Q: I was talking with this guy I’ve known for over six years who lives a plane ride away. It was late at night on a weekend, he was saying all this mushy sexy stuff and how he wanted to fly me out to his city, blah, blah, blah. Afterward, he never called or texted again. It’s been weeks now. He’s done this before—come on hot and heavy, then disappeared. He doesn’t drink or do drugs, so that isn’t an explanation. Why do men do this?—Feeling Dumb For Believing…Again
A: Well, on the upside, he isn’t afraid to express his feelings. On the downside, if you’re like many women, you prefer your relationships long-form—more Nicholas Sparks’ “The Notebook” than 3M’s “The Post-it Note.”
You aren’t the only one on these calls who buys into everything the guy says he has in store for you (and no, I’m not suggesting there’s an FBI agent listening in from a “cable company” van). While this guy is on the phone with you, chances are he also believes what he’s telling you—which is to say, deception has a brother, and it’s self-deception.
Evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers defines self-deception as “the active misrepresentation of reality to the conscious mind.” As for how the self can end up being “both the deceiver and the deceived,” Trivers and fellow evolutionary researcher William von Hippel explain that our mind seems to have “information-processing biases” that “favor welcome over unwelcome information” in a way that reflects our goals. (Think rose-colored horse blinders.)
Trivers and von Hippel note that believing our own hooey helps us sell it to other people: If you aren’t conscious that you’re lying, you won’t be burdened by the mental costs of maintaining “two separate representations of reality” or show physical signs of nervousness at possibly getting caught.
Understanding all of this, try to go easy on yourself for being a bit of a slow learner on the “fool me twice” thing. If this guy was also putting one over on himself in these phone conversations, that probably made it much more believable to you. Mark him as emotionally toxic and come up with a plan in case he calls again. Options include blocking his number, not picking up, or figuring out how to control the conversation if he veers off into Sweetnothingsville.
Q: I went on three or four dates with this dude, and he said it wasn’t really working for him and stopped calling. I’m confused about what went wrong or what put him off. My friends tell me to leave it alone. Doesn’t he owe me an explanation for why he isn’t interested anymore, considering we went on multiple dates?—Baffled
A: You are owed: 1. The correct change. 2. The news that a guy you’ve been dating is no longer interested. Period. It’s not his job to tell you that you are, say, bad in bed or have all the table manners of a coyote on recent roadkill.
Still, it’s understandable that you’re pining for an explanation. Research by psychologist Daniel Kahneman suggests that being in a state of uncertainty makes us very uncomfortable. It makes sense we evolved to feel this way, as going through the world in a state of ignorance doesn’t increase our chances of survival, mating and passing on our genes: “Oh, what a pretty berry! Here’s hoping it won’t cause violent convulsions and death!”
However, there’s a way to alleviate the mental itchiness caused by not knowing, even in cases where there’s no way to know what really happened. You could say we believe what we think—especially what we repeatedly think. Studies by memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus find every time we recall a story (or even something we’re told might have happened to us) it encodes it more deeply in our minds, often to the point where it starts to seem like it actually happened.
In line with this, come up with a story for why the guy bailed, and tell it to yourself repeatedly. For example, imagine him saying, “I just remembered that I’m emotionally unavailable” or, if that seems a little boring, “Your slight nose whistle is actually endearing, but it seems to have a thing for Dave Matthews covers, and I can’t stand that band.”