Do I Need to Keep Mirroring After He Is My Boyfriend?

I’ve read a lot of your articles, your ebook, and other books you suggest on your website (including Dr. Pat Allen). I’ve also reviewed material from some of your colleagues who appear to have similar philosophies, such as Rori Raye and Ali Binazir. After taking all of this in, there is still one thing I’m confused about, and it has to do with the period where the dating stage ends and the relationship stage begins. During the dating stage, we learn to mirror, lean back, observe, and to be open to receiving rather than giving. We don’t want to over-function or give too much. We don’t want to try to control things or push things along. This way we can evaluate a man’s intent, his level of interest and his ability to lead.

Then enter relationship stage. During this stage we begin to see one another’s flaws and decide whether to accept or reject them. We learn how important communication is. We are excited and want to express our deep feelings and desire for a future. We learn that love is accepting someone’s flaws (as long as they are not unethical, immoral or abusive) and putting someone else’s needs before your own.

So my question is: if you are in a relationship and wish you were getting “more” from the other person — more time together, a higher priority ranking in his life, faster timeline, etc. — is it better to just step back, be patient and refocus on myself, or give more of myself to him and put some of my own needs aside in hopes of him someday doing the same? –Elyse

Dear Elyse,

Thanks for taking the time to write, and, more importantly, for synthesizing all this material to ask an informed question.

I’m going to answer you, briefly, and also use this as a springboard to clarify the concept of mirroring, which seems to have taken on a life of its own since I described it in “Why He Disappeared”.

There are no “games” when you’re in a relationship.

So, yes, you seem to have a good understanding of the courtship process. Guy asks you out. You say yes. He takes you on the date. You thank him for his generosity. He kisses you at the end of the night. You kiss him back. He follows up with a text to say he had fun and wants to see you again. You reply accordingly. Each step of the way, he’s making an effort, and you’re responding quickly with appreciation and enthusiasm. This is mirroring. Men reveal themselves in their efforts, and if their efforts lag, despite the fact that you had a great connection, he doesn’t earn the right to become your boyfriend.

Now, say you’ve been on 6 dates. You’ve gotten to third base. He says he wants to take down his profile and focus on you. You agree. You sleep together. You’re now boyfriend and girlfriend. Congratulations.
You are in a sexually exclusive relationship and you have a good two years to figure out if you actually want to marry each other.

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  1. 1

    Once exclusive relationships were called engagements.  At that point, you were testing each other rather than seducing each other.  I am not sure that two years sex is the same thing?

  2. 2

    I concur with Peter. Exclusive is only when there’s a real commitment otherwise what guarantee do you really have? I’m a Christian and I believe in intentional dating. I do not want to go back to our culture’s way of dating/the way I’ve done it in the past: start seeing each other, start having sex, maybe then a talk of just having sex with each other?, moving in together, still not dating other people, still not asking if there’s marriage in the future. Wait a year or 2, ask what’s up? Then breakup if you’re not looking for the same things… I want to date someone who I know wants the same things from the beginning (which helps if you’re intentionally dating and of the same beliefs). I do not like the idea that I’m off the market and “committed” to someone just because we’re not having sex with other people when you’re still not truly committed to each other.

    1. 2.1

      That is a good point.  Intentional dating.  Almost like the old days.  Man comes to house, ask father if he can court daughter for a purpose…..the man is being intentional to see if they would have a future.  Yes, dating is similar, although at times there seems to be no intention.  Dating definitely teaches you the qualities you appreciate.  It helps prepare you for that one.  Our culture has a new twist.  It takes us through many emotions.  Until, you meet that one.  You will look back and wonder why you had to go through it all.  Maybe, it’s for us to learn and shape us to be the person we are to be be when the right one comes along.  The most amazing man is in my life now.  We both look back and we feel bless we have each other.  Here is to life of dating.  Growing, loving, learning and finding the perfect imperfect person for you.  It’s been 11 year journey.

  3. 3

    Peter and Emily,
    I totally agree with you, it is so refreshing to read opinions that are so clear and logical (and the same as mine:).
    Emily I think you nailed it with “I do not like the idea that I’m off the market and “committed” to someone just because we’re not having sex with other people when you’re still not truly committed to each other”. I also believe strongly in that theory and I am feeling very fortunate to recently, (three months ago) enter a loving relationship with that as the basis for both of us.
    I suspect we are going a bit off on a tangent, so as far as the comment “do I need to keep mirroring after he is my boyfriend”, that you have started to see who he is by then, I also agree with Evan that it is then time to “give” back to the relationship, by not just mirroring.

