Dating (and friendship): Screening for reliability
May 7, 2013 4:12 PM   Subscribe

How do you screen for reliability and filter out self-centered/selfish nature in dating in real life and online dating? And, how do you find out whether a person (for dating or friendship) is a 'giver' or a 'taker'? By reliability and being a giver, I don't mean something as trivial as calling when they say they will. I mean more like being there for you when you are going through one or more major challenging life events, putting the relationship and "us" before individual interests especially when the going gets rough for you and not for them individually. Does this kind of reliability even exist among partners and can one really, truly, deeply trust another human being or do you feel you always have to watch your back even with a partner of months or years or decades?
posted by xm to Human Relations (20 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Isn't the POINT of dating to do this kind of filtering? You do things together, spend increasing amounts of time together in various ways, and over time you get to know the person more deeply. I think dating IS the filtering process. As you share more of your lives together you learn whether the person is reliable.

It kinda seems like you're wanting a way of filtering people to determine whether they're reliable enough to date ... Which would almost seem to call for a dating period to determine whether they're worthy of dating.
posted by Unified Theory at 4:21 PM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You can't predict and protect yourself from every kind of hurt in life. But you can skew the odds in your favor:

1. Time (which allows for experience with the person).
2. Show a weakness or vulnerability. Watch what they do with it.
3. Can they admit & truly be contrite when they've done some harm.
4. Trust your gut.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 4:23 PM on May 7, 2013 [17 favorites]

There's absolutely no way to know if a partner will be good in a crisis until you weather a crisis, and really I think you can only build indicators of likelihood incrementally.

Also I think you need to recognise that your standards for a relationship are not the universal standards of a good relationship. I do not, in fact, expect my partner to put the relationship before his own interests; nor do I think everyone universally conflates reliability with trustworthiness because they are not all the same thing.

Genuinely, I think this question smacks of baggage. Is there a specific thing you're trying to avoid in future?
posted by DarlingBri at 4:24 PM on May 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

The only true thing I've found in this life is, you get what you give.

We get solid friendships by being a solid friend.

We get love by giving love, without any expectation of return or outcome.

We get trust by giving trust. By this I don't mean naively throwing ourselves upon the world's kindness -- that is dangerous, and will burn us so much we may never dare to trust again. However, everyone has a kernel of goodness within them. If we can see this, we will find it easy to trust people at least to the extent of that goodness, and with care and attention, we will one day building a foundation to rely on.

Finally, we filter out selfish people by stop being selfish. We receive compassion by giving the same, even to ourselves. Be kind, and the world will give you back 10-fold.

Good luck.
posted by enlivener at 4:25 PM on May 7, 2013 [25 favorites]

Does this kind of reliability even exist among partners


can one really, truly, deeply trust another human being or do you feel you always have to watch your back even with a partner of months or years or decades?

I think a better question here is, do you really want to live that way? because that seems like a pretty fucked up way to live to me. I would much rather open myself up completely and be hurt, than constantly be on guard and be ready to parry someones strike who was shitty out of nowhere. Never letting yourself completely relax is a bit toxic in and of itself. Not to mention the fact that it's pretty much a recipe for contempt, and destroying relationships through either unequal trust(which, regardless of how well you think you can disguise it, being on guard and keeping someone at arms length will change your behavior and become obvious after a while) or just by distance and apathy that will build up from both parties going "if they're not giving it their all, why the hell should i?" or even just "I'm giving it 110% and they're still being distant, fuck this"

The question here should be "how do i pick myself back up after being surprised and hurt" not "how do i avoid trusting someone".

As for the rest of your question, i don't think there's any easy answer to these types of things. Your question is simply priming the pump for another one of those "what would you say are good red flags to watch for?" type of threads, which will garner a ton of replies of "OH OH! so this one time my boyfriend who ended up being an asshole left the lunch i made for him at home a couple days in a row, this turned out to mean bla bla bla when i looked at it in the context of the relationship" that are completely unhelpful because they're essentially meaningless out of context. What that person is really trying to do is package up a feeling they got after watching someone say, do, and just generally act in relation to/project on to certain things in certain situations which are far to complex to turn in to a soundbyte like that. What you always hear about is actual straws snapping that led to the one that broke the camels back, not the load slowly piling on that bent the straws before they broke. You get what i'm saying here?

