If you abhor the single life and are happiest when paired up, you could easily fall into the trap of getting into a committed relationship before you’ve even had a chance to get to know the person to whom you’ve pledged your devotion. While meeting The One is the end goal for most daters, they often unwittingly delay their “happily ever after” by deciding they’ve met the love of their lives too quickly — thus taking themselves off the market prematurely. If this sounds familiar, you probably already know what comes next. In six months or a year, you’ll find yourself ready to get out of the relationship and start the whole dating cycle all over again. Looking at why people make this common mistake, however, can help you take the steps to avoid repeating it in the future.
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What makes people feel the urge to commit too early?
A number of factors can lead to getting into a committed relationship before you’re ready, and most of them are based on fear — fear that you might lose the person you’re dating if you don’t secure a commitment quickly, fear of not finding anyone else to date afterwards, and the fear of having conversations about non-exclusivity. “Very often, you rush to secure a commitment too quickly simply because you want to quell those insecurities and anxieties that come up during the process of getting to know someone,” says Katherine Woodward Thomas, licensed psychotherapist and author of the best-seller, Calling in “The One”: 7 Weeks to Attract the Love of Your Life. “For the most part, dating can be a pretty vulnerable process.”

Related: Tips to get the love you want instead of settling

Anticipating those uncomfortable and vulnerable feelings that dating ushers in, however, will allow you to give people enough time to show you their true colors. “In our research, we repeatedly heard people cite the same four to five reasons for committing to a relationship too early,” says Anne Milford, coauthor (with Jennifer Gauvain) of How Not To Marry the Wrong Guy: A Guide For Avoiding the Biggest Mistake of Your Life. “To avoid these common pitfalls, ask yourself the following questions:

1) ‘Am I saying yes because I’m lonely?’
2) ‘Am I ignoring the little voice in my head that’s telling me that he or she is not right for me?’
3) ‘Do I think that a relationship will solve some problem in my life — i.e., make me happier, less lonely, or fit in better?’
4) ‘Am I drawn to this person despite knowing it’s not right because I want to fix him (or want her to fix me) somehow?’

“If you find yourself saying ‘yes’ to any of these reasons, you run the risk of dating the wrong person for the wrong reasons,” explains Milford.

Related: 10 questions that prove you’re ready for marriage

Four steps to keep your dating options open until you finally meet The One:

1. Assess your true feelings about the person you’re seeing before you commit. “It takes a while to understand who someone really is — meaning this person’s character as well as his or her complexities,” Woodward Thomas says. “In order to do your research well, I encourage people to connect with the deeper truth of your own values and self-worth to get to the love that you’re looking for. Learn to hold your own value — with or without external approval. Remember to yourself questions like, ‘Am I enjoying his/her company?’ and ‘Do I find myself inspired by what he/she is saying?’ and ‘Is this person doing his/her best to please me and care for my needs?’ rather than only ask yourself questions like, ‘Does this person like me?’ — or worse yet, ‘What do I need to do to get this person to like me?’”

Related: 6 dating insecurities that keep you single

2. Know what you’re looking for in a mate — and don’t waver. “I was dating up to three or four men at the same time last fall,” says Michelle Gamble, 47, a CEO at 3L Publishing in Folsom, CA who met her now-fiancĂ©, a 46-year-old chief engineer named Kirk, on Match.com last fall. “I had various men ask for exclusivity at times, but I always held my ground. I told them exclusivity is earned via courtship and that I would ‘date’ until someone brought his ‘A game’ and won me over. Luckily, my fiancĂ© brought his A+ game.” What made Kirk stand out from the rest? “I knew he was The One,” Gamble says, “because he understood me. I said in my Match.com profile that I wanted the fairy tale, and Kirk wanted to give it to me. He was the first man in my life to love me unconditionally and with acceptance and positivity. He is truly an incredible, gentle, kind and loving man.”

Related: Women reveal: “My biggest dating deal-breaker”

3. Be open and direct about your intentions to date around. Sharing your decision not to be exclusive with your dates from the outset can save you a lot of headaches later on. “The best advice I can give anyone is, first and foremost, to be honest,” Gamble says. “If you’re waiting for the right person, then be clear with the people you date that exclusivity will not come until you determine who the right one is to give it to. Do not commit to anyone (and certainly don’t make any promises!) unless you know you want to be with that particular person. And just go ahead and put out the truth; no one can get hurt if you’re being honest. If the man or woman you’re seeing wants exclusivity, be clear in explaining that it only goes to the one who ‘brings it’ (whatever ‘it’ means to you) to the table. We all deserve the best; nobody should have to settle. But being dishonest when you intend to serially date around isn’t right. Just tell the truth! I’ve found that most people can accept it.”

Related: Men reveal: “Why I date younger women”

4. Keep any dating profiles you’ve posted up just a little bit longer. Before you set out to join any online dating sites, commit to keeping your profile up for a certain length of time. Making this commitment to yourself will help prevent you from getting derailed when you meet someone attractive and go on a few dates together. Of course, it’s natural to hope that this new wonderful person could be The One, but try to keep your profile up long enough for that instinct to transform into knowledge through time and experience as you continue dating.

Theo Pauline Nestor is the author of How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over and a regular contributor to Happen magazine.