I Didn’t Mean to Lead You On..Or Did I?

If your actions have caused someone to believe in your continued interest, then you need to take responsibility for that, not blame the other person for trusting you too soon. You can blame the victim all you want, but that’s just an excuse to be a douchebag. – Paula

You can’t force someone to be accountable for their behavior. Either they care or they don’t. Trying to force feed them accountability rarely works. In theory, people “should” take responsibility for being insensitive or self-serving. But most people don’t, whether it be out of arrogance or shame. I think that’s a high expectation to place on someone, unfortunately. I think the people who do practice introspection and self-awareness and can acknowledge their mistakes AND apologize for them are rare. It’s the belief that this is the “typical” way of behaving is why so many people get frustrated in these situations. It’s not typical. It’s sadly atypical. – Moxie

Nobody has to take responsibility for hurting you. Nobody cares. They don’t care enough to wonder about their actions and how they have affected you. You mean nothing to them.  – Vox

I don’t agree that “nobody” cares. Plenty of people do know that they’ve hurt someone or been disingenuous, and they feel like shit for it. I don’t agree that everybody is some soulless douchebag. And it does tend to create this idea amongst those who think this way that it’s perfectly okay to be an asshole. Just because someone might believe they’re not responsible for someone else’s feelings doesn’t mean they can take it a step further and INTENTIONALLY DO OR SAY THINGS that they know will end up hurting someone. Usually those people are damaged or broken in their own way, or pissed off at themselves for being duped, and so they’ve decided that they’re going to continue the cycle of abuse so they can relieve their own pain. – Moxie

I don’t think most people set out to lead someone on or mislead them. Sometimes it happens organically: the intention is there but something or someone else comes along and you get distracted or find yourself losing interest. So you keep putting them off and putting them off, telling yourself you’ll make time for them. There’s a question as to whether we know what we’re doing in those situations. Do we know we’re not interested and are deferring because we just hope the other person will tire of trying eventually? Or do we tell ourselves we are actually interested but just crazy busy or somehow otherwise engaged? Can it be both?

There’s the flip side of the coin. There are the people who hang on to something even though the other person has never promised them anything. There were no expressed intentions. They were just…there. Participating when it worked for them. Abandoning things when it didn’t. In those cases, are they to blame when the person who has latched on to them gets hurt? Do they see what the other person is going through due to this “relationship” and feel bad? Or are they not responsible for how someone else interpreted their actions and words and the importance they placed on them?

How responsible are we for someone else’s feelings? And if we know someone gets hurt by our actions, either because we intentionally mislead them or they chose to believe what they wanted, do we owe them anything?

Do we apologize? Or does that just makes things worse?

I’ve been on both sides of this. I’ve been the one making a sincere apology, and I’ve received a sincere apology. And both times not only did I feel this huge weight lifted from my shoulders for admitting that I was wrong, but I literally saw or felt the transformation that apology had on the other person. Here’s the most powerful thing that can result from a sincere apology. Not only does the guilty party get to unburden themselves, but the person they hurt can be relieved of whatever pain or shame that they have been carrying around with them.

I think when someone disappoints or hurts us, it’s not that we want them just to be responsible for their actions, but we want them to understand how their actions affected us. We want them to feel our pain. We want them to create an itemized list of all the ways and instances where they mislead or hurt us. We don’t just want “I’m sorry.” Those two words, to us in those moments, does not and can not encapsulate everything that had transpired.  But be careful what you wish for. Once those words come tumbling out, others that leave much open to interpretation can follow. You want so badly to fix things and want the other person to know how sincere you are. Unfortunately that  – ensuring you’re perceived in a certain way – becomes the main focus and , well, that basically nulls and voids the actual apology out. So now you’re apologizing for being self-involved…while being self-involved. Apology Fail.

Like I said above…there are a lot of people who walk around feeling not the slightest bit guilty for how they treat others. They have convinced themselves that they are not responsible for someone else’s feelings. And the thing is? They’re not. Nobody can force us to stay hurt and angry. While the initial pain we feel might not be something we can control, it’s a choice to remain in that space in our head. We might never get that apology we crave. We sometimes have to give ourselves that closure.  And that’s going to have to be enough.

But there are others who know, or eventually come around to the fact, that they treated someone badly. The apologies that come from those moments of true introspection are the ones that  mean the most. Unfortunately, we rarely get them. Or give them. We convince ourselves that enough time has passed and the person is probably over it. Or we just shove that memory back down our gullet because  re-living what we did is just too shameful. We like to believe that we’re good people, kind people, with no intention of hurting anyone. Yet, even with these so-called intentions, we do. So what does that say about us?

