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Hitting the pause button on a good relationship

| Monday, May 7, 2018, 9:00 p.m.

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

My boyfriend and I have been dating for about six months, and I'm really enjoying it. He is 30 and I'm 26.

I mentioned that I've been making my Thanksgiving plans, which involve traveling to visit my family — as I have done every year since college — and to my surprise he got a little bit upset that I had made that decision without talking to him first. I had no idea he was taking it for granted that we would spend the holiday together or at least discuss it.

This led me to start thinking seriously about the relationship and how certain things just become assumed due to arbitrary markers, like how long we have been dating.

Is there a way to pause the relationship right where it is — as in, we like each other and spend time together whenever we can, but without it being assumed that I am going to consult him on every life decision? Or does that not exist in adult relationships?

— DTR

OMG. That's what defines adult relationships.

By “that” I mean both the not assuming and the ability to hit “pause,” because both involve the crucial combination of self-knowledge, mutual respect and clear communication.

Instead, he assumed one thing and you assumed another, and here you are. At least you both assumed your way into a necessary conversation.

To hold up your end of the adult-relationship bargain, say you're enjoying his company a lot, but aren't ready to move beyond where you are right now. Don't make any promises you can't keep by saying “yet.” Just say you're happy where you are.

You can say, I suppose, that you hope things keep progressing, but the most useful tool in dating is a mind open to what develops — good, bad, indifferent, whatever. That's when you'll both be able to make your best decisions: Just by virtue of wanting something, our minds start to look for that, and in the process tend to filter out evidence to the contrary.

He, meanwhile, keeps his end of the adult bargain by hearing you out and deciding whether to keep dating you on those terms. If he wants more of a commitment, then he can certainly ask. When you say no -- as you should, given your true feelings — then he either stays with you on your terms or breaks up.

If you do keep dating on clarified terms, whatever they may be, then another adult step is to remain mindful that you can't assume he sees things as you do. This doesn't mean you need to “consult him on every life decision,” but instead to keep communicating such decisions. Think of sharing your plans as a courtesy, not a consult.

All this being said, there is a time — more a degree of intimacy — where you are expected to consult: when it's clear to both of you that you're not just keeping each other company, but instead sharing a life. You don't decide this so much as feel it. When you want to consult and share, when you want to spend your holidays with this person, when it seems weird not to, when it's an unforced and mutual give-and-take, that's when you recognize your date has grown into a mate.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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