#811: “Jewelry ambush!”

Dear Captain Awkward,

I accidentally found a diamond ring in my boyfriend’s bag when he returned home from a recent trip to see his family. We have been together for three years, but have been on rocky territory for a while. We had a fight shortly before he left to see his family, which led to me saying I thought we should get counseling, which he wasn’t super interested in. As a compromise, I said we should give ourselves two months to work on our issues, and if we couldn’t make headway, see a counselor, and then…. ( I realize I didn’t make it explicit in our conversation, but I meant that if we couldn’t make things right, we should break up, as four months will take us through the end of our lease).

I’ve been feeling not great about the relationship, and seeing the ring, and the oh fuck feelings it brought up, makes me realize that I’m basically done. However, he is not an asshole, and I don’t want to to hurt him. I am worried he may be thinking of a Christmas proposal (there is a suspicious package under the tree), which… please no. No no no no no no no. How do I head off this potential proposal off at the pass? Or, if that isn’t possible, how do I very gently let him down if he does propose?

Saddling Up the Nopetopus

Dear Saddling,

Ohhhhh my heart goes out to both of you. All of your options are awkward.

Option 1: “Boyfriend, when I was putting your suitcase up I found a diamond ring in it. That’s, um, not a usual thing you carry around, and given the proximity to Christmas and some of the talks we’ve been having about our relationship, I don’t feel like pretending that I didn’t see it is the right thing to do...”

He’ll say some stuff and you’ll say some stuff and you’ll probably be broken up by the end of the conversation and it will be done.

Or, Option 2, you can break up with him without mentioning the ring or that you saw it. “Christmas is bad timing, but while you were with your family I did some thinking, and I think it’s time to end this. I am so sorry.”

Option 3: Brazen it out and hope the ring is a family heirloom he brought home “just in case” but with no immediate plans to give it away, like, his mom said “Here’s grandma’s ring…just in case!” and pressed it on him. Maybe?

Urgggghhhh. Urrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh. I could not do this waiting thing – I’m terrible at surprises when there are GOOD presents to be had. This letter writer has the mirror problem (which friend of blog Dana Norris answers beautifully) and I stand by my worldview that decisions like marriage should not be a surprise!!!!! ambush and jewelry should not feel like a ticking time-bomb.

Option 4: Ride it out, and if he actually asks, say “I am so very honored that you asked me, and this is incredibly beautiful and sweet, but…” “But??” “But I don’t want to marry you, I’m so sorry.”

The truth is the ethical way through this, whichever option you choose. It’s time. You know it’s time. In a way he has given you a gift of the next four months to work on starting your new, single life instead of limping through couples’ counseling and trying to make it work out. You can be friendly and kind to each other even if you aren’t a couple any longer.

In the meantime, I send you urrrrrggggggghhhhs of solidarity.

 

 

247 comments
  1. Ask Cara said:

    I agree. Don’t drag this out. It’s time to split.

  2. Jessica said:

    Awkward indeed. Best wishes for getting through Christmas as gracefully and least hurtful way possible.

    It sounds like a concern in break up timing is a financial worry about your lease. If it comes down to being broken up and trying to live together for the four months through the end of your lease, you may consider talking about options for ending the lease early, subletting, or one of you moving out while the other (the one on the lease) gets a roommate.

    Good luck.

    • Stephanie said:

      I wish this site had been around when my first marriage ended, at least so that someone would have told me maybe there was an option beyond living with my soon-to-be-ex. I’m not sure financially we would have been able to swing anything (and he was in the military and had a ship he could and did spend lots of hours on) but those four months were LOOONG. BUT, if that’s the only option, know that you’ll survive. It won’t be fun, but you’ll come out the other end.

      • For real. 4 months of post-breakup cohabitation turned my relationship with a long-term ex from a we’ll-really-still-be-friends parting to haven’t-spoken-in-years. Meanwhile the breakup from a much rockier relationship where I couch surfed for a week while they moved out left me and my ex on pretty good terms in the long run.

        Money and leases are hard, but try to find a way, even if it means alternating couch surfing or something. When mutual friends put one person up after a breakup or rough patch, it’s a favor to you both, not necessarily a form a side-taking. I’m still grateful to my BFF for helping my ex move out when they needed it.

        • Erin said:

          I wish the same thing, except that my cohabitation lasted almost another year after the split. We had only renewed our lease like 3 or 4 months before we broke up and we both felt stuck in it. By the end of that, we weren’t speaking and have not spoken in almost 2 years. I actually did end up moving out before the lease ended, but even just being tied together by a lease was tension inducing enough. In retrospect, we should have just let the lease go month to month after it ended instead of renewing for another year.

          • Only the LW can judge how this might turn out. I split with my ex in early 1999, met my now-husband 6 months later, but stayed living as best mates with my ex until 2002, when we were given notice to quit so now-hubby and I bought a house, while ex got a flat and later moved his new partner into it.

            During the nearly four years in which I lived with my ex, we went for drinks as mates, he even helped me through a couple of very serious life issues. As my best friend.

            It really can work, if 1) the flat has space, 2) the relationship has space 3) the financials work out. Probably in that order.

            I do realise thats not for everyone, and in similar circumstances earlier in life it didnt work out when there wasnt private space in the flat for each of us when needed. But splitting up doesnt *have* to mean an intolerable living situation. The LW can probably tell which way it will go and how their partner is likely to respond if they break up.

        • MuddieMae said:

          Excellent point about how it affects your future relationship, whatever form that takes. My ex and I couldn’t even manage a business week of living together, and I’m glad I decided to suck up my pride and go live with a friend for a couple of weeks while he found a new apartment, because we are good friends now. I don’t think that would have been possible if we had kept trying to live together.

    • nottakennotavailable said:

      LW, leases are a pain in the ass. I know that the lease I’d re-upped with my ex was part of the very real tie to him that I used as justification for my inertia. It wasn’t that I wanted to be with him anymore, but I didn’t want to face the scary unknown of being single again at the age when a lot of my friends were buying houses or starting to talk about kids with their SOs. Not that I wanted any part of any of that, but I was kind of afraid of being the third or fifth or seventh or whatever appropriate odd numberth in a group. We’d re-signed in September. I’d stopped being able to ignore my unhappiness in March. But all couples go through down times, right? Committing to another year would most likely give our issues time to smooth themselves over, give me time to get over this festering hatred I’d developed for him.

      I couldn’t hold out another year. I broke up with him two weeks before Christmas. I was going to be out of town for the end of the year, so I mailed my landlord the check for January’s rent along with a note explaining that while my boyfriend might still be on the lease, he was no longer living in the apartment, so anything that necessitated conversation with or permission from the tenants of our unit should be directed only to me from then on. I also reassured him that I could continue paying the rent in full and on time by myself, as I had been doing so for a while (one of the factors that contributed to that festering hatred, though not the sole cause of it).

      My landlord took it all in good stride. It helped that he was the sole property owner and therefore a one-man operation – dealing with a management company could easily be a different story with a less-happy ending. But take it from personal experience, LW, that the phrase, “I can put up with this for [x] more months/years/whatever” sounds reasonable right up until you realize that any amount of time you have to put up with in the best-case scenario is too damn long.

  3. Sheelzebub said:

    Oh, LW. I feel for you. Many of us, myself included, have been in relationships where we panicked at the thought of them becoming permanent. I think CA is right and that ending things is the wisest course of action. I am sure he means well and thinks this will fix what is wrong but it won’t. Also, sometimes what is wrong is the combination of the two specific people in the relationship. Two very great people can still have a not-great relationship and be not at all great for each other.

    Hugs to you.

  4. RSVP said:

    Let’s hope the ring is a “just in case” thing. I doubt it’s an heirloom, I think she’d have noticed if it looked like an old ring. (Styling, wear and tear on the band etc.)
    Perhaps he thinks that the relationship problems are because he hasn’t proposed, because all women really want is get married, right??? There really isn’t a good way out of this. Hopefully he won’t propose on the Jumbotron at a major sports event. That would really make it worse.

    • Copcher said:

      I get so angry every time I see the marriage-proposal-cures-all-past-wrongs trope in movies and tv shows. If I’m not happy with you now, why would I be happy with you for the rest of my life?

      • Ms. Pris said:

        I actually knew someone for whom this went wrong in a bizarre way: his casual girlfriend and he were not committed to one another, and she moved away to another country to stay there for a year. He hopped on a plane to other country, proposed, and she said yes.

        The problem was that during their married life, nothing he did ever compared to that first grand gesture (I mean, how could it?) So for the next 4 years or so, everything he did was compared to that proposal and found wanting. Then they divorced and got on nicely.

    • spaceysteph said:

      Hah, yeah, if you do decide to go with one of the waiting it out options do your best to avoid sporting events, family get togethers, moonlit strolls through the winter wonderland, fancy restaurants, bottles of champagne, etc. Seems like an awful lot of work to avoid dumping him, doesn’t it?

      • Affi said:

        And highways too! A friend of mine who works at a news station told me about some guy who stopped trafic on a highway to propose to hos girlfriend. At least he was arrested for it.

        • spaceysteph said:

          Yup that totally happened in Houston (where I live) about a week ago. Unbelievable. Is there no end to the self-centeredness of some people?

  5. RedCat said:

    I would go for option 1 or 2. I have always found that people who are truthful, while being gentle and respectful, are the ones I remember fondly, even if the news they had to deliver wasn’t welcome.

    Honestly, I wouldn’t let it get to a proposal. As you say, you know you’re done and don’t want to hurt him. I think letting him down *before* he works his way up to the proposal is kinder and helps him save face. Whichever way you go he’s likely to be a mix of unhappy and angry, which sucks big time. I’m so sorry that you’ve been put in this (maybe) awful position! I really hope he has a good Team Him that will help him through what is definitely going to be a difficult time.

    One of the reasons I’d end it now is that I’ve had experience with a desperate proposal to salvage a rocky relationship. It didn’t happen to me, but to a close friend and it was absolutely awful. Her partner knew their relationship wasn’t working, but thought a grand gesture (not counselling!) would fix all the underlying issues. He bought a big diamond ring and made a very public proposal at a New Year’s Eve party in front of *dozens* of family and friends, many of whom didn’t know how close they were to breaking up. Her face turned about 10 shades of red, and she started crying – from embarrassment and anger. She said no and fled the party, with him following her and trying to reason with her – as if she were the unreasonable one! Ugh, it was an awful time for my friend and was humiliating for her soon-to-be-ex.

    • Ros said:

      Oh god that entire story is horrifying and hits all of my embarassement squicks. Please let that never happen to anyone else EVER.

      To second what you said, though: breaking up BEFORE he works himself up to a proposal is basically the only way to save face (for him), and make the break-up less painful.

      And also a Christmas morning rejected-proposal scenario ruins holidays way more than breaking up before them, just saying. Good luck. This situation seriously sucks.

      UGH, WHY would anyone think a surprise!proposal is a good idea (in general), especially when prior discussions about the state of the relationship have included counselling??

      • Stephanie said:

        Yep. All of a sudden it becomes “Christmas morning was the day I asked someone to marry me and instead we broke up.” Not that the Christmas season in and of itself won’t be a reminder generally, but my parents split the day after Christmas because of things that happened Christmas night, and it took MANY years for me to not associate the two. (I’m cool now, but that was…almost thirty years ago.)

        • Trotula said:

          Agree. It seems like it would spare both Christmas and the act of proposing itself—I can imagine that (in this specific cultural context) if you’ve had a propsal rejected before it would make it much scarier to ever want to do it again, even to someone down the road who was right for you. Obviously, no route is going to completely spare his feelings, but letting the first time he proposes be to someone who isn’t actively dreading it is a pretty good gift for his future.

        • Yes, this. Christmas was weird for me for a while because some family friends who usually spent it with us split up one Christmas morning. I was ridiculously glad when I ended up in a long-term relationship where we went to his family’s…needed the break from the Memories of Terrible.

          But even more horrible things that happened the week BEFORE Christmas were much easier to get past, like when my grandmother died one mid-December. THAT Christmas was sad, but by the next Christmas, we were sad on the anniversary of her death but OK by the holiday itself.

          • Carpe Librarium said:

            Thank you everyone for this, my father and his partner are in a rocky patch right now (as in over the last 48 hours). I don’t find my dad’s partner relaxing company, but I adore my Dad and he really cares for her.
            Much as I hate the idea of my dad being sad that she’s not there for Christmas if she chooses to abstain from our gathering, I’d much rather the bittersweet of her absence than the potential for a relationship implosion on Christmas Day.

      • I just… don’t get public proposals or why people find them romantic. Being asked to make a snap decision about a permanent commitment that will affect the rest of your life, with strangers, friends and… argh…family all staring at you and willing you to say yes? That sounds like the stuff of nightmares to me. The pressure! The awkwardness if you say no! The ruining of the entire evening! The utter embarrassment and feeling that everyone will hate you for ruining the person’s life if you say no! Please someone explain to me why to me why this is a good idea ever. Your relationship is kind of private, surely.

        With regard to the LWs situation: yeesh. That is not a comfortable place to be. I’d be so tempted to make a jokey remark about the Suspicious Package along the lines of, “I hope you’re not planning to propose to me!” but having read the captain’s response I realise that would be a bad idea. It doesn’t sound as if your relationship is in a place where you can comfortably joke about stuff like that.

        But at least you won’t be caught completely by surprise if it does happen. You can always rehearse how you would say no, so you are kind of prepared.

