Dear Captain Awkward:
I (35F) have been with my boyfriend (36M) for sixteen months now. We met online and I moved with him after roughly two months. He has led me to believe that he would propose marriage in the time frame of two or three months. He told me this roughly six to eight months ago.
I have been annoyed and angry for the last two months. I love him, but if he is not ready to propose, then why am I here? I cannot ask him to marry me anymore then I could sprout wings and fly. I have given myself a pretty strict mental deadline. Past this date, I end the relationship and start looking for someone else. I love him. I admire him. He loves me. He is very wonderful, caring, and smart. It would devastate me to lose him, but I would hate myself if I stayed in a relationship that did not progress. I would hate knowing I pressured someone into proposing to me. I need to know that he wants to spend his life with me. Points that may not matter:
- I know some people have a terrible time dating, but I had a lot of fun dating.
- He pays for my health insurance and our last trip to visit his family.
- I contribute financially and clean pretty much 95% of the time.
- Our families love each of us and love the idea of us for each other.
- There is pressure on both sides for us to marry soon.
Am I doing the right thing? I need to judge people on what they do and not what they say. My walk date is precariously close.
Confused and Sad
Dear Confused And Sad:
You say: “I cannot ask him to marry me anymore then I could sprout wings and fly.”
Why? I mean, sit with that. Why do you think that’s impossible for you?
Reasons I can come up with:
- Cultural norms?
- The way you were raised?
- Gender expectations?
- A lifetime of stories about relationships where they must progress to the next level or die?
- Emotional stuff – wanting to be “chosen”, wanting to be sure of his commitment, wanting him to put himself out there and demonstrate all that to you?
- Wanting to participate in those rituals – the proposal, a ring, the announcement, etc. – that are traditionally part of getting engaged for women?
None of the stuff in that list is stupid, or fake, or not real, and wanting it or feeling it doesn’t make you silly, or wrong, or a bad person or a bad woman – it’s giving you pause for a reason! It’s just the Stuff (patriarchy stuff, gender roles stuff, culture stuff)…that we grow up with and live with…and you can rebel against it or choose a different direction for your life but it’s still There, waiting for you, the second you relax your guard, reminding you that it would be really, really greeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaat if your life conformed to what was expected of you, that it would feel soooooooooooooo good to dance the steps of the dance you know, that your “reward” for waiting this out is just around the corner.
We don’t run ads anymore on the site but I’d almost like to turn them on for this post so we could see for ourselves how obscenely ready the world is to sell you on this particular dream. (True story: I Googled “baby gate” the other day, one time, b/c we’re thinking of getting kittens and need a way to keep them in one half of the house at night, and now the margins of my entire internet experience are 100% “CONGRATULATIONS U R HAVING A BAAAAAAAABY!” and it’s like “I’m not I promise you” and the retailers of the internet are united to say “HOLY CRAP, YOU’RE EXPECTING” and I’m like “I’m expecting…cats…maybe.” So then it’s 10% pet products and 90% “YOUR LITTLE BUNDLE OF JOY!!!! LOOK AT ALL THE EXPENSIVE STUFF YOU WILL NEED.”)
(One Google search, people. One.)
I got married in 2016 and what kind of dishonest shithead would I be if I tried to pretend that, while I loathed 99% of wedding planning, there weren’t times where it felt GREAT to be a bride, to be admired, to wear a pretty dress, to show off a pretty ring, to open lovely presents, to celebrate with friends and family, to be part of making a new family with my favorite person and to relax into being loved and chosen. Right now there is this weird double pressure where you’re supposed to both want the fancy wedding thing and also be SUPER OVER IT ALL that’s just exhausting. You’re an adult woman, you know what you want, you want what what you want, and that’s okay.
The problem is, Sad and Confused, is that the thing that you want and the exact way that you want it are on the verge of costing you the thing that you want. You are getting ready to walk away from someone you love! Forever! and that’s somehow less scary than saying, “Babe, I’m really ready to get married soon. Yes, to you, specifically. What do you think about that?” out loud and listening with an open heart and a cool head to whatever he says next.
And I think that’s really fucked up.
The stories/expectations/traditions that taught you that you have to silently wait for your own future to be revealed to you by some dude, or else you risk irrevocably startling the Adult Male into flight and must be forever alone are hurting you and your happiness.
Today, this 36-year-old man who shares a household with you, who is financially intertwined with you, who loves you and who has talked about marriage with you before, the one who asked you to move into his place with him more than a year ago either wants to marry you or he doesn’t. If he does want to marry you, and you asking him directly about this giant decision that will shape the rest of your future is so scary to him that it somehow makes him change his mind on that, then I call bullshit on him ever wanting it. People can get lazy or complacent, they can lie to themselves and other people about what they want, but someone who really loves you and plans to spend his life with you and who was truthful in the past about wanting that doesn’t suddenly go “Well shit, I wanted to marry you, but you mentioned marriage and that broke the spell, because you are a woman and I am a man, so, bye forever!”
If he doesn’t want to marry you, asking him about it and finding out will be such a relief, right? It will be painful, and expensive, but it will be a relief, also. You’re dying inside from the waiting, you’re prepared to leave the relationship if it’s not heading where you want it to. One conversation, and if it’s not going to work out you’ll know for sure that there was no saving it, there was no waiting it out, and every second you don’t stay is potentially wasted time that’s come back to you.
If you are not “allowed” to ask the person you plan to spend the rest of your life with questions about this, then, what are you doing? What is he doing? What is marriage for, if not connection and trust and vulnerability and loyalty and care? Are you gonna spend forever and have kids with someone who needs all major life events to be “LOL SURPRISE!”
I don’t have a way for you to bring this up with him without bringing it up. I have some thinking/writing/planning assignments and then a script for a conversation.
- Stability. Imagine you find out soon that you are not ever going to marry this guy. What would you do differently with your money and your time, starting now? What would you do about housing and health insurance? Do you have your own savings that is not connected to him or the household at all? Make a Plan B for your own stability and financial well-being. You will feel more free and stable and confident if you have this plan.
- Daydreams. What are five daydreams you have about your future/your career/your education/your life that aren’t necessarily about getting or being married? Things you would want to do with or without this guy in your life? These things can be serious or fun, for example: “I want to be the boss at work, I want to become fluent in Arabic, I want to see the Northern Lights, I want to walk across my city on foot and take a photograph of everything yellow I come across, I want to do a pull-up, I want to write a poem, I want to learn calligraphy, I want to be a patron of the arts, I want a fat sweet dog that wears a little cape and follows me everywhere, I want to volunteer to serve people around an issue that’s important to me, I want to run for political office, I want to record video or audio of my grandmother telling stories of how she grew up, I want to be a beginner at something and an expert at something.” This list serves multiple purposes. You are an interesting person with a life and aspirations of your own. Companionship and love and family are important, but they are only part of the picture. Do you feel like the things on your list are within reach for you, the way your life is set up now? If you do marry this man, how will he help you do the things you really want to do? If you break up with this man, can this list will help steer you into what’s next?
- Reality. Are you happy now (aside from this tense-making worry about the future)? Do you like doing 95% of the cleaning? How did you decide on that division of responsibility? How have you and your partner tackled difficult conversations before? What are you most afraid of happening if you bring this up?
- Conversation. It’s okay to be uncomfortable or nervous about how to bring this up. He’ll probably be nervous, too, even if the feelings are compatible and the outcome is a happy one, because he’s dealing with the same collection of narratives and cultural expectations that you are, and the culture has given us so few stories about “We liked each other and then we loved each other and then we had a series of conversations where we mutually decided to get married and then we did” and so very many about “We just knew and then it was a magical surprise, no one ever had to talk about it, it all just materialized!”
So it’s okay to say “I feel really nervous bringing this up, but I want to talk about getting married. We talked about it early on, is that still something you want us to do? I really love you, and it’s something I want to do, so, can you let me in on your thoughts about this? Maybe we can figure out a timeline together?”
And then you listen to what he has to say. And you ask more questions. Are there reasons he hasn’t brought it up again before now? Are there particular things he’s nervous about? Is he feeling the family pressure, too? What’s he most excited about? Is he making sense? Do you feel safe and comfortable and like you can be vulnerable in this conversation? Are you on the same page about finances, living arrangements, kids/no kids, family stuff, etc.?
BTW if he’s pro the idea of getting married and wanting to put a plan together, you can say stuff in the conversation like “It’s important to me that at some point we do a proposal thing where you ask me, that tradition is really important to me.” Because if you want that and need that and look forward to that, it’s okay.
If he doesn’t want to marry you, I swear to you, I promise, it’s not because you asked him a question about it. It’s not because you upset some super secret plan he had, the petty way I sometimes felt when I was planning to sweep the floor but then I didn’t wanna anymore because my sorta bossy former roommate reminded me. Deciding to marry your favorite person is supposed to feel good and safe and like the other person has your back and wants to make it comfortable and easy for you. Wanting to know if the dude whose bathroom sink you’re scrubbing on the regular is into you That Way doesn’t make you “crazy,” “needy,” “clingy,” “pushy,” or any of the stereotypes that people try to attach to women who are a tiny bit assertive. If he treats you like “It was perfect, but you! You broke it with your questions!” then he was not someone who cares about your comfort and your dignity, i.e. not someone who would be a good partner in the long haul.
Letter Writer, I want you to have everything you want out of your life, including marriage with this guy if he also wants that. I want you to feel safe, relaxed, comfortable, happy, in love, loved, cherished, wanted, chosen, affirmed in your relationships. I think the way there is probably not a grudge-match with yourself or a Silent Loyal Girlfriend Secret Staring Match with him about how much waiting you can take. I think the way forward is probably a series of conversations, and I wish you all the best in having them.
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302 thoughts on “#1128: “Tired of waiting for a marriage proposal.” + Summer Pledge Drive Continues”
Nailed it. If I read it several times over, I might be able to find some emphasis I might change. But overall, this was just about perfect.
LW, listen to the Captain.
Captain – baby gates won’t contain kittens for long, trust me. They can climb. It might take them a week to figure it out, and then you’ve got another week or 2 where you can put cardboard to remove the ladder. But then they can escape.
I knooooooowwwwww they will figure out a way around it – was just googling possible solutions, since we live in a 2-floor apartment now and while there is no door at the bottom of the stairs there is a perfect sunny office spot to be “3 am kitty parkour domain.”
Ha, I had the same exact thing happen to me (fostered a litter of kittens, endured MONTHS of baby ads for it–they do end, eventually) and then the baby gate was an absolute bust.
Wandering down the derail, sorry, but Privacy Badger (offered by the EFF) is a glorious thing. Ads get through, but only ones that don’t track you. (Unless you change the settings.) /derail
My favorite is when I order something for somebody that has nothing, nothing to do with my own life, and the entire Internet crashes down on me with WE’RE SO HAPPY YOU’RE INTO WRENCHES! or whatever it was that I got for SOMEBODY ELSE WHO IS NOT ME and I’m all, how do these algorithms perceive us at all? Why is anything off model that I do, no matter what it is, suddenly evidence that I have become an entirely different person?
I ordered a replacement lawn mower battery online, and I am not currently setting up The National Memorial and Museum for Garden-Implement Power Solutions…but you’d think so.
I replaced my mattress in January and for the last 5 months have been getting non-stop mattress ads on every. Single. Site. How many mattresses do you think I need, internet? I can’t feel the pea, I promise.
I feel particularly entertained when I buy a Thing, and it’s the sort of Thing that a person really only needs one of, and yet… somehow they think it’s productive to besiege me with ads for the Thing I just bought? It’s like… people. Right now I am precisely the LEAST likely person to respond to your ad in the whole world. MY NEEDS HAVE BEEN MET.
I am in a lightsaber choreography and performance group. There are only two major saber making companies in the US, and I get bombarded with ads for them CONSTANTLY.
Like, guys, I already know you both exist. Calm down.
So much this – I ordered some books about various Main Battle Tanks for a friend, which was quite a deviation from my usual book diet of knitting, crocheting and cooking books, and it was fun to see amazon flail while trying to come up with a useful suggestion. I was on the brink of publishing a book on knitting battle tank cozies just for the fun of watching it pop up in my recommendations…
I get a million adverts for Frozen merch, because one time I bought something with a Frozen theme for my kids’ friend’s birthday. And like, I imagine that the algorithm would be soooo pleased with itself if I told it I have 6yo twin girls… but Frozen is completely passé and beneath contempt in our house these days so despite being immediately adjacent to the group of people who love this shit, my kids would be more disappointed if you got them a Frozen present than if you picked something random out of a hardware catalog.
We’ve got a half door in our house that contains the cat when necessary, but only because there’s a dog on the other side of it she actively wants to avoid, lol.
There is such a thing as a pet gate / kitten gate though – see also https://pethelpful.com/cats/Build-a-free-standing-cat-dog-pet-gate-with-virtually-no-tools
And I’m realising, writing this, that you’re an awesome clever lady who probably thought to Google kitten gates but on the off-chance, I’m gonna post this.
Thank you, and thank YOU Letter Writer for letting me hijack your life crisis with important kitten containment strategies. ❤
The cats that live in my house are all adults, but Keegan, who is a jerk, is also apparently the Most Neglected Little Black Cat In The Universe and he must be ON TOP OF ME when I am sitting down. His brother Chaucer, is apparently the Most Neglected Orange Floof In The Universe and when I am sitting down I am clearly doing so in order to pet him. As you might imagine, this causes…complications…when I am seated at my drawing table trying to Do An Art. My art space has a doorway but no actual door, so I solved the problem by getting a cheap wooden screen door at [Local Home Improvement Store]. If I were really motivated I’d put hooks in the doorframe or use compression rods or something to hold it in place, but so far I’ve managed to secure it using a cleverly placed chair. The cats don’t like it, because heaven forfend I be somewhere they can’t get to me, so there is a great deal of whining and complaining on the other side of the door but it means I can Art without feline “assistance”.
This door: https://www.homedepot.com/p/36-in-x-80-in-Wood-Classic-Screen-Door-WCLA36/206641455
Or maybe… maybe the Silent Loyal Girlfriend Secret Staring Match actually works when you use it on cats? I mean, it has to be good for something, right?
I’ve had good experience with the ssscat–it’s canned air with a motion sensor, it’ll “hiss” at cats when they approach. It doesn’t hurt them, just startles them. My cat is determined to scratch through my door at night (so long, security deposit) so the hisser is My Favorite Thing.
If/when you get a kitten I hope you will post pics of the purrfect package of piecing paws!
Yes, that thing is great, we called it “Robot Mommy!” and it kept Beadie from scratching the bedroom door all night. I will put one near the houseplants for sure.
I don’t want to train them to avoid/never go up the stairs, I just want something simple that blocks them out of certain spaces when we’re asleep or not home.
One note on cat gates and then I promise to talk about the actual letter content:
If getting a gate to control kitten access, make sure the bars of the gate are close enough together that the kittens can’t just slip through. We have several gates for controlling dog access or separating cats, and we discovered that the kitten downstairs could just slip between the bars.
I just saw this cat-proof fence on the internet the other day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8OsM-bQRbY
I don’t think there’s a version for inside your home, but I imagine it wouldn’t be that terrible to try to DIY something like it. Also, the videos of cats trying to get over it are hilarious.
We were super successful containing the kittens with a homemade pet gate consisting of a large (roughly three feet by four) whiteboard and two L-shaped pieces of hardware (whose official name I do not know because I am a hardware dunce) drilled into the wall and pointing downward. The L-thingies created a track along which the whiteboard could slide across the doorway and back — we put a couple of furniture pads on the bottom of it to protect the floor — and the whiteboard itself made a dynamite barrier which the kittens couldn’t see over, and were therefore too nervous to jump blind. They couldn’t balance on the top edge because it was only about 3/4″ wide. Eventually they did learn how to get on top of it for just long enough to jump down the other side, but it took them a full year to do it and by then they weren’t kittens anymore, and were at least somewhat more trustworthy in places like the laundry room.
Nice! We don’t have a doorway, it’s the bottom of a stairway with no door frame, so I think might end up building some version of this, only, taller.
This is amazing.
Just chiming in to provide a solid baby gate – we’ve used these to keep our kids in their bedrooms and keep the cats out (we haven’t screwed it into the walls, so we can mount it at whatever height we need/want). My oldest eventually figured out she could push on the bottom of it and it wound swing up, so she could crawl under it to escape; my youngest hasn’t gotten to that point yet.
We hilariously tried stacking baby gates to keep our two cats who hate each other apart. This was, as mentioned, hilarious. The old lady cat was the one who solved it. I was like you are 14, you are not supposed to be jumping 5 feet, what the hell.
Also, did you see PAWS is looking for fosters? (Not for everyone, just thought I’d mention in case it was not also all over your book face.)
When we were introducing our cats to each other and had to deal with one of them simply leaping over the baby gate, we hung a sheet over the gate. Even though they technically could still just leap over, they never did.
I don’t know if it will work for all cats, perhaps less so if they’re more climbers than leapers, but just throwing it out there!
Cats usually won’t jump blind; they want to be able to see where the going to land. So it can sometimes be really helpful to make the thing they can jump opaque; they can still jump it, but they usually won’t anymore unless there’s an even scarier thing on the side they’re trying to get away from.
So I had to separate some cats once upon a time (they’re best friends now!) and we got these window screens from a resale shop for really tall, narrow windows. It wasn’t perfect and we had to macgyver a way to hold them in place but they filled the whole doorway. The plus side was that the cats could see and smell each other but not yet interact. Maybe that would help? You could still keep an eye on kitties but not let them through.
Just for the Captain, not the LW (unless they also have new kittens) I have kittens for the first time in 18 years, RIP Gus, and have the luxury of having a spare room. I shut them in there every night and have only lost one glass so far. It is the best.
https://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/1/1/640482-safety-1st-easy-install-extra-tall-wide-gate-white.html Off topic, but my cat cannot get over this one. Vertical metal bars are very difficult to scale. Got it for a toddler, keep it for the cat.
(OT, I know, delete at will)
Some people I cat sit for use an art canvas as a door to keep the cat out of a storage area. They covered it in some cute cloth and put hinges on the side, and since it’s so lightweight it’s a pretty simple project. And then some other clients made one of those zigzag standing room dividers out of several narrow art canvases. They come in a variety of sizes, so just wedging the right size of canvas at the bottom of the stairs might work. Then hang it on the wall when you don’t need it anymore. Also I am loving the phrase “kitten containment strategies.” It’s almost like some cosmic yin/yang force– the force of kitten in balance with the force of kitten containment.
Dear Captain Awkward
I will be contributing to your pledge drive, because I WANT you to be a full time writer (please please turn this column into a book?…) AND because I went on a job interview today and yesterday I was reading stuff on here that really, really helped me feel better about it.
also visit Ask A Manager for job stuff if you haven’t! She’s awesome too, in a different way.
I second Angelique’s suggestion that it be a book. Please let it be a book. I’ll buy it.
(And I sent some buckage your way — wish it could be more, but I’m a self-employed writer myownself.)
Thank you so much.
And yes, working on book(s)! ❤
Just throwing a thought out there, but LW your boyfriend is probably feeling sad and confused too. I would definitely notice if my partner had become angry and annoyed at me, but it’s not always easy to divulge the reason for that. You may be thinking “It’s obvious I’m angry because you haven’t followed through on proposing!” but in the hundreds of interactions you two have had over an eight month period… it’s probably not that obvious to your partner.
Is it also possible that he’s sensing that you’re pulling away? That could also be putting a halt on things. Maybe he’s no longer sure you want to be proposed to.
Either way, the Captain is right. You definitely need to have a series of conversations about this, preferably starting today.
Oh yeah, that’s true! Even if you’re not intentionally making a big show of your feelings, sometimes your partner can sense that you’re upset or angry about something, and it can be very frustrating when you can tell when something’s wrong in a relationship but the person isn’t saying anything.
I agree with this 100%. LW, your boyfriend is not a mind reader so it is unfair to expect him to know what you want and how quickly you want it unless you tell him, in plain words.
That said, any couple that’d been together for a decent length of time can tel when the other party is resentful about something. If my boyfriend was being quietly angry and annoyed at me all the time without a determinable source, I’d feel a combination of upset, confused, frustrated, and annoyed. After a while, I’d assume that might be just how he really is, now that we live together — because he started acting like this shortly after we moved in together, and it’s expected you’ll discover new sides to people when you live with them. And then I’d start to weigh whether living with a constant undercurrent of passive aggression and bad communication was something I wanted. Maybe we don’t have good chemistry after all, because he seems so unhappy with me.
Where I once saw a life partner I’d now see the same thing you see in your boyfriend: someone with an expiration date.
