Today’s article is in response to a question from a reader (via !) about what to do when he says he doesn’t know what he wants and needs time to figure himself out. In my response, I provide guidance on how to approach this question, including what he really means when he says he needs to “figure himself out,” why it’s so confusing when he says he loves you and “doesn’t want to lose you” but doesn’t want to commit, and how to know if you should wait or move on if he says he doesn’t know what he wants.
After dating my boyfriend exclusively for two-and-a-half years I want to decide on living together and getting married eventually. He says he is not ready to make a deeper commitment right now and needs more time.
We both are divorced for little more than a year. He has a 16-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter which he shares custody with his ex. Their divorce is amicable and his ex is friendly with me. I have met all his friends, family and kids, and we spent all holidays together. Our lives are very much connected.
I have a 10-year-old son and have sole custody. My son sees his dad every other weekend but otherwise lives with me. My boyfriend lives in New Jersey and I live in NYC.
Recently we’ve been talking about our future and I have a very clear vision on living with him and getting married. He says he isn’t sure yet that he wants that level of commitment again.
He says he loves me completely and doesn’t want to lose me but is unclear of what he wants and says he needs more time to decide. He says he has a lot of financial pressures right now with his kids going off to college. He also says that he likes his space and “time alone” once in a while and is worried to lose that again if we lived together.
We love each other very much and the relationship is great in every way. But I am worried that deep down our paths might not be compatible. Or, are my expectations too high at this point and am I pushing him too much?
He told me that he needs more time and space to come around and that if I push him he is more likely to resist. He said he wants to come around to the idea on his own. I understand that completely. At the same time though I need clarity on where this relationship is headed.
What should I do? Set a timeframe in which we need to decide? What is a reasonable timeframe? Should I just drop the subject and set myself a timeframe and then leave? I feel he might come around eventually but I am worried that I might be wasting my time.
This is important to me to figure out because I am starting to get very scared and frustrated not knowing where we are headed. I am worried I might invest too much and won’t get what I need long-term. Is it worth waiting things out with him and for how long?
-Out of Africa
Dear Out of Africa,
I feel your frustration. I know that it is really difficult when you’ve invested your time, energy, and emotions into a relationship and it’s not going in the direction (or at the pace) you would like it to.
I think you hit the nail on the head with your observation that he is unsure of what he wants and that he’s leaning toward “not wanting that level of commitment” right now.
What He Really Means When He Says He Needs to Figure Himself Out
This is a relationship readiness issue.
He doesn’t feel ready to commit because he’s unclear of what he ultimately wants.
Because he is unsure of what he wants, he’s not fully available or committed to deepening your relationship.
In other words, he can’t be “all in” if he’s unsure.
And this is causing an issue for you because you and him have different levels of relationship readiness, and maybe a different vision for the kind of life and relationship that would be fulfilling for you long-term: you want to move in together and get married while he is unsure whether that’s what he really wants.
It’s important that he figures that out before you make a formal commitment to each other because how heartbreaking would it be if, (for example) after a wedding and a shared mortgage with you, he decides that this isn’t what he really wants.
So even though his self-awareness journey prevents you and him from going into deeper levels of commitment together, his self-discovery process is actually a GOOD THING because it’s part of “getting ready” for a relationship.
The clearer he is about what he wants, the clearer his relationship decisions will be.
Why It’s So Confusing When He Says He Doesn’t Want to Lose You but Doesn’t Want to Commit
He says he loves you and doesn’t want to lose you – and that’s probably ALL TRUE.
But then he also says he doesn’t know what he wants and needs time to decide.
It’s confusing, right?
There’s a difference between having strong feelings for you and actually being ready, available, and committed to meet your needs and co-create a fulfilling relationship with you.
His feelings for you are real and may be clear as day for him.
But he still might fear commitment or be unsure about whether he wants to commit.
He might want a relationship with you.
But how ready and available is he to build a relationship with you that’s deeply fulfilling for you and that meets your needs?
