"What are you looking for?" is to the world of romantic relationships as, "Where should we go?" is to the world of picking a restaurant for dinner.
It's a simple question that is strangely hard to answer. It might come up on a third date, at a barbecue with your extended family, or in your therapist's chair.
Typically, when I'm asked what I am looking for in a relationship, I clam up and mutter, "Um, I don't know." I would probably say this even if my crush of all crushes was the one asking me. (Oh, hello, Oscar Isaac.) I am a wimp.
It's hard to be vulnerable. As counterintuitive as it is, part of me feels like it's "uncool" to admit that I want a relationship, so I often pretend that I'm not looking for anything serious.
There are also other times where I have genuinely wanted to be single. I have actually been content to be alone at moments, only to put on a sad act about my lack of boyfriend because that's what single people are supposed to do, right?
Writing this out makes me pause and feel a little cray. I should be able to figure out what I actually want from a relationship. I should not be playing pretend. It shouldn't be this hard!
How do you find out if you actually want a relationship? Here are seven questions to ask yourself:
1. Do You Feel Lonely At Night?
What sounds like a lyric from a cheesy '90s R&B is actually a great litmus test for how much you currently dig being single. There's a reason sleep deprivation tactics are used in interrogations: When you are tired, you tend to be more emotional. So if after a long day of work, you find yourself feeling particularly lonely, take note.
Are you pumped about star-fishing your whole bed and falling asleep to an episode of Arrested Development? Great, you do you.
Are you having trouble falling asleep, and do you keep finding yourself trolling your ex's Insta, semi-spooning your pillow at 4 a.m.? Maybe you're subconsciously missing the intimacy you once had.
2. Are You Looking To Fill A Void?
Without getting too emo, you probably aren't 100 percent content with every last piece of the puzzle that is your life.
That said, are you generally happy? If you are pleased with your career and friendships and are feeling genuinely fulfilled, a relationship might make sense for you. If you are happy, you're able to bring your best self to the table.
If you are having a tough time at work or a falling out with a friend, you should ask yourself if you are treating a relationship more like a magical Band-Aid than a thing you truly have energy for.
Distractions are great, but you need to make sure you're not just avoiding something else that is happening in your life.
3. Are You Afraid Of Being Single?
Are you just tired of fielding, "When are you going to settle down with a boyfriend?" from your parents, your grandparents, and even your bodega man? Are you ready to show up with a nice dude and say, "Fine, here he is!" just to quiet the noise?
Be careful here. Don't cave just so you can say the word "boyfriend."
On the other hand, maybe you're a serial monogamist and just got out of a long-term relationship. Are you just looking for a relationship because you haven't been single since freshman year of high school? The unknown can be scary, but why not give single-dom and casual dating a try?
Either way, don't act out of a place of fear.
4. Are You Hung Up On Your Ex?
Figuring out the answer to this question will help you sort out whether you actually want a relationship or not. If you are still hung up on that ex-boyfriend or lover or whatever, be careful that you're not just looking for a relationship to distract your broken heart. Treating someone as a rebound is not good for either party.
And if you are hung up on that ex? Be real with yourself and admit it. You don't have to tell anyone else. Rather than distract yourself with a boy toy, feel the sads alone for a while. Having your actual feelings means you'll be much more likely to get over your ex in a complete way.
5. Are You Ready To Truly Open Up?
Getting into a relationship means sharing all (or most) of yourself with another person. From your dreams and fears to beds and bathrooms, you are going to be sharing a lot.
Intimacy can be terrifying. It can also be beautiful, and if you can't open up with your partner, the relationship will never move forward. Make sure you are ready to share yourself before jumping into a relationship.
Not sure? Therapy can be super helpful with this.
6. Do You Love Yourself?
It's an old adage, but it's true: You can't love someone else if you do not love yourself.
The best relationships happen when you are able to make room for another person in your life. You need to be able to take care of them, be there for them, and make them feel loved. They, in turn, need to be able to do those same things for you.
If you haven't been taking care of yourself and making room to show yourself some love, whether that's taking yourself to yoga or planning your dream trip to Machu Picchu, how are you going to make time and space to show your love for someone else?
Get on a good page with yourself before adding another character to your story.
7. Do You Want To Spend Time With This Person?
Above all, whether you want a relationship comes down to whether you want a relationship with one particular person.
I have never understood the "I'm not looking for a relationship" excuse. I'm usually not looking for a relationship, but even if I am not, if I fall for someone, I fall for them. I want to spend all of the time with them, whether that means making out or taking a boring seven-hour car trip.
Dating coach and expert Meredith Golden puts it perfectly: "If the right person comes along, wanting a relationship is natural."
The challenge is being brave enough to admit to yourself that you want that relationship. It's easy to get scared and pretend to be a "chill" girl; it's harder to get real when asked the question, "What are you looking for?"
If you want to be in a relationship with someone, or even just give a relationship a try, tell him. Don't shirk away from the truth. Yes, you might find out he wanted to keep things casual. The rejection will sting for maybe a week. If you had spent more time with him, that sting would last much longer, so good riddance.
Above all, be honest with yourself. It can be scary to admit that you want a relationship, especially if you don't have any potential suitors, but it's really empowering to get clear on what you want.
Tell yourself, then maybe tell your therapist, then a friend. Put that energy out there and see what comes back your way.