How to communicate in a new relationship
January 12, 2012 7:23 PM   Subscribe

New relationship - how and when do I bring up the "serious" relationship conversations?

I'm a guy in my early 30s, she's a few years older. We're still somewhat newly dating (almost 1.5 months in) and so far it's been absolutely fantastic. We met through mutual friends and hit it off right away - we click very well conversation-wise, there's definite mutual attraction, etc. Overall I've been kind of blown away by how easy and simple dating has been with her - no games, no drama, just two people having fun and enjoying the experience.

We seem to be settling into a fairly regular pattern - seeing each other as time permits (maybe once or twice a week, usually on weekends) and calling/texting in between to say "hi" and finalize plans for the next date. Conversation is usually pretty light, although it sometimes gets a tad more serious - like her wondering about her career choices, or us talking about our issues/concerns we have with our respective families. We haven't dived into relationship histories too much, but I get the impression that she's had at least a couple of long-term relationships. I, on the other hand, am a bit of a late bloomer - I've dated around a fair bit and been in one or two hookup situations in the past couple of years, but haven't ever been in a serious relationship.

I should probably mention that things have become rather physical over the past few weeks and we've also started spending the night at each others house on occasion. Exclusivity has never been flat-out discussed, but I think it's definitely implied from both sides at this point.

I know it might be a bit early to say this, but I can really see this going somewhere long-term (and yes, ultimately I'm looking for a serious long-term relationship. I've had my fill of "casual" dating). She's smart, funny, beautiful, caring, and I feel really lucky to have found her. However, I'm having trouble telling if she feels the same way. My gut says she does to at least some extent, and the way she behaves around me would seem to go along with this, but still I'm not sure.

So here's my questions:

1. Should I ask her where she sees this relationship going, or wait a bit longer and let it develop more? For that matter, do we need to have this talk at all? If so, how do I bring it up without scaring her off? I don't want to do the dreaded "we need to talk", maybe there's some way that's a bit lighter/less serious-sounding?

2. Related - how do I bring up other "serious" conversations in a relationship, again without scaring anyone off? I can think of plenty others that could potentially come up in the future (assuming things keep going well): should we move in together, future plans (a *huge* one for me, as I might be moving for work sometime next year - although I guess that's another issue entirely), etc. Obviously it depends, but any general suggestions for approaching these sort of topics?

Thanks in advance :)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
It's not early for you to say that you see this going somewhere. A lot can happen in a month and a half in terms of evaluating the emotional and practical suitability of a potential life partner. There's nothing wrong with talking about serious things, so long as the other person is open to it, too. I'd try things that are a little less serious and see how receptive the person is. If they're all over talking about them, then great, you can amp it up a little at a time. If they're changing the subject or getting kinda squirrely, then they aren't ready, and you get to decide for how long that's okay.

"Where is this relationship going?" is a question no one can answer -- authentically anyway. But if you are going to continue to invest time, hope, emotional energy, etc., you should probably know how she feels and what she's thinking at this point. That's totally reasonable, serious relationship or not. If someone is unwilling to communicate that with you on request, then it's probably not a healthy start anyway. Find out!

Keep in mind that chicks are conditioned not to bring this stuff up, because most guys are the ones to get squirrely about serious relationship conversations, commitment and all that stuff. For all you know, she might be hoping you bring it up.
posted by letahl at 7:32 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

"hey, i think you're smart, funny, beautiful, caring, and i've had a great time these past few weeks. i'm over the whole casual dating thing and i'm keeping my eye more towards a serious long-term relationship. i'm wondering if you're on the same page. i don't need an answer right away, but i would appreciate if you thought about it."

one of the earliest tests of a new relationship is if you can discuss the things that matter without scaring anyone off. if she's scared off, then she's not the one you're looking for. that sucks, but it's better to know sooner than later. i think the second date is too soon, but a month and a half in, shortly after your relationship has become more physical is basically the perfect time to broach this topic.
posted by nadawi at 7:34 PM on January 12, 2012 [33 favorites]

Normally I would say wait until you're 3-4 months or more into the relationship to talk about a longer-term relationship. However, I agree with *nadawi that it's better to know sooner than later and to test the waters to see if the person can handle talking about the things that matter.
posted by mtphoto at 7:39 PM on January 12, 2012

You say "I'm looking for a serious long-term relationship". I say trust your instincts, and don't worry too much about analysing the nature of the relationship. Since you're at a point in your life where you're looking for something serious, you're probably pursuing this relationship because something in you senses that she is a serious contender.

Likewise, trust her instincts. She probably senses a more serious sensibility in you, and is attracted to you for that reason. Others see things in us we don't realize are so obvious.

The necessary conversations will come when the times are right. They don't need to be scheduled. Don't push it; enjoy the experience and marvel at the wonder of it all. Trust yourself, and trust her.

Everything seems to be going well so far. Just keep going as if this was the one. Treat her with love and respect, and regard yourself, her and the relationship as if it's a long-term proposition. If that turns out to be the case, you'll have done some great groundwork; if not, well, at least you weren't immature about it.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 7:58 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think that you don't need to change anything assuming you like the way the relationship's going. It seems like things are progressing at a reasonable pace and I don't think there's any reason to push things to go faster. It doesn't sound like you necessarily are pushing, but it's not like you need to put the relationship into another gear or anything because it's serious. If things are progressing well, let them keep progressing.

For the conversation, I think you don't want to overwhelm her. To avoid this, perhaps you should just tell her how you're feeling as opposed to make her think that it's some declaration of true, deep, and abiding love that she needs to respond in kind to. Maybe even just show her this thread?

