Kat’s “Time to Break it Off” Test (and other Dating Thoughts)

Pink and Red Hearts Cupcake, originally uploaded to Flickr by Zen Cupcake.2018 Update: We still stand by this “time to break it off” dating test; you may also want to check out our more recent discussions on love, including dating advice for career-driven women.

How do you know when a dating relationship isn’t worth pursuing?  How do you know when to break it off with a romantic interest?  I thought this might be a fun topic for today, in part because I was just reminded of (and thankful for!) one of my “it’s time to break it off” tests for relationships, and in part because it’s been far too long since we talked about dating.  (Pictured.)

Let’s say you meet a person, either through a friend, or an online dating site, or maybe even the office.  Things are going great! Then, five or six dates in, things start to take a turn for the worse.  Maybe your phone stops ringing quite so much — or maybe it’s ringing too much for you.  Maybe the conversations you’re having leave you with niggling doubts.  This is all the normal start of a relationship, right? It takes some time to get used to another person in your life!  No one is perfect; everything is a compromise… right?

For my $.02, I say there are some Impending Signs of Doom that are hard to ignore.  For me, one of the big ones was this: if I rolled my eyes at the guy in the beginning of a relationship, it was time to end it.

A bit of back story (and why I’m thinking about this now): We were out with some friends this weekend, and ran into another couple that we’ve known for years. I first met M, the female half of the couple, back in 2006, through — dum dum dum — a guy I was dating at the time. This past weekend, as I was talking to M, I couldn’t help to think back to 2006, and of course to my ex. I hesitate to use the word “ex” because — while he was a sweetheart, very handsome, and a generally smart guy — we didn’t make it more through more than six or seven dates because he didn’t pass my primary dating test at the time: I rolled my eyes at him.

Perhaps that sounds bratty. I don’t mean it in the playful, sticking-out-my-tongue-and-rolling-my-eyes-at-you-for-dramatic-effect kind of thing. Instead I mean that involuntary, “what are you TALKING about” kind of thing. With this particular guy, every time he told me more about his past, such as why he had gone to the law school he did, why he worked where he did, or even why he had chosen to buy that jacket — my eyes involuntarily rolled back in my head. I caught myself doing it once, and tried to rationalize it as me being too judgmental. I caught myself doing it a second time, and then a third (did I mention he was very handsome?) and finally realized we were just totally different animals when it came to decisions. I couldn’t respect his decisions or the processes through which he had arrived at them, and I had to break it off.  Does it mean that his decisions were wrong?  Nope, not at all.  It just meant that I had a strong feeling those decisions were different ones than I would have made.

Fast forward back to this past weekend, and I have to say — I’m glad I had the “boyfriend doesn’t make you roll your eyes” test. Respect is such a huge issue in relationships, and if you start off on already shaky ground, it just doesn’t matter how much of a “catch” he is in other regards (looks, money, career, whatever). On the flip side: I would never want to date a a guy who rolled his eyes at me, at least not in the beginning.  (And to be clear: I think you pass a point in the relationship when an eye roll doesn’t portend certain doom — maybe after a year? three?  — but in the beginning throes of a relationship, I stand by my test: an eye roll is a bad thing.)

One of the other tests I had is one I’ve written about before (and isn’t that novel): the “he’s just not into you” test.

All right, ladies, let’s hear it:  what tests have you developed to help you avoid spending too much time with the wrong romantic interests?  What lessons have you learned the hard way, and care to share with the class?


  1. My test was pretty simple: Do I enjoy spending time with this person? If yes, schedule next date. If no, do not schedule next date. If really, really no, excuse self from date in progress.

    Further down the road the test switched to checking off three items: good conversation, good [email protected], and compatible lifestyles/goals.

    I’m now engaged to the only dude who passed both tests.

    • Paralegal :

      The compatible lifestyles/goals thing is HUGE and a lot of people (at least in my age group – early 20s) don’t seem to pay enough attention to it. I’ve seen a lot of my friends start dating someone where there is a big difference in life goals or ambition, and they just assume it will work out. By the time they realize it is going to be a problem, they are already so emotionally committed that they don’t want to break up.

      • Yes, I honestly think it’s more important than anything else. I can be with someone who doesn’t share all my interests, but I can’t build my life with someone who fundamentally disagrees with me about what type of life we want to have.

      • Yes, yes, yes. Some of my girlfriends have the “but why rule him out now when things could change?” approach. Sure, in a few years we might diverge, but the odds that two people will adopt identical outlooks is much lower…

      • FWIW, I paid attention in my teens/early 20s. Maybe it comes of getting burned? But at 22 I did meet Darling, who was perfectly compatible, and willing to work out what wasn’t an exact match. <3

  2. In the initial stages: when a text pops up from him, is your immediate reaction “oooh!” or “yay!”? If no, not worth your dating time.

    • I second this. My bff sort of gave this to me as a test last weekend when I was debating breaking off a very early dating situation with an overeager suitor.

      What I learned…when they are overeager and I’m feeling inundated by text messages, etc., if I’m annoyed, I’m probably not into him nearly enough. If I am into him, I’d be excited by the attention!

  3. momentsofabsurdity :

    My test is if by date three I’m still wishing at work that I could cancel on you and spend the night drinking wine with girlfriends/watching Grey’s/playing with my dog, it’s no longer worth it to continue.

    • Soooooooooooo true.

    • TO lawyer :

      this was mine when I was casually dating. Would I rather be enjoying my limited free time alone (or even working) than sitting here talking to you? If so, I was done.

