In the last several months, three people (some clients, some friends) have come to me with these scenarios:
Scenario 1 (John): John (31) has been seeing Kyla (22) for two years. Once Kyla finished college, she told John she wasn’t ready to be serious, and that they should see other people. They see each other every week or two, date others from time to time, but still love each other and have no desire to end the relationship. John loves Kyla, but he doesn’t know what he wants anymore.
Scenario 2 (Jim): Jim (25) has dated Bella (25) for four months. Bella started dating Jim right after she ended a 2-year relationship, and she ended things with Jim because she felt like she’d moved on too quickly and needed some time on her own. However, she continues to see Jim from time to time and still cares for him. Jim sees other women, but he prefers to be with Bella.
Scenario 3 (Jane): Jane (34) met Joey (37) online and they’ve dated for three months. They haven’t called themselves boyfriend/girlfriend, yet things have started to get more serious. But Joey, who is recently divorced (divorce finalized within the last year), suddenly feels afraid to get involved again.
What to these scenarios have in common? They each involve a relationship where one person wants to move forward, and the other person has put on the brakes.
When two people have different agendas for the relationship, it creates tension. The person who wants the relationship to move forward feels rejected and confused, and the person who wants to slow it down feels pressured and, well, confused. So how do you handle when someone you care about, someone you want a relationship with, decides he or she isn’t ready? Do you try to convince him that you’re great for each other? Do you stand back and patiently hope they’ll come around? Do you give up and walk away? Here are a few tips to handle when your partner slams on the brakes:
Lay off the pressure. Don’t try to talk them into being more serious, or give them a hard time. They can’t help how they’re feeling, and putting on the pressure or getting angry with is only going to backfire in the long run. Give them the space to figure out what they want.
Don’t keep calling. If you find you’re always doing the calling/texting/emailing, stop. See if they contact you. If they do, try to keep it so the initiating is shared between you. And if they aren’t calling, it’s time to move on to someone who will.
Face the dark side. Accept that it’s possible this person isn’t the one for you. As much as this sucks, it will help you let go, which will take the pressure off of both of you. Dating is about finding the right person, and you have to weed through different people to find that person.
Be clear about what you want. I’ve found that most people in this situation say, “I don’t know what I want anymore” or “I want a relationship, but maybe it’s good to take things slow.” They rationalize. Most of the time, these people know EXACTLY what they want – they want a relationship that’s mutual, but they instead join their partner in their confusion in order to avoid the painful realization that they aren’t getting what they want. This is fine for a while, but eventually you’ll need to heed my next point.
Put a time limit on it. If you decide you’re fine with the status quo, great. But if you’re not, put a time limit on it. I recommend 2-3 months. If they don’t come around, move on. Don’t tell your partner about the time line; it will only create more tension.
End it well. If you’re tired of limbo-land and want out, kindly tell your partner you’re looking for more and if they aren’t ready to go there, that’s OKAY. Say you know what you want and you’re going to go find it elsewhere. They may decide they don’t want to lose you, but they may also let you go.
If you find yourself dating someone who puts on the brakes, I feel for you. I’ve been there. With one man, I didn’t not pressure him and gave him 3 months. Just before his time was up, he wanted to be back with me full time, and we stayed that way for years. With another guy, I put on no pressure and gave it some time. It didn’t get better, I felt worse, so I moved on. In the end, you can’t force something to happen. If it isn’t meant to be, move on to find something that is.