The question, “Where is this relationship going?” is not a question that is exclusively pondered (or asked outright) by women; although there can be no doubt that this question may more naturally arise from women, rather than men, in relationships.
Men who wish to avoid this question need first to understand why it looms over a relationship in the first place. Avoiding it can depend on the reason the question continues to loom. Understanding possible reasons that the dreaded question looms requires understanding the following three things:
1. Why women who ask the question ask it.
2. Why men should not assume they know the answer any individual woman wants.
3. Why men want to avoid that question in the first (and the reason isn’t always pretty).
Why any woman would ask this question, and what answer they hope to hear (if they have any particular answer in mind at all), can depend on the type of woman. There are generally two types of women: those who have self-esteem, confidence, and believe they have no difficulties meeting men; and those who lack self-esteem and confidence, and believe that “finding someone” is not easy. When either type is single, has not yet had children (or has not had as many as she would like to have), and prefers to bring children into a stable relationship (ideally, married one); the biological clock can loom large far earlier than one would think. The twenty-six-year-old woman who remains in a seemingly serious relationship for three years does wonder about “investing” another three years, only to have to “start over” and find someone new if the old relationship doesn’t work out.
While women can certainly have children well past 35 years old, most are aware that risks begin to increase around that age, and that fertility can decline in a very few years. Call it “biological hard-wiring”, but most sensible, well adjusted, women cannot abandon concerns of offering future babies an optimum start. Most women who want children one day prefer not to reach their 41st birthday, only to discover fertility problems.
No matter how great a relationship seems to be, and no matter how much a woman may care about her guy-friend, most women know it is not wise to disregard the biological clock and/or the time it can take to build a new serious relationship with a new partner, should that be the way things go.
The difference between the two types of women mentioned may be that the first type ask the question sooner and may be ready to leave the relationship more easily, while the second type may take longer to ask and/or end the relationship.
Women generally take their serious relationships – well – seriously. A relationship that is “almost perfect”, with a great guy who seems “otherwise perfect” or “as perfect as any guy can be” is not something women take lightly or for granted. Those who hope the relationship will “move the next level” don’t prefer to break up, but “wasting too much time” on a relationship that is not headed where a woman hopes it may is a difficult thing to take lightly as well.
Then, of course, there are women who don’t particularly want a relationship to go the way her guy-friend may assume she does. This is where “Number 2” of what guys need to understand comes in.
A woman may not be hoping to hear that the guy sees marriage in the near (or not so near) future. Particularly when women are in their early twenties, there is the chance the woman is wondering if the guy feels there is something a little wrong in the relationship, and perhaps both should be dating other people as well as each other.
A woman may ask about where the relationship is going as a way of asking whether the guy is hanging on when, perhaps, breaking up would be a wiser choice. Few people want to spend a lot of time in a relationship that is going nowhere (or going “South”, as some people say). Women often want “a reading” of how the guy feels about the quality of the relationship. Men in a relationship with a woman they see as “wonderful, but not quite perfect” (at least for him) often take their relationship seriously as well. Nobody wants to end an imperfect relationship, when “we all know” that “relationships take a lot of work”. Without a biological clock, men can afford to drag their feet a little when it comes to making a tough decision (and in their eyes, a potentially giant mistake). Women don’t have that luxury.
Then, too, there are times when women simply don’t want to invest a lot of time and “emotional capital” in a relationship that is not going where they hope one will.
This leads to the third thing men need to understand, and that is why this question so often is one they wish to avoid.
A common reason the youngest men (in their twenties) want to avoid this question is that they don’t feel ready to think about marriage and children. (In a conversation I once had with a small group of forty-ish, professional, men; the general consensus was that men often have no wish to have children under they reach about 35, at which time they develop a “nesting instinct”. This was, of course, not a scientific study; and it involved only accomplished men with advanced degrees. Still, it made a certain amount of sense to me.)
Just as women have their “loyalty” to their own reproductive future, men can have their own personal “loyalty” to the fact that they are under no such pressure from Nature. This can present a conflict between what the man truly wants for his own life and what he knows his girlfriend wants for her own. He may understand her concerns, but it is awfully difficult to commit to choosing that for which one does not feel ready or in which he simply has no interest.