  4. If I’d rather hang out with a guy on Friday night than go to yoga class, I know he’s a keeper. Conversely, if I’m annoyed that my plans with him are keeping me from going to the gym, I know it’s time to break it off.

    • Yes! Related, from before meeting my SO: if I’d really rather just go for a run, then no.

  5. I know it's a high bar, but... :

    I have been extremely happily married for about two years and used this as my long-term test.

    I wanted to find someone that I could share every important aspect of my life with, with the meaning of “share” being defined by me in each area. This “test” helped me weed out some guys who were really great for other gals and find the one who truly is a fantastic partner for me.

  6. I don’t know if it was self esteem issues or what, but I dated several guys in college and would often brush off annoying or rude behavior on the guys’ part because I wanted to be seen as a “cool” girlfriend and not as some harpy. When I finally realized what I was doing, I switched my mindset from wanting the guy to make ME look good and wanting the guy to actually BE a good partner, I met and started dating my now-husband.

    • Same–and I think it probably was indeed self-esteem issues, at least for me. When I think back to my twenties, judging by my actions rather than my words, it’s clear that I had essentially no standards for how guys could treat me. Interestingly, I think once I got clear about these things I stopped meeting/getting involved with guys who tested these standards at all.

    • Same.

      Oh, you want to go to the strip club every week but never take me out? Sure, I don’t have a problem with that.

      Oh, you couldn’t be bothered to call me to tell me you weren’t going to pick me up so I was left waiting for you forever? No, that didn’t hurt my feelings.

      Oh, you’re ditching me at the bar so you can hang out with your ex-girlfriend? Sure, I’ll find a ride home.

      I wish I could go back and tell old me to grow up and not let anybody walk all over me. I married the guy who I could finally be myself with. I can be honest if I don’t agree with something he’s doing. But chances are, we don’t get to that point in the first place.

      • Nicky Cruz :

        Now THIS is what Im talkin about! I had the same issue trying to be understanding and cool, and fearful that voicing my opinion will be seen as nagging or causing drama. In fact, I JUST broke it off yesterday with my man in question and its bc for like, the first 30 days, he purused me heavily. Even though I did see red flags then as well. The moment he noticed that his advances were not for nothing and I started actually liking him too, he changed. He saw the ball as now being in his court and he turned into a straight BITCH! Seriously, we dated for 5 months and with the exception of the first 30 days, I thought I was dating a woman the entire time.

        He kept telling me I wasn’t being open enough, that I need to give my all or nothing. At that point, the only thing I hadn’t done was have sex with him. (mind you, I hadn’t had sex in 2013 period at the time – this was by choice) I’d been going out with him, talked to him on the phone, opened up emotionally to him gradually, I was even somewhat physical with him. I told him that I hadnt had sex with anyone in 13 bc the last person was my ex and I hadnt connected with anyone who stimulated me sexually. He was the first.

        So listening to him and going against my better judgement, I took a risk and had sex with him to let him know I really like him and I want to show him. Well, that was a month ago, we haven’t even talked about it. I never even got a “hey, last night was nice” or “I really like being with you” or nothing! It was like he conquered me and the thrill was over. He was very nonchalant about the whole thing as if I was supposed to have BEEN had sex with him. I mean, my feelings were crushed! Oh, and not to mention, the very MOMENT before we were about to get it in for the first time, he goes “so you know sex doesnt mean we are in a relationship”. I was CRUSHED!! This is the same guy who pursued me and told me that he was the real deal and if I dont mess with him, Im losing. Ok so as soon as I say hey, Im ready to do this, he “about-faced” on me. That led me to believe he was never serious and he only said what I wanted to hear just to have sex.

        I could sit here and go on-and-on all day, but I just wanted to share my story bc yesterday was the FIRST time that I was the one to end things with a guy. Usually Im too scared bc I dont want to lose the person and I dont like rejection but this guy never once tried to make a connection with me.

        My rule of thumb is to follow your intution/gut instincts and always keep it real with yourself. Dont allow a guy to get away with anything and then give him an excuse by saying “ohhh he had to do this or that” “ohh he’s too tired” and thats why he wasnt there for me. I tried to be too understanding and guys actually DONT respect a woman who is easy. He respects the ones that dont take no shit, someone who is firm but fair. Not a drama queen but not a pushover.

        If he’s not making you feel good, don’t give yourself an excuse to continue dating him or wait for him to come around. You have to nip shit in the bud EARLY. Remember, guys do what you allow them to, and the meaning of that is a lot deeper than its surface. Think about it like this. If your kids do something wrong, you punish them right away and they usually dont do it again. Same goes for not just guys, but people in general. MAKE them respect you and they can get the hell on!!! Life is too short.

    • Research, Not Law :

      Agreed. I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self to stand up for herself. Although, it did make me really appreciate my husband once I met him. In retrospect, my test should have been that the guy needs to make you feel better about yourself, not worse. I don’t think I realized that he was making me feel so bad at the time, though.

      My dating rule later on was simple: One thing wrong and he’s out. Sounds harsh, but I wasn’t messing around. One guy smoked. Another said something racist. Another just had a gross, messy car and never once opened or held open a door for me. One asked me out then, when he picked me up said “what do you want to do?” He had absolutely no plan. Another was just way too into extreme fitness (not bad, but it wasn’t going to work). LOL, I’m sure they were mostly fine people who made other people happy, but they weren’t going to make me happy, so why waste each other’s time?

      • I had to giggle reading your post. At first, I did think…. harsh! But I agreed with you an all the “wrong things” you listed.

    • There is a wonderful rant in “Gone Girl” about the “cool girl” and what kind of b***s*** that is. I’d try to summarize it, but I wouldn’t do it justice… It may have been my favorite part in that book.