        • Charlene said:

          I find them incredibly, almost unspeakably rude to the onlookers. What arrogance to think anyone wants to witness your proposal, or worse to witness a bad response!

        • apricity said:

          I think a public proposal is fine, *if* you’ve already talked about getting married and you’re both enthusiastic and it’s just the formalities/ceremony. It shows the effort and vulnerability you’re willing to go through for them. But they should not be the go-to proposal option! Also I personally would hate it, but I can see how other people would be keen.

          • Now I’ve thought about it, you’re right. The vulnerability, yes. Having enough faith in someone to be reasonably confident they won’t humiliate you in front of all those people? Kind of touching. It just took me a while to get over the horror stemming from my intense hatred of being the centre of attention. I must remember not everyone is like me!

        • Erika said:

          I was caught by surprise in a public proposal from a boyfriend just as I was beginning to think that he probably wasn’t the one for me. It was horrible and embarrassing for all involved when I said no. It did, however, make me a firm believer that marriage should be at least discussed semi-enthusiastically before one proposes, and that all surprise! major life decisions are the suck. Heck, even a surprise! puppy is a bad idea, FFS.

        • Tattie said:

          I imagine in 95% of cases the “surprise” element is a fiction; the marriage has in fact been pre-agreed and the proposal is just an elaborate ring-presentation ceremony.

          It’s the other 5% that make it icky.

        • Speakingofcake said:

          Wanna see the Worst Public Proposal Of All Time??

          It’s during a beauty pageant! She says No a total of (I think) 22 times!! The horror in her eyes haunts my dreams to this day!!

          • And she rewarded his unwanted public on-the-spot proposal by saying “yes” and getting married to him a year later. Ugh.

          • NorahMancer said:

            Yikes. She…doesn’t look happy at all, does she?

        • slythwolf said:

          I think surprise public proposals are incredibly manipulative. And I tend to assume people who do them (again, as a surprise, not already knowing the person is going to accept AND that they would enjoy a flashy public proposal) are counting on that to sway the proposee into saying yes.

    • Courtney said:

      Ugh. Oh, god public surprise proposals. I get anxious and embarrassed just hearing about them. My ex proposed to me in a public way, but we had already had several discussions about marriage and were both clear that we were interested in heading in that direction. If the idea of marriage is a surprise to one’s partner, skip the public proposal!

      • azaleasinbloom said:

        Better yet, don’t surprise someone with a marriage proposal! It is too big of a decision to be a surprise.

        • Holy shit, yes!!!!! I get that I am the least romantic person on the planet, as in I can’t even fathom why anyone would want to be in love (been there, done that. It sucked harder than a Dyson vacuum on 70s shag carpet, ESPECIALLY in the heady early days), but springing a whole package of legal and financial and probably faaaaaaaaaamily obligations with someone who might or might not be on the same page as you are? Honestly, how does that sound like a good idea to anybody?

          • azaleasinbloom said:

            Heh nice imagery. I like a bit of romance but I will never understand the culture of proposing. I don’t understand why that question, should be a surprise, why the guy has to ask, or why buying a super expensive piece of jewelry is the symbol of starting a life together when you likely still have expenses like a wedding or house to pay for.

            But my friends tell me I am ruining things to want to just go to the store and pick out a ring with my boyfriend and say that’s that. I mean we’ve already basically made the decision, so why make a production out of it? But he’s such a romantic he would never be happy with that. *sigh*

          • nottakennotavailable said:

            I mean, I’m such an anti-romantic that pretty much the only reason I can imagine marriage being a good idea for me would be if a really good health insurance plan were involved. And I hate wearing jewelry. And surprises, I hate those too. Also sex. And cuddling. And having someone, anyone around all the damn time. So yeah, I’m probably not the person to ask about anything that could be featured on a Kay Jewelers commercial. :p Also, I’d be that curmudgeonly crank among your friends countering that maybe HE’s ruining things by having to be all romantic and theatrical about his romanticism, which probably explains why nobody really talks to me about their love lives.

          • No Longer In Academia said:

            @azaleasinbloom

            There’s nothing wrong with getting to choose your own engagement ring. Not only did I pick mine, but I paid for half of it, which meant I got a significantly nicer ring than if my fiance had had to pay for the whole thing. Romance is one thing, but when it came to a piece of jewelery that I was planning to wear for the rest of my life, I wanted to get something I liked!

          • slythwolf said:

            The year I got engaged, two other girls in my college choir got engaged around the same time. One of them was incredibly sanctimonious about how *she* had had *no idea* her boyfriend was going to propose, and “if he’s smart you won’t suspect a thing”, effectively calling both my and the third girl’s boyfriends stupid. Some people want it to be a surprise, I can only assume because of the cultural narrative. And I do like surprise romantic gestures (at least in theory – I haven’t experienced many). But that whole trope comes from a time when first of all, you weren’t supposed to talk marriage with someone until you were actually ready to get engaged, in order to protect both of your reputations; and secondly, the vast majority of women had to get married for economic reasons. We don’t live in that society now. There’s no reason we as adults can’t all just use our words and talk about where our relationships are going before we start springing unnecessarily expensive jewelry and lifetime commitments on one another.

          • Serin said:

            @azaleas: I had a non romantic mutual marriage talk and then a surprise honeymoon (i.e. he said, “you like wandering around historic places? Ok, pack for chilly and bring good walking shoes.” It wouldn’t have suited everyone, but I loved it and he got to surprise me.

          • My fiancé and I talked about marriage for a good year before he proposed. He was the one to propose because he was the one who didn’t feel quite ready to make that commitment (though he was pretty sure he *would*, he just wasn’t ready to say “yes, we’re doing this” as early as I was), so I gave him time to feel ready, and thus, he was the one who proposed. It wasn’t very surprising or dramatic, but it was sweet. And then I spent two months looking for the right ring (antique, not too sparkly), and he wears a bracelet as a similar physical symbol of our commitment.
            My dad apparently had to ask my mother to marry him multiple times, because he knew he wanted that commitment pretty early on, but she took longer to reach that decision. Adult people, talking to each other, like adults!

      • twomoogles said:

        Gaaaah, the idea of a public proposal makes me want to run screaming into the night (for me personally). I think that any type of elaborate proposal when discussions about marriage haven’t happened are risky as hell anyway, and doing it in public is such potential badness.

      • onyx said:

        I get hardcore embarrassed and mortified every time I hear about them too. It’s so manipulative–I can never shake the feeling that the proposer is banking on public decorum to get the proposee to say yes in that moment. Maybe it’s because the only people I know personally who have had public or surprise proposals are poorly-matched or in an Outright Unhappy Relationship. Big announcements and grand gestures always smack of people trying to prove something. I suppose a lot of couples enjoy the attention, and that’s fine–but announce it together instead of putting someone on the spot!

        My fiance and I–one day we just mutually agreed in a very matter-of-fact way that yep, we wanted to get married. He then waited until the anniversary of our first date to actually propose/give me the ring–in private, during a walk, pre-planned because we both agreed it would be funny to keep all of our anniversaries on the same day.

        • WilhelminaMildew said:

          Maybe it’s because the only people I know personally who have had public or surprise proposals are poorly-matched or in an Outright Unhappy Relationship.

          Oh my dawg, yes. Your words immediately brought to mind a Darth Vader I used to know who made a big show of proposing to his young, naive, and vulnerable victim/girlfriend in my living room. Their marriage worked out about as well as you would expect.

          (Plot twist: Because I supported his ex-wife and helped her gain the strength and confidence to leave him, he told everyone that he could that I broke up their marriage. Nope, had nothing to do with all those planets he demolished or anything.)

      • Speckles said:

        Yes, uggggghhhh! I can imagine a public proposal working if both parties are already planning to get married and have discussed it previously, and it suits the personality and style of both people. But a SURPRISE and public proposal is terrifying!

        My friend once witnessed a surprise+public proposal attempt…

        She was doing a climb of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. To climb the bridge you have to go up in a group of about fifteen people with an instructor, and for safety reasons everyone is tied together with ropes and you climb in a single file.

        At the top of the bridge, a guy started getting down on one knee in front of his girlfriend, and the woman was distraught and immediately saying “noooo! NO! DON’T!!! PLEASE WE ALREADY TALKED ABOUT THIS!!! I SAID NOT TO DO THIS!!!!” None of the strangers to this couple could walk away or pretend not to hear because they were all tied together closely with ropes! And the group couldn’t move while the guy was on his knees. The climb back down the bridge was completely silent and awkward.

        • Affi said:

          Oh no! How could he lever think that was a good idea?
          That must have been so horrible for everyone, and probably pretty dangerous too.

    • Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

      Ugh, I do not understand why anyone would think that a public proposal was OK unless they knew for a fact that the proposee both wanted to marry them and wanted to be asked in a big public way. My personal policy (not one I’ve ever had to utilise, thankfully) would be to say no to any public proposal on principle.

      • Right there with ya. Another step that would equal automatic rejection in my book is getting my father’s blessing/permission. I am an adult in an era and country where women are (sometimes) recognized as fully anointed human beings with all the legal rights and representations accorded as such. I love my father and respect his opinion, but I don’t have to live with him, and neither would a prospective spouse, so I think it’s a good general rule for the ultimate say-so on life-altering decisions to be held by the ones whose lives are going to be altered by the outcome.

        • Jackalope said:

          Yes. THANK YOU. I recognize that I’m a woman in my 30s and so have been independent for a long time, and it might feel different if it was a girl in her late teens (although I still was totally against this even then), but how is it my dad’s decision if I get married or not? I pay my own bills, take care of my own messes, and make my own decisions, and while I love and respect my father a lot as well, this isn’t his decision. I say if the young man wants to marry my father, ask my father (although he will get a no, since he’s already married). If he wants to marry me, then ask ME. End. Of. Story.

          • I’ve gotten into debates online before (we’ll call them debates) in which I was making the argument that, more than any of the other traditions surrounding engagements and weddings, the whole requesting permission routine is the most blatantly obvious relic of the days in which women were mere commodities. But apparently, I “just don’t see it” for what it REALLY is, which is RESPECT. For the greater FAAAAAAAAMILYYYY, of course. To which I’ve replied that if it’s really about family, then it would be about *both parties’* families, which would then require the woman (assuming a mono, hetero relationship, which these sorts of “debates” always seem to do) to approach his mother and ask permission to accept the man’s request, right? I can almost always hear the backpedaling as it echoes through the intertubez!

          • Jackalope said:

            Can’t reply to your comment, so replying again to mine. Yes, I would have SIGNIFICANTLY less of an issue with this if it were going to the parents of BOTH interested parties (which in some cultures it has been). I heard of some couples, for example, who replaced this with going to ALL of their parents and saying, “We are planning to get married and we wanted to ask your blessing because we honor and respect you.” Not only does this get kudos for not assuming you need permission as an adult to get married (which in some cultures you do, but not the US), but it also involves both sets of parents being considered equally important in getting that blessing.

            (I’ve had people tell me as well that it’s about RESPECT for ME. How is it respecting ME to assume that my husband-to-be can choose to get married but I have to have permission from my father????)

          • Kb said:

            Yeah. A blessing after getting agreement is one thing, but asking them before me? Oh, no. I also liked the commenter who mentioned that if your really making it about family, both sets of parents should matter equally .

          • RunForChocolate said:

            Urg, my brother did this with his wife. She was in her late 30’s, had been in the military, had been married previously, and was an orthopedic surgeon. So, didn’t exactly need anybody’s permission to do ANYTHING. But apparently it was The Done Thing in her family for my brother to go to her dad and ask permission to marry her. Lord knows it’s not a thing in our family of origin. I tried to hide my horror when he told me this over the phone later, and did my best to only let curiosity color my tone when I asked WHY. Of course, the answer was Faaaaaaamily.

            I have no words for the icky feeling it gives me. I have to restrain myself from using shouty all-caps here.

            Possibly unrelated, but there are some weird family dynamics there, and my SIl turned out to be weird, controlling, arrogant, and kind of unlikeable. She decided even before she and my brother got married (when she’d met me once and nothing weird had happened–I hadn’t accidentally sat on her cat or insulted her mother) that she did not like me, and–how shocking–everything I ever did and said after that point confirmed to her how awful I really was. My brother and I haven’t talked much in the past decade, sigh.

          • Courtney said:

            I remember the scene in Bones where Hodgins goes to Angela’s dad to ask his permission before proposing to her, and her dad tells him an idiot and that they would both be in trouble if Angela found out they were having this conversation. It was awesome! And then they ruined it by having the dad close with a variation of the “if you hurt her, I’ll kill you” trope.

          • Replying to you again as well (wtf, nesting? I think you can go another layer in on the app. Blah) mostly to say YAAAAAY for an online forum where I’m not the freak for thinking that tradition is weird and patriarchal as fuck! I mean, yeah, if you’re in one of those cultures where both sets of parents are, indeed, informed as part of a team effort, I think that takes the edge off the weirdness. But I’m based in the U.S., where apparently the only family that counts as being worthy of respect is the woman’s parents, specifically, her father. Hmmmmmmmmm.

            Interestingly enough, Jackalope, I usually only seem to get into these debates with other women. The only man I’ve ever had this argument with was my ex-boyfriend, who, as a Women’s Studies minor, I felt should really have known better. I don’t think we ever resolved the issue fully (it was something of a moot point, as I had made my disparaging feelings on marriage known early on in our relationship), but he at least stopped bringing it up after I told him that I, personally, considering prioritizing respect for my father’s feelings to be disrespectful to mine.

