Here’s What A Guy Really Means When He Says “He Doesn’t Know What He Wants”

When a guy you’ve been dating tells you he doesn’t know what he wants, it can feel like a slap in the face. At face value, it seems straightforward, but as with many things with men in the dating world, tthere are layers of meaning that lie beneath the surface. Did you do something wrong that made him change his mind about you? Has he met someone else he likes more? Is he just a jerk? Figuring out what he means by claiming he doesn’t know if he wants a relationship with you or not can feel next to impossible.

There are many different things he could be feeling beneath the surface, and while only you know the guy and your particular situation, it’s worth figuring out what’s really going on in his head so you can react accordingly. Here are a few things he might really be saying when he claims he’s unsure about you/how things are going.

  1. He has a major fear of commitment. Many times, when a guy claims uncertainty about what he wants, he might be grappling with a fear of commitment. This hesitation doesn’t necessarily stem from not being interested in the person they’re with. Instead, it may be rooted in previous negative experiences, anxieties about the future, or personal insecurities that make the idea of a binding relationship daunting.
  2. He’s emotionally unavailable. Sometimes, life throws curveballs — a past relationship’s remnants, personal issues, or mental health struggles. When a man says he doesn’t know what he wants, he might be signaling that he’s not in the right space emotionally to engage in or continue a romantic relationship.
  3. He’s overwhelmed by choices. In an age of dating apps and social media, the vast number of potential partners can sometimes become overwhelming. A man might be genuinely confused about his feelings, particularly if he’s comparing and contrasting multiple potential connections in his life.
  4. He’s not ready for anything serious. Some men may use this phrase when they enjoy the companionship and dynamics of the relationship but aren’t ready to delve into the deeper, more serious aspects. They might desire light-hearted moments without the obligations and responsibilities that serious relationships typically require.
  5. He’s being serious — he’s literally unsure of what he wants and is trying to figure it out. Sometimes, the statement is as genuine as it sounds. A man might be in a phase of self-exploration and self-discovery. Before committing to another person, he feels the need to understand himself, his desires, and his direction in life more clearly.
  6. He needs a bit of space. Saying “I don’t know what I want” can be a way to ask for space without ending the relationship. This might be because he feels pressured, wants to take things slowly, or needs time alone to process his feelings and thoughts.
  7. He’s avoiding the awkward conversation of telling you he’s not feeling it. Rather than directly addressing issues or concerns in the relationship, some might use this phrase as a softer way to express discontent. It can be a way to avoid confrontation or the unpleasantness of discussing what’s truly bothering them.
  8. He feels ambivalent about your relationship — he likes you, but there are some things he hates. There might be aspects of the relationship he really enjoys and others he’s not sure about. Instead of making a hasty decision, he’s weighing the pros and cons. This balancing act can lead to the ambiguous statement of not knowing what he wants.
  9. He’s scared of hurting you. Some men might feel that by admitting their uncertainties, they’re saving their partner from future heartbreak. They might believe that by not diving deeper into the relationship, they’re causing less harm in the long run.
  10. He’s not being transparent about how he really feels. While it’s a less pleasant interpretation, it’s possible that when a guy says he doesn’t know what he wants, he’s simply not being forthright about his intentions or feelings. This lack of clarity might be a way to maintain the status quo without revealing his true intentions.
  11. He’s still hanging on to past baggage. Everyone has a history, and sometimes, past experiences can cast a long shadow. When a man claims he’s unsure of what he wants, it could be an indication that he hasn’t fully healed from previous heartbreaks or betrayals. This unresolved baggage might make him hesitant to dive headfirst into a new romantic chapter.
  12. He’s facing a lot of outside pressure. External factors, such as family pressures, societal norms, or peer influences, can heavily impact one’s decisions in a relationship. When he says he’s uncertain, it might be because he’s trying to reconcile his genuine feelings with what’s expected of him by others.
  13. He’s not sure if you’re really compatible. Relationships require two individuals to harmonize in various aspects of life, from personal values to life goals. While there might be an evident attraction or bond, he may have reservations about long-term compatibility. In such cases, his assertion of uncertainty might be rooted in doubts about how well both partners align in the grander scheme of things.
  14. He’s terrified of losing his independence. For many guys, the thought of a relationship equates to a loss of freedom or individuality. If a man values his independence or has lived solo for a significant duration, he might fear that committing might cause him to compromise on his sense of self or the lifestyle he cherishes.
  15. He’s waiting for the perfect timing. Some people have an idealized notion of timing. They believe there’s a ‘right’ time for everything, from pursuing dreams to settling in relationships. A man might genuinely cherish the connection he has but might be waiting for a perceived perfect moment or situation to commit fully.

