He Won't Commit!

Where do you draw the line with a guy who’s perfect—except he isn’t relationship-ready? Here’s advice to follow.

By Alix Bookbinder

y friend Cynthia is bright and funny, with curly brown hair, crinkly eyes, and the best giggle. She spent last summer at an artists’ colony in New England, where she started dating Nico, an ambitious sculptor. They kept dating back in New York City: dim sum, salsa dancing, and art openings. Somehow, though, he was always too busy to meet her friends, never used the word “boyfriend,” and refused to talk about their future. “It’s OK,” Cynthia would calmly tell me. “He really wants to concentrate on his career right now.”

On Valentine’s Day, she and Nico had candlelit champagne and chocolates at his place. The next day, Cynthia called me in tears. “I told him I wanted to
“It’s not like I was asking to get married.”
know what the deal was. Here we were with hearts and candy, but he still wouldn’t call me his girlfriend!” Nico was surprised, since she’d never mentioned being unhappy, but he was unwilling to give her any assurances. When they broke up a few days later, Cynthia’s confidence was badly shaken. “It’s not like I was asking to get married,” she told me. “Did I do something wrong?”

Liz H. Kelly, an L.A.-based dating coach and author of Smart Man Hunting could have saved Cynthia, and the millions of women who date noncommittal guys, some angst: The only thing Cynthia did wrong was make excuses for a guy who wasn’t giving her what she needed. “Even if you’re wild about a guy, if he’s not showing you that he’s really into you, you need to say ‘next,’” she advises. “Take his actions for what they are.” And even if he’s pretty much there for you but he won’t say the words, examine what he’s trying to tell you. How? Start talking.

Ask the question
If you’re into a guy, it’s stomach-churning to ask him what he thinks of the relationship—especially if your gut suspects that heartbreak lies ahead. You might bite your lip for fear of wrecking something good: Why give up companionship, a warm bed, and his perfect feta and spinach omelets on Sunday mornings just because he won’t call me his girlfriend, right? But if you’re ready for a real relationship and he’s keeping you at arm’s length, it’s self-sabotage to eat omelets in bed with a guy who has no intention of sticking around. So ask the question, hard as it may be—and then really listen.

Kelly suggests having the discussion in a caring way, in a neutral setting where you’re both relaxed, to avoid making him feel defensive. Start simply—here’s what Kelly
Too many women don’t ask the question because they don’t want to lose the guy.
suggests: “I really like you and am having a great time with you. I want to know what you’re thinking about us and where you think we’re headed.” (Write it down ahead of time if you’re worried you’ll lose your nerve.) If he has trouble answering, you can give him a multiple choice: “Are you looking to date or find a serious relationship? Do you see me as your girlfriend in the future?” Kelly also advises against giving ultimatums: That tactic won’t change the mind of a guy who wants to move on; it will only prolong the uncertainty for you. Do note, however, that the first couple of months of dating are probably too soon for this, because you still have to figure out how you feel.

Brace yourself for any answer
Michelle is a 30-something graphic designer in Miami. She dated Desmond for over a year, but he’d never seemed as “into” her as she was him, so she finally asked and had her worst fears confirmed. It was hard, since she was terrified that Des was her last chance to settle down and start a family. Yes, it’ll hurt for a while if a guy answers that he’s not into it, but it’s better than wasting years, especially if you’ve begun to hear your biological clock ticking.

My own guy, Hal, wouldn’t say “boyfriend,” even after we’d been seeing each other for months. He was about to go away for two months on business, and I wanted more from him if I was going to stay connected while he was away. The discussion was awkward at first and Hal refused to promise anything, but a few days later, he apologized for waffling. “I’ve had my heart broken too many times, so I didn’t want to do that to you. That’s why I didn’t want to say anything definite until I knew you better and was ready to put my cards on the table,” he said. (Since I referred to him as “my own guy,” see if you can figure out which way things turned out.)

Embrace that no matter what happens, you’re better off
Too many women don’t ask the question because they don’t want to lose the guy. But waiting him out never changed a guy into the perfect boyfriend. Just ask Cynthia, who’s happier being single and open to meeting the right person than constantly questioning herself in a “relationship.” (Nico kept making booty calls to Cynthia for a while, incidentally, but she knew to keep her distance.) Less than a year after her relationship with Des fell apart, Michelle emailed me a photo of herself in a spectacular wedding dress, kissing her new husband, Paul. It was pixilated proof that things do work out for the best when you’re honest with yourself and with your partner. And trust me, having The Talk doesn’t always mean that you’re destined for a breakup. If a guy’s into you, he won’t risk losing you and will get serious—just ask Hal, who recently moved in with me.

Alix Bookbinder is a writer in Brooklyn whose work has appeared in Bust, Philadelphia Magazine, and The Forward.
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