One of the questions Amy and I often get at Linx is that of when – and how – to bring up certain sensitive long-term relationship topics with someone you’re seeing. If you’ve met someone through Linx, it’s likely we can provide you with those answers directly. For example, we actually know how our members feel about having (more) children, how they feel about potentially relocating from the Bay area, what their ideal timelines for marriage and parenthood could look like, etc. But if you’ve met someone on your own, found someone online or at work, or got set up by friends, the likelihood that you can get answers to any (or even one) of those questions is actually pretty slim.
When looking for dates, some of our clients tend to really focus on the timelines they have in mind for these milestones in their own lives, and are only interested in pursuing matches whose personal forecasts align with theirs. While I can see how that might make sense initially, it can actually work against you in the end. You can lose a lot of time looking for a man or woman who wants to share the same schedule you do; personal schedules can actually shift quite a bit as people get into relationships, learn what is important to their significant other, and realize what it might be like to be engaged, married, or even a parent with this particular person in their lives. We can be deeply affected – and motivated – by the hopes and desires of the people we love. We can change.
The lives we plan for ourselves as single people are the lives that make the most sense to us given the information we have at hand, but when the guy or girl of our dreams gets replaced by the man or woman who shares our vision for the future, sometimes our plans change radically. Just this week, I met with a 31-year-old woman who said she wasn’t sure about having children. But as we talked more, it became clear that really, what she didn’t want to do was make plans for her future that she thought should be made with someone else. After all, whose kids would she be having? Where and how would they be raised? And what would they look like? As a single woman, she could only have half of the answers, and so she was waiting until she had more information before making a decision; her Mr. Right can come in lots of different forms, so when she meets a man with whom she has incredible chemistry and the right kind of connection, the two of them can work out the answers together.
But what if you really do want a very specific kind of future? And you really are only looking for a man or woman who shares certain values and goals? How do you find out if a stranger is on the same page… or at least reading from the same chapter? How do you ask those questions without seeming crazy, presumptive, or rude?
Believe it or not, one of the worst things you can do in this situation is be direct. Asking someone a very specific question like “Do you want to be engaged in the next year?” or “Do you see yourself having kids with me before you’re 40?” can be a really excellent way to kill an otherwise budding romance. Amy recommends that people try to suss out someone else’s views on big picture issues in the first 4-6 dates; you definitely want to make sure there’s a shared sense of chemistry before you start talking about bigger issues, but you also want to make sure you have common goals before you make a big investment, so get clarity after you establish a connection but before you discuss exclusivity. After all, why take yourself off the market if the potential isn’t there for this relationship to make a significant run?
It turns out the best way to find out if the man or woman you’re dating shares your goals and values is by giving examples and sharing stories. So if you’re checking for long term compatibility, here are some easy steps to draw him or her out in conversation, and get a real feel for how they think about relationships, and what they might want their next great one to look like.
1. Start at home. Hopefully, your parents or siblings have healthy relationships you can discuss with your date. Talk about the things that you find enviable and admirable in those relationships. Be positive and focus on what you’d like to emulate in your own future and household. Stay away from timelines in this conversation, and even avoid talking about kids. You really just want to get a sense of whether or not the two of you understand love and commitment in a similar way. Parental relationships give you a sense of someone’s long view of relationships, and will also give you insight into what they fear. Pay attention to words like “boredom, frustration, isolation, monotony,” and “codependence.” Some people really do mean it as a joke. Some people really do not. You can usually tell the difference.
2. Talk about your friends and colleagues. If you want to discuss timelines for relationships and engagements, you hopefully have a set of friends and colleagues who provide models for this. Sometimes those models will be ideal. And sometimes they will not, which can be just as useful. Don’t be afraid to talk about a relationship that you find flawed or even unappealing. (We all know that couple who’s dated for more than ten years but still isn’t engaged, right?) Your date might not agree, and that’s good for you to know early. The great thing is that you’ll be talking about big issues, but you’ll also be talking about other people, so you can take in all of his or her thoughts and judgments, but you don’t have to take all of it personally. Don’t be afraid to suggest alternatives you think could work. Don’t be shy asking about why he or she might feel a certain way, and if anything could make him or her feel differently about an issue, and be sure to get your date talking about the relationships of the people in his or her life, too.
3. Talk about the kids in your life. These may be nieces and nephews. These may be the kids of co-workers. These could even be much younger siblings, in theory. But feel free to talk about the kids in your world, and how you connect with them. If there is a childcare model represented in that set of children that makes the most sense to you – and you want to be a parent – focus on it and see if your date gives you any thoughts or feedback on what he or she might one day want. And ask about the kids in his or her life. This is a really important thing to do even if you do not want children; either way, make it clear to your date that you have thought about this issue, you do have exposure and experience with kids, and you do have clarity on what role they could play in your future. Hopefully he or she will be able to let you know what role kids might (or might not) play in theirs.
Staggered over a couple of dates, these conversations will tell you a lot about what someone else wants out of life. Schedules change all the time in relationships, but goals and values tend to be static, so make sure that you and your match align in the ways that are truly important. So often, we think that we can get people to change over time; the real truth is that time changes us, and it doesn’t give us a lot of choice in how that happens.
In a perfect world, we’d all find someone who’s in exactly the same life stage that we are – ready for all of the same things to come to us at the same speed. But that could be awfully boring. 😉 We don’t really need someone ready to follow our timetable. We don’t really need someone who’s on the same page, reading from the same script, expecting the same fairytale. What we really need is someone who’s looking in the same direction, who’ll hold our hand through every unexpected twist and turn, and who’s determined that – in the end – we’ll both end up side by side, and in the same place. In remembering this, we are confident you will get closer and closer to finding the right match.