We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship . But how often do we actually hear the nitty-gritty details of how we might actually achieve those things? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a licensed sex psychotherapist based in San Francisco, to help us out with the specifics. This week’s topic: how to talk about commitment with someone new — even before you have sex.
Q: I’m in that age old position of trying to figure out when and how to have “the talk” with someone new. I’ve been dating a guy for about a month, and things have been going really well. We haven’t talked about the future, but I don’t want to sleep with him until we’re in a committed relationship. I’ve had issues in the past with not asserting myself if the guy didn’t want to commit, and I want to do things differently this time. How should I approach the talk this time?
A: Most people view the Define The Relationship talk with a lot of trepidation. It can seem so much easier to keep “going with the flow” instead of taking the time to talk about where things are going.
Even though these conversations can feel awkward at first, I don’t think they’re worthy of their scary reputation. Think of this as the opportunity to make sure this guy is worthy of more of your time. With a few simple steps, you can ensure that having “the talk” feels less daunting and more straightforward.
1. FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU WANT
Many people jump into having “the talk” because it feels like the logical step after dating for a while, but you want to make sure that moving forward is something you actually want. Don’t act off of inertia alone.
It sounds like you’re pretty clear that you want to be in a committed relationship, but it’s still worth taking the time to clarify your feelings before you approach him.
Make sure you know how to adequately describe what you’re looking for. “Commitment” can have a lot of different meanings. Does it mean you’re only dating each other? Does it mean you’re starting to integrate your lives? Does it mean you’re moving towards marriage?
Next, spend some time thinking about where you are and are not willing to compromise. If he was willing to be exclusive, but wasn’t ready to get serious, would that be OK? If he asked for some more time to feel it out, would that feel alright? Sometimes it can be hard to know what’s a deal-breaker and what’s an acceptable compromise; if you’ve had a hard time sticking up for yourself in the past, I’d try to err on the side of deal-breaker.
2. FIND THE RIGHT TIME
When to have the talk depends on how long you’ve been together and what you’d like the next step to be. You said you don’t want to sleep with him unless you’re committed, but is your desire to have “the talk” motivated by hormones, or by a genuine desire to move your relationship forward?
People frequently stress out over how much time is the “right” amount of time to wait before having this conversation. Unfortunately, there’s no cut and dry answer. Seeing each other for a few days a week for a month is different from seeing each other two or three times in that month. Going on dates to the movies is different from spending hours engrossed in conversation. In general, I’d recommend looking for signs of deepening emotional connection. Are you starting to open up and share your real selves with each other? Are you making plans for spending time together in the future? Then it might be time to have the talk.
3. LAY YOUR CARDS ON THE TABLE
Being approached to have “the talk” can feel intimidating. Nobody likes getting ominous “we need to talk” text messages, and if he feels put on the spot, he may have a hard time expressing himself. You also don’t want to psych yourself out about it either. This doesn’t have to be as scary as you may be anticipating!
What I’d suggest is to let him know what you’re looking for, then give him some time to respond. After one of your dates, say something like, “I’ve been having a really good time with you, and I feel like I’m ready to take the next step.” In positive terms, describe what you envision that as being. Don’t issue him an ultimatum. “I’d like for us to be monogamous” feels a lot different than, “I won’t have sex with you unless you commit to being monogamous.” After you’ve described what you want, say, “I don’t want you to feel put on the spot, so I thought I’d give you some time to think about you want. Maybe we could talk about it next week?”
If you’re worried about feeling shy in the moment, pretend that you are going to have “the talk” for your best friend. Imagine that she was in the situation of wanting to be in a relationship, and you were talking to the guy for her. If that truly was the case, you’d probably feel much more confident about advocating for her wishes, and would ask for what she wanted without any hemming or hawing. You can have that same attitude towards yourself!
4. RESPECT THEIR WISHES
The scariest part of asking for what you want is that the other person can say no. It is possible that the person you're dating would come back to you and say he's not ready for the kind of commitment that you want.
If that’s the case, don’t try to change his mind. You don’t want to have to twist his arm into being with you. It can be really sad to have to end a relationship because you’re not on the same page about what you want, but it’s way worse to know that you had to convince someone to be with you.
5. DON’T SETTLE
Sure, relationships require compromise, but you don’t want to feel like you’re betraying yourself and backing down from what you truly want. If you’ve had a hard time sticking up for yourself in the past, remind yourself before having the talk that your needs are valid and that you don’t have to compromise on everything. Be willing to walk away if it becomes clear that you’re not looking for the same thing.
How he responds is a good indicator of his character. You want to be with someone who is excited to be with you, even if he’s a little scared of commitment or nervous about getting more serious. If he acquiesces begrudgingly or tries to convince you to settle for less than what you want, he’s probably not worthy of your time.
Keep in mind that the goal of “The Talk” is to move towards a relationship that feels healthy and right for both of you. Taking the next step should feel exciting! If you’re not compatible, it’s better to find out sooner rather than later. Good luck!
Images: hjl/Flickr; Giphy