“I have appreciated your friendship, but don’t think I can be friends anymore.” My directness, combined with my odd word choice surprises me, even as I hear myself speaking them aloud to a friend (now formerly known as). We part on civil terms and I’m proud of our adult-like recognition that this friendship isn’t working anymore. Still, a few days later, when I learn more about some decisions Formerly Known As has made that confirm my suspicion that her character is not in line with mine, I feel devastated. Stupid. Humiliated. Like any breakup, I find myself wondering, What did I miss? How could I have been in this relationship so long and missed the signs that something wasn’t compatible between us? This gets me thinking about how often we do the very same thing in dating – simply turn away from red flags until they are so glaring we have no choice but to face them. As the days turn into weeks and I look back on my friendship with Formerly Known As, it occurs to me that I ignored red flags for exact same reasons I have in dating. Here I offer three of the biggest reasons we ignore red flags.
1) We are programmed to connect.
Biologically, it is part of our survival and health to connect with other human beings. Part of that connecting is the brain’s ability to sort. Oh look, we have this in common! I totally get you. As women, it can get even more tricky once we have sex – chemicals like Oxytocin are meant to keep us connected, regardless of compatibility. So what is the guard against connecting over and over, only to feel like we wasted time in a doomed relationship? Since fighting biology can be futile, our best approach is to go slow. Go slow before making any big sacrifices for a friend. Go slow with a new girlfriend before having sex. By watching someone’s character over time, we are better able to see the big picture of who she is, rather than who we want her to be. Which leads me to the next reason…..
2) We see the best in people.
One of my favorite things about myself is my ability to be hopeful and to see light in darkness. This same tendency has caused me to become almost an eagle eye for the good in people. While seeing the good is a valuable habit, it prevents us from seeing people as a whole, for who they are. Instead, we tend to see the parts of them we want to see, that we identify with or understand. What is the antidote? Knowing ourselves. This cliché advice sounds so simple, but when we truly know ourselves, we know our boundaries. We know what we will and won’t put up with in relationships. No one is perfect and everyone has issues, but when those issues create an imbalance in the relationship that can’t be repaired, it may be time to accept that the relationship isn’t right for us. The other thing about knowing ourselves is it is only in this knowing that we can truly be present, confident, and open to seeing people for who they are, in total.
3) We don’t know how to have difficult conversations.
In my ex-friendship, 50% (at least) of the responsibility lies on me for the friendship ending. For one, I didn’t know how to tell her about uncomfortable feelings I was having many months ago when she shared what she had been doing. In fact, I was so shocked by her response to, “What’s new with you?” that I literally froze as I listened to her relay details that I didn’t know how to deal with. Looking back, in that moment I could have spoken up about my concerns. I didn’t because I was afraid I was being judgmental, or that she’d be mad. Or something. We’re all conditioned to avoid conflict and not get overly involved in others’ business. Somewhere in between trying to be polite and having opinions of my own, I had the opportunity to grow that friendship by being fully me and simply saying, “I care about you but I’m confused about something….” When we don’t know how to deal with conflict or have a difficult conversation, we are limiting the depth of our relationships. Stuff is always going to come up, it’s what we do next that really matters, both in friendships and in dating.
While I appreciate my rose colored glasses towards people, I have learned to slow down in developing a deep connection with others, to focus on who I am in those moments, and to practice speaking my truth, even if the delivery is awkward. After all, all we can do is be a little bit better than the day before. To read more about red flags in relationships, check out the Relationship Red Flags Mini Book or go to girlsguidetohealthydating.com.
Kim Baker, author of Girls’ Guide to Healthy Dating: Between the Breakup and the Next U-Haul, is a dating columnist and writer whose writing examines healthier dating through the lens of mindfulness and self-care. Find her at girlsguidetohealthydating.com or join her email list by texting gg2dating to 22828, message and date rates may apply.