The truth-telling session

It’s happened. Something we have been discussing in this blog and comments for a little while. The issue is if you tell a guy you’ve dated but released what drives you batty about him, so he can fix it so it won’t bother future love interests.

truth-tellingYesterday, my first post-divorce beau emailed asking if I’d give him honest, specific feedback on what he did which may be repelling other women like me. It’s been 2.5 years, but I can still remember many of the issues.

I asked if he was sure he wanted to know the details. He said yes. I told him we should discuss this face to face, not email. He was anxious to meet to discuss this as soon as possible.

Now I’m in a quandary. Do I tell him all the specifics that drove me to break it off with him? Or just the major ones? I’ve provided executive coaching for years and had to tell a very intelligent man he needed to wear ironed shirts, among other things. I’ve had to tell others what no one else was comfortable telling them. So I’m not without skills in this area. However, telling an old flame has a different feeling. I want to be sensitive to his heart and ego, yet give him enough information that he can modify his behaviors if he chooses to. And I will couch my comments in that other women may have different hot buttons than mine.

He wants to attract intelligent, successful, caring, loving, active women. Do I need to tell him the obvious: that he’s 100 pounds overweight and would have a better chance if he shed some? Or is this too insulting? He lists himself as “athletic” in his online profile, although he has trouble walking more than a few blocks.

He works alone and does most of his business through email and phone. However, he dons business attire for networking functions and conferences. The last few times I’ve seen him in this garb, his jackets were ill fitting and the shirtsleeves too long. Since he doesn’t see these issues, I’ll suggest he visit his tailor.

There are more issues that are irritating habits which would be off putting to others, I’m sure. He commonly worked on the computer when talking to me reading me parts of emails from people I don’t know and don’t really care about. He’d IM me frequently during my work day for nothing but chatter. His emails were often poorly written — I thought he had English as a second language when reading the first one he sent.

There are other values issues that were a mismatch for me. He seems obsessed with status, insisting on a high-priced car, season theater tickets for several companies, season tickets for local sports teams, fine dining, expensive wine collection, private club membership and fancy vacations even though he had nearly no savings and is 60 years old. I have no trouble with the trappings of success if one can afford them. He spent all that he earned and had very little set aside for retirement.

Have you ever had a truth telling session with someone you’ve dated? If so, did you limit your feedback to just the key issues, or did you let him know all the details?

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11 responses to “The truth-telling session”

  1. Marina Avatar

    Ok, you have a sticky wicket, but I would try to put as much of a positive spin on it as possible. Instead of coming out and saying, “You’re overweight,” I might say something like, “You might want to think about working out.” Perhaps even mention that the gym can be a great place to meet women.

    As for the other issues… You may want suggest that he limit on-line chats, e-mails, and so forth to after hours. Remind him that some employers really do frown on their employees reading personal e-mails and on-line chatting during business hours, and ask him if he would want to put a potential girlfriend at risk of losing her job.

    As for his living beyond his means… that’s a tough one. At his age and stage I doubt he’d be willing to change. Some women may be bothered by it, but others may be doing the same thing themsevles and not care.

    It’s good that he is asking for your help, and perhaps you can help him make at least a few positive changes. Please let us know how it works out.

  2. Christine Avatar

    Oh, DG, I don’t envy you this one. Although I am a therapist, I don’t often like to coach or teach in my real life, particularly my dating life. I think often times people think they are ready for this kind of feedback, when in fact what they really want is someone to argue the points with. In a case like this, I would probably try to help him look at all of the data that his dates in the past 2.5 years have given him. I’m sure when he’s honest with himself, he will admit to hearing some suggestions for change along the way. Good luck!

  3. Passing By Avatar
    Passing By

    Have you ever heard of the concept “feed forward” by Marshall Goldsmith? It’s about giving people constructive criticism in a palatable form that focuses on taking future action, not rehashing past mistakes. A perfect example of it is what Marina says above: suggest that he start going to the gym or signing up for some active group activity (like dance lessons) so that he can meet women while improving his health.

    In any case, limit the feedback to two to three, at the most, key issues. That’s probably all he can handle or absorb in one sitting. Many people say they want feedback but then when they start to get it, they shut down and only take away the feeling that they’re really screwed up and beyond redemption. It would be best to have your feedback focus on the future, things he can do to change and improve. Tell him that by making some small changes he will start getting better results which will help his self-confidence, regardless of whether or not he finds Ms. Right or not.

    Please tell us how things go. How about offering him a chance to “guest blog” here for one day? I’d love to hear his reaction/response to your advice.

  4. 100 pounds overweight guy Avatar
    100 pounds overweight guy

    If I was receiving this type of critique, I would want direct, factual information.

    Your weight – some might find that unattractive, some might assume that you are less able to partake in active pursuits.

    Your clothing – most women appreciate a man who neatly dressed.

    Your attention – the most attractive quality in a person is giving sincere attention. While you are communicating with a woman, focus your attention on that person. And only communicate when you are able to give meaningful attention.