Talk to him before you make this a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“your boyfriend is not a mind reader so it is unfair to expect him to know what you want and how quickly you want it unless you tell him, in plain words.” THIIIISSSSS
I think this is a really good point. If he’s sensing that the LW is suddenly tense and angry with him all the time then it wouldn’t be odd for him to be stepping back from any marriage plans he might have.
So true! My husband always knows when something is bothering me – I wouldn’t have married him if he didn’t know me extremely well. If your boyfriend knows you like this, he probably knows that something is up with you, even if he’s not sure what it is. Maybe he’s waiting for you to be ready to talk about whatever it is, because he’s not a mind reader.
Don’t be shy. This isn’t going to be the last big decision you two will have to make together if you do get married, so you need to let him know what’s bothering you. Sit down with him and tell him what’s on your mind, using the Captain’s scripts.
LW, you moved in with him after two months, and you wanted to him to propose marriage after another two months. And you have really intense feelings about progressing to marriage, and about him being the one to do it, and about how all of that influences your sense of self-worth. To me, it sounds like you’re putting a lot of pressure on external things to make you feel good about yourself. It might help to focus on the things in your life that you can control. Then the outcome of this relationship won’t feel so much like life and death.
Sorry, I misread the timeline. You wanted him to propose after about ten months together.
No, you read that right: She expected him to propose after 2-3 months of living together, but it’s now been another 6 months or whatever and he hasn’t. So she *did* want him to propose after another 2 months and has been stewing about it for 6-8.
From the letter it sounds as if he actually told her he was going to propose in that time frame (“he told me this 6-8 months ago”). So, it’s not just a random expectation by the LW but something they appear to have agreed on together. I also think it’s moving pretty fast, but he apparently agreed to the deadline.
People view the stage of “living together” differently – Mr. Awkward and I talked about “Hey if I get a job somewhere in a different city, would you want to go with me because I would like that” only a couple months in, got a place together after about a year, and the discussion then was definitely explicitly “Are we sure we are getting married someday, because if not, we do not have to live together.” We were also 38/39 when we met, pretty sure of what we wanted out of life, etc. Living together wasn’t an exploratory “does this work?” stage, it was a “we know this works, but weddings are expensive and we need time to pull that all together.” We knew about each other pretty quickly, it wasn’t because there was some lack of self-love in our lives.
LW did want the guy to propose early on – and talked about it with him/or he brought it up and gave her a timeline – it all sounds like mutual decisions to me and not some campaign she secretly mounted from the start against his will. It’s just, the timeframe they talked about then didn’t happen and she doesn’t know how to restart the conversation.
FWIW, I know a couple that met when they were both mid-60s and widowed. They married within 45 days of meeting. They were together happily until he died at age 96.
Doing things quickly is ok if you know who you are, what you want, and have excellent communication with a partner. It’s a red flag if you don’t.
The ONLY facts we have in evidence to show us it might be a problem is their ages and their difficulty in communicating.
Aveline, my grandma was widowed for 20 years before randomly running into a former classmate of her late husband – he had just lost his wife after a lengthy illness, and her condolence card sparked a whirlwind romance that saw them married within 6 months. He just passed away yesterday after 8 years of goofy-kid levels of wedded bliss. When you know, you know.
Nope–this feels like a tiny thing to pick over, but it really does contextualize the LW’s frustration, so let’s break it down:
They’ve been together for 16 months. They moved in together after 2 months, so they’ve been living together for 14 months. Six to eight months ago (so they would’ve been living together for also 6-8 months at that point), boyfriend led LW to believe he was planning to propose in 2-3 months. We are now 3-6 months past that implied timeline.
To be clear, ALL of this sounds personally too fast for me, but that’s totally irrelevant–I’m not the one maybe getting married here. As far as I’m aware, proposal after 6-8 months of living together is not off-the-wall.
It does sound fast, but LW and her bf are in their mid 30s. She doesn’t explicitly say it, but perhaps there are biological timelines at play here – if she wants to have kids, her window is closing. And while that’s not a time to be haphazardly throwing your ovaries at random men in the street, a year and a half is plenty of time to get to know someone and figure out compatibility.
I was thinking that about ages, too. Even if they don’t want kids, they still know their own minds better than your average 21yo, so all the speed isn’t as alarming.
I’m baffled by why he “led [her] to believe that he would propose marriage in the time frame of two or three months.” What’s with the whole telling-someone-you’re-going-to-propose thing? I’ve heard similar stories from acquaintances and I can’t figure it out. If you know you’re going to propose to someone…and you’re even telling your partner that you’re getting ready to propose…isn’t that a proposal?
I mean, I understand having the marriage talk and then waiting for the right moment to do the “real” proposal if big, splashy proposals are your thing. I also understand the concept of talking about marriage, but not yet being 100% sure that you want to marry that person. But in my mind, “I definitely want to marry you, but I’m going to wait an indefinite period of time to propose” means “I’m stalling because I’m not sure if I actually want to marry you.”
I mean there a bunch of potential reasons for this. The person may want to save up for a more expensive ring, they might be in the middle of a career change, going back to school or finishing school, they may have other personal, logistical or financial things going on that they want to take care of.
Before I got engaged, H and I spoke about a timeline both for getting engaged and getting married (about how long we’d like to be engaged/wedding planning, waiting until I was out of grad school for the wedding), and looked at rings together.
I know that a lot of people think that it’s ridiculous to a) spend $x on a ring or wedding or b) want a specific type of proposal/engagement/wedding but we were both on the same page and cool with it.
We were significantly younger than OP, so stuff like money/school/job security may not be as pressing or relevant but not outside the realm of possibility.
I don’t think that LW’s timeline or expectations are necessarily inappropriate, and neither are her partner’s. The issue is that it doesn’t seem to have been clearly communicated between the two of them, and it’s not really feasible to have a proposal/engagement that’s both 100% a surprise and 100% in your control!
I tend to read that as, “I’m potentially interested in marrying you – I don’t see anything at this point that means I definitely don’t want to marry you – but I don’t feel ready to make that commitment now. I expect that if we’re still together in [timeframe], I will feel ready to marry you, becasue we will have had a long enough time to establish compatibility, and if we didn’t break up, it means we did establish compatibility.”
While this certainly CAN be used to delay a rejection in bad faith, someone might also miss zir stated deadline because ze was simply and honestly WRONG about what ze would need to feel comfortable actually committing to a marriage. If it happens repeatedly, then the degree of good faith wanes – even if the person is still not intentionally stringing the other along, ze would ideally have the self awareness to recognize that ze may never feel ready or that ze doesn’t actually know what ze needs to feel ready (barring that, hopefully the other party notices and calls things off if ze wishes to marry, especially soon).
I don’t get this whole “Let’s plan on getting engaged in X months” thing either. If you’ve already agreed to become engaged, that means you’ve agreed to get married (right?). And if you’ve agreed that you’re going to get married, you’re already engaged. A ring, a down-on-one-knee-moment, a sky-written “Will you marry me?”…that’s all just frills. The only essential element of getting engaged is a “yes” answer to the question “Shall we get married? To each other, I mean.”
A friend of mine has a BIL who, with his GF, picked a tentative wedding date and were shopping for venues…but still said that they weren’t engaged! WTH? It’s like the…the performance was more important than the commitment. I just don’t get it.
I used to not get it either (I still sometimes don’t in certain cases), but then that wound up being basically what my husband and I did. We were both in agreement that we wanted to get married, he was clear that a proposal would be forthcoming, we eventually went ring shopping together, etc. He was kind of waiting to just get all the pieces in place for the proposal (he spent a year writing me a book for the proposal, so he wanted to finish that up and get it printed). I think most couples who marry are eventually at an engagement limbo place in the relationship where they are both very much planning to marry but just aren’t officially engaged yet (or are engaged but not married yet). It’s just that people spend varying amounts of time in that stage.
I misread it that way too, so thanks for catching it!
I’m still not sure sixteen months is in “wasted my good years with this dude” territory, but it’s definitely a lot more reasonable.
LW, what constitutes a reasonable period before marriage is something that varies between people. If he’s not there quite yet, then he isn’t there yet, and it doesn’t mean he never will be, but you can find out his thoughts on this by talking to him. Your timeline is not the One True Path to eternal wedded bliss, working together as a partnership towards a collaborated future is.
I reckon she should talk to bf about her imaginary friend Susan who was with a guy for rights years waiting… and hoping… and finally 2016 Feb 29 came round and she asked him, and he said that he always thought he could, but he really couldn’t see himself getting married in the foreseeable. And ever since imaginary Susan told LW that, LW has lived in fear of it.
I also wonder whether your age is part of why you’re stressing (because you mention it, not because I think you have any need to stress!). I’m 35, and while I’m aware that society overblown the “females over 30 fertility last-chance saloon” thing, if I were looking to marry a good man and have two or three sprogs, I might be feeling differently.
I don’t think making up a story about a friend who doesn’t exist is a useful idea. It just seems like a way of pretending that none of LW’s feelings are her own, and that the only reason she would want to get married is because of something she saw happen to someone else. It’s okay to value things for yourself and not just because other people do; an imaginary friend does not need to validate one’s desires.
I’m with callmeindigo – I really dislike the “making up the fictional person with the same problem” approach for difficult conversations for a bunch of reasons.
1) It removes agency and makes it seem like the feelings are something to be ashamed of or displaced instead of owned.
2) It’s sooooooooooooo transparent when someone is doing this. Like “asking for a friend” is a cliche for a reason. 😛
My fear on behalf of LW is that when he indicated he would propose soon he was in the heady new-romance-giddy stage and now he’s not so sure he wants to get married. (and not necessarily any reflection on LW. Could be simply time and better understanding of his emotions, or he realizes he simply doesn’t want to be married at all to anyone, or anything.)
LW, all the more reason to Use Your Words. You are entitled to know if he has changed his mind. I know that would hurt terribly, but if that’s the case, find out sooner rather than later so you can heal and move on.
Best of luck!
Alternatively he said “A few months” and LW interpreted it as 2-3 and he was thinking more. But either way, the solution is the same. Have a conversation about what they both want. A proposal is no substitute for that, because a discussion is ultimately what everyone needs, whether instead of or as well as a proposal, even if it is less romantic.
Completely agree: discussion is needed.
Maybe it’s because I don’t get proposals*, but I cannot imagine getting married without talking it over, to be sure you’re both on the same page, and if you’ve together decided you want to get married, what’s the point of waiting for one to “ask” the other?
But then, much of what passes for “romantic” strikes me as silly.
This is so close to how I feel. I feel like if you’ve ‘decided to get engaged soon’, then… you already are engaged??
But then most supposedly ‘romantic’ gestures ring false to me, personally, and many I would find offputting or alienating if directed at me. I’d be far more moved by the intimacy of a genuine conversation.
But OTOH I do understand rituals having a deep meaning when it is one that you DO care about. The ‘engagement’ one isn’t one that happens to have any meaning for me, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t many others that do.
I had a problem with that in two previous relationships… I see a proposal as asking someone “hey, do you want to marry me?” and I don’t know how to ask if they want to marry me ahead of time because that’s what proposing is? The end result was a lot of vague conversations about the theoretical virtues of marriage
The way I see it, proposing isn’t just asking “do you want to marry me?”; there’s also an implied or stated “I definitely want to if you do.” That means there’s also plenty of room for conversation-openers about marriage that aren’t proposals in themselves because they’re more like “I’m starting to think I might want to marry you; what are your thoughts about that?”
Yeah, I see it like AllanV. For me, Would You Want to Get Married someday conversations happen as a series of discussions over time rather than as one official moment where you’ve decided you are officially getting married, which is what the engagement is to me. Like my husband and I had talked with each other about lots of marriage-related things over the course of a couple of years and then actually went for premarital counseling before we got engaged. It’s hard to say when the moment is that you’ve both made up your mind that you would definitely like to marry each other; you just eventually are aware that you’re both there. After that, the proposal could be as romantic or not as the people involved want it to be. Anything from a big, pulling-out-all-the-stops romantic gesture to just a simple conversation of “Do you want to officially do this? Okay then, let’s do it. We’re engaged!”
Ask him! (Or tell him, like my wife did, you need him to ask you explicitly.)
Don’t walk away without doing one of those things!
I am sure people are going to comment that “16 months isn’t long etc etc etc” but i have no standing on that since we got married a year after we met. I talked a lot about marriage and my wife said she needed to be asked with a ring and so that’s what I did.
I can’t pretend the Stuff isn’t a ton of pressure internally and externally. But on this I think you’ve got to take a bit of a leap to voicing these needs directly. I wish you luck.
You don’t need to propose, but you should speak up! Tell him you’re ready to get engaged, you want it to happen soon, and you’d like him to be the one to officially propose. Also mention that if he isn’t feeling as ready as you are, and he needs more time to figure it out, or just wants to delay that step for one reason or another, you’d like him to say so.
I had this conversation last month. I told my boyfriend I felt ready for that next step, and I wasn’t proposing to him in that moment, I wasn’t in a hurry, I was more giving him the green light and kinda feeling out his own feelings on the topic. It was scary to bring it up, but he seemed pleased at the idea, and he hasn’t run away screaming yet.
In this day and age, it’s fine to stick to certain gendered traditions if you so choose, like letting the man do the asking, but you do need to be open and communicate clearly about your wants, your needs, and your expectations around the relationship you’re in, and while we should expect the same of our partners, it doesn’t hurt to invite them to share feelings about something important to you, or any time something feels off.
Thank you for putting it so well
My SO and I discussed getting married pretty organically, and it was really nice to be honest! We were able to plan it out. We picked out the ring together, and we planned it so he proposed on our 2nd anniversary.
Neither of us like public displays of affection OR surprises, so this worked beautifully for us on many levels. But the key, imo, was that we were on the same page the entire time. No guesswork or angst or quiet fuming. That’s not good for anyone!
This this this! My husband is great and wants to do things for me, but he’s not always great at knowing what I want or how I want it, and it helps him a lot if I just tell him. And that works in reverse, too–I don’t always know what he wants, but I’m glad when he tells me there’s something I can do or that he wants. Use your words to get what you want. No one is a mind reader, and there are so many different ways people can be about these things that it’s just better to have a conversation. It doesn’t even have to be a Conversation.
For relevant to the LW examples, when we would talk about getting married and that kind of stuff, I was like “I definitely want you to propose to me, but if you do it in front of my family and/or a zillion people, I will say no, because I am not cool with that approach at all.” And I was like “I want to be surprised by my ring, but let’s look at some together so you know what kind of styles I like. Also I really do not want a diamond, and I am totally cool with lab-created stones.”
Captain, thank you for the pledge drive reminder! I am really psyched to be able to contribute this year–barely a dent given the amount of Awkward content I’ve read and shared and recommended since 2011, but I look forward to being reminded again.
Thank you! This is a scary and wonderful time – basically, the blog is how I’m making my living at least until the end of the year – while I try to get some book proposals out the door. It’s so much appreciated.
If you put an overhang, coming in towards the cat side, they won’t be able to make it over the top of the gate. People usually do it for decks, but it seems like it could work on the small scale also. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/85990674114278187/
Fostered three kittens for about four months, so some kitten-mama experience speaking: that’ll work right up until they start jumping onto the overhang to pull themselves to the other side.
So I worked myself into a mess cause I’d been expecting a proposal for almost 6 months and it kept not happening. I talked to him and the only holdup was he wanted to propose on the top of our favorite mountain. (It’s a 15 mile hike and only climbable 5-7 months out of the year.)
I told him I didn’t want to wait for that, and he proposed within the next few weeks by the river with a lovely picnic
Ooh, that’s a good point – he might have said 2-3 months and then belatedly realised that he wants to propose on a specific date/at a specific place/under specific circumstances that take time to book or organise.
Then he could use his words and say so.
I’m surprised that so many commenters igore this.
The boyfriend said he’d propose in a month or two. Eight months later he has neither proposed, nor explained why, nor brought up marriage.
This is not an example of poor communication on the LW’s part.
This is a very good point: the LW isn’t crazy or making things up. They had both talked about marriage, and he’s apparently not talking about it anymore and she’s making herself nuts over it.
I said to fiancé “how long were you planning on waiting after the ring gets here to propose? Because I’m telling you now I am VERY IMPATIENT” and he said “what would be ‘too long’?” and I said “a month. I can’t take more than a month” and he said “I promise you that I will definitely propose within a month of the ring arriving”.
He proposed the next week, because he had a specific moment in mind. 🙂
Yeah, I have to say I would expect him to say so.
We organically talked about getting married but my husband wanted the formal proposal to be a surprise. The moment he picked was really significant and awesome, but “felt” like a long time after our conversation to me.
I checked in on it with him about a month before he actually did it, and he promised it was in the works and there was a plan.
If he’d told me it would be before the end of summer, then suddenly found THE PERFECT idea for December, I would have expected him to give me some “sooooo I want to do it later than I said because I got an even better idea and I’m really psyched about it but go ahead and start looking for venues for next summer as planned and we’ll just have a short engagement.” And if it really, really bothered me, I’m sure I would have felt comfortable asking him to stick to his first timeline.
And all of this is more talking than LW and her BF have been able to do. I completely, completely understand how those cultural narratives are stepping hard on her tongue, but I think she’s gotta.
But a significant moment isn’t an excuse when you already told the surprise-ee a timeline. If he wanted to change the timeline (within reason), I’m sure he could have told LW the new timeline and how excited he was about his plan and how much he knew she’d love it.
Oooh, that’s potentially something to consider, or at least remind oneself before digging even deeper into massive unhappiness. We’d had the “I love you and want to marry you, do you want that with me?”/”I think I do but I’m not sure I’m quite ready yet” conversation and agreed that when he did feel ready, he would let me know by proposing. We went ring shopping that September. My husband wanted to (and did) wait for the first snowfall of the season to propose.
Which didn’t happen until mid-January.
We’d been dating for over 6 years at that point so a few more months weren’t terribly significant in the overall timeline, but waiting for a “special moment” certainly delayed things by a significant amount.
I had a similar miscommunication with my now-husband! We experienced a little bit of relationship friction when I said that I expected to be engaged before we went home to see family at Christmas, and he wasn’t on board. He ended up proposing two months before the trip home, and he admitted that he initially resisted my request because he was planning to propose at our alma mater, which is near our family. *facepalm* Super sweet idea, which I trampled all over with my deadline. Oh well! He proposed in an incredibly sweet and spontaneous way in our apartment on a random Saturday, and we get a chuckle out of me “ruining” his awesome proposal idea.
This happened to my soon-to-be SIL. She and my BIL had an agreed-upon timeline, they picked out a ring, and then…crickets. For six months. It turns out he had very much internalized the message that the proposal must be Story Worthy (as opposed to the proposal being the story), and was waiting until they could take a spontaneous three-day weekend to do Romantic Things. Except, they’re both super busy so spontaneous three-day weekends don’t happen. SIL was starting to get increasingly frustrated and worried, and finally asked what was going on, and BIL finally said he needed three days. Which she immediately carved out the following week. The wedding is later this year.
Mr. Awkward’s sister advised him to plan to a) crash the stage at a storytelling event I was performing at and tell a story where he proposed at the end of it or B) crash one of my classes when I was teaching and incorporate my students somehow.
Mr. Awkward knows me and knows that I don’t like surprises, I don’t like being interrupted when I’m doing something else, and the thought of lots of people LOOKING AT ME during something like that might create a shame grenade that flattened entire neighborhoods. I’m also particular about accessories and would want some say in a piece of jewelry I would be planning to wear for decades.
So we designed a ring together (after many conversations) and nobody was ambushed into life choices. Good story!
Never crash a class to propose to the professor!! Eek.
Glad you got the proposal/entrance into engagement that you wanted 🙂
OMG I can’t even imagine. Aside from the whole issue of potentially messing with someone’s cultivated persona as an instructor, how rude to sideline the reason those 8 to 200 people are there for and turn it into your personal performance! I mean, I guess if it was a psych class you could make it an object lesson in bad impulse control or narcissism disorders but otherwise *shudder*
Ugh. Never crash ANY professional endeavor or achievement for a proposal to a woman. It could derail her career for YEARS.
Yeah, if a partner crashed my class to propose to me, I’d probably curse them out so throuroughly, the kids would never forget the vocabulary for family members and bodily functions again. It’s hard enough to keep high-school students engaged in learning Spanish without that kind of distracting bullshit.
And that’s why you married Mr. Awkward and not his sister 🙂 I love hearing tales of when people’s partners demonstrate an intimate knowledge of their chosen person. It makes my heart happy.
