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Am I Ready for a Relationship? 15 Signs That You Are, According to an Expert

And five signs you might want to hold off

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Relationships are hard work and often feel like quite a gamble—particularly because most of us have experienced some bad relationships and heartaches on our journey to meet that fairytale soulmate. And at some point, these past experiences might make you wonder, ‘am I ready for a relationship?’ While it’s perfectly natural to yearn for a partnership that lasts, there are some clear indicators that you’re ready for a relationship…and if you overlook them, it’s safe to say that you aren’t priming yourself for success. Without further ado, here’s an expert’s take on the 15 signs that you are ready for a relationship, plus five more that suggest the time isn’t right. (Spoiler: Self-awareness, timing and feeling comfortable being alone are key.)

Meet the Expert

Dr. Bethany Cook, Psy. D, HSP, MT-BC, is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Health Service Psychologist, adjunct professor, music therapist, author and media personality. With 21 years of clinical experience in the mental health field, Cook has an outside-the-box perspective on individual, family and group development.

15 Signs You’re Ready for a Relationship

1. You’ve Taken Stock and Worked on Self-Awareness

Dr. Cook tells us that self-awareness is a huge factor when it comes to relationship readiness, which makes sense because the less of it you have the harder it will be to compromise and harmonize with another person. Per the expert, the questions you should ask yourself run the gamut from “do you at least know what gender you’re attracted to” to “are you able to identify your trauma triggers, stressors, biases, conscious and unconscious issues, etc,?” 

Of course, you don’t have to know every little thing inside all your bags, says Dr. Cook, but the more you make a concerted effort to build your self-awareness by asking yourself all the questions, the more ready you’ll be for a relationship: “you’ll be able to recognize behavioral patterns, reactions and emotional responses in both yourself and your partner which is critical in making sure that you don’t take things personally nor take your own stuff out on the one you’re supposed to love the most,” explains Dr. Cook.

2. You Feel Confident in Your Communication Skills

“Having self-awareness is one thing, but being able to share it in a way that your person can hear and understand without feeling attacked is priceless in minimizing any potential for hurt feelings,” says Dr. Cook, adding that she works with countless couples who share genuine love and have so many of the ingredients for a lasting partnership, but can’t make it work due to constant miscommunications. As such, you should ask yourself whether you are comfortable communicating your vulnerabilities, expectations and/or biases to another person, and whether you think you can receive this information from a partner with empathy (and without personalizing it).

3. You Feel Emotionally Stable

Let’s talk trauma. According to Dr. Cook, “when you overreact emotionally to a circumstance, it’s 90 percent of the time due to unresolved traumas. They can be big or small and include everything from never hearing ‘I’m proud of you’ from a parent to surviving a car crash.” (I know it’s happened to me, and if you’re in the same boat, you’ve probably asked yourself, “Am I ready for a relationship at all?” The answer: If you haven’t acquired a certain degree of self-awareness—something that therapy can certainly help with—then you’ll likely be more prone to emotional outbursts and mood swings that destabilize a relationship. On the flip side, if you’re feeling pretty stable at this phase of your life and have the ability to regulate your emotions effectively, Dr. Cook tells us that it’s a very positive indicator that you’re ready to get back out there—not least of all because strong emotional regulation skills are associated with increased partner relationship satisfaction across the board.

4. You Know How to Set (and Respect) Boundaries

The expert is quite emphatic about this one: “I can’t even begin to state all the reasons why you must must must must be able to know how to set healthy boundaries. These boundaries are for you, not them and if someone is upset by a healthy boundary you set with them, it’s because they’ve gotten used to and have been happily benefitting from your lack of boundaries.” So, when you have set a reasonable and healthy boundary in your other relationships—be it at work, with family, friends—have you held fast in the face of any pushback, or have you chosen the path of least resistance and given up on the boundary? Your answer to this question will give you a pretty good sense as to whether or not you’re ready for a romantic relationship.

5. You Know Your Compatible Type

“This is like knowing your visual type and turn ons, but psychologically,” explains Dr. Cook, adding that “your amazing overall self-awareness will help you know who you can and can NEVER be with.” Are you someone who can’t stand too much affectionate touch? Do you need a lot of alone time and won’t be able to make it work with a “velcro partner”? Are you simply unable to handle being in the presence of a loud chewer?

