NAKED GARDENING: The moment a relationship becomes even a little bit complicated, many of my people run for the nearest exit. This can happen within the first date or so. They might have had a few nice email and telephone exchanges leading up to the date and then one incident happens, it can be something relatively insignificant, a simple misunderstanding or an small social indiscretion—and they end the relationship before it has hardly begun.
Chloe came to me because she was having trouble getting to a second date. I just assumed that it was the men who weren’t asking her out again. She was an attractive blonde in her mid-thirties, slim with big, bright green eyes and an inviting smile. I could see why men would find her attractive. She was currently communicating through an Internet dating site with a tall, dark-haired accountant from Great Britain named Ian. After their first date, we talked about how it went. From what I could gather, she liked Ian very much and had a very good time on the date. She had even practiced several of the Naked Dating skills I’d given her in previous sessions while they were at dinner. “Does he want to see you again?”
“Yes. I’m almost certain he does,” she said.
“That’s great. So, you’re going to go out with him, right?”
“No, I don’t think so,” she said.
I felt very confused. “Aren’t you attracted to him?” I asked.
“No, he’s really cute,” she answered.
“Then, what’s the problem?” If they had fun and he wanted to have a second date, why she didn’t want to see him again? Maybe they had sex. “You can tell what happened. I’m not going to judge you.”
Chloe took in a long, slow breath, and her big green eyes growing even bigger. “I know this sounds ridiculous, but he did something that really annoyed me. He had this terrible habit of correcting my English. It happened several times on the calls and, then, again on the date. It made me feel stupid and self-conscious.”
“I can see how that would have been awkward. Did you tell him how you felt?”
“Oh my God! No! I couldn’t do that!” she cried, suddenly straightening in her chair.
“But why not? This is exactly the sort of thing you need to learn to talk about with a man.”
“But we’ve only been on one date,” she said. “If I said something, he would have thought I was…”
There it was. The thing we are all so afraid of. Chloe was afraid to get emotionally naked and vulnerable for fear of sounding needy, desperate, or insecure. It was easier to walk away and not say anything, then to stay and tell him how she felt. But if she didn’t learn how to tell a man she was hurt, she would keep running and she would never get to a second date or, for that matter, a relationship.
The truth was that Ian’s behavior had upset her. Whether they had been on one date or one hundred dates was beside the point. She needed to learn how to stand up for herself and tell Ian or any man how she felt.
I coached Chloe on exactly what to say to Ian, giving her a very simple, graceful approach that she could use to have these kinds of sensitive conversations with a date or anyone else, for that matter. Here is what I told her:
The Naked Garden
When you are trying to grow a relationship and need to have a difficult conversation, one where you need to tell someone that he or she hurt or disappointed you, you might think of that conversation like planting a garden. When planting a garden, you can’t just take the seeds (of change) and shove them into the hard, dry soil. You must prepare and fertilize the soil so that it can receive them. You also need to plant the seeds a certain distance apart. If you try to plant too many seeds or ideas all at once, they won’t have room and space to grow. Once the seeds have been planted, you need to care for the garden, watering and weeding it regularly. Finally, you need to have patience and give the seeds time to sprout and grow.
Step 1. Preparing the soil: Before you can present your side of things, you want to open up the heart and mind of the person you are speaking with so that he will feel receptive to what you have to say. You do this by letting him know that you understand that he didn’t intentionally do anything wrong or mean to hurt you. As much as you can, you want to let him know that you understand his perspective and are not blaming him for how you feel. You want to make it very clear that what you’re feeling is not his “fault.” You say, “I know that things happen. You probably were very busy this weekend and needed to get things done. I know you haven’t had a lot of free time lately.”
Step 2. Fertilizing the soil: Now you use the word “AND,” not “BUT.” If you use the word but, it will negate everything you just said. His defenses will come up and he will no longer be receptive to what you are about to say. If you say, “I know you didn’t mean to hurt me BUT I feel hurt,” you’ve just undone everything you did in step one. If you say, “I know you didn’t mean to hurt me AND I feel hurt,” the other person won’t feel defensive.
Step 3. Planting the seeds: Without pointing fingers or blaming him, you say how you felt about what happened. “When you did _______, I felt __________, and I told myself ______________.” ” And, when you didn’t make time to see me this weekend, I felt sad and angry, and I told myself that you really don’t care about me or this relationship.”
Step 4: Tending the garden: Do not push for an answer. That would be like over-watering you garden. You will drown the other person. It can take time for someone to absorb critical or emotional feedback. You need to give a few days or even a week before you revisit the subject.
Step 5. Harvesting: When you check on the garden, say, “Have you give any thought to what we talked about?” Again, do not push. Just listen to what he says. Most people cannot be forced into coming around to your way of thinking. The harder you push they more they will resist. You need to let them come around in their own way. If you never get a satisfactory answer and this happens over and over again, you need to explore whether or not his is the right person for you.
Example: Here is what Chloe said to Ian:
- Preparing the soil: “There is something I wanted to share with you. Several times when we spoke and on the date, you corrected my English. I don’t know if you even realize it was happening, and I am sure you didn’t do it to hurt me.”
- Fertilizing the soil: AND
- Planting the seeds: “When this happened I felt put-down and self-conscious, and I told myself I might not be smart enough for you.
- Tending the Garden: At this point, Ian started laughing, not a Chloe but at himself. “I didn’t even realize I was doing that ,” he said. “That’s horrible. I’m so sorry! I’m so glad you said something.” In Chloe’s case, she didn’t need to wait for an answer. She tended her garden by acknowledging and thanking Ian for being so open and receptive.
- Harvesting: Chloe sat back and observed Ian’s behavior. It did happen once more, but this time she was able to remind Ian of their conversation. From that point forth, it didn’t happen again.
As Chloe told me the conversation, I could see that her attitude towards Ian had changed considerably. She said that it was adorable how apologetic he became, and that she the conversation had helped her feel closer and more trusting of him. Instead of running, Chloe stopped, planted some seeds, and she started to grow a relationship. Last I heard, Chloe and Ian’s relationship continues to blossom.