How do I allow myself to trust someone else?
February 16, 2012 7:30 AM   Subscribe

How do I allow myself to trust a guy I'm "seeing" given a previous relationship where I deluded myself into giving too much trust?

I promise this isn't as insane as my question about my cheating ex.

I met this guy through an online dating site three months ago, and we quickly struck up a close friendship; in fact, he regards me as one of his closest friends (counting me, the number stands at 2). We took it further a month in by becoming physically intimate, but then a month later he wanted to dial things back because he wasn't ready for a relationship yet. I didn't understand why he adapted a two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back approach, but now my brain understands where he's coming from: his job has been incredibly stressful and demanding on his time, and he's deeply unhappy as a result. For him, having a boyfriend won't fix his happiness issues.

Since meeting each other, we talked every single night for an average of... three or four hours per night. The first time we went for a lengthy period of time without this kind of communication was when he went on-call at his job a week ago, which meant working from 3 pm to 2 am in the morning for seven days straight, and I was no longer able to stay up that late to talk with him except on the weekend.

But this is largely all background information and not directly related to my question.

At times, I find myself... unable to give him as much trust as he deserves, which is kind of crazy given that he has been far more communicative and trustworthy than my Demon Ex (see: insane post linked above). Ever since going on-call last week, his work situation has become progressively more stressful with each passing day, to the point where he completely shut down a couple of days ago and said that he didn't feel like talking. Rationally, I understand this means that he needs his space to work it out and I should be accomodating and offer to be there if/when he needs to talk about it. Irrationally, I think, "He's got to be interested in someone else!" There's a massive disconnect between what my heart (irrational) and brain (rational) are thinking, and too often I let my heart overrule my brain and I end up acting clingy. (He has noticed this and we have talked about it. We're still friends, which clearly means I haven't scared him off.)

How do I prevent--or at least tone down--what my heart feels and allow myself to give him the trust he's proven to have earned?
posted by soulsteelgray to Human Relations (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
How has he earned it? You've only known him for three months. You don't know him well at all at this point.

He could be doing what he's doing for the reasons that he says, or he could be deceiving you or expressing disinterest. Only time will tell.
posted by tel3path at 7:34 AM on February 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Okay sure, you should be trusting when people deserve it. But I see massive mixed signals just in your description of the situation, and under those circumstances you're right to be wary. The thing you're fixating on - must be interested in someone else - is not just your irrational heart. That's actually a very rational, and plausible explanation for when someone gets very close to you, sleeps with you, and then cools things off with a nebulous excuse like "work is really stressful." Trusting others does not mean you have to abandon your rational review of a situation. Don't give up your brains just because they're telling you something might be fishy.

It sounds to me like you've ended up in the Friend Zone with this guy, and that you're not quite ready to accept that. It sounds to me like he's trying to back off so that you get that picture. It sounds like he's trying to do this very politely because he probably does genuinely like you, but doesn't want to be dating you.

That old Dan Savage saying still applies: When you're getting mixed signals from someone, listen to the ones you don't want to hear.
posted by jph at 7:42 AM on February 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


Accept that intimacy is inseparable from vulnerability.

Rationally, I understand this means that he needs his space to work it out and I should be accommodating and offer to be there if/when he needs to talk about it.

How is this rational? This is pretending to be able to read his mind, followed by a 'should statement.' You can't do the former, and the latter is just a value judgement / self-targeting guilt trip. Rational would be for you to say to yourself something along the lines of, "That last guy hurt me badly enough that my perspective is still skewed, and that is compromising my ability to gauge the relationship I'm in now. I need to push myself to risk getting better, but it's probably best that I take it slow."

There's a massive disconnect between what my heart (irrational) and brain (rational) are thinking, and too often I let my heart overrule my brain and I end up acting clingy.

It's not your heart that's doing this to you. This is all brain, all the time.
posted by jon1270 at 7:42 AM on February 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Best answer: Trust is a funny thing, but I think the best thing to do is give a little of it and use that to see if more is deserved. Don't blindly give all the trust you have.

To make this more clear, I laugh about myself and call myself a "crazy girl" to my bf (before he was my bf). During the 3 months we were casually dating, and he was free to see other girls if he wanted (and I have no idea whether he did or not, btw), I would at times go a little crazy. I told myself, "chill out, DoubleLune. Don't imagine it's something bad just because you don't know. Know that it might be, but know that it might not be. Chill out now, give him some trust to be a decent guy, and don't say anything that makes you sound like the crazy girl you are." Over time, this has worked well because NOT ONCE was it something bad.

