You know you are devoted to the entire species of cats, but the person you just started dating can’t even breathe around one. It seems like a small snafu, but presuming your lifelong commitment to cat ownership isn’t likely to change, dating coaches urge us to raise the issue sooner rather than later. Knowing what you want, communicating it, and finding out what the other person wants isn’t something to tiptoe around.
“Weave it into the conversation,” says Fran Greene, LCSW, a dating and relationships coach and the author of “Dating Again with Courage and Confidence.” It doesn’t have to be a thought out, impassioned declaration or interview. It can be as casual as asking them to pass the ketchup.
Here’s how and when to bring up five common contentious topics with the person you’re dating so you don’t, as Julia Bekker, dating coach at Hunting Maven, says, “waste time with someone who [isn’t] aligned with you.”
1. Political Persuasion
“Just like you would talk about what’s important to you, you can just bring up what’s currently happening in the political world,” Greene says. Because politics can be intertwined with values, it may be important for you to know if a date is red or blue before moving onto dessert. “Ask a benign question, or bring something up that gives you a sense of how your date feels politically,” she adds. If you’re stumped on a prompt, pull up your news app notifications for an idea.
Recently, about a month into dating someone, I realized we had somehow evaded this conversation. I cannot date an intolerant person who perpetuates institutionalized white supremacy and so while we were waiting for drinks to arrive, I asked him his thoughts on issues like immigration and mass incarceration. The soundtrack of the bar was immediately tuned out by the thumps of my anxious heart, but luckily, I found out we were on the same page.
Greene suggests not waiting as long as I did, and starting this conversation by the second date.“It tells you about a person’s view of the world, and that’s pretty important,” she says.
2. Wanting Or Not Wanting Kids
“Nice to meet you. Do you want kids?” isn’t exactly a smooth introduction for the first date. But if you look forward to slicing oranges for your kid’s soccer game one day and the person you’re dating would rather not live that picket-fence life — or, if you’d rather focus on pursuits that don’t involve diaper changes — you should share that pretty early on. Greene suggests waiting at least a few dates — until you have a hunch something more serious may develop.
It’s important to watch your delivery during that conversation. “Let someone know what’s important to you without [making them feel they are being] pressured or interviewed for the role of mother or father,” Greene says.
At the same time, remember that people’s preferences and what is important to them change. Danielle, 25, and Carl, 24, began their relationship on opposing ends of the do-you-want-kids conversation. Whereas Danielle wanted kids, Carl didn’t. “We talked about our future and [how] we wanted to travel and work from [abroad]. Having a kid would slow that down, I realized,” Danielle says. Yet two years and a stint living in Switzerland later, Carl and Danielle have come to an agreement. “We decided to have one kid,” Danielle says. “I think having a dog eased us into that decision.”
3. Having A Highly Specific Diet
It’s not impossible to be vegan and date someone who spends Saturday morning plowing through a pound of bacon. However, certain lifestyle choices can affect a burgeoning relationship’s trajectory. It’s okay to have different preferences, but there is a line between making a choice for yourself and showing flat-out disrespect for someone else’s way of living life. If your bacon-slinging partner can’t enjoy a black bean taco with you, it could be time to have a heart-to-heart.
But before you blow something up over your inability to decide on a restaurant, proceed with caution. “It’s important to understand how to separate what you want from what you actually need so you can compromise in the right ways,” says Bekker. To do this, she suggests defining what a deal breaker is to you. A deal breaker isn’t flexible to negotiations. A desire is. Because of life-threatening allergies, dating someone who pops peanuts like they’re breath mints is a strict deal breaker for me, for example.
In order to avoid wasting anyone’s time, raise the topic of defined dietary deal breakers as early as a first date. This can come up naturally when figuring out what kind of restaurant to dine at. If someone can’t live without peanut butter, I can — and will — live without them.
4. Practicing A Different Religion — Or Any Religion At All
This goes beyond the question of whether you’ll spend the holidays with their family or yours. For many, religion is synonymous with culture, but it can also make people uncomfortable. While not every couple shares the same place of worship or the intensity of devotion to it, for some people, not sharing the same faith is sacrilege.
“I definitely dated both Jewish men and men who weren’t Jewish, but I always knew deep down inside that I’d [end up] with someone who is Jewish,” says Rebecca, 31. “My entire heritage is Jewish, so sharing in religious values and beliefs… is crucial.”
You don’t have to go into what scripture you read or recite your entire bat mitzvah Torah portion on the first date. Maybe not even the fifth date. “Once you start falling for someone, [if religion matters or not] has to be clear,” says Greene. “It will impact [your] lives together.” It’s a discussion. A big, open-hearted, respectful, all-ears-in discussion to be held if you suspect your relationship is on the fast track to serious status.
5. Being A Dog, Cat, Or No-Pets Person
Fido may be the center of your universe, but your partner might not feel the same way. “There are allergy issues, cleanliness issues, financial issues, being tied down in terms of work or vacation, extended family and friends who have issues, competition for emotion, and just the time and effort that it takes dealing with a pet,” says Greene.
For Taylor, 31, her dog is first priority. “When I decided to get a dog, I vowed to be responsible for him for his entire life. If someone I’m dating doesn’t like or doesn’t want to deal with him, they’re getting the boot, not him. He needs me, and I don’t need anyone in my life who doesn’t get that.”If you’re going to get into an it’s-me-or-the-dog situation, you’re better off discussing it early on. It might not be urgent, but it’s worth being forward. “You should be enjoying each other’s company and getting to know each other,” says Bekker. “As things progress, if certain things or situations present themselves as something of concern that could be a potential deal breaker, discuss them then.” Always prioritize speaking up for yourself.