How ready and available is he to offer you the kind of relationship that you ultimately want?
The other problem that arises when you have differing levels of readiness or differing visions is that you both are going to have needs that will go unmet.
Whenever you experience an issue in a relationship, it usually points to a need or requirement that is going unmet.
So that’s why it’s so important to share your vision with each other and ensure your visions are aligned — that you’re on the same path and less likely to grow apart — before making a commitment to each other.
Are Your Expectations Too High?
No, you’ve been dating for two-and-a-half years.
That’s plenty of time for him to decide whether he wants to go the long haul with you.
And if he is still unsure, then he has some growing to do in terms of his own self-awareness.
Plus, your expectations are your expectations.
It’s okay to want what you want.
You have a vision for the kind of life and relationship that you really want.
Everyone has a vision for the kind of life and relationship that would be deeply fulfilling for them.
The issue here is that it seems like you might have differing visions with your boyfriend, or he is unsure what his vision is right now.
The good news is, from what you told me, it seems like he is being forthright about how he feels and where he is at.
This is to your advantage because it gives you information on which you can make decisions about the future of your relationship.
So What Should You Do When He Says He Doesn’t Know What He Wants
The question you have to ask yourself is, what is it costing you to wait? And how long are you willing to keep paying that price?
There is no external authority on this.
There is no ideal time frame, only the time frame that you choose. It’s a very personal decision based on what really matters to you.
Ultimately, you get to decide how long you want to wait for him to come around. You know what’s best for YOU.
But I’m going to take a stand here and offer some perspective since you ARE asking for my advice.
If he needs to “figure himself out” and is unsure about whether he wants to commit, there is no telling how long he will take to “figure himself out.”
He is unsure of which direction he is going and unsure of whether he wants to commit to a relationship.
Generally, I only recommend waiting IF there is a CLEAR light at the end of the tunnel and you’re actually MOVING toward a resolution.
Meaning…you can clearly see that there is a finite amount of time you will be waiting (example: the divorce decree is just a couple months away), AND the person you’re waiting for is taking meaningful action – he’s committed in attitude and action – toward resolving whatever issue is in the way of co-creating the relationship you want together.
Those are my two criteria (next to knowing that your visions are aligned to each other).
Finite waiting time. And commitment in attitude and action.
And you have to KNOW that you want to be together in order to be committed to overcoming whatever is in the way of being together.
Sure, it could all implode.
There is risk in every relationship.
But if you can see the light at the end of the tunnel and he’s committed to getting there, then you have a really good chance of making it through and you will greatly lower your risk of getting heartbroken.
But if there’s no light at the end of the tunnel and he’s not moving heaven and earth to get there, then there’s no telling how long you’ll be waiting and how long you’ll be paying the price to wait.
And that’s not worth it.
Your time and energy are valuable.
Your dream for the kind of life and relationship that you really want and deserve is priceless.
And every minute you spend waiting for him to “figure himself out” is time and energy that you’re not spending living the life that you really want to live.
And that’s time that you will never get back.
Only if he’s clear on what he wants and is committed in attitude and in action to overcome whatever is in the way of co-creating a fulfilling relationship with you, would I give him a chance.
Otherwise, focus on YOU and living YOUR vision, and let him figure out his.
How to Decide if He’s Right for You
Whatever the issues are in your relationship, if you find yourself agonizing over questions like…
Is this relationship worth it??
Should I give him a chance or walk away??
I totally get you. I felt the same way when I was dating, which is why I created a free guide to help you get clarity.
In my free guide you’ll discover:
- 30 questions to ask yourself to help you decide if you should give him a chance or if you’re wasting your time
- 22 red flags you should be aware of if you want to avoid heartbreak and painful surprises
- How to assess your compatibility with your partner to know if your relationship has long-term potential
Want to avoid wasting your precious time? I hear you! Download my free guide Should You Stay or Go? Relationship Choice Assessment ↴