            And RunForChocolate, that story gave me the willies. I’m sorry to hear about the impact it had on you and your brother.

          • Jackalope said:

            nottakennotavailable: Interesting. I’ve mostly had this discussion with guys (or at least, the ones who have been fans were male). I have heard some women online say that they think it’s romantic (which makes me scratch my head), but none that I’ve known in real life.

        • boutet said:

          YES! My husband didn’t ask my dad permission, and later he asked me if he should have. NOPE, you did good husband!

          • kimmyontheinternet said:

            I just poked my head into the other room and said, “Husband, thank you for not asking my dad’s permission to marry me.”

            He gave me a totally puzzled look and asked, “Why would I?”

            To which I responded: “Exactly.”

            I think I’ll keep him.

        • Mel Reams said:

          Another step that would equal automatic rejection in my book is getting my father’s blessing/permission.

          Oh yes. I expressly forbade my husband from asking my father’s permission – that is, I explained in no uncertain terms that even possibly thinking about considering implying that anyone’s opinion but MINE matters when it comes to who I marry would cause me to reconsider accepting his proposal.

        • Tattie said:

          I “asked the father’s permission” only because Ms. Tattie made it clear that it was a cultural norm and that doing so would mean a lot to her rather conservative father.

          There again, he did insist on footing [a large chunk of] the bill for the wedding himself, also as per tradition, so I guess he did qualify as an interested party.

          (Guess we’d have just had to elope if permission hadn’t been forthcoming. And even that would have been tradition of a sort.) 8^)

          • It sounds like you did so at Ms. Tattie’s request, which sounds to me like solid evidence of listening to your partner and respecting her wishes. 🙂 In my purely anecdotal “research,” it does seem like the tradition seems more important to cis-het women than it does to cis-het men, which, uh, kind of floors me, I guess.

          • My Daddy asked my Grandfather for my Mother’s hand… My Grandfather apparently said “I’ll think about it.”

            He came back to Daddy a couple of days later with “I won’t give you my permission…” …*crickets*… “… but I will give you my Blessing.”

            Which was very good on his part, I think. Because my Grandmother was satisfied that Tradition was Upheld, but my Mummy would have been (rightfully) Seriously Pissed if her Father thought he could say no! 🙂 And now it’s a “funny, family story” so, I guess it all worked out well.

          • kitteryharding said:

            The concept of asking permission got hilariously played with in the pilot episode of Alias, when the guy in question somehow managed to completely miss the prospective bride’s *estrangement* from her father, and gets a very cutting lecture to the effect of “My daughter certainly doesn’t care about my opinion so why the hell do *you*?”

          • Replying to nottakennotavailable:

            It may be age or some other demographic, because I don’t know any woman whose husband asked permission. Even as a joke.

          • Mine joked *to me* about it, just to wind me up. I laughed, he laughed. I honestly didn’t think people still did it. I read about it in a wedding planning ebook I bought and exploded with rage. I remember posting a rant about it on Facebook, something along the lines of “or here’s an idea: why not consider the fact that your intended IS AN ADULT and is perfectly capable of deciding for herself how to spend the rest of her life?” Grr! Where I live, the minimum age to get married is 16, but if one or both of you is under 18, you have to obtain parental consent first. That is the only circumstance under which I would find it acceptable – and even then, it should be BOTH parents if the person has them.

          • nottakennotavailable said:

            Mrs Morley: the fora I’ve participated in where this topic has come up have involved women around my age or younger. I’m about to turn 30. :/

          • Podkayne said:

            After we agreed to get married, I instructed my husband to take his heirloom ring to my parents and tell them he was planning to ask me. Not to -ask- for permission or blessing, exactly…More as a placeholder where they could insert these things. It’s a tradition that’s really meaningful to my dad, because ALL wedding traditions are meaningful to my dad. He loves me and he’s also a huge sap for anything wedding-related, and he cried when he saw the ring. I don’t think it would occur to him to refuse or be a blowhard in the middle of all his wedding-emotions. As a provider-type man of a certain generation, in a number of weird ways he’s always insanely grateful to be included in any family affairs that aren’t simply… being a walking wallet, paying for things.

          • To nottakennotavailable:

            Then it may indeed be age and other such demographics. I’m 56, from New York City. I knew and know people who had Weddings, even some fairly conventional Weddings, but the whole “asking for the female chattel” never came up. Even with those of us who married young. Those of us who married older? Some married pregnant. Some married perimenopausal. Permission wasn’t a thing. (Though some people have nice rocks)

        • Rebecca said:

          Ahahah! My husband called my parents before proposing to me, not exactly to ask permission but to tell them his intentions (why he thought this was necessary I do not know, he’s a goober), but he got their answering machine and left a message, and then they called him back and I glanced at his cell phone when it started ringing and was like, “WTF, why are my parents calling *your* phone,” and the cat was out of the bag.

          • I think if anyone asked my dad for permission to marry me before they asked me themselves, this would result in a very confused and worried father calling me immediately to ask what the hell is going on.

        • Cactus said:

          Yeah, I had the same rule. My husband did not ask my dad (I think the idea of doing so weirded him out as much as it did me). Back in the day, my dad did not ask my grandfather. And, judging from what my grandparents have shared about their various college/wartime courtships, I’m pretty sure neither of my grandfathers asked my great-grandfathers, either. So sure, it’s “tradition”–but it hasn’t been a massively-socially-ostracizing faux pas not to do it since at least World War II.

        • Urgh yes same. It’s such a gross ‘women are men’s property and marriage is just the transference from one owner to another’ idea and needs to die. And people who still think it’s appropriate or ‘respectful’ somehow… urgh.

          Like other commenters have pointed out, I wouldn’t mind the idea so much if it was a case of ‘Mum, Dad (or any other combination), X and I are planning to get married and we’d like your blessing,’ which seems like a reasonably nice gesture without the ‘woman as commodity’ element or the idea that a grown adult would need to ask their parents’ permission to get married.

        • Intptt said:

          Now I’m planning to ask my dad to say no to anyone who asks permission to marry me, because anyone who would ask is not the sort of person I want to marry.

          • Hannahbelle said:

            Good call.

      • NorahMancer said:

        Yup. I get that not everyone is me, and some people like big grand shows and surprises and whatnot, but…dear god, the proposal should be basically a formality. It can be a sweet, wonderful, romantic one. The timing and the details can be a surprise. But on some level you and the other person should both know that you both want to get married.

    • This day has been a great boon for science, in that I read this story and proved definitively that it is NOT possible to die of thirdhand embarrassment on someone else’s behalf. My utmost sympathies to your friend.

      • RedCat said:

        Thanks nottakennotavailable – despite everything, I’m still here to tell the tale.

        As soon as he got down on one knee, I felt my stomach drop. Then he grabbed her hand and kept talking, even though she was clearly uncomfortable and trying to pull away – by now I was squirming with ‘thirdhand’ embarrassment. By the time the bling-tacular ring came out, I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me.

        The aftermath was pretty terrible too. His mum knew something was up, but his dad and sister didn’t realise they were on the verge of breaking up. There were a lot of hurt feelings and expressions of bewilderment to deal with. My friend never saw her ex’s family again – she was too embarrassed, but she did write his parents a nice note to explain and apologise. His sister still hasn’t gotten over it and says my friend is selfish – apparently she ‘ruined the night and humiliated ex’ by not accepting his proposal and and breaking up later (seriously??). Another friend of ours later described it simply as ‘the most awkward party ever’.

        • I know I would have been wishing that the evening was actually a setup to a cheesy sci-fi in which the clock reset itself to the beginning of the previous year at midnight so that the protagonists would have a chance to go back and correct some critical mistakes, most notably the ones lead up to and including the surprise proposal to your friend.

          And wtf was with the sister?! Actually, wtf is with society in general? Why is it always the woman’s fault for “ruining the moment” when the guy is the one in every. single. failed. proposal story. who brought about the ruin? Ugh.

          • oregonbird said:

            You feel its time we heard about a guy turning down a woman’s proposal? I know a couple of those stories, and each women took being rejected with humor and practicality. Eventually. Even better, none of them bothered with expensive rings, because they were women of principle. My mum proposed to my dad by saying, “I’m pregnant.” But in a classy accent.

          • Oregonbird, I think it might help matters overall if we had more stories of women proposing, whether the proposals ended in success or failure! Also, I think any story that ends with the rejected proposer handling the matter gracefully would be nice. Seems to me that the current narrative is that a woman who turns down an engagement is such a [insert sexist epithet of your choosing] that I can totally see where other stories popping up in this thread about women who felt pressured into saying yes when they wanted to say, “Hell to the no,” come from.

          • I’ve proposed to two men. The first said no because “I’m supposed to ask you that.” He meant well and in fairness we were very young.

            The second said no because although he wanted to marry me, he didn’t feel quite ready to cement our plans to do so. He later told me he regretted saying no and “should have just said yes, because I know I want to marry you.” I think he was shocked into a quick fire response because the last thing he expected was for me to propose to him (we had talked marriage, but still…) and also I think deep down he really did want to be the one doing the asking.

            I’m married to him now.

    • Light37 said:

      I agree. This is going to suck for him either way, but ending it before he proposes will be healthier for everyone, and less humiliating to Fiance.

    • Cactus said:

      Her partner knew their relationship wasn’t working, but thought a grand gesture (not counselling!) would fix all the underlying issues
      Ecccch. This whole story made me cringe in recognition, but this is the part I wanted to highlight. Near the end of my relationship with my college boyfriend, I was TERRIFIED he would try the grand proposal thing, and it’s for this very reason: he liked grand gestures and gifts and spending, but he couldn’t deal with the day-to-day real relationship maintenance. People here have compared “working on a relationship” to auto maintenance in the past, and I think it fits–he’d ignore the oil changes and the windshield wiper blades and the tire rotations that are necessary to keep a good car running well, but then he’d think a new coat of paint or better seat cushions would fix everything. Meanwhile the transmission was failing…

  6. My first thought was that the ring is for someone else.

    My second thought was Nope out of there now. Even if you have to both stay there until lease end (which, actually, you don’t) it will be better if you aren’t the only one grappling with the situation.

    So yeah, listen to the Captain.

    Be truthful, be kind.

    • Mrs Morley, have you been watching Love Actually?!

      • Nope.

        I came up with it all by myself
        – Couple is more distant
        – Male half uninterested in normal possible fixes like counselling
        – Male half might be seeing another woman (my own suspicious thought)
        – Male half has diamond ring
        – Proposal aimed at other woman

    • Stephanie said:

      That the ring was for someone else also crossed my mind and I think I suppressed it because that would make Christmas even MORE of a drag this year for LW. Yikes.

    • mossyone said:

      I thought that but then I realised that that’s more of a TV show/ movie plot device. Sometimes it’s great not to be in a fictional world!

  7. I vote for Option #2, because if you know, in your gut, that you don’t want to be with this guy, getting THROUGH the holidays with that knowledge sitting behind your teeth is awful for the both of you. More so, I think, than getting through them as two wounded, recently-broken-up people forced into a living situation together. (Which is saying a lot, because that is also awful. I am so, so, sorry, LW, that your options are all so sad.)

    • Anne On said:

      I also vote for Option #2. A couple of years ago I was delaying a break-up because of Christmas then he broke up with me in a DRAMATIC fashion on Christmas Eve.

      Honestly, you received a gift when you saw that ring – that gut feeling that makes it impossible to pretend things are anything else.

      Best of luck.

  8. Leonine said:

    Yerrrrrgh. Okay, so once upon a time, my boyfriend went away on a weekend trip. This was my freshman year of college; he and I had been dating since my junior year of high school, so it was long-term and serious-ish. I had thought that I would miss him terribly and pine away (I was eighteen), but I actually had a great time hanging out with new college friends. The weekend was a bit of a revelation, as I realized on Sunday night that I gone the whole weekend without being called “bitch.” So. The relationship was not great. We broke up soon thereafter. Fast forward a few years: he and I are “friends,” and he reveals to me that he had bought an engagement ring on that trip (I was eighteen, dude, no!), but that when I had told him how great a time I’d had without him, he realized it wasn’t going to happen and never asked. My point is that if your dude has the spark of self-awareness and self-preservation that my high school boyfriend did, you can probably head this off at the pass by bringing up that his trip had given you time to think and that you know that this will be your last Christmas together. Nota extremely bene that if your guy is a different type, your saying this could actually trigger the proposal: “She’ll change her mind when she sees the ring, right?!” That is a whole ‘nother level of yerrrrrgh, so proceed with caution.

    Best of luck, LW. You sound like you’re trying to handle this difficult situation with kindness and grace. I hope that you manage to do what you have to do and still enjoy the holidays. Be sure to be kind to yourself, as well. You’re gonna be fine.

    • Leonine said:

      Replying to myself to apologize for assuming feminine pronouns for you, LW. My bad.

    • glomarization said:

      Yo, Leonine, get out of my head! We’re both saying things like “heading it off at the pass” and “kindness”!

      • Leonine said:

        ALL YOUR IDEA ARE BELONG TO US

    • Carpe Librarium said:

      I like the phrasing of “This will be our last Christmas together.” For some reason it takes the immediacy out of everything? Also, picking a time to start the conversation oneself means the LW can ensure that there’s privacy for this discussion.

      • Og said:

        I like this phrasing too. It allows for the possibility of enjoying this last season together in a bittersweet way without the pressure of trying to resolve any issues, if that’s something LW and soon-to-be-ex are interested in doing.

