Erika Ettin column: If you don’t know, then ask
I find myself giving this advice on an almost daily basis: “If you don’t know, then ask.”
I once got an email from a male client who had met a woman at a party the previous weekend (you know, when we were allowed to go to parties). She promptly found him on Facebook and suggested meeting for a drink. (Good for her for taking the initiative!) He then asked me if it was a date. I said yes. A few days later, this message below came through to my inbox:
“Kind of in a pickle now — she asked if another mutual friend can join us. I think this is bad! It probably is a signal that she doesn’t think of this as a date nor want it to be. What should I say to her??”
No, it doesn’t sound good. But, rather than making an assumption, whether correct or not, it’s best to go straight to the source. My response to his question was, “I would ask. I know that sounds scary, but it’s the only way to know. Say something like, ‘I was actually looking forward to getting to know you one-on-one, like as a date. :) Not sure if that’s what you had in mind, so I just wanted to clarify.’ I know you have it in you!”
To be honest, I don’t think he’ll ask, not because he doesn’t want to know, but because he doesn’t want to somehow jinx his chance of it being a date (even though I believe she had already made up her mind). Or, if she says it’s not a date, he’ll feel rejected, and he would prefer the uncertainty than the chance of a certain “no.”
This happens all the time, and not just in dating. We assume things about people — why they called, why they didn’t call, what something means, what something doesn’t mean. Sometimes we’re correct, and other times we’re way off. The only one sure-fire way to get your answer is to ask. This often means 1) doing something outside your comfort zone and 2) opening yourself up to hearing something you don’t want to hear.
A friend of mine, Sonia, had been seeing someone for about three months. She thought they were entering into relationship territory. I asked her one day if they were exclusive. She replied, “I think so.” Not good enough. I followed with, “Do you want to be exclusive?” to which she replied that she did. When we dug deeper, she revealed that her new beau mentioned early on that he wasn’t seeing anyone else. OK … well, what about the month after that? Just because he wasn’t seeing anyone else at that time doesn’t mean he wouldn’t plan on it. They had never agreed not to see anyone else.
I next encouraged her to have a talk with him about the direction things were going. Sonia was scared — less scared about the conversation itself (though bringing it up can be nerve-wracking) and more scared that the answer from him would be “no.” Both of those fears led her to accept the status quo (and, as I always say, you get what you allow) for much too long, until she finally learned that he was not, in fact, looking for a relationship.
Or even just today, a client who called me, saying she had been on five dates with someone, and it looked like it was getting a bit more serious. Like Sonia, she was afraid to ask for fear that the answer wouldn’t be to her liking. But, after building the courage, she did ask. And, the answer wasn’t to her liking. But I assured her that, as much as it hurts now, it’s so much better to know now that he can’t live up to your expectations.
All three people here know that it’s a fallacy to say that if you don’t ask and thereby don’t get a response, then everything is OK. (Sound familiar? That’s what Trump keeps doing by saying that we have so many COVID cases because we test more. Not testing does not equal no cases. It just equals undiagnosed cases. And in these dating situations, not asking someone to clarify something doesn’t mean that all is hunky-dory; it just means that you haven’t heard the potentially bad news yet. Ignorance is only bliss to a point.)
I want everyone to know, in dating (and in life), the only way to know someone’s motive or the answer to an unanswered question is to simply ask. It’s true that you may not get the response you want, but in the long run, that’s better than continuing to be in denial. So, while asking difficult questions of someone you like might feel uncomfortable and scary, the thought of going through a situation while always being in unknown territory is much worse. In the end, it’s better to ask than to assume.