How Do I Remain Open To Love And Also Protect Myself Emotionally?

a sweet couple nose-to-nose

Hi Evan,

I’m a convert to your way of thinking and, in the last year, I’ve dated guys that I normally would not have been interested in and even found myself falling very hard for one of them! If I had not been open, warm and accepting, I don’t think this ever would have happened and I’m grateful for the experience. Unfortunately, it became evident after six months that he was not ready for a committed relationship and I ended it with him. I would love to say that I’ve been able to move on easily and open myself to someone that wants the same thing as me but, alas, this has not been the case. Which gets me to my question, which I have not seen really addressed in your forum, but, in my mind, is central to the nature of being a woman. If a woman really opens herself up and puts a lot of the defenses to the side, chance are fairly high that she will fall in love with the man she’s with, which, invariably makes it much more difficult to objectively see any issues in the relationship and disconnect if that man doesn’t want a commitment, kids, is dating multiple people or any of the other red flags we watch out for (or that are important to us personally.)

Taking your advice means being able to connect with men but also means being able to disconnect from them when things aren’t right, which is something that a lot of women (myself included) have a really hard time doing. How do you think that women can better navigate this push-pull dynamic and allow them to better disconnect when it’s obvious that the relationship isn’t going in the right direction for them? Julia

I printed Julia’s question not because I had a pithy, ass-kicking answer, but because I felt this was a web that was a little hard for me to untangle.   Mostly because it’s not about a situation that involves taking action, but about an emotion. And, as you know, logic often flies in the face of emotion.

But since logic tends to be my weapon of choice, allow me to do my best to wield it gently.

It is still “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” isn’t it?

If we dissect your question, Julia, we see the following progression:

You took my advice, opened your heart, and fell in love. We can both agree that this is a net positive, right? It is still “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” isn’t it? Or did they change that when I wasn’t looking?

Okay, so your six-month man had no intention to be your permanent man. You figured that out, cut the cord, and moved on. He didn’t fight to keep you, which shows that you made a smart decision and probably saved yourself years of painful waiting. Another net positive.

You learned that you could have feelings for a guy, have a healthy, mature, relationship — and I trust that even if it wasn’t meant to be in the long run, you still gained a lot from this man. He’s probably even created a new paradigm for what you’re seeking from a partner in the future.

He didn’t fight to keep you, which shows that you made a smart decision and probably saved yourself years of painful waiting.

The only way you could have achieved these two net positives (falling in love, calling it quits early with mostly positive memories) is if you opened up and put your defenses to the side. Do you realy think that this guy would have fallen for you if you were judgmental, egotistical, busy, selfish, and jaded?

So far, I don’t see any decisions that you can rightfully second guess. Which doesn’t mean you’re not going to try.

Your logic suggests that when a woman is in love with a man, she loses her objectivity— and thus is willing to put up with all sorts of things she shouldn’t put up with.

This is true.

But just because it’s true doesn’t mean that it functions as a valid excuse.

I just devoured Dan Ariely’s book, “Predictably Irrational”, in less than 24 hours. In experiment after experiment, he illustrates how illogical and counterproductive our behaviors are. In one experiment, he tested the moral and ethical sensibilities of men — when they were sexually aroused.

Would it surprise you that 20% of men surveyed would keep trying to have sex after their date says no? Would it surprise you that that number leaps up to 45% when men are sexually aroused? Finally, would you find it a reasonable excuse for a man to claim that he couldn’t help himself because he was hormonally intoxicated? Hey, it’s true — the science even backs him up! Whether you want to believe it or not, this is what happens to men when they get aroused — we think less clearly and more selfishly.

(Which is sort of what you could have predicted from your own life experience.)

But would you actually buy that as a valid excuse from an overly aggressive man? “Sorry, but it’s biological. Nearly 50% of all men would do the same thing.”

Yeah, that’s not gonna fly.

