Wouldn’t it be great to meet a mysterious, handsome stranger, or fall for the manic pixie dream girl who’ll change your life, just like in the movies? Well, not really. Jumping into relationships with people you hardly know is a reason why so many people—men and women—end up with jerks over and over. For those who are puzzling over why they seem to fall for the same kind of guy or girl, Anne-Celeste Openshaw teaches a free monthly three-week class on How to Avoid Falling for a Jerk or Jerkette (July 2, 9, & 16, 6:15 p.m., Salt Lake County Government Building, North Building, Room 4017, 2001 S. State, 385-468-4834, HealthyRelationshipsUtah.org). Dinner is included, and though the program uses a male-female relationship model, anyone is welcome—finding a healthy relationship applies to anybody, Openshaw says.
Why do people like jerks?
There are a lot of reasons. One of them is that people may just have past hurts that haven’t been taken care of, either from their family or from past relationships—divorce, maybe, or emotional needs that have been left unfulfilled in some way. And they tend to look past red flags and go for people that probably aren’t a good match for them.
How can you fix those personal issues?
We raise questions. We have them look in the mirror at themselves and see, “Whoa, are there things I need to address?” We don’t get in too deep, but we kind of point out the way to change. If you need to change, you need new information—it could be a book, it could be counseling. We kind of point them in that direction.
Why do my friends always fall for the same kind of terrible people?
A lot of people do that, and they do it because they want to change the ending. They want to have a different outcome, so they do the same thing over and over again, thinking they’ll fix it.
What are some common jerk traits to watch out for?
We’re not a class where we look around and say, “That person’s a jerk.” We say that a “jerk” is someone who it’s difficult to be in a relationship with. The No. 1 trait is they don’t know how they come across to people, and they don’t care, and they don’t want to change. They don’t want to take the time and look to see how their actions are hurting other people. And if they do know, they still don’t want to change. There are tons of different things where that manifests itself—abuse, and just meanness, people who aren’t kind. Their not wanting to change is the bottom line—that’s how we define a jerk.
Is there a lid for every pot or are some people just bad in relationships?
We go into more than just jerks—we go into compatibility. Sometimes there are good people, and you just don’t have enough in common—you’re not compatible enough to make a go of a long-term relationship. But then there are people who truly are jerks, whether they’re abusive—and that wouldn’t be good for anyone—or people who just aren’t very responsible. Maybe there’s someone who would be OK with it, but usually, if someone’s a true jerk, they’re probably not good for anyone at that time. We talk about how they need to make changes in their lives before they’re healthy, and you need to look at what’s going on in your life that makes you make unhealthy choices.
Have you fallen for a jerk?
Oh yeah, of course; who hasn’t? People probably learn too much about my stupid dating antics in my stories—I figure, learn from my stories, learn from my jerky high school boyfriend or from the really good guy who I know now. The main jerk one was, he wasn’t very nice. He would stand me up or be late, and I kept letting it go—I was in high school.
How do you avoid falling for a jerk?
We talk about FACES—an acronym for areas we want to get to know about somebody: their family, their attitudes and actions, compatibility, examples of other relationships, and relationship skills. We also have the relationship-attachment model. It talks about the logical bonding links in relationships: Know, trust, rely, commit and touch. Those are just the order you get to know people. Even for a friend, you want the first three.
Does starting with “touch” throw off the balance?
We talk about that—keeping those in order. We’re not telling you what to do or what not to do, but we basically say that you don’t want one level to get higher than the previous level. You don’t want to trust someone more than you know them; you don’t want to rely on someone more than you can trust them; or touch them more than you’re committed.
So it doesn’t work like Sex & the City—sleeping with a stranger, then building a relationship?
It doesn’t work. You have a better chance of having a long and healthy relationship if you’re using your head and your heart together. Following those patterns helps you be more knowledgeable. It’s not a class where we’re like, “Don’t date this kind of person”; it’s a class that raises a lot of questions. It helps people look at their relationships that they’re in right now, or that they have been in. And that’s what the key is: Using your head and your heart together. Not just following your heart blindly—also using your mind and thinking, “What should I get to know about this person?”
What do you need to know about someone before you get too involved?
Well, it’s huge to look at the family background. Also, looking at someone’s conscious. How do they treat the people around them? What’s their pattern of treatment of people in general? How they’ve treated other people is eventually how they’re going to treat you. And look at their basic relationship skills—do they say please and thank you? These are things people overlook because they’re just enamored with somebody.
If I just can’t trust anyone anymore, will your class fix that?
It’s more about arming people with what they we need to know. We talk a little bit about different definitions for trust. We call it the trust picture—it’s basically your opinion of someone. So you have to find out if what you think about them really matches who they are. You find that stuff out by dating someone—by taking that time and investing in the relationship. Of the three weeks, we spend 60 to 70 percent talking about the areas to get to know about people. So hopefully that will help people who have trust issues to feel more armed—“OK, I do have trust issues, but I have this new knowledge that I can start applying to find out things about people before I get burned.”