Asking Men the Right Questions to Get the Real Answers

I admit it-simple as we men claim to be, we can be tricky creatures, especially when it comes to women. We are the masters of the okey-doke and will dole out affection in drips and drops and use them as emotional placeholders until we decide in our own minds whether we really want to be with you or we want to move on to the next conquest. We’ll send the sweet text message to get you swooning, but then go for days without calling. We’ll spend the whole of a month wining and dining you and making you feel like there’s some amazing chemistry between us, but then clam up when it comes time to explain what, exactly, our intentions are concerning the relationship. We do this because we can. We can because all too many women let us. All too many women let us because they’re afraid of the alternative-having to start all over again with a new man, or having no man at all.

I wrote both in Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man and in Chapter 5 (“The Standoff”) of this book that women truly interested in finding the right guy have to get over the fear of losing one, because the moment you lose that fear is the moment guys lose their power over you. A man will disrespect you, put in minimal effort, and hold out on commitment if he thinks he can get away with it, so your job is to not let him get away with it. But this requires heading off the foolishness at the beginning-before a man gets his hooks in you-so that you can make clear-eyed decisions, devoid of emotion, about whether to continue pursuing a relationship with him. So much can be found out about a guy before you get in too deep-if you take the time to ask the right questions. I’m not referring here to the five general questions every woman should ask a man when she’s getting to know him (see the glossary), though asking those questions, as explained in the first book, will help you figure out what a potential mate wants out of life and what he wants out of a relationship with you; learning how to probe his answers will help you get to the very essence of who this man is and whether he has what you’re looking for in a long-lasting relationship.

To do this successfully, though, you’ll have to wrap your head around and understand one basic thing about us men: no matter the question, we will always give you the answer that will make us look the best.

Plain and simple.

I’m willing to wager that in the history of your relationships, you’ve never had a man introduce himself and share with you all his baggage and all his bad habits in the first several dates. You’re an adult; you know full well everyone comes with a history-everyone comes with a backstory and flaws. Yet if every man’s story was as good as the story he reveals about himself, you would have found your Prince Charming by now. Why aren’t you with the perfect man? Why? Because no one is that good.

Knowing that you long to be needed and wanted, however, men prey on those vulnerabilities; we manipulate our answers and the impressions we make so that we appear to be the man who can fulfill all those needs and wants-we sell the Happily Ever After. Tell a guy you’re looking for a man who is capable of commitment, and if he’s truly interested in you, he’ll have no problem telling you he wants exclusivity too. What he’s not going to offer up is that his last relationship didn’t work out because he cheated. Tell a man you’d like to be in a relationship with a guy who is good with kids, and he’s going to regale you with proud stories about how much he loves his nieces and nephews. But he’s probably going to keep to himself the information about his wicked baby mama drama, or the fact that he doesn’t see his kids but once every other month. And I promise you, you’re not going to hear on your first date about a man’s bad credit, his house foreclosure, or that he lived with his mother until five weeks ago; instead, this guy is going to go out of his way to show you his nice watch, his slick suit, and the nice car he barely held on to during his own personal economic crisis.

Men do this because we think that if we release this information too early, we won’t get the catch-you. You have to remember that at the base of it, we’re no different from, say, a peacock with a plume of colorful feathers, or a lion with a huge, bushy, fiery orange mane: just like a male peacock spreading those feathers or a male lion standing tall among his pride to attract their female counterparts, men flash things like their money, their cars, their clothes, their watches, and their job titles to impress women. The presentation is critical to us-it’s all part of the bait we throw in the water to capture the fish; we just want you to bite on the hook. A man knows he’s not hooking any woman with stories about how broke he is or how he doesn’t have any power at his job or how his ex-wife comes around the house every Thursday to scrawl “He’s completely unreliable” in red chalk across the garage doors. He’s wrapping himself in all the pretty packaging so you’ll buy into him.

Come on, admit it: women tend to ask men two questions, tops, before they make the decision about whether a man might just be the one for them. Knowing this, we’ll answer the first question in a way that’ll make us come out smelling like a rose. Ask a follow-up question for a little clarification, and we’ll find an even slicker way to tell you what you want to hear. And once a man tells you what makes him sound the best, you hear what you want to hear and, instead of asking more questions and getting to the truth of the matter, you form your own truth. You get so enamored by his buzzwords-I want to be committed, I love kids, I’m a hard worker, I love to cook, I’m into the arts-that you skip asking more questions and immediately start saying to yourself, “It’s him! It’s him! Oh, thank you Lord, I found him!” You take the good parts-the answers to the first two levels of questioning-bundle up those words and internalize them, then use them to justify falling in love with who you think is the “ideal” man, never considering-often, until it’s too late-that had you probed a little deeper you would have gotten closer to who he really is.