Someone doesn't have a great relationship with their mother/father/parents? Doesn't mean much, their parents could be abusive or could have disowned them after they came out/dated a black girl/whatever. And it isn't even entirely your place to discuss that until pretty far into the relationship.

On preview, unified theory essentially typed out my entire final paragraph. There is no fast track to this. You go on multiple dates with them, do various activities with them, have long conversations with them in the park or over a drink. Their general attitude about things will become pretty apparent after a few weeks.

There's been good advice on here before about slightly off things in the first few dates being demonstrative behavior with the volume turned down. Like if you see them getting frustrated mildly about little things that don't really matter, they might have a tendency to always overreact to things in that way. In the end this is just one of those kinds of hurts you have to open yourself up to a bit more than it sounds like you want to, if you actually want to really give people a chance and have the opportunity to have good experiences. Rejecting the bad early is something that takes first hand experience.
posted by emptythought at 4:28 PM on May 7, 2013 [12 favorites]

Filter for this by watching how the person treats you, but also other people who aren't you. Is he/she a solid, reliable, caring, and giving friend/child/parent/co-worker, etc.? Is this person good to people he/she is not trying to impress? Does this person show up for others when the rubber hits the road? Pay attention to these things. You want the one who's a good person when nobody's looking.

In hindsight, I should have immediately run screaming from the ex-boyfriend who was insanely charming to me and to strangers, but privately trashed every other person in his life for being too "needy" and "high-maintenance". When I later met the guy who went over to mow his grandparents' lawn and made time to help his brother with his homework, I knew to pay attention.

Keep your eyes open and assume that however the datee treats others is how he/she will treat you once the glamour rubs off and some of the stardust wears away.
posted by anonnymoose at 4:31 PM on May 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

The answer is simple:
You take it slow...
You get to know...
There are no shortcuts.
posted by 2oh1 at 4:31 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, there are wonderful relationships where you can utterly trust the other person.

The truth is that it is really easy to tell when someone is unreliable in the long run, because those people are almost always unreliable in the short run. People rarely hide who they are. Untrustworthy people tend to be untrustworth in little things before you even find out how untrustworthy they are in big things.

It's pretty easy to tell after a few weeks or months if someone is trustworthy. The hard thing is accepting that the person you are with is not, in fact, trustworthy, and jettisoning them the moment you realize it. Most of the time people make a bunch of excuses and give the other person lots of other chances to be untrustworthy. And the longer you're in an untrustworthy relationship, the more you start to think it needs to be maintained because you've been in it a long time, and then you start convincing yourself that trust is not that important, really.

The easy thing is telling. The hard thing is trusting the evidence, and really acknowledging what you've seen happening, and drawing the hard conclusions, and moving on.
posted by musofire at 4:35 PM on May 7, 2013 [31 favorites]

Best answer: I've always maintained that people give evidence of their true selves very early on in dating, even when they're not putting their most genuine foot forward. I think that when a relationship turns out not to be worth pursuing, one can look back and say... oh yeah, that might have giving me an inkling, if I'd been paying attention. On the flip side, I can recall little incidental moments early on when my husband was giving me glimpses of how empathetic and compassionate he'd turn out to be.

If you've had past relationships, look at them. In the beginning, did you see "trace evidence" of traits that showed themselves more fully as time went by? Did you ever get a sneaking feeling about someone, but disregard it because it was too soon to tell? Did you ever feel not quite right but dismiss that doubt because you were "being reasonable"? The key to getting out before it gets bad is here: How do they respond when you clearly assert your wants and needs?