My sister’s engagement was Story Worthy, in that it became a brief story I told in the speech I gave at her wedding. Her husband had asked for my help in organizing a proposal and asked my opinion about surprising her at a bar for a mini, immediate engagement party with a huge group of friends. I was all “psh, ew, no. That sounds overwhelming and she’d probably hate it. Maybe do something else?” Sis and I are bff’s, super close, etc… Figured I was a good assessor of her preferences.
But he organized that party anyway, and she loved it. It was her favorite part of an overall generally lovely day. Because even though I know my sister and love her, her husband knows and loves her best, you know? That’s why she married him and isn’t living a Sister Spinster life in adjoining duplexes with me (even though that would be THE BOMB).
Best wedding story I ever heard: My partner’s son was invited with a bunch of other friends to a surprise birthday party for a buddy’s girlfriend. When they’d all assembled, the buddy said “the surprise is on YOU guys because this isn’t a birthday party — we’re getting married, and you are all the witnesses.”
In Alaska you can get a license to officiate at a wedding* pretty easily. They’d had a friend do that in advance, and they got married and had a kickass party afterward. Not only were the invitees delighted to be part of such a fun and special event, there was no dithering about things like showers, bachelor parties, gifts and the like. Just two people who wanted to be married with their pals there.
I love that story.
*When my daughter was 18 a couple of her friends wanted to marry over winter break and asked her to do the honors. She got the license and married them at the “Tupperware Palace” (her friend’s mom was a dealer). When she went back to college in January she had the best “what I did over winter break” story of them all: “I officiated at a wedding.”
@Donna Freedman: that is exactly how I would want to do it. Big Party + Surprise!
So glad your husband ignored your SIL’s terrible advice! What is it with people who think manjacking women’s achievements to propose is a good idea?
OMG, that sounds like my own personal nightmare. Also my mom’s nightmare–her first boyfriend proposed to her in front of her entire family on Christmas. She felt like she had to say yes in the moment because she felt ambushed and didn’t know how to say no in front of everyone without humiliating him. The next time she saw him, she gave him the ring back along with a piece of her mind.
I’ve always been grateful to my mom for telling me that story, because it helped me grow up knowing it’s okay to say no to someone even if it really embarrasses the person asking.
The “Public Proposal Ambush” thing can honestly be read as an abusive tactic–you CAN’T say no. Not that everybody who’s done this is an abuser, of course, but seriously, why add that kind of pressure onto a private moment?
OMG I just did a full body cringe at those ideas! Somebody cut off the SIL’s netflix romcom stream, stat!
I kind of love the idea of the “Story-Worthy” part of an engagement being how many ways one’s sweetie did NOT ignore everything they know about their sweetie. Yay Captain and Mr Awkward!
One of the first things I told Mr. Bells on a date was that I never EVER want the waiters to sing Happy Birthday to me in a restaurant. He very intelligently extrapolated this to mean that a public proposal would also be a Very Bad Idea.
His actual proposal? He called me from work one day and said “Want to go have lunch and then go ring shopping?” 15 years later I am very happy with that.
side-eyeing your SIL: wtf?
Like surprises or note, crash proposing like that is so disrespectful as to be grounds for saying no.
Mr. Jules’ and my engagement was one day, realizing that we’d been talking about where we’d like to retire and one of us saying, ‘we should probably get married somewhere before then’. We mentioned it a few more times, including ‘hey, maybe we should marry in Vegas since we’re driving near there’ / ‘Do they have a drive-through Gandalf?’ / ‘No, and we can’t afford the Merlin with the Dragon’ . Then I got a surprise half day off work during my first week, came home, and said, ‘They’re making me do insurance paperwork, and I can’t include you unless we’re married. If we have to do this paperwork again, you’re doing it. Want to get married instead?’ We were married by nightfall.
Not for everybody, but it worked really well for us. The ability to tell each other the truth and trust that we’re hearing the truth is the core of our relationship.
That’s my kind of proposal and marriage
I like your style.
That’s my ideal.
If he also has a relatively traditional view of marriage and proposals, is it possible that he’s waiting until he can afford a sufficiently-pricey ring/ set up Just The Right Circumstances/etc? As the Captain says, you can have the prosaic do-we-want-to-get-married conversation and still include what sort of fancy proposal you both want to happen.
It doesn’t even need to be this complicated! I’ve been engaged for 4 years (!); at first the lack of marriage was because my SO did not feel right getting married before he’d finished school and gotten a good job (which just happened earlier this year). Now it’s because even with the good job, he’s not getting paid as much as he should. I’m on Medicaid and will lose it if we get married, but putting me on him insurance plan would cost so much he’d be taking home LESS than he was when he had a shitty job.
Romantic? Hardly. But financial stability and health insurance is more important. (I’m chronically ill). For us the engagement was the important thing; the marriage is just legal stuff we can deal with later. Not being married has zero effect on how much we love each other.
It’s possible that boyfriend might feel self conscious about a lack of income/inability to “provide”, even if he is not a traditionalist. Or maybe he has some other personal milestone he wants to meet before he gets married. And the spectre of wedding planning is very real, if boyfriend assume LW will want to get hitched within X time after the engagement. All these things could be huuuuge, valid factors in why he’s put it on the sidelines for now.
So, LW, ask your boyfriend what HE wants, what his plans are, and try to find common ground. But also ask yourself — is the actual marriage/wedding that is important? Or do you just want the commitment of an engagement? Because getting engaged + waiting a while before you actually tie the know is fine — maybe even smarter, in some cases — especially if you’re waiting for a specific reason. 🙂
Yes it’s possible that the boyfriend has some kind of man pain pride thing that prevents proposing. He could say that.
That he hasn’t said anything six months past the timeline they discussed would concern me too.
Fair point! I’ve heard people say that you should propose with a ring that costs six week’s wages (or three months, or or or) and that’s actually a lot of money.
Though this also bullshit unless the rings the person getting the ring likes are in that category and the person buying the ring (or the couple, if they’re already financially intertwined) is willing to spend that much. My engagement ring is a small, flat emerald on a very simple gold band. My husband’s is a pale jade cachabon on a flat filigree gold setting and was actually marketed as a women’s ring. We were in college when we got engaged, and neither ring was more than $150.
Yes, for sure. Sorry, I should have specified that it’s not an actual Etiquette Requirement Thing. Just that if her boyfriend has decided to follow that “rule”, it could be a reason for the delayed timeframe. Or not! Communication is the only way to find out.
That idea was started by the marketing department of De Beers diamond company 🙂 Like, seriously. That’s where it came from.
When they realized it had worked, they upgraded it from one month’s wages to two months’ wages, and that worked too.
Oh yes, I should have specified that it’s completely arbitrary number designed to sell stuff. Not an actual etiquette rule or whatever. Also, personally, I would prefer that my partner discussed such a large expense with me. (And I actually would love a super blingy stone, but even so.)
In my opinion all big relationship decisions should be a discussion and mutual decision between partners, this includes marriage.
I can not imagine not talking about it and agreeing it is a good idea before the proposal.
(One of the reasons I hate surprise public proposal where there is so much pressure to say ‘Yes’)
Also, it’s possible that you can talk about it and ask him without ASKING him. Like, I was in a similar position, where I felt like my relationship wasn’t moving forward and I just did ask my now-husband, and he said that yes, he wanted to marry me, but he wanted to be the one to do the Official Asking, and so asked me to wait so he could make it into a special thing that he wanted it to be.
As an aside to the captain, you can get a decent cheap baby gate at target, and as someone who got baby gates for the same reason (keeping kitties to one half of the house), I’d recommend getting two, because cats can jump much better than babies. I got two and put one above the other to make a taller barrier.
“cats can jump much better than babies.” Bwahahahahahahaha, that made my day!
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get married and I agree that the whole “spend your entire life working towards this goal while simultaneously being SO CHILL ABOUT IT lest you startle the male and scare him into flying away, and why are you dating a giant crane, anyway?” is bullshit.
However, there is a difference between wanting to be married in an abstract sense and wanting to be married to a particular person. For some people I know, needing to be married by X age was more important than who they actually got married to. I will keep any editorial comments about how well those marriages are doing to myself (spoiler alert – not well).
Your future is important. I spent nearly a decade with someone who, it turns out, didn’t feel the same way about me as I did about him because we never talked about the future, because the future was BIG and SCARY and I should just let things take care of themselves and be CHILL about it. So I ended up in a relationship that went on for wayyyy longer than it should have, because I bought his narrative that we should just never talk about the future because Reasons.
I was just getting on here to say this. The LW does seem to love her boyfriend, but this letter sounds much more like a fixation on getting married, period, than marrying this guy because he’s definitely The One. They haven’t actually been together that long–a little over a year. It’s not unreasonable at all that he hasn’t proposed, but she seems extremely anxious for this to proceed RIGHT NOW AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, which is kind of unnerving, and I can’t help but wonder if he’s either (quite reasonably) just not quite ready yet or if he’s actively hesitant because she’s so frantic.
Also I really like rings and engagement rings. I really wanted one. I don’t actually want to get married, but I’m in a serious relationship. So I bought some engagement rings! I have some fun Swarovski ones and some beautiful vintage ones and a few vintage or second-hand wedding bands. So I wear a wedding and engagement ring set most days even though I am neither engaged nor married.
Same. I call mine my “not actually a wedding ring” – it is a wedding ring by design, and I wear it on the third finger of my left hand (also by design), but Partner and I have no plans to actually get married. I wear it because I love the ring itself, and because I love the idea of wearing a ring to symbolize this particular relationship.
LW, I wish you all sorts of warm and wonderful things in your relationship with your boyfriend. I agree with the Captain and others that your best bet is to sit down and talk to him about what you want. It’ll be scary as all hell, of course, but which is scarier? A – the idea of having the conversation and knowing what your boyfriend wants (even if it’s not what you want – at least you *know* and can begin to make plans), or B – not having the conversation at all, not expressing your wants, not knowing what he wants, and eventually breaking up because neither of you knew what the other one wanted.
I’m not you, of course, so I don’t know how you would answer that question. But for me, I would 100% choose having the scary conversation over not having the scary conversation, because the outcome of not having it would be so much worse.
I read it differently. I read the letter as she wants kids, with a husband, before she’s in her forties.
That’s not desperation.
Yeah, I was surprised that she didn’t mention kids in the letter, but it’s no great leap to think that a woman in her early 30s with a traditional attitude to marriage and a tight deadline would be thinking about kids. And it is not a lot of time if you want 2 or more kids, if you want to space them out, and if you don’t yet know whether making a baby is going to be problem free.
I feel like age needs to be a factor; relationships seem to move a lot faster when older. Dating for over a year doesn’t seem that long at 25, but seems a TON longer at 33. (I am 33.) Wanting to have kids might also be a factor. Fertility does become an issue after 35; doing the math, if I get engaged like right now, it’ll still probably be 6 months to a year before the wedding (given how difficult wedding planning can be, if you’re trying to find a big enough venue and specific caterers and what not), so now I’m sitting at 34, and we’re tipping ever closer to the “danger age” absolutely everyone screams at women about. Plus, at this age, a lot more stuff like personality, life goals and career are solid, so “settling” into a relationship seems to go a lot faster.
TLDR; if I want kids, and don’t have the money for fertility treatments, relationship timelines get much more condensed.
And I totally recognize that I have the luxury of time because I’m not having children. Most of my girlfriends want children, and we’re getting into our mid-thirties and the conversations are becoming a lot more fraught because the reality is that you don’t have unlimited time to have children, especially if you have fertility concerns or don’t want to count on IVF.
This goes back to my earlier point – your future is IMPORTANT! And if you are with a partner that is making you feel like asking to talk about the future somehow makes you the Not Chill Girl, that person is not a great partner! After going through that experience with my previous long-term boyfriend, I added “refuses to talk about the future” to my list of red flags. (Also? This guy literally said the “future was like a fog” to him. I am a planner by nature. It was not going to work out.)
Yes, the future can be scary. Ignoring doesn’t make it less scary or go away.
I agree, though I wonder if her concern (which is one that I share) is that they have already discussed the future, and while nothing outwardly has changed, the future is not materializing. I have a long history of being labeled a “nag”, and several boyfriends have told me I have such a “strong” personality that my even *mentioning* a topic becomes them feeling obligated to say yes. LW mentions several times that she fears making her boyfriend feel pressured or forced; when there’s already been discussion, trying to thread that needle between being assertive but not pressuring can feel daunting, especially if you’re already apparently a “nag” by nature like me. It feels really awful to bring up a topic, and have your partner sigh and say “We’ve *already* discussed this, why are you being so needy about this?”
I dunno, I relate hard to this letter so may not be objective, but there’s this super strong cultural message that if you’re a nag or “too needy”, you’ll turn ANY “reasonable” man against marrying you (ie, you’ll never find a partner because the problem is you and wanting things too much), so if there’s already been a discussion, you can never bring it up again without being labeled as desperate or “only wanting marriage, why are you so stuck on marriage, why isn’t just being in a relationship enough”, etc. etc.
Your fog-future guy reminds me of an ex-boyfriend of mine. After four years together, he refused to tell me if he had even the slightest inkling to perhaps someday eventually marry me. All he would say if I asked about it was “It’s not even on my radar right now.” I finally broke it off at the four years and nine months mark (much later than I should have). If you can’t even tell me whether your current vision of the future includes me in some capacity, then what are we still doing here?
You’re not wrong, but the timeline stuff can get kind of tricky because there’s no going back to a younger age, you know? I’m mid-30s, married, and we both want kids. Unfortunately, some pretty significant health/psych stuff has meant that we have to delay longer than I would have liked, and there was a time when it was truly unclear if staying married was going to be possible for us. We’re working on it, and neither of us knows what’s going to happen, but what we do know if that the ship of “kids at [anything younger than Age + 9 months] has sailed, never to return. Nobody gets to just magic a spouse and pregnancy into existence when they want it.
Which isn’t to minimize the potential distress or difficulty. Just, don’t put a lot of weight on things happening on The Only Timeline, because you can’t promise that to yourself.
I know you know this, but I just want to reassure you that being over 35 does not mean you automatically need fertility treatments. Everybody I know who needed medical intervention to get pregnant was under 30 at the time.
Your risk factors for some potential issues go up by a few percentage points, and the time that’s considered “normal” to try before concieving goes up a little.
Your ovaries are not bananas. They don’t go from perfectly fine to spoiled overnight.
(From an older mom surrounded by older mom friends)
Yes! I can’t find the original article I read a few years ago, pointing out that the widely shared idea of plummeting fertility post-30 was based on 18th-century data and ill-considered assumptions, but here’s another one: https://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/10/that-fertility-cliff-it-may-be-more-of-a-gentle-slope/
I was Very Angry after reading it, and think it should be issued to all possibly-child-wanting people before they start on the existential panic.
Yes that’s true – having babies in your late 30s or even early 40s isn’t that out there anymore – gone are the days where it was presumed our ovaries shrivelled up on our 35th birthday. In fact, Rachel Weisz is 48 and pregnant!
I’m now in my early 30s and single, and I remember a big break-up I had when I was about 27, and even THEN I had a concern troll friend talking about how I’d better find someone quick if I wanted to have kids, because my fertility was about to dive off a cliff.
Having babies in your early 40s is in no way a ‘new thing’. Not according to my family tree, or to any research I’ve ever seen.
Without birth control, women WILL keep having babies up until menopause. The frequency goes down somewhat, but there have always been A LOT of women in their 40s, especially early forties, having babies, since as long as the human species has been around. Plenty of my ancestors both far back and recently were born to a 40+ mother!
What’s changed is they are no longer the 5th baby, they’re now often the first. Which does make a big difference.
If you have e.g. a 50/50 chance of having a fifth baby (I picked that number out of the air BTW), it’s a different discussion than having a 50/50 chance of having a first baby.
I’m sure some parents WERE devasted by not being able to have that fifth baby (especially if some of the earlier ones died, or even if they were hoping for a certain gender). But it’s different from not being able to have a first baby.
So people generally are WAY more conservative about the risk of not being able to have a first baby at 40 compared to the risk of not being able to have a fifth (or more) baby at 40.
But having a baby at 40 has always been pretty ‘normal’, for as long as there have been humans. Just that not being able to have (another) at 40 has also always been ‘normal’.
There’s no such thing as THE ONE! There is “this guy is great and I love him and we’re compatible and I want to make this work with him” (or her, or pronoun of your choice!). LW is definitely old enough to know what she wants, and there is NOTHING wrong with that!
I mean… maybe? But I knew after 6 months of dating that I wanted to marry my now-husband, and we got engaged after about a year and a half of dating, and I was a lot younger, and probably less sure of what I wanted in life generally, than the LW here. They’ve been together for not quite a year and a half, and they’ve lived together for nearly all of that time. This is not an unreasonably-fast timeline for getting engaged, especially for people in their mid-30s.
I also think, in general, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be married! There are some other comments here suggesting that the LW sounds more interested in “being married, in general” than in “marrying This Guy In Particular,” and some of them implying that that’s bad or something she needs to examine and change, and… like, what if she is? It seems like people are suggesting that, if her top choice in life is Marry This Guy In Particular, then her second choice should be “stay with this guy as unmarried life partners,” and the fact that her second choice actually is “be sad about this guy, but move on and seek another partner who will want to marry me” suggests that maybe she was never serious about loving this guy in the first place. But, like… if you really, really want to be married, and your partner really, really doesn’t, you are incompatible in a significant way, and you might not be willing to compromise on it, and that’s not a problem in your approach to relationships that needs to be fixed.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting a serious relationship to result in marriage, or ending a relationship because you have different goals. But what, exactly, is the identity “married” independent of some particular relationship? It has no inherent qualities of its own.
I think it’s more the idea that the LW wants to be in a “permanent” relationship (as much as that’s possible for anyone), and her definition of “permanent” includes marriage. I understand that feeling; to me, making a legal commitment is part of how I define being “life partners.” I don’t care how anyone else defines that for themselves, but I wanted to be with someone who had the same definition.
In the US, marriage gives couples over a thousand legal rights that other couples don’t have.
If that were so, marriage equality would not be important.
Jennlinkskyb and MrsMorley, yes, obviously, but I was talking about identity, not legal logistics, and replying to a comment about just wanting to “be married” in general, independent of the particular relationship, so I guess I thought between the two things the context was clear enough. If it was somehow possible to be married without a spouse, the legal rights granted by marriage would be meaningless – they are all rights granted to transactions or interactions between two people.
The commenter I was replying to was positing some value to “being married” as, I guess, a social status? I’m questioning what they think that value actually is.
Or maybe a better way to say what I’m trying to get at:
“There are some other comments here suggesting that the LW sounds more interested in “being married, in general” than in “marrying This Guy In Particular,” and some of them implying that that’s bad or something she needs to examine and change, and… like, what if she is?”
You can’t just “be married” without being married *to* someone. That’s the so what, and why people pipe up when it seems like someone is more concerned with the label of married than they are with their relationship.
Marriage is a public social status. It’s (potentially) a union of families.
Cohabitation and commitment are private.
For lots of people these are huge differences.
@MuddieMae, I apologize for what autocorrect did to your name.
@MuddieMae, I’m not positing some kind of objective value to “being married”. I’m just noting that some people do value it highly, and would rather leave a partner, even one they love, who isn’t interested in it to find someone who is than stay with that person without getting married, and that that’s not, like, an objectively wrong approach to relationships or revealing of some inner insecurity or something, as I feel some comments are implying.
I don’t personally value marriage super highly! I do value stability, but if my dude had said he felt strongly about not getting married, but that he’d be happy to live with me as committed unmarried partners for the rest of our lives, I’d probably have been fine with that. My impression of the people I know who do value marriage very highly is that, as @correcthorsebatterystaple said, a relationship doesn’t feel stable or “permanent” to them unless marriage is in the cards. But I also don’t think it really matters — if the LW wants to conduct her relationships with a goal of finding someone to marry, that’s fine, regardless of whether you and I think “being married” is a status that has inherent value.
Every guy I’ve ever been serious about, I knew within 6mo of dating.
You nailed what I was thinking.
(I got a “can’t post your reply” and don’t see it, so trying again)
It reads like LW’s trying to prove their case and if it goes her way, the findings will be Guilty and Now You Must Marry. I really hope LW and the man aren’t overwhelmed by family pressures. Him paying your health insurance sounds like duty… don’t settle, LW. Live your life for your happiness and reaching your life goals. If he’s along, you will know it.
commander Banana is kind of going where I was going. There is a big difference between a wedding and a marriage. If the only thing you’re basing your feelings on is some arbitrary timeline, then stop! You only want a wedding. But if a marriage is really what you want, and if you’re too nervous to have the whole “where is this relationship really going” conversation, then break it up into chunks. Start a conversation about money. REally get into where each of you stand on money, savings, spending. Maybe a week or so later start another conversation about kids. How do you both really feel about having them, how many to have, and how long to wait before trying. Maybe another week later you talk about your career goals. Do you both really want to stay where you are? Would one of you need to go back to school? Etc. Have those conversations, over time, about the big issues that can make or break a marriage. Money, kids, religion, family relationships, future goals and so on.