  9. I like 2 (“we need to split,” without mentioning the ring) better than 1 (“I found the ring and don’t want it”) because I can think of two risks with 1. First, it could lead to a derailing discussion or fight about snooping. Second, there’s the possibility — despite the clues — that Boyfriend isn’t actually intending to propose. Or he could even change his mind before the 25th.

    I’d absolutely not go with 4 (wait until he proposes). If he was planning a private proposal, then heading it off before it happens lets him save face. If he was planning on proposing in front of the family or something on Christmas morning? Then a “no” could humiliate him.

    To be clear, I’m not saying LW should do his emotional work for him. I’m saying that she’s got a very good idea that he wants to propose, and she doesn’t want to say yes. So it’s a kindness to make the first move here and save him (both of them, really) some grief.

    • Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

      I was wondering the same thing about LW and boyfriend’s Christmas and whether there might be other people there if he did propose then. But, thinking about it, in some ways it’s just as bad even if it’s just the two of them, because it turns Christmas Day into Failed Proposal Day, and I think that’s maybe not helpful in either the short or long term. If it were some time of year with no cultural or personal significance then maybe waiting to see whether a proposal materialises would be fair enough, but in this context I think it would be better avoided, whether through raising it in advance or through a break-up.

      LW, either way, assuming that your plan would otherwise have been to spend Christmas with your boyfriend (plus or minus other friends or family) it may be worth thinking about Christmas Plan B. What that might look like would obviously depend on what your original plans were, but I’m just really conscious that being obliged to spend lots of time together, ostensibly celebrating, may not be what the two of you want to do after you’ve taken whatever steps you choose.

  10. My vote is definitely #2. Don’t let him propose! It’d be like on “The Bachelorette” when the lady has already decided on one of the final two dudes, but they both have to propose to her and she has to tell one no. It is very awkward and cruel and Chris Harrison makes his sympathetic face.

    This is the worst and I’m sorry. I speak from experience when I say that suspecting/knowing somebody wants to break up with you but just won’t fucking do it is an awful feeling, so it may be kinder to just do it now. Also, if you break up with somebody right before Christmas, people will be really, really, extra nice to you.

    • And LW’s boyfriend won’t even have Chris Harrison around to make a sympathetic face, which is another point in favor of Option #2.

  11. solecism said:

    Yikes. Very painful all around. I’m joining the others in voting for #2. No reason to bring up the ring if it can be avoided.

    If you typically spend the holidays together, maybe go ahead and plan to spend them apart this time (short notice, I know). It helps reinforce the “it’s over” message you want to send. And his time with family would be an opportunity for him to rally Team Him.

    Four more months on the lease? I would advocate developing a couch-surfing emergency plan for the next few weeks in case this moves into the “But whhyyy???” territory. And discuss roommate replacement or other options so you can end the living together situation as soon as feasible.

    Take care of yourself. Good luck. Better to be alone during the holidays than under tension in company. But hopefully you’ll be able to rally your Team You in the next couple of weeks too.

    • My BFF and her cohabiting boyfriend broke up with 3 weeks to go on the lease, and she told Team Her and found a housesitting opportunity almost immediately and then a short term rental and was able to be out basically that night and had her stuff out as soon as she was able. This is much the best way to go about this–so yes, look for a sofa to sleep on in the short term and a new place simultaneously. They don’t need to be the same place, and the new place doesn’t need to be ideal, it just needs to be Not There.

  12. Fishmongers' daughters said:

    Oh man. I’m so sorry LW, that sounds awful for you both! I think it says a lot about you that you’re thinking of him through this – trying to figure out the best way to treat him with respect and not hurt him any more than you have to.

    Of the given options, I vote for 2 – Others have outlined good reasons but I’ll add one more: It gives him the option, if he chooses to take it, of not mentioning that he was thinking of proposing. I mean, he might bring it up anyway, which is totally legit. Without knowing anything about him, it just seems like a possibility that he might not, as a way of self-preservation and maintaining some dignity. He doesn’t have control over the end of this relationship and that’s always hard; this just gives him one little thing he DOES have control over. And that might be important as he looks back on it.

    Best of luck, LW. My heart goes out to both of you.

    • Lou said:

      For similar reasons I am also against mentioning the ring. Depending what type of person he is and/or how hurt he is, he may also take the route of “omg I CAN’T BELIEVE you thought I was going to PROPOSE! So self-centered” that some men take when women reject them, a la “LOL I wasn’t interested in you anyway, geez, why would you even think that?”.

    • onyx said:

      Good point! Yerrrgh points for surprise proposals putting someone on the spot, so don’t put him on the spot either. Give him room to save face if he needs to. Getting dumped sucks, even when it’s a long time coming. “Our relationship has deteriorated, and I don’t think we can fix this so let’s break up.” is way kinder than “Our relationship has deteriorated, and the thought of marrying you pushed me over the edge.”

      • perlhaqr said:

        “Our relationship has deteriorated, and I don’t think we can fix this so let’s break up.” is way kinder than “Our relationship has deteriorated, and the thought of marrying you pushed me over the edge.”

        This. So much this. #2 is my most beloved option as well.

  13. Sally said:

    So! Personal story time – a few years ago I was in pretty much the same situation as you, LW, only I didn’t find the ring. My partner proposed to me at the end of opening Christmas gifts IN FRONT OF MY ENTIRE FAMILY. Put on the spot like that in public and with no time to prepare I said yes and then spent the next three months having panic attacks as I tried to find a way to get out of a relationship that was dragging me down. Our eventual break-up was truly horrible.

    My votes would go to #1 or #2, whichever suits your particular temperament better. Breaking up right before the holidays is going to feel like a dick move, but it’s better than breaking up on Christmas Day itself. It will also avoid both of you being in a very very wrenching and painful situation on a day that is supposed to be special. You’ve realized that you’re done with the relationship whether or not it turns out he was actually planning a Christmas proposal. The kindest thing to everyone involved is just to cut ties now. You can both spend the holidays healing with your respective “Team Me.”

    • winter said:

      Geez, I’m so sorry. Can’t imagine the stress that proposal and (coerced) “Yes” put on you.

  14. Ginny said:

    I would say, if there will be anyone else around for Christmas gifts when the suspicious package will be given, definitely do the breaking-off ahead of time.

    To address “I don’t want to hurt him”… that is lovely! Of course you don’t! But you will hurt him, no matter what. Being broken up with before Christmas will hurt, especially if he was planning to propose in the hopes that that would make things all better. Having a proposal turned down will hurt. This is a really hard situation, and no matter what happens there will be a lot of misery and tears and this will be a sucky Christmas… probably for both of you. Instead of trying not to hurt him, try to find the most honest and kind way to hurt him.

    A fifth option, which is less direct and less immediate but doesn’t force a pre-holiday crisis and potential move/awkward living situation, is to initiate a talk about how things are between you, in which you are more explicit about saying that you think a breakup might be ahead. I totally agree that if you’re sure it’s over, dragging things out doesn’t do any good… but I have not yet leveled up to the point where I could actually execute Options 1, 2, or 4. That much stress and drama and pain right before Christmas? I would probably chicken out, that’s just real.

    • A sixth option would be a variation on #2, in which the conversation goes something like, “While you were gone, I had a lot of time to think, and I have concluded that after the holidays we need a counselor to help sort out some of the aspects of our relationship that are stressing me out.” If he’s open to seeking counseling in that context, that’s a bonus, and will help the breakup go down easier. If he’s not open to the idea, then you have your opportunity to break up. I’m only suggesting this because some of your panic might be from looking at what your relationship is now (without counseling) and realizing marriage would be a bad idea, which is a good thing. If he is open to counseling now, when he wasn’t before, he may have been doing some thinking of his own that would make counseling a productive step. I wouldn’t recommend taking this step if the idea of going to counseling with him gives you the same feelings as finding the ring, though.

  15. johann7 said:

    Entry number four billion, six hundred twenty two million, eight thousand seventy three in the tome “Why Surprise Proposals Are a Really Bad Idea” subtitle “And Why the Coercive Elements of Public Proposals Make Them Even Worse”. :-/

    (The following assumes that Saddling’s read of the situation is correct; as the Captain has noted, it’s possible that he actually isn’t planning on proposing and just incidentally has a ring, perhaps an heirloom, perhaps because his parents have been making end-of-life plans and are trying to sort through inheritance items before they actually die, so this trip was a good opportunity to pass the ring along.) I know this is normalized, so he probably thinks he’s doing the right thing, but if he get’s hurt here, Saddling, you’re not the one hurting him. The cultural norms he’s internalized and his own expectations (which fail to take your actual expressed reservations about your relationship into account – not a deep crimson flag, but perhaps a light rose flag?) are what are hurting him. You can deliver the news without malice, but the kindest course is to be direct and honest, and becasue you’re not actually the one hurting him, you also can’t prevent his likely hurt (except by abnegating your own agency and happiness, which, no). I’m sorry for both of you

    • slfisher said:

      The other important aspect is, whether they propose or no, thinking that they might has made your feelings clear.

      • Rachel said:

        Yes, good point. When I couldn’t make a decision about something as a child, my dad told me to flip a coin. I didn’t have to do what the coin said, but if I had a strong gut reaction to the coin result, that was a good way to work out how I really felt about it. Say, if the coin says “Do the thing!” and your gut reaction is “OH GOD NO”, then it’s OK not to do the thing because you *really* do not want to.

        Obviously not applicable to all situations but yes, I think in this case the LW’s reaction to the ring is very telling.

        • johann7 said:

          That’s a great trick!

          • Seconded! I do this! It works. I’ve used it successfully to choose between every set of options from menu items to universities. Never regretted it.

        • I’m gonna start doing that; it’s great. (I think that’s a lot of what many people get out of tarot/i ching/other divination techniques–it gives you a template to reflect on, and then you can either feel assured about the thing or go ‘oh NO, I want to alter this course of events)

          • Mary said:

            I used to do it with livejournal polls. For me it worked better than tossing a coin, because you got to watch the votes slowly mounting up, and you’d gradually realise that “those people” voting for Option A just didn’t understaaaaand or were big meanies trying to spoil my fun, whereas the lovely nice people voting for Option B obviously had their priorities straight. Works for both important decisions like “should I get these boots in black or blue” and trivial things like “quitting my job and moving countries to be with my lover y/n”.

        • My husband and I call this “asking George”, as in George Washington. George is a very useful fellow.

          • Rachel said:

            I love that other people do this! I’m British so I should call it “asking the Queen” 🙂

        • Light37 said:

          I do this too! It really helps to clarify my feelings when I’m overthinking.

        • Jackalope said:

          Yes, I had once when I told my boss that I was completely fine with either possible option she was giving me for future work, and then immediately knew that this was NOT true and spent a few days being miserable about the thought that she would pick the wrong option before finally recontacting her and saying, “Actually no, only option A is a possibility here.” Which was risky since she was my boss, but when I found myself saying, “If she chooses Option B I think I’ll quit,” I realized I had to since I was at the point where the worst case scenario (I’m not as flexible as she thinks, so she fires me) wasn’t any worse than what I’d do if she picked the wrong option. (And she was fine with Option A, so it worked out.) Love the coin toss idea.

  16. Jill said:

    There is no good time for that feeling of knowing it’s over and that it’s going to be awkward. I’m so sorry it’s happening around the holidays, though. This situation sounds like a lot of married couples who are having trouble and somehow think that having a baby (cuz babies are so innocent and adorable, right?) will solve their marriage troubles. Instead they end up divorced anyway, just with an innocent child caught up in the mess.

    Getting married won’t magically fix what’s not right here and LW seems to know that. I agree with Captain’s options 1 or 2. Rip the band aid off now. Please don’t fake happiness just for the sake of the holidays especially if an uncomfortable proposal scene awaits. (Especially if he has the bright idea to propose in front of others. You do NOT want to be that YouTube video!). Enjoy your holidays separately with your own friends/family/Teams. Get through one sad/awkward/maybe even resentful holiday season and then start your new year fresh. Best wishes to you – I’ve been there, too!

    • Myrtle said:

      Oh, to the pain of a holiday proposal rejected, might come the horror of a family member in on the surprise, ready to send that video up to their social media channels, with comments hanging from all! Argh! End it now LW, congrats on being so clear-headed during this parting.

  17. Rebecca said:

    Longtime lurker jumping in to confirm from experience that the ring could be a “family heirloom for possible future use” thing instead of a “proposal is imminent!!” thing. I found out after my spouse proposed that he’d brought his grandmother’s ring back with him from a family visit ages ago, shortly after we started dating, just in case.

    Not saying this means LW should wait it out and see what happens – Option 2 still sounds like the way to go. Just that in general, coming home from a family visit with a ring doesn’t automatically mean a proposal is looming in the very near future.

  18. azaleasinbloom said:

    Oh LW, I’m sorry that’s such a difficult situation. But I’m with everyone else: if you know it’s over, the kindest thing to do is end it.

    And Captain, I am so, so with you about how getting married shouldn’t be a surprise. The entire culture of proposing has never made a lick of sense to me. Surprise (!!!) let’s spend the rest of our life together!!! I don’t get it. Also I hate how gendered it is and I don’t understand why buying a super expensive piece of jewelry is a supposed to be a good idea right before you start your life together. Wouldn’t that money be better spent on the wedding, or a down payment on a house, or something actually useful.

