Gentlemen Speak: Why a Guy Says He’s Not Ready for a Relationship

Should you give him time to come around, or is he really telling you something else?
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Maggie Niemiec
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Should you give him time to come around, or is he really telling you something else?
when a guy says he’s not ready for a relationship commitment dating

Photo Credit: The Kitcheners

Ah, dating. It can be so fun, so exciting, so romantic—and yet so utterly confusing. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in one too many situations where I wished I could just get inside a guy’s head.

I’ve written before about how important shared intentions are in a dating relationship. And that’s because I’ve been in situations where it became all too clear, all too late, that my beau and I weren’t on the same page. The biggest issue: I’m ready to move forward, and he’s not.

Most of my girlfriends know exactly what I’m talking about. They, too, have been in relationships (I’m talking boyfriend–girlfriend official status) that ended because he told her he wasn’t ready. It was moving too fast for him. He cared for her very much but couldn’t match her feelings. He preferred to be alone.

This readiness excuse feels like a cop-out. These are guys who have been genuinely attentive and caring. Who’ve been pursuant and, well, loving. How does everything change one day when he decides he’s just not ready to be with her?

We need some answers. And who better to ask than a man. So, on behalf of female confusion across the world, I sat down with Paul Maxwell, a twentysomething single guy, to get some male insight into this whole “readiness” problem.

What does not being ‘ready’ even mean?

Me: So many guys I’ve talked to tell me they’re not ready for a relationship. And so many girls I know have been dumped because their boyfriend wasn’t ready. This is insanely frustrating. I mean, what does ready even mean?

Paul: “I’m not ready” is a guy’s way of saying one of two things: (1) “We’re moving at different paces, and I need you to allow me to move at my own pace,” or (2) “I’m just not that into you, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings.”

If a man senses that you are more “into it” than he is or that you are eager for the relationship to move forward at a quicker pace, he may feel as though the relationship poses a constant ultimatum: “Move at my pace, or stop wasting my time.” Women often speak this way, sometimes putting men in two categories: men who do what they want, and men who aren’t worth their time.

There does come a time when a guy needs to get on the same page or else end things, but before you require that of him, be sure to ask yourself the hard question, “Do I love him as he is, with the emotional pace he brings, or do I really just want him to fit in to my romantic timeline because it’s what I want right now?” I think both men and women can get caught up in the expected timeline rather than focusing on what is right for the relationship.

Me: I get that. In fact, I got caught up in that during my first serious relationship—thinking I was really ready to take next steps with my then-boyfriend by embarking on a cross-country relationship with him, even though he made it clear he wasn’t ready for that. Turns out, I wasn’t either! But what about men who decide they’re just not “at the same level” as you and don’t seem to have a plan for getting on the same level? How am I supposed to handle that?

 Paul: Ah, well now we are getting to “unreadiness” reason number two: “I’m just not that into you, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings.” If it feels as though the guy you are dating is not taking initiative to move the relationship forward, and he offers “I’m not ready” as an explanation, then he either does not want to be in a relationship or is not sure if he does. Either way, tell him goodbye, and move on.

Telling a woman you are just not into it is hard, and some guys like to chalk it up to unreadiness to make it easier on you . . . and on themselves. It may also be the case that the man you are getting to know is looking for something physical or even something emotional (whether he admits it to himself or not) but is not ready for the commitment that kind of relationship with the opposite sex involves. Regardless if it’s him or if it’s you, if your guy is making no effort to get on the same page as you, don’t hang around. If a man wants to be emotionally and physically intimate, he needs to be ready to handle the commitment that comes with that.

Is there anything I can do to help him feel more ‘ready’?

Me: Say a man I am dating is not ready in the first way, meaning that he needs time to move at his own pace. Is there anything I can do to help him be ready?

Paul: There are a lot of things a woman can do to help a man who is not quite ready, but she will never be able to snap her fingers and declare “Be ready!” and make it so. That’s on him.

I think the most encouraging thing for a woman to do is to give him space. I’m not saying she should ignore him or give him the kind of cold-shoulder action that “needing space” can sometimes imply. I mean let him take the initiative, and in the meantime, plan time for friends, family, and hobbies—pull your laser focus off of him for a while.

If it feels like he is drifting away, make it clear by where you invest your time that the possibility of losing you is very real—because it should be very real. Men tend to be easily lulled into laziness or else prompted by a call to action. If he wants to be with you and to move the relationship to the next level, he will ask for your attention and to give him the opportunity to choose to pursue you each day, be it with a phone call or planning a date. A man who wants commitment will move the relationship forward, and the guy who is just not ready will let you get away.

Me: And if he’s not taking initiative?

Paul: Be blunt. Tell him where you’re at. If you sense that he is making no effort to move the relationship forward, then it’s not unreasonable to say, “We need to talk about this because I want certain things, and I don’t get the sense that we are on the same page.” At the end of the day, I don’t think any woman needs to wait around for a man who is not ready and has no plans to be.

Every relationship is different. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my dating experiences, it’s the importance of honesty and openness. Let a guy know how you are feeling and what you are looking for. It’s OK to ask what his intentions are—that doesn’t mean he has to propose to you. It just means that you’re both adults, and you’re able to talk about what you expect out of dating, whether that’s something casual or something more serious and long-term. And trust me, ladies, that one potentially scary conversation will save you plenty of heartbreak down the road.