I’m not equating hypothetical sexual assault with a woman’s tendency to stay in a dead end relationship. I AM pointing out that even if your theory that “love is blind” is true, it doesn’t mean that it should be impossible to objectively evaluate the quality and compatibility of your relationship.

Not to mention that there are different kinds of blindness. Some woman might accept a man who earns less money because of love and be thrilled with her decision. Another woman might marry a man who earns less, resent the hell out of him 3 years later, and then blame it all on the intoxicating effects of love. It’s all hindsight.

What you can do is attempt to learn from your mistakes — and be wise enough not to assume that every man is the same.

At the very least, Julie, what you can do is attempt to learn from your mistakes — and be wise enough not to assume that every man is the same. In other words, just because your last boyfriend didn’t want to commit after six months doesn’t mean that you should extract a commitment from the new guy in the first three weeks. That’ll just scare him off.

Basically, if you want to avoid getting hurt — and force yourself to disconnect, as you say — the smartest thing you can do is to pay attention to whether your long-term goals and values seem to be aligned.

If he NEVER talks about marriage, kids, family, future, houses, etc…, the writing is largely on the wall. And it’s not his fault if you never choose to read it.

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  1. 1

    I think that we feel that if we give a man we normally wouldn’t be interested in a chance, it’s all going to be to our benefit. Otherwise, why not just keep dating the same elusive men we would have chosen in the past? So when it doesn’t work out with that different type, we feel even more cheated.  
    But it’s not just about accepting a different physical type, it’s about accepting a man you might not have normally chosen who really wants to be with you. Even so, you cannot control the outcome of any relationship, but hopefully, every relationship teaches us something new about ourselves.  

  2. 2

    Evan, I love ya but I’m going to have to agree to disagree.   I don’t think our poster was talking about being jaded, and the other personality traits you mention that are to the extreme.   If a man is not to be rushed into anything, then conversely, a woman should not be either.   If she’s supposed to sit back and watch what he does, then that includes keeping her emotions incheck UNTIL he reveals more of himself.   That’s not being jaded, that’s being wise.   Proverbs 4:23, “Keep they heart with all dilligence for out of it are the issues of life”.

  3. 3


    That would be the ideal situation!   However, I think it’s difficult to hold off on feelings as you’re dating someone for 6 months (two weeks-yes, six months-very tough).   Even when you know deep down it’s not going to last!   If there’s a good relationship, it’s difficult to up and leave.

    I liked Evan’s initial reponses, this relationship sounded good and it brought good things to each of their lives.   It’s unfortunate it couldn’t last, but the memories and lessons are there.

    I don’t see any way of being able to do what the headline says, just put the odds in your favor and revel in the times when things are good!

  4. 4

    I agree with #’s 1 and2.   It’s not just about choosing someone you normally wouldn’t (beneath your standards) and expecting everything to work out.     It’s like having an MBA and applying to McDonalds as a cashier and knowing you will get the job.   Its about looking for specific   traits  , someone that really wants to commit to you and managing to hold on to your emotions until you have more information to know for sure.  

  5. 5

    I really like Ruby’s response. Even when we stretch ourselves, that’s no guarantee the ultimate outcome will be in our favor. And that pretty much sums up life in general, doesn’t it?
    One thing I’d like to emphasize, though, is that I think we forget to give ourselves credit for putting it out there, knowing there are always risks, no guarantees.   It takes courage and tremendous maturity (and self-love) to seek love — or even just to enjoy the company of a new person in your life — without tethering it with an expected outcome.
    Dating takes guts. Think of all the people who never even attempt to do the work involved to find a healthy, sustainable, passionate relationship, much less go outside their normal comfort zone of what they’ve identified as their perfect match. Others attempt but refuse to bend or continue the same old behaviors that never bring the results they want. And always blaming the other.
    As for safeguarding your emotions, or holding back”– personally, I find that next to impossible; it’s also disingenuous, game playing….like saying “I’m not going to let him know I’m having a great time with him, so it will be easier for me to recover if he dumps me.” I don’t mean you should exuberantly start planning your wedding after a month of dating, but staying real and staying open is the higher ground. I believe that every time you do that, you should congratulate yourself, regardless of outcome, because you had guts.