    I agree that two or three biggies is the most that a person can process in one sitting. Also, I think it is wise stick to things like these three which are polishing the person, but not attempting to make a fundamental change. I think addressing his interest in status would be both unproductive and more likely to feel insulting to who he is as a person.

    I would very much like to have the information from a personal “attractiveness/repulsiveness” audit like this. Sounds like helpful information.

  5. walt Avatar

    Since this guy has asked for feedback, you should be brutally honest. Of course you should mention the weight issue. He knows he’s overweight, so if you fail to mention it, you lose all credibility. He needs to be told that it’s likely to be a problem for most women. It is something he can work on. On the other hand, you can point out that it wasn’t a “deal-breaker” for you all by itself, since obviously you dated him knowing he was overweight. In general, you should mention the things likely to be an issue for most women, and avoid those particular to you. So, the ill-fitting clothes and surfing the internet while talking to you merit a mention. However, I would not mention his habit of living beyond his means, as a lot of women might find that attractive.

    I have a question. It seems that men sometimes do ask women they’ve dated for honest feedback on what they can do better, and the idea sort of appeals to me. However, one could hardly imagine a women asking for similar feedback. Why is this?

  6. Dating Goddess Avatar

    «However, one could hardly imagine a women asking for similar feedback. Why is this?»

    Actually, Walt, I’ve done this whenever a man has had the guts to communicate he’s leaving rather than just going poof. That hasn’t been that many. And what they said, even when I asked for honest feedback, seemed to be they’d taken something I’d said out of context or read into something differently than I’d ever imagined. I look for patterns, trends, as if the feedback is different with each person, that is no help.

    So, as we’ve discussed in this blog before, I continue to do it, but have yet to get feedback that makes sense or is useful. We’ll see if this old beau feels similarly. 🙂

  7. Gatti Avatar

    Walt, my last boyfriend gave me feedback all the time, in the bluntest possible way. And I was always wrong, slow, dumb, rude, smelly, etc., etc., etc..

    Funny thing is that I’m **exactly** the same as I was then and my now boyfriend thinks I’m great. Maybe some women don’t want more feedback if they’ve already heard a continual litany of their “faults”…

  8. walt Avatar

    Gattti – sorry to hear that your last boyfriend was such a jerk, but glad to hear that you’re keeping better company these days! I assume you weren’ asking for your ex’s “feedback.”

    However, I must say that in my experience it’s more accepted by society for a woman to publicly criticize her husband or boyfriend (generally on the theme that he’s incompetent or clueless), than vice versa. Often women publicly critique their men in a way that sounds like a joke, but there’s a not-too-subtle edge to it. I can’t say I’ve ever been with anyone who talked like this about me, but I hear it all the time.

  9. CatieB Avatar

    I was married to a man who (like his parents) would make critical remarks all the time in public, only couched as a “joke” with a smile. They stung, and for a while I would defend myself. I hated that, and wanted no part of it. I finally realized it took two to play his game, and I stopped. He was really bewildered at first, but then he quit, and although his treatment of me did not change, I was no longer put down in public. Of course, we divorced later.
    Later, when I began to date again, I also asked men for some feedback. Usually I have remained friends with the men I date. With those who I do not, the issues were so clear cut between us, we discussed them at the time. As you say, DG, some of what is given back to us is not useful It is often based on his hurt feelings, or past issues, and really had nothing to do with your relationship.
    One thing I found, when discussing this with men, is that guys do not like to tell ladies what is wrong, as they do not want to be the bad guys. They remember what is what like to get criticized by mom. And men are supposed to be the heroes, and come in and fix a problem. If they don’t like something in a date, they really do not know what to do, and “it is usually less hassle to just let the date go”. What do you guys think?
    As for the feedback I did receive, I believe nearly all of it was valid. Of course at times, it can hurt … but once I worked through my hurt feelings, I have given a serious attempt to change those things which I agree needed to change, or at least, soften.
    One thing, I believe that when one asks for feedback, they ask it from those whom they respect, even after the breakup. I do not believe he would ask you if he did not know, instinctively, that you won’t overkill the point or hurt him badly. I agree that two or three things would be the limit, and mention only those things he does have control over and can change, at the age of 60. It is interesting that he advertises himself as active, when in reality, his physical condition limits his comfortably walking far. This is a sign he does not see himself as he is, but as his ideal, or remains in denial as to the severity or importance of his weight to feel better about himself. If he mentions he doesn’t really want to exercise, or go on a diet, etc. the conversation can mention options, i.e., many women like big men, such as those on, (big beautiful peoplemeet), where he may meet someone who loves him just as he is.
    With options, and given feedback with respect, and your genuine interest in his well being, I think he will come away with a sense of hope for a great dating future, good luck!

  10. David Avatar

    “I was married to a man who (like his parents) would make critical remarks all the time in public, only couched as a “joke” with a smile.”

    Any comment that is followed by “just kidding” wasn’t….. Otherwise, why would it need the explanation? My ex- used to do that all the time. Funny thing was that she was a marriage counselor-in-training….

  11. Elena Avatar

    It’s been three weeks since you posted this. What happened? Can you give us an update please on how this feedback session went?