When is a man ready to settle down? The answer is not always as obvious as we might like. In a culture as visual as ours, we demand the most conspicuous of tells. If a guy is covered in maritime tats and wears Warby Parker specs, he’s probably open-minded and down with composting.
If you spot truck nuts dangling from his jacked-up Ford F-350 Super Duty, he may feel that “the old ways are the best ways.” Sadly, unless a dude picks you up in a minivan that’s not his mom’s, the clues about his readiness for long-term commitment won’t be as blaring as his Coexist bumper sticker.
As a married guy, I can tell you that I felt ready at the exact moment my now-wife told me that she wouldn’t be dating me for a fifth year. #Romantic! What can I say? I’m a recovered louse who wised up to a good thing. But I often hear about my sister’s — and my wife’s girlfriends’ — dating debacles. And based on these tales, I understand that the struggle to find a quality guy who wants something serious is real — scary real.
There is a popular theme that seems to run through many of their stories. The dudes they link up with are either “not looking for a relationship right now” or “trying to get my life together” or “just not in that place right now where blah bity blah, blah…” Or whatever handy victim-of-circumstance lines men use to avoid emotional intimacy.Perhaps you’ve dated these kinds of guys. From what I’ve observed (and overheard from people on dates at restaurants), any baggage you might hold from wasting time on “commitment cowards” surfaces in those tense moments when two newly dating people gauge their respective levels of emotional availability. When a lady drops those very honest “Are we on the same page?” questions on a dude — “Do you want kids?” “Why didn’t your last relationship work out?” — it’s clear she doesn’t want to waste a minute more on a guy who can’t lock it down. I’ve noticed these questions tend to put guys on the defensive. But why? I mean, beyond the obvious answer: Men are emotional larvae.
Women are, of course, entitled to honest answers to these queries, but because many men boast sensitivity levels that would make a toddler take pause, may I suggest asking a different set of questions entirely. For instance, instead of asking if he wants to get married, ask if he has been going to a lot of weddings lately. A guy whose friends are settling down around him will have lots of wedding invites. Which ones won’t? The dudes whose friends are all single and think happiness is being facedown in a cabana at a Vegas pool party. Or try this alternate line of questioning: Are people in his family hitched and happy? It’s possible your guy could be an outlier, but if his relationship role models are parents whose marriage ended badly, it stands to reason that he may be unsure about taking the leap himself.
But from observing the relationship patterns of my guy friends and coworkers, I’ve developed a wholly unscientific theory that I think blows all other theories out of the water: If you really want to know if a man is ready for a committed relationship, ask him how his career is going. Sounds weird, I know. But as far as I can tell, there seems to be a strong correlation between a man’s readiness to settle down and where he is on Career-Goal Mountain. Traditionally, society has expected men to be providers. And until we are able to reasonably provide for more than just ourselves, many men feel inadequate. And it’s this feeling of inadequacy that informs a lot of guys’ dating behavior. For instance, I know plenty of young, ambitious guys: writers, entertainers, bankers, developers, doctors. Once they enjoy a little career success — a promotion, some actual stability, or a big break — their world is bright and they become open to all kinds of possibilities, including settling down. That’s when they get engaged to the girl they’re dating. The rest, who haven’t caught the brass ring or aren’t excited about where their careers are going, often forestall marriage endlessly in interminable relationships, Tinder hookups, or porn searches. In short, if he’s not feeling satisfied with his level of success or his place in the world, he’s not going to be ready to settle down with you … or with anyone for that matter.
There are caveats of course. If a dude just isn’t ready for commitment, there’s a chance that once he gets a whiff of success, he’ll redeem all his miles for a one-way ticket to Doucheville. Likewise, I’ve seen situations where a guy is in a comfortable relationship for years, and once he experiences a career surge, he up and decides he wants a fresh start with someone new — through no fault of his girlfriend. But unscientific as it is (I’m not an expert, but I was on MTV’s Guy Code!), I’m confident that most men have a relationship sweet spot, and it has a lot to do with meeting the internal goals they’ve set for their career and finances. If you meet a guy during that time in his life and you want long-term love, the odds are in your favor. And if your man isn’t ready to commit, please don’t think that you’re at fault. He may love you, but if you’re not someone he sees as a part of his future, you need to make him a part of your past.
Guys on commitment
“I want to have a dependable full-time income and most likely own a home somewhere. For me, that comes before marriage.”—Barry*, therapist, 28
“What did my parents’ relationship teach me about marriage? Don’t do it. Or at least make sure your relationship is really strong before locking it down. Because unwinding it is ugly.”—Josh, sound engineer, 35
“A lot of people my age are starting to get engaged and married. It’s not something I’d want to rush into. Personally, I’m not emotionally mature enough right now. Even if I were dating someone who I thought was the one, I’d wait until I was a little older.” —Justin, teacher, 24
*Names have been changed.