There are times, too, when having a family plays little role. People have their own ideas about what they want in a relationship, and some are content to have things stay as they are permanently.
Another reason a man may want to avoid the ever-dreaded question is that he simply doesn’t believe the woman is, without question, “Ms. Right”. The man may care very much about the woman. He may see all the ways in which she is a wonderful person. Underneath, though, he may simply not be sure that she is the right person for his own “forever”. It isn’t easy to state such a thing after going together for three or four years (or even a year).
What puts a relationship at risk of having that question arise isn’t, when it comes down to it, the reason men hope to avoid the question. While men may only have half of the equation when it comes to all the plans, feelings, and discontentments in a relationship; they can usually easily recognize that the question is looming and have a rough idea of why it does. It is fear of being expected to answer that makes this question one men often prefer to avoid.
Once the question has been pulled from its looming position “up in the air”, and put into spoken words, a man’s only options are 1) don’t answer, and change the subject, 2) answer truthfully, or 3) lie. It can seem as if none of these are good options. After all, not answering either offers an “answer by default” or postpones the question for another day (often in the near future). Lying can involve going against one’s otherwise honest nature, and it is unfair to the other person. Answering truthfully poses risks a man may not want to take. (As an aside, answering by default and truthful answering that yields unwanted consequences can amount to the same thing.)
Avoiding the question of “where is this relationship going” is best done long before lack of communication has had time to build up, take the form of a helium balloon, and eventually begin to loom, with a guy’s holding the string. Looming won’t end until a guy either reels in that “balloon” and deals with it, or else cuts the string and lets it float away.
It’s always best to prevent the question from every taking shape by being honest, right from the beginning of a relationship. The guy in his early twenties, who doesn’t even
want to think about a long-term relationship and a family, needs to simply his new “friend” know that. If she wants more then she deserves a different guy. If she doesn’t want more there will be no problem. If she wants more but lies about that the guy deserves a more honest partner. When a guy is “just honest” in the very beginning he will reduce the chances that the question will ever arise.
Even with that, however, the woman who was once honest when she said she didn’t want may change her mind as time goes on. The woman who lies at the beginning may begin to reveal herself later on. Either way, even reducing the risk of ever facing the question is not always enough to prevent that “build-up of lack of communication” over time, which eventually leads to that “balloon” looming overhead.
So once the question looms there is no avoiding it as long as it does. There is no “cutting the string” without ending the relationship. There is only reeling in that “balloon” and dealing with it by getting rid of all the built up lack of communication that allows the question to continue to loom.
There are really only a few possible truthful answers (and consequences to those answers) to this dreaded question:
1. “You’re perfect, and I think our relationship is perfect the way it is, and I don’t want it to ever change.”
Consequence A: She decides whether she’s ok with knowing where she and the relationship stand, and decides to stay around and be happy with how things are. All is well, and the question no longer looms.
Consequence B: She decides to stay around for a while to see if you change your mind. (At least she knows where you both stand and won’t feel misled or strung along.) All may not be quite as well as it was for a while, but the answer blows over, and any future break-ups were going to happen anyway.
Consequence C: This is not what she has in mind for herself, and she decides to either break up or suggest seeing other people too. It’s not an easy decision, but you both deserve the chance to be with someone who is the right one. This may be the least pleasant consequence for this answer, but you both really do deserve to be in a relationship you know is a better match.
2. “You’re perfect, and our relationship is perfect. I’ve always assumed we’d end up together forever, but I’m just not ready to make definite plans right now.”
Consequence A: She understands that you’re young and cares enough about you and the relationship to stay and see where things do or don’t go. In time, all questions may resolve themselves one way or another, and she decides she’s ok with letting the chips fall where they may.
With this consequence you’ve answered the question, cleared the air, and discovered that she’s essentially willing to let things remain as they are (at least for now).
Consequence B: She understands because she feels the same as you do, and is relieved to know you’re both on the same page. (Wow, what a relief for all involved.)
