Among the many painful dis-harmonies in how men and women think and act is their mismatched sense of urgency, which rarely hits simultaneously, if they overlap at all. While men are prone to speeding things up at the beginning of a relationship (at least physically), it is the women who tend to put the pressure on once the relationship is established. While men are much more likely to have the “don’t fix what ain’t broken” attitude, women are more likely to be pressing a relationship forward to its next “level”.
In a general sense, the reason for this discrepancy boils down to the different social and biological pressures placed on men and women. Socially and biologically speaking, the urgency for guys in the beginning of a relationship is to gain intimacy through a sexual relationship. Or, just to get laid. They need to quell that urgency of sexual desire that starts to build the moment they get interested in someone new. Once they have fulfilled the initial need to have sex and be desired sexually, they can coast on that security for quite a long time without feeling as though they need to change anything.
For women, however, the biological and social pressures are a little different. First, socially speaking, for many women, the big prize isn’t the sex , it’s getting the man to stick around afterward. Once a woman sleeps with a man she likes, she is careful to tread softly. She is hypersensitive to how she is perceived by said man, and wary about whether or not the relationship will actually progress. Will he sleep over? Does he call? Each of these steps is a signal that he will stick around for a while.
Most women, if they like a guy, will manipulate the situation to keep a guy around for longer than the sex if she is interested a relationship. This involves a delicate series of ego negotiations and ruminations about letting him know you are interested without coming off as needy. Once the boy has stayed the night, she will see how long it will take until he stays for breakfast. And then lunch, and then the weekend. From then on in, it is a series of constant negotiations (conscious or not) of women seeing how long their man is going to stick around. It is for this reason that women like concrete signals that the relationship is progressing. We don’t want to be spending all of our time with a man who, in the end, isn’t going to stick it out.
The other pressure, the biological one, is the opposite of men’s. Traditionally, it was accepted that men wanted to spread their seed and sire offspring, while women were gatekeepers, much more careful to stave off conception until they had a sense that the men would stick around. So men’s biological urgency is trumped by women’s need to protect themselves. Many would argue that, in our more liberal sexual culture, with birth control and women taking control of their sexuality, this notion is outdated. Perhaps. The biological bottom line for women, however, is this: women have a narrower window in which to conceive and so we need to line up our mate and get down to business. Women don’t have until their octogenarian years to decide.
Anticipate The Discussion
With that lengthy justification, let us move on to the practicalities. First, how do you know when your girlfriend wants to take it to the “next level,” whether that be moving in together or getting hitched? Every woman has a different internal clock, and invests different meanings into relationship milestones. For some, moving in together is a huge step. Or others, it is simply economically feasible.
Whatever the motivations, you will know that your girl is thinking of bigger and better when she starts dropping comments like, “See, if we lived together, I wouldn’t have to use your toothbrush” or “If you lived here, you wouldn’t have to go home to feed your dog”. For many people, moving in together is a natural progression. As the relationship progresses and leases start to come due, the “moving in” question will inevitably pop up, or at least be there, hanging in the air.
The conversation, when it comes up, may take you by surprise. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because nothing says “not ready” like, “Oh, it didn’t even occur to me that we would consider that option”. However, once the “next step” conversation is out of the bag, it cannot then be completely put away. It is possible that your girlfriend isn’t totally ready for the next step either, but is just testing the water to see where you are.
If you are not ready for this next step, but see yourself becoming ready at some point in the nearish future, then you should tell her that. She will have some female automatic responses to male ready-made excuse, so be ready. Don’t bother with “Things are good now, why change them?” unless you are ready to handle a little “But wouldn’t they just be that much better if we were together every day?” Also, be prepared to answer to “We already spend 5 nights a week together, what would the difference be if we moved in together?” This is a tough one because it is at once logical and economical.
When you are feeling cornered, all you can do is go back to how you feel. She needs to be reassured that you are not on your way out, you just aren’t ready to give up your own space. Tell her that when you guys make your next big step, that you want it to be right and you want to be ready because you don’t feel the need to rush what you see as a long relationship.
If none of this works and the pressure is mounting, you may have to resort to some tactics that appeal to her need for security and sense of longevity. If you don’t live together, give her a dresser, part of your closet, or a drawer in the bathroom that is hers. Give her a key to your house. The point is, make a gesture that points towards a future larger gesture so she can feel as though progress is being made.
The other thing you can do is outline a time when you think it would be feasible for you two to revisit the issue. If it is moving in together, tell her you are not ready now, but are happy to talk about it again the next time your/her lease is up. If you give her a time frame, then she should respect your boundaries and not pester you in the meantime. If you don’t give an end date to when you will revisit this again, she will not have anything to look toward, and will likely get antsy in the meantime.
If you are in one of those rare relationships where you are both in synch with your lives and how you see the relationship going, consider yourself lucky. Many couples have very different timelines in their minds as to where the relationship is going and how quickly. Making sure that both partners are getting their needs met requires honesty. Making the next big step shouldn’t be taken lightly, and shouldn’t be decision made under duress. You don’t want a hurried big step to be your last step.