He says “I am not ready, let’s continue dating”. Should I agree?

Boy meet girl and they hit it off. Date follows date and they get along well and they enjoy the other’s company. After a fair number of dates, he or she senses that things are stagnating; the relationship is not being taken to the next level. After a few more dates of coasting along a plateau, they agree to “take a break” from dating to allow them both to figure out what to do further.

The logic of “Taking a Break” from the relationship.

Taking a break can be very helpful in many instances. Dating can sometimes feel like a whirlwind, in which two erstwhile strangers spend a tremendous amount of time together. It is possible to get lost in all the drama and get swept up in the rush of adrenaline. But when it comes to making the fateful decision of whether to make a lifelong commitment, one may find that there is a lack of conviction that the relationship has the makings of a marriage. Stepping away from it all in the hope of gaining clarity is a reasonable and often effective strategy.

It is also possible that the emotional bond has not developed strongly in one or more of daters. On paper, it may all line up well; there is a high level of compatibility. Choosing a marriage partner is more than completing a checklist, but has a strong romantic component. When someone is in doubt whether there is a sufficient emotional pull, a period of time apart from the other person may help to answer that question.

What happens if, after the break, one party says to the other: “I still do not know how I feel about the relationship, but I really like you and want to keep going and see where it takes us”? The break has clearly not resulted in a breakthrough either way, but you have an offer to persist with dating with an open mind. Do you accept or reject this proposition (assuming you still like the person and remain interested)? On the one hand, why would you think that anything will change? On the other hand, perhaps given more time the feeling will grow or the clarity will emerge?

Beware of “Mini-Marriages”.

This is not an easy question to answer, because there are so many variables. For example, if this break took place early on – say, after just a few dates – that is very different than if it was taken after many dates. If the break was at the beginning, there is strong ground for expecting that additional dating will help move things along. If the number of dates is (relatively) extensive, it is less clear what continual dating will achieve. Needless to say, what counts as a few or many dates varies greatly among people. Adapt to your own situation, please.

Despite the many moving parts, I will present below some general thoughts about how to approach this issue. You need to understand how easy it is to slip into what has been called a “mini-marriage” if you like someone and enjoy their company. People who started out assuming they would date a maximum of ten times before they would know one way or another, have found themselves having had over thirty dates? What changed between date eight and thirty-two? Usually, absolutely nothing.

Just remember that what is true in life is true in dating: if you are not growing, you are withering. If you are not moving forward in the dating, try something new – a different location, a different topic, a different activity. But if not, it is time to make a decision. But many people end up sliding into cruise control, with months going by before they wake up to the reality that the dating is not going anywhere. Well, I have a secret to share: it probably was not going anywhere since date six!

Beware of “Players”.

Another point to bear in mind is that there is a category of people in dating who may be classed as “players.” They are always very likable and often highly romantic, but they struggle to “get serious.” In its extreme variety, “players” have the habit of dating extensively without ever making a commitment. They drag things out, but (despite what they say and maybe even think) they are not ready to get married.

“Players” always attempt to end relationships amicably, but they are serial heartbreakers. In their own minds, they are nice people who are just looking for the right one. In reality, they are mistreating lots of people by giving the impression they are ready to make a commitment when they are not. All I can say is “beware of players.” They are called “players” because, when it comes to relationships, they “play games.” They look like the friendliest people (they tend to be excellent on dates), but they cause tremendous havoc. Going along with the “shtick” of a “player” is foolhardy and will not get you anywhere. You need to make it clear that you are not falling for their “games”.

In the scenario we are discussing here a key question to ask yourself is whether you have got yourself a “player,” because “let’s continue dating and see how it goes” is directly out of their “playbook.” Please understand that not everyone who says that is a “player,” but every “player” says that. That is their go-to strategy. Before rushing to agree to continue dating, ask yourself whether there are other signs that may indicate that you are “being played with.”

The number one way to tell is whether they keep their word or make excuses. “Players” are extremely good at charming people, and often develop the bad habit of relying on that ability to get away with bad behavior. They are so convincing that many people would have trouble spotting it. If you find this person comes late to dates, regularly cancels dates, says he will do things that he then does not do – the signs are not good. People in relationships with players are often the first to defend their excuses – until they become the next victim and the scales fall from their eyes.

The only option you have, if this is the case, is to call an end to the games. This means, having a serious talk with your date and laying it out on the table. You would need to point out all the excuses you have been given so far, and how that raises questions about his or her attitude towards dating. You would need to make it clear that you have no intention of being “played” and that a decision needs to be taken whether this is serious.

Most “players” eventually do get married, once they have had enough of their own games. Perhaps your direct approach will knock some sense in his or her head. If the response is more “sweet talk,” you have the choice to exit right or left. You are most likely wasting your time.

Setting a goal and a timeframe.

Hopefully, this is not the case, and the person you are dating is serious about marriage but is unsure what to do. This is reasonable and you do not want to deny the person the time they need to be ready to make such a major decision. Surely, if the shoe was on the other foot, you would not want to be pressurized into something of that importance. On the other hand, you are most likely concerned that you will slide into a never-ending dating process that leads to nothing.

While each situation is different, and it is impossible to address each and every permutation, here broadly is what you should consider saying to your would-be date:

“I like you too, and I would also like things to work out between us. What I am concerned about is that us resuming dating is just about getting back together without any real focus. What is to say that in ten dates from now will not still be exactly where we are now – talking about continuing dating? To avoid us getting into this situation, let us agree on some kind of framework.

“What specifically do you need clarity on and how will you seek to gain that clarity? If we have been on all these dates and this clarity has eluded you, how will several more dates remedy that? Let’s think of what we can do together that will be most productive in helping you get the answers you need. We can agree on a set number of dates by which point you feel it is reasonable that we will be able to take a decision on whether we are on or off.”

A bit of commentary to this: Once people have met a reasonable number of times, they know whether or not they are suitable for each other. Sometimes new issues emerge; but typically dating couples know whether they are compatible early on. The remainder of the time they spend dating is to allow a bond to develop and for feelings to kick in. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, with many people thinking things through till the very last minute. But it is still worth noting that the fact-finding part of dating is generally short.

It is therefore unusual that someone would have had a good number of dates and is still unsure about compatibility. What is usually going on is uncertainty about whether there are sufficient feelings. It is true that some people take a long time to develop an emotional connection. Feeling pressured will only impede that process. Still, how many dates need to happen before it is clear that there is no progress? Fewer than most people would imagine.

Time to get help.

At some point, the person you are dating needs to get a grip on his or her life. If you are found to be highly compatible by their own estimation, and if they enjoy spending time with you and you get along, great, then the chances are you will have a happy and successful marriage. So, they need to make a decision; prolonging the process will not make it any easier. Little is likely to change after another ten dates.

At this point, it is obvious that something is stuck. The best advice is for them to get the input of a competent professional. Walking away or dragging it out are both bad options. They should get the help they need to make a smart choice, whichever it ends up being.

To think about

  • What do they say is the purpose of the continued dating?  What is the ‘breakthrough’ they are hoping for?
  • What are your thoughts and feelings about that?  What might you do to help them get the clarity they need?
  • Do you see progress in their working through their concerns?
  • Is it possible that they ‘playing games’ with you? Are you excusing some of their words and behaviors?

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