If your guy is afraid to formally propose marriage, maybe these conversations will reassure him that he really is ready and that you’re both a great match. Or, they may reveal that you’re focusing way too much on having a wedding and that this guy actually wouldn’t make for a solid marriage.
Amazing checklist I wish I’d had 35 years ago! I would add to the Captain’s paragraph about stability, if you do marry, take a hard look at your economic vulnerability to your husband and leave yourself as much of an appropriate safety net as you can. The system here in the U.S. can be tyrannical and dangerous to those who don’t live the way Rich Conservative White Men in Charge think we should.
I’m the person who is going to say, if you can’t think of how to talk to him about your feelings to the point where you are about to leave the Guy You Love So Much, maybe marriage isn’t the next logical step for this relationship. What is the rush? You met, and then moved in REALLY FAST. Which is fine, it happens, but you need to build a good foundation for the rest of your life.
If Marriage is item four on your bucket list, you should probably make sure that you, he, and you both together are ready for this step.
Step one: maybe seeing a counselor and figuring out better ways to communicate to The Guy you want to spend the rest of your life with.
Do you want to get married or do you want to marry /this guy/ specifically? If it’s the latter, you should be able to talk to him about it. I get that there are all kinds of socialization and gender norms to fight against, but it’s worth it. You deserve good things and should be able to go after what you want.
I think that the rush is that she is 35. She’s already “advanced maternal age” status, which is real.
I’m all for women proposing if they want to, but I understand why they don’t in this type of situation. If you feel your partner is dragging their heels and maybe doesn’t want to get married, it’s not that reassuring to be told “just ask him yourself!” especially when you have already agreed on a deadline which has passed. In LW’s shoes I would be concerned that even if I proposed and he said yes, he would just be agreeing because he felt pressured into it. Most people in this situation don’t just want the proposal, they want to know that their SO *really wants* to marry them and isn’t just taking the path of least resistance.
Yeah, the Captain talked a lot about the fear that communicating with the boyfriend will prevent him from proposing, but the LW seems to actually have the opposite fear. “I would hate knowing I pressured someone into proposing to me.” So the LW seems to be worried that communicating with her boyfriend will force him to propose, even if he isn’t enthusiastic about it.
The question is whether this fear is justified. Does LW’s boyfriend often fail to communicate his own desires, and do what LW suggests even when he doesn’t really want to? Then they have serious communication problems, and they shouldn’t get married without working to resolve them. Does LW’s boyfriend communicate his desires when asked, and feel comfortable setting his own boundaries in the relationship? Then he should be able to explain whether he really wants to propose or not, without being forced into it.
I see where you’re coming from. I think there’s a difference between a proposal and a discussion about how both people feel about getting married someday (or someday soon), though. I’m of the opinion that that discussion is an essential step before any proposal, and can be initiated by either person regardless of who ends up proposing. Maybe it would help the LW to think of it this way?
Well they had the discussion, and the boyfriend said he’d propose in a month or two, and it’s eight months later.
A Good Point.
But if both partners take that approach, no one will ever ask!
A friend – ex friend at this point TBH, I can’t really get past how he behaved – did this with his gf. She was like 31 I think when they met and he told me she was pretty clear from early on that she was looking for a relationship that should move to marriage and that as she wanted to have kids, she would want it to move pretty quickly. For my friend this was his first serious relationship and I don’t think he really wanted to get married at all but it was like he entertained the idea that he might so that he could continue the relationship without feeling bad. Every time she tried to move things on with him he’d be round our house complaining about how unromantic it was to be given ultimatums and my OH and I (with twin babies at this point) would be like “screw romance, do you want to marry her or not?” It continued for 2 years until she finally dumped him and she was married within the year. Now has two kids, I hope all is well with her. The thing that really pissed me off about him was this head wrecking mince about romance, exactly playing into that myth that men are just waiting for you to back off long enough. But how long is long enough? I note that now, in his 40s, he remains single. I am very glad that his girlfriend had the sense to bail out when she did.
I had a friend like this as well, though thankfully in their case it worked out better. But she was a couple years older than him, and from a different culture that really emphasized marrying/having babies early. I think when they got together, I was about 25, friend was about 27, and GF was about 30 and hearing from her family back home about how she needed to have babies TODAY or be an Old Maid Forever. He complained at times about how she was putting pressure on him to move too fast, and we did agree that was a thing, but one friend (the same concern troll friend I mentioned above, now I think about it) pointed out that she WAS 30, and while she didn’t necessarily need to get married today, it was reasonable of her to want to know if they were even headed that way or not.
This couple broke up for a few months (for this and a couple of other reasons), but sorted it out, got back together and engaged. I’ve lost track of them since then (they moved for his job), but through the rumour mill I hear she is about to have their first child – she’d be about 35 now. So good on them.
It can be a super casual thing too. I remember we were hanging out watching TV, and he turned to me and asked, “hey, what if I proposed?”
And I said, “that would be pretty great.”
And a few months later he did.
There are a lot of narratives about surprise proposals being turned down. It’s a ton of weird pressure: to find the ‘perfect’ ring and pull it out at the ‘perfect’ time in the ‘perfect’ place, and hope like hell you get a yes and don’t become a sad cautionary tale.
But what if you both just ditched all those pressures? You could say, “hey I want to get married and I’d like you to propose if that’s cool.”
And he could tell you what he’s thinking and everything could be good because you were both involved in everything and it’s all out there.
I am told that my father’s proposal to my mother was something along the lines of ‘Well, I suppose we’d better get a ring then’ (and no, I was not on the way. He is capable of romance though, I once came across letters he wrote while he was stationed away)
Ha! My dad too. It’s very much his personality; he’s not one for big gestures. My mom’s made jokes before about how she “had to” pick out her own ring, but in the end, they’ve been quite happy with it.
My father’s proposal to my mother was “Why don’t we get married?”
Her reply was “Because we have nothing in common, our religious backgrounds are too different so your family would never approve, basically it would just never work out.”
He told her, with some exasperation, that that wasn’t an exam question, it was a proposal. She was rather surprised but accepted. They had thirty-four extremely happy years together until (his) death did them part.
Morals of the story: 1. rhetorical questions can be a bad idea and 2. having the perfect romantic proposal moment is probably not that important.
My favorite story of my parents was that after a surviving a particularly emotional process together, my mom and dad were sitting in a KFC off a highway in New Hampshire when my mom said “I think we should get married.”
A year later, while sitting in silence after a hike, my dad suddenly said “You’re right.” “What?” “We should get married.”
I have two quotations for you, LW. Number one, very wise, never over-stated: It’s not about getting married, it’s about *being* married.
Marriage does not dramatically change a relationship, for better or worse. For that reason, it is verrrry important to have several essentials figured out before walking down the aisle: basics like respect, love, attraction, sexual compatibility, monogamy/non-monogamy, division of household responsibilities etc. I put the latter in there because when you wrote that you perform 95% of the household duties, it gave me pause. It was such a specific thing to put in a letter and it stood out to me for that reason. Is there a “I do 95% of the cleaning *and he won’t even marry me*!” behind that? Because that would be you setting yourself up for unhappiness in the long run. As I stated earlier: Marriage does not change the fabric of a relationship. It’s not something you audition for, either.
The second quotation comes from the very first episode of Cold Case. It made TV history for my boyfriend and me through one line, uttered at Detective Lilly Rush with the utmost contempt that The Patriarchy has to offer: “You should be married.”
So my question for you, LW, is this: What does a proposal *mean* to you? Will you only believe that your partner is truly committed to you if he proposes to you? (As opposed to just making sure you have health insurance?) Because as the Captain stated, the stories that society feeds us in regards to the Wedding Industrial Complex are highly formulaic and for the most part bullshit. A proposal can mean: “I love you and I don’t care about marriage one way or the other, but I know that it is realy important to you and I want to do my best to make you happy for as long as we both shall live!”. It can mean: “I don’t really know you, but I knocked you up and my parents are riding my arse about it, so here’s to Doing the Right Thing!”. It can mean: “My family is pressuring me to adopt my nephew with behavioural issues and I’d rather have a woman do the job!”.(True story.) It can mean: “I need a Green Card.”. It can mean: “I love you with everything that I am and I promised myself that I would only get married if I were 100% sure and babe, I’m 200% sure that you’re The One.”
Apologies for the novel; I’m just trying to point out that it might be helpful for you to interrogate your own narrative for a bit. Because getting married and being made for one another are not the same thing by far. Plenty of people are blissfully, happily unmarried until death do them apart, and plenty of people are incredibly unhappily married.
I second the Captain’s suggestion that you talk to your partner about it. Because one of the pillars of a healthy relationship, with or without a ring, is the ability to have difficult conversations and know that you can, because the other person truly, madly, deeply cares about your well-being.
The best relationship advice I ever took to heart was: don’t get upset when someone can’t read your mind. Most people aren’t mind readers, (myself included!) and I get so sad when someone is upset at me over something I didn’t know that they were wishing at me- when, had I known, I would have changed or been more sensitive about immediately!
Letting go of all of that mind-reading angst seriously reduced my relationship stress and my passive emotional stewing, and empowered me to take a deep breath and, even though it’s sometimes really scary, use actual words and talk about what I want and need. Bonus- it gives my partner permission to talk about what he wants and needs, instead of stewing and wishing things at me.
Yup, that *is* one of the best pieces of relationship advice out there. It also creates accountability: it forces one to take responsibility for one’s own feelings. It dramatically reduces passive-aggressiveness (which I’m severely allergic to) when one can feel free to state one’s needs and likes and preferences and boundaries. It’s a good litmus test for a partner, I find. If someone insists on rather continuing to resent me for not being a mind-reader and totally prefers that to honestly speaking their mind to their genuinely interested, caring partner (me) … thentheyaremyemotionallyabusiveex.
Other best piece of relationship advice I got:
For any Relationship Issue or Life Issue, remember it’s not you v. your partner. It’s you + your partner v. The Problem.
The problem here is not Your Desire For Marriage v Your Partner’s Secret(?) Plans(???) or Secret(?) Unwillingness(???), the problem is lack of clarity around your shared future goals and some mutual communication issues and it intersects with Societal Expectations. You can (and should) tackle that together, as a team!
HELL, YES! That’s something that my partner and I very consciously cultivate. Sometimes it’s helpful to remind one another that hey, I’m not your enemy. If I hurt you, it was inadvertently and I’m sorry. Please help me understand what I did/what you understood what I said to mean.
BTW, where did you get all that awesome advice? Due to a lack of proper role models, we had to figure this out all by ourselves!
Am woman who proposed rather than resenting my male partner for not proposing on my expected deadline. It went great. I still don’t know how to sprout wings and fly, unfortunately.
It turns out that we are all actually large, flightless birds…. 😀
I will also tell my “I’m a cislady who proposed to a dude” story here!
I proposed to my husband after about 6 moths of dating and 4 of living together. I knew I probably wanted to marry him, and one night I went out with that ex that I was kind of still in love with for years but politely knew it wasn’t happening with, and it was the first time (through like 3 cohabitation relationships) that when I got the twinge of “you are pretty great,” I had this voice come on in my head that said “yeah but then you wouldn’t be dating Husband,” and I came home a bit tipsy and said “I definitely want to marry you someday and I just think we should do it stupid early like, before you visa expires in case there are residency conversion issues because then you’ll automatically be able to convert to permanent status.” And he was like “I want that too!” And then I said the same thing in the morning in case he was just trying to avoid having an awkward conversation with someone who had been drinking.
We’ve been married for 3 seriously amazing years. I still got a gorgeous ring, and because nobody was surprising anyone I got to put family-meaningful gems in it and custom-design the setting with a metalworker I like, and it’s unique and perfect and way better than something someone could have bought me.
It set a great tone for our marriage, too, because I think back to how comfortable I was asking a fairly ridiculously early question earl on, and know that I can bring up anything and feel like he’ll listen without judgment (even if he isn’t on the same page as me this time). So another thing to consider is that the way you decide to get married is the beginning of your marriage—don’t you want your marriage to be a mutual decision, that you made together after being frank and honest with each other?
(I realized after I posted this that my last sentence seems to suggest my way is a better way to propose marriage than the traditional way—it’s not “better.” Since the traditional ring ritual has a lot of symbolic and cultural meaning for lots of folks, I wanted to share that proposal through discussion started by a lady also has a really nice symbolic meaning too).
My dude and I had a conversation about 6 months after moving in together (while visiting his parents across the country) confirming that yes, we were both on the same page about this being a marriage-trajectory relationship.
He said he knew he wanted to marry me.
I said I still needed some time to be sure.
He said “OK, I’m sure you’ll let me know if/when you are ready.”
And a year and a half later, I did let him know. By proposing to him, in front of our closest friends, after a performance we were both leads in.
It went swimmingly for everyone involved. (Also no wings and/or flying, though)
Really great advice, Captain!
Personally, I went through the same range of feelings with my fiancé, even though we have spoken about marriage and a life together a few times. At about the second year mark, I felt like my life was suspended: are we getting married? Are we starting a home together? I had a timeline for myself to get my own home, and if I’m not sharing in purchasing this house with someone, then I would need to know soon, because I could definitely purchase one alone if need me. But I didn’t want to wait any longer.
And so I used my words, told my fiancé about my timeline. He noted that I had never told him about this dream of mine, but it was now great that he knew about this. He proposed in 6-8 months in one of our favorite countries.
So use your words, LW, because someone who loves you would take your dreams and feeling in mind, and share his with you too.
I would really really love an update on this one! Good luck LW!
See, what jumped out at me above all was why the desperate need to GET MARRIED at all costs, and RIGHT MEOW (to someone else if she has to)? I think THAT warrants more introspection than why she can’t ask. That bit was entirely secondary to me.
Is it “desperate” to be 35 years old, in love with someone who loves you & living with them, to have talked explicitly about marriage and agreed (so she thought) to a certain timeframe of that happening and to want to know if your living situation will be the same in the future or if you should start making other plans for your life?
I mean, all the toxic narratives that tell her that this should be a guessing game and a waiting game also tell her that she’s desperate and clingy and awful and empty for wanting this and for wanting to clarify it so she can make some life choices, but, are we really gonna do that here, when she asked for help?
No. It’s not desperate.
It’s rational calculation. If you want children with a husband, it’s wise to marry before menopause.
Or even just a husband. The marriage chances of a woman in her 30s are radically different than for one in her 40s.
All my single friends who date in their 40s end up with MUCH older men. Because there are a lot of men – even self-professed feminist ones – who think any woman over 40 is too old for them.
Interesting. My friends (and I!) have had no difficulty finding men our age or younger in our 40s and 50s.
My mom started dating a 53 year old at 49 and they’re now a very happily married couple in their 60s, so…
When I started dating again I mostly dated younger (sometimes MUCH younger) men, because older men so often assume that you’ll be so grateful someone wants you that you’ll put up with anything.
Thank you so much for saying this!
Thank you for saying this.
The older we get the better we know ourselves and what we need from a partner. It takes less time to know if things are right.
If things are good between them and she’s sure she wants to marry him, why wait to have that conversation? Especially if she wants children.
Also, what is the logical conclusion if she does bail? Now it’s a matter of meeting someone new, who, statistically speaking, is not likely to be on a timeline of months, either. I mean…it just doesn’t square. It comes across as the concept of being married is prime above all. And the life after the wedding is not going to magically change who you are or the relationship.
And it’s very 1950s to think giving someone an ultimatum (or worse, NOT even telling them!) is how things should work.
Ok, we know that these narratives and expectations are hurtful and leave a lot of stuff out, so can you add something from your experience that would be encouraging or helpful to the LW as she tries to have this conversation and make this decision?
All I can say is…look inward. First off, the thing that’s pinging me because I can’t glean it from this is: how much of this has been said out loud? 1000% agreed the place to start is talk to each other. But the part that he probably can’t help with is: What is important here, and WHY? I see a lot of assumptions about kids, but unless I missed something, was that even mentioned? What is priority #1, #2, etc?
In the pursuit of sorting that out, talking to a counselor/therapist/what have you on her own. Talk out what is behind all this, what the desired result is. Maybe do that first, so you have your thoughts gathered on what to discuss with the guy.
She says quite pointedly she is specifically trying to avoid the pressure of an ultimatum. Saying to yourself ‘OK, not for me ‘ before saying anything is the very opposite of ultimatum. She won’t proceed with marriage until she finds *someone* with equal enthusiasm. As someone who is a successful dater, it wouldn’t be hard to find either.
I think the endgame is that she doesn’t compromise her beliefs and stay in a gf/bf relationship when she wants a spouse. The relationship would die a slow death of mounting resentment, because he would be getting what he wants while denying her.
She would be better off single, even if she doesn’t find someone else “in time”.
And I think this is fair! If you want to be married, it doesn’t make any sense to stay with someone who doesn’t. Deciding to break off a relationship because you want a spouse and they don’t is one of the infinitely perfectly reasonable things to break up with someone over.
This really rubs me the wrong way. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be married. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be married. There is absolutely no desperation that I can see when this woman just wants to be married. What’s so bad with that? Honestly, at 35, if I was in her situation (wanting to be married/engaged, in a stable relationship, with someone who isn’t proposing) I would have a “put up or shut up” conversation. I (personally) had a point where I wanted to be married, and if that wasn’t something I was going to be looking at, I would leave. My best friend is in a common law relationship, and she’s 36. She had previously left a partner because after 14 months, it wasn’t getting serious and had no real outlook of becoming serious. So she cut her losses and found someone that she a) loves, b) wants to be with her for the long term.
If this partner does not share her life goals then of course she needs another.
I agree. I haven’t found dearly-held core values to be negotiable.
This isn’t the question that was asked, but I’m going to throw the answer out there anyway: If you’re insecure about your partner’s feelings and commitment to you, and if the relationship has issues, marriage isn’t going to fix any of that.
I was in a miserable marriage for close to seven years. He was and I’m sure still is a lovely person, one of the best human beings I have ever met, but I had doubts beforehand (we dated for two years after being casual friends for nearly a decade) and I had regrets from literally the first day. A major family crisis brought about our divorce, but I think it’s fair to say I always had one toe out the door.
My current boyfriend I met on Tinder six months ago, and I have a level of confidence and commitment in this relationship that I’ve never experienced before. Due to past experiences, it’s highly likely we’ll never marry. If we did, it would likely be for unromantic legal reasons. But every day I’m excited to be with him; I don’t wish things were different or he was different. I don’t feel like we’re working toward any particular commitment milestones. We just ARE committed to each other, every day, and we show it through our love and kindness and consideration for each other. If every day with him was like today, I’d gladly sign up for forever, but I don’t need to. I’ll just take joy in each subsequent today with him.
Think about what today with your partner looks like LW. If tomorrow and the next day and your wedding day and the day after that and your thirteen hundredth day together all looked more or less like today, would you still be excited to marry this man?
Think carefully about this. Marriage isn’t magic. Ideally, it’s just a way of making official a relationship that’s already working well.
” If you’re insecure about your partner’s feelings and commitment to you, and if the relationship has issues, marriage isn’t going to fix any of that.”
This times 1000. Marriage is a symbol of commitment, not commitment itself. If she’s worried that he isn’t sure about a future with her, that could be a conversation without the M word even coming up.
You have already given him an ultimatum. A list of men don’t respond well to that. Allot of them feels challenged and then rebel – even if they want what you want. Toxic masculinity entrap both men and women.
You need to have a conversation. If he can’t or won’t do that, you have your answer.
Conservation, not ultimatum
I’d the conversation doesn’t work, then tell him it’s ok, but the consequence is you moving out and moving on.
The outcome of the consequence and the ultimatum are the same: you leave. The framing is different. Don’t put yourself in the position of being his parent or drill sergeant . Be a partner
I don’t see where she’s given him an ultimatum?
While it might not be what Aveline is talking about, since he doesn’t know about it, she’s giving him a secret one in her head. Which seems…worse? Like, not very good on communication.
She’s not the one who isn’t communicating.
Before they started living together they decided in principle that they would eventually marry, and that in practice he’d propose formally in two or three months.
It’s six months past their proposal date and he’s said nothing.
Why is this something she has to fix? Why do you think that she’s a bad communicator with a “secret” ultimatum just because she has a Sheelzebub-like time frame?
She has decided that he has X extra time to bring up marriage. That seems pretty generous to me.