Barring that, something like:

"Hey. I've really had a great time with you this last month and a half. You're smart, funny, beautiful, caring, and I feel really lucky to have found you. I know we haven't talked much about past relationships, but most of mine have been pretty casual. This one feels much less casual and I like that a lot. I just thought you should know."

Basically, I just did a quick summary of what you wrote here. Something about how you feel as opposed to something where you put her on the spot about how she feels makes a "serious" conversation go down much easier.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:14 PM on January 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

There's no one right way to do this, obviously, but here's what I would do:

The next time you see her say something along the lines of "hey, I've been having a lot of fun recently. I like you a lot". Mean it, but don't overdo it, and don't follow up on it right away -- if she hasn't thought seriously about the relationship yet you want to give her time to process things.

Then, maybe the next time you see her, tell her again that you like her and say that you're wondering where she sees things going between the two of you. If she deflects it back to you just tell her what you said above -- you're in no rush to settle down, but you like her enough that you think the two of you have some potential and you want to make sure she's on the same page.

The way my relationships go if this conversation goes well then this is about the time you would agree to explicitly not be seeing other people. You wouldn't necessarily start calling each other bf/gf, though.

If she says she needs time to think about it act calm and confident. Smile and tell her to take all the time she needs, even if you're feeling neurotic inside. Good luck!
posted by no regrets, coyote at 8:52 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

A pulse-check is certainly not unwelcome at 1.5 months: "This is pretty nice, what we have going here. What do you think?"
posted by lizbunny at 9:05 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm 35, my boyfriend of 4 months is 34, i haven't been a serious relationship before (lots of casual dating, like you), me and my boyfriend haven't had any conversation about relationship history, but i get the impression that he's had multiple long term relationships (like your girlfriend!) We met thru mutual friends (like you) and hit it off with a relaxed easy comfortable dating pattern (all like you!)

All that's to say, that i think that what my boyfriend did was awesome and cute and comfortable and not overblown, and i think all boys should do what he did, if it feels right. What he did was this: while we were bed, making out, he paused in kissing me and said "So, are we going steady?", and i smiled and said "yep i think so!" and we kept making out, and that night at a dinner party i heard him refer to me as his girlfriend, and it was great!
posted by Kololo at 9:17 PM on January 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

Oh, and also: i kinda think that at one and a half months, that convo shouldn't really be about the future (ie 'where its going'), but about the present. Like, is she happy NOW? Is she your girlfriend NOW? Those are the things to figure out! You can discuss how long she's going to be your girlfriend (possibly forever!) once she is your girlfriend. But before you've even established whether you're in an exclusive relationship seems premature.
posted by Kololo at 9:20 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think it was about 8-12 weeks in when I first told the guy who later became my husband "I like you." It was when he replied "I like you a lot" that I realized it might become serious in time. Congrats on finding someone you feel this way about. Tell her how you feel in the present (as Kololo said), but give the future time to sort itself out. In other words, be honest and open but don't try to figure it all out right away.
posted by matildaben at 9:30 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

one of the earliest tests of a new relationship is if you can discuss the things that matter without scaring anyone off.

Oooh, nadawi is smart! This is so, so true. You shouldn't be all super intense and scary, and start knitting her unborn baby a sweater. But there's absolutely nothing wrong with saying "hey, I'm starting to really like you, and I wanted to have a conversation about where we are and where we are going."

If she freaks, well, then at least you know that at this moment you aren't on the same page, and that's a very good thing to have learned.

We haven't dived into relationship histories too much, but I get the impression that she's had at least a couple of long-term relationships.

I'm definitely not saying that you are doing this wrong, but I've always had those conversations about (at least in general terms) dating histories fairly early. Not at some granular level, where you know the names of each of her ex-boyfriends' cats, but in the more general sense of knowing that she was engaged once and broke it off, had some long term boyfriends, and then was single for a while until she met you, or whatever. If you are having trouble having those kinds of general conversations, I can see why you might be struggling to talk about your current situation. Seriously, these are not weird things to talk about, and when done well they build intimacy and trust.
posted by Forktine at 9:32 PM on January 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Take a chance on your gut and leave the conversations on the whats when they make themselves manifest of their own accord.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:31 PM on January 12, 2012

I think you could phrase it as "So where do you see this going?" You do not need to set a time, just wait when you are hanging out alone.

I think it is very important to talk about these things in a relationship and by phrasing the question this way makes it casual, because it does not imply how you feel and it does not say you want to marry them. You could even go as far as asking how they feel about talking about talking.

I am very big on being open with your conversations. Be yourself and your girlfriend is into you, then she will wont be scared away, but if she is not into you so much, then it is not the conversation that would scare her away, she would go away on her own anyways since you two were not a good match, but it sounds like you two are a good match!
posted by Jaelma24 at 11:48 PM on January 12, 2012

From your notes, I take it that you are not "in love" with this girl? I know you can't answer, and maybe it's not important, but...

If the "serious" question receives a harsh response from her (I'm not sure of the form, mocking maybe) then you'll have moved slightly closer to knowing the answer to my question
posted by 0bvious at 8:04 AM on January 13, 2012

Exclusivity has never been flat-out discussed, but I think it's definitely implied from both sides at this point.

I would probably start here, but I am always in favor of making something like an expectation of monogamy very explicit rather than implied. "I'm not seeing anyone else, and I'm certainly not sleeping with anyone else, and I want to make sure you know that because I think you are awesome and I like the direction we're headed in here." Then make out.
posted by juliplease at 11:52 AM on January 13, 2012

definitely discuss monogamy.

Also, as sweet as it may have been, What he did was this: while we were bed, making out, he paused in kissing me and said "So, are we going steady?"

I could see that going really badly if she wasn't actually ready to make that decision or prefers to make it not in the heat of the moment. But YMMV.
posted by canine epigram at 12:30 PM on January 13, 2012

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