Are You Honest Or Overboard?

couple talking to each other over a glass of champagne

From’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.

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  1. 1

    There is some very valuable guidance here.   I’m surprised there are no comments.
    I recently had this discussion with someone I met (a psychologist) when she sent me a very “honest” email that turned me off and I responded “honestly” to her because I didn’t care.   When we had our first meet, she mentioned that she wanted to reveal herself without any filters and boy, was I just turned off.   I understand what she meant and I agree that we need to reveal our true selves but we need to do so judiciously and bit by bit as we get to know one another.  

  2. 2

    Ah, ScottH, Comment No. 1, but some folks confuse honesty with rudeness.   After a date with a man who said that I was “thinner than in the photo” and who asked me to twirl so he could see what my body was like (sic), I seriously thought about getting my coat and leaving him there.  
    It takes time to see how sensitive people are (or not) and if someone treats me with disrespect, I can always leave because really, I don’t have time for jerks.

    1. 2.1

      If on a first date, a man asked me to twirl for him to see my figure better, I would be pretty offended! It’s a bad sign I think, at the very least it shows he’s unaware of what is socially acceptable vs unacceptable behavior. Or it may mean he’s an insensitive jerk.

      However I think saying you’re “thinner than in the photo” is meant to be a compliment. I don’t think that counts as rudeness.  

      1. 2.1.1

        Commenting on a person’s physique or looks now vs then is a very delicate topic and most of us would be wise to not go there.   The person I referred to in my comment showed me a picture from years ago and she looked mighty hot, much hotter than today.   All I could think to say was to ask her to take her clothes off so I could compare (knowing it would not happen) just to divert the conversation.   Needless to say, that was a one and done for me.   I went in knowing it was unlikely to go anywhere…
        I guess it takes experience to know what to say and how to control the impulse to say something.
        On a very consequential date with someone, I said too much and regretted it.   On one hand, I feel that I revealed who I am (which is ok) and OTOH, I revealed it too soon.   If she can’t handle who I am, we’re not right for each other.  

        1. twinkle

          “On a very consequential date with someone, I said too much and regretted it.”
          Take heart, we’ve -all- been there. It’s a bit sad, but a learning experience. I do agree that it’s usually wiser (and also more enjoyable!) to find out about each other slowly.

          I do agree that impulse control is important. I’m still quite bad at it, but I tend to blurt out ‘weird’ things instead of rude things, and guys usually laugh instead of getting mad.  

          “If she can’t handle who I am, we’re not right for each other.” That’s a healthy attitude. If 2 people are truly compatible, they can handle slight ‘bumps’. U’ll meet someone who’s more right for you. ^^

  3. 3
    Dina Strange

    There is really a thin line between being brutally honest and downright insulting. Once on a date with a doctor, he asked me to give him a bj, and commented that i look “just like his daughter”.

    Now, that is insulting – though i am sure he was brutally honest.  

  4. 4

    Honesty is necessary but not enough. It needs to be tempered with sensibility and humility.

    I wouldn’t make these comments mentioned in the post to anyone. If we are already in a relationship that’s a different story. But meeting someone at some place isn’t carte blanche to tell them whatever we think about what might be their shortcomings. You’re their date, not their therapist.

    I am incapable of dishonesty even if I would want to. I can’t lie in front of a question. “White lies” come tremendously hard to me, due to no small part of being on the autistic spectrum. But I know better than to give unwarranted criticism on a date.  How you say it  matters more than what you say in that case, there’s nothing wrong with saying your date should grow her hair longer but saying it point blank gives the wrong impression that makes it seem like saying “I didn’t like seeing you”. A date is totally optional, you don’t have to see them if you disapprove of them that much.

    Another thing that caught my attention was that those who promote “brutal honesty” usually don’t show the same calmness they expect from their dates. Their reaction would be “I don’t owe anyone an explanation for that”, so what the heck makes them think that their dates owe them an explanation? Those who boast about being brutally honest are usually more brutal than honest.

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