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What ‘I Don’t Know What I Want’ Really Means

by Jeannie Assimos - February 22, 2024

Your date just said “I don’t know what I want” during a heart-to-heart over dinner. If you’re not sure what he/she meant by that, considering the following common definitions for the phrase. Be warned: It’s rarely a good thing for the relationship.

Defined: I don’t want you — now or ever.

This is probably the most commonly used meaning of “I don’t know what I want.” The individual may or may not know why it’s not working or who he/she would rather be with, but your date does know that he/she don’t want the person — sadly, you — they’re currently with. Accept this as the end of the relationship.

Defined: I really don’t know what I want.

Sometimes daters are confused. That’s valid. But if the person you’re dating really doesn’t know what he (or she) wants, he’s not ready to commit to a relationship. Give him space. If he decides you are what he wants, he probably knows how to find you.

Defined: I don’t want to hurt your feelings.

Sometimes “I don’t know what I want” is just a gentle, confusing way to break up with someone when the person is afraid of hurting the other’s feelings. It’s the updated “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Defined: Something doesn’t feel right.

Sometimes it’s important to “go with your gut,” and your date might be trying to articulate that, even though you’re having a great time together, she doesn’t feel totally comfortable with the relationship — and doesn’t necessarily know how to communicate that. Talk about the relationship and any hesitations she may have, but never pressure someone to stay with you if she’s uncomfortable doing so.

Defined: I feel pressure to make a relationship decision.

Sometimes the line indicates that the person feels the relationship is reaching a point where decisions about commitment and direction need to be made, and the individual doesn’t feel ready to make any. It’s said out of panic or burden. Maybe it’s a matter of needing to get to know you better, slowing down the pace of the relationship, or asking harder questions about what you’re both looking for.

Defined: I’m emotionally unavailable.

If the person you’ve been dating for a while uses the “I don’t know what I want,” this might be a red flag of emotional unavailability. For some reason, he/she can’t just go “all in” and commit to the relationship that’s developing.

In almost all cases, when you hear, “I don’t know what I want,” give the person space. Sometimes this means ending the relationship and letting the person figure out what they do want without hurting you in the process.

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