My boyfriend of 2 years and I recently moved across the country from my hometown (and all of my friends and family). He moved there for a job after grad school. For me, this move was leaving everything I knew behind, for him, it was just another move to a place he really wanted to be.
I was on board with moving, but knew it would be hard for me, as I’m really close to family. I was clear with him, before anything with the move was in motion, that I would feel better having a more concrete commitment (aka at least being engaged) before we made such a big move and that I knew it was probably silly, but something I cared about. We discussed it, talked a lot about our mutual vision of a future together, etc. He said he understood where I was coming from, but he was struggling with timing (we were/are simultaneously dealing with his mother’s estate on the opposite end of the country, which includes clearing out and selling a house she spent 30 years in). I understood, but was also frustrated.
The move happened faster than expected. We’ve been here for almost 3 months. I’m feeling lonely, missing friends and family, and in a job I’m not thrilled about. This is all compounding with the fact that there’s still no ring. I tried ignoring the feelings, but things came to a head and I explained how I was feeling (through tears, unfortunately). He assured me he’s ready to be engaged, wants to marry me, blah blah, but listed reasons for not moving forward, like not knowing where to start with ring shopping (he offered to shop together and has apparently forgotten about the discussion, as it hasn’t been brought up again and was ignored when I mentioned going). It makes me feel like an idiot for uprooting my entire life for someone who seems like they won’t commit. On the other hand, we bought a house together, talk about getting married/having kids/etc., so I’m aware that there are commitments already in play.
Part of me knows I should be content with that and the fact that it will happen, but a bigger part of me can’t take this “someday” timeline. I also don’t want to keep bringing it up and feel like I’m forcing an engagement. I know I’m probably leaning toward the unreasonable end of the spectrum, but I’m really struggling here (and the constant barrage of holiday engagement announcements and takeover of engagement ring ads on every social platform I use isn’t helping). Any advice on either getting over myself and my timelines or helping him understand how much this is really tearing me up inside? I love him, and I’m not ready to leave if I don’t get a ring tomorrow, but I’m starting to feel resentful and I know that’s not fair to anyone.
Thanks for your time!
Ring Ads in my Nightmares
Dear Ring Ads In My Nightmares,
You’re in a similar place to this Letter Writer and I have some similar advice for you, though I want to post your letter in addition to hers because I think people could benefit from hearing this:
If someone is asking you to make a giant commitment (like moving away from your family and !!!!!!!!!!!!!!buying real estate with them!!!!!!/setting up a household together) but they are ‘not ready’ to do the commitment-y that thing YOU would like or need in order to feel safe & 100% confident about taking that step with them, it’s okay to say “nope!”
I know that’s scary, like, you’re saying “no” to all of it, no to everything with them, but you are allowed to say “I understand if you’re not ready to take that step yet, and there is a lot going on right now, so, why don’t you go ahead and get set up in the new town with the new job and sort out your mom’s estate and then let me know when you are ready, and that’s when I’ll move, in the meantime, I guess we’ll make it work long-distance for a while, since I’m not ready uproot from where I live right now without making a formal commitment! I love you, let’s do this when you’re ready and you’re completely sure.”
And if that breaks the whole relationship, it wasn’t you who broke it by asking for Too Much. The other person wasn’t ready to give you what you needed.
I know that sounds old-fashioned, I know that marriage/rings/outward forms of commitment aren’t the end-all and be-all (especially in that people get engaged or married all the time and then get un-those things later), I know a million relationships where the ring/ceremony, etc. are “just a formality” and not the Real Stuff of the relationship, I also know that not everyone always could or can do “the formalities” depending on where they live and who they love and there’s no “just” about it. I don’t want to go back to the days where marriage or the promise of that is the only way other relationship “steps” can happen or tell anyone what they should do in what order about romantic commitments.
But symbols and symbolic gestures have meaning, and Letter Writer, if that’s what you needed/need in order to make moving feel like the right decision, it was and is okay for you to need that.
It’s also okay to trust people you love and take risks and try things and hope they work out. We don’t have a time machine to go back and undo that decision or the move, you have made a giant gesture to trust in this person and your future with him that was clearly based on something hopeful & loving that you share between you, you were sensitive to the fact that he’s grieving for his mom and making other big changes, and it’s okay to make gambles and to trust in love! I hope very much that it all works out the way you want it to and there is a happy life with this person ahead of you and this is a temporary bump.
