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.)