Why does he act like my boyfriend, but says he doesn't want a relationship?

Jenna Birch
Contributing Writer
(Photo: Getty Images)

He takes you out on dates. He does thoughtful things for you, he asks you to meet his friends, and hints about things he’d like to do in the future with you. He’s kind, respects your boundaries, and you have great chemistry. You know he’s not seeing other people. And yet … he “doesn’t want a relationship.” Huh?

The craziest thing about this particular type of guy is that he doesn’t realize he’s already in a relationship. Two people having sex and engaging in emotional intimacy on a consistent basis? That’s a relationship.

So, why does he act like a boyfriend, but say he doesn’t want to be one? Probably one of a few reasons.

1. He doesn’t have his life together.

While our parents were following a more linear trajectory toward commitment, our generation was not told how to navigate the increasingly greater gap between school and marriage. This new period of life caused psychologist Jeffrey Arnett to coin the phrase “emerging adulthood,” in the late 1990s. Emerging adulthood is when you’re an adult in name, but definitely still figuring out your life.

Men frequently don’t feel comfortable with romantic commitment until they believe they have something to offer their other half — basically, until they’re out of this period of emerging adulthood. As a potential partner, you might experience skittish behavior around labels and commitment during emerging adulthood or whenever this man’s life is rocked by change. So, maybe his job is in flux. Maybe he’s thinking of moving or starting a new career. Maybe he’s not where he thought he would be at 29, with money in the bank and a starter home. I don’t know. But I do know men think long and hard about their ability to commit before they enter into commitments.

2. He’s afraid of relationships because of the amount of ‘responsibility’ they require. 

While interviewing countless men for a recent book I wrote on relationships, I learned one very interesting truth: Men are often the romantics. Women get the rep as starry-eyed dreamers, but that did not feel true in my experience talking to ladies and guys looking for love. Men were, by far, more guided by fantastical notions about what relationships should be.

These guys are idealists, and a lot of them are guided by the idea that a relationship is “hard work.” Many have parents whose marriage has lasted 30-plus years, and they want their love to last too. But they don’t think they have the bandwidth, skill set, or maturity to take the chemistry and connection with someone special and slap a label on it.

3. He’s a ‘committed bachelor.’

I’ve met men with so many varied reasons for being sworn bachelors. Some are committed to their careers and subsequently cannot fathom a weighty relationship with obligations they’re required to carry out.

Others have had a great love in the past — but it crashed and it burned, throwing them so off track that they swore they would never commit like that again, even if they meet someone great. Alternatively, to the “parents with great marriages” history, a lot of men were also children of divorce; they are convinced love doesn’t last, so why try?

Cynics do exist, but they look like regular Joes, and they date just like ’em too. So, if he casually says he doesn’t want a commitment while acting exactly like your boyfriend, he might mean he’s committed to something else: singlehood.

4. There’s someone else.

This is perhaps the most challenging situation to overcome on the path to commitment: His heart is still with someone else. I don’t mean that there’s someone else who he sees on a regular basis, but I do mean there’s someone else on his mind.

Some men date and have relationships, but they never forget an ex they’re still kind of convinced is The One.

In these cases, sometimes there’s nothing you can do to somehow convince him you’re a better fit. And you shouldn’t. The perfect blend of history, connection, and hope creates a perfect idea of a person. And once he’s built that up in his head, reality or not, it’s always going to beat the connection any one person can offer.

So, how do you deal?

Don’t accept a simple, “No, I don’t want to be in a relationship right now” and keep spending time in a situation that now makes you uncomfortable. To decide if this person is worth sticking with, you need to ask direct questions. You need to get to the root of the commitment troubles.

Set aside some real time to talk and ask why he doesn’t want to be in a relationship. Give him space to answer honestly. Don’t push back. And then take time to process what is said. If you find out he’s hung up on someone, or he’s adamant that commitment is not for him, then heed the warning.

That said, remember that commitment is a two-way street, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all sort of thing; it’s negotiated based on the individual couple and their life circumstances. Imperfect situations exist all the time, and people work together to come up with a mutually satisfying partnership that meets both sets of needs. With that in mind, perhaps you’ll need to ask what commitment means to him.

Commitment scares a lot of people. Not because they don’t want to be with someone special, but because they want to do it right and see it last. But being “ready” for a relationship is a fallacy. You’re never going to feel fully “ready,” but rather, you need to come to a point where you accept the risks and responsibilities of trying to love someone.

Jenna Birch is the author of  The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love (Grand Central Life & Style). Her relationship column appears on Yahoo every Monday. To ask her a question, which may appear in an upcoming post, send an email to jen.birch@sbcglobal.net with “Yahoo question” in the subject line.

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