Can He Really Be a Good Guy Who Just Got Scared and Bolted, or I am I Right to Wonder About the Strength of His Character?


Dear Evan,

About 2 1/2 years ago I dated a man whom I thought was perfect for me. We clicked on all levels from the moment we met and I had never felt so comfortable with anyone as I did with him. It felt like we had known each other forever. He pursued me intensely and wanted to see only me. After a month of seeing each other he simply disappeared. I tried to contact him a couple of times but he didn’t return my calls. I was hurt but somehow not surprised since this had been a pattern in my life since my divorce. Reading your books and blog made me realize the mistakes I’d been making with men; namely falling into the pursuing role or coming off as desperate for a relationship.

As you know, people don’t change. Maybe someone will drop some weight if the doctor says it’s healthy, or someone will go to therapy when depressed, but, for the most part, we are who we are.

Two months later this man wrote to me and apologized. Since then he has contacted me repeatedly, asking for another chance. He says that walking out on me was a huge mistake and that he hasn’t been able to forget me. He insists that I didn’t do anything wrong but can’t really give me a straight answer as to why he disappeared, except that he was under an incredible amount of stress at work at the time and shut a lot of people out. A short time ago he asked me for another chance yet again, and I finally succumbed because I haven’t been able to forget him either. I saw him again and it was wonderful. I can tell he’s a lot more emotionally “there” than he was before. He’s saying and doing all the right things, but the past haunts me. Although he is great in many ways, I question his integrity. I would never do to someone what he did to me. Evan, can he really be a good guy who just got scared and bolted, or I am I right to wonder about the strength of his character?

Dee Anna

Dear Dee Anna,

You’re right to wonder about the strength of his character.

But that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t be wrong about him.

As you know, people don’t change. Maybe someone will drop some weight if the doctor says it’s healthy, or someone will go to therapy when depressed, but, for the most part, we are who we are.

We are not judged on our intentions or our heart, but our actions. Actions, we are told, speak louder than words.

I spent nearly TWENTY YEARS pining for a woman whom I put on a pedestal, only to find out that, in fact, she wasn’t as great as I thought she was. She’d come through half the time — kissing me in New York City, consoling me after my father’s death, intimating about moving to LA; the other half of the time, she’d shut me down, refuse to share her feelings, disappear for years on end. I always forgave her. Why? Because of my deep-seated, thoroughly irrational feeling that we were meant to be together. We had so much history! So much in common! So much chemistry! The fact that our communication styles never meshed seemed like an afterthought. Which is kind of silly, because if you can’t communicate, there IS no relationship, no matter how strong your feelings.

These are the same people who were cold, callous and clueless enough to disappear in the first place. Chances are, they regret that they lost you, NOT necessarily their behavior.

This past week, I’ve coached two clients through similar situations with exes who came back. Is it possible that the exes are sincere? Sure. People make mistakes. People want to atone. But let’s not forget: these are the same people who were cold, callous and clueless enough to disappear in the first place. Chances are, they regret that they lost you, NOT necessarily their behavior.

I mean really, who DOES that? What adult thinks a situation over and says: “Hmm, I could a) have an uncomfortable conversation letting her know that I’m under stress right now and not ready for a relationship…or b) I could disappear from the face of the earth, refuse to return her calls, and leave her wondering what she did wrong? I think I’ll choose B.”

For all I know, Dee Anna, he could be completely reformed. But if I were a betting man, I’d bet he’s no different than people who want to lose weight but lapse on their diets, want to stay clean, but go back to drugs, or want to stay monogamous, but can’t help but cheat. That very thing that allowed him to treat you that way the first time is still a part of him.

Only you can decide if you’re willing to take the risk that it resurfaces again.

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  1. 21

    This is another one of those caveat emptor scenarios. I agree that if the OP is curious, then she should see what happens. But only with her eyes wide open. I would not invest too much emotionally until I had consistent proof that he was in it for the long haul and for the right reasons. Sound tough? Sure is. But he’s the one that bailed. In my book, that puts the burden of proof on him.

  2. 22

    Evan, there’s a huge hole in your argument. I’m shocked that you would say that people don’t change. This is untrue. Everyone changes and change happens all the time. Humans are the most adaptable people on Earth. People improve their relationships all the time. People get back together with their exes all the time. Even divorced folks get re-married.

    I’m a completely different person now in a relationship than I was 10 years ago and even 5 years. I’ve grown in this regard even in the last 12 months. People learn from mistakes, increase their knowledge, and make changes ALL THE TIME.

