Let’s face it: You will probably encounter a jerk at some point in your dating life. Hopefully, this person will just reveal his or her true character immediately… but it’s often a little more complicated than that. Whether your particular meanie is someone you’ve just met or you’ve already shared a long history with, it never hurts to get expert advice on that age-old question: When should you give a jerk a second chance? Read on…
Think twice before accepting another date invite
Some experts advise drawing firm boundaries when it comes to dating someone who’s 50 shades of not-so-nice — especially if you encounter the bad behavior right away. “If someone isn’t capable of behaving decently on a first date, this person has anger management problems,” advises author and speaker Jen Hancock. “Nothing good ever comes of giving a jerk a second date. Way back when I was single, a girlfriend and I made a pact to pay attention to those red flags that go off in your head. It isn’t the jerks we go out with again; it’s the borderline cases,” Hancock explains. “Don’t even go out with them again. If there was something wrong, there was a reason for it. And seriously — if they can’t keep their behavior together for a three-hour date, they have problems.”
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When in doubt, consider the context
If your gut’s telling you that someone’s iffy behavior is all down to circumstance, a second chance might be worth considering. “It really depends on the behavior,” says life and relationship coach Dylan Thrasher. “We all lead such rushed, stressed lives these days, which sometimes makes dating challenging — especially during the work week. Maybe it’s worth giving someone another chance during a weekend night to see what this person’s like when things are ‘normal.’” Of course, there should be limits when it comes to making excuses for a grumpy date. “If someone’s rude to the point of taking social calls while you’re on your date, cursing at the waiter, or just being snide in general, maybe it is a good thing you’re seeing this person for who he or she really is — and then you can move on,” Thrasher advises.
Double-check to be sure it’s not a case of first-date nerves
Remember: There’s a big difference between going on another date and giving someone a second chance. A follow-up date involves just an hour or two of your life — it doesn’t have the emotional implications of, say, reuniting with an inconsiderate ex. “It can be helpful to give a jerk a ‘take two’ date in order to really check out the things that turned you off and see if they’re actual indicators of who he or she is and what this person’s about,” says Dr. Jane Greer, an East Coast-based marriage and family therapist and media commentator. “Sometimes people may be nervous, preoccupied, etc. on a date, and that can eclipse their ability to relax and just be themselves.”
Pay attention to what your gut’s trying to tell you
When in doubt, “listen to your heart,” advises psychologist Elsbeth Martindale. “So often, people date with too much focus on the other person’s like or dislike of them. They ask, ‘Does he/she think I’m good enough?’ or ‘Does he/she really like me?’ Asking questions about your own reactions, feelings, thoughts and concerns instead is much more important and valuable.” Dating should be a pleasant experience, so if your vibe just doesn’t match with your date, move on. “If someone was a jerk once, does that eliminate this person automatically? The answer involves paying attention to your own inner experience,” adds Martindale. In our busy lives, those crucial inner voices have difficulty being heard sometimes. Go for a walk — sans headphones, please — and pay attention to what your instincts are really telling you to do.
Be clear about where your boundaries lie
“There’s a difference between actually being a jerk and acting like a jerk,” says Los Angeles psychotherapist Dr. Nancy B. Irwin. “The former would imply a consistent pattern of offensive, inappropriate behavior/talk, while the latter connotes perhaps one or a few isolated incidents. Letting someone know as soon as possible after the offensive remark/act that this behavior isn’t acceptable to you can be a gift to that person. He or she may have never had that boundary drawn before,” explains Irwin.
Three questions to ask before taking back your jerky ex
Things get a lot more complicated in the “second chance” department when we’re talking about relationships instead of just dates. Proceed with extreme caution if the jerk in question is an ex, and follow these three tips:
1. Ask yourself: “Why does this person deserve another chance?” advises psychotherapist Pandora MacLean-Hoover, LICSW. “Depending on your answer, then make your decision. A typical post-breakup rumination usually goes something like: ‘I just want to call him.’ My clients are shocked when I say, ‘Then go ahead and do it’ — and then I quickly add, ‘but ask and answer one question first: Why? Once you have a reason, then you have a clear agenda. You’ll know what you hope to get out of the call or meeting.’ The purpose of this exercise is to help lonely hearts identify their motives. Getting back together — especially with a jerk — is about finding an antidote to the distress many people feel after a breakup.” If easing your pain is the main motive for reconciling, you probably have some more thinking to do before giving a failed relationship another chance.
2. Look for real change in your ex-partner’s behavior. “I have had the experience of taking back my boyfriend after he did something to really hurt me in the beginning of our relationship,” says Nicole Moore, a love and relationship coach in New York City. “He hurt me and we took a short break, and the thing that made me agree to take him back was that he decided to change all on his own. I let him be, and I didn’t tell him that he needed to change to be with me. I let him go and he came back on his own and apologized, saying: ‘I am going to change with or without you.’ I saw that his conviction to change was coming from a place of wanting to improve his own life and himself as a person no matter what — not out of a desperate attempt to try to get me to be with him again.”
3. Go very slowly while re-establishing your relationship together. “Whether or not you should give a jerk a second chance depends on what makes you think that this person’s a jerk,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., (a.k.a. “Dr. Romance”) psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage (Adams Media). “If someone’s violent, throws temper tantrums, is an addict or an alcoholic, don’t give this person a second chance unless he or she has done some serious rehab. If your ex is a more minor kind of jerk (i.e., this person took you for granted and says he or she has changed), it might be worth a second look. Go very slowly, though — rushing into things means that you’re trying to avoid some truths.”