Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I’ve been dating the most wonderful guy for the past three months. I am 31 and "Steve" is 33. We connected almost instantly and continue to really enjoy each other's company. He's got most of the qualities I've been looking for – intelligent, kind, great conversational skills, hard-working and considerate. I am at the point in my life where I want to settle down, and I can really see this going somewhere.

The problem is that we never speak about the future. And I've been wondering when we should.

I’m writing now because of a new development: I've been offered a promotion at work, which will require spending the next six months in Europe. Last night, when I told this to Steve, he said this was a wonderful opportunity for me, and encouraged me to jump at the chance.

I had mixed feelings about his reaction. While I was glad he was happy for me, when I asked him, "Where does this leave us?" he looked puzzled. He replied by asking, "What do you mean?" I got flustered and couldn't figure out how to raise the topic of our future together.

What should I have done then, and what should I do now?

Ellen

Dear Ellen,

Your situation is not uncommon. It seems that you and Steve have been dating with different goals in mind, and one or both of you have avoided talking about them. It's fortunate that your promotion is forcing you to raise the issue, because otherwise you might have continued on this path for several more months, if not years.

You're telling us that you are dating because you'd like to find the right man to marry and settle down. Since you like Steve and he has the qualities you're looking for, you feel that these past three months have been building a relationship that may eventually lead to marriage. You may have assumed that Steve is dating with the same objective. Or, you could be hoping that over the course of time, your emotional connection will become stronger and Steve will gradually decide that you're right for each other and want to marry you.

But it sounds like Steve isn't thinking along these lines. We don't know if he even wants to get married at this point in his life. He may be happy just having fun and feeling connected to a woman he likes, with no desire to move in the direction of marriage. Or he may want to get married when he meets the right person, but has decided that even though he enjoys your company, you're not that person. Because you and Steve never talked about your dating goals, you can't know what's really going on.

We believe it is crucial for anyone who is dating for the purpose of marriage to make this clear early on. Within the first month of dating, you should say: "I am enjoying getting to know you. I want to let you know that the reason I’m dating is because I hope to find the right to person to marry. It is far too early to know where the two of us are headed, but I wanted to be sure that you have a similar goal."

You risk being disappointed if engagement is the next step – but he won't take it.

You'll know from the discussion that follows whether the other person is also dating for marriage. He may say that he does or doesn't have that goal. But if he won't answer you directly, or changes the subject, chances are that either he isn't sure whether he's dating for marriage, or is dating for enjoyment only and doesn't want to say so at risk of ending things between you. If either of these are the case, by continuing to date him you risk being disappointed if the relationship develops to the point that, in your mind, engagement is the next step – but he won't take it.

You're three months into this with Steve and have not had that conversation. You can't put it off any longer, and at this point your words will have to be more direct:

    "We've been dating long enough for me to feel that things are moving in a positive direction. I am dating because I hope to find the right person to marry, and while I don't yet know if you are that person, I would like to know if you have the same objective. At this point I'm at a crossroads. I would like to take this promotion, but I need to know where this will leave us. When I'm in Europe for six months, do you see us continuing to move forward, and if so, how will we do that?"

Our hunch is that Steve will answer that he enjoys dating you, but doesn't have a long-term plan for your future as a couple. He may wish you well and tell you to touch base when you return to see if he's available, or that the two of you can stay in touch while you're in Europe. But he will want to be free to date others.

The reason we're pessimistic about your future with Steve is that you have ignored a few warning signs. First, you neglected to talk about the future – your personal goals and where you each saw yourself in a few years. You had a great time together, but you both were oriented in the present, with no projections for the future. When a man starts to think that he and the woman he's dating have long-term potential, he usually shares ideas about things they may soon be doing together. For example, "I know how much you like football. My firm has season tickets and I have a choice of two dates in November. Which is good for you?"

We're also concerned about Steve's bland reaction to your announcement about the job opportunity in Europe. After three months of dating, a man who is interested in a serious courtship would usually react to this news by asking, "What about us?"

The fact that you are in the position of having to ask, "What about us?" indicates there may be a problem. We usually recommend that the woman let the man raise this subject, because most men prefer to be the proactive partner. In this case, however, you need to take the initiative because Steve is clearly not doing so, and the two of you must discuss this as soon as possible.

You may be disappointed by the outcome, but it's better to know where you and Steve stand now, than to invest more time and emotional energy in a relationship that will never lead to your goal of marriage.

We wish you success in navigating the dating maze.

Rosie & Sherry