  7. Have you ever read any of John Gottman’s research? He argues that the most reliable “tell” that a marriage won’t work out long term is contempt — as shown by eye-rolling during arguments.

    • Sorry, I’m all over this thread, but yes yes yes! I love his research, and completely agree. The micro-expression analysis stuff is so darn interesting.

    • I’ve only read summaries, but I think he’s spot on. The set up of his experiments is also rather interesting.

    • Gottman has also been pretty thoroughly debunked on this point of contempt being a predictor. Or, at least, he never proved a predictive element. Instead, once the results (divorce) were known, he reverse-engineered an explanation. It could still be useful info, but the predictive capacity of his theories has been vastly overstated by Malcolm Gladwell and others.

      For example—

      • Eh – it doesn’t so much seem debunked, as not thoroughly tested. Debunked would imply that someone else had taken those parameters and tested them, and thus proved Gottman wrong on that point. It seems like the situation is more that no one has taken Gottman’s “predictors” and tested them as predictive elements – so the accuracy of those elements as predictors is in question.

        All that being said, I don’t see contempt, whether demonstrated as eye-rolling or other, as being an element of a successful relationship, and hence probably a good indicator of a failing relationship.

        • Not sticking up for contempt in relationships, just trying to point out that common sense doesn’t require science-y window dressing.

  8. I had this issue and finaly had to decide to dump my ex when all he did was lay around on my couch after drinkeing and getting drunk, then burpeing the next day. My dad told me I was worth alot more then that and if I married that, all I would have to look forward to is cleaning up VOMMIT for the next 30 year’s, then changeing his Depend’s! FOOEY!

    I said I could do that with a baby, but onley for 5 year’s of diaper’s, and NO depend’s so I said GOOD BYE! I have not looked back, either. YAY!

  9. Funny, this just came up last week — a really great, funny, smart guy that I’ve had a few dates with remarked that he wished I could make more time to spend with him…and I realized that, as great as he is, I just didn’t want to make the room in my life. I went ahead and broke it off so that he could stop wasting time where things weren’t going anyplace, and I could stop feeling guilty.

  10. Diana Barry :

    It’s been a long time since I was dating!

    In retrospect, I was always, ALWAYS, the “too eager” person when it came to relationships, because I came at it from a perspective of being too nerdy in HS. Boys didn’t like me, I was too nerdy! So I was always into making the relationship work and never broke up with anyone, bc then it would mean I wasn’t worthy of a relationship etc. etc. Don’t do that.

    Exception to the above: if I wasn’t really into the guy, without knowing it consciously, I’d treat him badly and then want to stay with him despite having treated him poorly. Bad young Diana! Don’t do this either!

    I never had a ‘test’ per se, but then again I never had dating relationships where I broke it off after a few dates. The guys would always break it off, either explicitly or by not returning my calls or emails, or by taking up with another girl at law school and not talking to me about it but letting me see it with their explicit PDA. Note: this is not cool either.

    In retrospect again, red flags at the beginning were: not caring about my activities. Little chemistry. The guy being tone deaf. Family backgrounds that were too different so that we couldn’t understand each other’s perspectives.

    • Anonymous Girl :

      ^^^ That was me too. There were NUMEROUS red flags before I got married that my ex-husband wasn’t the one. I suppressed the doubts because I truly feared that I wouldn’t find anyone else. I was a total geek in high school. I didn’t get asked out on a single date, didn’t go to prom. It was embarrassing. I was so amazed that someone was willing to date and marry (!!!) me that I never bothered to think about WHO it was that I was dating and marrying.

    • Oh dear. I did the whole “I’m not really into him but won’t call it off” thing with a good friend that asked me out. I had no such feelings for him, but agreed to a date to be polite. Of course, I was really uncomfortable the whole time which led to all sorts of feelings of resentment during dinner. As such, I made very little effort and he unsurprisingly didn’t ask me out again.

      My immaturity still makes me cringe. It would have been better for us both if I had just been straight up and said “Hey, you’re a good friend, but I’m just not interested in dating you.”

  11. Anonymous Girl :

    Interesting. This is round 2 of the dating game for me, as I’m divorced. I don’t know that I have a test, but now I’m finding myself considering pros and cons very carefully. I have dated a few people for more than a few dates and for me, I think my test is a “deal breaker” test. To get past date one, the person needs to have certain qualities – e.g., natural conversation, similar political views, same religion, taller than me, similar education level, good job, decent income, physically fit, reasonably attractive. Those are superficial must haves. Beyond that, then there can’t be any deal breakers.

    For me, deal breakers kind of creep up on you, that moment where I have to ask myself if I could LIVE with this. Being a bad “fighter” is a deal breaker, for example. If I disagree and the BF is condescending, nasty, cutting, or biting, it is OFF. My ex husband was like that and while it wasn’t bad early on, once the passion died down, what was left was a lot of ugliness. You don’t forget the hurtful things your partner says in a fight. So, I really pay attention to how a guy handles disagreements. I haven’t really fought with my current boyfriend yet (we’ve dated for 6 months), but we have discussed thorny issues and I like how he handles them. I really like how he works through problems and his thought process.

    Other deal breakers? What does he say about his exes? I like to hear why he broke up with them because it tells a lot about a person. One ex hated his “serious” exes and by tying what he told me about the break up and then my own experiences with him, I realized that he was very self-centered in his approach to relationships and kind of “readjusts” events to avoid feeling guilty, thereby placing blame on others.

  12. Random follow-up TJ. There was a discussion awhile back about the price of organic chicken. At Central Market (Whole Foods on steroids, for those outside Texas) this weekend, antibiotic/hormone-free chicken was $4.99/lb.

