My friend Julia and I were watching football one Sunday night, commiserating about our dating frustrations. One guy in particular had been texting Julia incessantly for about a year and a half, never asking her out.
"I don't want a text friend, I want a boy friend," she blurted out -- quite poetically.
"Oooh, that's good -- can you tell him that?" I asked excitedly.
"Oh, God no! I could NEVER say that," Julia replied. "I'm just going to stop responding."
As much as I really wanted my friend to speak up for herself, I understood how difficult that can be. Years ago, I was introduced to an amazing book that made me reconsider the way we tend to communicate with others. The Four Agreements, by don Miguel Ruiz, describes four principles that can "create love and happiness in your life."
Yeah, right, you're probably thinking. That basically describes every book sitting in every self-help section of every bookstore today.
But these four simple truths are actual magic. The trick is that very few people, even after learning them, can live them:
1. Be Impeccable with your Word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.
2. Don't Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.
3. Don't Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
4. Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.
All four Agreements are super powerful, but it's the third one that is changing my life as we speak: Make no assumptions.
Think about it: We all do this, ALL the time. And we are usually wrong. A friend/date/colleague doesn't respond to your text/call/email, and you assume she doesn't want to talk to you. Even worse, maybe she's annoyed at you. The stories I can create in my head are really quite incredible. But the truth is this: It's rarely about me. (Which is really the second Agreement: Take nothing personally.)
People are busy, especially today. We are all on information and technology overload. And everyone has so much going on, stuff you couldn't possibly know about unless you are with them 24/7. Everyone knows the saying that when you assume, "you make an ASS of U and ME" - but somehow we still do it. All the time. Even with all the drama and anger that go along with it.
I believe there are two reasons we do this:
1. It's hardwired into us for survival to quickly assess a situation.
2. We're afraid to ask for the truth.
"It's not very efficient to collect information about whether snakes are dangerous or not," says David Crawford, chairman of Sociology and Anthropology at Fairfield University. "If enough people died from bites, the survivors knew enough to avoid snakes and teach others to avoid snakes."
Today's "snakes," AKA putting our real feelings out there, means risking being disappointed and getting hurt - whether it's finding out about a job opportunity or asking why she never called you back. Plus, texting has replaced calling in our society, and SO much can be misconstrued through this truncated form of communication. You can't always perceive tone, humor, or empathy in a text. And it's ridiculously easy to misinterpret what someone is trying to say.
There has never been a time when it is more important to ask questions and make no assumptions. Instead, we seem to be doing the opposite - we're just too afraid of looking needy or vulnerable to ask for more information or share how we feel. Especially in the beginning, when you're just getting to know someone, and worried about doing or saying the wrong thing, lest that person disappear and you never hear the *ding* of a response.
But here's the thing: the less we share, the less of a connection is made.
In the spirit of a new year/fresh start, I've been consciously putting my honest, inquisitive self out there lately -- and I'm amazed at what is happening.
The other day I decided to share more of myself with a guy I had just met online. In this case, it was my sense of humor, because (although I often forget) I'm pretty funny when I want to be. I stopped worrying about what he was thinking and was just was my usual, sarcastic self. I sent him a funny video I liked. And suddenly, he wanted to meet me.
"Hmmm -- we should def go out sometime soon." he texted back.
I pride myself on being a spiritual, open-minded person -- but I've realized that I also have a bad habit of ruling people out quickly, in an attempt to protect myself from getting hurt. Especially when I'm dating.
In fact, as I've gotten older I think I have more walls up in an attempt to defend myself. Walls that once might have protected me, but aren't serving me so well anymore. Ironically, they might be keeping some great guys, who just happen to have busy lives, from getting to know me.
In addition to making all sorts of assumptions, I realized that I was guilty of doing the very thing I hated to guys I'd gone out with once and wasn't interested in: Not responding.
You get what you give -- this I know to be very true. So I decided to find the courage to make some communication changes and see what happened.
First, I pledged to start telling the guys I wasn't interested in that I wasn't interested in them. Seems simple enough, right? But no one does this.
"It was great to meet you but I really just didn't feel a connection."
That's all you really have to say. It felt so much better to have that closure, and to not keep someone hanging. Then something interesting happened. My honesty prompted a couple of them to tell me how much they liked me, and asked me to give them another chance.
"Let me know if by chance you'd reconsider. I'd like to see you :-) I like women like you, career women who you can enjoy a nice conversation with. That's very rare and hard to find these days," wrote Ali.
Knowing that someone thinks highly of you is flattering, sure. But it also made me think more highly of HIM. It takes guts and self-respect to tell someone how you feel, especially when she's already said she isn't interested. I liked that. And it made me think twice about him.
It also made me a bit braver with one guy that I did like and was giving me mixed signals after our first date. I was convinced he wasn't attracted to me, or thought I was too old, or there was someone else... all assumptions that felt crappy.
So next, I decided to test out the third Agreement, and make no assumptions. I dug deep down and found "the courage to ask questions and to express what I really want." I sent him a text:
"...I know we've had some miscommunications, but honestly you seem like such a nice, smart and sweet guy -- I would really love to get to know you better... But if there's someone else, or you're not interested, that's totally fine. I just didn't want to make any assumptions or for it to be awkward..."
Two amazing things happened.
First, and most importantly, I instantly felt so much better. It didn't even matter what happened after that -- whether he responded or not, or what he would say. I was being authentic with him, and with myself. It's incredible how empowering it is to speak your truth, not worrying about what comes back to you.
And secondly, he took me out that night and we had an amazing date that ended very late, and very hot.
He was so happy to see me, and was warmer and more affectionate than ever before. I think he felt safe to show his true feelings, perhaps because I had. It was a complete 180 from where I thought I was with him. Oh, the power of actually communicating.
I honestly wonder how many would-be couples missed their chance because each was afraid to tell the other how they really felt. How many relationships -- with friends, family, and coworkers -- are fraught with misunderstandings simply because they lack real, open "I don't know how you feel, but I feel this way" communication.
The truth is that all we have at stake is a little rejection. I know first-hand how that stings. But I promise you, you can survive it. And you might be pleasantly surprised by what you get back.