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Should You Ask a Partner for What You Want?

When is the right time to reveal what you want in a relationship? (And is it a good idea?)

To be happy dating and in relationships, both women and men should be direct and purposeful about what they want. — Alamy

My husband of four years, Jonathan, claims I invited him to my daughter's wedding on our second date. I'm pretty sure I waited until our third.

The precise time doesn't matter, but there's no denying the question took him by surprise: "I've never even met your daughter," he replied.

"So," I shrugged," you will. And the wedding's still 10 months away."

My invitation surprised me, too. Then again, it didn't: Jonathan and I clicked right from the start. For me, at 60, things felt different with him than they had with any man I'd ever dated — magical, easy. My daughter's big day, I sensed, would be a heck of a lot more fun with him by my side.

But one wedding at a time here.

After we'd been dating about six months — after Jonathan had accepted my surprise invitation, after he'd shot photos of my daughter's engagement party — I knew I wanted to be more than a mother of the bride.

I knew that Jonathan had had two previous relationships since his divorce. One lasted six months, the other eight. I decided to sound him out on the M word: "Did you not want to get married again? Or did you simply not want to marry them?"

"Them," came the emphatic response.

Yay! Soon after that, I proposed that he propose to me.

Bold moves? Unquestionably. But at 60, why wait? I knew I loved Jonathan. I knew he loved me. And I knew that I wanted to bring him into the family fold, to share vital experiences with him, to spend my remaining years in a happy marriage.

My gut told me Jonathan might want to marry me — he simply didn't know it yet. Perhaps he would be relieved to find out where I stood, or flattered that I saw him as a "keeper." I had a hunch he might say yes when I invited him to my daughter's wedding — and then to ours.

Is It Too Soon to Know?

When the odds are strong that both people want the same thing, I believe asking for what you want is the right thing to do.

The worst outcome, obviously, is to put the other person on the defensive. Years ago, for example, I was in a relationship with a man not terribly fond of reading, shall we say. Whenever I got excited about a book, I'd ask him if he wanted to borrow it. The answer was invariably no. After three such brush-offs, I stopped asking; clearly we were not going to bond over books.

My widowed friend Ellen had been accustomed in her marriage to spending Saturday evenings with a few other couples, either at restaurants or at dinner parties. Her new partner, Jerry, works in sales and has to be "on" all week. Come the weekend, Jerry wants nothing more than to hang out with Ellen in his sweat suit or jeans, enjoying a quiet dinner and watching a movie on TV. Knowing who Jerry is and who she is, Ellen has learned to share homey pleasures with him and socialize on her own.

To achieve success at work, women are encouraged to lean in. To be happy dating and in relationships, I would encourage both women and men to lean in — and ask the other person for what they want. If you've read the signals carefully, it may turn out that the other person wants the same thing, too.

Nancy Davidoff Kelton writes about dating for AARP Media.

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