You don’t dig deeper because you’re scared that if the questions run too deep, he will run off and you will lose out on a good one. He doesn’t tell the whole truth because he’s scared he might not appeal to you. Everybody is just scared now. Scared and avoiding the whole truth.

Don’t buy into the fairy tale. Sure, men would serve themselves well if they provided the relevant information up front; not only would it clear men from ever being accused of lying-a charge that adds a lot more tollbooths on the road to solid relationships-but certainly it would give the women we truly want to build relationships with more insight into who we really are. All too often, we men prevent the relationship from growing because we create an element of distrust early on, by withholding vital information that gives women that which they need to make sound decisions for themselves. When a woman gets blindsided with information she thinks should have been disclosed up front, she questions everything-no matter a man’s intentions.

So should men offer all the information up front? Of course we should. It’s only fair. But we won’t volunteer it because telling the whole truth not only makes us look lesser in your eyes, but it also takes the “chase and capture” out of our hands and puts the future of the relationship squarely into yours. A man’s candidness early on gives you the chance to truly understand how, for example, past relationships might affect your future together; the opportunity to process the information; and the ability to decide for yourself if you can handle the baggage that comes with all the good he’s already told you about. Sure, there are some men who will lay out all the dirty laundry up front for you to see. But this is rare. Very rare. So the onus of getting down to the truth is, unfortunately, on you.

And you get to the truth by digging deeper.

Aren’t you tired of being the victim? Tired of getting played? Tired of thinking you got somebody and then finding out he’s not all he made himself out to be? Stop giving up the cookie before you have all the information, and instead get the information and then decide if it’s in your best interest to share yourself with him.

Doing this will take no more than three questions, I promise you. It hardly ever changes with us:

Question No. 1

will get you the answer that makes us look best.

Question No. 2

will get you the answer that we think you want to hear.

Question No. 3

will introduce you to the truth.

We have no other choice but to tell the truth after that; our liar bench isn’t deep enough to go up against your intuition, especially when you start probing us in that slick way only women can pull off. Witness:

QUESTION NO. 1: Why did your last relationship break up?

The Answer That Makes Him Look Best:

Well, I was trying to be all I could be-I was working hard, trying to provide for her, and she didn’t understand my work ethic and she just couldn’t take it anymore.

The Breakdown:

This answer makes him seem like he’s a hard worker, committed to building toward the future. It also plays into a woman’s natural instincts to be nurturing-makes you say to yourself, “I would never leave a man who’s trying his best-I’d focus on supporting him.”

QUESTION NO. 2: If she were more supportive, would you have stayed in the relationship?

The Answer That You Want to Hear:

Absolutely. I want to be committed. I want to be with somebody who understands me and wants to be with me and understands what I’m about. I’m looking for that type of woman who wants to be committed and supportive of her man.

The Breakdown:

He’s telling you what you want to hear-that he’s a man who is committed and looking for a long-term relationship and willing to do what is necessary to take care of you. He knows those are all the buzzwords that get you hooked, and now he’ll sit back and let you fill in all the blanks-imagine him walking out of the house in the morning, briefcase in hand, going to work hard for you and the family, then coming home and holding and caressing you in his strong arms until you fall asleep. Of course, he didn’t say any of that other stuff; he just said what you wanted to hear. Don’t fall for the okey-doke. Get to the bottom of it with this…

QUESTION NO. 3: Well, if you were supportive, you were looking for loyalty, and you’re a hard worker and a good provider, how could the relationship break up? What happened that she said, “I can’t do this anymore”?

The Truth:

Well, I was looking for that support because I couldn’t find it at home, and I met someone who was more supportive and loyal.

The Breakdown:

The only thing left for him to do was to admit that it was infidelity, rather than a nonsupportive woman, that led to his breakup. Of course, there are nuances to why he ended up cheating, but the fact is that the relationship ultimately ended because he was being unfaithful-he broke the cardinal rule. Now you know he’s a hardworking guy who requires support and loyalty to be in a relationship, but you also know that he’s capable of cheating if he feels like he’s not getting what he needs out of the relationship.

Here’s another example.

