When I was fresh out of graduate school and living overseas, I started dating a French guy. He was handsome and sweet and sexy. It was so exotic! One night we were sitting outside at a café having a drink and I asked him what his plans were the next day. I wasn’t on a fishing expedition, I was just making polite conversation.
He said he was going to buy some presents for his kids. Wait, what? Kids? Was there a wife attached to these children? He actually laughed at me when I asked and said something like, Yes, but we have an agreement that when I’m not home we each do what we want.
Of course I ended it, but I’d been dating this guy for weeks and never suspected a thing. I assumed a man in his position wouldn’t be gallivanting around with a girl on the side.
Just when you think you know someone, you don’t. Every single woman I know has been duped. Probably a lot of men too but I can’t even pretend to know what they’re saying, doing or thinking.
In hindsight, it seems like a lot of judgments are made about the new guy too soon. We somehow make up our minds that we’ve figured this guy out and then we’re disappointed (and surprised) when it turns out he’s not who we imagined. Why do we do this? Why do we rush the exploration phase of dating? And why do we jump to conclusions about his personality, character, and compatibility when there’s not enough evidence to support most (any?) of our assumptions?
There are warning signs of course, but for the most part we ignore them. For example, one of my girlfriends fell head over heels in a matter of days with a guy she met online. I knew it was going to fall apart the first time she gushed about him in an email. I pointed out my concerns because I didn’t want her to get hurt. She had an excuse or explanation for every single one of them. And guess what? She broke up with him last week for exactly the reasons I thought she would.
It’s like we check off a couple of boxes (smart, yes! funny, yes! great sex, yes!) and somehow wind up filling in the whole questionnaire before we even know his middle name. And then we stick to our guns. We don’t let him fill in the blanks and we’re often not willing to edit our initial answers in order to keep him frozen in the time when we decided we liked him. For many of us, the promise of a new relationship, of finally having found a great new guy, overwhelms our circuits and clouds our judgment.
I did it with police guy. Once I decided I liked him, I was locked in. Even though we were always meeting up spur of the moment (can you say booty call?). Even though I never met his friends. Even though he never invited me to his place. Even though he stopped calling and started texting more. Even though his texts started becoming less frequent. I was still emotionally trapped in the time and space when I decided that I liked him and thought he had boyfriend potential. I was unable or unwilling to look at the reality of how things had stopped evolving. I couldn’t face it. I’d already decided he was perfect.
Discovering we’re not as in sync as I thought left me feeling crushed, heartbroken. I cried. My rational mind thought it was crazy. I wasn’t really as invested as my heart felt like it was.
I was completely happy before I met him and I’m sure I’ll be completely happy again. So why the heartache? Why do we mourn the loss of a man who never really existed, except in our own minds?
Because I (we?) had glimmers of relationship bliss. Moments when things seemed just perfect and you think, hey, maybe there’s something here. Accepting that the glimmers of bliss were fleeting and possibly even a mirage means you have to start filling out another questionnaire with someone else and the thought of doing that is one big ugh.
One of my girlfriends has given up entirely on meeting new men and says she’s sticking to recycling the old ones. I don’t blame her because how do you know if the next glimmers are reality or your imagination getting the best of you? More importantly, how do you keep your emotions in check while you’re discovering who this guy is? And how long does that take anyway?
One thing’s for sure: it takes a lot longer than that first great French kiss.