Note: This article first appeared as a blog some months ago; hence, the tone.
If you’ve seen the movie ‘The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past’ with Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, and Michael Douglas, then you might recognize this quote. As I recall, this sage piece of wisdom came from McConaughey’s dead ‘playboy’ uncle (Douglas) who sought to mentor him in the fine art of getting anything he wanted from women. Aside from the movie being a bit cheesy, the statement struck me as downright serious – and true! All of a sudden an amusing romantic comedy turns into a lecture on male-female relationships!
My own experiences in certain relationships, particularly in my post-divorce dating experiences, all of a sudden became perfectly clear as to what was going on. There were certain relationships where I was very frustrated at the lack of engagement by the other person and then there were others where I sensed the gal was frustrated with me. In the first case, I recognized that I was investing way more in emails, phone calls, text messages and the like than my partner, and I was delighted to make the investment – call it a labor of love. But it was in the waiting for reciprocation that was the most agonizing and the true measure of the ‘interest gap’ in the relationship – I was becoming way more invested than she was. I’m sure the gals I chased were not checking their emails 27 times a day as I was, nor were they watching for text messages or waiting in the evening for my call. In a way, I was controlled 24/7 by this person….and they most likely didn’t even know it.
From these encounters I want to make some preliminary observations.
1. Relationships Are Dynamic. If a relationship goes beyond a couple of dates, and I find most don’t, then recognize that it will go through phases. If both of us have an initial interest in each other, there is likely a reciprocity going on between us – call it a mutual responsiveness. After the relationship gets some miles on it, dynamics may start to change. While this is normal, it is in this shifting that the inequities have the potential to emerge.
Let me give you an example. I’ve been on a number of dating websites for over three years now and have met several gals through these. If during the fishing expedition I get a nibble from someone who is interested in me, it may move rather rapidly to a series of quick interchanges and then to phone conversations. To phone conversations are added face-to-face meetings and soon, if things continue to go well in this exploratory phase, the interchanges encompass a rich complex of calls, evenings out and text messages. The interchanges tend to reflect similar engagement levels if there is a relatively balanced and mutual interest. That can change at any time, which brings me to the next observation.
2. Relationships Can Become Unbalanced. While the imbalance can come from either side, the most difficult case to handle is when I am the one getting short changed. It seems to take me awhile to catch on to what is happening; perhaps I rationalize well. But, actually it isn’t always that simple to read.
We all have complicated lives – jobs, business trips, family issues and what all – and we each handle these stresses differently, which makes an inequity hard to immediately interpret, at least as declining interest. And if I’m really interested in someone I’m not looking for reasons to ‘not believe.’ I mean, hellooooo! Plus, I’m pretty bull-headed about it. “I want you, and you will want me when it’s all said and done” is often my basic M.O., for good or ill.
3. Knowing When to Pack it In. Somewhere along the line you may need to make a decision – persist, adjust or exit. Persisting ignores the difference of interest but rationalizes that I can win her with more effort, wit and charm. And that is not all hooey, but it is a lower probability game in which you will be the sole loser if it doesn’t work out.
Adjusting to the new reality might mean stepping back and moving at the altitude and speed of that other person. This is very difficult for me to accomplish. I’m either in or I’m not, it seems, and it’s hard for me to not act according to my feelings toward the other person. But I do have friends who are better at taking a relationship where it is, so it seems possible. The final option is to pull the cork and let it go down the drain, since that is where it is going anyhow.
I find no one option particularly satisfying. I’ve read advice columns that say to get immediately out of and away from these relationships. The basic argument is that you will only get hurt and/or you are wasting your time by hanging around. Perhaps they’re right, but I’m not so convinced. I do believe we need to learn what our hearts can handle and what they cannot.
When I recognize that I’ve been dumped in a relationship or just see that I’m the one holding it together, it definitely hurts. I’m finding that re-taking control of the heart is necessary first business and that a cutting off of contact with the person needs to happen, the more abrupt and complete the better. Taking on some other emotionally engaging activity – going out with friends (male and female), movies or going on an interesting holiday – seems to speed emotional recovery for me. Jumping right into another relationship is not wisdom, however.
I also am finding that attempting to keep some form of contact just prolongs the recovery period. During this phase, it does mean that you will continue to stare at the ceiling for hours on end, be lethargic toward virtually everything for days, and check emails 27 times a day to see if she contacted you or is online. That’s just gonna happen! It’ll stop eventually…. and sooner if you make the break clean.
Once I’ve found emotional stability again, I do find that I can engage some of these women in relationships that are quite satisfying – call it friendship. It’s not that they are without their challenges but you can benefit from the fact that you do like each other and do know quite a bit about each other at that point. These are friends you can enjoy a meal with or a night out on the town. There were also some relationships where that was not possible. Again, it’s about what our hearts can handle – hers and yours.
I don’t think you can avoid these imbalances – it happens unintentionally when two people simply develop different levels of feeling toward the other person. I don’t think one should avoid going down that road just because you can get hurt.
I do think we can get better at assessing what is happening and then address the issues more directly, and sooner. When it is all said and done, however, you can only win at this game if you are willing to get back into the arena.