    My boyfriend and I are planning on getting engaged soon and I just want to go to the store, pick out a ring, and go have a nice celebratory dinner. I mean, we’re both on the same page about the decision, so why drag it out? But he has his heart set on a surprise proposal, because he likes the romanticism of it. I don’t get it, but all my friends tell me that I am “ruining” things by talking about the decision frankly like a couple of adults, or by asking him not to spend a small fortune on the ring (I have simple tastes anyway). Augh.

    • gmg said:

      Re culture of proposing, right on!! This reminds me of a convo I had with two friends to whom I referred to as “engaged” because, well, they had each discussed/agreed to marriage with their respective partners, set dates, and were going ahead and PLANNING THE WEDDINGS. However, the “E” word was apparently still verboten because the jewelry hadn’t been picked out yet, so I was promptly told: “Oh honey, it’s NOT an engagement until you have the ring! Well, you’re single so I guess you wouldn’t get it.” Yep … O_o (I think all involved in this tale are older and wiser now, though I know some are lucky to be young and already wiser about these things!)

      • Blue Meeple said:

        Sometimes people get really stuck up on particular ideas and it’s hard to shake them loose. I remember I had a high school friend who told me that my relationship with my boyfriend wasn’t a REAL relationship because we didn’t have a song that we considered “our song”. Oy.

        • Now I’m wondering what “our song” would be, for my husband and myself. We haven’t got one so I suppose the 18 years and kids don’t count…

          I’ve just decided it’s the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York”. I’ll let him know when he gets home. So romantic!

          • I recall thinking even when we were still together, even when I still respected him as a person, that my ex’s and my relationship song should’ve been Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell.” Now I’m wondering how such a song choice plays out in the world of high school relationships.

          • Blue Meeple said:

            It’s funny that I still remember that after all these years – or maybe I still remember it because it’s funny. Honestly, the people I’ve dated have had extremely different musical tastes than I do anyway, so we never would have have agreed on an “our song” anyway. (Wait – he was right after all! Clearly that’s why those relationships didn’t last! Good thing you figured out yours! 😉

        • My ex played me a song that he said was the most beautiful song he’d ever heard because the lyrics reminded him so hard of me.

          They were incredibly romantic and described perfectly the incredible feeling of being so deeply in love with someone that everything about them makes your heart skip and your head spin and your brain melt into a pile of useless goo. It became our song.

          Well, he dumped me for another woman, whom he later ditched for a former friend of mine. (He’d dumped his previous girlfriend for me so I shouldn’t have been surprised.) We had enough mutual friends for me to discover that “our song” was their song too. Hilarious.

          • That’s just beautiful

        • Zooey said:

          When I was about 15 an older (male) friend told me that it only counted as love if you would come back and haunt the person. Like Cathy with Heathcliff. *still boggling at this notion*

          • Lives in a Shoe said:

            “WoooooooooOOOOOoooooo. . . I used to love youUUUUOOoooooooo”

            Bwaa haa haaa

        • JL said:

          Boyfriend and I honestly can’t remember what the exact date was when we got together. And when people ask how long we’ve been together I go like “oh, six years. Wait, seven. Or eight? I think. It was in late June? Probably?” I get Looks. And it was more than once seriously suggested that we had a problem in our relationship, and it wasn’t REAL if we couldn’t tell precisely.

          We just made up a date now to just avoid these conversations.

          • My husband and I could never agree on ours. First date, first kiss, the day I said to him “this is nice, wanna be my boyfriend?” and he said yes…he even suggested the date of a Really Awesome Thing we did, even though we’d been dating for 2.5 months by then. Good thing we’re married now so we have an indisputable anniversary date.

          • Blue Meeple said:

            I am terrible with dates, that would totally be me. I’m more surprised when I DO remember things like that (although, I would hope I’d have posted it on my LJ, but no guarantees – and I’d have to check every time I wanted to know for sure).

      • Clocky42 said:

        I also hate the culture of proposals. I hear a lot of “well the wedding day is for the bride, so the proposal is when the groom gets to plan something special and elaborate.” Or….you could plan your wedding together? Thankfully no one has tried to tell me that I’m not engaged because we decided not to have engagement rings. We have told our families and set out a rough wedding date. It doesn’t get much more engaged than that. 😛

        • You and your partner became engaged when you decided to marry.

          I understand that this (my) opinion is not especially common at the moment, but it has been in the past.

          I think if you (plural) can hold on to the thought that the essence of your marriage is your mutual desire for it, then celebrating the decision to marry, and the ceremony itself, may be less fraught.

      • Historically speaking, you were correct. The decision to marry is the engagement. The other stuff is making it public. And celebrating. And acquiring loot.

        • toniprufrock said:

          Aye when you decide to make it formal it’s real.
          My sister and her fiancée were cute in that they’d been talking about their married life together before and he was very keen on marrying her and she said she’d not be comfortable until they passed their year anniversary. Well apparently in a conversation about it he asked if he asked her would she say yes, and she admitted that she definately would. Then they paused and said so…are we engaged then? And she agreed they were even if was 11 months and not a year because why wait if the descision is already made? and they ended up going to get a ring.
          My parents again were married quickly in a. Similar ‘welp looks like we’re engaged’ and had a ring made out of cork wire from a wine bottle cork. She didn’t end up getting her ‘engagement’ ring until her 25th wedding anniversary when they could afford something now she liked

          • ReanaZ said:

            Ugh, I have been on the not-good side of this. Then-partner (of 9 months) asked me “Hypothetically, if I asked, would you marry me?” and I was like, “Eh, hypothetically maybe, someday, it’s too soon, though.” and then was like “Okay, I’m asking.” and I was like “Eh, hypothetically maybe, someday, it’s too soon, though.” and then he decided that meant we were engaged and started calling me his fiance.

          • Veekhr said:

            @ ReanaZ

            What he should have heard after saying “(In reality), OK, I’m asking.” was you saying, “Realistically then, no, it’s too soon.” instead of a “maybe” meaning “yes”. Agreements to engagements before a formal proposal still require consent on both sides. He shouldn’t have taken your answer as a yes when it very clearly wasn’t.

    • RuinousIllusion said:

      I proposed about a year ago, and we’d already talked about it well beforehand, I knew she wanted to use a family ring as her engagement ring and I knew she was happy to be getting engaged to me. But I wanted it to be an event, rather than just a nice day, so I got her a cute silver ring and took her to a park and found a quiet spot and dropped to one knee and proposed. And she teared up and I got nervous and she said yes and we kissed and called our parents and walked through the park hand in hand, all red-faced and blotchy.

      People will ask for “the story” of how you got engaged, and it sounds kinda like your SO wants there to be a story. That doesn’t mean you can’t pick the ring out together and then he can pick out his time and place. My fiancée was surprised by my timing, not the question and not the ring, and that worked for us.

      Maybe talk with him about how he pictures it. Perhaps he’d be ok with going shopping with you, then taking you someplace pretty and dropping to one knee to ask, with a nice celebratory dinner afterwards. He has a picture in his head of how he wants this story to go, and you have a different picture, but maybe you can home in on which bits are essential from each and craft a proposal that suits you both.

      • My husband and I did almost the exact same thing! We talked about getting married. We agreed that we would one day. I proposed to him on holiday 2 years in. He said he wasn’t ready yet but still definitely wanted it to happen one day. We decided to wait a year and see how we felt. My granny gave me her engagement ring, which meant the world to me (side note: my dad came back from visiting family with a fancy diamond ring in his bag: this one, for me. It can happen). I told my then boyfriend how special it was to me and said that if he ever wanted to propose to me in a vaguely traditional way I would rather have this as my engagement ring than have him spend a fortune that could be saved for our future. I then left it in a box on my dressing table and made damn sure he knew where it was. The following year, he surprised me on my birthday by driving miles to pick me up from an event I was attending, took a detour on the way home to a place I’d always loved and told him I wanted to take him some day and proposed to me there. So the exact timing and location were a surprise but the idea of getting married, the rough timing and the ring were absolutely not. Still romantic as heck. Surprise proposal to save a struggling relationship when you don’t want to go to counselling? Nope, all the nope. I hope he isn’t really doing that.

        • RuinousIllusion said:

          Did I nest wrong? I was trying to post in reply to azaleasinbloom

        • Eureka said:

          My proposal was a surprise to BOTH of us. I woke up one morning and he was in the kitchen putting the kettle one and I just looked at him and thought, “Holy shit, I want to marry this man.” And because I have no filter at 7a.m., I ended up blurting that out. And he looked for a moment like I’d slapped him with a fish, then he grinned and said, “OK.” And then we were engaged.

          He has talked about a formal public proposal with a ring and possibly costumes. And I’m okay with that, because we’re both performers of a sort and it suits us, and because he’s not going to spring something on me. I look at it as an impromptu theater piece, done for the benefit of the audience rather than ourselves. But the classic restaurant/Jumbotron/big family party proposal always squicked me out because you can tell when one party has been blindsided, and most of the time the surprised party looks like they’d rather be literally anywhere else on the planet.

          • Mel Reams said:

            Awww, that is such an adorable story 🙂

      • SarahTheEntwife said:

        I know someone who did something similar — they’d had the “so, do we want to get married or what?” conversation at some point beforehand, but then made a date to propose to each other so the exact nature of the mushy romantic gesture could be a surprise 🙂

    • tawg said:

      My brother and his fiance did a lot of compromising. They agreed that an engagement would be happening, and talked about what they wanted from that moment (he wanted to get down on one knee, neither wanted a crowd, she wanted a beautiful setting etc). They initially planned that she would pick three rings she liked and he would make the final call so that the engagement ring had his input etc (but she found a single ring she loved… and a matching wedding band… and a matching eternity ring… and put the deposit down herself). Then they went on holiday, and went on a hike together, and at the summit he got down on one knee and she confirmed that she was still up for marrying him, and it worked out great.

      You’re definitely not “ruining” things (wtf?). I agree with you that talking frankly about it (everything from the moment, to what being engaged ~means~ to you both, to what wedding thoughts you’re having etc) and being on the same page AND respecting each others requests is really important. Maybe you and your partner can negotiate a compromise like “I am okay with it being a surprise in terms of when it happens, but I don’t want a crowd or some elaborate setup”.

      • RunForChocolate said:

        I love that so hard. “She confirmed she was still up for marrying him.” Lol

    • resili0 said:

      The Diamond ring came from an ad run by De Beer s in thd fifties to sell diamonds with a 50% mark up. Prior to that any token or none at all was fine. Many rings of the erace contain settings that hold tiny diamond chips and really were there to look like a big sparkly thing because that was all a post war couple could afford. Debeers keeps the glut of diamonds (which are not rare) back and hikes up the prices so anyone who buys one is paying over the odds for the image. An emerald sapphire or ruby is far better value.

      I am not getting married but my fella and I wear matching silver rings and have made our private vows to each other. My Grandfather asked my grandma to marry him in 1947 and despite them buying a modest ring and being poor, they were happily married for over 60 years. She says the secret is having a life of your own or separate bathrooms!

      • I explained this situation to my husband and we picked out an amethyst for me. Cheaper and rarer!

        • The Awe Ritual said:

          And amethysts mean “truth” in the language of rocks. I think if you’re using “truth” to symbolize your relationship, you’re probably on a right track.

      • ivorygirl said:

        De Beers is apparently ALSO responsible for this idea that the proposal should be a surprise. Why? Because, apparently, when couples go shopping for rings together, they tend to spend less than when the male half goes solo. So, if you have a surprise proposal, you have more $$ spent on engagement rings.

        http://mentalfloss.com/article/20440/5-beloved-traditions-invented-make-you-buy-stuff

        (Yes, I know that not every couple getting engaged has to have a male half — or a female half — today, but that wasn’t the case when De Beers was bending the world to its diamond-encrusted will.)

        • resili0 said:

          Diamond-encrusted will is a fabulous turn of phrase 🙂

      • MuddieMae said:

        Or a used diamond. We bought my engagement ring at a pawn shop for pretty close to it’s “actual” value (not that there’s some kind of One True Dollar Value for anything).

    • Jackalope said:

      I totally agree with the lack of surprise thing, at least as far as the idea of getting married is concerned. Some people want the romantic proposal, some don’t, but you should know what the answer will be beforehand. I also like the idea that I saw here awhile ago about each person picking a date and time to surprise the other person with a proposal (again, once you’ve talked it over and are both on board) so each person gets the chance to come up with a fun surprise, and each gets the chance to say yes.

    • MsBee said:

      Agreed 100% with hating the culture of surprise. My husband and I had talked about marriage for a long time here and there. The first time it was brought up we were cooking dinner together after only being together for a year – “Hey, so you think we’ll get married someday?” “This is pretty nice, so why not?”

      Five years later, late 2014…he joked that he wanted to get married in 2015 because it’s a nice round number to remember (ending in a five.) I joked back “We’re also the type of people to have an april fools wedding.” And he said “Of course that’s what we’re doing.” and we planned a wedding in four months.

      Things we got shit on about:
      -No proposal?!
      -No formal engagement announcement?! (Both of us always said “we’ll probably get married someday”)
      -No engagement ring?!
      -No engagement photoshoot?!
      -No bridal shower?!
      -Wednesday night wedding?!
      -April fools wedding?!
      -No diamond ring?!
      -You’re not taking his name?!

      Ughhhhhhhhhhhhh.

      • Ughhhhhhhhhhhh, indeed. The pressure on women to change their names is another high scorer in the Things I Hate about Modern Marriage. Your wedding sounds like it was awesome, though.

      • Panda Bandit said:

        The name change expectation always sticks in my craw.

