Advice From the Trenches

Advice from the Trenches: Can I Trust My Instincts?

datingDear C;

I’ve made some bad choices when it comes to men. I know that it probably has something to do with the fact that my dad was an alcoholic, but that doesn’t really help. The thing is, these guys always seem great at first; they have interesting ideas and are a lot of fun. Then after a while, the problems start.

I’m drawn to men by instinct — I like something about them. How am I supposed to know that the guy is going to change? It just happens! So what do I do? Ignore the guys I’m attracted to and wait for someone I have no interest in to approach me? What do I do if I can’t trust my natural instincts?

Door Number Three

Dear Door;

Instincts aren’t just something “natural” you are born with. They are also something you develop through experience and awareness. If your present instincts are leading you to losers, you need to become more aware. What exactly are these problems that always start? They don’t just appear out of thin air. I’m guessing that there are many signs you are missing because you are acting on impulse, not instinct. Try using your head next time!

These men you are attracted to may not look the same or like the same music, but they probably all have personality traits in common. When you first meet someone, you can’t always know if they pay their bills on time, are habitually late or if every word that comes out of their mouth is a bald-faced lie. This is something you only figure out with time. So keep your eyes open and watch for clues. Here are a few tips.

* Every man is on his best behavior when he’s on the hunt. You can’t necessarily gauge his sincerity or judge anything about his normal habits from the kind of treatment you will get while he’s trying to talk you into bed. A guy will change his sheets, get the expensive wine and flatter the hell out of you when he’s making his moves. The way he treats you afterward is a lot more telling.

* Heterosexual men aren’t generally as emotional as women until they get comfortable. If a guy confides his deepest thoughts and secrets to you on a first date, it’s a good guess that he does this with everyone. Either it’s a tactic to make you think he’s sensitive or he’s a drama queen. Do you really need either?

* Is he willing to be seen in public with you and introduce you to his friends? Does he HAVE friends? Anyone who isn’t normally socialized is more likely to have unrealistic expectations of a relationship, or to look for a co-dependent relationship. Does the guy say he wants you all to himself? This isn’t flattering — it’s unhealthy. Are the two of you going to spend the rest of your lives in a locked room?

* Does the guy talk about past relationships and blame everything on the other person? Are all of his exes “crazy?” This says more about him than it does about the exes. After all, he’s the one who keeps picking them.

* Are there things about him that tweak your alarms, but you explain them away or fluff them over because you want things to work out and think he’ll change in time? The best advice I ever heard from a couples counselor was, “Don’t ever get involved with someone expecting them to change.” People don’t change. If he’s stimulating, but flakey, funny, but volitile, and hot, but flighty, he is always going to be flakey, volitile and flighty. After a while the stimulating humor is going to get on your nerves, and his good looks are just going to make you cringe every time he flirts with a waitress. No one changes unless they REALLY want to. And even then, it requires persistent, exhaustive effort to change the habits of a lifetime. Don’t take a guy on as a project, thinking you can fix him. That’s probably what your mom did.

If you can’t trust your current instincts, maybe for now you can trust this: Increased awareness will hone your instincts until you get to a point where you CAN trust them. Until then, keep a note pad on hand and keep your eyes open. The clues are always there.