Are women supposed to bring up the commitment talk?
December 13, 2013 11:41 PM   Subscribe

I've been "seeing" someone for three weeks now, and he seems interested... I think... but hasn't mentioned anything regarding a relationship or exclusivity yet. Should I bring it up or wait it out?

We're in our twenties. He seems interested enough; plans the next date at the end of the last, talks about things he'd like to do together waaay in the future (read: winter break, summer), and tends to want me to stay for multiple days at a time when I'm there, which I've only done once so far.

We haven't slept together yet (he's tried but I'm not ready yet) but have made out and cuddled. This weekend will make date six. The things that make me think he's *not* that into me is he rarely texts me inbetween dates unless it's to confirm plans, and when I'm with him in person I don't speak very much due to nerves. So how can he know me enough to be into me?

The dating self-help books for women I've read say *never* to bring up commitment first because it doesn't allow him to chase/makes you seem too eager/whatever. I'm usually straightforward about these things, but due to the guy seeming to lose interest 100% of the time I talk about things getting serious I haven't said a word about it to this one.

I have, however, complained about the ambiguity to two of my guy friends who feel it's time I talk to him about it. But I don't *really* want to, because I don't want the fun times/hopefulness to end. Also, it seems awkward... I show up to spend the entire day with him, ping him about commitment and if he's not interested I just... drive back home?

But... it is eating at me, so does that mean it's time to say something? What's the verdict here?
posted by Autumn to Human Relations (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, if you want to have an exclusivity talk-- if not knowing is eating at you-- then it is time to have an exclusivity talk.
posted by J. Wilson at 11:48 PM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you have some specific reason (i.e. you won't sleep with someone unless you think it's heading in a committed relationship, or you won't sleep with someone unless things are exclusive), then it might make sense to bring it up. But otherwise, to me it seems like a weird question. Who knows if things are headed in a committed direction by date six?
posted by feets at 11:49 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

1) It's ok to just have fun. If you're just having fun and don't really want exclusivity, then don't have "the conversation" now. What is upsetting you about the ambiguity? You could be worried you're wasting time on one guy; you could be worried you're hanging out with one guy without "commitment" and you think society will judge you; you could want to "win at dating". Or maybe you just really like the guy and would like to see him more seriously.

2) You create your relationship. That is, if you choose to follow an abstract set of rules about which gender does what, then you'll have the sort of relationship that follows those rules. Want a relationship where you can just be straightforward? Then be straightforward. Yeah, some dudes aren't into that. But if you are the sort of woman who is, why would you want to be with a guy who isn't? There *are* men who are into straightforward assertive women.
Also the only way you're going to find out how to have a relationship with this particular guy-- is by talking to him and having that relationship. No book can cover how every single human wants to date.

3) What are you hoping to get out of "the commitment talk"? Do you want to call him your boyfriend? Do you want to be exclusive? Do you want to meet his friends? His parents? Have a standing Saturday date? Have 18 of his children? There's a huge range here. Figure out what you want, then ask for it. (Although possibly not all of it at once, especially if what you want is 18 of his children).

4) Actually asking for what you want can be done in tons of ways. Say what you want is to be exclusive. You could say "hey I'd like to be dating just you. How do you feel about that?" Or instead you could say "I'm not seeing anyone else, just so you know," if you don't care what he does but want him to know you are only seeing him. Or you could just ask "are you still seeing other people?" if you want to know what he thinks. Or maybe you want a label for the relationship; then you could ask either "Hey are we boyfriend/girlfriend" or leave it more open as "So when I tell my friends about you, what should I call you?" Personally I'm a fan of laying my own cards on the table first and seeing what the response is, but you should do what works for you.

5) If something is bugging you, bring it up before it's bugging you so much you are miserable. Bring it up when it's a still a (relatively) small thing, not some big horrible huge thing that requires The Commitment Talk.

6) There is no such thing as "the talk". There are lots of little things to negotiate. It's less stressful if these little things are brought up without a huge amount of drama, and it's easier to do that when you bring up one thing at a time instead of a big laundry list.