        When did engagement photoshoots become a thing? I don’t recall ever seeing any until recently. I think it’s stupid, and it just becomes another way for people to pressure you about getting married the “right way”.

        • And spend a lot of money. If you’re already paying for a wedding photographer (and that shouldn’t be required, either) why do it twice? I feel like this tradition began when Facebook became popular.

      • Kelly said:

        I HATE this new obsession with engagement photo shoots, it’s 100% just a money grab. FI and I took a selfie (actually, a bunch, he loves photos) shortly after he proposed, so we’re all teary and happy and stuff. That’s my engagement picture, not some weird photo shoot where I’m in the woods in a cocktail dress or something equally ridiculous.

        Also, I nth the UGH on changing your name. I’m 99% sure I’m not going to do it (and if I don’t keep my name I’ll just be adding his) and it’s so irritating that everyone just assumes the woman will change her name. In addition to it being incredibly sexist, I understand it’s also a huge amount of paperwork, which pushed me over the edge of of even considering it.

        • Less paperwork than changing your name back if you get divorced, though. Not saying you will, but it is something to consider. My understanding is that, at least in U.S., women getting married have a slightly easier time than anyone else changing a name for any reason, including trans people wanting a name that reflects their real gender, men taking wives’ names, or someone getting divorced, or anyone else.

          • slfisher said:

            You have to be careful though. In some states, like Texas, women whose names don’t match their documentation have had trouble voting. So if you’re going to change your name, check the laws where you live.

        • Clocky42 said:

          From what I understand, a lot of photographers make engagement shoots a part of their photography package now, I know a few folks that said they only got one because it was included.

          I’m not a fan of them either but unfortunately at this point, it seems to be a self perpetuating cycle.

  19. LA said:

    Oh lord. Thank god this didn’t happen to me, but a similar thing did happen to my mom with the guy she dated in high school. Christmas before they graduated, he proposed to her in front of her entire family without the two of them ever having discussed marriage. But she felt like she had to say yes, because what else was she supposed to do, ruin Christmas? She broke up with him and gave him the ring back a week later in a McDonald’s parking lot. She told me she was extra pissed b/c her bday is Christmas Eve, and the ring was supposed to be bday gift, Christmas gift, and engagement ring all in one (and anyone who knows my mom knows that you DO NOT combine her bday and Christmas gifts b/c she always got screwed over as a child; combining 3 into one was a majorly bad move, b/c she’s understanding about it if one gift is crazy expensive, but he didn’t even get her little token gifts to unwrap).

    One of the main things I stressed to my now-husband when we started talking marriage was that I did not want to be proposed to in front of a bunch of people; had he not listened to me on that point, I possibly would’ve said no, b/c it would’ve been a massive red flag that he wouldn’t listen to me about things that were important. Luckily that isn’t a problem. 🙂

    • Serin said:

      At one of my temp jobs, there was a young woman with a very large and fancy engagement ring, and every time anyone asked her about it, she would burst into tears. The story was much like this one — big public proposal, “felt like she had to say yes.” I’ve often wondered, over the years, whether she ever broke it off or whether she went ahead and married hm.

      • Leonine said:

        Ugh. If you feel like you have to say yes, it’s not so much a proposal as a command. Surprise! proposals a horrible.

    • Blue Meeple said:

      That happened to my mom, too. Her then-boyfriend proposed with a big diamond ring, at a dinner party in front of a lot of their friends. It showed just how much he didn’t know her (big diamond? public proposal? no warning or discussion beforehand? no.). She was so angry, she threw the ring at him and left.

    • I agree with the etiquette rule that says you should give back an engagement ring if you break off the engagement. That makes perfect sense to me as the ring sort of belongs to your relationship. But frankly, if it was her birthday AND Christmas present then she was more than entitled to keep it, sell it or whatever IMO. I admire her restraint.

      • Mary said:

        I have my mum’s emerald ring from the man she didn’t marry. He insisted she should keep it because he was sure they were going to get back together. My mum was like, um, nope. Obviously she never wore it again, so now it’s mine!

  20. e271828 said:

    Another vote for Option #2. His rejection of counseling as an option is a signal of how he expects to proceed; for whatever reason he has, if he is not willing to try to do the work (emotional labor) and self-examination that counseling implies, then your feeling that you’re done is all you have to go on, and you can break off with him in all fairness to both of you.

    As for the lease, if there is any way you can manage to find a place really fast, a sublet or something, and get out post-breakup, that would be best for both of you. It would avoid all the miserable awkwardness and potential feelingsbombs that any period of post-breakup cohabitation brings.

    Good luck.

    • Courtney said:

      Seconding the idea of finding another place to stay between the break up and the lease end. My college boyfriend and I broke up about a month before I could move out, and it was super stressful, even though we weren’t fighting or even passive-aggressive with each other. It was a back-door breakup, so I was both the dumpee and the person being painted as the villain by our friends. I was both hurt and so, so angry, and I had nowhere to go to just let it out and feel my feelings–every place I had to go was either our shared space, in public, or with soon-to-be-ex-friends who were treating me like I was evil for being the one to voice that our relationship was over. It is a miracle that I didn’t give myself an ulcer. I spent that whole month containing an emotional low-boil and using the anger to get me through end-of-term projects and final exams.

    • Charlene said:

      I suspect he believes that by “counselling” she means “expert who will bully him into finally marrying her”. Some young guys have strange ideas of what relationship counselling exactly is.

  21. spaceysteph said:

    Oh dear. Definitely voting for Option 2. Here’s my related experience:
    I was dumped on 12/21 once (it was also our 2 year dating anniversary, go figure). It. sucked. Boy did it suck. Christmas is one of those happy lovey times and it sucks to be the sad newly-single one. But, it’s been 5 years since then, and with the benefit of hindsight, you know what? I’m glad he didn’t wait. I’m glad we didn’t go through the holidays (and our trip to visit his family together) with us pretending it was working, to turn around and break up right after. I’m glad I didn’t spend an extra minute longer with him. Getting dumped sucks anyways, regardless of the timing, and I think the kindest thing you can do is rip off the band aid so that you both can get past the breakup and on to the “getting over it” ASAP.

    On a related note, I once thought I caught a hint that my husband was going to propose, what turned out to be several months before he did. It surprised me at first, but after the shock I got to thinking that it would be awesome to marry him and that it was what I wanted and if he asked I knew I would say yes. I think that this thought exercise is useful. Regardless of whether the ring is for you, or just in case, or grandma wanted him to have it, or for the flirty secretary in Love Actually, I think that is irrelevant. You are faced with the prospect of marrying him and realizing it’s not what you want. Go with that feeling.

  22. Fran Schamen said:

    Also, LW, there is a (slim, hopefully) possibility he might bust out the ring during the breakup talk. As in “I got this for YOU how dare you break up with me!”
    Breakup paraphernalia like rings and mixtapes and the like have all been staples of the shaming process for me when one party tries to stop the breakup of another. Just remember, should he do this(and I doubt he will but I doubted for me too) this is something that he did, on his own, without consulting you at all. Commercials are wrong. Diamonds are not a down payment on happiness, and there is no magic gift that is the key to unlocking someone’s heart.

    • Polychrome said:

      good call. It might be hard for the boyfriend to resist this gloriously dramatic tragicalness if the trajectory is what it seems (LW Is done, bf is not). I know I would find it difficult not to succumb.

      (I’ve learned a lot about what is bad manipulative behaviour from this website, and in theory it all feels like I’d do better next time, but in practice… somebody dumps me and I have got the ENGAGEMENT RING I BROUGHT FOR THEM FROM THE BOSOM OF MY FAMILY in my bag? AT CHRISTMAS??? Cue my big scene in 3, 2, 1….)

      None of this is to discourage the LW from coming clean and moving on. Just if she sees this potentially coming it will be less likely to throw her (or guilt her into staying).

    • Mary said:

      Yeah, I was also thinking that if he has any susceptibility to a particular type of MRA-style doucheness, then “I was all set to propose and then THAT ***** DUMPED ME” is an unfortunately convenient cultural narrative. I hope he’s not like that at all, but if he is, you’ve just got to step back and let him have that anger and remind yourself repeatedly that you are doing the right thing. Don’t get sucked into trying to make him feel that it’s not “like that” or take it too personally.

  23. LdyEkt said:

    I personally have been in the position of “I know I want to leave my partner, but it will be easier if I just wait for another three months.” I feel very fortunate that a friend talked me down from that position. It would have not been good for me or my partner if I had waited around until the New Year like I planned initially. (This was some years back.)

    I think the Captain’s scripts are good ones. I think you should take action soon to avoid the most awkward present-opening like, ever. And I’m sorry you’re in this mess!

  24. J said:

    I have never commented here but had to. This was me a year ago. I ended up staying because of the ring and it was stupid. I finally got out and it hurt more. If he just bought it, lots of jewelry stores have a “broken engagement” clause that would allow him to return the ring. Break up with him now. Go with option 2 but don’t be surprised if when you break up with him, he pulls out the ring and tries to tell you he wanted to propose to you. Don’t feel guilty or change your mind. Stay strong and you will be in such a better place a year from now.

  25. MuddieMae said:

    If I were in this position I would want to go with #1, because I just feel more comfortable putting everything on the table. There’s also a bit of “hey, I’m actually acting really rationally” in that I would want to make it clear that I chose to start this conversation right after we had this talk about waiting a couple of months, and right before Christmas, for actual reasons and not just because I’m a capricious nut.

    But, in realityville, I would probably end up doing with #3 for a while because I can be a bit of a coward and then it would be awfully uncomfortable once I felt I absolutely had to bring it up.

    Anyway, this sucks all around. Sorry OP, there’s just nothing to be done except embrace the suck here.

  26. Charmed.Omega said:

    Most of the thread agrees options 1 or 2 are the way to go. I have some advice for picking the right one: if he told you right now that he did actually want to do counseling and was interested in putting some effort towards fixing the broken parts of your relationship, would you want to go with him? If you’d say yes, I think 1 is the right way to go: it brings up a discussion of the state of your relationship and how you both see moving forward. If there’s nothing he could do to change your mind, don’t bring up a conversation about the state of your relationship. You’ve already decided it’s over and you should tell him.

    • johann7 said:

      This sounds to me like a great way to help make the decision!

    • Nopetopus said:

      LW here. I have to admit, I’m sort of curious to see how he would do the proposal. If, for instance, he would say, “look, it’s not been a great year. We’ve had our ups and downs, but I want to work on this with you…” That sort of thing, that would mean something to me.

      • neverjaunty said:

        I don’t think you should decide based on the hope of counseling, and here’s why: if he thinks a Christmas surprise proposal is just right to Fix Things, he may also agree to counseling just to smooth things over. Of course you want to hear it. That will probably be the only reason he would say it.

        The lease is probably not as big an issue as you think. Are you sure you’re not hanging onto it as a reason to avoid the breakup mess?

      • I understand that it’d mean something, but wouldn’t it basically mean “I will offer the possibility of us being happy together (because you don’t know if counselling will work, even if you both commit) in exchange for the certainty of us being legally, fiscally, and socially bound to each other”?

        It’s still sort of like saying “I know this house isn’t great. We should work onto together and see if we could fix it (but maybe we can’t, we don’t know yet). Want to get a mortgage for this place before we know if we’ll need to move out for health and safety reasons?”

        It’s touching, but “touching” is no defense against deep-set incompatibility (or black mold and a cracked foundation, if you go with the house metaphor).

        • Brooks said:

          Well, but, if we’re going with hypotheticals of how it might go, I’d note that an engagement is not a certainty of marriage; it’s a plan, and a plan that carries no legal or fiscal consequences if it’s not followed through. I could see a person saying, “This is a symbol of my commitment to working on this, and if we can make it work, I’d like to marry you.” Not that I’m saying it’s at all likely, just possible.

          To use your house metaphor, I’ve certainly started mortgage applications while still investigating whether a house would actually work for us.

          • An excellent point.

          • neverjaunty said:

            Engagement is ‘engaged to be married’; it’s an announcement that the couple is getting married and is in the process of arranging for that to happen. Breaking an engagement is certainly not the same as a divorce, but it’s a lot more than ending dating.

            Mortgage applications are different because the whole process of buying a house (at least in the US) is very complicated and more importantly is purely a business relationship.

  27. Nopetopus said:

    LW here. Thank you all such for your perspectives and kind words. To be honest, I hadn’t gotten much past the “oh fuck” stage, and hadn’t really considered that instead of maybe kinda probably breaking up in 4 months, we could be breaking up in a matter of days. That was a gut puncher. In a good way, I guess, but painful. Like an emotional Heimlich maneuver to remove an obstruction?

    Other details- yes, I am female. The ring did look like a family thing, and I hesitated to write in just in case it was something his mom foisted off on him-until the suspicious gift showed up under our tree. He’s also been giddy and affectionate since he returned, so without going to the lengths of actually snooping, I feel quite confident that the Christmas proposal is the plan. (But just the two of us- he may be showing other errors in judgement, but I can’t ever imagine him thinking that a public proposal would be a good idea!)

    Yes, the lease is a big hesitation. We moved cross country a year and a half ago, and I kinda doubt either of us will stay in this state if we break up. Which also argues for telling him sooner rather than later, but neither of us has any friends in the state (partly because we’re introverts, partly because he wanted us to spend lots and lots and lots of time together).

    I think that’s all the big points… Again, thank you all so much. This sucks. But you have all been very helpful and kind.