This is exactly what I accidentally did with my boyfriend (now husband). I totally lost my shit one day and screamed at him about being a man and sh*tting or getting off the pot. (Not a good moment.) But eventually when we were talking about it again, I said, “Well, we are at an impasse. I want to get married, you don’t, and right now that’s fine for me but someday I am going to want to marry someone and if that’s not you, then we will break up and I will look for someone else who does want the same thing I want.” And that was the big turning point in our discussions, because he didn’t feel like he had to rebel against me and his mom (apparently we were both pressuring him to propose to me). I’m glad I didn’t break up with him because everything else about our relationship is very supportive, mutual, and joyful. But you need to evaluate how you are feeling about the rest of your relationship and if this is a dealbreaker, discuss it with him again. I agree with the person who said it’s you and him against the problem – and it can be a nice, calm conversation where you simply tell him what you need and then you can ascertain together whether he is the right person for you based on this dealbreaker for you.
Thanks to the Captain and the letter writer for addressing this! I have been with my man for over three and a half years and while we have geographic obstacles to resolve, I’m 38, getting ever closer to 39, and am tired of being afraid to dare to mention marriage to him despite him showing signs of wanting it. I think this post will bring me closer to having the nerve to initiate a practical conversation.
My now-fiancé and I were watching tv one night and I said “So marriage. I want to. What about you?” And he said “I’ve been thinking about it and I’m still not sure. I need more time to figure out where I’m at.” And I said “okay. Can I check in occasionally? If you want to talk it out, will you feel comfortable raising the subject?” and he said yes, and about eight months later, at my best friend’s wedding, I said “I actually really do want to marry you. This is awesome and I want this for us.” And he said “I was waiting to feel whatever it is people feel when they want to get married, and I felt it this afternoon when I looked at you standing up with Friend.”
He didn’t propose for 8 months because I designed my own ring from the ground up and then found a jeweler to make it and the whole thing took SO MUCH LONGER THAN WE THOUGHT IT WOULD, but when he proposed it was perfection, and my ring is perfection, and for 8 months we had the best secret in the world. 🙂 Have the conversation. Worst case, you discover info that allows you to make an informed decision about your future. Best case, you discover info that allows you to make an informed decision about your future.
Yesssss. I think having some doubts/feeling like “whoa I said this thing months ago but I’m anxious about it” is so normal. At the very least, talk about it. When my partner and I decided to get married it felt a bit rushed, we felt we had to Make A Plan because of upcoming job things, and then a few months later, he surprised me with a ring and it was LOVELY. The surprise element wasn’t there but that was a-ok with me, and there was a cool ring surprise down the road. (I was anti-surprise-proposal, though, so this may not apply to LW.)
All I needed was the assurance that we were on the same page. Once I knew that he wanted the same things as me, my brain was content to wait until he was ready to propose. Once he was… I was the one who was like “ehhhh do we really have to get married, it seems like a lot of expense and work when we already know that this is it”. He talked me into it lol
I have personal experience on this one but about having children rather than marriage. I knew I wanted to have kids with my partner and told him directly after I sensed some nervousness from him on the topic. Prior to this conversation, he seemed to be concerned it was too soon, but we had been together for 1.5 years and he is 35, so I could only surmise that the nervousness came from not being 100% sure about me as a partner. After some coaching from a friend of mine, I had a calm, collected and thoughtful discussion about where I saw our relationship going and specifically set out what my expectations were while also asking him if his goals lined up with mine. It was scary – there was a chance that our goals did not align and then I would lose out on a wonderful relationship that has brought me more joy than I ever thought I would find. But I went in with an open mind and accepting the risk.
Long story short: he said he wanted to be married before we had children, which he knew I would find old school and silly, so he didn’t feel comfortable raising it with me. If this was the barrier to having children, its a small price to pay and a reasonable compromise. We are getting married next month and are simultaneously trying to get pregnant.
I cannot say enough good things about saying what you want directly, calmly, and lovingly. I should not have expected him to read my mind and vice versa.
“I Googled “baby gate” the other day, one time, b/c we’re thinking of getting kittens and need a way to keep them in one half of the house at night”
Baby gates are ineffective against kittens. The little fuzzballs go right through and/or right over. I suggest a large dog crate (big enough to hold a litterbox, water dish, and something soft for kittens to sleep on) instead.
I used a dog crate for one of my cats when he was a kitten. He had horrible diarrhea that he was spraying all over the place, and he cried piteously when shut in the bathroom, so we set up a crate for him in the living room so he could be with us without the projectile feces. We lined it with newspaper and old towels and put a litter box, food, water, and toys in it. It worked out great.
I may have gotten a different read on the letter. Encouraging the LW to open a discussion with her boyfriend is great, but it sounds like she already did that months ago. I could be wrong, but maybe part of her concern here is that he’s just telling her what he knows she wants to hear, rather than being honest about his own timeline. Theoretically, she could open this conversation and he could say “two more months” again, and the cycle just repeats.
It may be better to start the conversation by asking him why his timeline has apparently changed and why he didn’t tell her that it had changed. He could have a really concrete emotional or financial reason why he isn’t ready to propose when he thought he would be. Either way, he needs to communicate those reasons so that the burden isn’t always on the LW to plan for their future.
This jumped out at me: “I would hate myself if I stayed in a relationship that did not progress”
Why is this? The LW never says why her timeline is so rigid. Does she want kids? Has she been with other men who she feels overstated their commitment to her and she’s worried about a repeat? I think it would be worthwhile for the LW to examine why marriage is so important to her. Is it marriage itself or just commitment and love? Because there may be a compromise to be worked out, particularly if the delays here are financial.
I may be reading into this, but at 35 is when women really start hearing the baby-clock running down. Every year after 35, the health risks for both the child and the mom go up. So, there’s the pressure of ‘are we doing this or not, I don’t have time if you’re not in it for the long run.’
Though I’m told the risks don’t go up as much as people think they do. My sister had her first child at 42.
That’s a relief.
The risk of birth defects is more linked to the age of the father.
What happens after 35 is that getting pregnant becomes a lot more difficult (and often expensive).
Even if you get pregnant easily, you are deemed a “geriatric” pregnancy and treated very differently at 36 than you would be at 34.
So even if the risk of birth defects is minimal, her fertility and they way doctors would treat her are real, concrete concerns.
There’s a lot of conflicting stuff about fertility and age out there that we aren’t gonna solve here. You’re absolutely right that medical pros treat pregnancy over 35 in a different way. At 44, could I get pregnant? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe with the help of lots of expensive science. Maybe not even then.
Possibly more importantly (for me) do I want to be in my 60s with a teenager? Yikes! No! Have I been surrounded by constant “YOUR BIOLOGICAL CLOCK MIGHT BE TICKING, LIKE THE TELLTALE HEART IN THAT POE STORY YOU HAD TO READ IN HIGH SCHOOL” messaging my whole adult life just like the LW? Yep.
We don’t know that the LW for sure wants to have kids, but also, if she does, wanting them soon and wanting to figure out this part of her life soon is not wrong or bad!
Marriage is/has been about love for me – I found my favorite person! – but it’s also a series of logistical and financial decisions in which I saddled my favorite person with all my student loan debt. Where do I want to live. What do I want to do with my time. How do we afford health insurance. Are kids a thing. Where/how will we spend holidays. Who will get quotes for renter’s insurance. “I need to make some decisions about my future, should I make those around you or not?” is not a silly question.
No disagreement and not looking to derail.
“…wanting them soon and wanting to figure out this part of her life soon is not wrong or bad!”
Amen! I think the point we all agree on is that it is not illogical or otherwise a bad thing for a woman in her early to mid 30s to want an answer on marriage.
We tend to treat a lot of women in this age group as “hysterical” or “crazy” or “emotional” for responding to the very real biological and social pressures they are under.
We create this system and then punish women for acting logically within it.
Thanks! I think I am one of the queens of “SINGLE IS GREAT, IT’S OK, BE SINGLE” and “single is 100% better than a romantic relationship that is making you unhappy” and also “Being a person who is happy with themselves as a single person is a good basis for forming partnerships if you want to do that thing.” “Relationships are a choice not a requirement or an achievement.”
But I’m really happily married! Like, it’s great. It’s okay to want that. It’s definitely ok to discuss that with the person you’re thinking of doing it with, a lot of different times, a lot of different ways, without worrying that you’ll break a spell.
Aveline, you’re so right about the unreasonable way society punishes women who are over 30 for being aware that they’re more likely to have fertility issues as they age and acting accordingly when dating, if they want children.
It’s really frustrating even for me, a married woman over 30 who in no way wants biological children, because even though I don’t WANT them, I’m still keenly aware of my fertility and it going away soon (that’s a YAY for me, less concern about missed birth control pills and backup birth control!) and every time I hear “baby crazy” BS I think about how I’d be putting pressure on my husband to have kids soon, and how I have to fight the urge to punch the speaker in their stupid mysoginistic face.
Yes, this is true. The problem is partly because age data is considered in blocks, and they are sometimes very large blocks. If you’re considering 25-34 vs 35-44 for example, or 20-34 and 35-50, it looks like there’s a cliff-like drop-off in safety once you hit/pass 35. In reality, breaking the data down to individual years, it’s a very gradual increase in risk/decrease in safety. Still a consideration but not the frantic concern it’s made out to be.
The thing is, whatever the statistics say, at the end of the day you personally are just one data point and you can’t know going in what hand you’ll be dealt. I got pregnant for the first time at 32 on more or less the first try. Fast forward to age 35, and we’re trying for a second and it’s not happening and oh hey this bloodwork is troubling and maybe you’re almost out of eggs and here’s the number of a fertility clinic and please hand over several thousand dollars to give your kid a sibling. We actually had a pretty easy time of it, all things considered, but I was SO shocked to go from “hey, good thing you were diligent about birth control for years” to “that cliff at 35 is an actual reality in your case.” So I don’t blame anyone for panicking about age constraints.
That’s a really good point about statistics versus individuals. I did fine with my pregnancy at 43. I come from people on both sides who are fertile late and good at childbirth. One of my in-laws, though, learned that she needed IVF in her very early 30s because her body is bad at making eggs.
I will say, though, that as an older mother, you’re running against a lot of social expectations if you wait, and I can completely understand why someone might prefer to reproduce with the bulk of their cohort. My same-age friends are parenting teenagers, or even college-age adults, and my child’s agemates’ parents are a decade younger. Sometimes it’s hard to make the relationships work.
Even without the baby thing it is very disconcerting to be the ‘most enthusiastic one’ about the progress of the relationship. LW is not going to be happy unless they’re on the same page about the future.
Yes, I wonder how much is ‘want to get married now and don’t want to be the one who brings it up’ and how much is ‘do I want this way more than he does?’.
It sucks, and the gendered conventions add to it because if you accept those traditions, it ends up meaning that men can bring it up whenever they want (so why doesn’t he?) while it feels like a bigger deal for her to.
But ultimately you have to be able to talk to each other… If it’s so impossible to talk about this, how will it be any different when you have to talk about some other big subject in the future?
I think we’re all familiar with the story of the guy who led a woman on for years, and was always “almost ready”. She spends years waiting for him to be really ready, possibly jumping through significant hoops to remove obstacles to him being ready, if he articulates any. But no matter how long she waits, he is never ready, he was never going to be ready, he already had everything he wanted. And by the time she wises up, it’s too late.
It’s a familiar story, right? The LW has probably heard it too, and doesn’t want to be the poor sad woman who was strung along for years. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to be strung along. So when your boyfriend is starting to show the hallmarks of the stringer-alonger, yeah, it makes a lot of sense to check in. And then see how things change over time. “Babe, it just *feels* too soon”? Danger, Will Robinson! “I just don’t want to saddle you with my credit-card debt. I want to pay it off first.” Hmmmm. Let’s wait a bit and see, does he actually work to pay off the debt? And when he does, then is it time, or is there some other reason it’s just not time?
Yes, I think this is really the heart of the matter. I was pretty close to being part of one of those stories, with a boyfriend who “wasn’t quite ready” for a couple of years, but the difference is that we talked about it on a semi-regular basis, so I always knew what he still needed to figure out and had some idea of how likely he was to actually make the decision I was hoping for. In that instance, I also couldn’t have proposed to him without it leading to a breakup, because we both understood that I wanted to get married and he (at the time) didn’t, and forcing his hand with a proposal would not have ended well. But he also knew that when I had decided I had waited long enough, I would leave, and that would be that. It was a good ending for us (married 13 years and counting), but I do believe that we got to that point at least partly because I didn’t just sit back and wait for him to change his mind.
I don’t want to come off as disbelieving the LW, because I’m sure she’s conveying the situation as she sees it, but I’m wondering whether that 1-2 months timeline was as firm in the boyfriend’s mind as she heard it to be. If this was a case of “yes, I definitely want to propose by June”, then yeah, it’s kind of on him to tell her if that’s changed rather than string things out awkwardly. But if he’d intended it as more of an inspirational, “this is going great and I could totally see myself proposing in a month or two”, he might not realize that he’s broken any sort of fixed deadline.
I thought the same thing. It seems a bit unusual to give a specific number of months when describing readiness for marriage. I think it is much more likely that the discussion was more general than that.
But regardless of those specifics, I think the key advice offered remains the same. The Lw will take control of her own happiness if she can get over her apprehension to discuss this with her partner instead with an advice website.
My partner and I have been together for 11 years? Longer? I don’t know anymore. We are not married. We will probably get married at some point, but, whatever.
Here’s the thing, we are not less together, or less moving forward in our lives for not being married, we are committed to building a future together, and so that is what we do.
You’re talking about steps and progress, so my question is what comes after marriage that you feel like you don’t have without it? Are you just looking for confirmation that he is serious and wants this relationship to continue long term? Are you looking for him to confirm that he loves you through some kind of grand gesture? Is it that you want to have kids and want to be married first?
I think it would be helpful to understand what your goals are here. Is your goal to be in a long term loving relationship with someone you really care about? Is it to do that and also have a wedding?
Knowing the goals and the reasons behind wanting marriage are really great things to examine within yourself. Maybe it’s logistical (kid stuff/health stuff is easier with a spouse) and maybe it’s emotional. Both are okay.
Marriage was important to me. I’m still not sure of the why, but I did at least know the reasons: I wanted a lifetime commitment. I wanted the legal protections. I wanted it to be sanctioned by God. I wanted the community recognition and sanction of our partnership. And I needed a formal, binding process to actually trust that my partner meant it when he said he also wanted to be with me for that lifetime commitment.
My husband and I dated for over 6 years before getting engaged, and I was never more than 80% sure we’d last. Not because he was wishy washy, or ever said or did anything to make me doubt his fidelity to me, but just… because. In order to feel secure in my partnership with him, I needed us to get married.
And so we did. For us, it was life/relationship changing because that Very Serious, Legal, Official Sacrament act allowed both of us to relax and really dive in to a future together, fully merged and fully comfortable with that merging. Before, it was “my life with him/his life with me” and after it was “our life together”. It’s a subtle semantic difference, but a profound one (for us).
I think no matter what, whether a committed couple gets legally married or not, the key is being intentional. The act of getting legally married does not cast a spell that creates commitment, but it does happen that many people use the engagement and wedding as a time to have those conversations and set those intentions. And other people decide not to get married, but still commit to each other in an intentional way.
Well, humans make ceremonies for a reason….
I asked my ex-husband to marry me via gmail, on a Tuesday morning. We’d been pre-approved for a home loan and were going house hunting that weekend.
He said ‘of course’ and he’d been saving up for the ring. And counter-proposed 2 months later with the ring.
We were happily married for 6 years, married for 8.
Captain is spot on. I would add, LW, that you have the right to know where your relationship stands and where it’s going so you can plan your own life. It’s not unreasonable to have conversations about the next stage of life.
“I would hate knowing I pressured someone into proposing to me. I need to know that he wants to spend his life with me.”
Think about this, LW. You’ve decided that if he proposes after you ask him to marry you (when he has talked in the past about wanting to marry you), it’s possible that he only did it because he felt pressured and doesn’t really want to spend his life with you. But if he proposes without you bringing it up and you say yes (when… have you talked to him about wanting to marry him?), you are assuming, he will know for sure that you didn’t feel pressured and you really want to spend your life with him.
Is this just because *you* know you want to marry him, so you’re not thinking about it from his perspective? Or is it because of cultural messages that women want to get married and men don’t? Worth thinking about.
I was in a similar situation that did not end in marriage. I had been with my ex for about 3 years when we decided to move in together. We moved in with the understanding that we would eventually get married, but I was finishing up my final semester of my bachelor’s degree and had been firm that I did not want to even get engaged, let alone married, until I had completed the degree. I had been married once before, very young, had a child from that marriage (really the reason I got married in the first place) and I didn’t want to get married again without some sort of economic fallback. I was working full time throughout our entire relationship, but struggled with finding better paying work without this degree, so it was important to me.
About a week or so before we moved in together, he had a phone conversation with his mother which suggested they were talking rings, and we had discussed marriage multiple times before this. I finished my degree a few months after we moved in together and we continued to discuss marriage. He even made jokes about proposing at points (not maliciously, that was just his humor). My entire family and friends were on engagement watch, but then, after about 6 months of living together, things changed. Our sex life became nonexistent, we were fighting regularly and his relationship with my daughter had deteriorated considerably. A month before we would have been officially living together for a year, he dropped a bombshell that he didn’t want to live in our geographical location anymore, that he never envisioned himself living long term in our state. Unfortunately, due to child custody/visitation issues, my ability to leave the state was limited without a large, expensive court battle. We talked and talked about the situation for the next few weeks, but part of me was already mourning the relationship. I used to keep an online journal back then and had written about the conversation he had with his mother the year before, implying they were discussing engagement rings. Since nothing had ever come out of that, and since I had graduated almost a year ago, I asked him about it. He said he didn’t want to tell me because he didn’t want to get my hopes up, but eventually he confirmed it was about a ring. It was at this point that he admitted that he was having second thoughts about getting married and, if I had been honest with myself back then, I would have acknowledged I was as well. At the time, though, I was devastated. We tried to work on our relationship for the next few months, but eventually we broke up.
LW, I don’t know why your boyfriend didn’t propose in the time-frame he set out, and I think it is very important that you talk to him about it. I also think it’s important to consider the possibility that he may have changed his mind. Talking about marriage in the abstract and actually going through with it are two different things. I’m not saying that he has definitely changed his mind or that anything you have done has altered his course. What I am saying though is that you do yourself and him a discourtesy by not discussing the elephant in the room. I wish I had talked to my ex 6 months into our living together. It would have saved so much pain, money, and anger for us both. As it was, after we broke up, I found my husband and we have been married for almost 3 years. It is far better to rip off that band-aid and find out the truth of the matter, one way or another.
When my (now-) husband and I moved in together after dating for four-ish years, the agreement beforehand was “Okay, if this living-together thing works out, then we take the next step and discuss marriage.” It ended up being an ongoing conversation, which was good because it put way less pressure on both of us to say all the “right things.” But we also recognized that proposing can be kind of fun, so on our fifth anniversary (once we both came to the conclusion that we weren’t going to kill each other over dirty dishes (and had weathered a bunch of Serious Stuff together, but I maintain that the Dishes Question was also important)), we set a deadline: unless one of us came up with a really cool proposal idea first, he would be responsible for proposing by our next anniversary (using the justification that since I was the one who had initiated our relationship when we first got together, it was his turn).
IMO, a good rule of thumb for proposals is: don’t do it until you’re absolutely certain that they’ll say yes. Which means talking about it, a lot, beforehand.
One of the things that I’ve had to consciously make myself do differently in my current relationship that I didn’t do in the past is this:
Sometimes, I have to decide if I’d rather ASK for something I want, or ACCEPT that it won’t happen.
This is something I’ve had to mentally train myself into, and not something that has always been true or easy (it’s still not easy). Sometimes, it really feels like if I have to actually ASK my partner to do something, I’m not going to WANT it anymore. Like asking for a specific thing for my birthday or holidays, or having to ask him to clean up a certain mess, or having to ask him to cancel a weekly hangout with friends when I’m not feeling well.
Sometimes, I do decide that I’d rather not ask because it’ll make me more annoyed to have to. But when that happens, I have to consciously remind myself that he cannot read my mind, and it’s not fair to take it out on him if he doesn’t do whatever it is. And honestly, I forget about it afterwards.
But I usually end up deciding it’s worth asking, especially because it really DOESN’T make me more annoyed or want it less. It usually makes me feel more loved because when I’m up front about things, my partner hears and understands immediately; there’s no hoping he’ll pick up hints. When we love someone, there’s a willingness to make them happy, and when we know what they want, we can do that.