Now you see why so many people have trouble issuing a genuine apology. To admit you hurt someone is to admit you’re not the person you’d like to think you are.

So here are my questions:

Have you ever done something you knew was hurtful or misleading or in some way “wrong” to someone and issues an apology? Why or why not?

If you knew an apology could alleviate whatever hurt that person was feeling, even if you’re not 100% responsible for it, would you do it?

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24 Responses to “I Didn’t Mean to Lead You On..Or Did I?”

  1. Cricri Says:

    Thanks to the catholic upbringing I have a clear understanding of the consequences of my potential acts; it really helped me actually navigate different cultures and giving apologies regardless of whoever is in front of me. When I was living in Africa, addressing a wrong was something that had to be dealt with almost immediately, kinda like trying to correct the balance and discord that was created. That was I think a more organic way to settle things and not let bad blood fester.
    Fast forward, living here, I found out what I call the “whatever” mentality; few people cared because someone had hurt them at some point and that since they learned to get over it, well you had to also. So I guess everybody would be walking around with a certain amount of resentment. I personally think this is why we have such an amount of violent crime in the US. People are expected to just “deal with it” which will make them look like “winners” and on another side if you don’t have to deal with the consequences ( broken heart, stolen pension…) then why care?
    Also taking responsibility here in the US is not encouraged as it can bring huge penalties on you; some see it as basically confessing your fault which is a liability, therefore while some might understand their part of responsibility, denying or running away from it is the only way they can think of to conserve some kinda of standing in humanity.

  2. Saj Says:

    I spent a good deal this morning apologizing for putting my husband through hell these last couple of weeks. I was reading another blog that was referencing this guy advocating psychological tricks to keep a girl interested which was fairly diabolical.

    Reading it made me sad because it was all about installing dread into the girl to keep her anxious and therefore interested. I knew I had been doing the same thing (not to keep him interested) but just because I’m a fuck up with issues that I didn’t resolve before I got married. I apologized not because I expected forgiveness but I wanted him to know I fully realized what I had done and the hurt I caused and I felt horrible about it.

    I find it hard to believe that people don’t know when their actions are hurting another person. Deep down we always know the right or wrong thing to do but the right thing to do might not get the reward we are after so we justify reasons to ignore that voice. Dog eat dog world right?

    The logic of I’m responsible for what I say but I’m not responsible if they believe me is such hog wash. That is like blaming the elderly who lose their money to a con artist. If I’m making an active choice in my head to mislead someone in the hopes of having my way then I’m just a user, a liar or a coward.

    I’ve known people though who refuse to ever admit any flaw or weakness within themselves to the point where it might just be a psychological disorder. They always have to qualify it. I’m sorry you feel this way. I’m sorry if my actions were harmful but you provoked me to it. There is no reaching these people or expecting a sincere apology but never ever become romantically involved with one or every argument will be a blame fest put squarely on your shoulders.

    • Paula Says:

      Saj :

      The logic of I’m responsible for what I say but I’m not responsible if they believe me is such hog wash….If I’m making an active choice in my head to mislead someone in the hopes of having my way then I’m just a user, a liar or a coward.

      I’ve never agreed more with something you said, Saj, and an anonymous thumbs up just didn’t seem adequate.

  3. Vox Says:

    Well I think we have to put that exchange in context: it was about dating someone a few times and having them “fade” on you after sex. I stand behind my comment about such people: they don’t care. I’ll bet they don’t even notice that they’ve hurt a person. Such is life! We have to work on our own judgment in determining who to let into our lives. If you aren’t willing to do that, more hurt will follow. At some point we’ve all got to take personal responsibility.

  4. Paula Says:

    There are a lot of people who think they “know” me based upon what I post on this blog. But the people who really know me IRL know that what you see is what you get. I sometimes wish I was capable of pretending more than I am, but even despite a background of doing community and high school plays, I’m a lousy actor. However, I think I would be great playing myself (which is probably why I like Matthew McConaughey so much) because I’ve become pretty introspective and self-aware these days.

    I’ve certainly hurt people inadvertently, because they were attaching a different meaning to my words than I was, or because I wasn’t capable of giving them what they wanted. But I have never, never set out to hurt someone intentionally, or to deceive someone intentionally to get what I want. And so when I hurt someone inadvertently, that’s the first aspect of the apology: if you know me, you would know that I never meant to hurt you, and apologize for doing so anyway. That’s not denying responsibility or being insincere…that’s living your life in an honest and ethical way. You don’t have to be religious (and I’m definitely not) to follow the Golden Rule.

