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When a relationship doesn’t work out, there are certain go-to reasons people rely on to explain why it happened. Whether you’re the dumper or the dumpee, your friends, family and random strangers you happen to spill your guts to, will inevitably say one (or all) of the following things to you: (i) you’re “better off” (usually true, even if an unhelpful sentiment at the time), (ii) “you can do better” (very subjective, hard to prove and again, unhelpful) and (iii) “it was bad timing.” The last is, in my unscientific assessment, the truest of all (hence no brackets). Relationships that don’t work out are always to some degree tied to the fact that one or both parties aren’t ready for how that commitment would change their life.

Much has been said about timing as it relates to men especially. While Sex and the City is undoubtedly a dated, unrealistic portrait of dating in this day and age, one concept that the show’s writers presented rang especially true, even upon re-watching the series recently. The theory? Men are like taxis.

Like your friendly neighbourhood cabbie, men are driving around with their light off, until the light goes on. Suddenly, they feel ready—for their own list of reasons—and boom, the next lady they happen upon is the lucky fare tagging along with them down the long road of life.

From the outside it can be completely infuriating to see someone you dated and wrote off as a hopelessly commitment-phobic, unprepared for a real relationship, suddenly planning a stag trip to Vegas and a winery wedding. The thing is, it wasn’t necessarily that you were wrong for each other, but more that whatever they felt wasn’t lining up in their own life, has now been sorted, and they’re feeling up to the task of sharing that life with someone else.

I have seen this firsthand, and I would posit that it’s not just men who do this—the astute Sex in the City theory, very much applies to women as well.

With women today less defined by relationship status than they once were, and more focused on career and personal happiness, they—like the men—too are acting like taxis. Everyone knows someone (or is someone) roaming around with a list of non-negotiable qualities they must have in a partner. Until that is, they get tired of dating, short-term relationships and starting over every time with something new. Gradually that list, with its catalog of demands, starts to whittle down bit by bit. And then, like a miracle, they are somehow ready to take the leap with someone they find makes them happy, even if he doesn’t tick every box they had set out for the perfect mate for life.

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There is nothing wrong with any of this. Healthy, happy relationships are the product of two people who not only love each other, but also love themselves and know themselves well enough to be a good partner to someone else. Everyone gets to this place in their own time. When you have experienced the wrong relationships, the bad fits and false starts with people you don’t feel like you can be yourself with, meeting someone who completely “gets” you, and who you “get” in return, is an enormous relief.

The key is to be sure that this is what you’re actually getting yourself into. Timing can be fickle. It’s not enough to simply get to your own place of comfort and happiness and assume the person you’re with is on the same page. You need to be sure that your eyes are wide open for the signs that this potential partner for life is not only ready too, but ready for the right reasons. Hence, a brief and handy guide to the bad timing warning signs and how to spot them:

1) You are right on the heels of a string of truly terrible relationships.

We all come with baggage, and our prior relationships ended because they went badly for one reason or another—this is a given. You don’t need to write off the person you’re dating because they hate their ex, or haven’t been single for that long between that ending and meeting you. Everyone has their own timeline for getting over things, and if that last relationship wasn’t happy, chances are they checked out long time before the official end date.

That said, a red flag indicating bad timing is if you’re potential special someone is fresh out of a dramatic relationship, or a string of them. If what you’re hearing about constantly is how chill you are in comparison, or how they love you because you’re not “crazy like what’s-her-name,” you may be his or her sanctuary, rather than the perfect match.

If they’re used to high drama and have been burnt out on it, a rational, mellow person can seem like a godsend. The excitement that they’re not constantly dealing with hysteria and wacky behavior can mask the fact that you don’t actually have a lot in common. Meaning, this drama refugee might love you because they find you relaxing, not because you’re you. It’s the difference between a place you like to visit on vacation and a place you would like to live. As rejuvenating as lying on a beach under a palm tree may be, when it comes to settling down full-time, you might want a city with all of the things you like to do and see…not just really good margaritas.

2) How you want to spend time is not matching up.