So yeah. LW, you’re upset because you feel like if you have to ask about getting married, it won’t feel like your partner is choosing you. It’s a real fear, based on feelings that are really difficult to shake, and I get that. But I think that you’ll feel differently afterwards than you think you do.
(Also, I am one of those people who did not have a traditional proposal! I had actually been terrified that my partner was going to propose on our 1-year anniversary (there were some things he’d hinted at that made it seem like a very strong possibility) and I wasn’t ready for it at ALL. So afterwards, we talked about it (I was so relieved that he did not propose then), and came up with a timeline together. We did follow that timeline, but it involved designing and picking out engagement rings together, and picking the day we’d get engaged. Our engagement was us coming home from work, dressing up, excitedly exchanging rings, and going out for a VERY expensive dinner. We then announced the news to our families later that week. Later on, we found out that one of my uncles had a similar engagement with my aunt. I know this way isn’t for everyone, especially with the pressure that people feel to propose/be proposed to, but I do wish that we heard more stories about it!)
Ye gods. I’ve never had exactly the words for that mental arithmetic, even though I do it all the time; seeing it written out that way is both illuminating and empowering: I can decide whether or not to ask in the same way I decide to do or not do anything else in life, which is by examining my feelings and weighing out the consequences. It is startling how powerful it is to read this, and I thank you for it.
LW: I too am someone who would prefer to have my needs anticipated (correctly) rather than have to ask for things. In the wars of Ask v Guess, I am strongly Guess, and I am generally very good at Guessing for others and have internalised that as a way of showing how much I care about someone. But like many Guesses I am in a relationship with someone who is strongly Ask, and that gets a bit hairy sometimes because I feel like she’s not doing the same amount of emotional labour I am; while she feels like I expect her to read my mind (an unfair, unreasonable and impossible expectation) instead of just asking for what I need knowing full well that she’ll give it to me to the fullest extent of her ability to do so. But for me, that anticipation-of-needs is a gift of care, and having to ask for a gift devalues it.
All of these things *feel* true; none of these things *is* true. Fears are not facts.
I fully understand wanting your partner to propose, because that has been culturally and emotionally loaded as a Demonstrative Act of Choosing: my partner Chooses Me, which means that I Am Chosen, which means that I Am Special (a thing that women especially are taught that we definitely aren’t but should always want to be). Societal gender bullshit has additionally loaded many relationships with expectations about who has the right to choose and who should wait to be chosen, and who should want commitment and who should Want To Be Free To Do My Own Thing, Man. If you as a woman state your desire to be committed (in this case, married) to a man, then society says he has the right/obligation to be disgusted by your pushiness and run immediately in the other direction, until/unless you perform Chill Girl well enough that he is enticed by your lack of fucks and forgives you for trying to have agency in your own relationship. Add this to the Act of Choosing narrative and any Ask v Guess stuff that already exists within each of you and your relationship, and I sincerely do not understand how anyone ends up married ever. (And I include myself in that statement, because I can say from experience that these dynamics also play out in same-sex and gender non-conforming relationships.)
But what I will say is that I have learned (again from experience) that when it comes to big life things like making commitments in your relationships, relying on Guessing is a dangerous and foolish thing to do. No one correctly anticipates 100% of the time. If my now-wife had Guessed about my feelings about marriage rather than having serious and explicit conversations about it, I wouldn’t have agreed to marry her when she asked: I needed to know that she understood that I had complicated feelings about the institution of marriage and that what I wanted was a committed, life-long relationship with or without marriage. These conversations also allowed me to understand that her previously-stated reluctance to get married was not a reluctance to be in a committed, life-long relationship, and to know that when she did eventually propose (a big surprise!) that she was doing it because it mattered to her for legal and other practical securities as well as for the emotional component, and not just because she thought it was the logical next step or that she/I/others wouldn’t take our relationship as seriously if we didn’t get married.
It worries me that you seem confident in the idea that ‘getting married’ is the only piece of your relationship about which you and your boyfriend may be misaligned. If he were to propose tomorrow, would all of your concerns about the relationship immediately vanish? Would you feel comfortable saying yes to a (presumed) life-long commitment to him when you don’t feel safe having big, scary conversations with him? Do you think that being married to him would magically give you the confidence to talk freely and honestly with him about all the other big, scary topics that you will inevitably face over the rest of your shared lifetimes? Because that’s not how it works: it’s just another one of those cultural stories that we get fed.
Tl;dr: Asking for a gift does not devalue that gift. Having your wants and needs anticipated correctly feels awesome, but shit goes sour fast when people don’t get it right – and no one is going to get it right 100% of the time. Having conversations about your wants and needs and the future can be scary, but it’s still the best way to ensure you have the life you want. Marriage will not magically make those conversations easier so it’s better and safer for you to get into practice having them before you have your lives any more emotionally, legally and financially bound than they already are.
I wish you all the luck and strength, because I know from experience that this is hard stuff to do but it does get easier with practice and it makes a massive difference to your quality of life. Jedi hugs if you want them.
Years ago, a friend of mine and her partner (m/f couple) who had been together since university were on a beautiful, romantic trip through Europe. They had previously discussed marriage and they too were at “that point” where a proposal would surely come. Opportune moments came, and came, and came… castles and hilltops and vistas and all… and no proposal. My friend got more and more wound up until they had a big blowout fight about it one night in their hotel, all her feelings and fears of being unloved and unappreciated coming bubbling out at once. And he was completely blindsided by it because, as it turned out, he proposed the very next day: at the *particular* castle he’d chosen for the proposal because it was significant to him.
They got married, have two gorgeous kids and another one on the way, and have now been happy together for almost 20 years all up.
If someone loves you and wants to propose to you, one conversation, or even one blowout fight, about marriage isn’t going to stop them loving you or wanting to marry you. If they ‘take flight’, that is information: they don’t want to marry you. If they respond with emotional abuse (‘I was going to but now you’ve spoiled it’, etc) then that is also information: YOU don’t want to marry THEM.
@LW, I see very loaded language in your letter about “proposals” and that you can’t “ask him to marry me.” Could you reframe some of this in your mind? Being married is about a lot more than one wedding day, and deciding to get married is about a lot more than one “proposal,” no matter who makes it.
Instead of waiting for him to “propose,” and instead of you “asking him” to marry you, could you think about having a series of conversations about what marriage means to you both, and how you think you would each decide when it’s time to get married? You could start by talking about living together, what that’s been like, how it’s similar to or dissimilar to what you’d imagined beforehand, how it’s changed your relationship, etc. Then you could talk about your ideas of marriage, why that’s different in your mind from living together, and how you would each know that you are ready to take that step.
Anyway, that’s another way to think about it.
So a few years ago I could have written this letter.
Partner and I had been together a whole, I’d moved to be with him and we’d talked about marriage and he’d told me he planned to propose. And then he just… didn’t. For months.
I felt that I’d shown a big commitment to the relationship by moving to be with him, and was never quite sure that he wasn’t just with me because it was easy. I felt that I had made big changes to my life to be with him and if I was going to keep doing that then I needed to know he was equally committed. For me, if I asked him I would never really know because what if he was just going along with it. Him actually asking was the way I would know that he actually wanted to marry me. And if he wasn’t going to ask then I needed to know that so I could stop adjusting my life plans around being with him.
In the end he kept not proposing, months after he said he would, so I sat him down and told him that I needed us to be at least engaged by the time we moved again. Then he still didn’t propose for months. I was about a fortnight from walking away when he eventually proposed, but by then because he’d taken so long about it I was convinced he was doing it reluctantly. He eventually managed to convince me he meant it and we’re now married and happy.
The whole thing was really, really stressful and I still can’t think about it without being sad. But ultimately we’re where we both wanted to be – we’re married and we’re happy together, and I don’t really think about it that much.
So I guess my advice is to talk to him again, say something like ‘its important to me that this relationship keeps moving forward. Six months ago we talked about marriage but we haven’t talked about it since. What’s up with that.’ and see what he says. Or even a franker ‘I need to talk to you about something important. We talked in January about getting married but we haven’t spoken about it since. I’m not going to pressure you into it but I wanted to raise it again so you know it’s important to me and that if it’s what you want to, then I’d like for us to get engaged pretty soon. If it’s not what you want then that’s something I need to know too because if we aren’t on the same page then I need to figure out what I want to do next. But if we are getting engaged it’s really important to me that you propose as I need to know it’s something that means as much to you as it does to me’ [the last bit is the bit I didn’t say but which I think would have helped]
And then wait some more, and make a plan for what you’d do if you walked away.
A lot of people are saying that you should propose or just have the conversation, but I know for me that wouldn’t have worked and I’d always have wondered – in which case all you can do is make it absolutely clear to him where you stand, make a plan for either scenario, and see what happens. And remember that one day down the line you’ll be happy – with this guy, someone else, or no-one – and it will feel almost surreal how stressful this all was.
Jedi hugs across the internet
Years ago, I was with a guy I cared for very much. I quit my job and went to grad school in the UK to be near him. He was so excited about all of it, but when it came down to actually talking about marriage, he balked. I’m a fairly forthright person, so after lots of softer conversations, I finally I had to tell him, “Look, me moving over here was me saying ‘I’m ready to get married.’ I left my career, my friends, and everything behind to come here and be with you. In a little over a year, my current visa will expire, and if I don’t have a job that will keep me here and you’re not willing to propose/get married to keep me here with you, then I’m gone. I took the steps I could to be with you, and if you’re not also willing to take significant steps for us to be together, then that’s my signal that you’re not ready. But I am and I deserve somebody who will do everything in their power to keep me with them.”
It was terrifying and freeing to say exactly what I wanted, but the only reason I could say it was because I 100% meant it. I was ready to leave if he wasn’t willing to work to be with me. When he said that he’d move to the other side of the world with me to stay with me (New Zealand was my back-up plan), I told him that if I moved there he was not welcome to come with me. I’d moved internationally for us to be together once, I would not do it again.
LW, I’m a big fan of you knowing what kind of commitment you want and being willing to end it if this relationship isn’t going to give you what you need. But I think you need to be honest with your partner and give him a chance to be honest with you. And I think having a possible life path that you’re really excited about with or without this partner will help you be ready for whatever the future holds.
5 years after that discussion, my ex has been with somebody for 3 years and I’ve been single pretty much the whole time – I’ve dated here and there, but nothing serious. And I am so much happier than I would be if I were still with somebody who made me feel like I needed to force him to prioritize me. But I had to put it out there and let him know what I was thinking so he could make his own decisions and we could each move forward from there.
We started dating in January of our senior year of college and by the time we realized we didn’t want to break up after graduation, we’d made grad school plans on opposite coasts of the US. We decided to try long-distance, hated it (doesn’t everyone?) and broke up in September, and then got back together a week later on a very teary phone call during which I told him clearly that if this was going to work he *had* to talk to me every day and write me letters that he couldn’t send to his mother (this was in 1982). He’d said all along he was never going to get married because he would be a terrible husband (this was about his parents’ marriage but he didn’t know it at the time). We saw each other at Thanksgiving and he said “I’d do this for four years if it meant I didn’t lose you.” I said “I won’t do this unless we get engaged.” I had been in a long-distance relationship earlier in college and nearly wrecked my life, and at 22 was still blaming that on the distance and not the abusive asshole I was dating. I needed some kind of commitment to get through the long months between visits. So I said that, and he said – nothing.
I went home, managed to pass my exams somehow, and when he came home for Christmas I knew we were either going to get engaged or break up. We got engaged, and for years I thought he’d married me because I forced him to. Finally, after about 25 years of marriage, I realized he didn’t want to get married because he was terrified of it and thought he’d screw it up – and he did it anyway, despite the terror, because he loved me. The most powerful reframe of my life.
tl,dr: telling your loved ones what you need is not an ultimatum if you accept the consequences of “no.” I knew I would be better off without him than trying to make a long-distance relationship work without a commitment because of the consequences to my career and my sanity. I wasn’t trying to manipulate his behavior. I was honestly stating my needs.
I almost did write a similar letter this past winter. After more than five years of dating and four years of living together, with many casual conversations about marriage, future kids, etc. to confirm that we had compatible goals, we still weren’t engaged. We had even gone ring shopping in the summer to get a sense of what I liked, and we got a family ring from my grandmother at Thanksgiving (I was worried that his limited income at the time might be past of the problem). Like the letter writer, I was silently freaking out. After all that, his lack of proposal must mean he had decided he didn’t love me. Never mind that everything else in the relationship was fine.
When I finally broke down crying about it in February or so (this is where I wish I had had the advice here befofehand) he revealed that he had actually bought a ring from Etsy and then didn’t like it when it came and was waiting for them to reimburse him so he could afford a different one. All those months of anguish would have been saved by a little communication!
Unfortunately, I didn’t really learn my lesson. I set myself a deadline of our 5.5 year anniversary in May to mentally come to terms with the idea of never getting married. Then, as that deadline approached I decided that getting married was more important than my fantasies of being proposed to, and I bought a ring and started planning my proposal to him, to take place on a mountain on an upcoming trip. Turns out he had gotten a ring for me a few months prior and was waiting for that same trip! He proposed first, and then was so happy to get my counter proposal a few days later so he could wear an engagement ring too.
Writing it out, it feels like one of those Shakeseare plays or awful chick flicks where the entire source of narrative drama is people not being forthright with each other. But the moral of the story for me was A) have the conversation, then have it again and again because things can change and evolve and B) if you feel like they’re mutually exclusive, decide whether the marriage or the proposal is more important and act accordingly.
Years ago I bought one of the pet gates that is a step-through baby gate (has a latching swing-gate built into it) with a small swing door that is to allow small pets to pass – we had a cat and a dog and needed to keep the dog, who was very persistent, out of the cat food so did it by putting this in the doorway to a bedroom we used mostly for storage.
It wasn’t available locally so I ordered online. It’s made by a company far better known for baby gates and similar products. It was a decade before I stopped receiving various baby and children related catalogs.
I believe that you want to be married to a man who can be trusted to follow through, and that you fear your boyfriend isn’t that man.
A history of promising stuff and needing reminders to follow through would give me pause too.
Regardless of whether he’s essentially reliable, I believe that you’ll be happier if you bring up marriage once. Maybe use the Captain’s scripts. Maybe something like this this:
We have talked about marriage before, but you haven’t brought it up recently. What’s changed?
Fwiw, if someone told me they’d do something within two months, I’d expect that they’d do it, or bring up why they hadn’t. I don’t buy “But how could he knoooooooow.”
Keeping your word, or, at the very least, keeping your SO in the loop doesn’t require mind reading.
I trust your judgment, LW. I believe that you will continue to have a good life, and that if you marry, you will marry a reliable, loving person.
This is where my mind focused, too. I think it’s worth having a conversation about with him, not a “I want you to propose to me” but a “you said that you’d do X and you haven’t. I took that as a commitment from you and I’m feeling sad/afraid/unloved because you haven’t followed through.”
Hopefully, he’ll be horrified at hurting you and the two of you can have a productive conversation about commitment and communication. If he’s not, well, that is data for you to consider as well.
A possible script, or partial script (bearing in mind the Captain’s good advice):
You: “we talked about getting married. Do you still want to?” OR “Have you been thinking about that?”>
If he says “Yes, please marry me” you can start talking about details. If he says he doesn’t want to, you have whatever exit plan you’ve already been thinking about.”
If he says “I’m going to propose in a couple of months,” you can tell him that it’s been “a couple of months” for the last half year, and that if you’re getting married, you want a proposal by the end of September. Tell him that the formal proposal matters, but it doesn’t have to be in the perfect location, or with a fancy ring. What this does is change “a couple of months,” which leaves room for procrastination even if it isn’t “jam every other day,” to “by the end of September 2018,” a non-moving date.
If he says there are things he wants to talk about first, go to the advice above on having those conversations. If it’s about finishing a degree, or some other outside event, ask how he’d feel about getting engaged next month to get married in (say) 2022.
Here’s the thing about “ultimatums” – there’s a difference between using threats to get what you want with no compromise (“Propose to me RIGHT NOW or I will LEAVE YOU before dinnertime!”) and sharing information attached to a consequence (“I want to get married, and I’m at a point in my life where I want the relationship I’m in to have marriage as a goal. I’d like to do that in 2 months or so, and if we’re really far apart on that, I’m going to have a lot to think about. I’ll be honest, it’s important enough to me that I would end the relationship over it.”) The former is unhealthy and controlling, sure, but the latter? It’s REALLY HEALTHY. Just because the sentence structure is kinda similar doesn’t make it the same thing.
Some ultimatums are good; some are necessary. Some help you be clear about something that’s making you unhappy and give you a way to ask for what you want.
If he decides to propose to you based on this information you’re giving him, that doesn’t mean you strong-armed him or coerced him; it means that when you stated your desires and needs plainly he decided that, of his choices, that was the best one. By making clear that the consequence of his current choice is that you might not stick around, you didn’t limit his options. You clarified them. You let your needs and perspective matter; it’s a good habit for being married and in a long-term partnership. This will not be the last time you want something and need his buy-in for it to happen. It doesn’t stop once this one (albeit major) thing is resolved.
So often as women we’re told to never be demanding – that if we ask for something, that somehow diminishes its value because we had to ask. That we’re less “chosen” and it’s less special because a man didn’t realize that on his own. That if we’re just good enough, worthy enough, if we ask for as little as possible, if we make our needs small – that this is the best way to show a man we’re “worthy” of extra effort, fun dates, texts back, marriage proposals, etc. It’s not true – as Cap said, if he wants to marry you, you won’t scare him away because you asked for him to ask you. And frankly, this is a scam – it’s a way to ensure the male partner in a man-woman relationship gets to control the timeline. There’s lots of reasons people are invested in this narrative, and trust me – none of them are based in reality.
Give ultimatums. Ban the word “demanding” as applied to yourself for at least a bit. “Demands” are helpful. They’re useful. As long as you give people room to say no and you’re polite, they’re really just statements of preference. You’ve got this. Hugs if you want them.
This is an excellent comment, lauren. Love the Captain’s advice too.
Is it really necessary to make the “or else I’ll walk away” part explicit? If she tells him “marriage is really important to me, as I told you before, and I’m very disappointed that you didn’t keep your timeline for proposing me. What’s up with that?” and he still doesn’t propose, then it should be clear to him that she won’t be around forever?
I think so. There are a lot of things in the world that are important, that you can tell somebody matter deeply to you, and that you can continue to live without. If this is not one of those things and you are willing to accept the results either way and move forward with your life (but in vastly different ways), then I think it’s actually vital to verbalize that the consequences of not getting married is the loss of the relationship. Not because it’s a threat, but because it’s really important to be able to say, “These are my needs, and if your needs and my needs are at odds, I value myself enough to leave and have the option of having those needs met at some point. But if I stay in this, I know they won’t be, and that’s not okay with me.”
I do see what you mean, but it looks like they’ve had this conversation already without making it especially explicit and the result is a waiting game that’s been painful for her.
If it’s a true statement, I have a hard time understanding why not to say it that way. Said kindly and with empathy/room for conversation, what’s the drawback to being really clear?
I definitely get why this isn’t an every day tactic (“put away the dishes or I’m leaving you!”) but for something as important as marriage, kids, finances, the big non-negotiable deal-breaker type things, I just think it’s really okay and in fact preferable to say exactly what we mean. And honestly, most men I know are socialized to do exactly this without any weirdness around it.
Yeah, she actually DOES possibly want to leave if they’re not getting married. Telling him so is not some kind of manipulation tactic, it’s honesty!
When I was in graduate school I fell in love with another graduate student and we moved in together. I knew that his parents had divorced and he had a rough time and that was okay. I knew I loved him and I wanted to marry him but I knew that he wasn’t sure about marriage/divorce. When it came time to graduate (3 years later) I decide that I needed something more. I wanted to have children one day and I wasn’t going to do that if I wasn’t married. That was important to me. I still remember sitting together on the couch in PJ’s and me telling him I wasn’t going to be mad, I wasn’t trying to blackmail him but I needed to know if he ever saw himself being married because otherwise I thought it was time for us to move on. My marriage proposal was “Okay fine!” Not the romance I dreamed about but 26 years and 2 kids later, its more than fine. Take a chance. You really don’t have anything to lose.
Captain, your advice is always spot on, but you’ve surpassed yourself today. This is some of the loveliest, wisest writing I’ve ever seen.
LW, ask the scary questions and trust your gut. Wishing you happiness and less worry very soon!
