by Amy Alkon
Q: I’m just out of a bad relationship and ready to start dating. I recently met a guy I liked at the mall. There was definitely a physical attraction, and we had a lot in common, but not an hour after we met, he sent me a text that said, “Miss you already.” That set off red flags for me. Sweet or creepy? I’m on the fence.—Want to be Charitable
A: He’s looking forward to watching you sleep—from the third-floor apartment across the way, with a set of high-powered binoculars.
Then again, it’s possible that socially, he’s kind of a mouth-breather. Socially clueless guys will sometimes dig around in the “Chicks Love This Stuff” bin, pull out some romantic-sounding line and lay it on a woman, hoping it’ll stick. They don’t get that prematurely expressed affection can creep women out. Sure, his “Miss you already”—or one of its cousins, “I loved you before I even knew you!”—sounds like a sweet sentiment. But using it before real feeling has time to develop can suggest that one’s underlying motivation is not, “Can’t wait to take you to Paris” but maybe, “Can’t wait to keep you in a crate under my bed.”
That’s probably where your intuition is taking you. Intuitions—gut feelings—are judgments we arrive at without conscious reasoning. But they don’t come out of nowhere. Your brain compares input from your current environment with prior situations (from your past and your evolutionary past), looking for patterns that suggest danger is afoot. The thing is, these alerts are often wrong. But that actually isn’t a bad thing. Evolutionary psychologists Martie Haselton and David Buss find that we seem to have evolved to make the less costly error—like your erring on the side of red-flagging a guy because it’s less costly for you to end up home alone on a Saturday night than to end up crated or dead.
Should you override your weirdo-dar? It can feel unfair to write somebody off on the basis of one yicky remark. But if you’re going to take a risk, it should be an informed risk, meaning that you use information about past behavior (which you’re rather short on) to predict the likelihood that a situation will go south. You also factor in your ability to deal if it does. Like if he turns stalker, will you be all, “Not gonna make it through the armed guards and the moat around my house,” or “My neighbors in 4B would cheerfully buzz in Charles Manson”?
On the other side of informed risk is “cross my fingers and hope it turns out OK,” which, given the level of information you have, is pretty much where you are now. However, the reality is, sometimes throwing caution to the wind makes sense—like if the guy in question seems to be the last man on Earth or your last shot before eternal spinsterhood. If this is the case, it would probably be prudent to pair your high hopes with a bedside Taser, on the off-chance that Mr. Right turns out to be Mr. Right Outside in Your Bushes.
Q: I’m dating my co-worker, and this is kind of embarrassing, but I’ve hooked up with two other guys at our company. These encounters happened a while back, and they were meaningless. My concern is that one of these guys will get wind of the fact that I am seeing and really like this guy and they’ll tell him and he’ll be put off. He knows I used to be pretty wild and said he didn’t want to know the specifics, but he also didn’t know that they involve our co-workers. Should I warn him?—Unsure
A: To be human is to engage in episodes of poor judgment: Drop-crotch pants … cornrows on a white person … vajazzling (adhering sparkly gemstones to a part of your body that nobody looks at and grumbles, “Gosh, if only it weren’t so plain”). Likewise, though life partners sometimes start as co-workers, it’s generally best to score hookup partners from the larger population pool—men whom you might occasionally run into at the grocery store, as opposed to every 45 minutes in the coffee room.
However, what’s done is done, and what your new beau wants to hear about it is none of it. And sure, there’s a chance that one or both of these guys will spill, but there’s also a chance that neither will. If it comes out, deal with it as needed. Otherwise, what he doesn’t quite know won’t, well … let’s just say that the abstract idea that you were wild is different from his having mug shots in his head of the specific co-workers who’ve ignored the tattoo on your pelvic bone: “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.”