You’re out with a guy you really like, and your fun evening is quickly disintegrating into your worst nightmare.
He’s in a mood, and you don’t know why. He’s not really talking. He just sits there.
What do you do?
- Act cheerful and bubbly in hopes your mood will lift him up.
- Keep on talking—you can carry both sides of a conversation.
- Pretend that nothing is wrong.
- Ask him what’s up.
For more years than I care to admit, I chose Options 1-3.
Growing up, I’d paid close attention to the way women in my family dealt with their men’s moods.
They never EVER drew attention to the fact that these men were glowering in a corner, sucking every ounce of energy from the room.
As far as they were concerned, a man in a mood was an embarrassment that brought shame on what was supposed to be a bright, happy family gathering.
If they couldn’t fix his mood, then they were just going to ignore it.
Fast forward to my twenties, when I had my first real adult relationships. What did I do when I found myself alone with a man in a mood?
I tried to fix it.
I tried to ignore it.
And I REALLY took it personally.
Surely, if a man cared about you, he’d make an effort. He wouldn’t bring his bad mood along on a date and bring you down, too.
If I tried to break him out of his bad mood and it didn’t work, I immediately assumed two things: (1) he must have found my attempts to make him feel better ridiculous, and (2) his bad mood surely had something to do with me.
Great, I’d think. A wasted evening. This is probably the last time I’ll ever see him again.
There’s a better way.
Here’s Your Choice: Disconnection or Connection
When we see someone who’s not acting like their usual self, we have two choices:
We can either disconnect (by pretending we don’t see it, or trying to snap them out of it, or resenting them)…
Or we can connect.
Any time you take another person’s mood personally, you set the stage for disconnection.
You see their mood as a problem to be fixed. You just want them to go back to how they normally are. You’re annoyed, to tell the truth.
Any time you see another person’s mood as a sign they’re in pain, you set the stage for connection.
You want them to know that you see them. You feel with them. You’ve been in moods before, and you know how hard it can be to shake off.
What I didn’t understand for years is that sometimes people in pain just want someone to notice. They want someone to care.
They don’t want to be fixed. They know that their mood is causing issues, but they don’t know how to get rid of it. They’d have preferred to cancel their outing with you, but they didn’t want to disappoint you. And now they’re disappointing you anyway.
Which makes them feel worse…
Which makes their mood even darker…
What a MESS!
The Mood Test
No one is “on” all the time.
Sometimes we don’t feel like ourselves. We don’t feel up to socializing. And yet we have to do it anyway, because we can’t cancel our lives every time we feel down.
What makes romantic relationships special is that they’re safe havens.
Even if you have to hide your mood out in the world, you don’t have to hide your mood with your partner. Your partner wants to know why you’re feeling bad. Your partner wants to be there for you.
So, in a strange way, his mood is actually an opportunity to test your romantic potential.
Are you able to pivot when he’s not feeling up to your usual chatty date?
Can he feel safe not being his best around you?
Do you still expect him to manage your feelings when he’s not managing his own very well?
And—just as important—can he receive support from you?
Or does being in a bad mood make him push you away and withdraw?
You don’t want a partner who is so afraid of his own moods that he locks himself up tight and scares people away.
Say This Instead
The next time you’re out with a man in a mood, try something different.
Instead of trying to fix him or rise above his bad mood, say something like:
I notice you’re not feeling like yourself. I don’t want you to feel like you have to sit here on this date with me just because you promised. I enjoy your company no matter what. I know everyone is different in what they feel and need, so I was wondering: what does support look like to you when you’re just not feeling up to it? Do you like company? Do you prefer space?”
Notice that you’re not asking him to talk about WHY he’s in a mood.
You’re asking him what support looks like to him.
For some guys, the last thing they want to do is talk. Some guys really do prefer to sit there and listen to you take over the conversation. Unless you know what kind of guy he is, you can’t assume.
You’re also communicating that you’re not judging him for not being the fun-loving guy he usually is.
Some guys grew up being shamed for their moods. They heard things like, “If you can’t put a smile on your face, stay in your room,” or, “No attitude in this household!” They instinctively feel like they’ll be punished for not acting happy 100% of the time.
Not all guys even know what they need from you when they feel down. They’ve never even thought about it. They feel like their emotions are their problem. They’re ashamed when they can’t hide their darker feelings from a woman they want to impress.
Now, some guys won’t be open to having this conversation at ALL.
When you say, “I notice you’re not feeling like yourself,” they stiffen up. You can see the walls go up. They don’t want to talk about it. They feel betrayed by your honesty.
That’s a HUGE red flag.
You don’t want to end up with a guy who locks up like Fort Knox every time he has difficult emotions.
That means he’s not willing to see you as his safe haven—and he doesn’t have the capacity to be your safe haven, either.
Your romantic relationship should be the one place you can bring all of yourself, both the good AND the bad. All feelings are welcome.
When all feelings are okay, and you give each other the kind of support you know the other person wants, it’s amazing how fast the sun comes out again.