This week’s article is in response to a question from a reader (via Ask Melissa!) about what to do when he says he’s not ready for a relationship (yet still behaves as if he wants you in his life). The reader asks “Should I stick around and wait or leave him be?” I provide step-by-step guidance on how to approach tough decision:
I met a great guy on tinder. For the first few months, I kind of pushed him to the side (we hadn’t met yet) and answered other guys. Fast forward two months later, and we decide to meet. We have so much in common, he really is AMAZING. I’ve met his friends, and his brother, and he’s met my friends. We act like a couple when we’re together.
He is going through a divorce, and has been living separately since January (we met in person in April). They have two kids, he has the house, and the divorce will soon be finalized. I have not met the kids yet.
We talk daily. There has not been a day that’s gone by that we have not spoken. Recently, he’s voiced to me that he realizes he’s not ready for a relationship, but wants to keep talking to me (he thought he was ready, and realized he’s not.) He wants to be friends, and refuses to let me walk away. He’s very hot and cold. I don’t believe he’s seeing other women as he does work six days a week, and has the kids half the week. I’m just confused. He told me it would probably hurt to see me with someone else, but he can’t tell me not to date other guys just because he’s not ready.
I know he has feelings, but do I wait it out? I’ve brought up where we stand a lot, and I’ve pressured him on it too much. I realize this now. He told me I pushed him away, but he likes talking to me. How do I stop being so insecure? I really like him. He’s been nothing but respectful, he’s so sweet, and I could see a future with him when he’s ready. I’m going out of my mind trying to figure out if I’m a rebound and should let him go, or keep sticking around. Please help!
– Tired Eyes
Dear Tired Eyes,
I feel your frustration. You’re not alone in your struggle with this question.
Should you stay with him and wait until he’s ready for a real relationship or do you cut your losses and leave? It’s a difficult dilemma.
And makes it all the more confusing when he’s sweet, respectful and amazing yet he’s sending mixed messages at the same time.
But here’s my take: When he says he’s not ready a relationship, take his word for it.
In fact, his admitting his sense of readiness is one of the best case scenarios because then you don’t have to guess, he’s just coming out and saying it.
He’s giving you a heads up that since he’s not ready for a relationship, he’s not going to be able to meet the needs, relationship requirements or expectations you might have for a relationship. (And by the way, there’s nothing wrong with having needs, relationship requirements or expectations; we all have them and they are necessary for us to be aware of so we know what makes us happy and fulfilled in a relationship)
What Mixed Messages Really Mean
But it can really throw us for a loop when he says he’s not ready for a relationship yet his behavior seems to tell us he doesn’t want to let go.
What do you do if he says he’s not ready but he still “wants to be friends,” wants to “keep talking” or still wants to see you?
It’s all very confusing. And yet a very common scenario.
When guys send mixed messages, it means they either don’t know what they want and are unintentionally stringing you along their journey (because, ultimately, they don’t want to be alone or go without the “girlfriend experience),” or they do know what they want and they are intentionally screwing with you because, ultimately, they don’t want to be alone or go without the “girlfriend experience.”
As I mentioned in my article, How to Avoid Being the Rebound Woman, in most cases he’s not aware of what he wants or fully aware of his readiness for a long-term committed relationship.
In many cases, he’s just taking it day by day, week by week, doing what feels good or what feels right for him in the moment (like wanting to call you, wanting to see you, asking you to come over or stay…despite having told you that he’s not ready for a relationship) without being conscious and intentional about whether this really makes sense for him and for the both of you long term.
And so, unfortunately, you experience the effects of his wishy-washiness.
We feel insecure when we’re on shaky ground. And being in a relationship with a separated man who is going through a divorce is going to be—by default—shaky ground because his life and his whole family are undergoing a tremendous amount of transition.
And he’s having to adjust to other new arrangements especially if he is now a recently divorced or separated single dad.
He might be contending with a vindictive ex-wife, or having to learn how to co-parent across households, or dealing with kids who are really upset about the divorce, along with all the other stresses that come with splitting assets and splitting parenting duties.
And in some cases, he might not even be sure that he wants to get a divorce.
It’s all very volatile either way.
So if you’re in a relationship with someone whose life is undergoing a lot of transition, it’s likely you’ll experience a lot of the volatility, too, unless you take some measures to protect your emotional wellness.
So, do you wait it out?
First ask yourself: what do you need to know in order to decide whether to wait it out?
