Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Topic of the Day: Have you Ever Said You Aren’t “Ready” For a Relationship?

Have you ever told someone who was romantically interested in you that you “weren’t ready for a relationship”? (I have). What did/does that mean for you? Is it just an excuse to get out of seeing someone you aren’t into? Is it simply easier to say than “You’re not doing it for me?” and “I don’t want to give up my chance of finding a better match to settle down with you?” An article in The Atlantic this month argues that:

“The idea of being “ready” for a relationship is both ubiquitous and vague. “Readiness” is a well-worn T-shirt people put on and take off over and over again throughout their dating life, an all-purpose explanation for any number of reasons someone might or might not want a romantic partner. Often, it’s not clear what it really means when someone says, “I’m just not ready for a relationship right now.” And any deeper meaning behind that statement is hardly as important as its upshot-—no relationship will be had. It’s a cliché that’s easy to hide behind, to use as a smoke screen for the real reasons behind a breakup, or as a shield from the self-exploration that might dredge up more difficult feelings.”

That’s not to say that any time is a good time to date or that you’re always ready for a relationship if a relationship is what you want. Julie Schwartz Gottman, the co-founder and president of the Gottman Institute, where she and her husband, John Gottman, study what makes for successful relationships, says that loss, such as the death of a partner or a divorce, will affect when people will be ready for a new relationship.

“They really need time to process,” she says. “Oftentimes people will try to enter into a relationship quickly at times like that, in order to use the new excitement, euphoria, and magic to suppress the negative feelings that they’re still living with beneath the surface. As a result, what can happen is those negative feelings will sneak out the side door and enter the new relationship.”

But barring a big loss, relationship readiness is pretty subjective, and most people are probably more ready than they’re willing to admit. That’s because relationships take effort, require an investment of time and energy, and come with an element of emotional risk – all things a lot of people use lack of “readiness” as an excuse to avoid. But what happens when you put off relationships for too long is, as the author of the article in The Atlantic says: “a lot like putting off going to the dentist — it becomes more daunting the longer you wait.”

Sometimes people say they aren’t ready for a relationship when what they really mean is that they don’t have everything in their life figured out yet – their career, their finances, even their mental health. But Schwartz Gottman argues that if we all waited until we were perfectly well-adjusted adults before we dated seriously, the human race would die out. And anyway, she says, “it’s only through practice that people will get better at communicating.”

What do you think? Is there such a thing as being “ready for a relationship” (or not ready for one)? Have you felt the difference in your own life? How did you determine whether you were ready or not? (Personally, I think if people feel a general resentment about past hurts, or are still processing pain, then they’re not ready; but, beyond that, saying you aren’t ready is generally a way of protecting yourself, and sometimes just taking a leap will yield you greater joy.)

12 comments… add one
  • avatar

    cdobbs May 23, 2019, 1:40 pm

    I have dated guys in the past who were just out of long term relationships and the problem is they keep bringing up their ex….so that always indicated to me that they were not ready to be in a relationship (or at least that is how it felt)….then you have to make the tough decision to stick it out or tell them that you want to wait till they are over their past relationship before moving forward

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  • avatar

    snoopy May 23, 2019, 2:03 pm

    Yep. I told my now-husband that I wasn’t ready for a relationship/dating when he first asked me out. And it was true. I had just gotten out of a crappy 2 or 3 year relationship at the age of 20 and needed time and space to know who I was. The breakup had been long and drawn out because we had a lot of mutual friends, so I needed space to be me and go out with friends have fun without always worrying about someone else.

    I think a big part of being or feeling ready is about knowing who you are and what you can bring to the table in a relationship before hopping in. That doesn’t mean you hide away completely, but it requires a level of self-awareness to know if you are looking for validation externally or distracting yourself from processing a big change. You don’t have be perfectly well adjusted to date, but you need to be far enough along in your own journey to be able to self-reflect and have an internally-calibrated compass.

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark May 23, 2019, 2:14 pm

    In classic Bittergaymark fashion, I’ve sincerely said this one or two occasions. (Truth? I was still closeted and not out.)
    ..
    But yeah, yikes. I’ve much more often had it used on me in the iconic letting him down easy mode. I know I am right on this as several of the sayers married or as much as they could very soon after with Mr. PostMark.
    .
    Admittedly, I’ve never been much of a catch as too-tall, washed up and broke / failed writers / improv actors with a useless flair for design are not exactly who anybody wants to bring home to mother. Far from it.
    .
    In conclusion: yes. It’s very possible to “not be ready for a relationship.” But more often than not it truly means the sayer is “not ready to settle and be in a relationship with you.” 😂
    .
    I suspect now, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, that everybody who ever (kindly) said as much to me was wise and smart and %100 correct to believe as much. Don’t take it personally. But never, ever hold out hope that they will one day soon “be ready” and thus come crawling back to you.