There’s no such thing as perfect compatibility, says Dr. Cook, but relationship readiness is all about being able to “identify the traits in a person that are not only great compliments to your own, but also inspire you to be a better version of yourself.” (For example, the expert shares that she’s a social butterfly at parties, while her wife grows roots wherever she first lands; "she loves watching me work the room and doesn’t ‘expect’ me to stay by her side even though that would be her preference.") Bottomline: If you know what you want and what you can’t work with, it’s a good sign that you’re ready to get involved with someone new.

6. You Know Your Apology Language

It’s not all about love languages, friends. Apology languages are indeed a thing, and are pretty important when it comes to healthy conflict resolution. Dr. Cook recommends everyone who’s considering entering a new relationship (or has just done so), take an apology language quiz. Once you understand your apology language, you will have an understanding of what you can and can’t do, as well as what you will and will not accept from a partner, when conflict inevitably arises and tears must be repaired. In other words, this is another facet of compatibility and exploring it before making a commitment to someone is very wise.

7. You Have a Growth Mindset

Are you actively seeking out experiences and people who inspire you to grow into a better, happier, healthier, less stressed and reactive person? Dr. Cook tells us that “having a growth mindset means you’re open and seeking out information that will improve your life, rather than blindly following or having ‘faith’ that things will flow the way you want them to.” If your self-awareness lens is making things clearer and your choices feel more purposeful, you’re on the right track to relationship readiness.

8. You’re Comfortable Alone and in a Drama-Free Zone

This ties into emotional regulation, but is distinct in that it relates to shedding that unhealthy and untrue notion that “feeling drama means they love me.” Per Dr. Cook, a drama-free zone is about “not actively setting off sparks and watching shit burn around you,” and in order to forgo those dramatic highs and lows in future relationships, you have to have “taken enough ‘me time’ and learned how to enjoy the calm between relationships when you’re flying solo.” In other words, being comfortable without a partner and content without the fiery passion of an intense relationship is a good sign that you’re ready to go out there and find a healthy one.

9. You Can Talk Openly About Sex

“Am I ready for a relationship,” you ask? Well, the answer to this question also depends on how able you are to talk openly about sex. Start by checking whether you understand your own boundaries and wants: what you enjoy, what you’re willing to try, what you definitely won’t try (is polyamory not in the cards, for example), what you already know you absolutely don’t like, etc. It’s also helpful to know what your expectations of a partner are in terms of frequency. Dr. Cook recommends looking back on what you’ve learned about yourself on your sexual journey, including what you took away from past relationships. Once you have done this, the next step is asking yourself whether or not you feel completely comfortable openly sharing everything you’ve learned about yourself as it relates to sex with a new partner. If the answer is yes, your prospects are good.

10. The Timing Is Right

Every stage of a relationship requires time and nurture, but brand new ones are particularly demanding in that regard because you haven’t settled into a rhythm yet. As such, before you enter into a new relationship, the expert recommends taking a good, hard look at what’s going on in your life. Are you stressed, overworked and struggling to juggle all the responsibilities on your plate, or have you found a healthy balance that allows you the free time you need for a relationship? And if you’ve got a particular person in mind, then you ought also to consider the practicality of pursuing it (i.e., do your schedules align).

11. You Want to Put in the Effort

Let’s be real, relationships require a lot of effort. You have to consider someone else’s needs round the clock, make compromises and be giving with your time. It’s not a small undertaking, but if you’re serious about making a commitment to someone the effort needs to be there and it shouldn’t be made begrudgingly. If you really feel motivated to put that kind of effort into a new romantic relationship, it’s a good sign that you’re ready for one. If you like the idea of being in a relationship but the thought of the effort involved makes you groan a little, you’d probably be wise to hold off.

12. You Have a Clear Sense of What You Want For the Future

Have you put down roots in the city where you live? Are you considering going back to school and pursuing a new career? Do you want your future to be filled with travel? Do you want kids? If you’re wondering about relationship readiness, chances are it’s because you’re pretty serious about finding one that goes the distance. Figure out exactly what you want your future to look like and identify where you can be flexible and what your non-negotiables are. Once you’ve done this and have the confidence to communicate it in a direct way to a romantic prospect, relationship readiness is within reach.

13. You’ve Moved on From Your Last Relationship

And we mean really moved on—as in, you have a clear understanding of what went wrong, harbor no regrets, resentments or lingering romantic feelings and are ready to completely turn the page. Per the matchmaking experts at eHarmony: “If they’re still on your mind and you’re not getting over your ex, the answer to ‘Am I ready for a relationship?’ is a solid ‘no.’ While there are circumstances where contact with your ex is unavoidable – shared custody, for instance, – as a general rule, you’re ready for someone new if you have handled a break-up, gone through the grief and come to terms with your past.”

