Nothing beats the feeling of falling in “mutual like” with someone. You’ve got crackling chemistry, you enjoy each other’s company, and your connection is flirty and fun. But if someone wants a serious relationship and you don’t, it can be tough to know how to talk about it without hurting their feelings. At some point, you need to be honest about where you stand — but this doesn’t have to mean destroying the other person’s trust. The key is being totally upfront about your intentions, and the sooner you do this, the better this conversation will probably go.
There are a million reasons why you might not want a serious relationship. Maybe you just got out of a long-term relationship and are trying to take this one slow, or maybe your life is too hectic right now to handle anything more than a fling. Whatever the situation, the person you’re seeing deserves to know that you don’t want things to get serious — especially if they’re looking for a long-term commitment themselves. “If someone needs something more than what you can offer them in this moment, it is best to be completely transparent about that,” explains relationship coach Shula Melamed, MA, MPH. “If you aren't, it will end up becoming an issue down the line and cause more pain for them and for you.” Sometimes two people just want different things, and it’s best to have that discussion ASAP to avoid potential heartbreak.
The best way to talk about this is to kindly state your desire to keep things casual, and to do so without assuming how the other person will react. “Listen to what your partner is saying, and acknowledge that you've heard them,” relationship expert Susan Winter advises. “Tell them you understand their desire and appreciate their honesty, but you're not coming from the same place.” Winter says it helps to understand why they want a serious relationship with you. Are they looking to get married and settle down soon? Have they fallen in love with you? “The answer to this question allows you to more specifically frame your response,” she says.
Simply saying “I’m not on the same page as you” doesn’t provide enough clarity for the other person. Instead, Winter suggests using your partner’s “why” to explain your own perspective. “Are you still finishing grad school? Have you just started a new job?,” she says. “Are you in a process of dating to figure out what you want and need in a partner?” For any of these reasons, you wouldn’t be the best serious partner for this person. Even if you care for them deeply, you won’t be able to give each other what you both want long-term.
Unfortunately, you can’t avoid the possibility of making the other person upset. “If another person would like something serious, and something serious with you specifically, there is a good chance that they will feel disappointment,” Melamed says. But what you can do is assure them that your feelings aren’t because of anything they said or did. “The other person might take it as a sign that they aren't ‘good enough,’ or that if they were the ‘right person,’ you would be ready,” Melamed said. “Be clear that it has less to do with them, and everything to do with how you are [un]able to place a serious relationship in your life.”
Be prepared that your partner might choose to end your relationship after this conversation. “Your partner might want to start dating other people in order to find someone on the same page,” Melamed says. If that’s their decision, it’s important to respect that they have different goals and deserve to find that serious relationship they’re looking for.
If your partner does want to stay together, make sure they aren’t doing so because they hope you’ll change your mind eventually. “If they start acting resentful, it might be time to have another talk about the situation and what would be best for you both,” Melamed says. Unless you plan on getting serious eventually, don’t lead your partner to believe that your feelings could change. Honesty is the best policy here, even if it means the end of your relationship.
Sometimes the most promising romantic connections can fizzle out because two people don’t want the same things. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to conform to your partner’s expectations of the relationship. But what is important is that you are completely transparent about what you’re looking for. “If you don't want this person for a serious, committed relationship, then it's kindest to let them go to find someone who will,” Winter says. For the sake of both your feelings, you deserve to be in relationships that make you feel free to be yourselves.