Do You Want to Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too?

How to Open Up Your Relationship

This week, I was on the phone with a client who came to me eight weeks ago with no dating prospects whatsoever.

But armed with a new perspective on dating, online dating, and understanding men (not to mention a new online ad campaign), this woman found herself in a new position: the object of desire to a thoughtful, considerate man.

Tara, 39, went out with Ted three times. Each time, he called her in advance, made the plans, paid for her, followed up the day after, and let her know that she was a priority in his love life. Without being over-the-top smothering, Ted made it clear that he wanted to be her boyfriend.

Yet even though Tara invested a lot of money with me to ostensibly find herself a boyfriend, suddenly, when confronted with the prospect of focusing on one man, she found herself pulling away emotionally.

You know that the guy who is casually “seeing” you once a week for three months NEVER becomes your husband.

Even though he’s a great guy. Cute, smart, successful, kind.

Even though he’s done everything right.

Even though she wants to be married one day and this man is on board — Tara just couldn’t help but feel that she needed more time being single.

“More time than 39 years?” I asked.

“It’s more that I’m not sure I’m ready to commit to HIM,” she continued. “So what I’d like to do is continue to date Ted casually for the next couple of months, put my profile up on, and see what happens from there. He IS a good guy, and I don’t want to throw things away. I just want to explore my other options right now.”


Tara’s proclamation sounds eerily like the thoughts of the man who played with your heart in the past. Like your heartbreaker, she came on strong, she made a real connection, and now she’s silently backing away… sort of.

Because Tara — like your heartbreaker – doesn’t want to actually break up — she just wants to keep her distance and downgrade Ted from “future boyfriend” to “one of three men I’m seeing right now”.

Which means that, whether Tara likes it or not, Ted’s going to be on pins-and-needles, wondering where the spark and momentum went.

He’s going to be wondering what happened, what he did wrong, and how he can turn things around again.

Essentially, Tara wants to have her cake and eat it, too.

Not because she’s evil and malicious and doesn’t care about men, but because continuing to date Ted casually while exploring her other options maximizes her selfish desires.

So she gets to keep the door open for Ted, experiment with some exciting, unpredictable men on Match, and make her decision down the road.

Except that’s never how it goes.

You know that.

Because you’ve been in Ted’s position more times than you’d care to admit.

And you know that the guy who is casually “seeing” you once a week for three months NEVER becomes your husband.

How do you know this?

Because if he wanted to be your boyfriend, he’d have tried harder from the very beginning. His very indifference and ambivalence to you — shopping around for other women while keeping you in the loop — tells the entire story.

I don’t have to stick around to see the end.

Neither should Ted.

Every second you’re with the wrong guy is a second you’re not looking for the right guy.

And neither should you.

Your takeaway from this blog post should be twofold:

First, realize that men and women are no different. And although it’s easy to berate men for being selfish, for using you, for not telling you their true intentions, the real truth is: this isn’t a man thing, it’s a people thing.

I just told you Tara’s story, but I literally have THREE clients right now going through the exact same thing.

Three women with no prospects 8 weeks ago; now, all three are putting OFF having a boyfriend because they want time to date and explore and maximize.

I would probably quibble that they should consider the devoted guy instead of looking for a more exciting, unpredictable player on the Internet, but that’s neither here nor there.

All you need to know is that you have two choices: act with integrity and let your man go find a woman who’s into him, or give up on any sense of moral high ground that you might maintain when complaining about non-committal men.

You can’t have it both ways.

The second takeaway I’d like you to have is to internalize the idea that the guy who is keeping you at bay for more than 6-8 weeks is probably never going to step up to the plate to be your boyfriend.

So dump him NOW and go out and find yourself a man who is EXCITED about you.

Every second you’re with the wrong guy is a second you’re not looking for the right guy.

Join our conversation (92 Comments).
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  1. 61

    Well, has he taken down his profile? Has he explicitly asked her to “go steady?” I’m not trying to be a smart-ass but I’m genuinely curious as to why she should stop dating other people if he hasn’t actually talked to her about being exclusive and they’ve only been on 3 dates. Even if a guy seems into me, I’d never assume that he wants me to stop dating other people or that he’s not dating anyone else unless we have a conversation about it. Should Tara bring up the subject with him? Isn’t that the guy’s “job?” I thought it was her role to sit back at this point and just respond to him (eg. if he asks her out, she should go) but she needn’t cut out all other opportunities until he asks her to become exclusive and she accepts.