  6. 6


    I don’t believe I said anything about not telling a guy you’re having a great time with him or playing games.   But there is balance in all things.   If a guy is going to reveal a little of himself at a time, then should a woman not do the same, i.e. mirroring?   Nobody has said anything about not being open or not staying real.   I re-read my post and am pretty sure that’s not what I said.

  7. 7

    To Julia’s question, many experts would suggest that a woman never put all of her eggs in one basket. If you’re looking for a committed relationship and he is unsure of what he wants, then you do not allow yourself to become exclusive with him until he commits in whatever form commitment means to you. You continue to date others, and enjoy your life as you presumably always have. This doesn’t mean you still can’t be open, warm and accepting. You continue to carry that feminine softness on the outside, while keeping your strong boundaries on the inside. You will attract more men this way, too.
    This also helps to prevent you from not seeing the warning signs that sometimes pop up, but can be difficult to see due to the stronger bond and closeness that exclusivity typically creates. And hopefully, you haven’t met up with a prolific liar who intentionally strings you along, and then suddenly drops a bomb; not much you can do about that though. There’s always risk you have to be willing to accept, if you want to venture forth.
    As for being more open to men that you wouldn’t likely otherwise be interested in, it’s possible that the man may sense you’re being open to him simply because of this (at least in the beginning) and perhaps it causes some kind of inner dynamic for him that’s not so positive. If he’s feeling desperate, lonely, deeply insecure, horny, etc. he might well not care, but not all men are the same, of course. 🙂 It’s hard to explain.

    1. 7.1

      i really needed to read this today. I read all abt what u said before…but somehow its really good for someone to reinforce what we already know so as not to end up being the fool.

  8. 8
    Kat Wilder

    Evan, you say: Basically, if you want to avoid getting hurt — and force yourself to disconnect, as you say — the smartest thing you can do is to pay attention to whether your long-term goals and values seem to be aligned.
    Actually, I’d say if you want to avoid getting hurt, don’t form a relationship with anyone or anything. Ever. Because without taking that risk, you’ll have nothing. But, you won’t be hurt, either.
    In case you haven’t noticed, people die. When that will happen, well, who knows. We must be willing to accept that we live with loss constantly and embrace it. That lets us appreciate what we have for as long as we have it and when we have it.

    1. 8.1

      #8-Kat Wilder
      Actually, I’d say if you want to avoid getting hurt, don’t form a relationship with anyone or anything. Ever. Because without taking that risk, you’ll have nothing. But, you won’t be hurt, either.

      I’d say unless someone enjoys the sacrifices of monastic life, it’s going to hurt a lot if you never form relationships. Loneliness may even hurt more than anything else, and is probably a big factor in people accepting the wrong relationship (or buying lots of cats.)

      People do die. Which hurts more: loving someone who dies or never loving at all?

  9. 9

    Somewhere along the way, I decided you’ve got to at least be able to IMAGINE a dating world where it’s possible for no one to get hurt.   I say this because I’m soooo tired of the emotional brutality I’ve both given and received while dating.   That was years ago, but it left an impression.
    I realize it’s impossible, but pretending it’s not can help morph you into a new level of thinking and behaving.   One of the key ingredients has to be, both parties maintaining an awareness of their own emotional water faucet and developing a gentle control of it.
    Now, when I date men that are clearly falling for me way too soon, I’ll say something like, “remember, we just met,” etc. etc.   I feel I have some measure of responsibility in helping my dates see the big picture esp if they are falling into the love zone and I’m not.   When the opposite occurs, I know I’ll get hurt needlessly if I don’t pull back the reins on myself and follow his emotional pace.
    Somewhere along the way I realized that I have no problem falling in love.   So this “pulling back” the flow of my emotion has not always felt natural.   But, and I can only speak from my experience, I hurt more people, and more people hurt me, when I don’t.