    • momentsofabsurdity :

      FWIW, $25 in the Boston area was what the CSA I was considering showed as the price. At TJs, I saw a local organic whole chicken for $18, so I imagine it would be more like $25 in Whole Foods. I didn’t check big box grocery stores though.

  13. Honey Pillows :

    Coming home one morning from a lady garden party, I called up my then-friend and asked if he wanted to go to breakfast. I realized if I wanted to have breakfast with my friend instead of my gentleman caller, I might want to try going on a date with him instead of the other gentleman callers I was seeing.

    Once I decided to give it a go, the Dear Young Buck sweetly and awkwardly asked to take me out, and after the first month, for the first time, I lost interest in other gentlemen callers altogether.

  14. I found that when after a few dates, I’ve approached and tried to feel out each other’s opinion on more serious issues, my anticipatory reaction (gosh, i hope he really feels the same way about this vs. i don’t care all that much what he thinks, i’ll stick with my way) told me a lot about whether this relationship had possibility. I also liked introducing him to a few friends/family in an informal setting so I could get a read on his ability to interact in a social setting and get a read on my friend’s reaction to him.

  15. Honey Pillows :

    On this vein, anyone have any horrific dating stories? Not terrible relationship stories -those make it sad. But the early dates, when things go terribly, terribly wrong -they’re like battle wounds in the modern world, and I feel like an old warrior sitting at a tavern pulling up my shirt to show the scars from the one that almost got me but good!

    • springtime :

      I had a guy who thought I was married because he hadn’t seen my condo within the first 3 dates. That was weird.

    • Yes! There was the guy who on the first date said “Do you want to go make out in that dark baseball field? No? Well, how about someone’s stoop?”

      The guy who answered a phone call from his mom and proceeded to talk baby-talk to her, at the table, in front of me.

      The guy who said something so offensive about poor people, I walked out in the middle of the date, with him calling after me, “I can’t be racist, I did Teach for America!”

      The guy who constantly bad-mouthed his ex-wife and, after a few dates, sent me a link to the Craig’s List ad where she was selling her wedding dress.

      The guy who told racist jokes and when I asked him not to use the “n word” around me accused me of censoring him. (This was back in my younger, less assertive days. If I met that guy now he would get a drink in the face.)

    • I had a first date with a guy who was divorced. When talking about his ex wife, he mentioned the company she worked for.

      I have a friend who works for that company. I happened to see her within a week of this date and mentioned the guy.

      We figured out within a minute exactly whose ex husband he was, a not only was he not exactly ex – they were separated – but that he had experienced a psychotic break which led to the end of the marriage, the loss of his job, and a restraining order. AND this had all happened within the last three months.

      I will just say, I didn’t like the guy on the first date and had no plans to see him again, but honestly.

    • Oh yeah. Read to your heart’s delight: hijabeng.tumblr.com/tagged/biodating

      • Honey Pillows :

        OH GOLLY.

        Ru, adventures in biodating as orchestrated by aunties and parents is even more hilarious than my adventures in dating as orchestrated by J*date.

        It helps that you’re funnier than I am.

    • Research, Not Law :

      I had a first date that lasted six hours and not because it was good. I met the guy at his work, as arranged, assuming that he had his car there. Nope. It was parked 3 miles away, because there was free parking, but would I like to try to ride public transit without fare to get there because that’s what he usually does?

      After arriving to his car sweating after the hour long hike, I had to kick garbage off the passenger seat. He then turns me and says “so, did you print off directions?” Um, dude, you asked me out to a movie. Finding the theater is your job.

      So we drive aimlessly looking for a movie theatre. We have dinner at a fast food joint and return to the search, eventually finding one that has a showing an hour later. Thankfully theater has beer. I order a pitcher, when dude tells me he doesn’t drink beer. So I finish it myself.

      He thinks the date went fabulously, so he starts texting me every thirty minutes starting at 7 am. I break the news to him around 11 am.

    • Anne Shirley :

      Guy hit my credit card out of my hand when I insisted on paying, leaving me to pick it up off the floor. When I took “too long” in the ladies’ room, he got up and stood at the front door. He was shocked I didn’t want to see him again.

    • I had a first date which went very badly. I felt like I was sitting there dragging the story out of him – and could only get monosyllabic answers back to any questions I had… after an hour or so, I had had enough.

      My excuse for leaving is legendary among my friends, sadly. “Uh… there’s been an outbreak of the flu at work, and I’m not feeling so good.”

      Both were true, but if there had been chemistry, I wouldn’t have stated it so bluntly, and I would definitely have tried to apologize for the sudden departure.

      • SpaceMountain :

        How about the recent Washington Post “date lab,” where the date was going so badly the woman said she was going to the bathroom, but really left without telling him? I can’t imagine doing that, especially when you know it’s going to end up in the newspaper!

    • I once hid in a bathroom, called a cab and ran out of the date into the running cab. I was probably being slightly dramatic. But dude was creepy and weird, and no!

    • — The boy, and I do mean boy, who threw a tantrum when the wait for the restaurant was too long. I didn’t care where we ate, personally, but he burst into tears when I tried to say so! That date was pretty much over at the start, because really? Crying over that? Where’s your dignity?

      — The famously awful ex who insisted we double with his ex and her new man. She was better-looking and had *cough* more experience. Also, he was still a little hung-up on her. We then went to the theatre to see “Our Town”, which should have been great. Too bad he tried to maul me throughout. It’s not like I had ambitions to teach drama at the time or anything. [eyeroll]

  16. Kat is reading my mind :

    I posted about this yesterday in our FB dating group.