    As for the exchange above…to distill my multiple posts on the subject so I’m not spamming the comment section of that post: you’re responsible only for your own actions and words. So, if your actions and words create expectations in other people, then it’s a decent thing to do to address them before exiting stage left. Sure, there are people out there who simply don’t care, but some of them are probably recognizing themselves in this exchange, and will act differently next time. The solution, however, is not to become so cynical that you are incapable of recognizing someone trustworthy — if you do, you’re likely to end up pushing them away because they don’t fit your dysfunctional model. Nor does the decision whether to sleep with someone alter their behavior in the slightest — they just move on to the next person they can delude.

    And if you’re one of those people with a tendency to distort other people’s behavior to think it means more than it does (either because you get too attached from sex or are just delusional that way), hopefully you’ll recognize yourself as well, and stop projecting your own hopes and desires onto them (which just feeds the dysfunction and poor communication) and focus on what they actually say and do.

  5. bob Says:

    I have hurt women by leading them on and not following through. Many times I have led them on because I was interested in them but too insecure to develop. It was immature I know and if I could go back in time and remove the pain from them I would. Moving forward I make it a point not to give signals to a woman unless I will act upon their interest in getting to know me.

    • Paula Says:

      Bob, this is exactly what I mean…you’ve been moved, for whatever reason, from the douchebag category to the decent person category. You didn’t elaborate on how that happened, whether it was due to maturity, or being hurt yourself, becoming more self-aware, or someone pointing it out to you. But it happened, and I’d like to think this dialogue will cause it to happen with more people.

      We talk a lot around here about the gender/biology component which motivates certain behavior, and I usually think that’s bullshit. But this recent conversation almost comes across like “you should consider all guys to be douchebags until proven otherwise.” Pretty much every woman has been hurt by a guy at some point — it’s part of living. But that doesn’t mean that if someone is a guy, you shouldn’t trust him, period. And I hope that I’m never so severely emotionally shattered that I feel that way, even for a second.

      Also, haven’t you ever wondered why we call a certain kind of guy a “douchebag” — a device that is used exclusively by women?

  6. DrivingMeNutes Says:

    “Nobody has to take responsibility for hurting you. Nobody cares. They don’t care enough to wonder about their actions and how they have affected you. You mean nothing to them.”

    This is harsh but generally the truth, I think. My observation is that the expectation some women have that men “should” care about them stems from the relationship many women have with their fathers. They come to believe that all men have their best interests at heart (or should) when the men simply don’t. And, I don’t even really agree “morally” that they should. Dating is often about signaling. So, often, worrying about someone’s feelings is often counterproductive — making you too polite, too concerned and giving the wrong (positive) signals when, really, you should be ending things. This a problem that I have in real life.

    When a person “treats you badly,” or doesn’t meet your expectations of behavior, they are communicating something to you. Either they don’t care about you, or they care about you less than you want them to. That’s a hard message to hear. I get it. But, doesn’t make it untrue.

    As for calling people “douchebags” or other silly names, I guess it’s cathartic and fun to read but I don’t think it’s ever solved the underlying problem. And, as for Karma? You may as well argue that people are going to be punished in the afterlife because at least I can’t DISPROVE that. If there were natural justice in THIS life, we wouldn’t need laws or jails or even moral codes because everything would take just magically care of itself.

    • Paula Says:

      I’m not a Buddhist and no expert on karma, but I think the laws and jails are part of the way that karma polices itself.

      Here’s an example…I have a former roommate/friend who is one of the most negative and narcissistic whiners I ever met. No one had a life as difficult as she did: anyone’s good news just demonstrated how much her life sucked; anyone’s bad news just demonstrated that her life sucked even more than theirs.

      Several years ago, she developed chronic fatigue syndrome. Suddenly, her life really did suck, and she became very dependent on others for help, which due to her prior behavior, wasn’t on the top of anyone’s list. Some people think chronic fatigue is psychosomatic — not a real illness. I believe it’s real, but I also believe that you can introduce so much negativity into your cells that it literally poisons them.

      I wouldn’t wish her condition on anyone, and despite how I felt about her, wouldn’t have wished it on her either. But I do think that it is the best example of karma of which I’m aware (again, no expert — a Buddhist might tell me why it’s not) of the actions throughout her life coming home to roost, literally, at the cellular level.