Consequence C: She understands that you’re young and cares about you, but decides that you and she are in “on different pages” and decides to end the relationship or suggesting seeing others as well as each other. Again, breaking up is never pleasant (and sometimes heartbreaking), but – really – there’s no point in wasting the lives and emotions of the people involved. Making a tough decision can be the grown-up (and most caring thing) to do.
3. The third answer is in the “ugly truth department” and may be a cold, hard, truth that even the guy has trouble facing. Even if he manages to see and face this unpleasant truth in his own mind, speaking it would most often be too insensitive (or even cruel) . This answer may be some version of the break-up line, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
Whether or not this truth will ever be put into words, here are some version of a guy’s (or anyone’s, for that matter) unspoken response to the question of where the relationship going:
“I like you, and I care about you, but I don’t love you enough to want to marry you.”
“You’re ok enough, I guess, and the relationship is ok enough, I guess; but I want someone/something more than you/this relationship.”
“I can’t believe you’re asking me where the relationship is headed, because I’ve been thinking about breaking up with you for a while now.”
“This relationship isn’t what I want, but it’s better than starting over, dating, and having to date a lot of women before finding a reasonably appealing one.”
“I don’t really think much of you, and there is no relationship other than the sex ‘” but the sex is good, or at least regular; and I don’t have to worry about diseases.”
If the woman has self-respect, and the man finds some polite way to share his thoughts/feelings beyond, “It’s not you, it’s me.” The possible consequences may be:
Consequence A: She ends the relationship immediately. She deserves better, and the guy deserves to be happier. Such a break-up is really the only healthy option.
Consequence B: She takes a few days or weeks to digest your answer and ends the relationship after having a little time to get past the shock and disappointment.
Whether with Consequence A or B, her ending the relationship allows her to make the decision that the guy was too weak, cowardly, or even too concerned about her feelings, to make. He is relieved of the guilt he has probably been feeling for keeping up such a charade. When a woman in this situation ends the relationship being the “dumper” instead of the “dumpee” can make up for the fact that ‘” in reality ‘” she has been unwittingly living as the “emotional dumpee” for quite some time. In other words, she gets to take back a little of her own dignity.
On the other hand, if the conversation surrounding any of the unpleasant-truth answers above results in a guy’s finally saying the relationship is over, it’s still a positive (although unpleasant) move; and the woman still gets to know that she took charge of an unsatisfying situation and took the steps to end it, one way or the other.
In the case of “ugly-truth” answers and women who don’t have self-esteem or otherwise aren’t emotionally solid, the likely consequences are:
Consequence A: She tells the guy she doesn’t care if he doesn’t love her. She’s willing to wait it out and keep things the way they are. All she wants is to be together. Yada yada yada. There may be crying. There may be yelling. There is likely to be drama. Sometimes, if the relationship continues to lumber along, “The’ pill fails’ and – oops ‘” now there’s a baby on the way.”
This is why (once the unpleasant truth is out) the guy needs to be strong and compassionate, and end the relationship in spite of all the unpleasantness. If he doesn’t, not only will he be being unfair to the woman in the relationship (as is always the case when someone is left not knowing where things stand), but he will essentially be taking advantage of a troubled, insecure, individual; as well as leading her further on, and further prolonging the unhealthy situation.
Besides, in a situation like this, it may be best for the guy, too, to get out of the unhealthy relationship, no matter how unpleasant the getting out process is.
Consequence B: The woman ends the relationship (even if she doesn’t have self-esteem) either immediately or soon thereafter. She may be more broken-hearted than the woman with self-esteem would be; but even women with low self-esteem or low self-respect often prefer not to be further exploited. Some may even be particularly sensitive to “yet more mistreatment” or “yet more being made to feel low” ‘” and that, alone, may be enough to help a woman with low self-esteem or self-respect to get through the break-up a little more easily.
NOTE: Having “low self-esteem” or “low self-respect” or “emotional immaturity” is not intended to describe seriously disturbed women. It is presumed that a guy who has been in a relationship with a woman for a long period of time
has some clue as to whether she has serious mental health issues or “just the usual issues that some people sometimes have”. In other words, the possible consequences shown here do not include consequences that may result from “being honest” with a seriously disturbed person.
