’m not going to take this anymore. I’m not getting anything done, because I’m wondering “is he dead? “ and concluding “he’d better be.”

We see the red flags and we don’t take the message. It might be months before we conclude “he doesn’t respect my time, or me, or anyone other than himself (or ultimately—even himself.)” In the mean time, we’ve made all those same old stupid excuses for him, put on the armor, treated him as unreliable—which he resents—and set up for the eggshell dance. Isn’t there a simple test for the first couple of weeks so that we know when to run screaming from the room? *

My unsolicited advice: listen for these three phrases.

Phrase number one: I’m sorry.
Women probably apologize too much. That’s got its own problems, but for the two week test, it’s ok. Be generous with apology. Did you presume, assume, bump, drop or forget? Show him how it’s done—apologize. Make it normal, safe. See if you ever hear it back.

We live in a clumsy world. After a week or two of any sort of human connection, no doubt he’s committed some minor injury or slight. No “I’m sorry?” Locate your shoes.

Was it someone else who caused him to drop the thing, be late, forget etc? Isn’t it terrible how other people always seem to get in the way, cut him off, undo his best laid plans, or don’t appreciate him? Put on your cross-trainers and take a deep breath. Running screaming-from-the-room may follow shortly.

“I’m sorry” shouldn’t hurt him or you. No, we can’t apologize our way out of chronic bad behavior—it’s not enough. But people who can’t say this sweet little phrase can’t do much else you’re ever going to want, either. And “I’m sorry” isn’t just for the big stuff. It’s for the little things—like hurt feelings. Oh, right, he can’t say “I’m sorry” because his mother made him apologize and he hated it. Did he say “mother?” Locate the exit now.

Phrase number two: My Mother didn’t…
You don’t want to hear much of this phrase AT ALL. When the word Mother leaves his lips your antennae should be waving wildly. You are not now and never will be his mother. If you’re hearing a lot about maternal deficits, beware. If that’s combined with a lack of “I’m sorries” or “Thanks yous”, maybe you need to go wash your hair–for the rest of his life.

Phrase three: Thank you. Thank me for mentioning it.
What’s the one phrase you need to learn in the language of every country you visit? Thank you. Why? Because people are generally damn nice and do things for one another all the time. When we acknowledge that with a thank you it feels good to both the nice-doer and the nice-doee. It says “I notice and appreciate.” And when we don’t, it’s sort of how a three year old treats his mother. Only three year olds are cuter than adults and might grow out of that nasty habit of not saying thank you. You should hear this phrase coming at you, generously used on restaurant staff, check-out clerks, all manner of folk. If he has to be stingy with “thank you” don’t be a part of his impoverished world.
* * *

No doubt there are other important words, not to mention behaviors, but a checklist must be brief to be useful. So try listening for these three phrases in the first two weeks of a potential relationship: easy flowing “I’m sorry and “thank you;” and stingy “my mother didn’t…” Avoid the adult who can’t take responsibility for his or her own conduct, who is always right, who doesn’t need anyone else’s help, or who is the “victim” of people chronically keeping him from his better side. If he hasn’t gotten these things up till now and you have, you can find a much better project than teaching him.

*Why run screaming from the room? Chances are you’re seeing someone too far to the right on the narcissism continuum and there’s really no other remedy for it. Maybe you’re hearing about all those difficult people who’ve fallen out of this person’s life? Chances are they’re not all crazy. In fact, they may be the smartest people you’re about to hear armchair diagnoses about. They’ve already run screaming from the room.