How does the person respond to your comments about a movie you just saw? What do they do or say when you've had a bad day? What's the reaction if there has to be a change of plans? How do they go about deciding with you about which restaurant to go to? Do they give you the benefit of the doubt?

Of course you're not going to write someone off if they do something you don't like. You have to give them a chance by telling them what you want. The right partner might not just know, when you're talking about something that's bothering you, whether you want a solution or just some sympathy. You might have to tell them. You can't fault someone for not observing your birthday the way you'd hoped if you didn't tell them what that hope was. This brings us to the second tier of clues: ways they score or miss the mark after you've already let them know, for example, that flowers give you a headache.

In a relationship, you get more of a good thing when you let your person know that it's appreciated. You also get more of any unwelcome thing that you tolerate. When your love interest does something that you'd like to see less of, you need to speak up and see what happens. It's not really about what they're like; it's more what the two of you are like when you're with each other.
posted by wryly at 4:59 PM on May 7, 2013 [24 favorites]

Many people have said many helpful things on how to screen partners.

I'm bothered by the concept of givers vs. takers, and how it's being equivocated with being trustworthy or not. It was helpful for me in my own relationship to realize that I can give myself the compassion and appreciation I need. That put less stress on me as the one who felt like my attentions weren't being reciprocated.

Even the best of us are not always going to be reliable givers. I try to think of the wife as someone who's worthy of my gifts, even if she doesn't reciprocate every tiny thing.
posted by Llamadog-dad at 4:59 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't think I've ever "watched my back" with anyone I've been in a relationship with - any kind of relationship. Sexual, romantic, platonic friend, work colleague. Maybe I've just been an extraordinarily lucky idiot, but nobody's ever stabbed me in the back.

Which isn't to say that no one has ever disappointed me or let me down or even broken my heart. But all those were because of human foibles and weakness, which is really not anything I believe you can "watch your back" against.

It's not that there aren't assholes and users out there. But I don't believe that they're more common than regular people who sometimes show poor judgement or are emotionally klutzy.
posted by rtha at 5:17 PM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

How do you screen for reliability and filter out self-centered/selfish nature in dating in real life and online dating?

I think it's pretty simple. You just need to observe how this person treats others in their life. When chances come up for them to help friends, neighbors, and strangers, what do they do? (I don't think whether or not they help family members is as solid of a predictor for positive things, though I do think it is for negative things. Also, when it's for friendship, I think people are more likely to help their SO than a friend so that's not a totally perfect predictor either).

On the other hand, when chances come up to use other people or cheat them in various ways, or act sketchy, what do they do? When people are in need do they look the other way?

There are plenty of people who just also have a very independent way of living where they don't expect anyone to help them and they don't expect to help anyone else. So it's not a value judgment, but it's also possible to be really hurt when you need someone to be there for you and that person firmly will not take that role at all. But it easy to observe beforehand that that is how the person prefers to live.
posted by cairdeas at 5:40 PM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've always maintained that people give evidence of their true selves very early on in dating, even when they're not putting their most genuine foot forward. I think that when a relationship turns out not to be worth pursuing, one can look back and say... oh yeah, that might have giving me an inkling, if I'd been paying attention. On the flip side, I can recall little incidental moments early on when my husband was giving me glimpses of how empathetic and compassionate he'd turn out to be.

I think this is true. I can feel myself change slightly when I am not being completely genuine. "Oh, I *love* getting smashed on tequila!" When really, I just enjoy a drink or two here and there.

The other thing is that people change. Someone could be completely steadfast in dating, and in 10 years, their personality could shift. Shit happens. All you can do is try your best.

(And no loyalty tests. Many people can smell that the the test isn't real, and behave differently. And its not nice.)
posted by gjc at 6:02 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @DarlingBri- I am trying to avoid this in the future.

I am obviously still grieving (not the breakup) but I cannot see how I will be able to date again, when I do, without keeping the past experience out of my mind.

