More often than not, dating opens women up to a world of confusion that too often ends in hurt. Your typical meet-cute begins with an ambiguous “hangout,” and as time goes by, it becomes increasingly unclear whether you and your guy are just really close friends or taking things really slow. Odds are, neither party knows exactly what’s going on.
While I think casual dating is awesome, it’s obvious that we can only keep it casual for so long. What we hope for are mutual declarations and a bashful relationship status change, but what we too often receive is a noncommittal disclaimer that obvious attraction and flirtation do not always a future boyfriend make. At some point or another, we have to get some clarification as to what exactly is going on here or risk getting stuck in the ambiguous friend zone.
In my dating years, I got the “let’s not call this a relationship” talk not just once, but twice. The first time, I was crushed but continued with the undefined relationship. Time eventually muddled us together, and we did become some sort of constant dating entity—but a catastrophic one. Reeling after the inevitable heartbreak, all I could really think was, “Well, he did warn me that he has commitment issues. Why didn’t I listen?”
“Many times women’s self-esteem takes a hit. They wonder, ‘Why wasn’t I good enough for him?’” shares Anita A. Chlipala, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist. “But men don’t think that way. Timing plays more of a role than not being ‘good enough’ for a guy. He may still want to see what his options are, or he wants to focus on his career. . . . He may also want to have life experiences or work on himself first before he gets into a serious relationship.”
The second time I heard a man say he couldn’t be a boyfriend, I was actually relieved. Burned by my last experience, I saw it as a warning and promptly cut off the flirtation with no wounded pride. We even stayed friendly.
If you find yourself or a friend in this confusing Neverland of a dating situation, learn from my mistakes. By looking out for yourself now, you might avoid a lot of hurt.
While this might seem like a misplaced suggestion, hear me out. If a man tells you he’s not ready to be boyfriend material, realize that he’s being honest, and even if it’s not what you want to hear, honesty should be rewarded with at least a thanks. In a world of flakiness and straight-up ghosting, frank honesty is commendable. After all, he’s giving you the power to ascertain the situation more clearly by setting expectations instead of leading you on a confusing wild-goose chase.
Give It Space
With all this non-dating dating, you’ve established some habits. Aside from those daydreams of the two of you coupled up, he might have slowly become a fixed part of your routine. Those flirty texts, mid-lunch gchats, or drinks every Thursday have become the norm. While I wouldn’t suggest pure silent treatment, allow for some space between you.
“Women sometimes think, ‘If he sees how awesome I am, he’ll change his mind and want to be in a serious relationship with me,’” Chlipala shares. “So what ends up happening is a woman puts in more effort in the relationship without getting what she wants or needs in return. A guy who isn’t open to a relationship will not be able to consistently meet a woman’s needs, and this can create unnecessary hurt.” So do yourself a favor, and step back.
Sounds easy, but this is the hardest part. Do you actually want a relationship with this guy? Or do you just want to prove him wrong, and show him that the two of you would be great together? With emotions at a high, it can be hard to discern your exact motivations.
If you do find yourself still wanting a relationship with him after he’s told you he isn’t looking for a serious commitment, know that making yourself available to him won’t change his mind. “A woman can waste time putting her effort into seeing if the guy will be in a relationship with her,” Chlipala says. “Sure, the guy may be keeping her around because he really enjoys her company, but hanging around longer with him won’t get him to change his mind.”
In my case, while hanging around might have seemed like he changed his mind, deep down, he really didn’t. He admitted as much when we broke up. Though he did become my “boyfriend,” looking back, it was in name only. He wasn’t at a point in his life where he could be emotionally available enough for a real relationship.
So, he doesn’t want to be your boyfriend, but you’re not just friends either. It can be tempting then to just leave things in limbo like that, but keeping it label-less forever isn’t a solution either. As Jordana Narin shared in the New York Times last spring in the article “No Labels, No Drama, Right?,” nothing can be further from the truth. Drama can be extra-confusing with no labels. “By not calling someone, say, ‘my boyfriend,’ he actually becomes something else, something indefinable. And what we have together becomes intangible,” Narin writes. “And if it’s intangible it can never end because officially there’s nothing to end. And if it never ends, there’s no real closure, no opportunity to move on.”
Even if you do the smart thing and give yourself space from him, take the extra step, and label your relationship in your head. Label him as “off-limits,” “not into it enough,” or “going nowhere.” Whatever the label, make it stick, and keep yourself from getting lost in Neverland.
No matter if he’s proactively bringing up the subject or if you have to interrogate it out of him, one thing’s for certain: If he announces that being in a relationship isn’t in the cards, accept it. Let it be, and go on your merry way. The worst thing you can do is continue down a path of more ambiguity. After all, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”