What should you do if he doesn’t know what he wants

Oh, the age-old “I don’t know what I want” line. It’s one many of us have heard, and it can leave you feeling like you’re stuck in emotional limbo. When the guy you’re seeing drops this on you, it’s natural to feel a mix of frustration, confusion, and maybe even a hint of sadness. After all, isn’t clarity one of the things we seek most in relationships? Let’s break down some grounded steps you can take when faced with this relationship roadblock.

  1. Get clear about what he really means. First things first, get clear on what he’s unsure about. Is it the relationship’s direction, his personal life, his career, or something else? Before jumping to conclusions, engage in a candid conversation. Understanding the root of his uncertainty can give you a better grasp of the situation.
  2. Think about what you need, not what he wants (or doesn’t). While it’s essential to be understanding, don’t lose sight of your own needs and feelings. What do you want out of the relationship? Are you looking for commitment, casual dating, or something in between? Being honest with yourself will help guide your next steps.
  3. Communicate your boundaries clearly. It’s one thing to be patient and understanding, but it’s another to let ambiguity dictate the course of your relationship indefinitely. Set boundaries on how long you’re willing to wait and communicate these to him. Your emotional well-being is paramount.
  4. Avoid trying to play the mind reader. As tempting as it is to analyze every text, call, or interaction, remember, you can’t read minds. Overanalyzing can lead to unnecessary stress. Stick to what he’s communicated and what you’ve observed firsthand.
  5. Ask your girls for advice (even if you know what they’ll say). Chat with trusted friends or consider seeking a relationship counselor. They can provide fresh perspectives on your situation and might notice patterns or solutions you’ve missed.
  6. Stay independent and invested in your own life. It’s easy to become consumed by relationship drama, but don’t forget to live your life. Dive into hobbies, spend time with loved ones, or pick up a new skill. Focusing on personal growth can provide clarity and keep you centered.
  7. Be prepared for any outcome. The reality is, even after giving it time and effort, he might still be unsure. And that’s okay. But it also means you might have to make a tough choice about whether the relationship aligns with what you want.
  8. Remember your worth above all else. You deserve someone who’s as sure about you as you are about them. If this relationship doesn’t offer the clarity and commitment you seek, know that it’s okay to prioritize your happiness and move on without him.

Is it possible to get him to commit to you even if he’s unsure?

Is it possible to get a guy to commit who’s on the fence about the relationship? In short, yes, it’s possible. People can change their minds. But the real questions are: How? And at what cost?

If someone isn’t sure about the relationship, it might be tempting to go above and beyond, thinking that more effort might sway their decision. But that can lead to an uneven dynamic where you’re giving way more than you’re getting. It’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole — it might fit with enough force, but it’s not a natural fit.

Which brings us to the next point: Shouldn’t he naturally want to be with you? Ideally, yes. A balanced, healthy relationship is built on mutual feelings and commitment. Both people should be excited about being together. If you find yourself in a position where you’re doing all the heavy lifting, you have to ask yourself if this is the kind of relationship you want. It can be emotionally draining to constantly seek validation or try to prove your worth to someone.

Now, it’s important to differentiate between someone who’s genuinely unsure due to external factors (like recently coming out of a long-term relationship) and someone who’s just lukewarm about the relationship. If it’s the former, with open communication, there might be a path forward. If it’s the latter, then it might be a sign of fundamental differences in how you both view the relationship.

So, is it worth trying? Only you can answer that. But remember, in a relationship, it should feel like both of you are choosing each other every day. If it feels more like a chase, then it might be time to reevaluate.

Gail is Bolde's social media and partnership manager, as well as an all-around behind-the-scenes renaissance woman. She worked for more than 25 years in her city's local government before making the switch to women's lifestyle and relationship sites, initially at HelloGiggles before making the switch to Bolde.