09/02/2011 04:10 pm ET | Updated Nov 02, 2011

Why All People Are Jerks Until Proven Otherwise

In my last post, Why We Tolerate Jerks, I mentioned my book, All Men Are Jerks Until Proven Otherwise. Not surprisingly, I got questioned about the title being derogatory to men. It's not male bashing. I believe that all women are jerks until proven otherwise too. The expression simply means take your time to get to know someone well -- male or female -- so they can earn your trust instead of giving it away. It's about protecting yourself from potential disappointment.

Many people get sucked into words or promises they want to hear by a potential romantic partner like dust into a vacuum cleaner. Women who are anxious to be in a relationship are vulnerable to men with all the right moves. They get caught up in the initial rush and don't wait to see if he follows through on what he says with actions. Remembering that all people might be jerks can temper that impulse to jump in.

Women come to me often with disillusionment about a guy they allowed to sweep them off their feet immediately, without waiting to get to know all his facets. I advise them to think to themselves -- All men are jerks until proven otherwise -- upon meeting a man, as a survival technique to not give themselves away, a reminder not to take anyone seriously too soon.

Men also get sucked in by women they're very attracted to who act sweet and agreeable until they get serious. Most people are on their best behavior when meeting someone they like. Then as time goes on, the person changes in ways we don't like. Often what you see later is who the person really is. I hear:

• "He's controlling and won't let me see my friends."
• "She's become so needy that I have to constantly deal with her fragile emotions."
• "He used to be so romantic and now all he does is criticize."
• "She acted like she thought I was a great guy but now keeps trying to change me."

This stuff is common, especially for people who dive in hot and heavy soon after meeting someone they like. That's why it's so important to filter your immediate impression of a new romantic attraction until they've earned your trust in many ways over a period of time.

This also applies to jumping into friendships. I once met a freelance writer who lived near me. We were thrilled to have a friend nearby and immediately began meeting often for coffee and long chats, which I enjoyed at first. She was intelligent and our conversations about writing issues were interesting. But as I got to know her better, I grew uneasy as I recognized that she was a major mental mess.

Her perspective of life was very negative. She dumped the same problems on me, over and over. When I tried to offer advice she took it like a personal attack instead of a practical suggestion. She had bad things happen to her often. As a believer in the Law of Attraction, I knew why. When I realized I almost always felt down after interacting with her, I slowly cut ties.

We'd jumped in too fast after connecting as freelancers and I got deeply caught up in her drama before knowing her well. Now I think--All people are jerks until proven otherwise --when meeting someone new as a reminder to take my time to get to know the person on all levels, not just one that satisfies a need. It's synonymous with don't trust people until they've truly proven themselves with actions over time and follow through on promises.

We get ourselves in trouble by jumping into relationships too quickly. We trust before it's earned, and assume people are nice because nice things are said. Do I think most people are jerks? No! Far from that. I believe that one person's jerk can be another one's treasure if boundaries are set from the beginning and you take it slow.

If you get to know someone very well before investing a lot emotionally and making him/her a big part of your life, you'll save yourself a lot of heartache, and have a better chance of developing a relationship that's healthy. If the person is for real, he/she will prove otherwise if you give them time.