When you go on a first date – or first meet someone new – you may have an immediate reaction to the person. You may feel like you “know” a relationship with that person will, or will not, work out. But can you really trust your instinct? The answer is yes and no.
Yes, you can trust that your reaction is telling you something about the other person, or at least your perception of them. You don’t react to all people the same way, so your gut reaction is saying something about that particular person.
However – and this is the no, don’t trust your gut part – your reaction may mean something different from what it seems to mean. Not everything that feels good or comfortingly familiar is good for you. And, conversely, not everything that feels bad or unfamiliar is bad for you. For example, if you’re used to controlling people in your life, this may make you inclined to choose a partner who is overly controlling. And it might also make you inclined to reject someone who shows caring and consideration – such warmth and respect may be so unfamiliar that it makes you uncomfortable. So, while you can trust that your gut is telling you something, it is up to you to decide what that something is.
To figure out what your gut is telling you, and to decide how to respond to it, begin by noting any discrepancies between what you feel and what you think. As you reflect upon your emotions, you will gain insights into what they really mean. For instance, feeling anxious can mean you sense dishonesty and feel emotionally unsafe; or it can mean that you feel hopeful about having met someone wonderful and fear the unknown course the relationship will take. Feeling excited might reflect your sense that you may have met “the one”; or it may mean this new relationship is tapping into your insecurities, heightening your emotions by carrying you on a wild “loves me, loves me not” ride. When a date falls flat, leaving you bored or disinterested, it could simply mean you have nothing in common. But at other times it could mean that you are uncomfortable with being seen positively and treated with kindness. These are the kinds dynamics you need to consider.
When your heart and head are in disagreement, you need to use both to guide your way. And as you consider both, repeatedly ask yourself, “What is the wise thing to do?” This can help you like no other question or advice. Even if you feel euphoric about a new relationship, it’s unwise to continue it when your partner has a drinking problem or has basic values that differ from yours. Sometimes, of course, the best decision is not so clear. You may feel stuck when you know someone would make a good partner in many ways, but you just don’t feel it. In this case, you might need to ask yourself if the lack of connection is really about being too different, or more about you being defensive. Maybe your last relationship was bad and you are afraid to open up again. In situations like this, you need to be willing to be honest with yourself and then ask yourself again, “What is the wise thing to do?”
Of course, trusting your gut is easy when your heart and head are in sync and all signs indicate “full speed ahead.” But when careful attention to your gut reveals an inner conflict, it’s important to figure out what’s behind the tension. An inner dialogue will tell you what to do – though taking that action may be difficult. As you wrestle with how to proceed, remember that whether or not your initial gut reaction is wise to follow, it is always wise to pay attention to it.

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