While men may fear the consequences of a truthful answer to this question, the simple fact is the consequences will either be positive, neutral, or negative. A positive consequence may be that the woman finally understands the man’s feeling better, and the two arrive at an agreement when it comes to “where the relationship is”. A neutral consequence may be one of the times when the couple agrees to leave things as they are and essentially see what happens as time goes on. No breakthrough is made, but no break-up occurs either. Then again, sometimes a temporary break from the relationship offers enough for both people to see how they feel after separating for a little while.
Negative consequences may be negative in their own ways, but they often also have a positive side. Ending a long-time relationship can be difficult, but both people will, in the end, be better off with the chance to meet the real right person and have a healthy relationship.
With regard to negative consequences, however, a few of them have no particular positive side to them; and this type of negative consequences may be the ones the man, rather than the woman, will suffer.
Very often there were benefits to that otherwise unhealthy relationship, and sometimes the thing that kept the guy from breaking up much sooner was that there were things about the relationship he liked having in his life. Maybe he would be happy remaining uncommitted for his whole life, but he liked being in a “regular” relationship. Maybe the relationship was comfortable, or comfortable enough. Maybe he’s a guy who is terrible at going out and meeting new women, or maybe the woman in the relationship is someone he particularly related to “on an intellectual level only”.
The reason men often dread the question in focus here is that they fear the consequences of giving an answer, but that’s not a very manly way to live a life or address an issue.
When the question, “Where is this relationship going?” looms over a relationship, a man needs to ask first whether the question is a reasonable one. If it crops up when the relationship is only three months in progress, that’s a sign that the woman is in a hurry for some reason ‘” and that should set off “alarm bells” that woman has some sort of issues. It’s better to deal with this situation head-on and early, because there’s a good chance this woman is an aggressive husband-hunter (or at the very least, needs to be constantly reassured that the relationship is solid, by having quick and frequent signs that it is progressing).
If the relationship is three years old when the question arises it is a legitimate question, and three years of insufficient communication is long enough to cause that “looming balloon” to hover and bounce around until it is reeled in and dealt with.
A man in this situation needs to honest ‘” with himself and with the woman. Both deserve that much.
A man in this situation needs to be brave ‘” brave enough to face the possibly unpleasant consequences of dealing with the question, but also brave enough to share his true feelings.
In this situation, a man needs to be strong ‘” strong enough to make a tough decision.
He needs to have integrity. It is unfair and lacking in character to wish to “string along” someone else, just because a guy may want to do the easier thing, or the thing that allows him to essentially use another human being.
A guy in this situation needs to have some common sense. It just doesn’t make sense to stay in a relationship that will waste the time and lives of the people in it. Life is precious and made up of time. Wasting someone else’s time/life is an awful thing.
He needs to respect the woman enough to realize that she would probably rather know the truth and deal with it, than be misled or lied to out of fear that her feelings would be hurt.
Also, a guy in this situation needs to keep his ego in check enough to realize that if the woman breaks up with him it will merely be the sensible thing to do; and if he breaks up with her, she will wither away and die.
A man should not run away from, or cower in corners to avoid, that looming question of where the relationship is going. He should be man (and a grown-up) and deal with the issue head-on. He won’t melt by having a conversation or by sharing what he really wants from the relationship. Besides, if the woman has reeled in that looming “balloon” and has decided to deal with it head-on, she has most likely prepared herself for also dealing with “where the chips fall”.
Holding onto that balloon string but never dealing with the issue may give a guy a guy a sense of control that is as inflated as any balloon may be, but it is not genuine control ‘” not his and not the woman’s. When a woman decides to reel in that balloon and hand it to the guy so he’ll deal with it; she is essentially expecting him to deal with his half of the issue as a grown-up, so that both he and she can resume control over his/her own life.
As long as there is something from which one party is running away or hiding; neither party has any control over his own life, and the relationship can never be whole.