    I will concede that change is difficult, and that it usually takes a significant change agent to spur growth (deaths, loss, etc), but change sometimes results from merely spending time studying something. Read some books and blogs, talk it over, and all of sudden you’re a better boyfriend. I would never recommend to the letter writer that she cut and run on this guy. She needs to test his character, yes, and lay down the law, but there’s no reason to believe he hasn’t made a shift.

    If you don’t give the guy another chance, you’re un-American.

  3. 23
    Relationship Advice From Penny

    wow, Lance (Post #22)…you totally read my mind! I was going to address this particular comment Evan made about “people don’t change,” but I haven’t made the time. And now I don’t have to.. You said it – I completely agree with you! I couldn’t have said it better. I have changed so much even in the last 6 months that when I look back at the way I handled things, I feel like I’m looking at a totally different person. All the reading, meditation, writing my relationship blog and making decisions to live a certain way has shifted my life into a completely different direction. I am a better person from it and will continue to learn, grow and make better decisions for a healthy, happy life. This, was something I would never have thought of doing (to this extreme) 10 years or even 5 years ago. I guess it’s all a matter of choice. And I made mine. Evan, you’ve changed too… at one point you were dating so many people, you might have been judged to be a player. But truly, you were just trying to find love, but some women might not see you that way. You also said you were afraid that you would cheat and therefore it’s hard to get into a relationship as you don’t ever want to hurt anyone in that way. But look at you now!… look how far you’ve come in just a short period of time (in the grand scheme of things). You made changes in the way you think of yourself and of others, that in turn, gave you more clarity, which in turn helped your personal growth. You saw mistakes you made in the past so you made a choice to do better, and with that, you found the woman of your dreams and made a choice to commit to her. And now, because of all the changes you’ve been through, you’re an even better coach than ever before. Wow! Talk about change! You did good! 🙂

  4. 24
    Evan Marc Katz

    Clarification from a Communist: People change mostly because THEY want to change, not because someone else is telling them to change. Which is why ultimatums are rarely considered effective. I speak in generalizations on here because I’m reaching a broad audience, but I think it’s safe to say that – for the most part – the man who cheats is a cheater, the woman who freaks out at flirting will continue to freak out at flirting, etc. I wouldn’t invest too much time in hoping those folks turn over a new leaf. If you do, you’re likely to be disappointed that the person is exactly who you knew they always were.

  5. 25

    That’s exactly how I interpreted what you were saying all along, Evan. People change because they want to (or, more rarely, are driven to by circumstance). They almost never change because we want them to, and rarely are we as powerful a “circumstance” in their lives to be the catalyst for change, however much we might want them to.
    What is more effective than trying to change someone else, and thus remaining the same yourself, is to find someone you don’t need to change – and change yourself.

  6. 26

    Dee, there is a good chance, your friend hasn’t dated anyone else in 2.5 years and wants to see you again. Man does sound clueless, he maybe inexperienced.

    1. 26.1

      Fact is he He/ She may still not be over a x happened to me this Summer 2014  

  7. 27

    Basic personality traits are not going to change. A nice person will stay a nice person, and jerk will stay a jerk. But a guy who was not ready for a relationship can always change IF he really wants to. It’s been 2+ years, so it’s POSSIBLE that this man has.

  8. 28

    I disagree, Ava. My boyfriend freely admits that he was a huge jerk when younger, but now he’s the best boyfriend I’ve ever had (and I’ve dated jerks, so I should know). In fact, when we went to his 10-year reunion a couple of years ago, he said that I was the proof that he’d changed, because if he could get a girl as awesome as me then he couldn’t possibly be a jerk anymore. Which is true 🙂

  9. 29

    #28 Honey
    Ok, my comment was a bit of a generalization. More specifically, I’d say that an introvert is not likely to become an extrovert, a slob won’t become a neat-nik, and a chronic liar isn’t going to become honest. Commitment–phobic men can behave in insensitive ways and eventually change, but my guess is that your boyfriend, despite some not-nice behavior he might have exhibited, is basically a good guy. Or you wouldn’t have picked him, right?
    That is not to say that you haven’t been a wonderful influence, though!

  10. 30

    Ava, I agree much more with these other examples. I should clarify, too, and say that from a developmental standpoint, it is incredibly challenging for folks under age 20 to sympathize/empathize with the situations of others. I do think that the BF was always a good person, it just didn’t fully manifest until he’d outgrown his youth 🙂

  11. 31

    If they only knew each other for a month and he disappeared without word I would be interested in hearing his story. I would give him a chance to explain and take it from there. There is no commitment to start a relationship but I would give him a chance to talk about it. I have nothing to loose by listening do I?