7) If you're worried about how bringing up commitment will go, tell one of your guy friends what you're planning on saying and see what they think.
posted by nat at 12:08 AM on December 14, 2013 [18 favorites]

The dating self-help books for women I've read

Oh fuck, firstly for your own sake - but also the sake of everyone you might date in the future - throw that shit n the bin, immediately. Those books are toxic mind-fucks that make people who already feel insecure feel petrified they are full of nonsense, written by people with no experience, and based on no research or understanding of the complex territory of the human heart. Dating books belong on the shelf next to dianetics. THE SHELF IN HELL, WHERE BAD BOOKS THAT HURT PEOPLE GO!!!!

Adults can talk about stuff, sincerely, safely, and with compassion. You want to know how serious it is, have a chat about it. Three weeks is long enough. Doesn't have to be a big deal, just say, "So, Habakkuk, where do you see this going? I want you to know I really like you, and I hope you feel the same."

Hasta lasagna, don't get it on ya.
posted by smoke at 12:14 AM on December 14, 2013 [43 favorites]

Bring it up.

Every time I've tried to be Cool, Carefree Girl Who Doesn't Mind Ambiguity, I've experienced more anxiety and unhappiness overall. This is because as hard as I've tried to be a casual dater, I'm a hardcore serial monogamist. If I like you, I want to date you exclusively pretty much from the getgo and not beat around the bush for a few months.

It's okay to be a woman who knows what she wants, and it's okay for that thing to be exclusivity in a relationship. If there's one thing I've learned looking back on past relationships, it's that it's really harmful to place your happiness in someone else's hands as part of some grand scheme where the dude is supposed to chase you like the gazelle he is biologically programmed to hunt, or whatever crap theory that is. There are so many times I should have just ASKED for what I wanted instead of waiting to be asked, and it was because I didn't want to be perceived as high maintenance and crazy and clingy or whatever other cliche female attribute society reinforces.

It's also okay if he doesn't want the same thing. Don't lessen your standards or suppress your desires just to appease him. If he balks at the suggestion of being exclusive, silently congratulate yourself for being honest and upfront, lick your wounds, and move on. In my last relationship I did a lot of holding back for fear of scaring him away. Result: three years of dating, not truly having my needs met, spectacular heartbreak. I'm dating a man now and pretty much from the beginning I said, "If you keep coming over, watching movies with me, and having three hour phone conversations then I'm going to want you to be my boyfriend. So if you don't want that now's the time to speak up." And he did want that, we are exclusive, and he's not in the corner pouting because he didn't get to chase and tackle me like some prairie animal.

So yeah, bring it up.
posted by thank you silence at 12:22 AM on December 14, 2013 [36 favorites]

What Nat said. Although number 7 I only agree with as a confidence building exercise.

The shortest answer possible here is:

Be honest about your feelings, ask the questions you need the answers to, be emotionally accessible whether the answer you get is the one you want or not, and be respectful of the other person's feelings.

Being direct and forthcoming is scary. It also feels REALLY REALLY GOOD if you're able to do it as much as possible. It's been a learning process for me. We all fail at it sometimes, but when I stick to it, it is unbelievably freeing. Guessing what one another are thinking all the time is miserable.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 12:25 AM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

And reflecting off of what ThankYouSilence just said:

As a man who's been prone to ambiguity in the past, I have found that when a partner brings up things I've avoided, it's better for me and for her, regardless of the outcome. I've had situations where I earnestly reassured someone I was really into her. I've had situations where I gave a straight answer and said I wasn't feeling it. In one case, it sets the relationship on fire in a new way. In the other case, it hurts, but it also resolves things in a way that's very much needed.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 12:29 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Communicate what you want and be direct. He either will be on the same page or not, and if not you move along. Just be very clear about what it is you mean. E.g., does commitment to you mean you're exclusive? Does it mean you see each other every day? I dunno, as a guy, I've found that the "commitment" talk is only scary when you don't know what the girl really wants. If you're too indirect about it, the conversation turns into this winking, awkward thing, and the guy may think, "Wait, this is scary. What does she want me to commit to?" It will go easier if you're like, "Hey, I enjoy snuggling with you. Can we agree to only do this with each other?"
posted by deathpanels at 12:44 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't know. I have read your question a couple times, and I don't get any real sense of why you want this relationship to be exclusive after just five dates. I could be mis-reading you, but it sounds as if you maybe think that having an exclusive relationship is something good in it's own right, regardless of how you feel about the guy. You don't really say anything about how you feel about him, except that when you're with him, you don't speak very much due to nerves. You ask how he can know you enough to be into you. That's a good question, I think, but another good question is, do you know him enough to be that into him? Maybe you are, but it just does not come across.

