It's a trope we've seen in sitcoms, rom-coms and various other types of coms: The male half of a heterosexual relationship just can't seem to take the next step with his girlfriend.
She wants a ring; he's not ready for marriage. She wants to move in together; he thinks it's a bad idea. She wants to etc.; he's not etc.
First of all, let's reject the myth that these roles are set in stone. Yeah, there are reluctant dudes out there whose girlfriends want to take things to the next level. But sometimes it's the other way around. Sometimes neither is ready for commitment. Sometimes both are.
(Apparently that last type is what's called a “healthy, well-adjusted relationship.” I guess it's a thing.)
In other words, not all men have nightmares about getting married, and not all women are planning their future wedding on Pinterest after the first date.
But, again, sometimes that happens. And when this story shows up in TV and movies, the moral is always the same: This guy is just confused. He'll learn his lesson, pull a "Good Will Hunting" and go after the girl before he makes the biggest mistake of his life.
That's not always how reality works, though. Sometimes, guys have good reasons to not jump into commitment. Such as…
1. He doesn't have his sh*t together yet.
Adulting ain't easy. In the aftermath of college, we're expected to figure out our career path, decide on where we want to live and learn how to feed ourselves nutritious meals, all while yearning for the fun we had when our key responsibility in life was “Don't be a total screw-up.”
Committing to a long-term relationship at this stage can be tough. Not because a guy isn't genuinely in love with a girl, but because he is genuinely in love. He cares for her, and wants to avoid making any decisions that will cause her unnecessary pain in the future.
He knows he's not doing his girlfriend any favors if he decides to move in with her, all while secretly wondering if he's got the right job, living in the right city and handling his own issues with maturity.
Say he realizes what's missing. He wants to try something new. Deciding he needs to pack up and move across the country to start over is going to throw his life into a whirlwind. If he's already settled down with someone, she's also gonna find herself caught in the spiral of sudden, dramatic change.
She could choose to go with him, leaving behind her own career, friends, and lifestyle, or they could break up, in which case she'll have to find a new apartment, completely change her expectations for the future, and wonder why he made the commitment if he wasn't planning on sticking around.
Sometimes, it's best to wait until you're stable in all the other important areas of your life before looking for stability in your relationship.
2. She doesn't have her sh*t together yet.
Keep in mind, the above point goes both ways. Maybe his girlfriend has made it abundantly clear that she's not entirely sure she's got a plan for how she wants to spend the next major portion of her life. If that's the case, a guy may refrain from taking the relationship any further until he can be confident that he won't be left facing a sudden life upheaval when she figures out what she really wants to do.
Again, it doesn't mean he doesn't want to be with you in the long run. He's simply making sure that you'll be able to make a life together. Being compatible isn't simply about sharing the same interests, experiencing mutual attraction and enjoying each other's company. You need to want the same life.
And if either one of you hasn't figured out what kind of life they want yet, neither one of you should be willing to rush into a romantic commitment.
Yes, the romantic notion would be to assume that if you were truly in love, none of that would matter. If one partner decides to pack up, move to the North Pole and try to make it as the real-life Santa Claus, the other should follow with an eager smile and a dozen adopted reindeer.
That's not really fair, though. Loving your significant other doesn't stop you from loving your job, your home, your family or any of the other important things in your life. You can be serious about your relationship and also be unwilling to abandon everything else that means something to you.
Another romantic notion that doesn't hold up under the scrutiny of reality is the idea that all couples who truly love each other should feel comfortable jumping into marriage, regardless of how much money they have in the bank.
Sure, it's a sweet idea, and people have successfully settled down with a net worth so low science had to invent new numbers to explain it, but not everyone is willing to take that plunge. When you have the kind of debt that no honest man can pay, you don't do something unreasonable, like the rest of the lyrics to Springsteen's “Atlantic City” suggest.
No, you make sure you've taken care of your financial woes first. Then you commit.
It's no secret that one of the major causes of strife in a relationship is money. Even if you're eager to start your life together, the healthiest thing to do is hold off until you can afford it.
4. It's not one of his values.
This is something a guy needs to be upfront about right off the bat. If he is, though, there's no point in holding it against him when it causes problems later on.
Not everyone values romantic commitment. While most people still seem to be interested in finding their perfect partner one day, there are those who'd rather not settle down. At all. I'm not one of them, but I also know that labeling them as “broken” is pure ignorance. We don't all want the same things.
Once again, such people need to make it clear that this is how they feel, and they need to do so before someone with the wrong idea forms an attachment.
But that's all that's required of them. They are not required to change their values. If you've decided that you want commitment, you can't expect them to suddenly shift their entire life perspective.
Yes, you'll probably break up. You almost definitely should. But that's better than trying to make someone change one of their core beliefs.
That never works out well.