What Happens When You Don’t Trust Your Judgment in Relationships?

beautiful long haired lady wearing a black coat

Wouldn’t it be great if people were like computers? Instead of acting on things like “feelings” and “emotions,” we’d work off facts and empirical evidence, so that we’d never be fooled by the same racket twice. Sure, no one would be able to cry at chick flicks or sense when something’s wrong when you come home from work, but who cares? The day you emulate your laptop will be the final day you look across the dinner table at your boyfriend and ask yourself, “What the hell am I doing with this guy?”

Regrets? I’ve had a few. And after each bad relationship, I find myself retrospectively scratching my head, wondering how I could have been so blind. Ever ask your friends, “Now that we broke up, what did you really think about him?” Sure, you have. Upon which you learned that everyone unanimously felt he was a jerk since Day 1. What are friends for, if not to lie to you by lending unconditional support?

So if the rest of the world can see that someone is toxic, why do we stay? How do we end up with people who turn others off, but turn us on? I think it’s those damn human feelings getting in the way again. Even a total jerk can be expected to be a nice guy 80% of the time. And that 80% is all the positive reinforcement you need to stick around for too long with the wrong guy. If you were to be an impartial third-party judge of your own life, you might act differently. But it’s a lot harder to leave your own neglectful boyfriend than it is to tell your girlfriend to dump hers.

It’s simple to put labels on a guy to justify why he should be dumped— he’s neglectful, he’s abusive, he’s selfish, he’s gay, blahblahblah. What’s far more interesting is when you find yourself wholly invested in someone who defies any of these “bad” descriptions. In fact, you’re pretty sure you’re dating a good person. He was generous when courting you, he was respectful when he met your parents, and he gets along really well with your friends. You couldn’t have seen his downside when you first got together. But since he lost his job, you’ve discovered he has a really short temper. Plus, he hasn’t been too aggressive in finding work. In fact, he said that he’s contemplating a new career, although he doesn’t know what that will be quite yet.

Revelations like this present a real problem. People fall hard and fast for each other, which is wonderful and normal. No one should begrudge anyone’s puppy love. But as any parent will tell their teens, puppy love is evanescent. True love takes endurance. Which is why there’s no point in beating yourself up about not trusting your judgment. It doesn’t do you any good.

By the same token, I’m not saying that you should always trust your judgment. We’re humans. We make mistakes. However, like lab rats who get shocked when they go for the wrong cheese, we have the capacity to learn from them. And if you’re going out with the same narcissistic guy or the same alcoholic guy or the same emotionally unavailable guy over and over and over again, THAT’s where you need to beat up on yourself. The one thing you can trust is that you’ve been down this path before and you know how it ends….

It may make perfect sense to be gun-shy following a string of mistakes, but the present is not the past, and you are not the same as you were during your last relationship. Because relationships are inherently exploratory, judgment is best rendered later, when you have more facts. And if, after all of this, you still can’t trust your judgment, try to trust your gut — the part that says that you’re not excited by him, the part that says that something’s a little off. You’ll never know right off the bat if the guy who’s close with his family is a spineless mama’s boy, so give him a fair shake until he doesn’t deserve one. Just don’t expect your friends to tell you the truth until it’s over.


One of the things people asked me when they found out I was working on our book was an obvious, but intriguingly weird, question: Why would anybody listen to a single person’s thoughts about relationships? This was a question particularly directed to me by a couple of smug married people I met casually, who wouldn’t read a book like Why You’re Still Single anyway, didn’t know me, and believed that they were far more difficult to read than they actually were.

The thesis behind this question is that a single person, by definition, knows nothing about relationships, because if she did, she wouldn’t be single. It makes sense on the surface, right? But think about it this way: if success is defined as the ability to have a long-term relationship that doesn’t end for one reason or another, then every person starts every new relationship batting 0-for-whatever. All your relationships have ended. You haven’t made it work yet. Ergo, you know nothing.

This kind of thinking, if you embrace it, will sink you. You are asking yourself to enter your next relationship assuming you don’t know anything. In my experience, it’s not the things you genuinely don’t know that mess you up; it’s the things you won’t admit you know. It’s the things that are sitting right there ready to be noticed if you’re willing to pay attention to what’s already happened in your own life.

You’ve learned, for instance, that when people stop calling and they make you do all the work, that’s a bad sign. You’ve learned that picking at the scab of an old argument has never, ever, in the history of your relationships, made anything better. You’ve learned that nobody interesting is attracted to you when you act helpless. You’ve learned that showing off how damaged and needy you are will only attract drama.

So you have two choices. You can go on the theory that you don’t know anything. You’re single, after all. What do you know? Or you can listen to your own judgment and your own experience, and you can admit that you have, in whatever painful way, probably learned a lot.

Of course, the problem is the fact that not all your instincts should be obeyed. Lots of things — fear, overthinking, past hurts, external pressure — can throw them off. It’s not that you should act on every impulse that you have on the assumption that your accumulated wisdom will steer your impulses every time. The trick, I think, is how to tell the difference between an impulse and an instinct. I’d love to tell you that there’s a rule of thumb that will identify the difference between a gut feeling you must not ignore and one that you must overcome. From time to time, you’re going to guess wrong; there’s no way around it.

