It wasn’t obvious that he was defensive, at least not at first. He was fun to talk with. We’d spend hours on the phone and not even be aware of how much time had passed. He was so attentive and excited about me. We shared many of the same views and experiences in life. And if we differed, it disappeared in the fog of our romance. But after a while and bye-and-bye, the fog began to lift.
So what do you mean when you say “defensive?” I think most of us recognize the blaring signs: he is easily upset or overly critical right off the bat. Sometimes defensiveness is more subtle though. It can simply be that his interaction with you is underwhelming, guarded or confusing.
Here is my short list of do-not-ignore signs:
- He doesn’t have a good relationship with his mother or he makes you feel lacking in comparison. Sure, a man should regard what his mother says and treat her with respect and love; but if he can’t attach to you because he is overly attached to her; then there is a problem.
- He pushes for you to look or behave a certain way. For example, you might prefer your hair short and sassy, but he insists that you grow it long. In fact, he schedules you an appointment with his cousin who does weaves and shows you a picture of how he wants it to look. That might sound extreme but, believe me, there are some men out there who can’t love you unless you fit their ideal.
- He refers to women with mistrust. You get the feeling that outside of attraction and sex, he doesn’t have a favorable view of womanhood. It’s as if he’s nursing a grudge from a past offense and despite how loving and attentive you are to his needs, your efforts are overshadowed by some phantom from the past. He may even withhold attention or affection, referencing some erroneous belief that to give you those things would enable you to hurt him in some way.
- He is quick to go on the attack or on the defense. Blaming and shaming is his response when you share your feelings or an observation of him. “You are too emotional,” he might say. Or he gets bent out of shape easily. My all time favorite? Tit for tat. You point out something that he’s doing that bothers you and he deflects by pointing out what you do that bothers him.
- He may threaten to leave you, distance himself in some way from you or make it difficult for you to get back in his good graces. He can be punitive in his disposition or can have a cavalier attitude. Most insidious in my opinion is the silent treatment. Say, you’ve apologized but he is still emotionally removed from you. To me, that’s very controlling and is a telling sign of how he deals with conflict. Sidebar: when he asks you what’s wrong, don’t say “nothing” when you know good and well that mad is written all over your face. It’s just as wrong when you do it as when he does it.
- He hates another person just because of their race or culture. Admittedly, we all have dislikes and preferences but a bigot takes dislike or preference to a harmful and dehumanizing level. I believe this. If you have ever been oppressed by a people or a culture, it is just as wrong for you to become the oppressor when you are in a position of power.
I must interject here that figuring out if your date or your man is defensive isn’t always immediate. Neither is it an exact science. There are aspects of maleness that are just…..well…how he is wired.
For instance, men love attention. I’ve been told that the best first date icebreaker is asking a man about himself. Men LOVE to talk about themselves. Here’s a good litmus test. If every time you are with him you feel like he is more interested in talking about himself and his needs than being interested in yours then you need to take note. If his is the only reflection he sees in his mirror, then he can’t see you. And if he can’t see you, he darn sure can’t date you.
Another aspect of maleness is how he responds to stress. Men process things internally first. Women tend to process things externally by talking about them. Please don’t assume that he is defensive just because he prefers not to engage in exhaustive communication about a problem or a difficulty with you. He only wants to know one thing — how to solve it. As long as he handles your feelings well, you just have to accept that about him.
A man may be public with affection but he’s normally more private with his emotions. That’s just how most men are. So if he’s not gushing about how his friend broke his toy when he was little during the beginning stages of dating, don’t penalize him. If, however, you’ve been dating for a while and he is persistently secretive, guarded or detached, then that’s something you must not ignore.
One final piece of advice. If you have found a good man, a loving man, then handle him with care. Even a good man who adores you can become defensive if mishandled. Listen very very closely. If your man decides to share his soft underbelly with you, you must never EVER throw it back up in his face or dismiss it like it’s a small thing. Even if you are mad as fire at something he’s done or said and feel that you won’t ever get over it, tell him you need some time to process it. Yes, even grown folks need to put themselves in time-out sometimes. In an episode of Ice Loves Coco, Ice T said something that caught my attention. “You have to realize that a disagreement isn’t all-out war. It’s just a difference.” Differences can be negotiated. Character flaws cannot.
Fog is part of the euphoria of romance. It can’t be avoided. Given time, the fog lifts and you see the person for who they are. Steve Harvey suggests waiting until at least 90 days before having sex for that very reason. I’ve also read books by Dr. Phil and Ronn Elmore. I can’t remember if they concur with the time frame but I do know they agree that it takes time to really know a man. Regardless, there’s one thing I know for sure. Time with you will not fix what’s broken. I feel like I need to say it again. Time with you will not fix what’s broken. We somehow think that a man will change if given more time. A leopard is a leopard and will continue to be a leopard no matter how much time you give it. Likewise, if a man’s a critic at the beginning of the relationship, he’ll be a bigger critic the same time next year.