    • It totally sucks, even when you know that breaking up is the right thing to do in the end. But another thought for making it sooner rather than later, based on what you mentioned in your follow-up? I dumped my ex pretty close to Christmas as well, because to some Jewish atheists, December 25 exists only as a weird blip on the calendar where your work might not even be open on the day, but if it is, you’re suddenly a hot commodity because a lot of your colleagues are hoping against hope that you’ll pick them for the proposed shift-exchange, which you’re happy to do because, hey, overtime pay!

      My ex was a Gentile. He already had tickets booked to go home and see his parents for the end-of-year holidays, but after I formally broke up with him, he exchanged the tickets for a one-way that would get him there a week earlier. I bring this up because, based on your mention of a tree and formal gift exchange, I am inferring that Christmas means something to the both of you, and that the holiday will be a brightly-lit and tinsel-decorated Awkwardscape no matter what happens. However, if you sit your boyfriend down for the talk in the next couple days, you might have just enough time to jump on some last-minute deals anywhere the fuck besides your shared living space for the big event? This is obviously only as finances permit, of course, but it sounds like you don’t have many avenues for escape in your current area.

      This also depends on what your family situation is as well and whether you’d even want to be around them at all, much less at a time like this. I know the first time my ex and I broke up (out of a total of two times, the second one which seems likely to stick, thank fuck) was a week and a half before Thanksgiving, and we were going to spend it together in the state we both lived in that was a sizeable distance from either of our home states. My dad bought my plane tickets to come home, but of course it only takes a brief skim though the archives here to realize that a) not all families are that generous, and b) sometimes that “generosity” comes with a price (it does not for my family).

      • Oh LW, you are having a time. 😕

    • BIG hugs to you. I have been in similar shoes with so many complications but I promise you, you’ll figure them out, and you can figure them out from someplace NOT with him. Financial stuff can be figured out. Work stuff can be figured out. Relocation stuff can be figured out. It will all be okay and you will have people to help you (on the FOCA forums, we are good at this sort of thing! Guaranteed friends and support!).

      This will be okay and not the Worst Thing In The World. Start figuring out your safety net and support now, if you can — it’s time for phonecalls to family and friends elsewhere, and while travel sucks during the holidays, it’s also still totally possible. This might seem like a humongous and daunting set of things but I promise you, you will get them knocked out one by one and will be okay. I left with a suitcase and two cat carriers and wound up getting the rest of my stuff several months later, and it was OKAY because I realized that everything important in my life fit into one suitcase and two cat carriers.

    • Am I the only one who sees the deliberate isolation that BF has imposed on both of you as a huge red flag? Break up with him now, today. It’s kinder, it’s safer. Please also arrange for a place to go after in case. Even if it’s just a holiday inn. (I used to work at a shelter, your bf is making me very anxious for you)

  28. magithegourd said:

    For what it’s worth, I think the holidays are in a way the best time to break up: when better to be heartbroken than shortly before you spend lots of distracting, tradition-filled (read: does not require a lot of effort to participate) quality time with at least part of your support system? This depends, obviously, on one’s holiday plans, but most people spend some time this season with folks who love them.

  29. HindsightGraduate said:

    Hoooh boy, never, ever wait to break up. I went that route (knew I needed to walk away, but we had concerts planned, shared lease, etc) and I made a couple of grievously poor decisions and things ended very, very badly. My ex knew we weren’t okay, but he wanted to work things out. I didn’t, and his optimism was not going to fix where I stood. It was on me to put on my adult britches and stand my ground. Your future ex may seem happy, but you aren’t. Granted, he may not know that yet, but YOU know that pretending you’re still a couple will be taxing because you’re just counting down to when you part ways. I’m sorry, and good luck.

    • My (now-ex-boyfriend I had been living with for 6 or 7 years) and I decided together we’d break up after NYE because we didn’t hate each other, had a lot of friends in common, it would be a pain to move during the holidays and both our birthdays, my mother is a jerk who would gleefully poke the fresh wound non-stop during family celebrations, etc., and so for four months we knew we were breaking up, were civil, and I moved out with no fuss, and he and our friends helped me move my belongings to a new apartment.

      It really depends on the people involved. You probably know if your soon-to-be-ex will behave like a grown-up about disappointment and whether he or she is the type to fight fair when you disagree.

      • I’m actually on friendly terms with all my exes, and this is the only one I don’t communicate with at all (by choice), because the cause of our break-up was that he cheated on me with another patient in his group therapy meeting (two no-nos for the price of one). I still tell folks he wasn’t a bad person and I’ve long since been over it.

  30. atma said:

    I’m thinking another way to do it (if staying with him is at all an alternative – if not, number 2 is probably better) is to bring up the topic of surprise proposals in conversation, how utterly fraught and foolish, and why would anyone ever? If you’re aiming for helping him save face, it would give him the chance to not embarrass himself OR you.

    • jd said:

      Oof, actually, I would strongly recommend against something like that, unless you know for certain he’s okay with that kind of indirect but pointed communication style (some might call it passive-aggressive but YMMV). Otherwise it could be quite hurtful to him to be told he’s foolish and wrong but in an oblique way he can’t even directly respond to. I find that path tends to lead to more bitterness and resentment.

  31. Why not a hybrid approach to the problem, something like “I’d really like to make things work with you, but I’m one-hundred percent convinced that requires us to invest our time and money in counseling. I wasn’t going to bring this up, because I know you don’t want to do counseling, but I couldn’t help noticing a ring-sized box under the tree, so I thought I should make my feelings clear just in case you’re contemplating an end-run around the very deep and pressing need for us to see a therapist before going further with our relationship. If you want to preserve the relationship, now is not the time for a ring. Now is the time for us to get on line together and pick a therapist we like.”

    “If I’m wrong about the ring-sized box, then you have my humble apologies, but I don’t want things to get worse between us because you’ve chosen a strategy which would force me to conclude that you’ll never listen to me about the issues which are important.”

    • That’s wise

  32. I am adding ARRRRRRRRGHs of solidarity, LW. Ugh.

    There is never a good time to break up with someone. There is always a reason to put it off — the holidays, they just got a promotion at work, they just got fired, a death in the family. There will always be reasons why it’s a bad time.

    I left my Ex on Dec 7th and it was a middle-of-the-night packing-my-bags-secretly afraid-for-my-life leave. And you know what? NO ONE gave me grief over “ruining Christmas” or ruining his holiday or basically anything but “We are here for you, we love you, this is a safe place for you” and letting me pour out, in drops and then in torrents, what led to all of this. And when they heard they all said “Oh my gosh ONE of those reasons was enough reason to leave and you have dozens, it is okay, we love you”.

    We were engaged. We were actually commonlaw married (I’m still not entirely sure how you un-do that, limbo backwards under the broomstick?). There were several financial and insurance and service knots to untangle. They were all impressively daunting until I had NO CHOICE and then I got through them and it was okay.

    There was never a good time to leave, until it became an emergency and honestly the best time to leave would have been a month before, 6 months before, 3 years before. The best time to leave is the time you leave. It will be okay, you will still have a good Christmas, you will still be with people who love you, and if they give you grief, point them my way because I will be Bodyguard Bear or Bouncer Bear as needed.

    It’s okay. Do what you need to do. Because you are important and matter, and your wants are important and matter.

    I still have my ring, but that’s because it was my grandma’s and she wanted me to have it. Well and he proposed with a ring from wal-mart that didn’t fit and I still wore it for several years even though it hurt my hand. I still have THAT ring, too, because it was an excellent metaphor for our relationship.

    • RuinousIllusion said:

      I think a number of states that allow for common law marriages actually require a legal divorce to dissolve that union. You may want to consult a lawyer at some point.

      • If in the States (which I am not sure of), a place like http://www.expertlaw.com/forums/ might be a good place to start; the people there are often blunt, but can generally point you towards a resource for either information or a referral.

      • I appreciate it! I live in Canadaland, and my province’s version of commonlaw just says “divide your stuff equally and if someone needs to contest things then get a lawyer involved”, and since I took the cats with me there was absolutely no disagreement over who took what. Because we no longer live together and don’t consider ourselves commonlaw, we’re not. It’s just because it’s such a vague system that varies wildly across the country that I made a sorta tongue-in-cheek joke and I apologize!

        • neverjaunty said:

          No need whatsoever to apologize, but you absolutely 100% need to talk to a lawyer.

    • A quick glance at Wikipedia yields this gem:

      Note there is no such thing as “common-law divorce”—that is, you cannot get out of a common-law marriage as easily as you can get into one. Only the contract of the marriage is irregular; everything else about the marriage is perfectly regular. People who marry per the old common law tradition must petition the appropriate court in their state for a dissolution of marriage.[6]

      Which sounds like RuinousIllusion’s suggestion of consulting a lawyer might be necessary.

    • Trundlebear, I’m so glad you got out safely.

      • It was an ongoing ballad of WTF and I have never been so happy in my life. Oddly enough, we’re talking again, because I guess you don’t necessarily dissolve 10+ years of friendship and career stuff, and neither of us hates the other, we just are very happy we live on different sides of the country now.

        I mean, he moved to EDMONTON. That’s punishment enough.

        • totchipanda said:

          Hey now, some of us actually like Edmonton 😉 (but if he brought all the snow with him, he can have it back!)

          • IT IS HIS PUNISHMENT SNOW, SHUN HIM.

            There’s nothing wrong with Edmonton, but this is the guy who figured Canadians were a bunch of whiners when it came to winter as the last couple of winters have been super mild, plus we were about as far south as you can get and still be Canadian.

          • totchipanda said:

            Oh, well in that case, BRING IT ON WINTER. And dump all the snow right on top of his house. (even if it’s also my house) I fondly (?) remember the day 5ish years ago we were the second coldest place on Earth and my southern friends asked what the heck we do at -48 and I said “put on an extra sweater and go to work?”

          • …whereas here in London we only need half an inch of snow to fall before the entire public transport system grinds to a halt. EVERYONE uses public transport in London, so nobody gets to work. Pretty much.

      • Oh, and, thank you. It’s really awesome having people be so awesome and supportive about it all 🙂

  33. zaracat said:

    I feel sorry for your being put in such an uncomfortable position. I am glad that finding the ring has helped you firmly decide how you feel, even if you are not sure exactly how to proceed from there. The advice from the other commenters is pretty solid in that respect, it’s just a matter of choosing which option seems best for you personally.

    Knowing that you do not want to continue with the relationship, please don’t give in to the temptation to have counselling just to delay the process or to let him down more gently (“well, at least we tried”). My own experience is that counselling is not helpful unless both parties are committed to the process, honest about the nature of the problems, and not pressured as to the outcome. I gave up on couples counselling after 4 or 5 sessions feeling completely confused because my partner was the one who had requested counselling but wouldn’t come out and say what the problems actually were that he wanted to address, and kept talking in vague terms about “communication difficulties”. In a rather unpleasant conversation many years later after our divorce it emerged that he had approached the whole process very dishonestly. There WAS a specific problem, one which could possibly have been resolved but was something of which I was unaware because he had never mentioned it. He had also chosen a specific counselling service in order to get the relationship outcome he wanted (a religious-based counselling service, because he thought a secular service “would try to break us up”).

    • Wait, so…he wanted to try counseling with someone who wasn’t going to push divorce. Then refused to bring up a major issue that could have been fixed by counseling. Which refusal contributed, if not led directly, to the divorce?

      My internal logic processors are melting.

      • zaracat said:

        Control freaks aren’t very responsive to logic. The only reasons I can come up with are either that he was too embarrassed to discuss our sex life with a third party and wanted to find some way of dealing with the issue indirectly, or he thought I was being deliberately obtuse and that him explaining things would be in some way me “winning”. Realistically, in the long run the marriage could probably not have been saved by addressing this one problem – many, many other problems emerged in the years it took me to see the light – but it sure as hell wasn’t going to succeed by not addressing it at all.

    • Gloria said:

      Yes. As a therapist (though not one trained in relationship counselling) I would not recommend it if you are already resolved to leave your partner. It’s extremely unlikely to achieve anything useful if both partners approach it in bad faith – if the LW already knows that she wants out, and her partner is only coming because LW insists.

      Forgive me if I’ve misread you, LW. When you say that it would mean a lot if he would agree to counselling, it’s not clear if that would be enough to make you reconsider breaking up, it does not sound to me like you are persuaded. If the effort from your partner would make a difference, then counselling may be helpful, but if that feeling of needing to get out stays with you, please listen to it.

      • misspiggy said:

        Great advice. I’m also not sure why the LW feels counselling after a proposal would make the difference. By agreeing to counselling the LW’s partner would be recognising that the relationship needs strengthening, and that discussions are needed which haven’t happened so far. In planning to propose, the LW’s partner seems to recognise the relationship needs strengthening (good), but instead of seeing further discussions as the solution, they see a symbol of commitment as the solution (bad – because this is seriously at odds with what the LW wants).

        Does the partner see LW’s request for counselling just as a signal of unhappiness, rather than a need to actually discuss specific things? If so, communication is seriously off in this relationship, before one even gets to other troubles. If LW actually wants to stay, it sounds like they need to insist on important discussions now about what needs to be fixed, with or without a counsellor. Or break up – but don’t let a proposal unfold when there is such a mismatch between what people are thinking.

        • zaracat said:

          I hope my comment hasn’t caused confusion – my reading of the situation was that although the LW had previously suggested counselling and her BF had declined, in the current circumstance of having decided to end the relationship she would be unlikely to pursue that option. I was trying to allow for the possibility that he might not want to hear her “no” to the relationship continuing and would then try to take her up on the counselling to persuade her to change her mind.