So I would advise holding off on this discussion until you feel more comfortable in general just being around this person. It seems to me that before you have a talk about exclusivity, it would be good if your relationship had evolved to the point where you don't feel nervous around him. It just feels way too premature to me.

As to the dating books advice that you should allow him to "chase" you -- what is this, 1950?? You need to stop reading those books. (I didn't even know such books were still around.)
posted by merejane at 2:01 AM on December 14, 2013 [11 favorites]

In my relationship, I asked out the guy, said I love you first, brought up commitment first and broached the subject of marriage on our very first date, saying that it was my long-term goal for a relationship. I am a woman. We are happy together.
posted by windykites at 3:47 AM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

From a younger male perspective, having a talk about commitment before having sex is definitely unusual (not in a bad way, keep doing things at your own pace), but maybe, er, don't hammer TOO hard on the "commitment" part of your commitment talk. It's perfectly fine for you to want exclusivity and I'd focus on that word over commitment. For some of us guys it's a scary word tinged with nasty concepts like "responsibility" and "work", haha.

I'm an introvert who finds long stretches of texting between dates tiring myself, and if somebody jumps at me in a new relationship with talks that seem too "serious" for lack of a better word, it may dampen my spirits a bit. Maybe your guy's the same. Be sure to be honest of course, but maybe take the angle of "I don't want to share you because you're awesome" over "So... what's the deal with us anyway? You haven't been straight with me on your commitment."
posted by johnpoe50 at 4:02 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

when I'm with him in person I don't speak very much due to nerves.

Work on this before you start worrying about having a big talk about commitment. If you aren't comfortable with the guy, why do you want to get serious? You don't know him, and he doesn't know you, either.
posted by empath at 4:11 AM on December 14, 2013 [16 favorites]

Just as a data point, it would never even occur to me to text a person I was dating between dates no matter how much I liked them, because to me it's just not a satisfying means of communication. (I don't text my friends between meetings either.) So don't take too much from that.
posted by ostro at 7:44 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Never be afraid to tell people what you want. You aren't trying to manipulate people into liking you, you are growing a relationship.

You can say to a guy, "I really like you and I'd love to be exclusive." You'll especially want to do this before having sex with him, if that's important to you.

If he runs screaming into the night, oh well, not the guy for you.

It really is that simple.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:53 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

You have a really good reason to bring up exclusivity if you're going to be having sex with him soon. It's a matter of your health to clarify whether you'll be exclusive partners or not. For that reason alone, I would think it is time to talk. But then, I would not feel comfortable having sex outside an exclusive relationship for (among other issues) the health concern, and making this clear was always really important for me at the start of a relationship. Your mileage may vary!
posted by artemisia at 8:29 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

In common parlance, being exclusive means that you're only sleeping with each other. I would find someone wanting to be exclusive without sex quite strange. It might throw him for a loop that you want to move so slowly physically but so fast emotionally.

That said, if that's what you want, that's what you want. Tell him, and if he's not on board, you guys weren't right for each other anyway.
posted by spaltavian at 8:32 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

The dating self-help books for women I've read say *never* to bring up commitment first because it doesn't allow him to chase/makes you seem too eager/whatever.

TOTALLY agree with Smoke. Fuck that advice. Is it weird to bring up exclusivity on the first date? Yeah, but that would be weird no matter what gender would bring it up. (Not to mention what if the relationship is between two women, are they to NEVER discuss commitment because "women shouldn't bring it up.")