I coached a listener on my radio show, the Steve Harvey Morning Show, to dig deeper into her questions with her man when she wrote that she suspected he wasn’t quite the father he made himself out to be. “He says he’s a great father,” she wrote, “and speaks highly of both his son and his daughter…”

QUESTION NO.1: How’s your relationship with your children?

The Answer That Makes Him Look Best:

It’s great. When we’re together, it’s nothing short of magical. My son is just like me-athletic and strong. And my daughter is smart and so beautiful. They’re amazing kids.

The Breakdown:

This answer makes him seem like he’s a fantastic dad, committed to his children and putting in work to mold them into good human beings. It plays into your natural desire for a man who will faithfully and happily participate in the rearing of the family you hope to have someday.

QUESTION NO. 2: How is your relationship with their mother?

The Answer That You Want to Hear:

It’s cool. We do what we can to get along for the sake of the kids. She doesn’t make it easy, but my kids are worth it.

The Breakdown:

He’s telling you what you want to hear-painting a picture of himself as the good guy in a relationship gone bad and the man who is willing to endure suffering and strife if it means he’ll get to be with his kids. Now, he’s looking like a superhero in your eyes because there is nothing sexier to a woman than a man who will bend steel and leap tall buildings to get to his children. You start imagining him rubbing your pregnant belly and reading to your babies and standing over the grill cooking up a home-cooked meal for the entire family while you stand by, looking on admirably at your magnificent catch of a man. What you missed was that he said his ex doesn’t make it easy for him to see his kids, and that he sees them when he can, not necessarily on a regular basis, and certainly not in the most pleasant of circumstances. Get to the bottom of it with this…

QUESTION NO. 3: If you and their mother don’t really get along, how does that hinder your relationship with your kids?

The Truth:

Well, because she and I don’t really get along, it’s hard for me to see them as much. I see them maybe once a month and talk to them occasionally on the phone. But there’s some distance there because of the drama with my ex.

The Breakdown:

The only thing left for him to do was to admit that he’s got some baby mama drama that keeps him from being the superdaddy he originally made himself out to be. The mother of his children may have good reason for cutting back on his time with his kids, or she could be a lunatic; in either case, you’d have some issues to deal with if you got into a relationship with this man-namely a potentially dramatic and volatile relationship with his ex, and some real inadequacies he may have as a father.

Getting to the bottom of that information allows you to make an informed decision about whether you want to start something with this guy. It’s not hard-women are inquisitive by nature. You and your girlfriends ask these same questions when you recount your dates for each other anyway. You and your girls get to the bottom of things quickly. Do the same with him. Put aside all the romantic notions and approach this thing with eyes wide open and a clear mind.

My wife, Marjorie, played this really well when we started dating again. Of course, she was already privy to my shenanigans; I’m a public figure so there was already a lot of bad stuff about me out there-all she had to do was a simple Google search and everything she ever wanted to know about me, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the lies, was right there at her fingertips. I came in the door with publicized relationships gone bad. My advantage was that Marjorie already knew the real me; we’d been friends for twenty years and dated a few times by the time we got back together, so she knew there was some good there. A lot of good. But to figure out if I was truly ready to share that good with her, Marjorie knew I was going to have to add up some things for her. First, she asked why my first two marriages didn’t work. I had a pat explanation at the ready:

“I was on the road touring and it kept me away from home a lot,” I said simply. “The separation just grew and kept us apart and I wasn’t there enough. I was working and trying to make it for us, but bringing home a check wasn’t enough.”

My veiled attempt to end this line of questioning by telling Marjorie I was committed and hardworking was no match for her; she kept the questions coming. “But what specifically made you decide those marriages weren’t for you? Is it that marriage isn’t for you?”

I brought my A-game on that one-told her what I thought she wanted to hear. “Well, I’m a romantic and I love the idea of being married. I want a committed relationship, I want a family, and that hasn’t changed just because the first two marriages didn’t work out. I have a lot, but I really want someone to share it with-a woman who can be loyal to me, who will support me while I’m out doing what I have to do to take care of our family, a woman who wants to share all the blessings in my life.” I gave her details about how it all went down-about how my first marriage ended after I went away to become a comedian, and some of the problems that grew from my second marriage too.

