The common wisdom, supported by countless self-help and relationship-jump-start books, is that men are afraid of commitment and therefore, just when a relationship starts going well, they have a tendency to become distant and ambiguous. When a woman notices "her man" becoming distant, she should just give him the space and time to figure out what he wants - no pressure, no chasing him, no declarations of everlasting love. Just quiet space for him to think.
Of course, the vast majority of people who push this strategy are women. Entertainingly enough, it seems a sizeable number of them are single....
Make no mistake about it - men (in general) want exactly what women say they want: a lifetime relationship to invest their lives in, a secure place to fall, a fulfilling love in which to grow and nurture both self and others. (Is it true that some men have now opted out of the relationship quest? Yes. But rest assured that they either DID want a long-term relationship before their divorce, or they WILL want it after they turn age 25....)
So if men want a settled, secure relationship, why is it that when things start going swimmingly they seem to zone out? And more importantly, what should a woman do when this happens?
Why do men become distant and ambiguous? Of course, there are a multiplicity of reasons, but following is a checklist that every woman should go through when she notices this happening:
1) Are things really going well? Or are things only going well in your mind? Women tend to emotionally respond to what they feel is a positive relationship and begin to adopt patterns of thinking about "my man" long before a man has intellectually discovered that the woman he is dating thinks she is in a relationship.
2) What has he been trying to tell you? Are you listening? It is very often the case that a man will date for a while, and though he recognizes there is great potential in the woman he is dating, there are also serious problems that he knows, if they are not dealt with, will impede the progress of the relationship. Has he been dropping hints about things that he doesn't appreciate? Are there themes that arise? Has he been focusing on problems while you have been focusing on positive feelings?
3) Is your communication ambiguous? Have you actually expressed - TO HIM - a desire to date exclusively? Before my recent engagement, I was astounded at the number of times that I found out that I was someone's "boyfriend" as a woman recounted her discussions about me to her friends: "So anyway, I said to Jody, 'My boyfriend always says....'"
4) Is your communication self-centered? Whether you agree with it or not, our culture for 20 years has encouraged women to think of relationships in terms of self-fulfillment. And after 20 years of seeing the broken lives, harmed children, and neurotic behavior caused by women actually adopting this type of thinking, men are reaching a point of utter exasperation. No relationship can be all about the pleasure of one of the parties. If you have come into a relationship with a long list of rules, a long list of changes, a long list of expectations, and your daily conversation is all about what I want, my kids, my marriage, my life, my rights, my feelings - then you can rest assured that no matter how much a guy may like you, you are spooking him. Most men have been in a relationship with a histrionic, narcissistic woman to whom men exist only for the pleasure that they bring to her. He probably suspects you could be like her.
So what should you do?
1) Ask yourself, if you were a man, would you date you? Or go further than that - since dating is still the prerequisite to a long-term relationship, go ahead and ask the ultimate question: "Am I the kind of woman whose stability, self-sacrifice, character, and beauty would make a man desire me as his wife?" And whatever issues you find yourself justifying ("Well, I know that men would want me to do X, but because of my kids/because of my career/because that represents an anachronistic gender role/because of whatever I won't do that...."), those are likely the very issues that are making him reconsider his involvement with you.
2) Listen to him. Men approach relationships intellectually. Whatever problems they see, they want them to be solved, or at least know that they can be solved, before they make a commitment. A long-term relationship requires that both parties find answers and make changes to suit the other person. And no, "No man is going to tell me what to do!", "I hate it when you are so controlling," and "I'm not changing for any man!" are not actually answers....
3) Communicate. Women have the reputation for being great communicators - but it is an unwarranted reputation. Women think that they are great communicators because they talk a lot to their friends. But the vast majority of the time that I talk to women about their men being distant or ambiguous, the women have not yet actually told the man that they are smitten with him, that they would like to have an exclusive dating relationship with him, or that they are in love. Men have many powers - mind reading is not one of them. If you want us to know something, you have to actually tell us.
4) Adopt a traditional view of relationships. Relationships worked from the beginning of time until 1968 because people realized that relationships are about both men and women. With the advent of feminist thinking, divorce rates skyrocketed and more and more women were left perenially single. There IS a correlation. Feminism teaches women to think in terms of rights, grievances, and power. Relationships require that both parties think in terms of self-sacrifice, the needs of the other, and loyalty. Feel free to vocally champion feminist philosophies - but don't expect men to take the risky step of attempting to build a marriage with someone who is perenially offended over minor political grievances.
5) Pursue him. This doesn't mean football tackle him. It means be transparent - let him know how you feel and what you would like to see between the two of you in the future. Let him know that you would be willing to be exclusive. Let him know that you are hearing him when he talks to you about problems. Let him know that you are willing to try to make room for him in your life. Let him know that you realize that you are imperfect and that you are still growing, but that a secure romantic relationship is the ideal place that you think that you could grow.
Men, both by biology and by acculturation, are romantic and sexual pursuers. When you see a man drop out of the role of sexual initiator, you can rest assured that there is always a reason. The reason sometimes is that he has simply decided that you are not the one for him - there isn't anything that you can do about that. But sometimes a man places distance between himself and a woman that he truly does desire because he is trying to objectively look at a problem or because he is having doubts about her.
Barring some outside distractor (job trouble, family trouble, illness, etc.) you can rest assured that it is always significant when a man who once pursued you becomes distant. If you pursue him and he tells you he has found someone else or that you are just not right for him, then you are free to get on with your life. And that is a positive thing.
And if you pursue him and he tells you that there are problems, or he is having doubts, or that he really likes you but he worries about X, Y, and Z, then you have an opportunity to show him that you are different from every other woman that he has run into. Because all those other women, when he became distant, either lashed out at him or ignored him.
But you can show that you have the actual skills necessary for building a lifetime relationship by digging in, listening, and responding positively to his doubts. And by solving whatever problem is bothering him, you begin to build a foundation - both in yourself and in the relationship - that can result in a lifetiime of love.