There seem to be several camps on this:
- Immediately when the annoyance happens, even on the first date. Say something so he can modify his behavior. No matter how small the irritation, you should say something when it happens.
- Not on the first date, unless the behavior is egregious (blowing his nose in the cloth napkin, walking 5 paces in front of you, wearing a hat inside a nice restaurant, fondling you in public).
- Only when it happens frequently enough that you can’t tolerate it anymore. Giving someone grace shows maturity unless you can’t stand that pen-top clicking, fingernail-tooth cleaning, or utterance of “cool,” “like,” or “ya know” one more time.
- Only if you think you’re interested in seeing him in the future. Why bring it up if you have no interest in him?
My preference is a combination of 2, 3 and 4. When I’ve had dates who subscribe to #1 and nit pick about what I consider minor infractions, the cumulative affect is I feel picked on.
This is something that I wouldn’t have thought to be a deal breaker. But it has been. More than once.
Here are some things to ponder about feedback:
- Frequency. It’s not just what someone nitpicks about. It’s the frequency. If he brings to my attention every detail he doesn’t like, it gets trying. You need to pick your battles and only point out behaviors you find obnoxious. So when he wipes clean his silverware in an upscale restaurant, notice his anal retentiveness, but don’t comment. Unless he starts doing it for the couple at the next table.
- Tone. Someone’s tone is important as well. I can take constructive feedback, but not easily if someone has an irritated tone, or sounds as if I’m an idiot for behaving a certain way. I try to have a patient tone, but I know that when you let an irritant go on too long, it does come through in your “that’s the last straw” voice.
- Phrasing. How the feedback is phrased is important, too. Some people like you to blurt out the problem, “You have bad breath,” vs. a softer, more indirect choice, “Let’s have a mint before we continue kissing.” Men tell me the latter drives them crazy, yet many women find the former too blunt and insensitive. Ah, the differences in the genders!
- Location. The place is important, too. Don’t criticize a man in front of others. If he’s doing someone you find offensive, either whisper it to him, or get him to step away from the others. He can become embarrassed — as would you — to hear it in front of friends or colleagues. Also, bringing something up over a nice, romantic dinner can ruin the evening. If it can wait, leave it for later.
- Balance with positives. I heard a suggestion that for every one piece of corrective feedback, you should have 5 positives. Otherwise the receiver will feel as I did, continually nagged.
I went out several times with a man who had rigid expectations on when I should bring up anything that bothered me. During our time together, if I did anything he didn’t like, he told me immediately. I, on the other hand let most things go, giving him grace. However, not saying something about his nitpicking resulted in my feeling continually criticized.
When I explained I had a different philosophy about when to deliver corrective communication, he said, “You have to say something at the time. You can’t say something hours later. It’s wrong. If you don’t say something at the time, you shouldn’t bring it up later.”
His rule was, if you didn’t bring it up instantly upon happening, you abdicated your right to bring it up ever. I reminded him, “We talked about this on the phone. I told you I often brought up things as they happen, but sometimes I don’t realize how I feel about something until a little later.”
“No, you have to bring it up at the time.” Now I saw that he had no concept that one could experience a feeling, like a mild irritation, but be unable to articulate why until a little later. In his mind, everyone must say what was bothersome at the moment or relinquish the chance to discuss it later. Trying to explain this concept was futile, like trying to explain a beautiful sunset to a blind person.
I realized I couldn’t be with someone long term who had such rigid rules about what was “right” behavior from their partner, especially behavior I couldn’t control. I needed someone who could listen and gently probe if I was upset, not get angry and defensive, just as I would him. While I enjoyed many things about him, I saw that he didn’t have the communication skills I find essential for a long-term romantic partner. Needless to say, we didn’t see each other again.
Which camp(s) are you in?