Would love to hear from those who have re-learned how to trust again. And yes, for me, trust and reliability go hand in hand.
posted by xm at 6:24 PM on May 7, 2013

Best answer: Oh, hey, are you me a long time ago?

The year before I turned 30, my dad died; a couple months later, my partner of six years broke up with me (it felt very abrupt at the time); a few weeks after that (I think? My sense of what happened exactly when is kind of fuzzy from that time period), my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer and she died about six months later.

Shit year? Fuck yeah.

My advice: While I asked myself a lot of Big Existential Questions, I basically stayed away from anything that was Earth- and human-based, like "How can I learn to trust again?" I mean, unless you are very, very unusual, yes, you will date again, and you will fall in love/lust/like, because time.

Try to keep from telling yourself this story of how you can't imagine ever dating or trusting again, unless you want that to turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. You are still totally entitled to feel hurt and sad and even bitter. That's all good. But nothing lasts forever, including (thank god) most really terrible feelings. I cried a lot and went to therapy and sometimes got drunk and ranted to friends....and the extremely awesome and patient woman who actually agreed to go out with me while I was in the midst of grieving my old relationship, my father, and taking care of my dying mother. We're not together anymore but we're still friends.

So just, you know, breathe. Watch bad TV, hang out with friends, go to therapy, go to work, just keep moving forward. A lot of this year may be a blur to you when you look back. That's okay; it's your brain's way of trying to protect you.
posted by rtha at 6:38 PM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think you have to watch your back when you have your own back and are committed to being true to yourself. Don't over sacrifice, don't martyr yourself, don't give your whole self away. Don't let anyone treat you poorly. And learn to trust yourself.

Look, bad things happen. You can't affair/divorce/abuse-proof your life in a way that 100% ensures nothing bad will happen in your future relationships. But you also have to remember that if you get tricked by a shitty partner or someone you are in live with turns on you, that it is not your fault. Their crazy is theirs alone, it has nothing to do with you. Just remember that the only thing you can control is yourself and the person you must take care of first and keep safe to the best of your ability is yourself. If you keep your promise to yourself then you will know when to extract yourself from unhealthy situations or situations that turn unhealthy, you'll be fine. You just have to trust yourself. And the only way you can earn your own trust is by knowing that your main responsibility is to articulate to yourself what kind of treatment you won't accept from other people.
posted by discopolo at 11:52 PM on May 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: IME -- this filtering happens with time and experience. What it feels like is that over a longish period of getting to know someone, you see more and more small and large clues about their personality. It's honestly quite hard to tell up front. Well, let me restate that. Some people are filtered out immediately. No go from early on. However, sometimes you can spend longer with someone and have the answer be inconclusive.

There are clues in how they treat people in their lives who are not you. Does the person spend his or her resources on others? How about people who aren't "important"? How does he talk about exes? How does he interact with exes? Does he have old friends? Does he ever step up for friends when there is nothing in it for him? Where does he spend holidays? What kinds of gifts does he buy? There are even smaller clues -- how much does he talk about himself vs others? How much money/success does he have and did he need to hurt anyone to get there? What is his relationship with his parents, siblings, or extended family? Etc. A million things.

You can also test people. Not in a rude way, but in a curious way. What if you don't get in touch today? Will he call? Will he get angry? What if you are 3 days late for something? What if you share something unpleasant? See what he does. Is he patient? Is he pushy? Does he do impulsive and pushy things? How does he react to distress?

One important piece of this is to spend enough time with someone to figure it out, if you're seriously looking for a partner. And if you have sex, the massive hormonal rush and wishful thinking (if the sex is good) can cloud your judgment. Not just sex... jumping into romance and love can cloud your judgment just as much. I hold off on romance not so much because I'm worried what the other person will think of me, but because I want to have my faculties about me to decide what I think of them. As such, one sign that someone is no good has been that they pushed me to move faster.
posted by htid at 2:07 AM on May 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Sorry if I’m repeating stuff others have said, but here is my take:

I totally want to build on what musofire and others have said in this thread. My own somewhat anticlimactic revelation after a string of massively hurtful acts of betrayal by friends, family and lovers is that it is not them, it is me (or you, or anyone who has poor boundaries and/or trouble reinforcing them).

