Carolyn Hax: Getting candor out of a beau

Carolyn Hax
Columnist March 20, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

A serious question, I swear. I’m a confident, intelligent, direct, 30-something woman. I look for the same qualities in a mate.

What I’ve found (oh so recently) is that the men I date proclaim to want these things too. I was duped because my ex did a good job of being direct and all that about other things. But when it came to relationship-related issues, he was passive-aggressive, timid, silent at times, wishy-washy, etc. I would ask direct questions, and he would be the exact opposite of these qualities.

How do you ever know if someone is telling the truth about who he is? This guy snowed me. And I should say it’s not just this one. I’ve had other men act like this, too. They talk the talk but not much more. Why on earth would you claim to be all these things when in reality you’re a spineless wimp when it matters?


Anonymous

If indeed your ex responded to your direct questions by being “the exact opposite of” direct, then you’ve witnessed part of the answer to your own question: A normally direct person who starts ducking your questions is keeping something from you.

And. Um. Given the sensation of hot lights radiating from your question, I suspect a lot of people get a case of the squirms in your presence.

If you’re as in touch with your own frailties as you are with those of your recent beaux, then I retract that, with full apologies.

However, many — if not most — people struggle to express difficult feelings. Many are socialized out of it, men in particular. It’s just not easy to make yourself vulnerable to people, and the reason is in the definition, since being vulnerable means being in a position to get hurt. And while it’s true that getting hurt is part of life, that doesn’t change the fact that when a fastball is hurtling at you, one common response is to curl to protect your soft parts.

One version of the curl is to tell inquisitors what you think they want to hear. Another is to bob and weave your way out of telling them anything. These are things you can look for in others.

You’re a bigger part of the answer, though: Be someone who can handle it when people reveal their flaws to you, or tell you what you don’t want to hear.

That doesn’t mean you have to keep dating someone who reveals deal-breaking flaws or admits he doesn’t love you. It just means being patient enough with people, and judicious enough in drawing conclusions, for them to feel comfortable telling their truth, even the stuff they’ve been afraid to say out loud. It also means being kind vs. punitive in receiving bad news. “Ouch — but I appreciate your candor” vs. name-calling.

Being gentle with others is good for you. Coaxing out the shyest truths gives you the best information for deciding whether someone is right for you.

What do punishment and impatience look like? Calling people spineless wimps, for one, or treating them as if that’s the way you see them. Laying out a set of standards they have to meet to please you is another, instead of letting them speak for themselves.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Lifestyle