    Things I would rather do than seeing the guy: going for a run, any type of workout, sitting at home watching bad TV, etc.

    I also have found myself rolling my eyes at his opinions.

    Oh dear…I think I have an awkward conversation coming my way.

  17. As a dating question: Has anyone married (HAPPILY) someone they dated and broke up with before? What made you know it was right to get back together / Why did you try again/ What happened to make it work eventually? I know tons of arguments against “re-dating”, so respectfully, I would love to hear some positive stories and points. Thank you!

    • Honey Pillows :

      Oh gosh, my friend’s parents broke up and got back together on a regular basis for ten years before getting married.

      My friend’s father ended up finally growing up out of his prolonged adolescence, got a steady job, signed a lease, and when he got around to that, and proposed (for the 4th time) to my friend’s mom, she accepted, and they’ve been happily married for 30 years now. Admittedly, the woman has the patience of a saint in all matters, but they’re crazy about each other, and always have been.

      When the main problem is external to the relationship (distance, expectations for the future) and not internal (personality clashes, different values, eye-rolling), I think it can work, but only if the problem(s) actually do get fixed, not a “Yes, we’re working on it and we love each other so it doesn’t really matter.”

      • I agree – the problem has to be external. If it’s a personality/life outlook/goal related issue, without a major change, round two will be the same.

        My boyfriend and I broke up less than a year into our relationship due to relocating to different cities, and ended up getting back together a few months later after we realized that a) the distance wasn’t so bad and b) we had no inclination to date other people. In retrospect, I think we jumped the breakup decision due to concerns over distance (it was the first time either of us had done that and we received a lot of pessimistic advice). As soon as we had enough time to realize that, we picked back up and are now at three years (and counting).

    • My best friend dated her husband in college, and seven years later in law school, and then they reconnected when she was on a business trip to his city and asked him if he wanted to have dinner (as old friends) and he treated it as a date. That was in 2009, and they just celebrated their first wedding anniversary. He took a lot of ribbing at the rehearsal dinner for taking 12 years to make up his mind!

      • Oh, I forgot you actually had questions. In their case, frankly, he finally grew the F up. In college, of course, the dating was casual and they were mostly just good friends. They both worked a few years before law school and started dating long distance, and he was just not mature enough to be in a committed relationship at all. When they reconnected, he was more grown up, and he saw her business trip as his last opportunity to really go after her. She was available and her feelings for him were as strong as ever. It took a LONG time for her friends who’d known her through the breakup to warm up to him, but once he got her parents’ approval most of us warmed up to him too.

        I think in a situation where neither party has done something to really hurt the other, but the relationship just fizzled out, it can work out if you get back together. But if you’re still angry or resentful about old emotional wounds, it’s going to be hard to work it out.

    • anonymouslymarriedredater :

      Yes. I dated my now-husband for about two months before breaking it off. When we first met, I had just gotten dumped in a particularly brutal fashion, and I really was not ready to start dating but didn’t realize it. My now-husband was/is an incredibly sweet and thoughtful person, and it was too much at that point, like staring at the sun. He was so eager, so happy, so attentive. I couldn’t take it, and I told him that something just didn’t feel right for me.

      After I broke it off, he asked a few weeks later if we could meet up to talk about what had happened. I tried to explain as best I could, and eventually realized that all of the things that didn’t work were *my* issues, not his. And I was blown away that he was willing to put aside his own pain and embarrassment to learn about my perspective. Once I realized that I was the problem, I decided to take a break from dating until my emotional ground was solid.

      I knew it was right to get back together when he walked two miles in a snowstorm to help me get to the airport safely…and when I reached my destination, he’d hidden my favorite chocolate bar in my suitcase. I’m so grateful that he was willing to give me a second chance. We’ve now been together for four years, married for a year, very very happily. Can’t believe how lucky I am. A year isn’t much time to test a marriage, but I am the happiest I’ve ever been.

      This was my first time re-dating, and I think it worked out for a few reasons:
      * he didn’t harbor bitterness or anger towards me for ending it the first time, though he was eventually able to tell me how sad he was when I broke it off
      * I knew that if I wanted to be happy with anyone, that I needed to be happy with myself
      * we were able to talk about the break-up constructively, and we are still able to resolve conflicts in a way that doesn’t feel threatening or frightening to either of us

      • Funny, I don’t remember posting this story. I had a very similar experience with my now husband. I had just gotten out of bad break-up and this new suitor was just too great, too soon. My telling moment was when he brought me a couple of cases of Diet Coke with Lime (it wasn’t in our local stores yet) because he knew I wanted to try it and left them at my doorstep as a surprise. He also told me (later) that he had a little voice in his head telling him to wait me out, that I was different, hence his patience. Once I got my head a bit clearer from terrible ex, I could focus on what a catch my now-husband was/is. 8.5 years later (5 married) the story of our rocky beginning is a sweet one.

    • DH and I were on-again off-again for about three years (including the 18 months long distance referenced in this morning’s post. Clearly I am having problems focusing today.) I am much younger than DH, and he knew I was “the one” while I needed some more time to get to that conclusion, so kept getting scared and breaking it off. We had several mutual friends so we stayed in close proximity and saw each other a lot even when we were broken up, which facilitated getting back together and discouraged going too wild and crazy in the “off” periods.

      It got to the point where I knew if we got back together one more time, we would either break up forever – in that I was using up the poor man’s patience and pride, and was building up an army of people telling him to move on – or get married, and I was finally ready to face that fact. (This is difficult to put into words without making me sound like I was settling / didn’t want to marry DH. I was just in my early to mid 20s and wasn’t ready to get married, to anyone, period.) I took a deep breath and here we are.