  4. 4

    Emily, I am not Christian but I really like the point that you make.  You describe EXACTLY what I have done in the past, and none of those many exclusive relationships I have been in where I was committed, ever led to marriage in my case. In fact, my being committed, did not mean that the man was committed in the same way.  I am not sure how to go about intentional dating either though. Does one just state their intentions up front, before they are in a relationship?

  5. 5

    Spot on Peter and Emily. I feel in total agreement.

  6. 6

    Thanks, Evan! I think it’s a great reminder/clarification of your mirroring advice. The thing with advice is that some people turn it into a rigid rule and check out their common sense at the door.
    For me, mirroring makes sense until both parties are focusing on each other exclusively. To me exclusivity is mental/emotional first. At that point there does not even need to be anything physical going on, just being interested and attracted enough to give each other’s full attention for a little while and see where things are going.
    Hopefully it’s done within the first few dates. Just enough time to make sure there is enough attraction and interest and being able to potentially choose from other options if you’re doing multiple dating, but not for too many dates because 1. if it takes that long to decide, I think there is a lack of interest, 2. to my experience few modern men would be fine initiating for weeks on end without any reciprocation beside enthousiasm and gratitude. If they’re dating other women they will eventually choose one who on top of being attractive, kind, and fun, also does not mind proposing a date once in a while. And if he only dates one person at a time, he might be fine initiating for a longer time since there is no competition, but still will end up wondering about her interest level and get discouraged after a while. Men know that a lot of women say yes because they can’t say no (or because they have no other better option), so if I were a man, I’d like a bit more than a warm yes and thank you once we’re past a few dates.
    Anyway, mirroring until exclusivity makes sense, and yes, I also agree with previous commenters: this preliminary “exclusivity” and “commitment” do not mean much to me either. They really are the very basic standards I would not even imagine going without. Focusing on each other is the very first step before becoming more emotionally and physically intimate, and starting to really evaluate the potential for marriage.
    @Rachel #4: Yes, you playfully explain that you are no longer on the “go with the flow” track. You’re just saying what you are NOT doing, and see if he wants to step up. The difficulty is to explain this without coming across as “demanding a relationship”. You’re not. You’re just evaluating your date for husband potential, not for boyfriend potential.

  7. 7
    Karl R

    Emily said: (#2)
    “I do not like the idea that I’m off the market and ‘committed’ to someone just because we’re not having sex with other people when you’re still not truly committed to each other.”
    Peter, Emily, Gabrielle, rachel and Rose,
    Can you please explain to me what your other option is?
    The first couple years after meeting someone, you’re still getting to know them. The same person who is Mr. Right at six weeks may be Mr. Always Right after 15 months. The woman who thinks you’re flawless for the first couple months may end up routinely going on fault-finding expeditions through your life.
    You can try to juggle two, three, four or more boyfriends/girlfriends simultaneously, but you’re not going to get to know any of them well. Sane people don’t open up and allow themselves to be vulnerable with a boyfriend/girlfriend who clearly considers them to be one of several options. (Particularly if it’s obvious that they’re the second or third of several options.) If you want someone to open up and show who they really are, you’re going to have to commit to spending at a year exclusively getting to know them.
    If you’re lucky, you may find out that they’re unsuitable well before then.
    You seem to see this lack of commitment as a waste of your time. I see it as a “Get out of hell free” card. If you discover after a year or two that your partner is truly hell on earth to live with (or just wrong for you), you can just pack up and leave.
    rachel said: (#4)
    “none of those many exclusive relationships I have been in where I was committed, ever led to marriage in my case. In fact, my being committed, did not mean that the man was committed in the same way.”
    The same was true of all of my committed relationships … right up until the last one that ended in marriage.
    Did you really want the men who weren’t committed to you to be trapped in a relationship with you just because you were committed to them? Did you expect them to know whether or not they wanted a lifetime commitment during the first couple months of a relationship? Grow up. Relationships don’t work that way.
    Emily said: (#2)
    “moving in together, still not dating other people, still not asking if there’s marriage in the future”
    If you still don’t know whether there’s marriage in the future, why are you moving in together?
    I can be in a committed relationship, spend every night a week with my girlfriend, sleep in the same bed, and still maintain my own apartment. I just have to be willing to pay the rent every month. By the time I actually moved into my girlfriend’s house, she was already my fiancée.
    Intentional dating doesn’t get you anything. What you need to have is the intention to leave any relationship that’s spent 3 to 6 months stagnating.