  10. 10

    Diana #7
    Dating more than one person is an important strategy in the beginning, and  can help to keep you from getting involved with the wrong man.  However, it’s difficult to continue dating multiple people once you’ve become intimate with one person, at least for me. It’s great for the first 2 or 3 months, but after 6 months of dating, I’d be ready to be exclusive. Although, in my experience, 2 or 3 months is plenty of time to see major red flags before you are too invested in any one person.

  11. 11

    @Diana #7,

    Thank you.   I have been accused by a couple of my friends of being too open too soon and I can’t argue with them.   And what I might call “open”, a man might consider “needy”, “desperate”, etc.   Again, it all goes back to using wisdom.   Do we get hurt in dating?   Yes, others, men and women alike often don’t behave with integrity, and it’s a risk we assume.   But we also have to learn to navigate such shaky ground well.   It has nothing to do with playing games.   It’s foolishness not to minimize the negative fallout to ourselves when we can.

  12. 12

    I think the LW’s mistake is defining “being open” as being more involved with her own emotional response to the person than she is with his response to her.   Her definition of “open” seems more like the definition of solipsistic.   If she was really “open,” she’d be paying attention more or less equally to both of these things.   This would enable her to realize REALLY quickly when her emotional response to him was greater than his to her, and either pull back or cut off as appropriate.

    Chasing someone is the OPPOSITE of mirroring them, in other words…

  13. 13

    #10 Laurel

    I really like your strategy and think it’s a good one!   You’re using your observing ego to coach yourself real time.  

  14. 14

    I think people are being too hard on Julie on this.   There seem to be a lot of guys “out there” who can’t seem to be honest with women they are dating, even when you give them plenty of opportunity to do so.

    I just got out of my own shakeup with a man that I had really fallen for.  Like me, he was a single parent, we had similar values and interests and we liked to do the same kind of activities.   He was a few years younger than me, but he reassured me that it meant nothing to him.   However, after introducing our kids and him talking about a future with me, I found out that he was setting up dates out of town and using porn extensively.  

    I *really* liked this guy and thought we might have a future together, despite our small age difference.   However, my saving grace was that I kept Evan’s short and sweet list of ways you know a guy is truly in love with me:   he communicates every day; he makes plans for Friday and Saturday night with you; he wants people to know you’re his girlfriend; he tells you he loves you; he sleeps with you regularly.   Pretty easy stuff, right?   We waited  almost two months  to have sex, but after we started, he still put me off and that was a tip off to what is likely a porn addiction.   Cie la vie.   I am grateful for Evan’s no brainer list (Julie, you should post that by your mirror!) and truly thankful that I didn’t involve him with my daughters more than I did.

    As always, hats off to Evan for sound advice.

    Here is my general tip if you find yourself with a guy who isn’t meeting all the criteria on the list but still says he loves you:   know how to use a computer and lend your boyfriend your laptop if you have some doubts about him.   Even if he deletes his browsing history, you can still get a sense of what files he downloaded, etc.   And you might especially want to know those things if he’s into porn and you have kids; if he’s supposedly out with friends, but he’s got computer activity then, etc.   I know I’m going to get criticized for that one, but I think it’s better to get your doubts quelled sooner rather than later.

    All the best to you, Julie!

  15. 15

    Hi all, this is Julia, the original letter writer. Thanks to Evan for his thoughtful advice and thanks to everyone for their insight. Several of the things mentioned were things that I did – dating other people until exclusive, mirroring his actions, following Evan’s list (and yes, he succeeded on these points quite well) so I have no regrets about the way that I handled the relationship.
    I didn’t want into too much detail in my letter but the break-up happened when I decided to move to another city for family and career reasons (please don’t judge on this – if you knew the background, most of you would find in a very challenging decision). We had to decide whether to go long-distance and that’s when it began to get tough on the commitment issue. He was considering coming as well (and even interviewed for positions in the city that I moved to) but, in the end, he couldn’t make the commitment to being with me long-distance or moving. He wanted to things to stay open-ended so I made the very difficult decision to move on, knowing that I needed a more solid commitment to go forward with him. I’ll never know whether we could have made it had we stayed in the same city but I also see this as a test of the relationship and better to know earlier than later.
    So, from my “solipsistic” viewpoint, I think one can see how feelings would develop. Just because you mirror actions doesn’t mean your feelings always stay in check or develop at the same time or, ultimately want the same progression in a relationship. The reason that I wrote the letter is to get some thoughts on what has proven to be on the most challenging area for me, which is dating in a manner that opens the door to love but also being able to move on when the situation is not right for your needs. Thanks again!

