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Gentlemen Speak: Clueless or Commitment-Phobe? Why He Hasn’t Made it Official Yet

A guy's perspective on the difference between a red flag and normal guy behavior.
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Art Credit: Moss + Isaac

Like it or not, there seems to be an unavoidable awkwardness about the beginning stages of a relationship. If you’ve ever dated someone, but weren't quite at the point where you were “official,” you may have used other terms like “seeing,” talking,” or “hanging out." Sound familiar?

In matters of love, timing is everything. Part of that timing has to do with when and how you move forward with commitment, but that necessary precision can make defining the relationship (aka "DTR") tricky.

For most women, this is not news. Just as ubiquitous it seems is the notion that women are often left to wonder what the hell is going on in the beginning stages of a relationship.

You know the scenario: A guy shows interest—maybe even a hint of chivalry—you go on a few dates here, a get together among friends there, and some sparks fly. He seems into it, or at least you don't have any evidence to suggest he’s not into it. But the ambiguity of it all is driving you crazy. Are we dating? Is that too serious a term? Is this going anywhere? Does he even like me? Finally, you can’t take it anymore. So you ask him, point blank. He seems turned off. Maybe he even offers some helpful clarification like, “Whoa, I’m just not ready for anything serious.”

Was it something you said? Should you have not said anything at all? Is he just a jerk? Honestly, it’s a hard call, but he probably falls into one of three categories.

The Flake

It’s okay to want something serious from date one. Now, I’m not talking “marry me tomorrow” serious but a desire for a man who is thoughtful, caring, intentional, and forward-thinking. And if frat boy thinks an exclusive dating relationship is too serious for him⎯or simply discussing an exclusive dating relationship is too serious for him⎯then sayonara.

The Newb

There is a large spectrum of relational know-how among dudes, even among non-flakey, marriage-ready dudes. The truth is, a lot of guys (probably most) are relative newbs or just clueless when it comes to relationship communication. So if a guy isn’t jumping at the chance to talk relationship status, that might mean he’s noncommittal. Or he might be thinking, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” It's also possible he's thinking something like, “I’m hungry.”

The Undecided

The guy might just not be ready. He could be thoughtful, caring, intentional, and forward-thinking, but he’s also a little overwhelmed that he met a woman who just might be the one for him, and he wants to take it slow to make sure it’s right.

Cliche or not, there’s nothing more powerful in the world than a man and a woman equally attracted and drawn to each other. Conversely, there’s nothing more off-putting than someone who is significantly more into someone else and can’t rein it in. Even the best intentions can ruin something if the timing isn’t right.

So before you feel the need to broach the subject, do a little relationship inventory. Is there anything wrong with what is happening right now? Do you feel like there’s more intimacy than what is appropriate for the commitment level? Do you have any reason to believe he’s inappropriately pursuing other women? Is he simply being too lackadaisical with his pursuit of you?

If you answered “no” to all of those questions, then I would strongly encourage you to not mess with a good thing. And be patient. Chances are, with time, either he will broach the subject himself (really), the relationship will develop organically (it’s possible!), or you will eventually encounter those warning signs before too long.

If you answered “yes” to one of those questions, or you encounter some other red flag along the way, then you very well might need to initiate a conversation about where the relationship is heading. When you do, here are four tips from a guy’s perspective that will hopefully help make the conversation a productive one.

01. Remember we don't really know what we're doing.

Women have been talking about men in the context of relationships since grade school. You read the books, hash and re-hash with friends. By adulthood, women have advanced degrees in this stuff. Guys? Not so much. So don’t assume men are using the same manual. Our way of showing we’re really into you may be that we washed our car before the second date. Meanwhile, we may have had no idea that that thing we said that one time sounded like we were already a couple. Believe me, we’re not trying to confuse you, but you might have to ask.

02. Know that you hold the keys to your own heart.

There is nothing wrong with being the one who calls the shots on how much you share with a man before you have the security of his commitment. This is obviously true of physical intimacy, but extends to your time and other treasures too, like parts of your history and personal struggles. By not disclosing too much too soon, you project a great sense of self-worth, and men will take note. Long before you ever need to talk about it, you’ll be laying the groundwork for a rock-solid relationship. I think you’ll even find men more likely to broach the subject themselves.

03. Have a specific goal.

Sure, you might have happily-ever-after in mind. But what do you want to accomplish by the end of the conversation? Do you want a label for what is happening—Do we call each other boyfriend and girlfriend? Or do you simply want to agree to be exclusive? (By the way, you might need to talk about what that means.)

Finally, if you don’t get the response you want, what will be your response? Will that be the end? Are you willing to keep going as is? Having answers to such questions beforehand will help you avoid making snap decisions in the heat of the moment.

04. Say it like it is.

If you decide it’s time to define the relationship, just get down to brass tacks. Broach the subject with kindness, of course, but make it clear by the end of the conversation what you expect out of a committed relationship. If he’s worthy of being your man, he’ll respond to that. If he’s not, it will be very clear. And isn’t clarity what we’re looking for?