  2. 62

    Hi Karl

    “….If the other person keeps looking for someone else to be their long-term boyfriend/girlfriend, they’re not going to suddenly switch to the person they see as a less-appealing option”. Karl R

    Actually I do know lots and lots of women who have “settled” in this fashion, including close female relatives of mine – my own mother for instance. It is my observation that women tend to go back to a less appealing option if their desire for children is strong and their biological clocks are ticking loudly. They settle on a man who is made of good husband/father material, but who don’t necessarily “light their fires”.
    Men on the other hand, don’t normally go back to a less appealing option. Maybe they don’t have as much a biological drive for children, I don’t know. Maybe the “male” mentality is one of looking forward, not back. It has been my personal experience that very few men ever go back to a past relationship, even if they still love the woman in question. Maybe men don’t want to second guess themselves or question the decisions they made in leaving a relationship. Once a man makes a decision, that is it.

  3. 63

    Paragon – I said they’d been married before – given the *opportunity* to reproduce. Not everyone takes that opportunity, but most do. Some will choose not to. As you can see, most men who have been married have children. Most middle aged men have been married before. What do you call 84% (the percentage men who have married that have children) of 90% (the percentage of men who have married by middle age), if not a vast majority?

  4. 64


    It is not settling if that is the best person she can have a long term relationship and children with. It is her best option thus it should be seen as her dream man.

    If people view the person that will give them what they truly desire as settling that means everything they do in life is settling. It is all in the matter of perspective.

  5. 65
    Happy Person

    And@65, Bill@67: If she’s 39 and not stating otherwise, she probably doesn’t care about having kids. Which is probably why she feels she can take more time. If you don’t want kids your romantic life is about something else and you can afford to wait for the right thing. It’s just that it’s not so obvious to others what that right thing might be, so you have to do more soul-searching and more communication than the folks who are doing it by the book.

  6. 66

    @ Jadafisk

    “Paragon — I said they’d been married before — given the *opportunity* to reproduce. Not everyone takes that opportunity, but most do. Some will choose not to. As you can see, most men who have been married have children. Most middle aged men have been married before. What do you call 84% (the percentage men who have married that have children) of 90% (the percentage of men who have married by middle age), if not a vast majority?”

    Since we are actually talking about %84 of %75, I call that a non-overwhelming majority, but perhaps we are both splitting hairs.

    I just wanted to emphasize the relative difficulty successful reproduction is for most men to successfully reproduce.

    @ Bill

    “It is not settling if that is the best person she can have a long term relationship and children with. It is her best option thus it should be seen as her dream man.”

    You’re looking at things from an overwhelmingly male perspective, I’m afraid.

    For most females, it seems that anything less than tall, dark handsome, and wealthy is, indeed, ‘settling'(which, I think, is a concept that bears some reconciliation by single females in general).

  7. 67


    If that is the case life is pretty sad.

  8. 68


    I think the people that really “settle” are usually the ones with unrealistic expecations. Plenty of people don’t feel they are settling, but rather making a choice and committing to that choice.

  9. 69

    @64 –
    Thank you, Henriette.

    Interesting to see that no one, and I mean no one, seems to have an answer to your questions, which are all, imo, right to the point.

    (Speaking of having cake and eating it, who’s that new guy commenter that copped my initial and is just using it capitalized? 🙂 )

  10. 70

    @ AnnieC

    “I think the people that really “settle” are usually the ones with unrealistic expecations.”

    How so?

    Settling implies making a conclusive decision – how is that *more* likely to imply unrealistic expectations(in fact, its suggests the opposite).

    “Plenty of people don’t feel they are settling, but rather making a choice and committing to that choice.”

    Non sequitur – that is *precisely* what ‘settling’ implies.

    You are apparently confused…

    @ 72

    “Interesting to see that no one, and I mean no one, seems to have an answer to your questions”

    That is because, these are questions that only the OP can reasonably answer.

  11. 71
    Happy Person

    Mmmm. Cake.

  12. 72

    yep i’m listening. this week (week 12) i sent the ”i’m not getting my needs met here” letter as per Evans blog on commitment. hurting hurting. but i know it’s the right thing. As far as i’m concerned 3 months is plenty of time to decide if you want someone or not.

