‘If Only I’d Listened To My Gut…’

If you feel that something isn’t quite right about the person you’re dating, pay attention: your gut instincts are usually right.

By Diane Mapes

e all have that little voice, that soft internal whisper that tells us when something’s not quite right in the old romance department. The problem is we don’t always listen to it, especially when other people are whispering in our ear, interfering with the signal. “I was out with a group of friends at a
Interestingly enough, the “voice” isn’t always a voice.
local pub and there was a man there who was obviously interested in me,” says Debbie B., a 45-year-old engineer from Portland, OR. “I wasn’t the least bit attracted to him but my girlfriend kept telling me that I needed to be more ‘open to the possibility’ of something happening. I’m sure my two-year hiatus from dating was beginning to concern her.”

So Debbie ignored her gut and went on a date with the guy. Unfortunately, within minutes of sitting down to drinks, she was already looking for the door. “For starters, he was loud, as in everybody in the place would turn and give him a dirty look,” says Debbie. Then there were his mafia conspiracy theories… and his firm conviction that granting women the right to vote was “the worst thing that ever happened in American history.”

“I was convinced I was being taped for an episode of Punk’d,” says Debbie, “but I finally excused myself, gave our waitress some money and walked home. From now on, I listen very closely to my inner voice. It has never been wrong.”

‘I wish I would have listened to my gut!’
According to Jennifer Gauvain, a licensed clinical social worker from St. Louis, MO, Debbie’s experience is fairly common. “A lot of people on my couch will say, ‘I wish I would have listened to that little voice. I wish I would have trusted my gut,’ whether it’s regarding a new job, a new relationship or a marriage,” says Gauvain. “We all have that voice within us, that intuition — especially women — but we don’t always pay attention to it. We think, ‘Maybe it will work. Maybe I can make him into the husband I need’ — but it never happens.”

As co-author of the forthcoming book, How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy: Is He the One or Should You Run? A Guide for Living Happily Ever After, Gauvain interviewed hundreds of people about their romantic intuition and found that the little voice was inevitably spot-on. “We spoke to over 200 different women and they all talked about this inner voice,” says Gauvain. “For those who went ahead and married when they thought it wouldn’t work out, it didn’t. None of those marriages succeeded.”

Devils, dialogues and bad dreams
Interestingly enough, the “voice” isn’t always a voice. “Sometimes it can be a dialogue with yourself, like the angel and devil sitting on your shoulder,” explains Gauvain. “It can be a nagging feeling you have in the pit of your stomach. It can even be some chronic physical symptom, like an ulcer or migraine.”

Roger W., a 55-year-old English professor from Charleston, SC says his “little voice” would often manifest itself as depression or sleeplessness. “I would go for days with just a couple of hours of sleep,” Roger admits. “Or I’d get depressed. And people would always tell me I needed medication or antidepressants or something. And I’d just think, ‘No, I think I need to just get away from you.’”

Some people’s intuition even speaks to them in their sleep, according to Gauvain: “One woman had a dream for six nights straight that she was caught in some natural disaster, either a fire or a hurricane or an earthquake. But after each disaster, she was fine. What she took from that was that breaking up with the guy might be a mess at first, but eventually she would be okay. So she broke up with him and the dreams stopped. She’s now happily married to someone else and doesn’t have those kinds of dreams anymore.”

Gauvain says that while the “little voice” can take a variety of shapes, its purpose is always the same. “I tell people that the voice is their warning system,” she says. “It lets you know when things aren’t quite right. You don’t have to overreact to the gut feeling, just pay attention to it. Give it some thought. Give it the awareness that it needs.”

Spotting the stinkers
Dale Koppel, author of The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Online Dating, says she found it was actually possible to hone her instincts to the point
He was just so charming and quick to offer excuses.
where she could tell whether someone was right for her just by reading the emails she received or the tone of their initial phone conversation. “It’s practice makes perfect,” says Koppel. “I dated hundreds of men over a three-year period and I’m happy to say I developed confidence in my gut. If a man said ‘My ex-wife is such an idiot!’ during our first phone conversation, my little voice would say, This is a man who carries a grudge, can’t let go and is too negative. Next!”

Unfortunately, for every date that immediately raises a red flag, there’s another who trickily evades your early warning system. Misty B., a 40-year-old business developer from Los Angeles, CA says she definitely had misgivings during the six months she dated one man (case in point, he once forgot her name — after they’d been dating steadily for four months!), but the guy always seemed to have an easy explanation for everything that triggered a red flag.

“I felt that something wasn’t right, but he was so smooth and had a quick answer for everything,” recalls Misty. “When he forgot my name, he said that it was because he was really stressed out. And when I found a pink razor in the shower, he said his daughter had just come to visit. And when I asked why he wasn’t close with his family, he said it was because of his crazy ex-wife. He was just so charming and quick to offer excuses.”

After six months, though, Misty’s gut went on red alert. “My mother died suddenly and he was really sweet about it, telling me to call him anytime, even at two in the morning, while I was back at home,” Misty says. “But whenever I called him, it went directly to voicemail. So I finally listened to my gut and realized something was really wrong.” Misty started making phone calls and surfing around — and soon learned that her fabulous boyfriend had a gambling problem, a drinking problem, had been involved in several shady business deals and even proposed to another woman while they were together.

Now, Misty says, she listens to her gut earlier on and isn’t swayed by charmers who offer easy explanations: “I’ve decided that before I get really invested in someone, I’m going to run a background check on my date. Also, really check out each person’s family and friends.”

Employ your backup systems
What’s more, Misty says she’s going to tap her family and friends for their gut feelings, too. “There’s always one person in the family — for me, it’s my uncle — and he’s going to be my gut-check person now,” Misty says. “He never liked the excuses guy, but he never told me that. So I told him, the next time I bring someone around, I want your honest opinion.”

Bottom line: The next time you’re dating someone and your gut says that something is off, trust your instincts. If you’re not sure whether you’re just being paranoid, get a second (or even third!) opinion from trusted friends and family. If your backup system’s impression of someone matches your gut instincts, listen up; it just might make the difference between regret and romance.

Diane Mapes is a freelance writer based in Seattle and the author of How to Date in a Post-Dating World. She can be reached via her Web site,
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