Ever been in that beginning phase of a blooming relationship and started obsessing about the outcome?
Or, perhaps you’ve been together for awhile and things just don’t seem as shiny and happy as they used to.
Either way, analyzing how things are going and creating your own ideas of the meanings behind someone else’s actions is a really slippery slope.
In order to illustrate this, let me tell a story about a guy who I dated who I’ll call “Jack.” Now, this story is a little bit embarrassing, so bear with me— I’m only telling it to illustrate a point about how people sabotage things by jumping to conclusions, in an attempt to quell relationship uncertainty.
Jack and I had dated for about six months before I started to feel like things between us were seriously cooling off. In the beginning, things had been pretty hot and heavy, with what felt like a fiery mutual interest between us.
Once month seven hit, the bottom dropped out.
After a few weeks of what felt like a sudden and extreme pull-back on Jack’s part, I was pretty much convinced that Jack had either met someone else, and/or had begun having second thoughts.
Given that I’m generally not hard to get rid of, I took his seemingly distant behavior as rejection and began planning for the end. I began acting cold and aloof. I stopped calling and sending cute text messages. I stopped all girlfriend-type behaviors entirely. I withdrew and threw myself into some long-neglected hobbies.
Not surprisingly, one rainy Thursday afternoon Jack asked that we meet for coffee. When I showed up and saw him, I thought I knew exactly what he was going to say, before he even opened his mouth.
Regardless of what I was expecting, I tried to politely listen to his breakup speech. I expected him to tell me that he had met someone else, wasn’t ready for a serious relationship and/or he just wasn’t that into me.
What he said next, frankly shocked me.
“Elizabeth, you know I think you’re great, but I just don’t think you like me that much,” he said.
“Um… well, I actually DID, well… like you that much” I said slowly, wondering if he was trying to shimmy out of our relationship with a “we’re both better off” type statement.
I started to wonder if I should even bother, after all, he had seemed so cold lately. I didn’t want to seem like I was the one who cared more… (stupid pride).
“You’re ice cold, I feel like you just have such a wall up,” he said.
“I thought you felt the same way,” I blurted.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard a man mention “having a wall up” before or since. It must have been ridiculously obvious that I was planning for the end.
“Well… I don’t think it matters that much now,” he said.
“So.. if I told you that the reason I have been distant lately was because I was preparing for this exact moment, since I thought you were the one pulling away and being cold, would you believe me?” I said, in a curious, last-ditch effort.
“I just don’t know. I’m not really sure I’m your priority,” Jack said sadly, with a look of genuine hurt.
As the tears welled up in my eyes, I began to feel as though I was drowning in a flood of guilt and remorse.
Oh crap, this was bad, and at least 50% or more (probably much more) my fault. I struggled for something else to say. Trying to convince someone of your feelings using only words in is a little like nailing jello to a wall when they’ve already made up their mind.
“Don’t throw this away over a misunderstanding,” I said pathetically, tears now beginning to stream down my cheeks.
“Anyway, I should get going,” he said as he stood up.
He walked out and that was it.
The relationship had fallen victim to:
Poor Uncertainty Handling Issues (boring term made up by yours truly).
Now, I realize that “uncertainty handling issues” sounds about as sexy as a frog wearing a tutu. But hear me out.
The reason why I determined that the relationship was failing was because I was unable to handle the uncertainty between Jack and I.
Instead of expecting good things between us while taking a wait and see approach, I created my own meaning (certain doom for our relationship) for the uncertainty between us.
Once I decided that he wasn’t acting the way I expected— and the end was near, I hunkered down and prepared for the worst. By doing this, I had created a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It’s entirely possible that his breakup speech was entirely b.s. and our relationship would have crashed and burned eventually anyway. He could have been doing a more sophisticated version of “it’s not you, it’s me” but I truly don’t feel that.
The truth is, I HAD been cold.
I HAD put up an emotional wall rivaling Berlin’s finest. I WAS aloof. I had stopped doing all of the little, wonderful things that people do when they’re in a relationship. I had shut down entirely once I felt uncertain about what was happening between us.
That takes us to the main point.
Thou shalt not decide preemptively that things are going badly without actual evidence.
I’m not saying that you should bury your head in the sand and search for “evidence” when things are clearly going terribly. However, make sure that you don’t create the very situation that you’re terrified of, by placing negative meanings on circumstances that don’t have meanings. The downward spiral that can result is intense.