I just want you to keep in mind that “shopping for symbolic jewelry items” may not come “naturally” to your chosen spouse, but he had and continues to have choices open to him. Some of these choices are: 1) Goobingle it 2) There are many step-by-step guides! 3) You can make the decision/ask the question about becoming engaged and save the whole darn jewelry bit for later, 4) Or use a silly/fun/cheap stand-in prop if the ritual is important 5) You can ask for help, like“Can we take an afternoon and sort this out together?” 6) You can ask for specific suggestions, like: “Here is my approximate budget, can you show me some examples of rings you might like, or would you like to pick something out together?” 7) You can set/manage expectations: “I haven’t mentioned it before because I saving up so I can get you something really nice and I wanted it to be a surprise, but it doesn’t have to be a surprise if waiting is stressing you out so much!” IF PEOPLE WANT TO MARRY YOU, THEY HAVE MANY WAYS TO LET YOU KNOW. You told him this particular step/symbol was important to you more than once, so it shouldn’t be a mystery that it’s important to you.
Unfortunately, he told you he wasn’t quite ready more than once, so it’s not a mystery where he stands, either. Since you both moved forward with other plans without having everything quite in place, what do you do now?
Because the conflict isn’t about “I want a shiny!” at this point. What’s at stake is trust, in the future you’re planning together. Why is he okay postponing this even knowing how upset and on edge you are? What does “unready” mean (unready to be with you vs. unready for logistics of proposal/wedding which are two different things)? If he’s unready, what would “ready” look like? Are you gonna have to bug him/remind him/strategize about asking him/worry that you’re being “too pushy” for every thing that’s important to you but not quite as urgent/important/obvious to him? If he’s so unready, why did he ask you to move & throw down on a mortgage? Of course you’re anxious. Something about all of this is making you feel like you’re on an audition, making you afraid to bring up problems in case it all unravels.
Another giant issue: You moved where he wanted to go, you did what he wanted you to do, you signed a telephone book size packet of mortgage documents (I am gonna keep mentioning this b/c buying a house with someone vs. buying a piece of jewelry for someone are two very different orders of effort & magnitude and risk) and it turns out that you’re unhappy there.
LET’S REPEAT THAT: You’re living with your favorite person ever, in the town he picked out for his career, in the house you bought together, in the new life you planned to start together, one which you’ve committed to as far as you possibly can, and…you’re crushingly unhappy. So is it “the ring” and the questions about commitment thereof, or is the anxiety about the ring and proposal/engagement a stand-in for learning that maybe this life he’s offering isn’t really for you even if it does come with the right set of symbolic gestures and words?
Because this is where I can (maybe) help you. You’re unhappy. And a little voice inside you is telling you that maybe you made the wrong decision, wholesale. You’ve already used your words with your dude and he’s gonna do what he’s gonna do about that, so, what are some things you could do that aren’t about a ring or a tearful conversation or an ultimatum that would make you feel more secure and happy in your life? What else do you need?
ACTION ITEMS (BY WHICH I PROBABLY MEAN MANY MANY JOURNAL PROMPTS):
Theme #1: Look homeward, angel!
Is what you’re feeling more about desire for a formal commitment or more regret that you moved at all? Unpick that thread a bit. Is it possible that what is upsetting you right now is less about a failure to come through with a proposal and more about getting information from the overall situation that this new life is not working the way you’d hoped? (What if your boyfriend gave you a ring tomorrow and we got to Friday or a month from now and you were still this unhappy?)
Do you need to move back home? What would that look like, financially, logistically, emotionally? Make a contingency plan and a budget for that. Maybe you’ll never need it or use it, but I think it would be good to know that you could go home if you wanted to. “I followed someone I loved to a new town, but it wasn’t making me happy, so I came back” isn’t a failure.
Do you need to visit home more? What would it take to put a series of visits on the calendar for 2019 and follow through with them (whether he accompanies you or not)? What would it take to get someone from your family or hometown out to see you for a few days, maybe every other month?
Do you have a good Skype/call routine with faraway loved ones? Time to put one in place.
Are there some people in your life you can be honest with about how you’re feeling? s your boyfriend one of those people? “I love ____ but I still feel unsettled b/c of the lack of formal commitment, and to be honest, I hate it here so far and really miss home.” Or do you feel like you have to paint a rosy picture all the time? Because that’s so stressful. Keep the trusted people in your life close, think about looping in a counselor if you need more emotional support, because you deserve to be able to talk about these things and not have to put a brave face on all the time.