Now, I thought I’d made it through-that I’d said what it took to get Marjorie hooked on the idea of being with me. But she just wouldn’t let it go; she needed more from me-not because she was trying to give me a hard time, but because she really needed to make sure that her heart was protected. See, she’d already been through two marriages that didn’t work, and she was in a good place-raising her kids, working hard, and really secure in knowing what she needed out of her next relationship. She’d made very clear that she didn’t need to be in a relationship to be happy-that being alone was okay. But if she was going to get into another relationship, she needed to make sure that not only was she ready for it, but that any future mate was ready too. So a few days after our initial discussions, Marjorie pitched the third question: “I get that when you started telling jokes things weren’t the same, but why did you just go away? Help me understand this thing.”

I’d already told her what made me look best (I’m a hard worker), and in the second conversation, I told her what I thought she wanted to hear (I’m a romantic looking for a partner with which to share this journey). But in response to this third question? There wasn’t any more carpet and cushioning I could put on the floors, no curtains I could use to dress up the windows, no faux finishes I could throw up on the walls to make me look better. I’d run out of ways to decorate the truth, and it was clear to me that she wasn’t going to stop with the questions until she got the truth, so the truth was what I had to give her. And when I opened up to her, I revealed to Marjorie that the truth was that I was too young to get married the first time-that I should never have been anybody’s husband at twenty-four. I didn’t have it together in any way and really, the shortcomings in our relationship were mine-I was to blame, not my ex. All I could do in that first marriage was protect my wife and profess my love for her, but I simply wasn’t capable of providing for her in any meaningful way. Not only couldn’t I provide, I didn’t even have a plan for providing. I knew from age nine that I wanted to be on television, but I wasn’t doing anything useful to make that happen; I’d gone to college and gotten kicked out, and while I was working at the Ford Motor Company, I dreamed about being a star but had no real, tangible way of becoming one. “If my ex didn’t believe in my future, I couldn’t say I even saw it for myself,” I told Marjorie. “Still, I resented her and anyone else who didn’t support my vision. So really, I couldn’t stick around for that.”

I went on to tell her about how by the time I got married the second time, my career was in bloom and that I started enjoying the fruits of my labor in ways that were destructive to my relationship. Regardless of the reasons why I did that, when I was forced to really dig deep into what went awry, I always came to the same conclusion: my actions were wrong; I wasn’t conducting myself in a way that was conducive to a successful marriage.

By probing, Marjorie really got to the truth with me. Admitting that I was resentful, didn’t have a plan, and walked out on my first wife because I didn’t have my act together didn’t make me look like a good guy, by any stretch. Admitting to cheating on my second definitely wasn’t going to make my case any easier. But it was the truth, and that truth gave Marjorie the chance to really come to terms with what she was signing up for, and, honestly, made me dig deeper into how my own personal shortcomings needed to be checked if I was going to make a marriage with Marjorie work.

After that conversation, Marjorie looked at me more closely and watched my actions and acknowledged that I was different now-that I was doing what it took to make our relationship work. When I was on the road, I would send for her every chance I could, she knew she could call the apartment anytime and I’d answer the phone, and if she was with me, I wasn’t sleeping with my cell phone duct taped to my thigh so that she couldn’t keep an eye on who was calling and texting me. She saw a man who was shedding the baggage and ready for real love, and she liked what she saw. And it wasn’t long before she was saying, “I want you. You’re the man for me.”

But she had to come to that on her own, after gathering her information, evaluating it, and coming to some conclusions about what she would and would not tolerate. She didn’t go about it in any nasty, mean way; she simply asked the right questions and kept digging until she got to the treasure-the truth.

Know that you can do this, too, and that you’re going to have to be just as smooth and persistent about it. You can’t grill this guy like you’re Bill Duke in that scene from Menace II Society, where the main character is sitting under the bright light in the interrogation room, sweating and stuttering while Bill stares at him with those piercing eyes and announces, “You know you effed up, don’t you?” every time his suspect opened his mouth. No guy is going to willingly stick around for the lie detector test and the military-styled interrogation tactics.

What we will do, though, is answer truthfully over a period of time. Asking those questions during the ninety-day period I told you about in Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man will give you plenty of time to learn the truth. If you really want to get to the bottom of it all, tell a guy, “I’m just looking for honesty-it really turns me on when a man tells the truth,” and he’s going to pull out all the stops because the mere promise of an eventual romp in the hay with you is like truth serum to a man: “Did you say the truth turns you on? Oh! Okay! So I was with these midgets, right? And we pulled out these monkeys…”

Well, maybe he won’t tell you all about the midgets and the monkeys. But he will be more willing to give you the truth if you’re willing to put in the work it takes to get to it.