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  • avatar

    csp May 23, 2019, 3:17 pm

    So when I was younger, guys would say this to mean “I will sleep with you but not date you” .

    I will say that the only other time I could see this is during incredibly busy times in you life. Like I am travelling heavily for work or raising two little kids or doing my medical residency or deploying. The idea of making space for someone in a very packed life is hard. But most of the time, it is a way for people to only keep things casual.

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    • TaraMonster

      TaraMonster May 23, 2019, 4:57 pm

      Hah, I mean I said this to men to mean “I will sleep with you but not date you.” But the whole reason I wanted to keep things casual was because I wasn’t ready to be in a relationship. I honestly was not emotionally sound enough to be a good partner to anyone. Now my libido on the other hand was perfectly fine lol.

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  • avatar

    SpaceySteph May 23, 2019, 3:20 pm

    Yes! I was just out of my first really serious relationship with my college (and immediate post college) boyfriend. When my college boyfriend dumped me I was devastated so I signed up for online dating to prove to myself I wouldn’t be alone forever. Ended up going on several dates with a guy I met online. This dude was really good on paper but there was no chemistry. I thought the lack of chemistry was because I still wasn’t over my ex and couldn’t like anyone like that yet.
    And then less than a month later I started dating my husband who I did have chemistry and feelings for right away.

    I didn’t think “I’m not ready for a relationship” was a lie when I told it. And maybe it wasn’t a total lie– I wasn’t over my ex enough to *know* that the lack of chemistry was just lack of chemistry and not a symptom of something bigger.

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  • avatar

    anonymousse May 23, 2019, 4:34 pm

    When I said it, it was after a big breakup and I just wasn’t ready for the responsibility of a relationship. I was kind of numb to emotions at that point.

    We still managed to have fun and remain friends.

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  • TaraMonster

    TaraMonster May 23, 2019, 4:45 pm

    Oh course it’s true that sometimes people aren’t ready for relationships. Just because people sometimes use this as an excuse does not invalidate for folks who are genuinely not in a good place to be a good partner to someone.

    In the months following the end of an LTR that lasted for most of my twenties, I was not remotely over my ex. But I started dipping my toe in the dating world out of a combination of loneliness and curiosity (and let’s be honest–horniness!). There were plenty of men in NYC who were happy to see me casually. But of course I met someone who ignored those statements and so I had to “break up” with him after a couple months. When I did, I reiterated that I was not ready for a relationship. And I wasn’t. I was re-learning who I was as a person, re-learning to date, re-learning my own hopes and dreams and boundaries. It got a little messy and complicated, but I just didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with his feelings for me at that time.

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  • avatar

    scorpio May 23, 2019, 5:36 pm

    I told my now boyfriend this after one date. I had just gotten out of a long term relationship that I thought was going to be “it”, and I knew I wasn’t emotionally over it. My current bf was very understanding, said he had been there before but he really enjoyed spending time with me and could we be friends for now and see what happens. He is basically the nicest person I have ever met, and a mutual friend told me the same thing so I thought “why not, I have been open with my feelings so it isn’t like I am leading him on”.

    We started just hanging out, and had so much fun together. Everything was so easy and I enjoyed even mundane things like going to the hardware store together. Within a month we were dating.

    I would say it probably took me about 2 more months until I felt more emotionally invested in the relationship, but I was very open about what I was going through and he stuck by me. Totally worth it, and the fact that he was willing to wait just proved to me what a great match he is for me.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros May 23, 2019, 6:08 pm

    I said it once, and at the time, I thought it was true. I was seeing a guy who I’d been set up with who was good on paper. So, when I found myself not that excited to see him and feeling like spending time with him was taking me away from other things, like seeing my roommates or friends, I thought that I just simply wasn’t ready for a relationship. But what I realized later was that a relationship only felt unpleasant with him because it was him — if it had been someone else who I was more excited to see, I probably wouldn’t have felt that way.

    I have had many guys say it to me, who unsurprisingly end up in a relationship shortly after. I’d like to think they were like me and just were misguided, but the frequency makes me wonder.

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  • bagge72

    bagge72 May 24, 2019, 9:01 am

    I did say this, it was with the girl I was dating right before I stared dating my wife. Everything was going fine and she was a really cool girl, but for some reason I didn’t feel like I was ready for something long term, but it turns out I just didn’t want to be with that girl long term. I started dating my wife shortly after that and that was ten years ago.

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  • avatar

    alafair May 28, 2019, 4:18 pm

    I did say it and actually mean it. Although to be fair…there wasn’t much chemistry on my side when I said it. That was right before I went into therapy to deal with my incredibly screwed up childhood. I spent a few years in therapy and am now able to tell when it’s chemistry vs truly not ready 🙂

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