The Inner Bottom Line
A Syndicated Column on Personal Choices & Ethical Dilemmas
During this season of gift-giving, we tend to get so caught up in the packaging we sometimes overlook the importance of real value. I found this touching dilemma a sad but accurate reflection of how easy it is for us to get caught up in the fantasy and overlook the truth until it's unavoidable, often painful.
I’ve just returned from a disappointing, frustrating trip to meet someone I only knew through letters and the phone. We didn’t meet online but were introduced by mutual friends over the phone. Since that first chat, when things seemed to just click, we’ve spoken and written once or twice a week for a year. I finally decided over Thanksgiving I’d make a side trip to the east coast to meet her. Well, it was a disaster. I bought her a beautiful bouquet of flowers, made reservations at a very fine restaurant and went out my way to dress with exceptional care that evening. While I realized right away that I didn’t feel the initial physical attraction I’d hoped for, I still wanted to have an enjoyable evening and get to know her better. After an hour or so of small talk that was stilted and totally different from the flow we’d always had on the phone, she demanded I take her home without explanation. She never said a word the entire way, but as I walked her to the door, she began screaming at me, telling me how angry she was about the way things had turned out, how difficult it had been to talk to me and that I was cold, distant and unfriendly. I was left speechless in the face of this unexplained rage and insult. Where did that come from? I’ve talked to friends about this who had similar experiences with online dating and I want to know what you think. Is this a realistic way to find a soul mate? What went wrong? What’s fair here? How could I have been so unaware? What didn’t I pay attention to? I’m confused right now and don’t think I’ll ever go on a blind date again.
Well, I can understand why the idea of another blind date is out of sight right now. Boy, does this scenario sound familiar. While it’s small comfort to know you’re not alone, it still doesn’t take away the sting or the sense of “Huh? What did I miss? Am I an idiot or what?”
It’s perfectly normal to question or doubt your sense of intuition and awareness when something like this hits you between the eyes, but trust me, it sounds as if this is a lot more about her stuff than yours. You made a caring and earnest effort to create a lovely evening for your first date and her lack of appreciation and politeness was rude, unnecessary and unacceptable.
No matter how incompatible or out of synch she may have felt the match turned out to be, nothing justifies her outburst and behavior. She acted like an out-of-control child, not an adult, and that suggests what may be going on for her. Why does anyone lose or feel out of control and behave badly or irrationally? When they’re feeling threatened, insecure or disappointed on a subliminal level that defies reason.
We all know expectations can lead to disappointment and realities rarely exceed fantasies. So what happened here? You asked what went wrong and what you didn’t pay attention to? Your questions alone suggest you’re an adult willing to take responsibility for whatever part belongs to you. Apparently, you found out that you were in a quasi-relationship with a woman not capable of more. How lucky for you to find out in front rather than too late that she is definitely not your soul mate.
The issue of her behavior is rather cut and dry. While it’s not uncommon for someone who feels disappointment to strike out at the easiest target within view and project all of their rage and frustration on the other person rather than be accountable for painful and dismaying emotions, it’s still unfair, disrespectful and terrible behavior to endure.
The one thing that might be helpful to consider, however, is whether or not in her anger she was reacting to one of your attributes that might keep others at a distance, too. Do you actually get distant when faced with discord, as many of us do? Do you shut down when you sense an attack coming? Who wouldn’t? In the midst of a subjective barrage, there’s always the possibility of gaining a new insight about how we might adjust the way we respond to life and what it throws at us. While shutting down or becoming removed only becomes a problem when it doesn’t work with another’s dynamic, it can fracture communication and intimacy.
Relationship is like a dance. Some twosomes just flow, even if the steps are a bit odd or unknown. Others trip and fall over one another even when both have the steps down with precision. Therein lies the mystery of why relationships do or don’t ultimately work or last. Chemistry. The unknown X factor. “It.” Whatever you want to call it, there is simply no substitute for it.
While there are infinite forms of relationships ranging from long-distance ones with two people who never meet to intimate, close, tight ones in which two people are never apart, there is a rhythm, a flow, as well as a solid base of shared tastes, beliefs and values that cement the X together. Most of us have learned the hard way that without that shared core of values and beliefs, even the X factor is in for a bumpy ride.
But seeming to “click”, to get along on the phone or in letters with someone doesn’t unconditionally guarantee that once you meet, the pull, the tension, and the urge to come together and stay together will be present and even more challenging, will last beyond the first kiss, the first night, the first week, or even the first year.
While they say you can’t tell a book from its cover, I believe we often know, in some prescient part of our being, when the “click” is really real. And while many will bond or marry without it, telling themselves that it’s just not that important, they often sadly find over time that its absence takes its toll. Obviously, it wasn’t there for you two.
For the future, perhaps it would be helpful to pay more attention to what attracts you and in what mode. Seeming to bond in letters or on the phone is safer than in person. If you write well, it’s easy to transmute yourself into language that’s not necessarily a reflection of raw emotion. Over the phone, it’s also easier to sustain short, intense chats than fill the inevitable silences that occur in person. It’s the filling, the silence, the quiet sensing and seeing that sometimes says more about the richness of the bond than any words or flowers.
While there are many stories of couples who have met online and married, at least that mode offers photographs and one can get some sense, if the information is honest, whether or not an initial attraction exists. However, even that attraction often bursts like a bubble upon first touch or sight. If I had the answer to what worked in love versus what didn’t, I’d be sitting on my own island in the South Pacific answering this letter. So for now, the best I can provide is a bit of simple logic and encouragement. You didn’t do anything wrong. It would be unfair of you to put your heart on hold in lieu of other options. If you’ve learned one invaluable thing from all of this, it’s that your intuition deserves center stage moving forward and that you deserve and want someone in your life that treats you with honor and respect. You don’t have to settle for anything less.
You can submit your questions or book private phone sessions with Olive at theinnerbottomline.com, call into her blogtalkradio.com show, “The Inner Bottom Line,” at 661-449-1425 with your questions, or explore her new blog at whatskeepingyouawakeatnight.com. All letters and calls can be anonymous and confidential.
Kindle and audio versions along with the hard cover of Olive’s book, The Nude Ethicist: A Simple Path to The Good Life, are now available on amazon.com.