  7. Vox Says:

    For what it’s worth, accepting the fact that some men just don’t care made me revise my mental “list” of traits I am looking for in a man. I added Compassion and scratched off something I decided was not as important. Why not screen for it? Sure you will get it wrong sometimes, but you’ll still do a lot better.

    • Paula Says:

      If nobody cares, Vox, how can you screen for compassion?

      I’m not saying this to bust your chops (although you’ve given me plenty of reasons to lately). Virtually everything I’ve been saying elevates compassion to an essential trait. Compassion is pretty close to number one on my list, especially since honesty and compassion have to coexist for either one of them to matter. Honesty without compassion is unnecessary brutality; compassion without honesty usually ends up being cowardly dishonesty.

      • Vox Says:

        When I said that “nobody” cares, I wasn’t referring to everyone on the planet. I meant the string of men you speak of as douchebags for sleeping with you and never calling back. I was referring the average stranger match.com you’ve just met.

        People don’t care simply because they have engaged in a series of actions which in your mind dictate that they should care. Date+date+date+ sex doesn’t automatically = honesty and compassion.

        Compassion isn’t close to #1 on your list if you keep having people unceremoniously blow you off. It just isn’t, be honest with yourself. It’s something you theoretically want but don’t actually look for in a man.

        If you want men to care enough to be honest with you about ending things, start sleeping with men who are compassionate and caring. Actively look for it as a character trait. If it’s too soon to make an educated guess (and you really want to get laid), only have sex with men who you sexually want so badly, you don’t care if you never see them again.

      • Paula Says:

        Have I spoke about anyone who has slept with me and not called back? Have I called anyone a douchebag that I’ve been involved with? You keep inferring from the comments that I make that I’m referring to my own life experience on every single thing I’m talking about, yet get upset when I do include information from my own life.

        Obviously, in the post that triggered all of this, the OP believed that the guy liked her after 3 dates and sex. If he did something to make her think he liked her, but it was just so she would sleep with him on date 3, he was a douchebag for pulling the Fade. If he didn’t, and she just projected all that from the fact that he slept with her, then she’s responsible for the hurt she feels. That’s who my comments referenced — I was genuinely trying to help the OP.

        As for my own situation, without going into too many details that no one wants to hear about, in the past year, the most active of my life, I’ve only been blown off once, and I’m pretty sure it didn’t have anything to do with sex (he had a profound dislike of cats, and freaked out when my cat jumped on the bed in the middle of the night). I thought the guy was a coward for ending it the way he did, but since I’d only seen him three times, I didn’t have an emotional investment yet, as it was way too soon for that.

        As for everyone else, I didn’t expect a call back, because it just wasn’t that kind of situation. If I did receive a call back, it was a booty call, and I could decide whether to take it or not. And I haven’t slept with anyone from the online dating service I’m using (not match.com), since I’m not looking at it as a vehicle to get laid. I’ve got other options for that and am using it to find people who are interested in relationships.

        All in all, these days I’m doing far more blowing off than being blown off, or at least haven’t had the choice made for me before I was ready to let go and move on.

        If you’re going to keep throwing my words back at me, at least make an effort to get it right.

      • Vox Says:

        My god, you take things far too personally, and you blow things way out of proportion. My use of the word “you” never did refer specifically to the poster known as Paula. (Though it does now with this post.) All we can do here is speak broadly unless someone provides a specific example. If something I write doesn’t apply to a person, s/he is free to skip it. If you choose to personalize things and get upset about it, that’s your problem.

      • Paula Says:

        Right, Vox. I personalize things way too much and you never refer to me by name. Then what about this:

        >>>Whoops I guess I did mention sex addiction. guess I was thinking about a specific person. ;)

        And Paula, you’ve just old us on another thread that you don’t get to choose the men you are with, they choose you due to weight, age, etc, you are left with the dregs. Sorry, I’m not buying your sexual empowerment bs after reading that. You have none, and have to sleep with whoever will have you. They are probably far more attractive than men who’d actually date you, because men don’t mind stepping WAY down to get laid. Nothing wrong with this per se… It’s your life, and as such that’s fine… but don’t come here and try to convice anyone that you are healthy and empowered when guys fuck you, when you’ve admitted you have no power when it comes to your dinner date.

        I think I understand why accountability is such an issue for you.

  8. Joe Says:

    I agree with many comments, but there is a scenario to be aware of–having one person assume there is more to the relationship than there is. I think this is quite common. (I’ve been there on both sides. It took me years to figure out one and I feel bad since I shouldn’t have been so blind and naive, but I was.)

