DATING 101

Week 4: Getting Closer to Commitment

Once a relationship reaches the stage where both parties acknowledge it is a relationship (this can occur anywhere between date two and year seven), you no longer worry, ''Will I see him this weekend?'' or ''Is he going to run the first time we go to sleep without having sex?'' Your obsessive concerns now revolve around, ''After dating all this time, why do we still act like strangers?'' or ''Can I put up with his cheapness the rest of my life?'' or, for those of you further down the commitment road, ''Will he ever pop the question?''

You've happily left the angst-ridden singles' scene behind you only to find yourself faced with, well, more angst. If you're like most women in new, pre-committed relationships, you may find yourself asking yourself one of three common questions: Is he losing interest? Is it true love (and will it last)? How can I get him to take the next step?

Before I offer you the answers to these all-important questions, let me say this: The relationship is not a dictatorship in which he has all the power and you are the simpering subject fearful that if you make one wrong move he's outta there. You are not his subject; you are his equal. He is not the only one who gets to decide whether the two of you are suited for a lifetime together.

Taking It to the Next Level
You've been together at least several months, you see each other every Saturday night and talk on the phone nightly, and you're almost positive he isn't seeing anyone else. How, then, can you coax him to inch forward to the next level of commitment -- making more time for you?

The tricky thing is that you don't want to make him feel obligated to see you more frequently, which is how he'll feel if you demand he make more time for you. Although I pride myself on generally advocating honesty, in this instance I'm willing to take a tiny integrity break and suggest an approach that is more Rules-driven than righteous. This approach is subtle, sly, subversively sneaky and geared to making him feel that it's his idea that you spend more time hanging out together.

Here's what you do: One week, mention that a friend gave you tickets to a concert on a night the two of you don't usually see each other. Another week, ask if he'll join you for Sunday brunch with some old college friends who'd like to meet him. A third week there's an old thriller on TV that you're dying to see but are scared to watch alone. Hopefully, a month in, he'll just assume that of course you're spending Tuesday and Thursday night together as well as the whole weekend. If the opposite happens -- he makes excuse after excuse and insists on keeping your dates to the same stultifying once- or twice-a-week schedule -- you've tested the waters and found all you're doing in it is treading. You can then proceed to plan B: honesty -- the ''Not that I'm trying to push you into something you're not ready for, but does this relationship have the potential of eventually evolving into something serious?'' talk.

Next page: What to do when you fear he may be losing interest, plus how to know it's love.

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Is He Losing Interest?
You've been together awhile, things are going great, when all of sudden he noticeably cools. Rather than worry that he's losing interest, know that all that has probably happened is that your relationship has moved beyond the primarily hormone-driven phase and the romantic bubble that insulates new lovers against the world has been pierced. Now it's time to work on becoming a real couple.

If you must, ask your guy if anything is wrong. If he says nothing is, believe him. He's likely shifted from wanting to be with you every waking moment to realizing that for the past few months he's been neglecting other urgent areas of his life -- work, friends, laundry.

The danger of asking if he's losing interest is the romance-killing behavior that instinctively comes with it: clutching. The best way to put the brakes on those destructive clutching urges is to keep busy. Make time for friends you've been neglecting, take on more work projects, consider a weekend trip to visit a cousin you haven't seen in months. (This last maneuver will definitely cause your boyfriend to realize he's starting to take you a bit too much for granted.)

Most importantly, keep injecting fun, romance and passion into your relationship. Just because the initial zing has faded doesn't mean you should switch your sleeping attire from silk teddies back to torn T-shirts. Rather than sack out in front of the boob tube, make an effort to do intriguing activities together; have long talks about the state of your souls; surprise each other with little gifts for no reason. Couples who continue ''dating'' long past the hyper-passion period continue to love being around each other. Not necessarily all the time -- but hopefully enough to make both partners happy.

How Do You Know When It's Love?
To me, love is about commitment on both sides to make things work when things are no longer new and easy. Love is about sharing similar goals and dreams, and it's about wanting the person you adore to be happy, even if what makes him happy isn't necessarily something that will make you happy. Love is about being kind to your partner, accepting that he's not perfect, being willing to make sacrifices on his behalf (as when he passes up attending a celebrity-studded party because you're at home with the flu), to being willing to sweetly but honestly call him on his neurotic behaviors when they are affecting his well-being, and of course sticking by him when things are bleak, not rosy. One of my peculiar little definitions of love is still wanting to make love moments after he's accidentally farted in your presence.

The fart comfort factor aside, love is something you can't truly feel for another person until you feel it for yourself -- for in the romantic equation, it's not two halves that make a whole, but two wholes that gloriously come together.

Talk about this workshop on the Dating Doyenne message board.

Adapted with permission from The Q&A Dating Book by Sherry Amatenstein. Published by Adams Media Corporation. Copyright 2000.

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