Be honest. How many times have you heard this story before?
“Well, I’ve been going on dates with this hot, charming, confident guy for [X number of] months now, and there’s something about us – we really click. There’s an intense connection whenever we’re together, and I know he knows it, too. I see him [Y number of] times each week. We’re always texting. And while he’s told me time and again that he thinks I’m an amazing person and that he cares about me, at the same time, he has also made it clear that he’s just not yet ready to date one person. As much as he likes me, he’s not ready to settle down. He just [insert Z reason, such as started a new job] a few months ago, so he needs some time. While he says this may change, for now, he’s unable to commit.
I believe he's being genuine, and I want to make it work – but I’m not sure I can stomach this any longer since I at least want to know that the time I’m investing is counting towards a future with him and not towards a dead end. Is there any way to know whether I can get him to commit, or is it time to cut my losses and leave?”
Does this story actually sound like your own? The one you’ve told your best friends on repeat, walking them through every sign he’s ever given you, every mixed message?
You’re not alone. Most of us have experienced this situation at one point or another: the grey area. That undefined zone whereby you’re not sure where you two stand. Are you more than friends, but not quite boyfriend-girlfriend? Because there’s been little clarification either way, you’re constantly confused as to whether or not you two have mutual feelings for each other, what your respective actions mean, and what the future holds. Things are not black and white between you, and you’re left reeling from constant disappointment since he does not have to fulfill the same obligations as a boyfriend, and yet he is not quite just a friend either for which you would have lower standards.
You may have experienced some of these:
- Behavior #1: He typically makes plans with you last minute because you are not currently his highest priority.
- Behavior #2: When you two do make plans, he cancels last minute repeatedly. He makes every indication that he likes you -- but may be afraid to lead you on further from that. So he goes along with plans to meet that he may have even initiated himself, but when things appear to get too serious, he unexpectedly pulls back.
- Behavior #3: He never really asks you out on a proper date. It generally just always feels like you’re hanging out.
- Behavior #4: He doesn’t call or text you back for days at a time. In other words, he tends to disappear and is inconsistent with the way he communicates.
So what can you do when you find yourself in this situation, and you really want to know whether he’s worth sticking around for or whether it’s time to head out?
You cut the grey area.
Trust me. Walk away now, and don’t look back. Don’t text him. Don't announce what you're doing.
Right now, your relationship is imbalanced, and it's time that you balance the scales once more.
According to Psychology Today, here are several things that may help provide some clarity to your situation. While you are not trying to convince him to be with you, you are aiming to make him realize what he knew all along:
- Become less interested: You are likely the one who shows more interest at the moment: in other words, you seem to value the relationship more than he does. But as you withdraw, you will be signaling that you are not needy and thus not just willing to take whatever he can give. If you are able to genuinely walk away by demonstrating less interest, you will regain the power to guide the relationship. This is also known as the "Least Interested Principle."
- Become scarce: Spend some time away from each other. If he truly appreciates you, he will miss you in your absence and thus want you more. This is also known as the "Scarcity Principle," where we tend to place greater value on something that is rare or taken away from us.
- Introduce competition: Enlarge your network. Become friendly with others of the opposite sex that you are also attracted to. You can use the dating app Hinge or mutual friends to arrange a few dates. This will not only help you get your mind off of him, but as he inevitably learns through the grapevine or from your social media presence that he now has competition, a healthy dose of jealousy may be an effective way to help him gain clarity about his feelings for you. As a warning: be authentic in what photos you choose to post or what hints you choose to drop regarding others with whom you are spending time. You are living your life for you, not for him. You should be genuinely trying to have a great time, not just posing and trying to pretend that you are. This also helps you further develop the "Scarcity" effect.
If you genuinely move on with your life, doing most if not all of the above, and he starts to pursue you with texts, calls, and invites to meet like there’s no tomorrow – then you’ll know that you’ll have a boyfriend who ultimately values you. Remember: if a guy likes you, he will get in touch with you and try everything he can to see you. It’s as simple as that.
So, if the above starts to work, and you begin to see a greater balance in the relationship, what next?
- Get him to invest: If he finds a way to ultimately stay in your life, let him do so by having him do things for you. While it may be counterintuitive, people tend to like you more if they are doing favors for you, rather than you doing favors for them; after all, we all tend to appreciate more what we have worked hard to obtain and have invested a lot of time and energy into. This is called the "Ben Franklin" effect. So stop doing him favors, and start asking for them -- ask him to give you a ride, to help you study, to send you something. The more you have him invest, the more you will mean to him.
- Reward: When he behaves in ways that provide more clarity to your situation, and things become less gray and more black and white, be genuinely grateful and reward him for being good to you. Be good to him back; offering him more attention and affection when he does what you like encourages him to continue that behavior. Maintaining a healthy environment of mutual gratitude is important.
So, now, what if he doesn’t reach out after you show less interest and take an initial step back? Then it looks like he was not that into you. He wasn’t serious about having you in his life, so why should you invest time and energy to remain in his? Don’t reward nonchalance and aloof behavior with your attention. You deserve to be treated with the utmost affection, and it is up to us women to set the bar higher for ourselves in terms of what we are willing to tolerate. After all, by closing the door on those who are mistreating us or abandoning us at their convenience, we make room for meaningful connections – that could lead to unexpected romances and even better friendships.
So say goodbye to the grey area, move on, and have fun. Life is short, after all! Spend it with the ones you love and who love you.