Anecdote: I asked my husband if we were officially "dating" after spending 1 week together. He told me he loved me about 2 months later, and we got married after 2.5 years, after I found my wedding dress and asked him if we could move up our wedding dates.

Sure, we really clicked so things move quickly in the beginning, but I had NO problem asking if we were committed. If he's the type of guy who dumps you or gets disinterested because there is no "chase" then that's a guy you don't want, because that's not the type of relationship you're looking for.
posted by Crystalinne at 9:45 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

What smoke said: trash the dating books yesterday - they can't do you anything but harm.

Also, yeah, bring it up. Knowing where you stand will make you both more at ease with everything.

Finally - some people just don't really do the texting thing like others do, especially early on when that dynamic is still gelling. Don't read anything into that.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:46 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think there are two separate questions you need answers to:

1. In a general sense, are we both ultimately looking for the same type of relationship? It's fine at this stage to raise this question in a non-pressuring way. "So, what would your ideal relationship look like?" Then sit back and listen carefully.

If his answer aligns with what you want, then, just relax and enjoy a few more weeks of getting-to-know-you time. No need to rush the decision.

At a later point, when you know him better, you can ask yourself:

2. Am I wanting to have that type of relationship with *this* particular man? If yes, then:

Is he wanting it with me as well? Ask him.

But for right now, given how early you two are in the dating phase, I think it's perfectly reasonable if he doesn't know yet whether he wants to have an exclusive relationship with you. I don't think it's fair to expect a guy to make what is a pretty big life decision based on six dates. It may be he is being smart and taking his time vs. rushing in.

It is also 100% legit to let him know that you only have sex in the context of a mutually-defined exclusive relationship (meaning, you both agree on the same definition of exclusivity); and that while you would LOVE to go to the next level with him, you two aren't there yet; but there is still a lot of fun getting-to-know-you stuff you can do together.

Emphasize that there's no pressure for him to declare exclusivity, but just set that boundary and stick to it (assuming that is a boundary you want). Continue to enjoy the fun times while protecting your heart.
posted by nacho fries at 10:59 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Being "exclusive" does NOT have to mean sex, don't let anything or anyone pressure you into thinking that it does. It can mean you're exclusively dating each other. Repeat: you DO NOT have to have sex with this person until you are ready, and you DO NOT owe them sex before you can ask for commitment.
posted by windykites at 12:19 PM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

"due to the guy seeming to lose interest 100% of the time I talk about things getting serious I haven't said a word about it to this one."
ok, if you brought up things getting serious and people lost interest in the past, that's because they weren't into you enough to want to be serious with you, not because talking it out is a bad approach. keep talking it out. when you meet someone who is a good match you will have this conversation with him and he will say Yes Please.
posted by zdravo at 4:53 PM on December 14, 2013

"due to the guy seeming to lose interest 100% of the time I talk about things getting serious I haven't said a word about it to this one."

Actually, I wonder whether the problems in the past stemmed from the OP's broaching this topic too early in the relationship, before it was clear that she and the other person were a good match. How would we know?
posted by merejane at 5:42 PM on December 14, 2013

We haven't slept together yet (he's tried but I'm not ready yet) but have made out and cuddled.


But I don't *really* want to, because I don't want the fun times/hopefulness to end.

Obviously, you should go at your own pace in terms of sleeping with this guy. Just because you're exclusive doesn't mean you have to sleep together (and just because you sleep together doesn't mean you have to be exclusive). So, no rush.

But from the way you say you're not ready for sex (yet) and you're not ready for the "fun times" to end (yet), it sounds like you're not ready for more commitment (yet) yourself. So wait until you are (ie, when you know you want to sleep with him, when you know you want to be closer/more committed to him than more nebulous dating can offer, etc), and then sure, float the idea and see what he thinks.

If he dismisses the commitment question out of hand just because you were the one to bring it up rather than him, then he's a disrespectful ass. You'll probably figure out if he's a disrespectful ass way before then though, so don't worry too much about that scenario.

I have, however, complained about the ambiguity to two of my guy friends who feel it's time I talk to him about it.