Aging is a funny thing. What appeals on a Friday night looks different at 20, 25, 30 and onward. And it’s not that it gets progressively more settled in and low key for everyone. I go out more now at almost 30, than I did when I was 25, and I certainly know many people well into mid-adulthood that could party plenty of twenty-somethings under the table. It’s just that as we age, we go through different stages of what we feel like doing on a regular basis. Dinner parties seem absurd when everyone has a million roommates and no cooking utensils, but when you’ve spent time and money making your apartment feel like home, you probably want to have your friends come over.

No matter what stage you’re at, if you’re hoping the person you’re dating might be your bona-fide one and only, take a close look at how they want to spend their time. Are they into your weekend sleep-ins and boozy dinner parties, or are they all about after-work drinks and errand-running Sundays? You don’t have to be into what people think is a grown-up lifestyle to be ready to be in a real relationship, but how you prioritize your time should match up with the person you choose. Or, you are setting yourself up for failure.

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3) They want the socially-acceptable trappings of a relationship above all else.

Maybe they’re feeling some pressure from family to settle down. Maybe they want someone who will be their plus ones for work functions, so they seem like they’ve got that part of their life “together.” Maybe the majority of their friends are getting married and it seems about time they start thinking that way too. If the drive for commitment seems to be coming from external forces such as these, rather than a true desire on their part to start a life with you, you might be in danger of getting swept into someone else’s timeline.

Now, this isn’t to say that this person might not marry you. They probably will. It’s just that the reason for that will have less to do with “oh my god, I found her,” and more “now that that’s taken care of, time to think about my next career steps.” Should you be the kind of gal who has read The Rules, well then, a successful commitment is yours, congrats! You’ve found your matching, rules-following, life partner and are well on your way to a 1.5 karat solitaire, a time-share in Miami and decade upon decade of work functions and family gatherings.

If this is what you want, that’s more than fine, but just never trick yourself into believing that it all came together because of true love. Alternatively, hold out for someone who wants you to come to work events with them because you’ll be the most fun person they can mock everyone else with. Trust me, that’s infinitely better.

4) All of their friends are single.

You’re both over 25, yet while your friends are a mixed bag of couples and singles, they still roll with a posse of exclusively single hookup hunters. It doesn’t matter if it’s a guy or girl—if all of their friends are solo, you’re in for an uphill battle. Either they aren’t ready for a relationship, and get what closeness and emotional comfort they need from their friends, or they are ready, but haven’t cut the cord from a group who hasn’t grown past the casual-dating-only phase. And those friends, those friends are not going to give your beau good advice.

Every time you two fight, they’ll be cheering on a break-up from the sidelines and putting ideas in your partner’s head about how much easier and better being single is. One of them will eventually break this pattern, meet someone great and shift the group dynamic. Maybe that someone is the one you happen to be dating. My warning is, unless your boo has come to their own decision that they’re ready for a relationship, and is prepared to tune out the chorus of pals luring them back to the S.S Singledom, you may find you have to spend a lot of time convincing them that a relationship can be just as fun as being single. And that sounds more than a little exhausting.

5) It only works when you’re doing the heavy lifting.

Anyone can enjoy a relationship when the other person is doing all the work. Having an assistant is great, and having one that wants to sleep with you, while also keeping track of all of your appointments, making sure you’re fed, clothed and organized, while asking for little to nothing in return? Why that’s just about perfect, right? Wrong. That’s not a relationship certified for long-term health. It’s more like a break-up/stint-in-the-hospital-for-exhaustion in the making. If your relationship is in “good” shape, so long as you expect as little as possible from the other person, all the while doing back flips to make them happy, then it is not “good” at all.

Maybe you fell into it because they seemed so busy and it made you feel good to help them out. Maybe you didn’t want to nag them about remembering your birthday or coming to a boring family function with you, so you just avoided asking for anything at all. If this pattern has formed, even if it feels like it’s working over the short-term (they really appreciate your help! You can plan your own birthday party, who cares?) it is slowly shredding away at your sense of self. Living for someone else’s success and pleasure is just a way of not looking at what it would take for you to be happy yourself or demanding what you deserve. It’s what happens when low self-esteem and a yen for people pleasing have a baby. It will whitewash you until you are just a vessel for someone else’s whims and needs. You need more time to spend with yourself—and in this case, the timing problem is you.

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