Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

Jerks cover 2I wrote the book, All Men Are Jerks Until Proven Otherwise, in 1998. Now it’s out in its 15th Anniversary edition because so many women found it helpful. Not surprisingly, I got questioned often over the last 15 years about the title being derogatory to men. It’s not male bashing. I believe that all women are jerks until proven otherwise too.

The expression simply means don’t trust someone until he or she has earned your trust, slowly, over a long period of time. Take your time to get to know someone well—male or female—so they can earn your trust instead of giving it away. Remembering that all people are jerks until proven otherwise is a way to protect yourself from the potential disappointment that can come from jumping in with someone too fast because they meet a need you have, and then, the connection implodes, leaving you angry and disappointed that it didn’t work out.

Many people get sucked into words or promises they want to hear by a potential romantic partner like dust into a vacuum cleaner. Women who are anxious to be in a relationship are vulnerable to men with all the right moves when they meet. They get caught up in the initial rush and don’t wait to see if he follows through on what he says with actions. Remembering that all people might be jerks can temper that impulse to jump in.

Women come to me often with disillusionment about a guy they allowed to sweep them off their feet immediately, without waiting to get to know all his facets. I advise women to think to themselves “All men are jerks until proven otherwise” upon meeting a man, as a survival technique to be careful to not give themselves away fast. Saying this is a reminder not to take anyone seriously too soon.

Men also get sucked in by women they’re very attracted to who act sweet and agreeable until they get serious and she tries to change him. Or he discovers she’s with him for security so he can take care of her, especially when it comes to paying her way. Most people are on their best behavior when meeting someone they like. Then as time goes on, the person changes in ways they don’t like. Often what you see later is who the person really is. I hear:

•    “He’s controlling and won’t let me see my friends.”
•    “She’s become so needy that I have to constantly deal with her fragile emotions.”
•    “He used to be so romantic and now all he does is criticize.”
•    “She acted like she thought I was a great guy but now keeps trying to change me.”

This stuff is common, especially for people who dive in hot and heavy soon after meeting someone they like. That’s why it’s so important to filter your immediate impression of a new romantic attraction until they’ve earned your trust in many ways over a period of time.

This theory also applies to jumping into friendships. I once met a freelance writer who lived near me. We were thrilled to have a friend nearby and immediately began meeting often for coffee and long chats, which I enjoyed at first. She was intelligent and our conversations about writing issues were interesting. But as I got to know her better, I grew uneasy as I recognized that she was a major mental mess.

Her perspective of life was very negative. She dumped the same problems on me, over and over. When I tried to offer advice she took it like a personal attack instead of a practical suggestion. She had bad things happen to her often. As a believer in the Law of Attraction, I knew why. When I realized I always felt down after interacting with her, I slowly cut ties.

We’d jumped in too fast after connecting as freelancers and I got deeply caught in her drama before knowing her well. Now I think “All people are jerks until proven otherwise” when meeting someone new as a reminder to take my time to get to know the person on all levels, not just one that satisfies a need. It’s synonymous with don’t trust people until they’ve truly proven themselves with actions over time and follow through on promises.

We get ourselves in trouble by jumping into relationships too quickly. We trust before it’s earned, and assume people are nice because nice things are said. Do I think most people are jerks? No! Far from that. I believe that one person’s jerk can be another one’s treasure if boundaries are set from the beginning and you take it slow. Often we create the jerks by jumping in and ignoring warning signs because we’re blinded by the good stuff. People will take advantage if you let them. Then later we call them jerks. That’s not fair!

If you get to know someone very well before investing a lot emotionally and making him/her a big part of your life, you’ll save yourself a lot of heartache, and have a better chance of developing a relationship that’s healthy. If the person is for real, he/she will prove otherwise if you give them time.

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