I think the ambiguity seems unromantic to you and calling him your boyfriend would make it feel easier for you to trust him/his feelings for you. But preferring the "romance" and clarity of being in a relationship to the "unromantic" confusion of ambiguity isn't a good reason to get into a relationship with *this* particular person. Until you want to commit to *this* person, as opposed to wanting commitment in general, I don't think you should commit, or ask him to commit.
posted by rue72 at 10:00 PM on December 14, 2013

It sounds like it's too early for committed relationship conversations. If you aren't comfortable in your own skin around him and don't speak much, why on Earth do you want him to be your boyfriend? Before you even think about relationships and commitments, you need to sort your insecurities out and learn to have fun and enjoy yourself around men in general, not just this one. There's a great disparity between a fun, nervous energy and a nervous jittery silence on your part. Learn to have fun and be yourself around the guys that you date and you'll attract the right one into your life.

As for who should do the asking… plenty of people are going to poo-poo this, but I stand by my traditional stance on this one- let him do all of the initiating when it comes to 'moving things along.'

In my own experience, whenever I've seemed too keen or have brought up 'the next stage' with a guy, he's either agreed that things should move forward and expressed his (even jokingly) disappointment that he wasn't the one to bring it up (i.e., I had a nice date planned and I was going to ask you), or he's cooled off completely. And this isn't happening with one 'type.' I've dated sweet nerdy intellectuals, alphas, betas, you name it. Across the board, they all seem to cool off if the girl they're seeing starts pushing them for more too early on. I've seen it happen with girlfriends and I've heard my male friends complain about it too many times. I'm convinced that most (naturally not all) men want to be the ones who do the asking ("let's be exclusive," "will you marry me," etc.) They want to be the ones to ask because it's a masculine energy to move things along, it's a bit of an aggressive energy in my opinion. All the new-agers and hard feminists will totally disagree but I stand firm on this one.

According to my male friends, and from life experience of my own, if a guy is really interested and wants to be exclusive, he'll ask you to be exclusive. Don't ruin a good thing if you're enjoying yourself, let him come around on his own. If he doesn't bring up exclusivity eventually, inquire as to what he's looking for in terms of a relationship. Ask him if he's ready for more of a commitment. Feel him out. Tell him what you want! Don't ever be afraid to ask for what you want. You deserve to get it, but from the right guy.

As for sleeping with him, my motto is no nookie unless it's monogamous and there's love radiating from both parties. I just don't like the idea of sharing a man's phallus with other women. I would advise you to not sleep with him. But that's me.
posted by OneHermit at 8:46 AM on December 15, 2013

Yeah. Think about what you want. Commit to what you want. Believe that what you want is important and if he can't give you what you want, know that it can be found elsewhere. Ask for what you want. Be open to the possibility that he may want something different. (But he also might want the same thing!)

If those are your basic axioms going into the conversation, it will be a productive conversation and the wording won't matter so much. In terms of how to say it, you can say, "Hey, look, I want to be your girlfriend. Is that the way you feel or do you feel differently?" or about a thousand other things.

So, I know those dating manuals about how you are not "supposed" to push for having a relationship with a man. For me, the take-away there is you can't "make" someone want a relationship with you or be crazy about you to a certain degree. You can just be who you are and the man is either going to want to be with you or not. It is good to keep that in mind. What is total bunk is the notion that by "playing it cool" and minimizing your own needs you can "make" the guy come around. That's just being manipulative by indirectly gunning to make someone feel a certain way. So for me, whenever I start hankering for a relationship, that is my signal that it is time to ask the guy if he wants to have a relationship. And if he doesn't, then time to cut the cords and go find a guy who wants what I want.
posted by mermily at 4:36 PM on December 15, 2013

Are women supposed to bring up the commitment talk?

Although I agree with those that are saying that there should not be any rules about who brings it up but that it does seem awfully soon, I actually interpreted your question differently.

Are you wondering if the reason this guy hasn't brought it up is because he's waiting for you to say something because that's some kind of rule? Because no, the reason he hasn't brought it up is because it's awfully soon.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:15 PM on December 15, 2013

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