    • CPA to be :

      I did. My husband was my first “real” boyfriend. I met him when I was a freshman in college. We started dating about three weeks into my freshman year. We dated the next two years, and broke up for my entire junior year/his senior year. During the time we were broken up, we stayed friends but both dated multiple other people. We initially broke up because we were spending too much time together to the point where we both felt smothered, and had really different interests, but were too immature to be able to figure out what was going on and how to deal with it. We got back together because we both realized that the people we dated over that year apart were in no way able to compare to the relationship we had with each other. We dated a couple more years, got engaged, and then got married 5 years ago. We’ve been together almost 10 years total.

      Our marriage is not perfect, and some days I am surprised that we are still together– the fact that we share very few interests has not gone away. We are one of those couples that other people love because “wow you two are so different but you make it work!” Yeah, its true, but sometimes it’s very frustrating.

      What makes our marriage work is that we are both independent people who value what the other person brings to the table. Although we don’t share a lot of interests, we like the same kinds of people and have a similar sense of humor. We communicate a lot, even when what we have to say may upset the other person. There is also something really cool about being with someone who has literally been there with you as you have grown up. We have been lucky enough to grow in the same direction.

    • I had broken up with my boyfriend before, but it was sort of a weird situation because it was long distance and we had a don’t ask don’t tell thing going on where we were both trying to date other people. Being with each other was going to require some significant life sacrifices (moving to a new country or getting married prematurely kind of sacrifices) and it’s hard to make that commitment in a long distance relation. The breaking point was when he admitted he didn’t want me to visit because he had just started dating someone.

      We eventually got back together because he decided he wanted to make sacrifices and I still really liked him despite everything.

    • Anonymous :

      My husband and I have been married (pretty much happily) for over a decade. During the 7 years before we got married, we broke up at least 3-4 times.

      Some of the breakups were driven by external forces (relocation for work), others were the usual relationship stupidity. Our issues boiled down to being too young and immature (both of us) to admit that we had both met our respective match.

      To chime in with the other observations in the thread, my husband is one of the only men I dated that ever truly respected. For me, that means that I actually *care* what he thinks, *and* it’s mutual. It took me a loooooong time to figure out how rare that really is.

    • Me. Dh & I dated a while, then broke up because he was still hung up on another girl. Few months later we started talking on the phone pretty much every night as friends. We became really good friends. Then he realized he wanted to date again. Things were definitely different the second time around. We found ourselves finishing each other’s sentences, thinking of identical random numbers (5 digits long), and wanting to spend time together. So he proposed & we got married. We were really young (I was 19 when we got married) but celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary in August. We like to say we are the exception that proves the rule that you shouldn’t get married young. We kind of grew up together. And I’d rather go through hard times with him than good times without him. Sorry if that was sappy at all. I’m feeling a little sappy today for some unknown reason.

    • Negative stories I have hundreds. Positives? Not a single one. A general hint though: invariably the reason for the second breakup is the same as the first. Even when they’re separated by 30 years.

  18. How my date reflected my role as a woman became strangely important in my early 20s. I dropped one guy on the first date because despite having asked me out, he couldn’t come up with a plan for the life of him! “Well… what do you want to do?” he asked repeatedly. Funny, I remember YOU asking ME out.
    On the opposite side… another one fizzled after 2-4 dates. Ridiculously handsome one preparing his master’s thesis in engineering, planned an amazing first date. A couple of dates in, takes me to a buffet (OK, bound to happen eventually), then picks the food for my plate. No.
    My fiance struck just the right balance. Kat’s test works too- I realized that the fiance and I both try to solve disagreements the same way.

  19. I dated a guy who initially said he was into me because I was accomplished/smart in the same areas he was, but it turned out what was really important to him was that he was better than me in those areas. And he didn’t care about any other areas.

    I don’t think I’m outing anyone by saying his name was David. One of my older more experienced friends constantly referred to him as “The Bad David.”

    Here’s a hint – if your girlfriends come up with a name like that for the guy you’re seeing, that’s a big ol’ red flag.

    • Research, Not Law :

      On a similar note, I found there were three types of men: those who don’t want a smart girlfriend, those who want a smart girlfriend because it makes them feel smarter, and those wanted a girlfriend they could love regardless.

      The first type were easy to spot. The second type though, they were hard. I knew my now husband was the third type because he was interested in my work, but asked questions about it instead of trying to show how much more he knew about my field than I did.

      • Yes, exactly. And I was/am smarter than The Bad David, which I could tell bugged the crap out of him.

        • Lots of truth here. I think my evil ex fell into category #2–after he bombed the LSAT, he started trying to talk me out of law school. Ugh.

      • I’m hoping Category 3 is mostly “those who want a smart girlfriend because it is more interesting and challenging to spend most of one’s time with someone who is smart.”

        I’ve provisionally sorted guys who want smart girlfriends into “I want a woman smart enough to follow what I am saying,” vs. “I want a woman smart enough to disagree with what I am saying.” I suspect the former category is like RnL’s “because it makes them feel smarter.” If you find a real intellectual equal, though, all bets are off–that’s the point, and also the fun.

        • Yes, I like that sorting– it’s “do they want to be married to a newsreader who’s smart enough to understand the news she’s reading? Or do they have the cojones to handle being married to the op-ed writer who will sometimes disagree and be able to back it up.”

          A lot of people really just want the newsreader (Fox News or not.)