I have/had poor boundaries in some respects, which shows in certain types of situation, mostly in relationships which are relatively close and intimate. Even when my boundaries are in place, I don’t always find it easy to recognize when something or someone crosses them, especially since boundary-crossing behavior creeps in with small steps (I’m OK if someone brings out the big cannons the first time round).

This means, for example, that I see it as my duty to make excuses or turn a blind eye to poor behavior. Or to turn the other cheek. It is my instinctive reaction when something rubs me the wrong way, so much so that I don’t even really notice it. As wryly says, it is only in hindsight, once the shit hit the pan, that I might have my “Aha” moment with regard to how x thing someone did affected me, or was an indication of something noteworthy and important in the context of the relationship.

I also have a problem with re-enforcing my boundaries – so when someone does something which is not OK in my book and I see it as such, I have trouble making an effective stand against said behavior. Partly because I fear I might hurt the other person, partly because experience taught me that making a stand could provoke vicious backlash, sometimes because I don’t quite know what resisting transgression should look like etc. Frequently, because I fear the implications of genuinely standing up for myself – what if they break up, what if they kick up a big scandal etc. So I kind of end up mumbling something and then see that as my duty done. Of course, this is just a green light for the other person: they can do whatever, then suffer some coyly worded 2-minute blow-back, and they’re done.

People have also mentioned observing how your would-be friend or partner treats others – I’d like to say that this hasn’t really been obvious to me, either. I would experience great discomfort at people being superior, patronizing, churlish, dismissive of others, but trained myself into a sort of agnostic stance, as in “I don’t know the hinterland of their relationship/ of this reaction etc, so I shouldn’t judge”. I was so fixated on not being judgmental that I forgot to judge in the sense of weighing, taking into account. It ended up with me willfully blinding myself to stuff, in order to not be unfair. Which I now think is fine, within limits – you (one/I) can be understanding whilst communicating your discomfort.

Over the past two years I’ve been working on becoming a person who is aware of their boundaries, in that I can see myself as a person who is worthy of having no-go areas, needs and desires even in the face of opposition from (close, intimate) others, and who has a say in how my life is run. So far, I have mixed results, but the toughest was/is recognizing and acknowledging not OK behavior as it happens (I’ve perfected the art of digesting things and reacting them months later), and saying no in an effective manner (rather than as a “for the record” kind of thing).

Where I’ve been successful, I don’t have to worry about trusting others or others betraying me at all, because I’m learning to trust myself. I’ve started to disengage from people who project an “aura” of poor behavior to come, or who have actually made some (as yet merely unpleasant) inroads etc. But it’s been a hard slog, doing it on my own, mostly by reading Asks here, a book here and there, some relevant blogs. I think I’d benefit greatly from therapy (maybe CBT?), but it is not available where I am. If you think that you might have similar boundaries issues, I’d really try doing this with the help of a therapist, one who gives you practical guidance as well, actual tools which you can use in your daily life in such a way that you can then relax in your relationships, because you have developed the right reflexes to distance from poor behavior.
posted by miorita at 2:27 AM on May 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I don't think you can know how your partner will handle a crisis until the crisis has come and gone.

But here's my view: people are inherently self-centered. Putting the relationship before themselves isn't sustainable in the long run. There's a huge difference between getting through an acute crisis and enduring sustained misery over the course of years or even decades. Eventually, people have to put their own needs first, and if you ask someone to suppress that for too long, the relationship will fail.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:14 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is going to sound weird, but it worked for me. When I was single, I always looked for women who had a lot of female friends -- or at least a good balance of men and women in their friend group. Women who were all like, "All my friends are guys for some reason!" would get screened out. Why? A woman who has a lot of female friends knows how to be a good friend, and is okay with not always being the center of attention.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:43 PM on May 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

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