Consider the classic problem of what to take personally. Your boyfriend is busy at work, and he stops calling. On the one hand, your experience will tell you that signals that come in the form of people pulling back from you should not be ignored, and that reading the room is important. On the other hand, it may also tell you that you have some tendency to take things to heart that should not be taken as such. What do you do? It would be great if there were a bulletproof way to be right, but you’re going to have to draw a line. In this case, it’s a line that marks how much dropping out is too much before you freak out. The fact that you freaked out unnecessarily last time over not being called for two days doesn’t mean that you should let it go by if you don’t get a call for two weeks. In the same way, the fact that you feel like you missed the signs last time because your boyfriend avoided you for three weeks doesn’t mean that the first time he asks for a night alone, you should tell him you get it, tell him you understand, wish him well, and rush right over to pick up the DVD you left at his apartment so that the two of you never have to speak again.

What you have to do is read the signs — all the signs, good and bad, and do the best you can. You know things, and it’s when you can feel yourself straining to ignore one of those things you know that you’re going to get yourself in trouble. What do you, a single person, know about relationships? Probably more than you think.

This passage was an “additional chapter” not published in Why You’re Still Single – Things Your Friends Would Tell You If You Promised Not to Get Mad Copyright  © 2006 Evan Marc Katz and Linda Holmes

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  1. 1

    The loneliness factor must be take into account as well. We often find ourselves in relationships with people with whom we know it won’t work out in the long run simply because they’re there and available…and willing to put up with our baggage…at least for the time being.

  2. 2

    You’ve hit the nail on the head! Many people, including myself, never see the forest through the trees but once I came out the other side it hit me like a rock! How could I ever have ignored my own gut instincts? Leasons learned………..and remembered!!

  3. 3

    I agree with Marc, good points. I myself have dated someone cause he had a cool truck and I didn’t want to be alone for the holidays. I’m deeply ashamed of it now and it didn’t turn out well. Dating just sucks!

  4. 4

    Let’s not be too hard on ourselves – we’ve all been there, dated the wrong person for the wrong reasons. As long as you can learn from your experiences you’ll be fine – that’s part of life and that’s how we learn and grow.

    Unfortunately many people don’t learn or keep repeating dating patterns – in that case you need to ask yourself WHAT is is you really want – LT committment? Just fun? hmmm…. And for those of us on the receiving end, don’t put up with someone who doesn’t offer you what you want. And realize that being in a bad relationship is worse than being alone.

  5. 5
    Jen From NYC

    I think this post was fantastic. Though, so many people will still continue to NOT trust their judgement. I have always been the loudmouth friend who has said, “What are your instincts telling you,” when it came to my friends and dating. The really sad thing is, about four years ago I did not listen to my own and lost one of my closest friends whom I do not speak to this day.

    Long story short, as I have commented on before I totally had hunch he may be gay in college, but it was never confirmed. I was attracted to him and quite honestly, I LOVED him. I will admit it to this day that I still love him. But when we “dated” for six months, he never touched me. He told the world how much he loved me (hello Tom Cruise jumping on the couch for Katie Holmes) but I could not get the guy to do more than hold my hand. We only fought over the fact that he was only initimate with me when he was drunk, and I convinced myself that something was wrong with me. Which of course makes no sense because he begged me to be with him, and not vice versa. Oh and some other weird stuff and comments he made about other guys, but yeah, I chose to ignore it at first, and than I just had enough.

    So what is my point? My instincts told me that my best friend could be gay. In college, we all talked about the possibility of it, but no one had an answer. I guess in the long run I do not regret not listening to my instincts because I did smarten up and recogninze I wanted a boyfriend who was attracted to woman, but so many girls just go along with it and wind up unhappy and unfulfilling marriages or relaitonships. The funny thing, he did get marired and has a kid, but to whom is another story. No, it is a girl but a girl who was so desperate for love herself (yeah I know her) that I guess it works for them.

    I thank GD everyday that I had the stength to walk away from that relationship and finally listen to my instincts which were screaming at me every single day I was with him. It hurt like hell to lose the guy I counted on the most and truly loved, but unrequited love is less painful and lonely than a marriage without sex or intamcy.

    We are all human, and as others wrote above we want to be coupled. It is only human to be a pair but I guess it is about what you are willing to be truthful abouth. I have always believed that there is nothing lonlier than being in a bad relationship. I never felt more alone being with someone I loved who could not and would not love me back.

    Your instincts are those little things that knaw at you and wake you up in the middle of the night. Your instincts cry you to sleep at night, as mine did when I was sleeping alone and in seperate beds from the man who claimed he loved me to death. Your instincts follow you down the aisle as you stand there and tell yourself, “If it doesnt work out, well get a divorce.” And finally, your instincts never, ever fail you and will stay with you till you open your eyes and follow them. I did and I found a wonderful man (sorry I keep writnig this but its true) whom I cannot imagine my life without. But my instincts still miss my best friend who broke my heart, but my spirit!!!!!!!!!