    1. 72.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Sorry, Susan. It’s probably for the best. One question: you wrote him a letter? You’ve been seeing him for three months and you couldn’t do it in person? Or on the phone? I just believe that nuanced conversations shouldn’t take place by post. People should have a chance to see your face, watch your body language and respond in the moment.

  13. 73

    Yes I wrote a letter. not by choice. I asked him to meet me and he had ”other commitments” which kind of summed things up how they have been really. his preferred method of noninperson communication was Facebook chat. I’d had enough of that.
    Writing a letter gave me an opportunity to really think about what I wanted to say and also be scrupulously honest and candid about how i was feeling.
    I have followed the advice before and the last man (two months of dating, wouldn’t be seen with me in public, wouldn’t talk on phone) also got a letter – for much same reasons.
    I completely agree all should be done in person – but that only works if the person actually wants to see you in the first place. And I’d suggest that if they did you wouldn’t be in the position of feeling the need to write the letter…
    this appears to be a common phenomenon in my part of the world at least – the man who loves a/secrets, b/social network conversations and c/likes to keep women in the ”friendzone/just in case space”

  14. 74

    I feel surprised that I’m responding to this but I had a very strong reaction to this. I think that the biggest problem I had with Tara’s response was that she kept her feelings and her actions to herself. If a man is interested in being your boyfriend and you want to keep your options open, that’s fine! Your risk. But tell the poor guy! Don’t just leave him in the dark pining after you while you do your own thing. That’s what’s disrespectful. She may risk losing his interest but its important to know what you really want and COMMUNICATE it. If the other person does not want the same things, it’s ok! They should feel free to make their own decisions based on what they’re looking for too! Not every great guy will end up as your husband. You only say yes to one…I hope. Date but be honest with the people you date out of RESPECT for yourself and the valuable person you are dating. Cheers to that. *I’ve enjoyed reading Evan’s posts and am looking forward to reading his books that I’ve now ordered. I just wanted to put my two cents in!

  15. 75

    susan, Kimberly,
    I feel you! Since my early dating experiences I’d always say its much  better to tell the guy you don’t see you two clicking, instead of stringing a guy along. I’ve heard oppinions that I’m just  being plain cruel, telling this to people, yet I think they  better hurt for 5 days than for 5 months, cause in the situation where one party is not interested, yet doesn’t wan’t to loose “the option”, the other party feels the change and inevitably falls into category of “stalkers/clingers” as they give the shady party  benefit of the doubt and just wait for some time at first and only then try to sort out things.
    The things that Evan discusses in the post were learned the hard way (yup, I was in the guys position). It still aches (though its already  been a year!),  but I gained a strong resistance for al sorts of  bs. A guy always texts, never calls? Never holds my hand in public? Starts panicking when mutual friends ask how are things  between us? Suddenly withdraws after all seemed right? Flush without thinking twice!
    It didn’t help me get a decent guy so far (which might also  be cause I don’t think that after all the previous drama I could recognize such guy even if he  bit me in the a**),  but it definitely protects me from more drama and heartbreaks.  I just turned 30, so hopefully I still have time to meet that special   someone.

  16. 76

    I ´ve been a Ted most definitely…an ex I ´ve always been in touch with became very interested in me after I said I was visiting the area he lives in, going as far as to say he would like to visit me as well, he also called me, and   sent me messages on fb. Our relationship was long-distance, that was the main cause of our break-up, so I always held him in high regard and I believed he cared about me too. Due to some unexpected events, I was unable to visit or talk to him for 4 months, when I finally spoke to him, he confessed he ´d been in a relationship for a year, so he ´d been dating this woman for 6-7 months by the time he said he wanted to visit me and was calling me and messaging me. He never said he was dating another woman, so I think in this case, he was very selfish, and also, I don ´t know what Evan thinks about this, but you ´ve said that if a man doesn ´t want to become exclusive with you after 3 months, he ´ll probably never be your boyfriend. I beg to difer, it took my ex longer than that to commit to his current girlfriend, but in the end he did ( after 9 months of dating, that ´s what he told me). I no longer talk to this man, which is a shame, because we were civil and friendly for over 8 years.