    • Mel Reams said:

      Good point! There was a commentor a while ago in another thread who talked about how painful it was to discover that their spouse had agreed to counseling in order to “let them down gently” and really wished spouse had just dumped them and gotten it over with instead of dragging it out for months. If you know you want out, giving your partner false hope by going to counseling is much more cruel than just dumping them and making a clean break.

  34. Britta said:

    I recommend watching Working Girl, if only for the courage you’ll get from the scene where Alec Baldwin publicly proposes to Melanie Griffith, and she says no, and he says something like you’re embarrassing me in front of everyone, and she says,

    “If you want another answer, ask another girl.”

    • Esme said:

      That scene was so awesome. And he was trying to manipulate her with a public proposal. He knew he had probably deep-sixed the relationship.

  35. quinalla said:

    For the LW, I’d go with option 2 myself. Not even bring up the ring as others have said it may lead to derailing. I think it’s almost always kindest to break up as soon as you are sure, delaying until the next day or a few hours or occasionally longer can occasionally make sense, but usually it is better for everyone to get it over with as quickly as possible for a lot of reasons!

    Ugh, just have to chime in that surprise proposals are the worst. My husband and I discussed getting engaged & married, went and picked out a ring together (you know, so we made sure we were both happy with it since I plan to wear it forever), and then we agreed he would officially propose in private at a future time/date of his choosing so there could be that little bit of surprise to it. We were both happy with this plan and it worked out great 🙂

    And I cannot even imagine a surprise, public proposal, ugh! All the pressure to say yes. A planned public proposal could be wonderful for the right couple and I always hope that the ones I see are planned!

    • Lirael said:

      My fiance and I did the same thing, except that we both got rings. So after he proposed to me, I went and got his ring from where I’d been hiding and proposed right back.

      I agree that surprise and/or public proposals are the absolute worst. I hate that they’ve become the dominant narrative in American culture.

  36. Bunie said:

    An ex-bf once went bday shopping for me with a mutual female friend. She told me months after that apparently they’d had a stand-up fight in a shop because he was going to a) buy me something ENORMOUS, and b) present it in public in front of all my friends.

    She said her argument boiled down to a) no, b) no, c) have you met your girlfriend? and d) yes, if you never want to see her again.

    And that was just a random bday. The thought of someone PROPOSING like that…makes me want to start permanently carrying around my passport so I can flee the country the second it happens. And I’m single.

  37. Frost said:

    Just rip the bandaid off, hon, it’s the most merciful thing to do for both your sakes. Trying to slowly peel it off won’t help matters.

    I hate the whole ‘surprise them with a proposal’ thing, especially in crowded places where there are people, either strangers or family, witnessing it – especially around emotionally charged events like big holidays.

    Saddle up that nopetepus and get outta there!

  38. Ookling said:

    Oh, LW. That situation sounds like it really sucks. Deep sympathy to you.

    I don’t think surprise proposals are a good idea. It’s a big decision, hopefully, and a good partner shouldn’t want to rush it, or hope that the audience will pressure the other into saying yes.

    Now, my mother was VERY surprised when my father proposed to her (midnight, New Years Eve, fifty-odd years ago) but that was because she, sweet innocent with crushingly low self esteem that she was back then, hadn’t noticed that they were DATING before that point. (It was just coincidence that they were the only two of their group who hadn’t seen a film, or were going out for a meal, she thought. Ah dear. 🙂
    That surprise meant that her immediate response to my fathers question was direct, simple and honest. She said “I feel sick.” Memorable, if not precicely what he’d hoped for. Thank goodness he hadn’t made a public event out of it- she would have run miles.

    So my father settled down to wait for my mother to make up her mind. Took her three months to decide her answer was yes. Apparently she saw some ugly curtains, and those decided her.

    • Ugly curtains? Why ugly curtains?

      • LARPERNERD said:

        My father kinda sprang the proposal on my mum too. They known each other years buy mostly as long distance friends (both volunteer teachers in different parts of africa). They’d only been dating 6 months. It was his last day in Ireland be for he had to return to England for his masters. She tried to avoid the question all day she says. (She did want to say yes, but wanted him to wait another couple of months before he asked.) He was oblivious and asked. She said yes. They’re going on 30 years and 2 kids. But like, conversations had been had before then. And it was in private on some steps. They got the ring together. So yeah LW I’d say leave.

      • Ookling said:

        She looked at them, and thought “Those curtains are ugly. When I marry X, I don’t want anything like them in our house…. Wait, WHEN I marry X?…. I appear to have made up my mind without realising it.” And then she turned round to him and said “by the way, I’ve decided. The answer is yes.”

        He was relieved when she explained it was yes to the marriage, not the curtains.

  39. The question of what he’s doing with the ring is no longer of consequence. It’s served it’s purpose: You’ve been confronted with the choice of moving forward or turning away in your relationship. You’ve chosen.

    Breaking up with someone is awful. It will make you feel like a monster. His family will see you as a monster. Some of your mutual friends may see you as a monster. Let them.

    • If you’re going to be a monster, you might as well be a happy, comfortable monster who isn’t in a relationship with someone who doesn’t listen to them, that’s my motto.

  40. man for some strange reason i immediately thought that the ring was for some random chick he had been seeing on the side. either way, extremely uncomfortable for all parties involved 😦 best of luck!

  41. “I’s served it’s purpose: You’ve been confronted with the choice of moving forward or turning away in your relationship. You’ve chosen.” perfect quote

  42. icewindgale said:

    I hope I didn’t miss if this has already been said, but I’d like to add one caveat to the Captain’s suggestions. You will see a lot of quotation marks here – please note that they indicate skepticism, not sarcasm (woo, the joys of communicating in text).

    It sounds like you may feel that sense of obligation that people (especially ladypeople) often do at the end of a relationship – the guilt trip where if you “ever really loved him” you’d “give it a ‘fair’ chance.” I don’t know if words like these were flung at you in order to secure two more months of the status quo via the “compromise” you mentioned, but I feel like that may be an element at play here. If it is – and if you decide to break up with him, and he even mentions that he was going to propose in response – get away from him. Cut him off as much as humanly possible, even if you can’t move out yet, because that ring is MADE OF BEES. A move like that is manipulative and controlling and selfish and absurdly out of line.

    Hopefully nothing like that happens – but having once been proposed to during a break-up, I wanted to put my hard-earned “wisdom” out there.

  43. Oh, I feel for you so much, LW. And for your thankfully-not-an-asshole BF, too. This could’ve *almost* been me, 25 years ago when I was Way Too Young to get married anyhow.

    My then-boyfriend and I had been very briefly engaged much earlier. He broke it off then… without breaking off the relationship; just said very sadly and gently that he had realized he wasn’t ready for that stage yet. I cried. Then we resumed our BF/GF status. He was right, of course; neither of us were even remotely ready for that stage. We were still in college — barely legally adult, and certainly not emotionally so. A year and a half later, I’d flown east to my family for Christmas. He was due to join me a week later, and celebrate with my family. I didn’t actually have any reason to expect him to re-propose then… but somehow I began to imagine what it would be like if he did. And the thought was enough to propel me headlong into the throes, not of giddy anticipation, but of raw panic.

    Like you, all my choices were bad. He wasn’t an asshole either, and he hadn’t done anything wrong. We weren’t even on rocky ground. I’d simply fallen out of love with him.

    I didn’t want to break up with him by phone, but I also felt he deserved the chance 1) not to face a breakup all alone among strangers who were making merry with his new ex while he was miserable and couldn’t get away for 10 days; 2) not to face a refusal in front of people if he *did* intend to propose (unlikely, in fact, since I had no reason other than my own imagination for even having it occur to me, but stranger things have come out of my imagination); or 3) not to go through an apparently loving and happy week with my family and then find out afterward – which he probably would have, because I am terrible at keeping such things from showing – that I’d faked it all.

    I decided it made most sense to do the breakup as gently as I could by phone, before he was due to come east, and give him the opportunity to decide if he still wanted to attend or not. He was badly wounded and I was miserable and guilty. He finally decided he had nowhere else to go and would like to attend anyhow, as a friend. I duly told my family of the change.

    It was, to say the least, an awkward week.

    I truly have no idea what to advise you to do in *your* situation. I clearly made a hash of it myself. Maybe ride it out and say no gently and kindly if he does? But that’s gotta be awful, and still has the problem of nowhere for him to go to lick his wounds away from all the people. Maybe stage, if possible, an in-front-of-him “discovery” of the ring, so you’ll have an excuse to ask him about it? No, no; that is so tempting and all so very wrong that I’m ashamed of myself for even thinking along those lines. The Captain is right. Stick to honesty. (But I’m not sure I’d be able to do so myself, if it came up again for me. If I could even find the blasted thing again.)

    Whatever path you take, here are many sympathetic urggs, a carrot for your Nopetopus, and a large wagonload of best wishes for both you and your soon-to-be-ex.

  44. Gotgingham said:

    LW

    Have the conversation.

    The earth will move. Your life will change. It will be a relief.

    OK OK OK there will be tears. But you want out and because he is no asshole you might even gain a friend if the parting negotiations are anything positive.

    If he truly cares for your deepest sentiments, he will want you to be happy. He will want to be the GIVER of some of that happiness. He will hurt, but that doesn’t stop him from caring about your well being.

    Give him a chance to show that he truly cares by helping and cooperating in making a sincerely sad, untimely bit of life change– smooth all round.

    Or cut loose in the least resistant manner.

    It is not a failed relationship once it stops being one.

    Like works of art, some can be wrapped up safely if some mutually gentle bullets get placed on.the table, instead of put in the chamber.

  45. Gotgingham said:

    (Sorry about the bullet reference but it works for me. You know, in the sort of convos you have once a decade maybe? Where you’ve got a companion or SO that needs a major leap of awareness to happen. You say this when it is sure the leap of awareness is no way gonna happen. So you ask, gently, Can you take a bullet? If I lay it on the table?

    Now most people get their back up, and will want to say, Yes, for sure.

    And so now the bullet is inert. Not connected to the weapon as an accusation, but a thing. And so you say the magic opening line:

    Ahem. Here’s the thing…)

    • zaracat said:

      I dislike the bullet and gun thing a lot. It makes me intensely uncomfortable and also seems a bizarre way of putting things. I would really like it if you could remove the post or hide it in some way.

      • Phospher said:

        If someone asked me if I could take a bullet my instinct would be to run the fuck away, not say “Yes, for sure.”

        • Colloquially, to take a bullet for someone means to be really committed to them; I can see someone in a ten-year-plus relationship reading it that way.

          But the whole “most people will get their back up and assert their commitment to me, and then I can spring the conversation on them, because they answered a metaphorical question and my personal metaphors are different so they didn’t know they were giving me permission!” thing feels really creepy.

          • Yeah, I agree with Aphotic Ink–that’s weird and unpleasant. The whole point of discussing something calmly and not in the moment is to divorce it from that kind of coercive circumstance. And make no mistake–asking someone how committed they are to you, seeking a specific response (of “to the death”, in this case), and then using that response to justify springing what is probably a known dealbreaker on them? Gross. Weird. Manipulative. Disingenuous. Misleading.

            Don’t do this.

    • “Hi, here’s this thing whose sole purpose is to destroy life and property (unlike, e.g., certain medicines which are dangerous only if used improperly). Let me equate it to an important conversation between people who care about each other!”

      I get that the metaphor works for you. I 100% find it reasonable that it does not work for other people.

  46. Oh dear LW, I am so sorry.

    As a person who’s lived with someone for two months post break up because neither of us was in a position to get out quickly, some advice:

    1. Try, try, TRY not to do that. The air-clearing/closure-giving conversations were nice. The “we won’t be able to have sex again after this so let’s get it while we can!” sex was mind blowing. But the overwhelming urge to check his phone to see if he was hooking up with someone new yet (lol – reasons for breaking up!), the terrible fighting over the dumbest things ever that really didn’t matter and belittled the good times we had, and both of us coming home super late randomly and not knowing where each other was for the first time in four years were heart breaking and brought out the worst in us both. Try to get out.

    2. If you both HAVE to stay, set up some boundaries. Figure out what you want to know and what you absolutely do not want to know, and what you want him to know/absolutely do not want him to know. Ex: how late you’ll be home/if you’re coming home that night. It makes a huge difference knowing whether or not to lock the dead bolt. Trust me.

    3. Focus on YOU things. Living with someone post break up is already terrible. It becomes much worse if you’re caught up in your new ex’s voodoo. Leave it and focus on whatever you want to do and whoever you want to be once this is over. Catch up with friends you haven’t talked with. Tell people you can trust/TeamYou peeps about the situation (personally this helps me remain accountable when the temptation of “Let’s give this thing one more shot! Remember that crazy good break up sex?” is on the brain, but truly it is just helpful to have people who know what’s up in your life who you can confide in). Focus on hobbies/aspects of live you’ve probably been neglecting while worrying about what to do about this dude.

    Good luck! I hope your situation is as amicable as possible. It can be so hard to follow your gut – you are brave and wonderful!

  47. Heidi said:

    Gift$ didn’t just buy an iPad, though, they bought the customer support of the Apple Store, which if you have experiences customer service from Best Buy looks like one of the ritzier neighborhoods in some mythic heaven populated by friendly androids. Her brother just screwed them out of good customer support, which is worth the money if you can afford it.

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