I am not a trusting person. This stems from a childhood with a deadbeat biological father who made a ton of promises he didn’t intend to keep. Yes, clichéd “daddy issues.” One of the many reasons I knew my husband was the one I wanted to marry is because he is the first man I have ever trusted completely that I wasn’t related to. Trust is something that has to be earned with me. It is not a given, and it is not innocent until proven guilty. I also don’t give people the benefit of the doubt very often. Yes, sometimes a person can say stupid shit because they are young or sheltered or ignorant about a certain topic. I leave a little wiggle room, but mostly I operate by the adage that says when someone shows you who they really are, believe them. All too often I am faced with situations where people explain or rationalize away poor behavior by others and then are surprised when that person does something shitty to them.
The other night, my husband and I were hanging out with two of our very good friends. At one point the discussion turned to a guy in our peripheral group. I do not like this guy. I did not like this guy from the night I met him. He said some stupid stuff, like the fact that he was “color-blind,” to which I replied, “how nice that must be for you as an upper middle class white guy.” When I called him out on it, he was adamant in his position and unwilling to recognize how dismissive he was being to the experiences of people of color, even after another friend, who is black, tried to explain it to him. I had already gotten a weird vibe off the guy; that exchange cemented my opinion. When he came up the other night, my husband and our friend were defending this guy against my “I don’t like him” position, saying that I was being mean and judgmental. As the conversation progressed, they started bringing up other situations they had been in with him that made them really uncomfortable because he seemed really controlling with his wife. The looks of dawning realization on their faces were priceless and horrified. I asked my husband if he thought I was a good judge of character (I am); he admitted that I was an excellent judge of character (smart man).
Why do we do this? Why do we ignore potential red flags and give people passes instead of trusting our instincts? While this is definitely not a women-only phenomenon, I think as women we are typically socialized to do it more than men. We don’t call people out because it would be rude, or people would think we are bitches, or we chalk it up to someone having a bad day. I was talking to my sister-in-law about this the other day in regards to my 5- and 7-year-old nieces. We talked about the fact that, in an effort to teach them politeness, we are often unconsciously teaching them that their feelings aren’t valid. For instance, my older niece has a coach that she isn’t comfortable with. She doesn’t have a hard and fast reason why, she just isn’t. She is totally fine with one coach, but there is something about the other that makes her leery. I applaud my sister-in-law for her response, which is to limit my niece’s interactions with that coach and not grill my niece for an explanation. She feels how she feels.
Too often we are expected to have a hard and fast reason for not liking someone or not being comfortable with them. Instead of trusting our gut, or being honest about a person’s faults, we rationalize away too much negativity. We ignore the warning signs, turn the other cheek when insulted, or give people passes they don’t deserve. We don’t want to be mean or rude, so we second guess ourselves. Even though I have a lifetime of trust issues, I’ve still done it more often than I’d like to admit. I made excuses for my ex’s completely inexcusable behavior for so long I lost myself in the process. I won’t do that anymore. I don’t deserve it; nobody deserves it. Nobody deserves to be treated poorly by a partner, a friend, a boss, or a stranger on the street. Common courtesy is wonderful, but that doesn’t mean we have to extend it to the undeserving.