In Victoria-era England, women devised a complex system using their fans to let men know whether they were available (fan quickly), interested (rested on right cheek), taken (fan slowly) or horny (ripping bodices). The courting rituals of other societies across the globe and history get much stranger. In old-school Scandanavia, women looking for a partner started to wear a knife sheath. Men would make knives to slip into the sheath of the girl he loved. Subtle, I know. If a girl wasn’t into it, she’d give it back.
These traditions may seem totally unnecessary, but the fact that we don’t have a common language to simplify the dating process is causing self-inflicted heartache and unnecessary anxiety.
Without a decent courting process we’ve had to hack together our own system of answering the most basic question in relationships – “do you like/love me?”
We instead set up complex scenarios to test our partners loyalty or interest. We bait them with the promise of more intimacy. All they have to do is prove their affection.
At first, it’s easy to tell whether someone likes us. We look for obvious signs of affection. Whether someone smiles at us from across the room. Whether they plan a thoughtful first date, or immediately text us back after the first kiss.
When things aren’t clear we are tempted to force situations that would make our date’s intentions more obvious. We tell an intimate story about an ex and look for them to get angry or jealous, which is proof that they care about us. If they aren’t visually annoyed, they must not really give a shit. We dump them.
Essentially, we build individualized sets of rules or conditions that our partners must follow. But we can’t tell our partner about the rules. That would defeat the purpose!!
I had a client who dumped her new boyfriend after he forgot her birthday. Romantic birthdays were the ultimate sign of commitment to her. Of course, they’d only been on 3 dates and she had never actually told him about her upcoming birthday. But she did tell him to connect with her on Facebook and tested to see how deeply he would dig to find out about her. He hated FB and never friended her. She was irreparably disappointed.
We’ve all done something like this at some point. It’s a sadistic but normalized part of our dating culture.
We do it because we fear rejection.
We’re constantly on the lookout for signs that the person we’re dating is using us, playing a trick on us, or ready to upgrade to a thinner, prettier version of ourselves. So we are suspicious of new partners before we even say “want to grab a drink sometime?” It’s not a surprise since we’ve all experienced the trauma of a terrible heartbreak that we never saw coming.
We’ve learned to be vigilant in detecting the early signs of disinterest so we can move quickly to be the first to end things without getting hurt.
Avoiding being hurt has become the goal for many daters. Which ironically, makes it impossible for them to experience the one thing absolutely necessary for a good relationship. Vulnerability.
New lovers ride the waves between total bliss and complete terror. It’s thrilling to be with someone you can open up to and be vulnerable with. That vulnerability is also a stand-in emotion for the things we are most afraid of. A whiff of vulnerability is enough to make some people want to hurl.
Unfortunately. our tests and rules are terribly flawed.
The best lovers see through your BS
Most relationship tests are not very subtle. They feel obviously forced and inauthentic. As a person being tested, you can feel your partner pull away, communication comes to a standstill while they are waiting for you to fail. You are probably staring at an ominous text message or an unexpected moment of drama and you know there’s a right and a wrong thing to say, but you don’t know what it is.
The best partners, the emotionally intelligent, kind, caring and thoughtful ones; they can smell this drama from miles away and choose not to participate. They will kindly opt out of the relationship.
By playing games and testing partners, you immediately eliminate the ones who are worth dating.
The creeps and drama-queens are the ones who know how to play these games and manipulate the rules. These are the people you will inevitably end up with when you test your partners.
Two people constantly testing each other isn’t love.
I’ve seen whole relationships built on the ability to pass these tests. It’s a shaky foundation at best. I talk to women in abusive relationships that stay with their boyfriends because 3 years ago when they were having a meltdown, their boyfriend left work to buy them a bottle of wine and chocolate (hence passing the test and proving their love).
I’ve met people in 10 year long relationships exhausted from jumping through hoops and having to prove their loyalty over and over, under constant suspicion that they’re cheating or that they loved their ex more than their partner. They don’t leave because they’re giving the same tests. They’ve invested too much time to turn back.
My drama is not your drama
These tests are triggered by our own past trauma. For me, this trigger happens at exactly the 6 month mark. That’s when I start to feel too vulnerable. Too comfortable. I start to doubt my relationship and whether my bf is with me for the right reasons. I start to question his relationships with his exes. That’s my first test. That’s because my first 3 boyfriends bailed on me at about 6 months for their ex. That’s my trauma/drama.I build rules and conditions based on the exact story that I tell myself about why those men failed me. Those rules test that my new partner isn’t anything like those other shitty guys.
I can see that’s my MO now. I do everything I can to avoid being a shitty partner at 6 months. It blows over quickly. There is no way for my partner to know that is my history and my story. It’s different for everyone.
We run our partners through the tests based on our old stories and our biggest fears. Unfortunately, that’s completely different for everyone you meet, and there’s no way to know what a person’s story is. So the expectation that your partner will be able to see the test and pass it successfully completely depends on their ability to guess and dodge bullets.
To be clear, there is no correlation between your partners ability to guess your trauma and their ability to love and respect you.
Testing people throws off the balance.
There is nothing more humiliating than failing a test you didn’t know you were taking. Even if a partner passes the test (thanks to sheer luck) they feel disrespected and suspect. They realize that you don’t trust them. They might start to doubt you in ways they didn’t before. It’s the start of an unhealthy cycle.
It can cause an imbalance in the relationship when one person is constantly proving their affection. It’s easy to get used to the easy on-demand attention you get when someone is being tested. Having a man prove his love over and over must feel powerful in a way that is sure to crush a person’s soul. Not exactly the relationship that I would want for you!
Insecurity is not sexy
The simple fact is, testing your partner comes from a deeply rooted insecurity. Maybe you don’t feel like you are worthy of love from your partner (or anyone). Maybe you feel like you aren’t smart enough, or experienced enough, or gorgeous enough for a great relationship. So you need someone to show you that you are smart, you are experienced, you are gorgeous.
The problem is – no person can say or do anything to fully convince you.
You don’t need them to prove their love – you need YOU to prove your love.
Building your self-worth and trust in yourself starts with creating rules, but not for other people. You need to make rules and conditions for yourself. To make sure you are honoring yourself, your body and your emotional self.