  12. 32

    I agree with Evan’s sentiment, but not the literal meaning of his words.

    People can and do change. That is where I disagree with him.

    I think that *most* people are *unlikely* to change and if they do they will suffer setbacks to their old ways. So, if there is something significant about a person you don’t like and you don’t have a lot invested in them I think the safer bet for your happiness is to move on.

    I think that is more where Evan is coming from.

  13. 33

    Put it on yourself.

    Would you completely disappear from someone whom you had come to care for? With someone you believed who had come to care for you? With little or no in the way of explanation?

    That’s the crux. People don’t do that with those they care about. They do that when they find the relationship is not what they want, or is in some way inconvenient for them.

    People change/don’t change throughout their lifetime.

    Never on someone else’s agenda or wishes though.

  14. 34

    @Steve: The safer bet? Like what, being single, diving back into the online singles market again which everyone knows is majorly hit or miss, or maybe trying the Saturday night bar scene and meeting a stranger? Clearly, the safer bet is working with the guy where they already have an awesome connection and trying to work it out. It’s far less work and you already know a lot about the guy.

  15. 35

    Life is full of rough patches, and if it’s true that he was going through a tough time, would you be willing to get involved with someone who reacts this way whenever going through a tough time?

    If OP wants to give him another chance, this guy needs to tell you the truth as to why he bailed after a month. In person. This way you can decide if he was full of BS. And then make your decision. You’re in the driver’s seat here so take the keys and go slowly if you decide to merge back onto the highway.

  16. 36

    Lance’s comment: “Humans are the most adaptable people on earth.” Can’t argue with that!

  17. 37
    Dee Anna

    Hi, I’m Dee Anna, the original poster. I wanted to thank Evan and everyone else for all of the comments. Since I wrote this message weeks before it was posted, I had already decided to give the man in question another chance. I mostly did so for my own peace of mind, otherwise I thought I might always wonder. As you might guess, things did not go well and didn’t last much longer than they did the first time around. This time I watched him very closely and I did not like what I saw. He knows how to talk the talk but not walk the walk. He’s a sweet talker who knows how to say the right things but his actions don’t match his words. I learned from Evan the importance of this, otherwise I might still be letting him jerk me around. His actions made it very clear that he thought he didn’t have anything to make up for nor did he have any understanding as to why I might have some trepidation. He behaved as if the cat was in the bag, so to speak. Not only did he expect me to do all the heavy lifting in the relationship, he dared to say I was “rubbing his nose” in the past when I brought up some of my concerns, and found ways to blame everything on me. Thankfully I have learned not to tolerate this sort of behavior from people and showed him the door at the first whiff of his b.s. attitude.
    Lesson learned: the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior (I think this is what Evan was saying when he said people don’t change). Don’t give people another chance–it will always play out in a predictable way.
    Thanks again, everyone.

  18. 38

    #37 Dee Anna
    Dee Anna,
    Thanks so much for the follow-up. I’m sorry things didn’t work out, but at least now you have the answers you need. I’ve attempted to give people from my past a chance, one time with a former close friend I hadn’t seen in over 20 years! Amazingly, I had the same issues with this man in our 40’s as I’d had as friends in our 20′! Then again, I’ve known other people who’ve reunited with an ex and it ended up working, so you never know. Now at least, though, you can move on. Good luck!

  19. 39
    Relationship Advice From Penny

    Dee Anna,
    Thank you very much for having the courage to share all of this with us. You took the time to share from start to end! I’m sure I’m not alone when I say this is so appreciated! We can all learn so much from your experience. So thank you. I know it must feel good when you now “know” for yourself the truth – when you give yourself closure like this, it’s quite eye-opening and somewhat empowering.
    Evan was right, “people change only when they truly want to and not when we want them to.” Though it is true that people do deserve second chances, however, it is also true that it can’t be at the expense of your own happiness. It is great that you went in with your eyes wide open this time – and you did it for you, NOT him. Big hugs to you for how far you’ve come. You did good! I shared something on my latest post (on my relationship blog) that I hope can also help you keep moving forward in a positive direction. 🙂

  20. 40

    Give him a 2nd chance, but don’t sleep with him until you’re married.   That should give him the chance to prove that he’s sincere and will keep you from getting hurt again.

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