In a perfect world, you and your future life partner would fall instantly and hopelessly in love the moment your eyes met. All uncertainty would vanish, and all questions of emotional compatibility would be rendered moot. If only.
In reality, it often takes time and effort to know what you want and with whom you want to share it. Falling in love is not a “one-size-fits-all” proposition. It happens in different ways and at a different pace from one person to the next. Sometimes, the new man in your life will get ahead of you, declaring his deep feelings before you are ready to follow. Here’s what to do if that describes you:
1. Don’t panic. There’s no need to run for the exits just because the two of you have different expectations of the relationship at first. Not all romances burst into flame immediately—some may smolder for quite a while before gaining enough heat for combustion. Stay open-minded long enough to see if that occurs with your feelings. You’ll never know if you give up too soon. And hey, there are worse things than having someone madly in love with you!
2. Set the pace. Don’t let your partner’s emotional certainty force you into choosing before you are ready. Only you can know what you feel and when you feel it. You are in charge. There is no “wrong” answer and no official dating timetable you must follow. Pressure to decide may not even come from the man in your life, but from your friends and family who want to know what you are “waiting for.” To be blunt: It’s nobody’s business but yours. Take all the time you need.
3. Set boundaries. A potential partner who has deep feelings for you is alert for any clue that you may feel the same way. For most people, the most obvious and convincing “evidence” is physical intimacy. If you are unsure of where your feelings are headed in the relationship, physical involvement (from the simple act of holding hands to the complex step of having sex) is sure to send mixed signals. Be careful not to inadvertently mislead him while you make up your mind.
4. Communicate. For the man who has fallen in love ahead of you, the hardest part of your emotional mismatch is the uncertainty. While you continue to say yes to opportunities to spend time together, he can also sense your reserve and indecision. To him, dating becomes an unfair guessing game in which he is never sure of the right answers. Don’t make him deduce what you are thinking and feeling. Be honest up front about your need for more time.
5. Ask yourself: why? If he’s head over heels while your feet are still firmly planted on the ground, try to identify what it is about him that makes you feel unsure. Romantic compatibility can seem like a mysterious force of nature, like lightning—inscrutable and unpredictable. But there is some science in it as well. Analyzing the reasons for your hesitation may help you predict whether or not you’re likely to warm up over time.
6. Know when to fold ’em. If you’ve given your emotions plenty of time to catch up with his, but still feel no nearer to the spark you’ve waited for, do both of you a big favor and say so—sooner rather than later. Yes, it’s awkward, but it’ll be much more so down the road if he feels you’ve led him on, knowing it was a dead-end. Take a deep breath and tell the truth. You’ll set yourself—and him—free to try again with someone new.
When you find yourself on uneven emotional ground with a man, be gentle…with yourself and with him. Follow your heart for as long as it takes to be certain of your feelings.