  17. 77

    I have to say that I really disagree with this article in some respects.   First, yes some men and women are playing the dating game and playing their options.   However, you meet a man and have a few weeks of great dates and he’s doing everything right in terms of pursuing you and saying the right thing and guess what – it means nothing.   Do you know someone based on 3 dates, a couple weeks, you are supposed to decide that you can commit to someone you just met and barely know them b/c they called, they bought you dinner — that is hogwash I say!!!   How many great dates I have been on that didn’t turn into relationships, how many men wine and dine a woman and aren’t interesting in a relationship, how many times you had chemistry and didn’t go further, how many times you had a man pursue you say all right things and back off, how many perfect starts didn’t turn into anything.   This is because you do not know anyone well enough in such a short time to say that you want to build a lasting loving relationship with them, and maybe meeting other people tells you that you really like that person more than you realized.   This is a very narrowly focused article and it’s actually a dissapointment.

    Furthermore, it contradicts many other articles that the author talks about not taking a relationship too seriously early on and sometimes  people take different lengths of time to realize they want a relationship etc.            

  18. 78

    Sometimes people are ready to date but not necessarily to be in a committed relationship. This sounds like where Tara is at. She wants time to see what is out there before “putting all her eggs in one basket” so to speak. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with her wanting to date him casually for another month or so before becoming exclusive with him and if he doesn’t respect that personal boundary and isn’t willing to give her the time she needs, then he simply isn’t the right guy for her. The right person will respect your boundaries and the pace you need to take.  

  19. 79

    To be honest, I also feel like Tara. However, unlike Tara, I recently chose to be in a committed relationship in spite of my mixed feelings.

    I met my newly exclusive boyfriend about 6 months ago. We met on an online dating site and became fast friends. I wasn’t sure if my feelings for him were real in the romantic sense or if I was experiencing something more similar to a “friend crush”. I just knew I truly enjoyed his company and the way he treated me. I did feel hesitant to commit to him, as I committed too soon in my previous relationship and was worried I’d get hurt again if I made a similar choice.

    I was also weighing some things about him that may have been deal breakers- things that bothered me about him that I was having trouble seeing past to a future with him. I was honest with him; I said that even though I really enjoy being with him and the way I feel when I’m around him, I thought I should let him go to find someone to accept him as he is right now. Continuing to date him seemed selfish.

    He responded by saying that he understood my feelings and appreciated my honesty. He also pointed out that perhaps I’m feeling this way based on how I have been treated in the past and that no one gets to be in their late 30’s as a single person with her heart all intact. He graciously accepted my fears and asked that I consider his words and how those might apply to my own life.

    We both continued to see other people but I was seeing him the most. In fact, I felt drawn to him by his graciousness and yet having great personal boundaries all at the same time. Over the past three months, I have seen him express his growing commitment towards me. I have seen him “do all the right things” as EMK says. Additionally, with his consistency, patience, love and graciousness, he has helped me heal a part of my heart that wasn’t fully available to be his- not for his own gain- just because he cared about me and wished for me to be happy. We have come a long way as our friendship has grown.

    Two weeks ago, I had a melt down and decided to tell him I couldn’t see him anymore. I was afraid that I wasn’t right for him, even though I now thought he was right for me based on how he treats me. Because he once again graciously talked me through it, I was calling him back several hours later when the lightbulb finally went off on my head! I said I’d made a mistake and that even though I have these mixed feelings, I’d be crazy to let someone like him walk away. If he’d have me as his exclusive girlfriend (albeit now I didn’t deserve it) I’m committing to him because HIS LOVE for me is like no other. How could I not love someone like him?? The choice was clear- no I can’t have my cake and eat it too. I can have a man who is committed to me and one that I love but also get counseling to help myself deal with my past relationship pain. It is my burden to bear and not his but his love and compassion seems to be speeding up the healing process. He saw me as a whole person and helped me learn to see myself this way again too.( It’s a process that I’m still learning.) We never lose when we love others. 🙂

    1. 79.1



  20. 80

    I got some really good advice a few yrs back: PUT YOURSELF FIRST. It comes down to what you think you are worth and what are your priorities. Many don’t cut things off cos they can’t envision whats next. I’m a strong believer that if you want certain things, you have to make SPACE for them.

    I was put in this position recently by a man, and I told him straight-up that what I had to offer was worth too much for a casual relationship. I left, cried for a bit and then lo and behold, started dating an amazing guy who always has my back and never makes me wonder where I stand.

    Have the courage to stand up for yourself – It works, Trust me =)

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