What are you looking for? This taboo question is usually followed by a nervous pause and then ramblings of a few multiple choice answers: a potential relationship, casual dating, friends? But why is the taboo question so taboo? Is wanting to know the purpose or intention of a first or a few dates really all that wrong?
In my years of awkward bad dating, I was persistent in asking this question. Sometimes the answer was an eye-roll of disgust followed by, “Why are you pressuring me?” Other times the answer was a sly smile followed by, “let’s just see where this goes.” With that response, it usually meant there’d be no more calls or dates. The question had scared them off. Other times the response was avoidance and subject changes, or overcompensated confirmation that of course a relationship was the agenda. Typically I was the one asking the question on date 1 , 2 or at least by 5. Yielding the same awkward and uncomfortable responses repeatedly I contemplated if perhaps I should not ask such questions. Perhaps I should just try to figure out a person’s dating goals without asking. I tried this for a while with no real luck. I wasn’t a psychic and my ability to read the opposite sex was not great.
Finally, I committed to the idea that there was no shame in this question. When we use job search engines we have to check the box for part time, full time or contract work. When we date online we have to state if we are interested in “friends with benefits” or long term relationships. How was this different? I decided it wasn’t. As long as I was accepting of the answer, I could ask. Anyone uncomfortable by the question probably wasn’t a good match for me anyway.
So I continued with fake confidence and reluctance. Finally, I found myself at breakfast on a first date that had already broken so many girl code rules. I’d met this guy the night before and I’d called him at 9:00am to ask if he wanted to grab breakfast. I hadn’t waited for him to call first, I hadn’t given it three days or even 24 hrs. Based on everything I knew about dating, there was no way this could go anywhere with such a start. But he answered, and he agreed to meet me for breakfast. At breakfast we chatted for a bit, and when I felt comfortable, I proceeded with my taboo question. I paused a nervous but too short pause, and then got ready to ramble my multiple choice answers. But before I could state the choices he cut me off. “A wife” he said confidently, making perfect eye contact. I choked a bit on my pancakes, uncomfortable with the intense serious eye contact. “Wait what?” I asked. “I’m looking for a wife,” he repeated himself confidently. “I’m 33, I’ve been dating for some years, and now I’m ready to find someone I can settle down with and start a family.”
After breakfast we walked across the street to Grant Park, where we walked and talked for several hours. He told me about his family, all the places he’d traveled, and what had brought him to live in Chicago. I found him to be very interesting and intriguing. After a few hours he walked me to my car and said goodbye. He didn’t kiss me, or even hug me. In fact he didn’t attempt to touch me at all. I went home even more intrigued, and curious if this 33-year old had simply perfected the game of running game. To tell a 29 year old woman whose rapidly approaching the big 3-0 that you are “looking for a wife” could be the ultimate play. Perhaps not trying to kiss me was also a part of the strategy.
The next weekend we went to Dancing in the Park at Grant Park followed by Thai food. The weekend after that we had a daytime date at the Field Museum. It wasn’t until our fifth date that we finally kissed, and I was the initiator. He laughed at me for not waiting. Still he never asked to come inside my apartment and he never invited me inside. I’d met guys before that overconfidently stated they were “looking for a relationship” none had ever gone so far as to say they wanted a wife. But still, I knew the play, I’d believed it before, and I’d seen friends believe it when all other signs said not to. But this seemed real. If it was a play, it was a long game.
Three years later, I ask my husband about that first date. I ask him if it was game, or a play. Was he really serious at the time? And how could he be so straightforward on a first date? His answer is still simple. “I’d dated a lot, I was ready to settle down, I got a good vibe from you, so I answered the question honestly. No tricks, no strings.”
One thing I did learn from dating my husband is to listen. Often in dating, I asked questions, inferred answers and heard what I wanted to hear. A man might say he was only interested in casual dating, yet he planned nice dates so I would assume he was moving in the direction of wanting a real relationship. He wasn’t. In dating we must listen, to what is said and what isn’t said. And we must make sure we aren’t simply hearing what we hope to be hearing. Despite years of awkward responses, I’m grateful I remained principled and never gave up my most basic question, “What are you looking for?”.
What are your thoughts? Do you have a question you feel is critical to ask in dating? Are you uncomfortable yet still insistent in asking it? Is there a secret squirrely skill to interpreting or reading between the lines with the opposite sex or do we just need to listen better?