Am I supposed to be concerned about this?

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Should you trust your gut reaction? To what extent should you rely on your intuition? If something leaves you with an uneasy feeling, should you take that as a red flag, or should you rather assume that it is just a product of nerves? If your date speaks in what you feel is an overconfident tone, you may instinctively sense something is “off.” Or, if your date comes across as overly insecure about a forthcoming meeting, you may get the feeling that there is something not quite right. It could also be the other way around, and you may be quick to believe in the person you are dating, certain in your sentiment that this person is “great.” What role should your gut-feeling play in dating?

Instincts are important, but sometimes misguided.

Our instincts are amazing things that allow us to distill highly complex calculations into simple perceptions that allow us to make choices. However, sometimes our instincts are incredibly unreliable. There are times when we would imagine something to be bad for us when it is actually good for us – and vice versa. When it comes to dating, this is an all-too-common problem. Our intuition is capable of leading us astray for years, and we still don’t think to question it. So, if you are not seeing things work out as you imagined, it is time to question your instincts. Is what you think you like really what you need? Is your manner of approaching your dating really helping you? Your instincts are important, but they can often be misguided.

Understanding your instincts.

On the one hand, you should never ignore your gut feelings. You have the capacity to have such feelings for a reason. Here is the psychology: In life, we have to make decisions all the time, some of which are important to keep us safe from harm. The problem is that we don’t always have the luxury to research and analyze all sides of the issue. When a bear is coming towards us in a forest, we don’t have a whole lot of time to think about what to do next. Every second we take up assessing our options, could be the difference between life and death. That is why our instincts are so valuable. They allow us to make a split-second decision based on our stored knowledge which are organized in our brain into schemas, or mental maps, that connect all the information we have accumulated.  

But we need to recognize that this great strength of instincts – the ability to make super-fast decisions – has severe limitations. A snap reaction can only draw on existing knowledge, and does not allow for additional information to be gathered. Additionally, it does not allow room for reflection, which can help to consider the issue from various angles and thus select the more suitable measure to take. Most people have very little experience with bears, and there is no way of knowing whether their first response will be appropriate. Many people may judge that the best thing to do is run as fast as possible, but in most encounters with bears that would be the absolutely worst thing to do.

Your gut shouldn’t dictate your decision about marriage.

Your gut is best able to digest food, not to handle complex reasoning; and deciding who should be your life partner can most certainly be complicated. Your intuition should be taken seriously and listened to, but only insofar as it urges you to take a careful look at the issue, not as the arbiter of what is right. You are feeling uneasy that she has a bad relationship with her mother? Fine, ask her to explain more about it. Take the time to consider the matter from more than one perspective. If unsure, consult someone with more life experience or knowledge than you. 

Don’t ignore your instincts.

Don’t silence your instincts, and don’t brush aside your “sixth sense.” It may be alerting you to something important that you cannot afford to ignore. If he says he hates his job, you may worry that he has a problem getting along with people, or that he has difficulty holding down a job. If that is indeed the case, you have legitimate cause for concern. However, it is just as possible that there is nothing seriously wrong with him, and that it would be wrong to use this as a reason to lose interest in the relationship. It would be best to gently raise your concerns on your next date and seek to better understand what has happened. If things don’t seem to add up, it would be advisable to discuss with someone who can help you think it through – if the person is an otherwise suitable match. 

Your instinct helps you notice an issue, then do some thinking.

It is vital that such evaluations are conducted in an atmosphere that is free of pressure. In highly pressured situations, one’s instincts are most helpful. Here you need a low pressure environment, where you can assess the situation properly. You may feel under pressure to wrap things up, as the dating has been dragging on a bit. Make a consistent effort to put aside all such considerations. Your instinct has served its purpose; it has got you to notice the issue. Now you need to allow your rational faculties to do the work. If you find it difficult to screen out the “noise”, work through the matter with someone else. It will make it a great deal easier to focus on the issue itself.

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