Mr. Uptown and I had been talking marriage, and bought a house together. I’d been married before, it was a “shotgun” wedding when I was 20, with pressure to marry (that wasn’t a total disaster, but it ended in divorce after 11 years). We were both 44. Mr. Uptown has a habit of saying “If you want to” when I (or others) suggest things, so I made a point to say he’d have to propose. It had to be clear that he wanted to. We’ve been married since November 2007, following a surprise proposal by the Guadalupe River in Texas in July 2007.
So, yeah, talk about it. Say what you want and need.
I had probably the least romantic marriage proposal of all time (we were on a conference call with an immigration attorney trying to determine the best way to get us all in the same country and the answer was, “welp, I guess Cat and [Husband] are getting married.”) So, I don’t exactly prioritize the big, romantic proposal, but honestly sometimes I wish I’d had that. It wasn’t so much of a priority that I needed it, but I totally understand that for some people it is.
By contrast, the wedding ceremony was very important to me, my partners and I standing together in front of our community to say we wanted this life together. It wasn’t for everyone though. I had to put myself out there and say, “this part, this part is important to me.” And I won’t pretend that wasn’t scary. Like many people from somewhat dysfunctional families, I find explicitly asking for what I need kind of difficult, but expecting my partners to intuit my needs without me stating them would have been setting us all up for failure.
Ha! My proposal went something like: “I can’t afford to keep paying this much for mediation every month.” “Should we get married so you can get on my health insurance?” “Yeah, probably a good idea.” Two months later, we were married. (That was 14 years ago and we’re still pretty happy together, so non-romantic proposals FTW.)
LW, you’re not going to have a happy marriage if you’d rather go the route of seething silently for months instead of openly communicating with your partner about what bothers you. Food for thought.
I really liked Captain Awkwards point that you can still have the big proposal from him if that’s what you want, having conversations with him won’t preclude that. It can even still be a “surprise” in how/when he does it. 😊
How often requests for advice include a statement like “it is completely impossible for me to do the one thing that would make this problem go away.” With no explanation as to why. Why can’t LW talk to her boyfriend about how she is feeling? If they get married, life will require them to talk about even more awkward and painful and consequential things than this.
Take it from an Old; you do not want your Person to be someone you’re afraid to be vulnerable with. You want your Person to be someone you can blurt your most unformed and embarrassing thoughts to. It’s beautiful to trust that they will hear you with goodwill, kindness, and willingness to understand you, and in turn blurt their truth to you. When you don’t have that, marriage can feel so lonely.
LW, you sound like a person who has a really good grasp of what you want. Lean on that. It’s really hard and scary to be honest about these very important things, even with someone you love and want a life with, but there’s no other way. Or, well, there *is* another way, but it is the way of stifled expectations and unarticulated disappointment, and is not preferred.
Recommended reading: http://rolereboot.org/sex-and-relationships/details/2015-12-dear-dana-i-want-my-boyfriend-to-propose-over-the-holidays-and-im-worried-that-he-wont/
LW, my sister got together with a long-time friend and they had a series of conversations where they decided to be married. It was actually more like she said, “I want to buy this house,” and he said, “Well I don’t have the credit for that,” and she said, “We could afford it jointly if we were married,” and he said, “Well once we’re married we can afford x, y, and z….” and they were off to the races. Four months later, my sister had already booked a wedding venue and was looking at wedding dresses, and her dude says something about the wedding. My sister told him, “If I say yes.” He didn’t understand. My sister had to spell out, “You still need to ask me. With a ring. In a romantic setting. And I would need to say yes.” He had no idea up to that point, just assumed it was all settled ….. but he did come through and they have wonderful pictures of the proposal, by a lake at night, with candles floating on flowers everywhere.
I tell this story to reassure you that you can have the magical proposal experience without the uncertainty. Planning for the future is normal. Wanting reassurance that you’re both committed and in this for the long haul is very normal! If you have super important questions like this, your dude should be the safest person to ask and admit uncertainty to. If he isn’t that safe person for you, that’s something important to think about.
I would have been confused too, to be honest. If someone was booking venues and so forth, I’d think we were already engaged!
Yeah, why didn’t she spell this out any time in the preceding four months?
She thought it was obvious that he would have to do a romantic proposal and get her a ring. Obviously. She was moving forward with plans because that’s just her personality, to worry about the details later. When she discovered they weren’t on the same page about this, she had that conversation with him and made her expectations and needs clear, as is the theme of this letter and advice.
Similar advertising blitz has happened to me whenever I’ve bought gifts for my now toddler nephew and nieces. Suddenly, not only were there ads on every website that worked around adblocker, there were suggestions of Facebook Mom groups and new parent groups. Yikes!
I could be way off base here, but I’m getting a vibe of “fed up with trying to EARN this marriage proposal,” and maybe just the idea that it needs to be earned is adding to the feeling that you can’t ask for the things you need right now, until the relationship is locked down and this is your home legally. And I just want to say, don’t put the idea of a marriage above the people involved in it.
Do you feel secure in that relationship? Or are you waiting for the bond of a marriage to create that security before you feel it’s ok to back off on doing 95% of the cleaning and start asking for some things you need from him? If marriage changed absolutely nothing about the division of labor, or how secure you feel in asking for things, or how exhausted you feel with trying to gain his favor, would you still want it?
A marriage is maintained by the bond you create every day with the person who is your partner. It is an extension of what you have now. Is that something you want for the rest of your life? Because marriage will not transform it. Are you happy with the levels of give and take as they exist right now? Because that’s what he is going to expect to live with once the goal of marriage is achieved.
It’s not wrong to want to be married – I’m absolutely not saying that. But maybe think about what you are hoping marriage will accomplish in your life. And if it so happens that you’re expecting it to give you breathing room to stop trying so hard, if you need it so that you finally feel secure enough to just relax, then maybe it’s ok to give yourself that gift now. If he’s going to bolt because you want more effort from him, or because you ask to have your wants/needs met, or because in some way you scale back on trying to maintain the perfectly pleasing girlfriend persona, he will do that after the wedding too. Don’t wait to find out.
‘If he’s going to bolt because you want more effort from him, or because you ask to have your wants/needs met, or because in some way you scale back on trying to maintain the perfectly pleasing girlfriend persona, he will do that after the wedding too.’
Just wanted to say that this is very, very smart and well said and I’m up-voting it one thousand times.
My wife is super traditional. She would never have asked me to marry her, just like she would never had asked me to be her boyfriend. However, because I am a bit dense and oblivious, she always told me what she expected of me, and the steps she wanted to take.
For example, we had agreed that we wanted a relationship that would eventually lead to marriage when we got together. Eventually, she took me to a jewelry and told me “Let’s check the rings for the proposal, and then you do with that information what you will”.
It’s ok to be traditional, but you still can communicate your needs, even if what you need is for him to propose marriage to you. For example, if you dislike public proposals, or if you want a very public one, you can tell him just that, and that brings up the topic of marriage immediately.
So, I am not really close to many of my siblings. I can really only count one sister who I truly feel close to, my oldest sister who is about 20 years my senior. I love her dearly, but she is considerably more conservative than I am (though considerably less conservative than all the rest of my siblings and my parents). A few times in my dating life she told me the story of how she “got her husband to propose.” She told him one day, “I think we want different things” and then broke up with him. He apparently understood from this that what she wanted was marriage, so they (apparently) got back together with his proposal.
Now as I myself grew older and went from “incredibly conservative” to “very liberal”, my feelings on this story went from, “well I bet that works, I should try that.” to “That probably works, but I don’t want to try that” to “If I had to ‘get’ a man through that method, I wouldn’t want him. If I can’t be honest with my partner, what’s the point?”
I now am married, and we’ll have been married 2 years in November. I proposed to him. I’m overjoyed I found someone that I didn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed to talk about important things about. I never once thought, “if I tell him I want to marry him, he’ll leave me.” My sister loves my relationship, and my husband – she frequently tells me she brags about me to her friends. I think her belief in how to get a husband wasn’t rooted in her own wishes, but rooted in her thinking not particularly much of men in general, unfortunately.
I can understand the frustration of waiting. I told my husband that I wanted to marry to him and that he needed to sit down and think about if that is what he wanted. I said we didn’t have to actually get married if he was against that part of it, but I did need us to come to an agreement about our level of commitment. Months (?) later (and just before my birthday!) he asked me in these words “now don’t read anything into this, but what is your ring size?” I got excited but really wanted to make a point of “not reading anything” into it because OMGWTF, so I got every single one of my fingers sized and presented him with a very kindergarten-type craft project of construction paper cutouts of my hands with their sizes clearly labeled. And when my birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas rolled around with NOTHIN DOIN, I started to get super insecure about our relationship. Maybe he decided against marrying me, blah blah blah our relationship is doomed just like every other I’ve ever had blah blah blah. My depression was serious at the time the my brain monsters were laying it on really thick. It was a brutal period in our relationship. It took so much courage and vulnerability to tell him how much I was struggling and how much I needed to know if we were on the same page. It easily the scariest conversations I’ve ever had to initiate, since I knew going in that I could very well wind up losing the love of my life. It was TERRIBLE and I never want to go through anything like that again.
And you know what? He was absolutely sheepish. He had been trying to plan a showy proposal because he thought that was what I wanted and he wanted to give me what I deserve. He over-geeked himself into trying to get “it” just right and getting it right in the way he wanted takes a lot of time and planning. Which he was doing! The whole time! And not talking to me, his best friend and confidant, about it because it was supposed to be a surprise. He had been working on designing an engagement ring with a jeweler and wanted to wait until he had a wax cast to present me. He showed me some sketches and I was so relieved that he hadn’t gotten that far. His idea of what my idea of a perfect ring was way off base. His design was beautiful and showed so much thought and his attention to my personality, but. I just wanted something simple because I am an oaf who abuses jewelry.
Anyway, he asked me to marry him that night and we both felt like giant turds about the whole thing. But then a few days before our wedding he got some of my friends to help him spring a trap for me. They said they were taking me out for a bachelorette thingy, but instead my (now / soon-to-be) husband was waiting in a suit with flowers and my engagement ring that he had taken that day to get cleaned prior to the wedding. He did the whole one knee thing and we cried and laughed and took the goofiest pictures of each other. We just celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary. Our daughter is 7. He still regularly over-geeks himself because he is who he is, hey.
With all that said, the terrifying conversation we had the night he proposed to me the first time was absolutely the discussion that needed to be had, no matter the outcome. I was melting down in my own head over the marriage debate, and the person I was maybe going to spend the rest of my life with needed to know it. I also needed to know what he was going to do with that information. Was he going to be kind and caring in the ways that I deserved? Or was he going to be dismissive and resentful in ways I had already fucked with more that enough? I am so so so glad that we’re married and things are wonderful, but if I had waited any more and let my life get any more entangled with someone who didn’t want me as a person, it would have been seriously damaging. Breaking up with him would have been horrible immediately, but giving up on the kind of relationship that I needed if I was going to bother with a relationship would have just done me in eventually. I knew what I wanted, and I wanted it from him. But if he wasn’t able to give me that *ever*, I needed that information so I could figure out what to do next. Even if it would be difficult and scary and ruin the life I had been building.
And like, I know how easy that is for me to say from the comfort of my happy marriage, but I seriously do remember the conversation so clearly. I remember the terror of not knowing if he’d be my ex- in the morning, and running through all the logistics of that kind of change. So Letter Writer, I feel you. I hope that whenever you are able to start this conversation, it winds up being really positive. A big commitment like this is no joke, and I hope your boyfriend is…I don’t even know what I hope when it comes to him. I just really hope the best for you, whatever that means. Take care. I’ll be thinking of you.
Huh. My read on the letter is vastly different from the Captain’s this time.
LW, you sound like you’ve smartly and succesfully applied the Sheelzebub Principle (“if things don’t change, how much time do I want to invest in this relationship?”) and are approaching the end of your alloted time, but your boyfriend has not changed his behaviour. I agree with Mrs Morley: he should have kept his promise, and he should have explained why he hasn’t proposed.
It sounds like you’ve reached a decision (the tough decision to break up with someone whom you love but who isn’t right for you, because he doesn’t keep his word or is not as enthusiastic as you about being in a relationship with you) and are looking for validation.
LW, I believe you deserve to feel validated, listened to, and secure in a partnership. I believe you deserve to find someone who keeps his word, and who does his fair share in your Important Conversations (including initiating them sometimes), and who is as enthusiastic and happy about marrying you as you are about marrying them. I believe you deserve to feel loved and happy, not confused and sad.
Breaking up with someone you love because they’re not whom you need is fucking hard. It’s carving your heart out with your own hands because you know it needs to be done. But you can do it. Sometimes what you need to do for your long-term health and happiness is heart-rendingly painful and hard. But you can do it. You will hurt, but you will heal, and you will laugh and love again.
You can do this.
Definitely talk! You never know, they may be all “I’m saving up to get you that ring and pop the question”.
True story: my partner and I danced around this for a long time (with me wavering between Hell Will Freeze Over Before I Do That Again and OMG, I Want to Marry You) and finally we talked! They said that they felt terrible and had wanted to do it sooner, but each time they had $$$ for a ring, life happened. Plus, they didn’t know what to get. So we collaborated, I handled the leg work and showed designs of what I liked, we gave each other feedback, I did all the “people and finding a local jeweler that will give us what we want”. They made the final decision.
Commitment doesn’t have to be in the form of marriage, since you both sound very committed to each other. As CA said, it’s really ok to want that next step. For me, but it changed everything for me – and nothing.
If you can’t talk about the big stuff now, it’s not going to change once married.
There is some great advice in the Capt’s reply, I’ll also add… “Why the rush”?
Moving in with someone after 2 months, marriage talk after 4 months and ready to ditch the relationship after 16 months because things “aren’t moving fast enough” are HUGE red flags of expecting a relationship/babies to “fix” their lives.
IMO, you don’t even START to get to know someone on a level to determine long-term compatibility until after the 6-12 month “infactuation” period is over. Absolutely during this time it’s good to feel out of you both have the same relationship and life goals, but why add all this additional pressure?
When you are talking about building a relationship to last the rest of your life – you NEED to build on a solid foundation. Wringing a marriage proposal through ultimatum is a terrible foundation and could easily lead to regret and resentment when life happens and challenges come up.
Even if this is a “ticking baby clock” thing… do you really want the father to be the first guy who is willing to jump in feet first, and maybe miss out on the guy who will love you for the rest of your life because he wasn’t moving “fast enough”?
Ok, but the Letter Writer explicitly does NOT want to use ultimatums or grab onto the first guy who is willing to jump in feet first. This is a mischaracterization, and a cruel one. When they got together they talked about marriage – he talked about it and brought it up – and they both were on the same, mutually-agreed schedule. And then they weren’t.
Some people need 6-12 months to figure stuff out, some people know much sooner than that, some people will never be ready. I get leery when people pressure other people or move relationships along very fast at the beginning, but also, there is a Guy – I’ve met literally a hundred of him and for a while I was the lady version of him – who super likes having a live-in committed girlfriend and all of the nice things that go with that but who will never quite be “ready” to be married. He doesn’t have the same constraints on fertility, he just doesn’t know if he’s quite ready for commitment, he’s just on a different timeline. Often this Guy knows that never wants to have kids, but he won’t get a vasectomy, nope, you have to go on expensive/intrusive birth control b/c he’s keeping his options open. In the end, when it ends, it’s like, ok, you’re incompatible, you just want different things, cool. But This Guy will act like he wants all the same things you want, will tell you he wants all the same things you want, just, Not Right Now. Not yet. And he will never dump you – he will just wait and wait and wait until you snap and do it.
I don’t know if the Letter Writer’s guy is This Guy, but I know This Guy exists and if you let him he will waste so. fucking. much. of. your. time. Not every relationship has to “progress” or become permanent in order to be worthwhile, but we belittle women so fucking much when they are like “Hey, fellow adult, this is what I’d like my life to look like. You said you wanted that, too – is that still true? Because if not just tell me and I’ll stop throwing your laundry in when I do mine ’cause it’s ‘easier'” It’s worth at least having that conversation, right? Without the “ugh why are you so in a rush” judgment.
So much about marriage & partnership isn’t about romance or sex, it’s about where you put your money and your time. If the dude doesn’t want the same things the LW wants, maybe she should put her money in savings instead of paying for that joint vacation or upgrading the dining room chairs. It’s not foolish to wonder about this.
You missed out that This Guy also likes having 95% of the housework done for him….
But yes, this, this, all this! It is entirely possible that LW’s partner isn’t This Guy and has been preoccupied with other things entirely and does still want to marry, had a different understanding of the original conversation, or has his own genuine concerns about the relationship. If so, a conversation will start to sort it out. But it’s also supremely possible that he is This Guy, and the stakes for him are so much less than those for a 35 year old women who wants children. LW has plenty of time left to find another partner and have children if this relationship doesn’t work out. She won’t have that time if she gets strung along for another few years until she eventually realises he’s never going to commit.
Hmm. While I agree everyone moves at different speeds, moving in at 2 months is a bit of a red flag to me. Talking about marriage at the start isn’t – if two people are dating for the express purpose of marriage, it only makes sense that they state that goal from the beginning so that no one wastes their time. The reason moving in strikes me as a bit of a worry point is because it puts two people in a position where it’s immediately harder for them to separate if they find out they aren’t quite compatible, makes it more likely for someone (guy or girl) to coast rather than break up or progress. It needn’t be a deliberate “tactic” from either person, but it’s important to realize that it *can be* tactic that a manipulative person will use to make the other person feel more in love and committed right from the start, so that when bad stuff starts happening the other party feels compelled to stay. Not saying that any of that is happening here! Just that the potential is there. It’s the kind of thing where if there are other red flags (like both parties work and only one of them does housework, HMMMM), maybe examine how many red flags there are and if they add up to something.
I definitely don’t think moving in really soon is the greatest idea (for all the reasons you said).
But it’s already happened, more than a year ago, so, what now?
Darth Ex was very much This Guy, despite having proposed to me about two weeks into the relationship and producing cheap hematite bands from the local New Age shop that served as “promise rings” (and that I diligently replaced every time they broke, which they did, often).
He wanted a future wife and a “soulmate” but he wasn’t real interested in doing any of the things that showed he was actually interested in moving in with me and forming a household together (and he WAS increasingly interested in doing a lot of things that I didn’t want in my house, mostly of the illegal substance variety, which was why we broke up).
I was young enough that bio clocks weren’t really on the radar yet but it was still TWO YEARS OF MY LIFE that I wasted on his nonsense, and some of my hesitations about getting out had to do with the fear of starting over.
When Mister Cheshire “officially” brought up marriage about a month after we moved in together, I said “I need a ring that is BETTER THAN DARTH’S TWO DOLLAR HEMATITE BAND and a set wedding date, or we are NOT engaged, okay? Okay.” He agreed that this was completely legit and prioritized following up on this quickly.
We found cute matching silver rings we both liked and decided we would wear them as engagement rings. We set a wedding date that was almost exactly two years from the day we first met. And we stuck to it and actually had the wedding.
(that’s it, my brain just shorted out on KITTENS)
I just want to say – this conversation where you say “hey I really want to get married and I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I feel weird bringing it up and I hate the feeling that I would be pressuring you but I want to know where we stand, and if it’s what we both want can we talk about a timeline?” is a scary scary conversation, and it can also lead to REALLY GOOD THINGS. A relationship where you both feel like you can bring up what’s on your mind even if it doesn’t conform to what Society says *should* be on your mind is so much better than the alternative. When I had this conversation with my now-husband, 10 years ago, I was so terrified – like i would scare him off, or he’d marry me out of pressure and then hate me, or he’d think I wasn’t a Cool Girl because I actually wanted marriage. I am so glad I got over myself and asked. It was only the beginning, but it did kick off the series of conversations that ultimately ended in our saying “okay I guess we are engaged, let’s make some phone calls!” And it was months after we were officially engaged that he obtained a family ring and took me out to dinner and presented it to me with “will you marry me” – it was lovely, and surprises are overrated!
It sounds like you know what you want. That’s really good! You get to bring up the things that you want and ask to talk about them concretely.
I have been in your shoes. My last long-term relationship ended for many reasons, but the main one was him not making room for me in his life. I felt like I was persuading him rather than him actually wanting it. That also was why I was reluctant to bring it up; I wanted to know he wanted it and wasn’t being pressured. I think his family also pressured him, because they also pressured him about school. He didn’t finish college, and they were always pushing him to go back to school and finish that degree even though he was doing fine for himself otherwise and didn’t really need it. The result was he’d complain they were pushing him, sign up for a single community college course, and then drop out because he just plain didn’t want to. That was more or less what happened with our relationship.
