“We’ve been casually dating for eight months. He’s super sweet and last weekend he cooked me the most romantic dinner. But he’s still figuring out what he wants…”
My friend Michelle has been falling for a guy named Mike, and she wants a relationship, but he doesn’t want to commit to her. It started off casual and while they have fun sleepovers and have even gone away on a weekend together, it’s still technically casual. He’s still seeing other people, on dating apps trying to meet more prospects, and this is okay by her, because he’s been honest about where he’s at, and he’s not ready for anything serious. But he does sweet things, boyfriend things, and even though Michelle thinks she’s casually dating (because that’s what he labels it), in her heart, he’s her boyfriend. He’s the one she thinks about when she wakes up, he’s the one she invests her energy into doing thoughtful things for. He is her first choice.
Meanwhile, any other nice guy that comes along her way, while she may entertain going on dates with (because she wants to technically play her part in this casual dating dynamic), none of these guys really stand a chance, because her heart already belongs to Mike.
How do you think this ‘relationship’ is going to end? Will Mike suddenly wake up and realize that Michelle is really the love of his life this whole time? Does he have any incentive to? He has it pretty good – he gets the nurture and passionate, consistent sex from Michelle as well as the thrill of sex with new people, the possibility of meeting ‘the one’ while he actively seeks other dating prospects, and of course, all the cuddles. You can probably identify being at some point, either Michelle or Mike, and you, we, know the answer to how this story ends.
Does Mike like Michelle? Yes, he genuinely does. But does he want to be with her? No, he doesn’t. There are definitely stories of two people dating casually for months on end and then one day it becomes serious, but this is more of the exception than the norm. Of course, there is time needed in the ‘getting to know phase’ – where two people go with the flow, focus on the present moment and organically see if it’s going towards a direction that is more than casual. How many months that takes will vary, and if you’re wondering if it’s time you close the door (or fully step through a door), you need to do a gut check with yourself and honestly answer if the situation feeds you, or depletes you.
If being in limbo and gray area works for you, then by all means, keep going. But, if you are feeling anxious because of the uneven power dynamic (you want more, he wants less), and it’s hurting you, then I encourage you to be bold in deciding what you want. And I don’t mean what you want right now. Because right now you want him – it feels good because all the chemicals in your body are causing you to feen for him. You need to ask yourself where you want to go, and if the decision (no decision by the way, is still a decision) is taking you closer in that direction or if you’re veering off path.
There’s an opportunity cost of having this person dominate your headspace – potential partners who may be right for you. People who intentionally want to date you and build something with you do not stand a chance. Be aware that those highs you get when he sporadically gives you attention or does something that shows interest only keep you addicted to the bursts of dopamine. Yes he looked at your IG story, yes he liked your last FB post, yes he planned a romantic date, yes he texted you the sweetest message. These things show that he likes you (that’s not on trial), it doesn’t show that he wants to be in a relationship with you.
If a committed relationship is what you want, then you’re going to have to make a sacrifice. You have to make some bold decisions on what you’re going to do to get there. You might be comfortable in the high-high-low-low dynamic with someone who is not available to you, but ask yourself, if you keep doing this, will you get closer to where you want to be a year from now? Five years from now? The outcomes won’t change until you do, and it starts by becoming clear of what you want and making the necessary changes to get there. This means, if you’re like Michelle, you may very well need to cut the chord on the relationships that are not serving you, or, if you are like Mike, it may mean you take the risk and really give that person in front of you a try instead of constantly holding out for that unicorn.