• Before you sit down with your squeeze and utter “Honey, we have to…”, read over our tips for making The Talk mutually beneficial rather than terrifying.
You can charm the pants off anyone with your finely honed sugar lips and defuse most potentially deadly showdowns with your razor-sharp wit. Still, somehow, when it comes time to initiate the relationship conversation, none of that makes a damn difference. You’re left tongue-tied and nerve-racked. That’s because that couple-status report inevitably puts you in the clichéd nagging-woman-pointing-at-her-stopwatch position — and him on the utmost defensive. Someone is bound to get freaked out, hurt, or misled. Which is why we’re here to help. Because the check-in is a necessary milestone in any growing relationship, you’ll have to face the music at some point. We’ve come up with a plan for making the commitment conversation a lot easier on both of you — and it’s actually effective.
Talk Tip 1: Get a Goal
Before you even broach the prickly subject of your destiny as a couple with him, you must first contemplate where you want the relationship to go. “A big mistake women make is not knowing what their expectations are,” explains Sharyn Wolf, author of Guerrilla Dating Tactics. “They want their guy to answer the question ‘Where is this going?’ without first answering it for themselves — it’s not fair to him and it doesn’t lead anywhere.”
Think about the connection you crave. Is it steady dating? Living together? An engagement? Then consider whether your romantic hopes are compatible with your other lifestyle goals. “You might be busy working on your career or you’ve planned on traveling before settling into a job, which would make it tricky to sustain a steady, solid union,” says Aggie Jordan, author of The Marriage Plan. “Sometimes a woman is so focused on getting a greater commitment from a guy, she never stops to think that maybe she isn’t ready.”
Once you’ve checked in with yourself, gauge your guy’s love state. Notice: Does he include you in future plans? Have you met his family? Is he comfortable hanging out with you and his friends together? Those are all good indications that he won’t balk at The Talk. But if he’s never made a date with you beyond next Saturday or is secretive about how he spends his time when you’re apart, you’ll probably have an easier job parting the Red Sea.
Finally, make sure the love level you long for is a realistic hop forward from your current status. “Four months after we began seeing each other casually, my last girlfriend said that if I were really serious, I’d want to move in with her by our one-year anniversary,” recalls Tim*, 26. “We were only getting together a couple of times per week, so it seemed crazy to suddenly contemplate sharing a set of keys. I liked her, but the deadline weirded me out so I stopped seeing her for good.”
Talk Tip 2: Pick the Right Setting
The timing and atmosphere can be a major factor in how your guy responds. “Although it seems ideal, before or after sex is always bad — no matter how relaxed he is, his mind won’t be in the right place,” says James Douglas Barron, author of She Wants a Ring…and I Don’t Wanna Change a Thing.
“He’ll probably be more likely to agree with you just to end the conversation.” And avoid any situation where he might feel trapped, like in a car or during a romantic dinner, which can feel like a ploy. Also, if friends and family are nearby, keep your lips locked. “Otherwise, he’ll feel as if he is being put on the spot, and your in-public prodding will backfire,” Barron says. The best time to catch him is when he’s kicking back.
“Guys are approachable when they’re doing mundane activities,” says Barron. “But make sure it’s an activity that lets him focus on what you’re saying.” Cleaning up after a good meal or sitting in front of the tube (not when the game’s on) are good options.
It always helps to take advantage of those times when you’re feeling superconnected; for example, when you’re coming back from a movie that you both agree was the best you’ve seen in years. “He’ll be more receptive to discussing the relationship if he’s feeling close to you,” says Jane Greer, author of How Could You Do This to Me?
Talk Tip 3: Choose Your Words Wisely
You can sink the ship with a slip of the lip. Step one: Ditch the cliché openers. “When a man hears ‘We have to talk,’ he thinks he’ll be criticized,” says Wolf. And “Where do you see this going?” will make him clam up defensively. Instead, open with a positive statement that strokes his ego. Tonya, 31, told her beau of three years that she felt closer to him than any other guy she’d ever known and wanted to get more serious.
“We ended up having a long talk about monogamy,” she says. “Being straight with him definitely worked in my favor.” The best tactic is to frame your wish list around a phrase that eases him in, claims Jordan. “You might tell him, ‘I’ve been thinking about our relationship. I always have a good time when we’re together, which is why I’d like to start seeing you exclusively. What do you think?’ This example shows that you value his opinion and aren’t trying to corner him into saying just what you want to hear.”
The direct approach also speaks to your guy’s goal-oriented mind-set. He’ll be able to follow you better than if you utter ambiguous phrases like “I feel…” or “I need…” Plus, “using the word ‘need’ implies that you’re dependent on him, which is a huge turn-off,” says Jordan. If he flat-out rejects your offer, you’re better off saving your breath and taking his word for it, advises Greer.
“Don’t get upset or try to convince him to change his mind,” she says.
Instead, agree to revisit the subject at a later date, and use that in-between time to your advantage. Make it a point to hang out with other connected couples so he realizes that life doesn’t end when commitment deepens. When the time comes to have The Talk, Part II, however, hold him to figuring out your next step.
Talk Tip 4: Seal the Deal
Once you’ve both agreed to take your love to a new level, wade in slowly. “Slipping casually into your new status gives him time to adjust emotionally, assuring him he made the right decision,” says Barron.
So if you two are now dating exclusively, gradually introduce him as your boyfriend to friends and family. “He might feel skittish hearing the B-word so soon, even if he’s glad to be that person in your life,” Barron adds. If cohabitation is in the cards, don’t demand that he break his lease ASAP. Instead, bring over the Sunday paper and circle the real estate ads together. This way, he feels like he’s an equal partner.
But remember, there’s a difference between taking it slow and letting him quietly fall back into your old couple patterns. So if you’ve both decided to, say, exchange apartment keys, but a month later, he still hasn’t gotten around to making your key copy, he’s most likely stalling. If you’re truly tired of your current status and sense that he might be dawdling, say sayonara. “When I finally brought up marriage, my ex explained that he loved me but he had these huge matrimony fears that he had to get over,” recalls Sarah, 26. “Stupidly, I hung in there for another six months, thinking he was working on his ‘issues.’ But eventually, I realized he was just stalling, so I told him I couldn’t wait any longer and ended the relationship.”
It may not be the happy ending you hoped for, but now, you’re free to find a man who truly is relationship-ready.