  8. 8

    The alternative to engagement, with or without sex, is an uncommitted relationship, with or without sex. Engagements gave enough commitment for  mirroring to stop and something like the longer term interplay of personalities to emerge.  Announcing an engagement, like my niece did a year before her marriage is a lot more public and committed than a deal made just after sex to be “exclusive”.

  9. 9

    Karl, you’ve missed the point. The “alternative” you don’t seem to grasp is simple: dating with the intention of being married vs dating simply to “see where things go”. The difference is establishing that you’re evaluating one another specifically for marriage, as opposed to the amorphous “serious” and “committed” relationships where marriage has not been discussed (in which many of us in this thread have no interest).
    And yes, “real” relationships do work that way. I’m in a good one of three years that began just that way, in fact, and we’ll be taking the next step soon. Which will be marriage. Not anything less. 

  10. 10

    I’ve never felt like I had to “mirror” a boyfriend.  I think you can tell when he is emotionally committed to you, which, as far as having a serious relationship considered is more important than just sexual monogamy.
    In my opinion, I think the point where you can stop mirroring is when you have an emotional commitment.  (Ex: I don’t think the LW from a few posts back with the bartender “boyfriend” had an emotional commitment, which is why a lot of our comments reflected that she was over-reacting).  But you have to stop mirroring if you are also going to delve past just the emotions and find out if you are also compatible.
    If one of the things that you are seeking from a specific man is a “higher priority ranking in his life” I would guess that you don’t have the emotional investment from him that is required for a relationship (unless it is something he just can’t help like obligations to work or his children, but if you are coming in 5th, 6th, 20th to things like his friends, the gym, hobbies, etc, especially so early on, I would say “He’s just not that into you”, at least at this point in time).

  11. 11

    ** or, he’s just not into the idea of a serious, leading-to-marriage relationship :-). 

  12. 12
    Karl T

    Once again, Karl R comes in and clears house!!!  Right on my cousin.  Some people still think everything is going to according to some grand plan, step by step of the way.  They are in for a rude awakening.  Life doesn’t work that way and if you don’t take risks sometimes, you go nowhere.  The guy you think would never marry you just might and the guy you think you will marry may turn out entirely different after several years of dating.  I knew people who dated for 7 years and never married and then broke up and met someone else and married them after 2 years.  You can predict things like you folks seem to think you can.

  13. 13
    Karl R

    Peter said: (#8)
    “The alternative to engagement, with or without sex, is an uncommitted relationship, with or without sex.”
    How do you afford all of the rings?
    Until my girlfriend was willing to date me exclusively, I kept enough emotional distance (for my own protection) that I wasn’t going to fall in love with her. And until I fell in love with her and was reasonably certain I wanted to marry her, I wasn’t going to get engaged. Do you get engaged to women before you love them? Do you date several women simultaneously, then select one of them to propose to?
    Most of us see a committed relationship as an intermediate step between an uncommitted relationship and an engagement. Not all uncommitted relationships lead to committed relationships. Not all committed relationships lead to engagements. That doesn’t mean the system is flawed or broken. It’s actually a sign that the system is filtering people out as intended.
    Peter said: (#8)
    “Engagements gave enough commitment for  mirroring to stop and something like the longer term interplay of personalities to emerge.”
    Engagements provide enough forward momentum that couples can realize that getting married is a mistake, but they feel like they can’t back out. My wife’s first marriage was like that. She realized it was a mistake before the wedding, but due to the pressure (from her family, from her fiancé, from her fiancé’s family) and due to her lack of life experience, she went through with it anyway.
    Two or three years later, she got a divorce.
    People stick with bad decisions because of sunk costs. By trying to get engaged before you know the person, you’re accruing extra costs up front (like the ring).
    devymetal said: (#9)
    “The ‘alternative’ you don’t seem to grasp is simple: dating with the intention of being married vs dating simply to ‘see where things go’. The difference is establishing that you’re evaluating one another specifically for marriage, as opposed to the amorphous ‘serious’ and ‘committed’ relationships where marriage has not been discussed”
    I spent several years dating with the goal of being married. And I still think “dating with intention” is a dysfunctional way to approach dating.
    – You can’t dictate the other person’s intention.
    – You’re getting too far ahead of the situation.
    On the first date, I wasn’t evaluating a woman as a potential wife. I was evaluating her as a potential second date. After a few dates, I’d consider her as someone to potentially date exclusively. While I kept things moving toward my goal (of marriage), I never tried to get ahead of where any relationship was. And if a relationship wasn’t worth moving forward, it was time to look elsewhere.
    I went on first dates with a couple women who were clearly evaluating me to see whether I was a potential husband on the first date. Because of that, they weren’t enjoyable to spend a first date with, so I wasn’t interested in a second date.
    You’re putting forth “intentional dating” as a cure for “the amorphous ‘serious’ and ‘committed’ relationships where marriage has not been discussed”. I have a better solution. Open your mouth and start the discussion. If you’re in a serious relationship and you can’t even have a conversation about where the two of you stand on marriage, it’s a sign that one (or both) of you is too immature for a serious relationship.
    Karl T said: (#12)
    “I knew people who dated for 7 years and never married and then broke up and met someone else and married them after 2 years.  You can’t predict things like you folks seem to think you can.”
    But you can control one thing. You can control your own choices. I can avoid being the person who dates for 7 years (and then gets dumped) by breaking things off after 2 years (or whenever the relationship stalls).

