From Match.com’s Happen Magazine
Sometimes, telling your dates the truth about how you feel about them might not always be the best idea. Here’s why—and a much better alternative.
by Evan Marc Katz
How lucky we are to be in an age where men and women alike are encouraged to express their feelings. We share what’s on our mind to our family, our friends, our co-workers, our therapists, and last, but not least, our dates. The thing is: While our family, friends, co-workers and therapists have all known us long enough to roll with some of our beyond blunt comments, our dates have most likely not had that luxury—which is why you may well have completely offended one of them without even knowing it. Such is the price of honesty: We think we’re just being candid; someone else thinks we’re just being a jerk. Let’s take a closer look at how to wrangle this tricky dating territory.
Why criticism is rarely constructive
The irony of honesty is that we usually feel 100 percent justified in our feelings. Well, he did need to stop complaining about his job! She would look better with longer hair! And, hey, that person did too need to lighten up a bit! Newsflash: Everybody could stand to undergo a little self-improvement. But self-improvement starts with yourself, not with a near stranger you’re meeting at Starbucks. It’s not that those gosh-darned honest people are inherently wrong, per se, but rather that they’re offering opinions that the recipient didn’t solicit. David, 35, from San Diego, recalls a first meeting in which he and his date got into an intense discussion about the Iraq war. “Instead of agreeing to disagree,” he said, “she couldn’t stop reminding me how argumentative I was. But I was the one who wanted to end the conversation!”
There’s a big difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism, one that David’s date couldn’t discern. Naturally, most of us think our criticism is constructive; when others take offense we cry, “I’m just trying to help you!” But in my opinion, most criticism is the destructive kind. We tell others what we perceive to be wrong with them for our own benefit rather than theirs, as if they’re instantaneously going to change. “I was really interested in this guy from our email exchanges, yet the second we sat down for dinner, he told me, point-blank, that I should let my hair grow longer,” said Jane, 49, from Seattle. “As if he had some sort of say in the process.” Janet’s story, unfortunately, is as much the rule as the exception. We offer our thoughts even if our dates don’t ask, even if they don’t agree, even if our words fall on deaf ears. It’s as if the criticism is a weight to be carried around, and we can only unburden ourselves by dumping it on our unsuspecting dates.
The secret to treating your date with tact
So how can you tell if your negative comments are constructive or destructive? Simple. If your date didn’t explicitly ask you how he/she could improve, you’re being destructive—yes, even if you’re completely correct in your assessment. It’s not your job to tell the person how he or she can be better. It’s your job to smile, be generally pleasant, and decide if you want to see this person another time. That’s it. Andrew, 27, from Miami, recalls a woman who laid into him for showing up late and failing to open the car door for her. “It’s not that she was wrong,” he said, “It that her tone was something I’d only take from someone who was already a girlfriend. Getting yelled at on a first date doesn’t give me much incentive to come back for a second one.”
Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to be a doormat on a date or carefully monitor every word that comes out of your mouth. Nor does it mean that you can’t talk about anything interesting or provocative. It just means that the cliché you heard from your mom when you were six is still applicable today: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.”
A road paved with good intentions…
We — real, human, flawed people — take a risk every time we go on a date. We hope to impress, yet half the time, we fail to. And that’s OK. The problem is when, for our own selfish reasons, we offer free analysis with each venti latte. Unadulterated honesty may not cost a thing monetarily, but being candid at all times is expensive in terms of connection and compassion. After all, why would anyone want to date you if they’re only going to be made to feel bad about themselves?
Let me give you an example: Karen, a 33-year-old psychologist from Los Angeles, believes in full-tilt honesty, and she feels that, if everyone were a little more like her, this dating thing wouldn’t be that bad at all. “Some of my dates probably think I lack a bit of a filter, but the way I see it, if a guy can’t take my honesty, he’s probably not the right guy for me.” Although I respect her integrity, I couldn’t disagree more with Karen’s approach. “Honest” may be the label that people like Karen grant themselves, but others (who may be a bit less honest) probably use another word to describe their behavior: tactless.
Having restraint doesn’t mean you’re a liar. It just means you’re not saying every single thing that crosses your mind. There’s tremendous grace in being courteous, and what you gain from being kind to a date is far greater than what you gain from being honest. So, next time, try a little kindness…and watch as your dates warm up accordingly.