Undefined relationships or “just seeing where things go” can be all fun and games until you’re a few months in, wondering, “What is this?” or “What are we doing?” Even if you’re enjoying each other’s company, there’s still a chance you might ultimately want different things. Because of this, bringing up the future with the person you’re dating can be daunting AF. But talking about the future doesn’t necessarily have to be scary. For one, examining the bigger picture of why you’re scared can help you gain perspective on the situation. According to Dr. Alexandra Solomon, a licensed clinical psychologist and relationship expert, some of your fear might stem from the way young people have been socialized to approach dating.
“The current dating climate tends to skew toward a vibe that is low accountability, low vulnerability, and high ambiguity,” Solomon tells Elite Daily. This causes people to shy away from asking important questions, including whether or not your partner sees a future with you. “People tend to have this question on the tip of their tongue for a long time before they take the risk of asking the question,” Solomon says.
That being said, there is no perfect time to ask the other person about the future. When you find you’re biting your tongue about what you want and where you see the relationship going? That’s when you should have the conversation.
“This is especially true if the reason you’re suppressing the urge is that you are afraid of coming across as ‘drama’ or ‘high-maintenance’ or ‘needy,'” Solomon says. “If you stay silent when you want to speak, you’re teaching yourself to settle for ambiguity when you want clarity.” Holding your tongue can also stir up feelings of resentment.
Not only will it be helpful to clear the air before any bitterness kicks in, but chances are, your partner might also be nervous about asking the “future” question. “Keep in mind that if you’re sitting with this question, the other person is likely sitting with it, too,” Solomon says.
She recommends picking a time when you’re both relaxed and feeling present enough to talk. One concrete example of how you can start is: “I think you’re such a wonderful person, and I’m really enjoying the time we’re spending together. Can we talk about where this is going?” Framing it in this way invites vulnerability and collaboration, Solomon explains. Approaching the other person in a positive and curious way can go over so much better than saying something accusatory or stress-inducing, like, “I guess I have to bring up our relationship status since you don’t want to,” or “All my friends what to know what’s up with us.”
If your partner does see a future together, you can get the ball rolling on “defining the relationship.” If they say that they don’t, Solomon says, “Your job is to assess the degree to which the other person is in their integrity.” For example, your partner might say they’re enjoying your time together, but they need to approach the next level of your relationship slowly because of trauma, their current stage of life, or the self-growth that needs to take place. Or your partner might say they simply don’t see a future with you because they’re just having fun.
“In the first example, the person is in their integrity,” Solomon continues. “They are honest about enjoying what you’re building, they are taking responsibility, and they are wanting to make sure the situation feels tenable to you. In the second situation, there’s low accountability and no space for empathy. The consequence of continuing to see someone in the second scenario is self-abandonment.”
If you do decide to continue dating this person even if they don’t want to define their relationship with you, Solomon recommends asking yourself, “What beliefs do you carry that allow you to accept less than what you want or need?”
Even if the other person says they don’t know whether they see a future together, you can still find nuance in their answer. An “IDK” that translates to “Stop asking about the future and take what I’m offering you,” is different from an “IDK” that translates to, “I’m speaking my truth, but tell me what you want and need from a romantic relationship right now.” If your partner means the latter, Solomon says “Their transparency and honesty might help you feel calm, connected, and ready to remain for a while in a space of exploration, connection, and possibility.”
Apart from taking the time to talk, listen and see what’s up on your partner’s end. Again, don’t forget to examine your own feelings. That includes the bigger picture, like the state of your current relationship, but also the smaller (but still very important) picture, like your true desires. Forget what the “low-accountability, low-vulnerability, high-ambiguity culture” has told you: What do you want out of the situation? It’s easy to get caught up in whether the other person likes you, but don’t forget to advocate for what you want, too.
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