Example: I asked if he wanted to study together one night and he was hesitant cuz "a friend" (female) was crashing at his place that night. My thoughts: "OH HEEELL NO. What kind of girl? Where did he meet her? Why is she crashing more important than me? [etc.] OK chill. He told you, so he's probably not planning on doing anything. Chill, act normal, don't be the crazy girl." My text to him: "no prob, I wasn't planning on staying over anyway." I ended up studying with them (it turned out to be an older girl from his grad program who he was studying with in their library and she wanted a couple hours of sleep before their final. He introduced me as "his good friend from another school" and was totally cute and normal with me.

There have been numerous instances where I could have read way too into it, but chilled myself out and trusted, and this built up my actual level of trust in him so while I don't trust him without reservation, I do trust him a lot. It also takes more to earn my trust because of a previous relationship where I got cheated on.

Now, on the opposite end of the spectrum: my Cheating Ex. I trusted him unconditionally, and never thought he would even think about cheating. But oooooh was he a good liar. I had No. Idea. Whatsoever. until he told me. Would I have been able to see it if I hadn't trusted him so much and believed our relationship was completely solid? Possibly. I dunno. But I have taken the valuable lesson that trust has to be earned.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:50 AM on February 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


You want to believe you have a trust problem, but you don't. He has a problem being trustworthy. It really sucks when you meet a series of people like this, but I think in this case the common denominator isn't just you. "Dialing back" the relationship typically means they only wanted sex and lost interest after getting it, or never wanted sex and are using you for emotional support, or it was bad, or...any number of things, none of them good. I wouldn't say he's cheating on you, just that he's not that into you. At least, that's sure what it seems like.
posted by stockpuppet at 7:52 AM on February 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


You have known him for only 3 months and you both did move fast and he has now pulled back. 3 months is not enough to know and completely trust someone. Also he has given indications of not wanting a relationship. What makes you think you can change his mind??. Give him his space, keep your mind clear and see things for what they are and not what you would like it to be. If you want a relationship you should see other men since he has made it clear that he doesnt.
posted by pakora1 at 7:56 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Trust means retaining belief in the big picture of the relationship even in the face of some minor temporary doubt, based on a huge preponderance of positive past experience with the person.   But you need a lot of positive experiences to establish that picture in the first place.  As tel3path says, you haven't known this guy long enough to construct any sort of big picture of your relationship; you're still in the data-gathering phase, and so far the data (2 pleasant months, 1 unpleasant and more to come) isn't promising.  

From where I stand, your anxiety about "trusting" him sounds more like your insisting on clinging to a pre-determined fantasy version of the relationship (this IS a great experience, my emotional needs ARE being met!) in the face of a lot of concrete evidence to the contrary.   Who cares how he feels about you? Three months in, you should be more worried about whether you're happy with him, and it doesn't sound as though you are. 
posted by Bardolph at 8:01 AM on February 16, 2012 [13 favorites]


he regards me as one of his closest friends (counting me, the number stands at 2). We took it further a month in by becoming physically intimate, but then a month later he wanted to dial things back because he wasn't ready for a relationship yet. I didn't understand why he adapted a two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back approach, but now my brain understands where he's coming from: his job has been incredibly stressful and demanding on his time, and he's deeply unhappy as a result. For him, having a boyfriend won't fix his happiness issues.

Where are you in this relationship?
posted by headnsouth at 8:12 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


now my brain understands where he's coming from: his job has been incredibly stressful and demanding on his time, and he's deeply unhappy as a result. For him, having a boyfriend won't fix his happiness issues.

But having a pseudo-boyfriend he can run hot and cold with, that's going to make him happy? I doubt he's going to snap out of whatever problems he's dealing with and turn into the ideal boyfriend you're looking for, just by virtue of you backing off a bit.

I don't think you need to be more accommodating and trusting, here. I think the best thing you can do for yourself is to be honest about how this crazymaking situation is making you feel, and not attribute all those feelings to your bad past experience. Bad past experiences can indeed make you less likely to trust trustworthy people - but annoyingly, they can also make you more likely to trust untrustworthy people, because your calibration of 'okay behaviour' has been skewed. So, it's easy to think "I feel all clingy and non-trusting and weird around him, but he's not as bad as the last guy, and therefore I need to get over my unacceptable behaviour!" rather than "I feel all clingy and non-trusting and weird around him, so this does not seem like a good relationship for me."
posted by Catseye at 8:13 AM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, Bardolf is so on the money. Really sounds like you are clinging like an orphan baby monkey to a predetermined fantasy. These marathon phone calls - they happen in the early stages of epic love stories, but when I see them in the wild, the very large majority are big red flags.

Back off, cool down, and invest some of your energy in other people and other parts of your life.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:17 AM on February 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


With maybe one or two exceptions - literally, one or two - every single time a person I know has been told by someone else, "I'm too busy/stressed/not ready for a relationship right now," they mean something a little different. What they mean, and what almost no one is unkind enough to say, is that they aren't all that into the person and they don't want to date. No one ever says, "You're cool and I'm not having a bad time or anything, but I'm not really feeling this so I'd like to hit the brakes on it."

