Dear Rosie and Sherry,

I've been dating a guy for almost a year. We started dating when we both returned to the same home town, after the university academic year was over. We liked each other from the start, but our courtship was interrupted after six weeks because we each went away for summer activities. It was hard to keep up the momentum when the only way to keep in touch was by email and phone calls, but we tried our best.

When we returned home, we went back to our respective schools and faced another geographic separation. The way it works out, we usually see each other twice a month.

My concern is that I'm still not 100% sure he's the person for me. We are both growing in terms of our religious commitment, and we seem to be on the same page. He's a very good, kind, considerate person and there are so many things I admire about him, but like anyone else, he has faults. He also feels that he needs more time to be sure, and even though I feel the same way I am worried that this is a sign that something's wrong between us.

Is it normal to need so much time to know whether you've met the right person? I know that there are many people who date for years before they make a decision, but I have many friends who became engaged after just a few months!

I also wonder if some of my own issues are getting in the way of my being sure about him. My parents don't have the happiest marriage, so the idea of committing to someone for the rest of my life scares me a little. In addition, I sometimes get offended easily because I'm a little insecure, and I feel like I need reassurance.

In your experience, is it normal for a couple to not feel 100% after several months, if most of the time they have been dating over a long distance? Is our lack of certainty a sign that something is wrong?

Jenn

Dear Jenn,

Every dating couple is unique, and every relationship develops at its own pace. Even though you and this man are both strongly focused on dating for the purpose of finding the right person to marry, neither of you should expect that your relationship will follow the same timetable as others in your social circle. The circumstances of your courtship are very different from theirs, and you need to allow your connection to each other to develop at its own pace.

One of the main reasons why you two aren't moving forward as quickly as you would like is because of the inherent difficulty of developing a relationship over a distance. The momentum of your courtship was first interrupted because you'd previously arranged summer plans. Telephone and email are a good way to continue a courtship that has begun to grow, but a couple also needs to spend time together, and that didn't happen for several months. Then, no sooner did he return than you were both off to schools in different cities, and are only able to see each other twice a month. Given these circumstances, it's not surprising that it is taking a while for things to advance.

In addition, you're both in your early 20s and, as you point out, each of you is still developing your world view. It's good to be a growing person, and this is hopefully something each of you will be doing all of your lives. However, because you're young, you may be going through bigger changes in a shorter time than someone considerably older would experience. People continue to develop cognitively, emotionally, and morally into their early 20s, and this is an additional reason why it could be taking the two of you longer to be sure about each other.

Your parents' difficult marriage contributes to the insecurity you feel.

There's another reason why you are unsure about whether this man is the right person for you, and you're insightful enough to realize its significance. The fact that your parents had a difficult marriage certainly contributes to the insecurity you feel. It's common to have doubts about your own future marriage when you didn't grow up in a home situation you would like to emulate when you are a spouse and a parent.

Fortunately, most people who were raised in homes in which there wasn't enough harmony can go on to have successful marriages of their own. It doesn't happen automatically -- and in fact even people who come from well-adjusted families have to work at enriching and sustaining their relationships. However, men and women who come from more difficult situations have a little more work to do, because they don't want to model their relationship on what they observed growing up. They have to learn new roles, coping mechanisms, and interpersonal skills, and ways of thinking that they can then incorporate into the way they interact with others.

We customarily recommend that engaged people who are uncomfortable about the homes in which they were raised enroll in a workshop or short-term relationship counseling to help them develop good interactive, communication, conflict resolution, and empathic skills. In fact, this is good advice for every couple who is planning to marry.

A few programs we could recommend are:

 

It may be helpful for you to look into these programs even now, before you are ready to decide about your future. It will give you reassurance that when you decide someone is right for you, professionals can help the two of you immediately develop and enhance the skills that can enable you to have a great marriage.

There's something else that you can begin to address immediately. We'd like you to do some work on your self-esteem and your tendency to get hurt and offended easily. These traits can get in the way of healthy interactions between a husband and wife, and they can also keep you from clearly evaluating whether you and this man are right for each other. Often, a therapist or a self-esteem-building program can be very helpful in this area.

Getting married means you'll have to address logistical concerns.

One other factor that might be contributing to the difficulty you're having is that deciding to get married also means you'll have to address a number of logistical concerns. Will one of you have to change to a school in the other person's city, or can you finish your program quickly? Will you have to wait extra time to get married?

 

So what we're trying to say is that there are valid reasons why it is taking a while for you to acquire the clarity to know if you are right for each other. We recommend that you address your own personal issues and at the same time continue to see each other and enjoy the time you spend together. Try to change the setting of some of your dates, and have a few interactive experiences so that you can see how each other reacts in different situations. Give each of your dates a purpose, by taking the time to discuss each other's thoughts and feelings about a number of subjects that people who are thinking about marriage should talk about (see Dating Maze #164). Your discussions will give both of you more insight into each other's expectations, values, dreams, goals, and ways of thinking and responding to situations.

 

Hopefully, you'll see that you're continuing to grow in similar directions, enjoy each other's company, look forward to getting together, and sense that your connection to each other and acceptance of each other's imperfections are moving forward -- even though it is a slower process than your friends are experiencing.

Over time, you may be able to come to terms with his faults and realize that you can accept them as part of the "package." There's also a possibility that you'll realize that you're still bothered about his flaws of about the way you relate to each other. That will be an indication that as nice as this man is, he's just not right for you.

Usually, we encourage daters to grapple with these questions during the first several weeks of a courtship, because if they keep dating for months while the issues are unresolved, they may end up spinning their wheels. However, because of all of the factors we've already discussed, we're not surprised that it's taking you time, and it's okay.

Finally, we hope that you'll consider our suggestion to find someone you can trust and respect, and who has been happily married for at least a few years, to be your dating mentor. Your mentor can be a sounding board and offer a perspective that will help you gain the clarity that can enable you to make a decision about your future -- when the time is right.

 

Rosie & Sherry