  14. 14

    Karl R @ 7 and 13: ITA

  15. 15

    Karl R #7 and 13: I always appreciate your no-nonsense comments!
    I definitely agree that commitment is necessary to build a relationship, and it has to be preliminary to engagement. You can’t properly build emotional intimacy and evaluate the potential of a relationship while dating other people, and you can’t get engaged to a stranger. Being committed while knowing things can end is scary but necessary. There is no way to avoid being vulnerable.
    However I respectfully disagree with this part: “And I still think “dating with intention” is a dysfunctional way to approach dating.” Some people would indeed be better off dating “with no intention”, like Evan’s clients, but for me what led to dysfunction was actually being purposeless. I was so easy to please that I would go from one relationship to the next where there was no compatibility for the future whatsoever. By being much more intentional, I learned to end relationships that were fun in the short-term but had no future. By the way, we can agree to disagree, I’m not trying to convince anyone that I’m right. What’s going to be the most effective really depends on the personality of each party, so that’s where generic advice stops working, and specifics need to be taken into account.
    Having an intention in dating does not mean having an intention for that specific dating opportunity. However if I know I want to choose a partner for life, and I know what kind of quality of intereaction and common values I need in a spouse, it is much more effective for me to look for those signs in the early stages, rather than simply going with the flow of attraction in the present moment, and pretty certainly having to break things off later. My standards for a boyfriend are much lower than for a spouse after all, so selecting a boyfriend is not the most effective time investment.
    Interestingly if I had not screened my guy for husband potential in the first few weeks of dating, but instead just screened him to qualify for the next dates, I would have ended things immediately! He was going to leave my area six weeks later, which disqualified him for boyfriend potential since to me there was no point in becoming boyfriend and girlfriend for six weeks and then have a long-distance boyfriend for who knows how long. However that incovenience did not disqualify him for husband potential. It does not mean that I had the “intention to marry him” or that “I was going to demand a marriage”. Heck, I did not know him enough yet; there were just enough good signs and the absence of the usual bad signs. It just means that 1. I refused to go on the fling track that he had the intention of putting me on (and that would have led to a break up at the six-week mark for lack of depth at the time of his departure to warrant a long-term relationship), 2. I initiated deeper conversations to investigate our compatibility for the long-term so that we had enough data point before he had to leave, and 3. I focused on building trust and emotional intimacy quickly instead of focusing on short-term attraction and fun. It served us well, as we got engaged 18 months later.
    Now, to me, the real gem in Karl R’s #7 comment is this: “What you need to have is the intention to leave any relationship that’s spent 3 to 6 months stagnating.”

  16. 16
    Karl R

    Fusee, (#15)
    You’re describing “intentional dating” in a very different way than Emily (#2) and devymetal (#9):
    “I want to date someone who I know wants the same things from the beginning”
    “The difference is establishing that you’re evaluating one another specifically for marriage,”
    You weren’t dating someone who had the intention of getting married from the beginning. He was looking for a fling. He wasn’t evaluating you specifically for marriage, even though you were screening him.
    If you had insisted that he want the same things from the beginning, or that he be evaluating you specifically for marriage from the beginning, you still would have dumped him in the first few weeks. That’s why I say their version of intentional dating is a dysfunctional way to date.

  17. 17
    Some other guy

    When I start dating a new gal, I go exclusive immediately – strictly one at a time for me.
    This is not a commitment to the woman (who I don’t know that well yet), but a commitment to the process, which for optimal outcome requires that I focus all my attention on the relationship in front of me rather than suffer the distractions of playing the field and seeing where things go.