      • Your middle category is too broad – there are men who like smart women because they like smart women. I think my husband fits into that category, but in a “I must be smart because my wife is smart and we have interesting, nuanced conversations in which she values my opinion.” That is different than “I must be smart because my wife is smart and I’m so much smarter than she is.”

        • karenpadi :

          I think wanting a smart woman is kind of like wanting a woman who makes more money than he does. There are guys who are traditional, own up to it, and are upfront about not wanting to date someone who makes more. Then there are guys who think it would be great to date a woman who makes more but will find a way to leave a potential relationship within a date or two. Then there are guys who want to think it sounds great but never realized how important being a breadwinner is to them and end the relationship about 6 months in. Then there are the men (I haven’t found one yet, but supposedly they exist) who are 100% cool with it.

          • AnonInfinity :

            They definitely exist because I am married to one. I am so lucky to have found him (before either of us even realized I’d be or even want to be the main breadwinner).

            I say this to say not to lose hope. They are out there, I promise.

          • I’m married to one, too! (And we’re 21 years in and there’s been maybe one year of the 20 when he made more than I did.)

          • There definitely are. A good male friend of mine is married to a female Main Breadwinner and he couldn’t be happier. Her salary affords him the ability to do what he loves, which is to write. Plus he is about to be a stay-at-home-dad, which he’ll be great at.

          • I’m the breadwinner and I’m married to a man who accepts it, but to be honest, doesn’t always like it. No matter how enlightened and liberated he tries to be, there is still his upbringing that says the man should provide for his family. Don’t get me wrong, it’s largely working for us, but it gets him down from time to time, and can make him rather defensive about certain issues.

        • I agree with this. Dh & I are close to equals, intelligence wise. We’re both smart and enjoy having intelligent conversations about lotns of things. We sometimes teasingly argue about who is smarter, but we recognize we each have strengths and that those strenghts compliment each other very well.

          And because we’ve been together so long and we are 100% a team, he is 100% OK with me being the main breadwinner. He wishes he could contribute more to the finances of our family, and resents the way society treats men who aren’t the main breadwinner, but he doesn’t resent my ability to provide for the family. At all. And I don’t resent him for not contributing more. At all.

  20. TJ-

    Anyone have thin elastic threads sticking out of their Theory blazers? I only dry clean mine, but recently this started happening to a navy 2-button blazer around the curved bottom. No idea why this is happening, as it hasn’t happend with my other Theory blazers. Anyone have experience with this/stopping it?

    • Anonymous :

      This has happened to me with 2 Talbots suits, which is why I haven’t bought a Talbots suit in several years. Which is a shame, because I am petite and their suits consistently fit me without having to do alterations. I haven’t found a real solution to the problem, other than minimizing the number of times I send the suits to the dry cleaners (dry cleaning sees to make it worse), and painstakingly pulling out the elastics when they appear. Will be interested to hear if anyone else has a solution.

  21. Young Consultant :

    I have always struggled with breakups. I think I do a decent job picking them in the first place, and then when something ends up not being quite right it becomes increasingly difficult to end it, because no one has done anything terrible.

    I agree with the idea that agreeing on the type of life you want is one of the most important things, but at my age (early-mid 20s) I think many people struggle to articulate what they want from life. And many of us aren’t sure. But maybe that just means we shouldn’t get married any time soon ;)

  22. Sydney Bristow :

    My test was whether the person was someone I could be myself around and have real discussions about things that are important to me. I started dating again after a really long hiatus during the presidential primaries and I love talking about politics, especially so people who have different views than I do as long as both of us can express ourselves clearly and not just start fighting about it. That proved to be an interesting specific part of my test. But ultimately it came down to me asking myself whether I was being myself and catching myself whenever I felt like I couldn’t say or do something around that person. My boyfriend and I have great conversations, I never feel like I have to censor myself or alter my behavior because of him, and he has told me the same.

  23. This is more of later on test, after the initial dating phase is over, but… Do I feel comfortable looking like an idiot in front of him, or do I avoid certain things because he’ll think less of me if I do it wrong?

    This covers doing the silly stuff like singing off key with the radio, watching the stupid tv show that I’ve been following for the last 8 years because I want to know what’ll happen, being able to be wrong about a fact without it being a huge loss of face, screwing up dinner, or just mis-pronouncing a word that I’ve only read and never said.

    • I think the defining moment for me was when my current bf not only didn’t judge me for watching terrible reality tv, but actually watched it with me and then wanted to spend dinner discussing the characters and why they acted that way and what was going to happen next.

  24. karenpadi :

    Honestly, I’ve given up dating. Maybe my standards are too high but they are very consistent with what I’m reading here. My two additional tests are:

    1. Does he hate my career? (My niche is one that is easy to hate in my area by people who are ignorant or only partially educated about it.) I have sat through so many first dates where he just goes on and on about why my job is evil. Putting my profession in my dating profile makes me super-google-able so I don’t want to bring it up until we meet in person and I can gauge his creepy-ness.

    2. Is he a feminist, as in, does he think women are just as human as men? Others hinted at this (guys who choose food for you, refuse to let you pay, etc.). But I guess I take a more holistic approach.

    • I’m not dating, but #1 is a good test. Even if making fun of your career culturally accepted, it’s seriously disrespectful of you and doesn’t speak well of his desire to make a good impression on a first date. My SO used to crack a lot of lame lawyer jokes. I finally had to put a stop to it because it got really old and made me feel like he didn’t respect my career choices.

      • When I was in the online dating world, I was amazed at how many potential suitors would insult my profession in an initial message, or on a first date. Automatic disqualification.