14. You Don’t Think There’s Anything Wrong With You

It’s easy to start feeling down on yourself after a string of bad first dates or a few failed relationships, but the eHarmony team cautions that this state of self-doubt is a sign that you’re not ready to enter into a fresh relationship—namely because “one of the biggest myths that media and popular culture feeds people is that you need a romantic partner to be ‘complete.’” Needless to say, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. (See number eight on the list for more on the importance of being comfortable alone.)

15. You’ve Don’t Live and Die By a Checklist

As previously mentioned, compatibility is important…but it’s also complicated. Superficial requirements of a potential partner are ones that you should be willing to re-examine. There may be absolute deal-breakers and that’s OK, as long as you have identified them before you dive back into dating. That said, a good marker for relationship readiness is having some flexibility and an understanding that your future soulmate might have traits that depart from the rigid checklist you once drafted. Again, as Dr. Cook pointed out, there is no such thing as “perfect” when it comes to compatibility—it’s harmony that matters.

5 Signs You’re Not Ready for a Relationship

1. You Have a Fear of Commitment

Maybe you got burned pretty bad by a past relationship that went awry and now feel a little uneasy about committing to someone, even when all signs point to yes. Maybe you just feel like being tied down right now. Whatever the case may be, “if you don’t want to settle down, then don’t…and own it like the queen you are” says Dr. Cook. The important thing is to be honest with yourself and others. And if your aversion to commitment is something you feel conflicted about (i.e., you’re kicking yourself for missed opportunities at love but can’t shake the fear), the expert says it’s definitely worth exploring in therapy.

2. Prioritizing Personal Growth

OK, this is a bit confusing given that we just told you that ‘having a growth mindset’ is a positive indicator of relationship readiness. The distinction here is subtle, though—namely because it’s the difference between having already settled into a growth mindset (i.e., it’s a way of life) vs. personal growth, emotional or career-oriented, being an aspirational thing that you are only just turning your focus to. “In the latter scenario, adding the complexities of a relationship may feel overwhelming or distracting,” Dr. Cook explains.

3. You Have Serial Dating Syndrome

Per Dr. Cook, “If you or someone close to you has hinted at or outright stated the following to you ‘I wonder if you need to slow down how many dates you go on.’ then it might be time to press pause long enough to consider why you’ve caught the serial dating bug.” In some cases, it might require some help from a therapist who can help you see the forest for the trees, but the expert says it’s a behavior worth examining and a definite sign that you might not be relationship ready until you’re in a place to proceed at a healthier pace.

4. You Don’t Feel Independent or Want to Continue Enjoying Your Independence

To be clear, a relationship is not the death knell of independence (or it certainly shouldn’t be). However, as previously mentioned, relationships do require a lot of compromise, time and attention. For this reason, Dr. Cook advises that “if you want to experience complete independence for longer or more fully, just be aware of that and own it,” And there’s nothing wrong with feeling that way; but, as the expert points out, “no relationship will ever be able to sustain a 50/50 balance of ‘all things that make relationships healthy’ because no one is perfect and we will constantly be evolving and growing and changing, so you will never be able to completely unburden yourself of ‘X, Y and Z’ in your relationship.” Long story short, if total independence is something you feel very strongly about at the moment, you probably aren’t relationship ready and your forays into long-term commitment might fail due to growing resentment.

5. The New Relationship Feels Rushed

Whether you had the feeling or people close to you are raising eyebrows and something about their evaluation sticks, a rushed relationship is a red flag that suggests either the timing or the person isn’t quite right. “You and fine wine are not that different; time, calm, environment, peace, care—all this yields a space where you’re able to have clarity and really express yourself.” In other words, if you’re having doubts or feeling any kind of anxiety about the pace at which the relationship is proceeding, slow your roll—you might be onto something.

Summary: So, Am I Ready for a Relationship?

There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to relationship readiness, but the easiest way to sum it up is this: If you’ve put in the work and done some personal growth, feel comfortable and fulfilled being alone and have no aversion to the concept of open communication, compromise and commitment—you’re probably ready. If you’re obsessing over the idea of being in a relationship, recoil at the thought of being tied down or feel significant anxiety (as opposed to confidence) with regard to the potential outcome, you might want to take some more time off from the dating and relationship world.

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