  18. 18
    Sparkling Emerald

    Fusee #15 –
    Very good post !  I think what Evan described as “dating with integrity” is close to what I would call “intentional dating”  (Or I used to think of as looking for an intentional relationship)  Evan has said to effect of most of his relationships ended at 3 months or less, because he would end a relationship as soon as he realized that he would NOT marry that person.  I do have to applaud him for NOT wasting years and years of someone’s time with no intention of marrying them ever.
    After many years of dating which ever way the wind blew me, and even being adamantly against marriage (in my much younger days) when I started yearning for more, I started dating with intention, (or as it used to be called “dating for a husband”)  Doesn’t mean I demanded anything of anyone.  I no longer accepted dates from someone who I thought would make a good boyfriend, but not a husband.  Men who outright stated they were anti-marriage, were also a no go.  I only went out with men who I saw as a POSSIBILITY for marriage.  In the early getting to know each other phase, one can’t know if someone is a good match for marriage, but YOU CAN RULE THEM OUT !  When I was dating for a husband, as soon as I saw that someone wasn’t husband potential, I stopped seeing them.  I wouldn’t go back  for  a second job interview, if after the first interview, I decided I didn’t want to work for a company. So if I’m dating for a husband, why should I spend time with someone who clearly won’t be my husband ?  When I was dating for a husband, I would stop dating a man if I knew I wouldn’t want to marry him or that he was just looking for a fling.
    Right now, I am on the fence about what I should do with my love life.  I don’t want a fling, FWB, ONS, booty call,  etc.  But marriage ?    Right now, I think I’m allergic to the concept.  I’m well past my child bearing years so I think “what’s the point of marriage (for me ) ?  I would like a committed monogamous non co-habitating relationship, but if I date with that purpose in mind (which I have been)  could that really be considered intentional dating ?

  19. 19

    Karl R # 7 & 13
    As always your contributions are so well thought out and expressed.  Thank you.
    Fusee # 15
    I look forward to your posts and you don’t disappoint!
    Your third paragraph made me really stop and look at what my intention for dating has been in the past.  I think that I have been more focused on dating for a boyfriend rather than dating for a husband.  (Of course given my fear of commitment in the past I understand why I did that.)  Which brings me to another favorite poster of mine…
    Sparkling Emerald # 18
    I don’t want a fling, FWB, ONS, or booty call either, but I too am past child bearing years and I wonder if it is really necessary to get married or live together.  
    My mother was with my stepfather for ten years before he died.  They were very happy and I don’t think that their relationship would have been the same if they had not been married.  They loved each other more as time went on.  His children credit my mother with how loving and open he became in his relationships with them.  
    Now my mother has a boyfriend.  They see each other almost every day but neither want to get married again or live together.  They love each other and he has become part of the family.  I don’t know how their relationship would work if they tried living together (married or not).  It is not that they are less compatible than my mother and stepfather were, it is just a different relationship.  And they are committed.  She is going through radiation treatments at this time and he takes her to her appointments and she has been there for him when he needs her.
    I don’t have an answer to your question Sparkling Emerald.  I have too many questions of my own.  I am wondering if I need to have more clarity before I start dating.  I do know that I want a loving, committed, monogamous, EASY relationship, I just don’t know what that looks like for me.  Does that mean marriage?  Does that mean living together?   Is it a copout to NOT get married or live together?  
    Karl R, Fusee, Sparkling Emerald your insights would be appreciated!!

  20. 20

    It really is dependant on what both people want are happy with.
    casual fun flings, for now girlfriends or boyfriends if they are both young and not ready for settling down being in a lifelong committed relationship, or are older and in womans biological reasons just do not have the time to mess about and waste with casual flings and committing to being one mans girlfriend who isn’t sure if he wants to be married or married to them. In those circumstances it pays for the woman to date sevral men at once until one comes along who wants what she wants and is compatible with her.
    Depends on if the woman wants to be a wife, fling or see how it goes girlfriend.
    When a man knows and a woman feels the same about him through the getting to know each others character dating processs seeing deep mutual deep feelings of love develop they both anoounce they are no longer looking and are  off the market to others by the public committiment of engagment. So engagement with marraige date in place like Peter and others have said gets complete exclusivity.
    In healthy relationships the following happens.
    The man who is motivated to keep, getting in their first securing a date before another suitor gets chance stepping up,moving things foreward and treating the woman he is attracted to the way she wants to be treated is the one who gets the girl all to himself. If he isn’t that bothered into her or interested another man will be and they will get her instead. You snooze you lose. 🙂

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