Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art
Lesson #1: Seek (Only) Clarity
Mr. Incredible Second Date mentions casually that he can't make it to dinner on Friday—even though he already confirmed with you a few days before. Previously, you may have taken three deep breaths to calm down, only to snap like a candy cane from last Christmas, replying in an frosty voice: "So, I suppose this is your way of telling me this isn't going anywhere." Or, you might have remained silent and cool on the outside, only to assume he wasn't into you and privately resolved never to go out with him again.
This time, consider seeking clarification. By this I mean just asking the guy what he means...but without using that phrase, since it can come off as aggressive, as in: "What do you mean, you can't come to dinner Friday?" A more specific, detailed wording, like, "Um...I just need a little clarification. With my last boyfriend, breaking plans was his way of saying ‘Let's break up.' So I'm not sure, exactly, if you're telling me that this isn't working out, or if you have some conflict with Friday night. Do you mind taking a sec to explain that one thing?"
As with anything, saying this calmly adds to its effectiveness, because what you're really doing is opening the door to honesty, a door that slams shut when people are afraid. If he is moving on, keeping your tone relaxed will encourage him tell you, because he won't be scared of your getting upset (which will also allow you to move on, immediately). But if he just has to go out of town to work at the helpless-kitten orphanage, you will end the mystery and prevent yourself from reacting to what may not even be happening. Seeking clarity—which, please note, is not seeking the answer you have in your head or the answer you want to hear—is also known as facing reality.
Lesson #2: Watch His Silent Movie
It's so rarely what they say, dear. In fact, your particular guy—the one you've just spent the past seven years with—may have said over and over, "I'm totally ready for commitment." But his actions might have been telling you something completely different. This is why you must watch him as if he were the lead in a 1920s black-and-white silent movie, one whose gestures and facial expressions are his only means of expression.
Silent-movie watching works especially well in subtle cases, when even he might not be sure of the discrepancy between his proclamations and your life together. Say the two of you are attending a wedding, one during which other guests are openly asking when your wedding will be. Watching him sweat more than the groom, gulp down three glasses of champagne and exit the reception to sit on the beach and stare moodily at the ocean may not fill you with joy and security. But it will inform you that this movie has hit an unexpected plot twist and, though technology of this sort didn't exist in age of Charlie Chaplin, what you need to do is hit the pause button.
Next: The other subtle clues you need to watch out for