When he says he doesn't know what he wants

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The most dreaded words in a relationship are “We need to talk.” It always means you’re about to get the break-up talk. I know this phrase well, having used it and heard it several times in my dating life. But there’s a second phrase, one that isn’t as clear but also strikes panic in many women’s hearts. I heard it just this weekend from Mr. C:

“I’m not sure what I want right now.”

What you mean you ain’t sure what you want right now?! That’s how I’d like to react when I hear those words. (And let’s admit it, that is what my reaction often has been.) But I’ve learned a lot since my Dating Dummy days, and I now realize that this phrase is one that women must watch out for and have a plan for dealing with.

I used to think this phrase was a cop-out, something guys used so they could keep sleeping with you without having to commit to you. And for some guys, maybe it is. However, after much reading, reflection, and trial and error, I now realize that it is a man expressing his genuine confusion. If he didn’t want to be with you, he’d say so directly, stop calling you and asking you out (the favorite of many guys), or be such a jerk that you have to break up with him (the favorite of the cowards).

Time for a quiz!

After several months of dating, if a guy says that he doesn’t know what he wants, should you:

a)      Scream “But I already organized our engagement party! What will everyone think?!” Surely, he will then realize that this relationship is on—whether he wants it to be or not.

b)      Calmly outline for him all the reasons you see why the two of you should stay together. With your help, he’ll see more clearly what a huge mistake he is about to make.

c)       Tell him, “I understand. Take as much time as you need to figure out what you want.” Then go about your life as a newly single woman.

d)      All of the above in that order.

If you chose A, you have successfully run him off for good. When men say the dreaded phrase, it is often because they are overwhelmed with the amount of attention and intensity the woman is bringing to the relationship. You have just shown him how truly crazy you really are.

If you chose B, you are what I call the Perfectly Reasonable Dater. You think it’s “perfectly reasonable” that he doesn’t know what he wants, and that it’s “perfectly reasonable” for you to compile a list to convince him that the two of you belong together forever.  If you can just convince him that you are right, everything will be great. The Perfectly Reasonable Dater is the same woman who always seems to find a Perfectly Reasonable explanation for why none of her relationships work out (“He has abandonment issues. You know because his mom lost him at the grocery store that one time”). Stay away from this trap of rationalization!

If you chose C, you are a Dating Diva, a woman who knows how to date with dignity and without fear. This is the answer because men do not do anything they do not want to do. Yes, you can convince a man to stay with you after he says this phrase. With the help of my well-honed debate skills learned at Harvard, I’ve done it before myself. But you can’t convince that man to love you, cherish you, and be engaged in the relationship.

When a man says this phrase, the best thing you can do is give him space and move on with your life. Men process experiences and emotions much more slowly than women. They could easily coast in a relationship for years and wake up one day to realize they are completely miserable. Give the guy time to think. Don’t try to help him think it through. Don’t try to “be there” for him. Give him time to miss you. Men fall in love with women when they long for them—not when they are persuaded to be with them.

This is not easy to do. It’s painful, it’s frustrating, and it’s especially hard for us Crazy Girls who are used to making things happen in every other aspect of our lives. This is one instance when you should not try to make anything happen. Let what is supposed to happen—you two being together or not—happen without your finagling or fegulery (thanks to Ms. B for that word).

Giving a man space to figure things out does not mean he’ll figure things out in the way you want him to—which is why you have to really move on. If he realizes he can’t live without you, he’ll come back. And then if there is still room in your life and in your heart for him, the two of you can discuss getting back together. Men go after what they want—especially when they know exactly what they are missing, so there’s never a need to chase after a man who says he doesn’t know what he wants. However, many times, the guy realizes that no, he does not want the relationship. And that’s okay too. So this is me letting Mr. C think and letting Mr. C go.

As much as I would have loved to put on my Ms. Smart Girl hat and mind-bully him into staying with me, I know that letting him go was the right choice. The fearless choice.

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