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Thursday, March 22, 2018 12:01 am

Flee-bitten

PHOTO COURTESY AMY ALKON
Amy Alkon
For three months, things were going really well with this man I was dating. He’d introduced me to his daughter. We’d even planned a trip together. And then he just disappeared. I eventually texted him to find out what happened, but he simply texted back, “Really busy, all good.” This isn’t the first time this has happened to me or my girlfriends. Why do men do this? Why don’t they tell you what’s really going on? – Upset

When a guy just cuts you off like a bad tree limb, it’s tempting to come up with ego-cushioning explanations: He’s in a coma! He’s trapped in a wooded gully in his crashed car! He’s being interrogated at a CIA black site! (“Sorry … Mr. Jones is getting a series of painful electric shocks to his nipples right now and cannot come to the phone.”)

However, the best explanation for this man’s disappearance is probably textbook stuff – psych textbook, that is, and specifically a couple of personality traits. One of these is “conscientiousness.” And the bad side of the spectrum is being “low in conscientiousness” – psychologists’ term for a person who is careless, irresponsible, impulsive, lacking in self-control, and who habitually ducks his obligations (as if they were flaming arrows).

The other trait is the unfortunately named “psychopathy.” Though it calls to mind shower-stabbing hobbyists, it doesn’t necessarily lead to murderous rampages. Still, it isn’t exactly the personality trait of angelic hospice nurses, as it’s marked by exploitiveness, aggression, poor impulse control, self-centeredness and a lack of empathy.

Low conscientiousness and psychopathy partner up into an inability or unwillingness to admit to being wrong. Apologizing takes emotional strength and character strength – the conscientiousness and empathy that leave the wrongdoer feeling borderline queasy until they come clean and express remorse to the person they hurt.

It isn’t just men who do the disappearo thing; it’s anyone low on conscientiousness. The problem is, when love appears to be on the horizon, we want to believe more than we want to see. It’s helpful to take an almost pessimistic approach to any new relationship: Assume a man has flaws; figure out what they are; and decide whether any are deal breakers. This takes observing his behavior over time (at least a year) in a variety of situations – especially crisis situations. You want to know that when the chips are down, a man’ll have your back – and not just to use you as a human shield so the SWAT team snipers won’t pick him off.

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