Were You Ever Stood Up?


Were you ever stood up? You know, you made a date and he or she didn’t show up? What was that about? There is a psychology behind being stood up that requires our attention. We’ll look at this phenomenon from the perspectives of the “person who stands another person up” and the “person who gets stood up.”

Contrary to the young lady to my left, who for our purposes decided to take this one sitting down, the phrase “stood up” refers as a description to the person who is left standing waiting for the one who promised to meet but never arrives. Before we get into the differing experiences of both parties, we should be able to label this particular dating experience as an instance of “abandonment.”

A plan is made between two people and the one left standing, waiting for the date, is made to feel the emotional consequences of abandonment however temporary. As a starting assumption, let’s say that this particular experience may have a hidden, or not so hidden, meaning for both persons involved. Bare with me.

Let’s start with the “person who makes someone else stand up.” Basically the person who does the abandoning. He or she is engineering the abandonment experience. My guess is that it has a certain meaningfulness for him or her. Some people live through an abandonment growing up and the aftereffect is to ‘semi-consciously’ learn three lessons: how to abandon; how to be abandoned, and; how to stay away from love because you are expecting abandonment to take place. Which lesson is “active” in his or her love life is a matter of personality and other situational factors.

The person who stands other people up with some level of repetition has learned how to abandon and is repeating the experience for emotional effect. You might say he or she is trying to “master” the experience that was originally quite painful. Although, the “victim” of this sort of thing will find no solace in this particular explanation. In fact victims would probably feel angry at the fact that any explanation could offer an excuse for such reprehensible behavior.

If you find yourself the “victim” of repeated stood ups, I would suggest that you contemplate the possibility that you, like the perpetrator of abandonment, learned something about abandonment yourself. Perhaps you learned how to be abandoned. This more passive, victimized role in the stood up scenario is also a way of trying to get a handle on the ill aftereffects of earlier abandonment experiences. The great hope for the victim is that he or she having chosen a person who has a higher than average probability of standing up a date, now hopes that there will be a different outcome.

Let me explain, if you’ve learned how to be abandoned in unhealthy relationship experiences where you were abandoned, your hope may be to finally correct this painful emotional experience by not being abandoned by someone you’ve selected who has a dubious commitment history. It’s like trying to correct the past.

Unfortunately you can’t really rely on this sort of thing. Trying to correct past emotional hurts in this way constitutes a kind of emotional “Russian roulette” involving a lot of possibility of simply repeating the earlier disappointment. The better way is to acknowledge the painful experience in direct awareness, get to know its aftereffects, challenge those aftereffects whenever they show up, and consciously pick people with with a matured ability to make promises and keep them.

Comments? Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan

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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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