What Do You Need to Know in Order to Decide?
Here are some guidelines on how you could make this decision:
Know What You’re in for
Dating a recently divorced or separated man, especially a dad with school-age kids, is more complex and comes with other considerations than is dating a guy who doesn’t have kids or isn’t going through a divorce.
To help you make a relationship decision about whether you should stay or leave, it’s important to get clear on his status, where is he in the process of divorce?
Are the papers actually filed?
Are they going to court or mediation?
Is his ex pushing back?
Have they made custody arrangements and split the assets?, etc.
There’s never an easy way to tell how long he’s going to be in this transition.
But knowing his status will give you valuable information about his readiness for a relationship and how available he truly is to meet your needs.
Get Clear on What You Need in Order to Be Happy and Fulfilled in a Relationship
Relationship conflicts happen when our needs or relationship relationship requirements go unmet.
We all have needs and relationship requirements.
Needs are the things that we know need to occur in a relationship in order for us to be happy and feel loved in the relationship.
And relationship requirements are the things that must happen in a relationship otherwise the relationship would NOT work for you (they’re your deal-breakers!).
So your sense of frustration or confusion is pointing to an unmet need.
Maybe you have a need for your man to be forthright and clear in his words and his actions.
Whatever your needs may be, it’s crucial to get clear on what those needs are.
What are your relationship needs, relationship requirements and your desired life vision; what do you want your life to look like in order for you to be happy and fulfilled?
It’s important to know because that awareness will help you determine whether you’ll be happy being with this person long term.
Determine Your Choices, Benefits and Risks
You might have learned this in your high school economics class: with every choice comes an opportunity cost.
What is it costing you to stay in the relationship?
What would it cost you if you left the relationship?
What would it mean if you were “just friends” (what would that look like and feel like in action in your relationship)?
And what are the benefits and costs of being “just friends”?
What risks are you taking if you stay in the relationship?
And what risks are you taking if you leave the relationship?
He might have told you that you pushed him away, but I encourage you to not a blame yourself or take ownership of his choices.
He decided to step away because he said he was not ready.
This was a choice that he made.
You didn’t “make” him do anything; people are responsible for their own choices.
If you had questions about the status of the relationship or had questions about his intentions, you have every right to ask those questions if you’re in a relationship with one another and if you’re considering a long term commitment.
Those are important questions to ask because they help you determine whether he’s a good long-term match or whether you’re wasting your time.
And if he’s not forthcoming with the answers to questions that you care about, that in itself is valuable information for you, too.
It could be that his relationship intentions are not aligned with what your intentions are.
So part of making difficult decisions is to get clear on what your choices are.
We always have a choice.
Ask Yourself the Hard Questions—and Be the Chooser
Once you have an idea of what you’re potentially dealing with, and you know what your needs are, and what choices you have in front of you, ask yourself: what do I want to do now?
What risks are you willing to take? Or not willing to take?
These are tough questions, but the decision-making is less scary when you have clarity on what to potentially expect, what your needs are, and what choices you have.
And with that clarity, know that you can always choose which path you want to take. You have the power to be the chooser in your life and relationships—always.
The Antidote to Fear and Insecurity
To answer your question about “how do I stop being so insecure?”… we feel insecure when we’re on shaky ground and unsure about what’s going to happen next.
Insecurity can show up as blame/shame, self-doubt, lack of self-confidence, or feeling out of control.
Wanting security is a natural desire.
The problem happens when we rely on others to validate our sense of security.
We will never feel secure if we rely on something outside of our self to make us feel secure.
We can stop being insecure when we can get our sense of security from within.
And the antidote to fear and insecurity is clarity.
It starts with getting clear on what you need in order to be happy and fulfilled in a relationship.
A strong sense of self—knowing what you want and what truly matters to you in your life long term—contributes to a strong sense of self-assurance.
When you know what you want, it’s easier to make decisions, such as difficult relationship decisions, with greater confidence.
So where can you find, develop and strengthen your sense of self and self-assurance?
When your heart speaks, what does it say? About what you want? About what you need? About the dreams you have for your life?
Connect to THAT.
Bring to light your dreams, your wants, your vision.
Because when we stand by our needs, our vision, and our dreams, we cultivate a sense of security and assurance from within, rather than a sense of security that we wait for others to give to us.
And when it comes from within, no one can take that away from us.
And we can summon that sense of self-assurance any time.