Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hi Carolyn: I’m 30, female, and have a storied but (I think) pretty normal dating history: lots of shopping around throughout my 20s, plus two serious relationships that in each case I was almost sure would lead to marriage. Neither one did, and after the second one, I was left feeling like I had wasted a lot of time closing myself off to other possibilities. I’ve since enjoyed nearly a year of being single and dating more casually.
Now I’m seeing someone pretty consistently, and I think marriage is a possibility in the future, but meanwhile he has been pressing me for a serious commitment since pretty much day one. I feel like this is something that makes sense to the general public, but not to me – until we are both pretty sure of where this is headed, why (other than basic jealousy, which I don’t think should be indulged) should I want to make an exclusive commitment? I mean, if he is someone I’d enjoy being married to, won’t I come to that realization whether or not I am free to date other people? Why do I feel like a bad person for wanting to keep my options open until I am really ready to close them?
I really care for him. I am just not sure I should make an artificial commitment to him, outside of marriage, to show that.
No, pressure to commit doesn’t make sense to the general public, or to you, because agreeing under pressure to a commitment you’re not otherwise ready to make is never a good idea for anybody, whether you’ve known him a day or a decade. Your backstory isn’t relevant here; in fact, it’s distracting you.
Again, no matter the background, pressure is not appropriate relationship behavior. He asks, you say you’re not ready, he backs off until you are – unless and until he decides he’s unwilling to wait any longer, at which point he tells you this and breaks up with you if you’re still not ready.
I’d urge you not to invest any more time in someone who doesn’t already get this on a basic level (see below), but it could be he’s never been called on this behavior and therefore never stepped back far enough to recognize it as unhealthy. So, if you do really care for him and don’t have other reasons to question his motives, then call him on it: “I don’t like that you’re pressuring me. It’s disrespectful of my feelings. Plus, I can’t imagine you’d want to be with someone who commits only because you applied constant pressure to get what you wanted. I care for you, and I need time to see where that takes me. Will you give me that time?”
If he says no, in words or deeds, then he’s a no.
It’s also important to know that pressure for a quick commitment is a classic tactic of abusers. I still like this brochure from Peace at Home for the economy of its “Warning List” (bit.ly/1USS4h1), which features coercion prominently. “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker is the longer-form read I suggest, and premature emphasis on commitment makes his warning list, too. Don’t talk yourself out of your doubts.