Oh no, he hasn’t responded to my text yet. He’s blowing me off.
She’s yawning. I’m boring her.
“Mindreading,” as in leaping to conclusions about what the other person is thinking, can be a common trap in relationships—especially when the two of you are just getting to know one another. Whether it is one person or both people, the negative self-talk and overthinking of dynamics in a new dating situation can be a source of unnecessary pain and can kill an otherwise good relationship before it has had a chance to grow.
The mindreading trap can also be hard to avoid. Some of us are especially prone to it. Self-esteem issues, past relationship trauma or anxieties about dating can cause a person to put their date’s every action under the microscope. (Learn how interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy at FHE Health are helping people overcome unhealthy thoughts and self-destructive behaviors.) One consequence of all their internal overthinking is that they do not pick up on cues or actions. Their lens is smudged by the constant chatter of their own self-talk.
There is good news, though, for those of us who regularly fall into the mindreading trap: We can learn to stop thinking for the other person in a dating relationship. What follow are some tips and insights for how to do that.
Cultivate and Practice Self-Love
Ever hear the expression “You cannot find love if you do not love yourself”? Relationships can bring many things. Healthy activity. Companionship. Intimacy. Belonging. Dependence. Responsibilities. Commitment, and yes, sometimes love. But none of these things can give you the feeling that loving yourself does. That is something that is very special and can only come from within.
Mindreading is the opposite of loving yourself. It usually manifests as self-criticism or self-judgment, so when a person is intentionally cultivating and practicing self-love? Mindreading will come less easily.
Adjust Expectations and Try Not to Take Things So Seriously
When is a date not a date? When it is the rest of your life, all your happiness, and all the self-worth in the world. That is a lot!
I once had a patient who was a successful, attractive man, and he came to see me about not being able to find a woman worth marrying. He went on to tell me about how there were no good women in our city, that he knew all the warning signs of a loser and could decide in 10 minutes on a date if a woman was “marriage material.” I asked him how this approach was working for him. He agreed that it wasn’t.
I invited him to sit back, start at the beginning and look at how he saw himself and what he might be doing that was self-defeating. He recognized that his interviewing for life in the first 10 minutes on a first date was overkill, and luckily, he changed his approach to making a date just a dinner and not the inquisition. (It worked: He found a wife).
Do not care so much and you will find that you go with the flow and just enjoy an experience. Rather than turning a perfectly good evening into a do-or-die, “they must like me” moment, try to enjoy opportunities for what they are: a nice dinner, a fun event, or just going out with someone. People do not find desperation attractive. Show interest in someone else and stop overthinking the situation. Give it a chance. Look at a new relationship as a chance for some fun, a possible friend, or just a night out. It takes the sting of setting up high expectations.
Remember the Main Reasons That Mindreading Is a Trap
Now, not everything is as simple to address. There is often work involved, but at the core of self-defeating processes is one of the biggies, mindreading. Unless you are a fortune teller or psychic who makes money reading minds for a living—(and there is a lot of speculation about this practice to begin with)—do not say of a new date, “I know what they are thinking…” Here is what can be wrong with that.
- It could be projection. People tend to think other people are thinking what they are thinking. If the thoughts in your head are negative, you perceive others as thinking negatively towards you. If the thoughts in your head are positive, then others’ thoughts just do not mean much. (Even if others’ thoughts are negative, they are not that impactful.) Say, for example, you are giving a presentation and you look around the room to discover some people on their phones. The thought may be, “I am a terrible speaker” or “no one is getting anything out of my talk,” when really people are just phone-crazy and cannot get away from their emails and texts. After your presentation, when people say something appreciative, you might then discount it because not everyone in the audience gave you their rapt attention.
- It could be a misread. One example might be a person thinking that that hot guy or gal on the dating app looked at their picture. They might immediately think, “That hot guy or gal must like me.” Wrong. Just looking at profiles. (Funny how people think incorrectly about the hot ones but pay no attention to the not-so-hot ones.) Then when the hot guy or gal does not respond, big letdown—when there was nothing going on from the start.
If in Doubt, Ask
If you are in doubt about something, ask. Better to ask than to assume. Remember the old saying, “when you ‘assume,’ you make an ass of out of u and me.” Don’t drag past baggage over needing to be liked into a new relationship—it is not going to help. Be open, honest, and talk about the reaction or the situation. It may not be a match. If it is not one, then let it go and move on.
After all, if you love yourself, it is a privilege for someone to get to have you in their life. If you do not love yourself, then you are lucky to get what the universe spits out and settle for not being alone.
Try and take the teeth out of having to be loved by anyone you want to be loved by. They get to make choices, have their own preferences, and just like you do not say “yes” to every date. They may not say “yes” to you, but do not give up.
Great friends are like priceless pearls. They are valued because they are rare. The same is true with romantic interests. It can be nice to just feel a spark; it does not have to go all out to be good, so keep it in perspective. Get to know someone, and do not pressure it or try and “read between the lines.” Make less demands, enjoy the moment and move on when you need to move on.
This article was provided by Dr. Beau A. Nelson, DBH, LCSW, who is Chief Clinical Officer at the national behavioral health provider FHE Health.