    1. 15.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Thank YOU, Julia, for continuing to read and continuing to work at this. I’m very proud of you and want you to know that a relationship that doesn’t work out isn’t a “failed” relationship. It’s a step closer to getting the man you will marry.

  16. 16


    Spying on a guy’s computer usuage (especially early in the relationship?!) is really unappealing. Isn’t lack of sexual compatibility enough to evaluate on?

  17. 17

    #16 Julia

    Thanks for the update!   This is probably the more heartbreaking of situations, where life timing is just not in sync–at that time.   It happens and no one knows when we start a relationship how the future will work out–the happiest people live in the moment, not in the past or not worrying about the future. We just have to do the best we can and if there is heartbreak and disappointment, deal with it in the best way possible.   Who knows what the future holds with this man!

    #15 and 17

    Yikes, I’m sure #15 is still stinging from what happened.   I would caution NOT to apply this to every man.   The next man she dates has nothing to do with the prior man.   And if there is a consistent pattern of attracting men with ‘issues’, like this or other deal breaking issues, then one has to look at themselves as to what they can do differently to change the dynamic.

    I think one of the things to consider as well is it doesn’t really matter if someone says they love the other person, it’s only the actions that show love that ultimately count.

  18. 18

    To me it seems like the answer is that if you want to form an emotional connection and trusting relationship with anyone, then you HAVE to accept and trust him. There is not way around that.   I disagree who think that anyone needs to prove anything.   I think that you give your trust, and the person will show you (hopefully sooner rather than later) whether or not you are right.   That’s not being a doormat, but it’s a gamble that you have to take.
    If you learn to ice skate, rollerblade, or ride a bike, you’ll likely fall down and scrape your knees.   You might break some bones.   Dont’ most things have a learning curve that results in more failures than successes, esp. in the early stages.
    And aren’t there a lot of things in life that you can’t fully control or master no matter how much you do them?
    Why should this be different?   I think the important thing to remember is that clearly you can’t be a doormat or accept bad behavior, but if someone isn’t committing to you or isn’t that into you, that will become apparent, and no one is suggesting that you put in more than you get back.
    But you do have to give yourself, and that means that sometimes you’ll get hurt. But use your mind and logic to tell yourself when enough is enough and that moving on is the healthiest thing to do.
    @#15, seriously, I don’t see how spying on someone or dating something that you feel you need to spy on is a good way to start things off.   Just because you found dirt on this particular guy doesn’t mean that it’s a good strategy, and do you think that anyone who has nothing to hide would like it if they found out you were doing it?   I’d be so over anyone who did that.

  19. 19
    Joe Amoia

    Evan, I think you nailed this. There are no guarantees in life, especially in love. A failed relationship is a great opportunity to look in the mirror and see what one can do better/differently the next time to create the result of   a happy & fulfilling relationship.
    It sounds like Juila has already grown from her past & as of now it seems that this relationship served its purpose. I have no doubt that her next relationship will be even that much better if she keeps coming from her power.
    Keep up the great work!

  20. 20

    Julia #16
    Thanks for filling in the gaps. Your decision to move was a huge factor, to be sure. Long distance relationships are very difficult, and six months is a relatively brief time for your boyfriend to have made such a big move, even without knowing what kind of ties he has to his home city. Sounds like outside influences were the deciding factor here, and it’s always possible that the time apart may convince your ex that he should reunite with you.

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