Some say that when it’s right, you just know. That’s fine for the rare couple that experiences this almost supernatural sense of certainty. The other 99.9% of us have questions and doubts and we shouldn’t have to pretend that we don’t because some fairytale says we shouldn’t.
The people who just know can know all they want and power to them. But the rest of us have to figure it out. And there are certain conversations to have with your potential partner that can help both of you to know where you stand. Some of these talks can happen quite naturally over the course of your average courtship. Others topics need to be more purposefully broached.
1. Why Do You Want To Commit?
You can’t stand to see them with them with anyone else? You think they’re a good match but need to really dive in to find out for sure? You enjoy their company more than you’ve ever enjoyed anyone else’s? Or maybe you just need a place to crash while you wait for the settlement check from your medical malpractice suit to come through.
In any case, you should know why you’re taking the plunge and you should know why they are too.
People have vastly different ideas about what constitutes cheating in a relationship. You should make sure that your definitions match, or it could cause some obvious problems. It’s also important to know what happens if one of you is disloyal because it happens. (In fact, nearly half of you would admit to having been unfaithful at some point, according to a 2007 survey.) Is it an automatic dealbreaker? Would you even want to know?
It’s helpful to get this stuff out in the open, and the way the conversation goes down can reveal a lot about your compatibility.
3. Faith and Philosophy
Does he or she believe in God? Are you a staunch Atheist? What does your belief mean to you. Does he or she believe that the whole of reality is an expression of love? Do you think that ancient, chlorofluorocarbon breathing aliens left us here to ready the planet for their return?
Differences in faith and philosophy are not, of course, insurmountable. They can even be enriching to a relationship. But, it’s definitely important to know how your potential partners concept of reality differs from yours before you decide to get in the foxhole with them, right?
You’ll know whether or not you’re sexually compatible without talking, of course, but being able to talk about sex is essential for when the chemistry wanes. Does this person consider good sex to be a value of theirs? Are they up for experimentation? Are you? Are the two of you going to be able to navigate all of the intensely vulnerable questions that come up around sex in a long term relationship?
It’s not cool to spend a year in a committed relationship with someone who wants to get married before telling them that you’re petrified of matrimony because of your parents’ divorce, or whatever. Alternately, it’s not cool to withhold your expectation that the relationship one day result in marriage. Not everyone assumes they are going to get married. Especially these days.
I’m not saying you should bring it up on the second date, but get clear on this before you invest in each other.
6. What Are You Afraid Of?
Boredom? Growing to hate each other? Waking up 10 years down the road to find that you barely know each other? Getting fat in front of reality TV together for the rest of your lives? You know, there are perfectly good reasons to fear commitment and there is a real precedent for things not working out. Your fears and doubts are probably reasonable. Talking these things out with your potential partner could help you to feel more confidence in your bond, or help you to realize that they’re really not right for you. Either way, it’s information that will help you.
7. What Does Commitment Actually Mean?
This is a conversation to have more than once, actually. Commitment, for most people, isn’t just a switch you can flip. It deepens and becomes more rich over time. What would it mean for you to be truly committed to this person? What do you think the obstacles to that true commitment might be. Can they imagine really giving themselves to you? How do they know?
The word “commitment” does have a dictionary definition, but what’s really important is what it means to you and to the person you’re committed to. You might want to get on the same page before taking the plunge.
Originally published in August 2011.