  6. 6

    Jenn, I take it you meant NOT your spirit. So good for you, gal.
    And, I must say your words ring true in my ear. I too know my instincts don’t lie, and yet have failed to listen to them either because the guy was, as Evan stated, 80% great. But that gnawing always lets you know it’s the 20% that you can never be at peace with. After a tough break up filled with tons of disappointment, betrayal and frustration, I realize that if I learn only one thing from all this pain, to listen to my instincts, then it was all worth it. So, now that I am back dating, I am bent on following that voice. Thanks for your inspiring words. And, hey, does your guy have a cool friend???

  7. 7

    Anyone who’s single & looking after failed LTR or other, or divorced SHOULD question their judgment. No, really. They should. Because they are responsible for who they chose & the kinds of relationships they had.

    Damn, vino’s cold. Nope. Lessons are painful, and must be learned from. If one wants to improve their judgment and decision-making in relationships, you have to do some very difficult work, and try to change long-ingrained behavioral patterns. The touchy-feely crap of “hey, we all make mistakes” as rationalization needs to go the way of the dodo.

    “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – Santayna

    But we ARE human, and do make mistakes. Silver lining is that we can learn from them if we really want to. There’s the hard part.

    Preamble done, a rational person who makes crappy relationship choices usually has many reasons for doing so, starting in childhood & moving forward. Healthy people have this ’emotional intelligence’ very ingrained as a part of their behavior, often from a good childhood. It helps to start there.

    Childhood – Did mom & dad get along? Was one domineering? emasculating? Bullying? physically abusive? Neglectful? Unnaturally close? Too coddling? Too accomodating? Brothers? Sisters? Interaction with them? Parental favoritism? These things and many others were factors in shaping who you are and how you interact with the world, and opposite sex, today. Great book – the Betrayal Bond.

    The majority of us come from dysfunctional backgrounds that impair our ability to choose healthy relationships, since we weren’t raised with them, usually (50+% divorces, added to non-divorced dysfunctional families still together). It makes sense to learn from the past.

    Parents Divorce – Needs to be mentioned with 50% in many states, and over 50% in many others. Did mom demonize dad during divorce? Speak ill of him to kids? Try to poison kids? Did dad bitch about mom? Did dad see kids? Did mom obstruct? These, and other factors play into tis dynamic also.

    Adolesence/Adulthood – What are common traits of people you’ve chosen? Good & bad ones? Look for patterns. Look for things you’ve done. Have you chosen the hotter, crazier chick because you thought the sex would be great & you viewed it as the prize? Did you even think about her personality traits?

    Inventory – Do one of where you are personally & professionally. What makes you happy? What do you bring to the table personally? What makes you happy outside of sex and money? That list gets more interesting.

    Future – Where do you want to go personally & professionally? What traits do you seek in a partner? What must you have? What can’t you live with? Will your professional goals be incompatible with her work goals (you want to move overseas, she’s licensed only in your state).

    Write it all down. Some of what you write will be hard rules, some guidelines. They will be good to refer to.

    Some may not like the psychological stuff, or there is some analytical approach.

  8. 8

    Vino, this was a really good one.
    Betrayal Bond – looks like a good stuff to read, although it seems very heavy.
    I guess having done the whole inventory as you described makes you feel much more confident in your choices and doesn’t leave you at the mercy of emotions only.

  9. 9

    emotions? What are they?

  10. 10

    Yes, it seems heavy. However, if we repeatedly choose people who are bad for us, perhaps the problem is with us. That answer is not only difficult to swallow for most, it’s even harder to try & repair.

    FYI – check out my little rant on online dating…does online dating work?

  11. 11

    I will 🙂

  12. 12

    Evan, why wasn’t this published in the book?   I think it should have been!   Just curious.

    Well, I can vouch that there are lots of reasons why friends don’t stop friends from dating jerks. One of my friend’s exes was a Jekyll and Hyde personality, who initially presented himself very well to me and my other friends.   He saved all of his insults for my friend when they were alone, behind closed doors.   I didn’t find out until after their break-up, when she finally told me about it.   I was absolutely stunned.   Unfortunately, someone’s toxicity is not always obvious to the rest of the world, when that person is smart enough not to engage in it in front of witnesses!

    At other times, wishful thinking also stops friends from dating jerks too.   I know how badly my friend wants to get married one day, and I want it badly for her too.   So even when I did see red flags with another guy she dated, I kept hoping that I was wrong about him…that maybe it would work out so that she could finally have her happily ever after.   You don’t want to rain on her parade with negative comments.   But in hindsight, maybe I should have spoken up (luckily she broke up with him anyway and is now dating someone she’s much happier with.   But after that, I vowed to never let another friend date another jerk and tactfully speak up in those situations–not as in, “stop dating him”, but more like “I care about you and these are my concerns…”).

    At the end of the day, you’re the one who truly knows your partner the best.   So all any of us can do is learn from our mistakes, and do the best we can.   I finally found love after absorbing some harsh life lessons, then making different choices.   We can all trust that our decision making will improve after learning and growing.

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