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Q & A: "So, um, are you looking to settle down?"

Q: Dear Pella,

When is it okay to start asking questions about your date's hopes and plans for the future? And what is the best way to bring these things up? The first couple of dates seem too soon, since we're just establishing whether we have fun together, have good conversation and are attracted to each other enough to continue dating. But I don't want to get too involved or attached or fall too hard for someone before I know if what they want matches enough with what I want.

My questions have to do with the desire for long term commitment or marriage, the possibility of children, their financial situation and goals, where they see themselves living, etc. And anything else I don't already know (which I'm sure is a lot), which could be important in my decision making process.

I don't want them to feel like they're on a job interview, but I need to know somewhat early on, or else I'm afraid I might end up getting into a full blown relationship (again) with the wrong person for me.

Thanks,

Kim

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A: Dear Kim,

This is such a great question - and a really common one! Many of my clients have been hurt in the past, or are getting older, and don’t want to waste their time investing in something that’s not going to work out (again). So, there’s good news and bad news. Let’s start with the bad news:

You have to actually read through the book to get its message. If you skip to the end of the book and just read the last few pages, you’ll miss the plot development, insight into the characters, the author’s tone of voice and perspective. You might know whodunnit or if the boy gets the girl, but you won’t know whether or not you like the book.

Same goes for dating.

You have to spend time with the person to really know if you are compatible, you can't just find out through one conversation.

If we could just hand out a questionnaire and get all our answers about compatibility (which some dating websites or matchmakers try to do), that would be rad, IF matchmaking were a science. The problem is, finding out if someone is potentially your life partner is actually an art. You’ve got to spend time with them, in all different kinds of situations.

Also, whatever they may say and believe about their life goals, how they show up and how they relate to you (especially under stress or during a misunderstanding) is one of the most important pieces of information you need.

You’ve got to invest some real time in order to find out if someone is right for you, there’s no way around it. Just as there’s no way to guarantee that you won’t get hurt again. Sucks, but true.

OK. Now for the good news: There IS a lot you can talk about, and fairly early on. If the person you’re dating is interested in something serious, they won’t be scared off by talking about it. If they’re looking for something casual, and talking about their vision for their life and relationship freaks them out, great. Now you know and you can move on. The ones who are also seeking their life partner/spouse/soulmate won’t shirk from a serious conversation about their goals. So go for it.

You ask about how to bring this up. Here are a couple of ideas to guide you:

- Have a conversation, not a quiz: This is about both of you sharing where you are at in your lives and what you are looking for. This is not about you interviewing someone or auditioning for something. Let the assumption be that you are both valuable people and desirable partners, you are just checking out whether you are a match or not.

- Be the first one to share. It’s hard to be vulnerable, so you can start small, but don’t ask your date to be the first one to show their cards.

- Tread lightly around taboo topics (sex, money, religion and politics). These ones have extra charge around them and are harder for most people to talk about. Although talking about all of these topics with a future (potential) partner is important, I suggest allowing them to come up naturally in the course of events. For example, talk about sex when it's relevant to the two of you. Talk about money as you share your vision for your life (but stay away from direct questions about their income).

What about timing? You can take the slow route or you can take the super bold approach . It all depends on how sick you are of dating:

Like you say in your question, it’s a great idea to wait until you know there’s some attraction and mutual interest, you enjoy each other’s company, and they are showing up as respectful and available. Once these basics are in place you can initiate a conversation.

On the other hand, I know people (myself included) who were just so sick of playing games that they made it clear very early on what they were looking for. I met one woman who told her (now) husband at the end of their first date: “Listen, if you aren’t looking to get married, or if you can’t see yourself possibly marrying me, I don’t want to go out again .” He gulped, said “OK”, asked her on another date, and the rest is history (they are happily married). Honest, no games, super bold approach. (Notice that she didn't actually ask him anything, she just lay her cards on the table so he could make his choice).

Whatever style you choose, remember that you WANT to weed out the ones who don’t want commitment. It will save you so much time and heartache. Yes, it might feel scary to put it out there that you’re wanting to ‘settle down’, but the risk is totally worth it.

A final word of caution: I've now worked with enough people to know that they're often confused about what they really want. It's a good idea to get as clear as you can about the biggies. It's also good to know that many marriages work well despite (or because of?) having some differences that might surprise you. It's important to know which things are true deal-breakers for you and what things you are willing to get creative about. If you're confused about this, I can help.

Best of luck, Kim. Let me know how it goes!

Warmly,

Pella

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