        • TO lawyer :

          This happened to me too! Yes potential suitor, making jokes about how sleazy you think I/my profession is will not result in me thinking fondly of you…

    • Anastasia :

      I went on a date once with a food-orderer. I had known him for a long time (as friends with and without benefits), but I think it was our first real “date.” And so he ordered. Not like I had said I wanted X, so when the waiter came he ordered X for me, but like I hadn’t said anything about my food and was planning to order Y, but he just ordered X without asking me. Oh, and he did it by saying “…and the lady will have X.”

      He was awfully proud of himself and went on and on about how he knew me so well he could order my dinner for me. My fault for not being assertive enough to correct him, but it really rubbed me the wrong way, AND my dinner wasn’t good. I like chivalry, but blech. I think you nailed it with the “does he think women are just as human as men?” Unfortunately, I was young and foolish and didn’t call it off for another couple of months.

      My husband opens doors for me and lets me sit if there’s only one seat on the subway, but he never presumes to make even the tiniest decisions for me (unless I abdicate decision-making to him. i.e. you pick the restaurant for date night this week.) This is one of my favorite things about him, I think.

      • Anonymous :

        Ha! I don’t mind if a guy asks what I want and then orders for me, but this summer I went on a date with a guy and had the following experience:

        First date, he asked me to go out for sushi. I told him, “well we can, but I have to warn you that I used to live in Japan, so I am very picky about sushi. I usually avoid it in the US.”

        He made the reservation anyway. Then when looking at the menu he asked me what I wanted. I said “I usually avoid the Americanized stuff, like dragon roles, anything with cream cheese etc. Mostly I just like sashimi and traditional sushi.”

        Then when the waiter came, he ordered a bunch of rolls and no sushi or sashimi. So when the waiter want to leave, I said, “Oh wait, I would like some sashimi”.

        Then the guy started talking about how much money he makes!

        I thought this sort of stuff only happens on TV. Needless to say, that was our first and last date.

    • I have this problem. My bf HATES lawyers, but he saw me through law school so I don’t know why (a) this didn’t come up before and (b) how he can continue to hate lawyers when 3 of this best friends are attorneys as well as myself.

      I’m convinced most of his opinions are based on headlines and slants from the WSJ instead of from real thoughts, so it’s really irritating. He’s great otherwise, but then it results in the question of: can I live with this for the rest of my life?

      • Does he really hate lawyers or does he just say he hates lawyers? When I put a stop to SO’s constant lawyer-bashing, I just had to spell it out explicitly: “Every time you make a lawyer joke, it makes me feel like you don’t respect my career choice. Please stop making lawyer jokes.” I don’t know if your situation is similar and if you can say something like that with respect to his lawyer bashing.

        • I think I will try that. Thanks! I have expressed similar things in the past… but I haven’t been as explicit as to why it is really hurtful (and stupid) to hate lawyers as a categorical group.

  25. one of my biggest tests kind of actually just goes for the company i keep in general: how does he treat his mom? other family members also, but most importantly mom. it’s just a pattern i’ve noticed.

    my other big thing is, do i try to hide my idiosyncrasies around him? i have a lot of harmless ones, but they stick out. if i’m not comfortable enough going, “hey actually can i sit on that side of the table?” then i’m trying too hard to hide who i am. i know it’s silly, but if a guy can’t humor the fact that i don’t like facing the door when i eat then he’s not going to want to spend the rest of his life with me, really. (i’m more than okay with good-natured teasing about them, though! i may be eccentric, but i do have a sense of humor.)

    casual misogyny and/or racism is another dealbreaker as well, i think for obvious reasons.

    • “i know it’s silly, but if a guy can’t humor the fact that i don’t like facing the door when i eat then he’s not going to want to spend the rest of his life with me, really.”

      You should date a cop. Or a military man. Or anyone involved in the security industry. I’ve never met anyone who fell into one of those categories who did not insist on sitting with their back to the wall and facing the point of entry/exit. You’ll never have to argue over who sits where!

      • Anonylicious :

        It’s funny, because neither the guy I’m seeing nor I like having our backs to the door because we both come from that sort of professional background. I try to accept the fact that he’s got my six and not always hog the good seat.

      • haha. I was thinking the same thing. And, some schools of management thought say that you give the guest the seat with the best view of the restaurant!

    • Yes. I think this is a really good one (that I try to apply too).

  26. TO lawyer :

    On a related TJ (I guess similar to my post from this morning): how do you know when your relationship just is too difficult? I guess in my case, I’m wondering that even though I can see a life together with my SO, maybe the distance is just too much…

    • karenpadi :

      Read “Too good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay”


      I knew the answer in the first chapter but I read the rest of the book to confirm my suspicions.

  27. I have the black tie and baseball game test. This is after date 8-10 when I’ve decided okay I like you, enjoy spending time with you but is there any point in carrying on. I need to be able to take you to a black tie event and not babysit you. I don’t want to worry about 1) you sulking in a corner because you’re not having fun or 2) saying something stupid that will embarrass me.

    At the same time I need to be able to take you to a baseball game and drink some beer and relax. You can’t be stuck up and not be able to enjoy yourself. If you can do both, I can probably take you anywhere.

    • Oh God, finding that combo feels like sighting the white whale at this point.

    • I just started dating this guy! We met playing sports, but he is totally capable of accompanying me to a play, a concert, a work event, and a formal fundraiser. He does exist!

      And really, if we are the kind of women that can go from formal, work events to beer drinking sports events, why not assume there are men out there that can do the same?

      • Interesting, I’m a pretty complete guy I’d say and although I can find alot of quality dates I never seem to find a relationship even though I want one :/

        I’m 31 and ashamed to admit I never had a meaningful long term relationship.