The Lesson Oprah Learned about Men

Even Oprah used to sit by the phone waiting for a guy to call.

She’d stay off the phone in case he tried and got a busy signal. She wouldn’t go out to dump the trash or start a bath in case she missed hearing it ring.

This was decades ago, when she wasn’t the powerhouse she is today.

But she still had powerful friends…

And one of those was Dr. Maya Angelou.

The award-winning poet, author, and civil rights activist who would go on to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Angelou wasn’t a woman to pull any punches.

She listened patiently to Oprah complain about her bad relationships. Waiting for this guy to ring. Waiting by the window for that guy to show up.

Then Dr. Angelou said:

“When a person says to you, ‘I’m selfish,’ or ‘I’m mean,’ or ‘I am unkind,’ believe them. They know themselves much better than you do.”[1]

The moment was captured on camera for The Oprah Winfrey Show, and it became one of the defining lessons of Oprah’s life.

Oprah sums up what she learned like this:

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

It sounds so simple.

But it’s not.

How do you know someone just showed you who they are? You don’t want to jump to conclusions. You might be mistaken about what you saw. You don’t want to come down too hard on someone, especially if they’re doing their best. What about second chances?

Dr. Angelou’s message goes right up against the most powerful rule of being a good person:

See the good in everyone.

Do you look for the good in the men you date?

Or do you, like Dr. Angelou, look for the truth?

Ideally, you want to do both. Seeing the best in him makes him feel good. But his words and his actions may not align. Protect yourself by paying attention.

There’s a knack to balancing the two. See if you have it by trying this little quiz.

A man promises to call but doesn’t. Do you think:

  1. “He didn’t call. What a jerk! Good riddance,” or
  2.  “Hmm, he hasn’t called. Interesting,” or
  3.  “Why hasn’t he called? Maybe he got busy. Or something came up. Or his phone got disconnected.”

If you answered #1, you may be quick to judge. Yes, he may be a jerk, but he also may call you back tomorrow to apologize. See if it’s a pattern before ditching him for good.

If you answered #2, you’ve got this! You don’t jump to conclusions, but you don’t sugarcoat the facts, either.

If you answered #3, you need a dose of Maya Angelou. Explaining away his unkind or inconsiderate behavior feels like the kind thing to do. But it also distracts you from the evidence:

This person has just showed you what kind of behavior he considers acceptable.

Give him a second chance by asking him about it. Say, “Hey, you didn’t call yesterday like you said you would.” Observe his response carefully.

If he gets defensive or focused more on some elaborate explanation than on how it made you feel, then you’ve got your answer. He feels that what he did was okay. That says something about who he is.

Notice that it says nothing about who YOU are.

Sometimes women feel guilty if a man breaks his promise. Like it was their fault somehow.

Do you ever feel that way?

Do you tell yourself that you shouldn’t have asked him about it? Or you shouldn’t have had such high expectations? Or he would have kept his promise if you hadn’t done something to push him away?

Even Oprah fell into this trap. She thought it would be her fault if he called and she wasn’t there to answer.

But Dr. Angelou wasn’t falling for it.

She didn’t say that Oprah must not be a very desirable woman if these men weren’t calling her as promised. She didn’t suggest that Oprah learn better strategies to attract and keep a man.

She simply said:

“My dear, when people show you who they are, why don’t you believe them? Why must you be shown 29 times before you can see who they really are? Why can’t you get it the first time?”

Let’s see if you’ve learned the lesson. Try one last quiz:

A man promises to come by and visit you, but he doesn’t show. This time, what do you think to yourself?

  1. “Where is he? He must have got stuck at work. Or forgot. Or had car trouble.”
  2.  “A typical guy. Makes promises then breaks them.”
  3.  “Hmm, he promised he’d stop by today and he’s not here. Interesting.”

Tell us your answer in the comments!


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