It is hard for you to trust this guy in the context of a relationship because you're seeing this as a relationship with some situational complications and he's seeing this as a friendship and there's going to be some cognitive dissonance there.

I mean, you're friends. Trust is important but it doesn't require the kind of effort that it would if you were dating. Just let the guy be, let him exist at his own pace and have whatever space he needs.

You became friends, you fooled around, then it sounds like you wanted a relationship and he didn't, so he's pretty much keeping you on the hook in case he wants to fool around again. Take some space and time apart from him and maybe consider therapy, it sounds like you had the kind of ex who can really throw off a person's mental equilibrium.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:54 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why are you worried about scaring him off? This guy has pretty much backed as far away from you as he can without completely cutting you off. His reasons and whether they are valid don't really matter; this isn't about you needing to learn how to trust, it's about you understanding that you aren't getting what you want from this person, and that's okay, and now focusing your attention on finding someone who can/is able/is willing to go there with you.
posted by sm1tten at 10:09 AM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thinking that someone who broke up with you might be interested in someone else isn't a lack of trust, it's being realistic.

You're friends now, and if it's a problem for you that he might want to date someone who isn't you, you need to stop being friends.
posted by yohko at 3:57 PM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Don't trust him. You're right not to trust him. He is flaking out on you and withdrawing.

You need to learn to trust your instincts, my friend, not guys who run hot and cold on you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:41 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh soulsteelgray, I feel for you on this one. I have also recently had a couple of men keep me at a distance, emotionally and physically, while convincing trusting ol' me that they liked me, really! enough to still get sex once in a while. It took confronting them after a few months of this behavior to get them to admit that they weren't interested in dating or a real friendship of substance or whatever, leaving me absolutely discouraged that I had given them my good faith that they really were busy or they really DID fall asleep for like 13 hours and just couldn't call me back (or whatever).

You seem well-composed in talking about this, but being strung along and essentially lied to by omission can hurt a lot. It can make you go crazy analyzing their every behavior. That is not a place you want to be. Especially if you are a warm, people-loving person who prizes kindness and generosity above all things, as it sounds like you are.

The best advice I can give you from similar experience is to put your contact with this guy on hold (maybe indefinitely, depending on how strongly you feel that he is sincere in his friendship with you, but certainly for the immediate future) and focus on healing yourself. Even if you don't think there will be a lasting impact from these guys, you don't want trust issues to sneak up on you again and make you doubt your next relationship from the start. So do things that unequivocally make you happy that have nothing to do with dating -- for me, a timeout was necessary to push out the negativity I'd accumulated and regain the sort of mental generosity that allows you to trust other people.

In thinking about your past, recognize behaviors you've seen in these two experiences that you will not put up with again out for so long of respect and love for yourself. Write them down, if you have to. Mention these behaviors to a confidant so that if you find yourself ever talking about them in reference to future boyfriends and ready to excuse them again, your friend will say, "Wait, this sounds like a red flag!" and you will agree. Then, come up with an action plan for how you will handle them. Being human, things happen...but what excuses for breaking plans/not calling you/etc will you be willing to accept from people you haven't been dating for very long and which will be quicker dealbreakers in the future?

I just stopped trying to get in touch with a guy I'd been seeing on and off for about three months after he failed to respond to a "hey, how are you?" Facebook message for a week and then didn't get back to my text invitation to hang out ALL DAY because he'd "just gotten dinner with his mother". Dinner is not an all day event. So I decided that this was a poor, avoidant excuse and decided not to contact him anymore. Guess what? It's been weeks and he hasn't called me, either. He was just not that into me, or into a relationship, and that's fine, because I am no longer wasting energy on it.

People who lie to you by omission, thinking it's "easier" for you than outright rejection would be, are not necessarily bad people. But they are still not being kind to you by keeping you on that hook. They are not giving you the kindness of freedom that you would probably give to them if you were in their position. And, if it matters to you, they are also certainly not doing the mature "adult" thing.

When I was in the most despair over my own similar situations, a friend of mine's words stuck with me. She'd keep reminding me that warmth, kindness, openness, and the ability to trust people are all beautiful qualities that a person can have, and that is why it's so important to take the time to work on my feelings and heal myself, because she didn't want to see me get jaded by these experiences and lose those qualities. Like I said, it seems like you are that sort of person too, so I hope it is also helpful to you. Good luck.
posted by houndsoflove at 10:44 PM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


« Older Slim Slacks of the shelf, anyone?   |   if only I had the warranty... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.