Are you holding onto your own money and enough of your own money? You’re not married, it’s not automatically joint funds, so please make sure there is a savings account that is yours and yours alone. Make sure you’re splitting expenses fairly between you (not necessarily 50/50 but fairly, proportionate given who makes more money, with transparent accounting for who bought what and who owns what), make sure you’re building an emergency fund for yourself, make sure you’re not sinking everything you have into joint stuff like the house or decorating or furnishing it with the idea that it’s an investment that will “pay off” later when you’re married “someday.” What do you need more right now, a “nice” dining room set for the house or the guarantee of a few plane tickets to see your family? If it’s #2, go with the thrift store version you can sit on and save the “investment” for when you’re married. Also, as for that house you bought together, please make damn sure some signed, written documents exist, either listing you as a joint owner of the property or spelling out a fair rental agreement. “Putting things in writing” is the loving thing to do when it comes to money, please don’t listen to anyone who tells you that it ruins romance.
Theme #2: Bloom where you’re planted.
Do you need to look for a new job where you are, since this one isn’t working out? It’s okay to apply and put feelers out, people have “bad fits” all the time and if your company thought you were one they would not hesitate.
What are you doing to meet new people and look for friends where you are? What’s one thing you could do every week to look for community and involvement in the place you live that isn’t about your boyfriend or your romantic relationship?
Are there other needs you have that you could let your boyfriend know about? Is he absolutely rocking it with sharing household duties, planning quality time together, and reinforcing your pair bond (however you like to do that, i.e. are you compatible around sexystuff or whatnot)? What happens when you ask for small things you need? What happens when there’s conflict about lower-stakes issues? Does everybody fight fair?
Are there self-care things you could put in place for yourself in the new town? Got a doctor, dentist, hair stylist, favorite hangout when you have a few hours to yourself, a church or community gathering, a place you’d go if you needed your favorite shoes fixed? (Asking advice about this when you do meet new people is a great way to get oriented).
Theme #3: Your heart’s desires (the comfortable and uncomfortable).
What are your daydreams, big and small? For places you want to live, or visit, careers you want to do, or try, hobbies, creative stuff, educational aspirations? These can be very specific (a certain job title, salary, education level) or poetic (an image of dog poking its goofy head out of a rolled-down window on a car that is vaguely yellow under a sky that is a certain shade of blue that isn’t yours yet but you know in your bones will be yours someday). Is this move getting you closer to any of those daydreams? Is this relationship getting you closer to any of them? Are these daydreams you feel like you can tell your boyfriend about, and know that he won’t laugh? Are these daydreams you can start working on now, right where you are?
Are there some Sheelzebub Principle dates on your emotional calendar? (All hail Sheelzebub, who asks the question: If you knew things in your relationship would stay exactly as they are now, how long would you stay? Another year? Another 5? Another 10?). You’re casting around for a date about a ring and a proposal right now, but I suggest an additional/alternative one: If you tried as hard as you could to be happy and make things work in new city in your current situation, and you were still unhappy after x amount of time, would your boyfriend be open to moving “back home” or looking for a job in a place that you chose? Solve for x and his willingness to go where there are good things FOR YOU.
Where I hope these journal prompts/quests will lead you, Lovely Letter Writer:
- There are many ways for you to have a happy life. This romance with this guy is only one aspect of them. It’s okay to love him, to want it to work out, to trust him, to try! It’s okay to decide, hey, even if things aren’t perfect, this is where I want to be, and this is who I want to be with, and give it some more time. But he’s not the only person in the world and this is not the only place in the world. Your desires/daydreams/hopes/comfort/needs matter.
- There are actions you can take to protect yourself, give yourself options, allow yourself to recover and go home if necessary if things don’t work out.
- There are things you can do to try to root where you’re planted that aren’t about your boyfriend or the relationship. The more you try them, maybe the less pressure you’ll put on the relationship. The more you try them, the more information you’ll have about whether this place and this person is really working for you.
What I want most is for you to be happy, in the place where you can be happiest, doing the things you can be happiest doing, surrounded by the love and friendships that make you the happiest, where the care and trust you put in others is reflected back at you and you feel calm and sure and safe.
This should be obvious at this point but since it comes up every single time I’m going to start saying it every time: If you think engagement rings/marriage/marriage proposals/weddings/traditions/wanting any of that stuff from your life is just completely trivial and silly, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with you, okay! I do not think that everyone should want those things or be pressured to want or have them. However, there is no need to waste your precious time or words pointing that out to someone who knows they do want them, so if you feel tempted to do that, kindly find a discussion that you do care about here or on another website. Many thanks!