Picture this, Rhodes, Greece, 2015: I am on holiday with my sister and we are looking for a club to go to after spending time in a bar owned by Rhodes' answer to Rik Mayall and giggling hysterically at two guys wearing matching trainers that made them look like they were wearing flippers.
We walk through the narrow streets, following the beat of the music escaping from various doorways each time the door is opened. After checking out a few places, we stop at a club with a plasma screen outside that was playing what we thought was live footage of the packed club inside. The guy on the door was doing a hard sell. To be fair, the footage was pretty compelling and he promised an amazing deal for us. So you can probably guess what happened next; we got inside to discover that we were two of about six people in the whole club. We were fuming and left very quickly; our pockets a little lighter!
Fast forward to the present day, and in my work as a relational psychotherapist with my clients, I see distinct parallels between the whole inviting plasma-TV-outside-a-club and dating/relationship scenarios shared with me by my clients. Stay with me. When we have just met someone and we are in the early stages of dating or we are setting out in our new relationship, we may get what we think is a dazzling preview of the sheer amazing-ness to come. They are so full-on and busy painting this perfect picture of being The Perfect Potential Boyfriend/Girlfriend, that it is only natural that we may reason that this is what we can expect from them in the future.
When days (yes, really), weeks or months pass and they do a complete u-turn on who they presented as or what they promised, we are baffled, wounded and left thinking that we just need to get things to go back to how they were in the beginning. This Fast Forwarding (being emotionally and physically intense to speed you through the early stages of dating) behaviour messes with our heads.
The people pleaser in us may blame ourselves for having done something to scare them away as if character and intentions leave a person as quickly as they can drop their drawers to the ground. Maybe we try to overcompensate for what will undoubtedly be becoming an unfulfilling partnering and feel as if we’re getting increasingly diminishing returns in a relationship where it used to be so ‘easy’.
The whole experience can eat away at our confidence and cause us to be reluctant about subsequent involvements and prone to settling for less than what we need. We may reason that if we go lower with our expectations, then that is safer than going ‘high’ and getting disappointed. However, you’d be amazed how lowering our expectations into crumb territory can not only be disappointing, but that it can potentially wound us even more.
Expectations are beliefs about what we think will and should happen. We may believe that we have experience of the person meeting our expectations, so we don’t understand why they can’t go back to how it was ‘back then’. Arguably, our expectations were not being met in the beginning. It was a brand new involvement where we did not know them. They didn't change; you just got to know them.
In some cases, it’s not they changed, but it is more that we got to know enough that were in very real danger of us seeing past the bluff. In the early days, they could pretty much tell us anything and as long as it was positive and fitted with our picture of how things should and could be, then we could go along with it.
They may go so hard at trying to win us over that, instead of wondering about why things were happening so fast, we allowed ourselves to create this unrealistic expectation that someone, who blew in on the wind one hot minute ago, made a bunch of inferences and promises without having really got to know us, would deliver on their promises.
Perhaps that is why it feels so wounding. In the beginning, they didn’t know us so it must be ‘knowing’ us that caused them to do a u-turn. However, like the guy outside the club with the plasma screen of dated footage doing a hard sell on getting us in there, isn’t it time that we acknowledge that this behaviour demonstrates a fundamental lack of integrity and maturity? Moreover, we can give permission to ourselves to ask more questions or to quite simply know our pace and what we want so that we can’t be steamrollered into going at a pace that doesn’t match our values.
Dodgy club guy knew that he was pulling a fast one.
And, I hate to break it to you, but people who go all super intense on you at the beginning have form for their behaviour. It may not be the first time they’ve behaved this way and they’re stuck in their own romantic Groundhog Day whilst avoiding the intimacy of taking one’s time and letting things develop organically.
You can take responsibility for allowing you to get swept up in their whirlwind and you can acknowledge anything that influenced those choices, but what you must stop doing is blaming something you supposedly said or did on their lack of integrity and maturity.
Even if we had asked whether the footage that was being shown on the screen was live, it wouldn’t change the fact that a con was being pulled in the first place. If you find yourself wondering why they changed from being that great person, remember this: they didn't change, they may have just shown you who they really are.