While dating, you’ve probably got your antennas up for “red flags.” You know the ones: Is he overly critical of the wait staff? Does she seem to hate everything from her job to the guacamole? Does he seem to talk a lot about himself and ask very little about you?
Perhaps the toughest red flags to see fly — the biggest dating buzzkills — are those involving one party’s ability to see a future with you.
Although noncommittal statements are certainly frustrating to hear, shying away from titles and relationships are not always romantic kill-strikes. If you can look at “red flags” a bit differently, it’s slightly more human: People can say the darndest things while figuring out what they want, fearing vulnerability and struggling with the weight of searching for a potential life partner. Here, some formerly single folks recall the noncommittal way their relationships began.
Lauryn Slotnick had known Ben since grade school, but they did not fall in love until their 30s. When they were finally starting to date, they didn’t make it official for six months. “I somehow managed to ask what we were, and about giving it a ‘title,’ but he shimmied away from making it official,” she explains. “He told me how his last girlfriend had broken his heart, and he wasn’t ready to put himself in that position again. He even went so far as to say that he wanted things to stay as they were until I found someone else, but then he realized how stupid that sounded.”
Despite his insistence on remaining single in name, couple in action, Lauryn stuck by him until he finally felt comfortable enough to label the relationship, and then move in together and eventually get married. “Later on, Ben always says that he ‘couldn’t date me’ because he knew he’d never be able to break up with me, and he’d have to be ‘ready’ and know he was in it for good,” she says. “Obviously, if he didn’t generally seem so happy to be with me, these wouldn’t have been worth ‘blowing off’ or trying to figure out his actual feelings! But he did, so it was.”
Karla Ivankovich knew that dating a divorced man could pack some baggage, but she was so drawn to her future husband’s passion and personality that she proceeded past a few blazing red flags with caution and awareness. “He had started telling me he loved me, unbeknownst to me, while still seeing other people,” she says. “Sometimes, I just couldn’t fathom how this man was ever in a committed relationship. He was so noncommittal and secretive — but if I didn’t answer my phone, he would call back until I did.”
Over time, Karla began to realize some of her guy’s statements and actions were like “armor” in moments of vulnerability. “He used them to protect himself,” she explains. “He once said, ‘I am not a commitment kind of guy; I am just not that type!’ After discussing it, he later confirmed it was just the thought of being vulnerable in love, again. It was too terrifying.” The craziness completely subsided with time, the 45-year-old claims. “Now, he loves me too much to say that stuff!”
When Melissa Goker, now 35, met Murat for the first time, he was committed to the single life despite their growing attraction toward one another. “He regularly mentioned he was in no position to have a girlfriend. He even joked, ‘We’ll find you a husband someday,’ ” she says, even as they started to spend all their free time together.
Melissa was fine with casual at first, but eventually she wanted to label their “situationship.” They weren’t seeing others, so why not just call it a relationship? Murat was stubborn in his independence, even if he wasn’t utilizing it. “It took him two years to admit I was his girlfriend,” she says. “He wasn’t ready to commit for a long time, and it was frustrating, but he wears this facade. He’s rough around the edges, but, if you get past this, he’s an amazing person. He just has this wall of bulls–t to test you.”
After weighing her options, Melissa decided that building something (undefined though it was) with her now-husband was worth the risk. “I didn’t want to go back to the world of dating; I just wanted to be with him,” she says. “I think I lost the pressure of it all at the age of 30. I wasn’t married, didn’t have the kids. So, I was like: Screw it. Doesn’t matter. There are no predetermined steps. I wanted to be an independent thinker. Now I have this relationship I’m proud of, and I wear it like a badge of honor.”