  9. dimplz Says:

    I have apologized even when I know I wasn’t wrong or the cause of the problem, in order to keep the peace. I have also been apologized to when I know the person wasn’t solely at fault. Sometimes, you have to do the right thing, even when it feels uncomfortable. I learned that from Joyce Meyer ;-)

    As far as misleading someone, I haven’t done that intentionally. It’s not really the kind of person I am, and I have a nagging conscience that doesn’t allow me to be angry at someone for long.

    Just recently, I approached someone that I had a disagreement with and just hugged them. It had such an extraordinary effect, and we both apologized to each other. You’d be surprised what a sincere affectionate gesture will do to someone.

  10. Vox Says:

    Paula :
    Right, Vox. I personalize things way too much and you never refer to me by name. Then what about this:
    >>>Whoops I guess I did mention sex addiction. guess I was thinking about a specific person.
    And Paula, you’ve just old us on another thread that you don’t get to choose the men you are with, they choose you due to weight, age, etc, you are left with the dregs. Sorry, I’m not buying your sexual empowerment bs after reading that. You have none, and have to sleep with whoever will have you. They are probably far more attractive than men who’d actually date you, because men don’t mind stepping WAY down to get laid. Nothing wrong with this per se… It’s your life, and as such that’s fine… but don’t come here and try to convice anyone that you are healthy and empowered when guys fuck you, when you’ve admitted you have no power when it comes to your dinner date.
    I think I understand why accountability is such an issue for you.

    Good grief, Paula, not everything written on this blog is about you. I was referring to my recently deceased father when I mentioned sex addiction, but decided I didn’t want to go into it because that is a personal tangent. My god, are you this self-centered in real life?

    As for the rest of what you have quoted, if you don’t want anyone to comment on your words, then don’t post them. You dominate every singe topic of discuss with your personal life, then get upset when someone actually reads your words and comments. I don’t read everything you write because I don’t view you as the main attraction when it comes to this blog. Sometime I do read your words and I comment on them. If you reading the comments of strangers upsets you so much, don’t post so many personal details.

    • Paula Says:

      Vox — Read or don’t read, but when you use the reply or quote function or my name, I’ll assume you’ve read what you’re responding to. Comment on what I say all you want; just don’t try to pretend you’re not doing so when you’re called on it.

      And as you’ve said, you can’t control anyone else’s behavior, so I’m not trying to control yours. But saying things like “dregs,” “have to sleep with whoever will have you,” “stepping way down,” “[not] healthy and empowered,” well, that says more about your character than mine, especially since it was responding to a post where I wasn’t discussing my own situation. Is it really that hard to respond to the post and not the person?

      You don’t know anything about me in real life, but I’ve never had a single person accuse me of being self-centered. But really, as you said it already: nobody cares.

      • Vox Says:

        Your assumptions are the very reason for your comments which started this thread. And my reaction is the same as MY comments which stress this thread: I don’t care. Your assumptions and the emotions you have as a result are of no consequence to me. you need to get ahold of your emotions and develop some emotional maturity, rather than demanding everyone else conform to what makes YOU comfortable. because… the rest of us don’t care about your feelings. we are just e-strangers.

  11. Paula Says:

    If you’re the benchmark for emotional maturity, Vox, I surely hope I never develop it. Because it’s hardly characterized by a complete failure to take someone else’s feelings into account, and a lack of accountability for one’s own actions, which is exactly what you’ve advocated throughout this and other threads.

    • DrivingMeNutes Says:

      Wait, why do we need to take personal accountability? Karma will handle everything. It’s like our personal concierge.

  12. Kurt Says:

    What’s the rule when a woman completely mistakes friendliness for attraction? One time I started talking to a girl I would frequently see at my health club when I ran into her after a charity road race. Apparently she thought I was totally into her, although I did not realize that at the time. I would say hello when I would see her at the health club after that but never went out of my way to talk to her. She asked me if I wanted to meet up for lunch and I kind of assumed it was a friendly thing, but she ended up getting upset when she asked me whether I was going to ask her out and said “no.” Am I to blame for her delusions? I wasn’t trying to lead her on – I assumed that because I never asked her out and didn’t try to hook up with her that she would figure out that I only viewed her as a friend. Apparently I was wrong.

    • Angeline Says:

      I don’t know about a rule, but I’d say an answer is that you had a brush with ‘teh crazy’ – just be grateful you didn’t ask her out.

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