I noticed that you start right off the bat by saying you’re annoyed and angry. I don’t doubt that he’s picked up on that, but he may not be aware of the reason why. Guys don’t forget discussions of marriage, so, as others have already pointed out, it’s possible that he’s thinking about marriage and pulling away from wanting to be married to someone always annoyed with him.
I personally am hung up on you mentioning that you do 95% of the cleaning. I have more often than not ended up in relationships where I did all the cleaning, and it’s now a dealbreaker. I first developed a rule that “If I go over to a guy’s house and it’s a sty, I’m not going back.” That was a good start. Then I met my ex, who cleaned his house before I came over for the first time, but he soon fell back into lazy habits, and I ended up cleaning up after him more often than not. Many arguments were had. One day I was trying to tidy up before going home, and he got mad and told me that I was just “inventing work.” That blew up into a huge fight. Histrionics were had. Tears were shed. The way I went about it was completely wrong, but my point was still valid. It’s not my job to clean up after somebody else, and I’m not going to stay in a gross house. I have subsequently amended my rule to “I want a guy who keeps his house neat not to impress me but because he likes it that way.” It’s fucked up that men expect/allow women to clean up homes that aren’t theirs, messes they didn’t make, etc. If you’re both sloppy, then fine, but I am a tidy person and don’t want to share space with somebody who doesn’t share that value.
Lauren above made an excellent point about ultimatums as threats vs. ultimatums as sharing information attached to a consequence. I resisted setting a date in my head with my ex because it seemed silly, but it wasn’t. It’s perfectly reasonable to have goals and values and not want to waste time if you feel like you’re not going anywhere. You’re not crazy or clingy or a nag or have your biological clock ticking or have seen too many Disney princess movies or any of that crap. You want what you want, and that’s fine. Also, it’s perfectly understandable to not want to strongarm somebody into a commitment they aren’t ready for and may never be. But you can’t have that conversation without having that conversation.
I agree with some of the other commenters about the stress and pressure to get married and fixating on that rather than the relationship itself. I notice it’s always pressure to GET married, not to BE married. I’ve seen many people rush into ill-advised marriages because they want to be married but didn’t think enough about how happy they’d actually be with the person they’re married to. I’ve seen Pinterest pages full of over-the-top wedding ideas for relationships that didn’t work out. People have a tendency to overlook relationship problems when they’re excited about getting married. Somebody commented “If you can’t talk about the big stuff now, it’s not going to change once married.” OMG that’s so true. And those marriages don’t last, because problems should be solved before that level of commitment. Marriage doesn’t make two people compatible. If you’re unhappy now, you will be more so once married. If it’s not commitment or cleaning or whatever that’s the issue, something else will be.
I strongly with the Captain’s advice on stability regarding a Plan B for your financial well-being. If you reach the deadline in your head and have this conversation about marriage and it doesn’t go well and you break up, you need to know what will happen. This includes finances, insurance, your possessions, what to do with shared possessions, where you will go, utilities, pets, everything. For example, I remember my ex wanted to buy me a new phone at some point, the reason being mine was a cheap piece of shit because I couldn’t afford anything else, and I said “Okay. Are you going to pay the bill every month?” That wiped the smile off his face, and no phone was bought. I knew I didn’t want a utility tied to somebody who might not stick around.
You know him well enough by now that you’re familiar with his habits and various verbal tics. Pay close attention to his body language (and yours!) when talking to him. He may get nervous and shut down, especially if you seem pushy. I could always tell when my ex was lying–The fact that he lied to me enough for me to know the tics was a pretty good indicator that the relationship had run its course. I also learned not to tell him that I recognized the tics because he would then stop himself mid-tic and develop another one instead. It was ridiculous. Anyway, I used that information to know that commitment was never going to happen. You can do the same.
It kind of sounds like you already know the answer. It sucks and I’m sorry, but I’m sure there is someone out there better for you. If it doesn’t work out, take some time to work on those daydreams. I was devastated to lose my ex, but I found myself. Give yourself the gift of a better life.
Hey LW, I hope you will have a conversation with your guy and tell him your feelings the way Cap proposed – that is really something perfectly fine and I think it’s important to be able to have those serious, sometimes heavy discussions with a life partner. I get that you are afraid that he will feel pressured, but.. well, I mean, if you tell him about your feelings you are really not pressuring him, only being honest about what’s happening in your head. If that makes him feel incredibly pressured to the point of proposing when he doesn’t want to – I gotta admit, that’s an overreaction and its 100% on him. I understand the fear but I think it would be better for the relationship if you just trusted him, as in: he is an adult who knows what he wants and is able to assert for himself. If he is not able to do that then this problem will go back even if you do get married – vacations in places he dislikes, ’cause he feels pressured, children ’cause he feels pressured… that is something he needs to work on and it’s not your job to ‘not pressure him’ by tip-toeing around him and not talking about your needs.
I think it’s not possible to create a serious, long-term adult relationship if one person has to censure so much because the other is so not-assertive that they feel pressured to do everything their partners talks about to them. That would completely close the communication, destabilize the relationship and it won’t be repaired by the first partner just Not Asking For Stuff.
I will change the topic for a moment, cause this is interesting: I read an article about how living together sometimes makes men less interested in marriage. It really intrigued me, because it seems counter intuitive to me. I would expect people to be more inclined to get married after they already live with their partner and all is going well. It seems that this is actually something women often think – that living together is a prelude to marriage – while guys kinda treat it in the ‘why buy a cow…’ kind of way. So maybe your guy wanted to get married and all that when you first talked about it and then kinda fell into this exact trap. He already has everything a married man would have… expect less commitment. And maybe he discovered he likes it that way.
It’s just me theorizing tho. I think it would really not be needy, naggy or anything negative if you just asked him. Good luck!
LW, for what it’s worth, my lovely spouse is a go-along status-quo type of guy and here are awkward conversations I did not want to initiate that I have initiated over the past 20-odd years
1. Hey Our Leases Are Ending In May Do You Want To Get A Place Together
2. Hey So We Are Adults With Careers So If I Get Accidentally Pregnant I Think I’d Rather Keep It, What Do You Think
3. Hey Look I’d Really Rather Be Married Than Living Together Indefinitely, Thoughts On That? (This conversation recurred over several months and went back and forth and compromises were negotiated and it was all VERY awkward. We have now been married 17 years.)
4. Hey Can We Talk About Having A Baby On Purpose Please
I can’t say that Awkward Conversation Initiator is the favorite role I have in our relationship, but it’s mine, and you know what? It’s fine. I didn’t pressure him into moving in together, marriage, or kids by having those conversations. All I did was make sure we HAD the conversations, instead of having resentment and misunderstandings.
My wonderful fiancé is a very In His Head kind of person (I am ENTP, he is INTP, and while we are shockingly compatible, that one letter makes a lot of difference to how we process), and once apologized for the fact that I am the Designated Awkward Conversation Initiator. He just takes longer to get there, whereas I am impatient and verbal by nature, so 90% of the time, by the time he’s like “oh so we should probably talk about this” I’ve already started the conversation.
Love this. Yes, having those conversations – even starting them! – is not pressuring anyone to do anything. And those kind of conversations kinda need to happen in relationships, sooner or later. So if someone feels pressured when the conversation is initiated by the partner, to the point of agreeing to very serious things they don’t actually want (ok, let’s keep the baby! ok, let’s get a place together!, ok lets get married!), then maybe this person should not be in a serious relationship right now.
So LW, if you seriously think your bf would not be able to deal with the ‘pressure’ of hawing a conversation initiated (you know him and I don’t so maybe he really is like that?), because he would feel he HAS to propose now, then that may mean he is not ready for a serious relationship right now at all and he should probably work on this issue before committing to anything. But that is his issue, not an issue with you initiating the conversation – that part is perfectly ok and even expected in a relationship.
Talk to him! Even just to say that you thought it was going to happen, is there a timeline? I went through similar things twice. The first time, he wasn’t sure about me, but he wasn’t going to break up with me. He actually invited me to move to another country with him, but I’d have to get my own Visa. It felt horrible but at least I knew. Also, I could have ended up stuck with him forever because he wasn’t going to leave me.
This time, we just talked all the time. Whenever I was getting panicky about stuff, I let him know and we both ended up on the same page and reassured. I even accidentally proposed first (I was hungover and just filled with love so blurted it out.) but I really wanted to know he was all in as well. We talked about that and he got me a ring and then proposed in a much more planned way. Even so, when it took longer than I expected for his proposal, I let him know and said I needed to know if it would happen in the next 2 months. He reassured me and it happened 2 weeks later- he just had had delivery issues with the ring. It should always be ok to talk about life changing decisions!
Hey, LW – I don’t think you’re wrong, and I think the Captain really covered all the bases. Personally, I’d have a conversation about it first – it sounds like he’s really good with you and with your family, and it’s absolutely worth checking yourself to see where your expectations are coming from. Hell, maybe bring up the 95% cleaning thing in a conversation first if you want a dry run on how the relationship is working or how a marriage conversation would potentially go. All that said, it sounds like you really do know what you want and need. It’s absolutely ok to set deadlines for yourself. (It’s also ok to hit the snooze button on them if you feel the need for extra time – it’s your deadline, no one else’s.)
It’s totally fine to want to be proposed to, even if that’s not everybody’s thing. There’s something in there about being desired and feeling like you’re not somehow forcing a relationship on the other person. It’s why I knew I had to propose to my partner first – because I was originally the more hesitant one, and she needed to know that I was in for being married because *I* wanted to be. If she asked me first… she’d always have wondered in the back of her mind. If he was the hesitant one at first, I absolutely get why you need him to be the one to say it.
Double check yourself before you go. Eventually it might be worth looking at ways that you can communicate what you need earlier – in this relationship or in others. However it goes, I wish you all the happiness. ❤
I was living with my boyfriend of five years and he started saying “we should do this thing at our wedding.” I asked when he wanted to get married & he said “I don’t know, how about July?” I think it was February, so it was like “THIS July? Do you know how much we’d have to do in 5 months?” He said no, but we’d figure it out. And we did, & we’re still happy together 16 years later.
You would not believe how disappointed some women are when I don’t have a romantic proposal story or a big diamond to bring out for special occasions. It’s especially funny when they had the proposal, the ring, the big fancy wedding and then a divorce and they still think that I’m the one missing something.
I don’t understand why people are bending over backwards to make up excuses for LW’s boyfriend. He made a specific promise to LW on an extremely important topic, and he broke that promise. She doesn’t need to get over her fears and have some difficult conversation with him — they *already had* that conversation. And when they had that conversation, he lied to her. So I’m not sure why having that same conversation over again is supposed to be any more productive. She’s not expecting him to be a mind-reader, she’s expecting him to be a thing-she-explicitly-said-to-him-in-words reader. (And the stuff about how she might be making him pull away by being annoyed at him? *Super* gross and victim-blamey.)
And frankly, even if he did propose, I’m not sure it would be a good idea to marry someone who is so unwilling to put in any emotional labor for this relationship. (Or any other kind of labor, given the comment about doing 95% of the cleaning.)
LW, your boyfriend has already given you his answer, loud and clear: He does not want to be married to you. You should quietly get your ducks in a row, then walk out that door. Instead of wasting time with this guy, you should be out there looking for a partner who actually cares about you.
I really don’t see this as him necessarily breaking a promise. The LW says he “led her to believe that he would propose marriage in the time frame of two or three months.” To me, that’s a very different thing from “He explicitly said he would propose within three months of our moving in together.” I think the issue isn’t so much whether the boyfriend is acting in good faith or not but the fact that the LW doesn’t have the information to know if he is.
If she was talking about a relationship that was not happy anyway, of course I’d be all “You’re not happy, leave” but in this case it sounds like she really wants to get married to this man if he’s up for getting married within her timeframe, but she’s on the verge of leaving the relationship instead of finding out directly.
I mean, yes, if what she needs is someone who will propose under the specific circumstances that the two of them are in, then obviously this isn’t what she needs. And if she asks him what’s up with the proposal and he hems and haws or says he doesn’t want to get married or doesn’t want to do so on her timeframe, than she’ll know that. It just seems to me that this is a “This relationship is great except for one thing” situation in which the one thing might be fixable. I feel like there’s little to lose from having a conversation.
LW, I hope you can open up to your partner and find them receptive to you. If not, it sounds like you know what to do next. Either way I hope the steps you take lead in the direction you want.
On the basis of reading this answer I initiated a conversation with my partner about how I would like to get officially engaged (we have already agreed we both want to get married, agreed on a date in a couple of years time when we’ll have saved for it and have some idea what we’d like to do). It felt needy and vulnerable to ask, especially when the topic of rings came up but after two consecutive evening chats, he knows how I feel and I know how he feels and nothing has been lost from expressing this.
I am SO much on team “your Emotions won’t scare him off if he wants to marry you”! Because that is how I got proposed to!
We had been talking about marriage/life goals on and off for about two months, discussing where we saw ourselves in 5, 10, 25 years, about money, about children, about living. In the mix was also a situation involving my work visa–I didn’t know whether to move on to a different country or stay there, and it involved potentially many, many thousands of dollars in plane tickets and really sucky visa paperwork if we didn’t get married within the next 6-8 months, while there was only a small 200 euro fee, otherwise.
And one day he was saying, “Well, when we’re living in X city in the fall…” and I just started ugly crying, “But hoooooow is that going to happen? I won’t be here in the fall because we won’t be maaaaarried! And I will be gooooone!”
You see, dear reader, he had meant this remark to be a sly wink at the fact that, since we had already agreed that our life goals were pretty much aligned, and we loved each other and wanted to get married, that he was going to propose very soon. And he had been trying to give me a man-hint. And I had thoroughly trained myself out of man-hints due to them getting me in big trouble in past relationships. (And, in case you wonder why I didn’t just ask him, “being chosen” from the Captain’s very thorough list was a very important part of the marriage narrative for me, even though I totally wanted to have had the conversations about everything before the proposal and not have it as an idea flung at me out of the blue.)
He gave me a hug, told me to take a nap, and then that he was going to make me lunch. I was feeling AWFUL because I was convinced that my lady-emotions had ruined everything and that I shouldn’t have revealed my hand.
Well, he sprang into action, went out and bought a ring, a picnic lunch with fancy picnic things, and a cover story for why we were having a picnic instead of our usual cave-dwelling ways of eating on the couch and watching a film in the middle of a lovely Saturday afternoon.
And then we went to the park and had the picnic, and then he asked me to marry him. And I was still worried that he had only proposed to me because I had made a big scene, and that’s when he told me about his man-hint. And I felt really silly at first, but he was all, “but why didn’t you just tell me you were so stressed about it? I was trying to think of some amazing way to propose, because OF COURSE I want to marry you, hello we have only been talking about this with great enthusiasm for two months! But since you were so stressed, I wanted to ask you as soon as possible!”
So, LW, YMMV, but that’s one story of revealing your true emotions that ended happily. 10+ years later we’re still glad to be married!
LW: why do you want to marry a guy who does 5% of the cleaning? Will he also do 5% of the parenting? 5% of the emotional labor? 5% of… family communications, vacating planning, basically being there for life things? You are expressing some anxiety about ending this relationship. Get married or i’m walking. Fair enough. But do you REALLY want to marry someone under those circumstances? Begin a life with someone who, from what i’m hearing, may not want to really be there for you? Don’t you and any potential future kids/puppies/cats/goldfish deserve better? Please do some hard work with a therapist to decide what you want for YOU. Not you and him, you and puppies. Just you. It sounds like you know what you want. And he isn’t on the same playing field you’re on. You can try to include him in couple’s therapy also, maybe that’s a good way to work on the decisions. I’m sorry, this does kind of suck. But the brink of a possible marriage, isn’t supposed to suck.
LW, please consider what the Captain has said. It’s excellent advice. I was feeling the same as you with self-imposed mental marriage deadlines looming and my gentleman friend seemingly in no hurry to formalise our arrangement despite us both saying we were pro-marriage when we got together.
We had a conversation where I expressed my need to know that our relationship was moving in a marriage direction and not liking surprises, and he expressed his need to do the asking at a time that felt right to him. We decided together that in the next 12 months we would get engaged, so I had the security of knowing it was going to happen and he had the security of knowing he had time to figure out his proposal and find a ring and we both felt really happy with the outcome of the conversation.
We’ve been married two years now and have a 9 month old daughter. Openness with the people you love is never a bad thing. Set yourself free by talking to the man you love about the future.
LW, I think the Captain and all the other commentors covered the advice end of things pretty thoroughly, so I just want to say that it’s completely and utterly reasonable to want to get married and to want to know if your boyfriend really does want to marry you and to want to know when that’s actually going to happen.
I see a lot of commentors assuming that you just want to get married to someone, anyone, hey that guy over there will do and I think that’s shitty and unfair. You said you’re in your mid 30s, that’s plenty old enough to know what you want and given that, 8 – 10 months (assuming I read your letter right) is plenty long enough to figure out whether you and your boyfriend are compatible long-term. There are plenty of adorable stories in the comments about couples who knew they wanted to be married right away and were very happy together, I’m willing to believe you’re a competent grownup who knows what they’re doing.
I’m just really tired of this idea that it’s not okay for women to want to be married. The legal protections you get from an official legal marriage are a big deal! Even if you don’t want to/can’t get married legally, having the ceremony with or without your family & friends is a very powerful symbol of commitment. It’s not weird or demanding or desperate to want the kind of relationship that works for you and to want to know if your current partner wants the same thing you do.
LW, you say he “gave you the impression” of the time-line– do you mean y’all had a frank conversation, or was it more like meaningful hinting on his part? Like, “I’m the sort of man who [does X]” or “I think people should know within 2 months of living together if they’re The One,” or something like that that isn’t really a frank conversation? If you’re not comfortable with speaking frankly about this with him — or I guess, *willing* to speak frankly, it isn’t always comfortable let’s be real — is it your own fear and discomfort, is it fear of his reaction, is it his unwillingness or inability? What is it? If you two DID have a frank discussion, what’s stopping you from having another?
Is not being “able” to propose to him due mostly to your distaste for it, or his distaste? It occurred to me that it could possibly be super important to HIM, not you so much. But I guess the advice is the same, communicate anyway because you need to and if he reacts badly to sincere communication that is disappointing but important information for you to act on.
You went out of your way to mention cleaning and contributing financially and being grateful for his financial contributions (paying for you to visit his family? that’s not really that big a favor to you IMO), am I off base in reading this as being a little defensive? Like you’re maybe preemptively defending yourself against vague aspersions of gold digging or not carrying your own weight in the relationship? Do you feel defensive in this relationship? Do you feel like you deserve to be there without defending yourself or earning your keep by doing 95% of the cleaning? Are you resentful of the money and/or cleaning dynamic? Do you feel like he’s valuing you fully? Being frustrated and resentful about the lack of proposal is perfectly logical, but there is also the possibility that the hurt and frustration from elsewhere in the relationship is being funneled into the proposal question because it’s an obvious place to put the hurt and frustration, and you feel entitled to be hurt and frustrated about a proposal but don’t feel entitled to be hurt and frustrated at the chore division or tit-for-tat roommate-girlfriend money dynamic (if I’m even reading into that correctly).
After all, the grudge against the boyfriend is the same for money/cleaning frustrations and for proposal frustrations: he’s not valuing you as The One, you’re being strung along or taken advantage of, you’re not able to respect yourself for staying in this, that he isn’t letting you know he WANTS you there and doing the work to show that. IF that’s somewhat true and not something I just completely misinterpreted, then those problems will still be there after solving the symbolic problem of the proposal. However if you can separate the problems from each other, they might be solveable on their own if you tackle them individually. Or they might provide clarity about what is beginning to feel unacceptable to you. I’m not trying to be all doom and gloom, I mean cleaning finances and wedding planning are all problems that people realistically do manage to solve together. Just that it might be a bigger, more nebulous and prickly issue than only the proposal.
I wish you luck, and I totally feel you on this; I also had a terrible time around being proposed to, and I also opted to wait for him to propose on his own, “properly,” for reasons that had nothing to do with tradition. We worked things out (which involved lots of frank discussion) and I rarely think about The Proposal Troubles anymore. It didn’t have much of an effect on being married, except providing valuable practice in communication.
Add my complains to the google ads wrath: I used to have a Facebook account (gave up on it, though) where I posted about LGBTI+ rights support (totally for it) and my Facebook profile was overwhelmed with ads for lesbian dating webpages. Because I was a woman and posted about gay rights. While my profile showed that I was in a solid relationship with a dude.
And then, when FB notified that it was our first anniversary, I began getting ads for bridesmaids dresses and wedding lists. Which was funny because weddings make me anxious and I have always been very vocal about marrying only by signing the certificate and f*** family expectations.
I want to meet the person who create the ad logarithm and tell them a few things…
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