Monday, January 28, 2008

She Wants to Get Married, But He's Not Ready

Dear Terry,

I need some help. I've been dating my boyfriend for almost three years, and now we are having issues about marriage. I've been asking, pushing, and wanting him to agree to marriage for about a year. I am 30.

I told him on our second date that I don't want to date someone for more than two years if I don't think it will lead to marriage. Anyway, I keep getting restless about him asking. I don't want to be pushy, but I just can't help it. Right around the two-year mark, he gave me this big speech about how much he loves me, but that he's not ready. Sometimes I get really insecure and upset, and I explode with frustration about how I'm afraid he doesn't love me and that I can't stand the idea of waiting around to find out later that he really doesn't want to get married.

Anyway, now it's all really frustrating because even though it seems he does want to get engaged, sometime with the next 6 months it sounds like, now I don't know if I will really believe him. I am afraid I will always feel like I pushed him into it.

How do I learn to back down? And, if he does propose, how will I know he meant it?

-Want to Feel Better Fast

Dear Better,

I will tell you how to back down in a minute, but first take note of the words from your letter that popped out at me:


This situation has made you woefully unhappy, and part of you thinks marriage will make you happy. Another part of you thinks that perhaps marriage will not make you happy if you end up wondering for the rest of your life that you had to talk the guy into it.

So you're obviously smart and self-aware.

But you're operating on the faulty premise that you need to be married by a certain age. You said that you told this fellow on your second date that you didn't want to waste time. Is it possible, that in your quest to beat a self-imposed deadline, that you've convinced yourself that this man is indeed the one for you?

Think about this, please. Is he really the guy for you? Do you really love him? Or do you just want to get married already?

Now, even if you decide he is the man of your every fantasy, you said it yourself that you need to step back. You should absolutely do this, immediately and lovingly. If you've lost touch with friends, this is the time to reclaim them. If you don't have any friends, this is the time to make them.

Gently change your routine. Stop investing all your time in a relationship that may or may not proceed the way you hope. Be kind about this. You might ask your guy to make other plans (I repeat: kindly) because you'll be going out with Karen or Sue or whoever next weekend. If you are already spending some time with Karen or Sue, I suggest you start spending more time with them.

Do not be spiteful about this. Be the smiling, lovely woman who attracted the guy in the first place. Continue to see him, sure, but stop being available every time he calls you. Make a space for activities that do not include him. For your own peace of mind, never bring up the word marriage again.

This makes it possible for him to consider that you do have other interests, that you do have the capacity to make a life without him. He may not like that. He may say to himself, "You know, I really love this girl, and I don't want to lose her."

Or he may not. He may decide he does not want to be married, and for you to possess that knowledge would be a gift indeed. You can move on with your life. You're free to attract a man who truly desires to marry you.

The thing is, if you do keep going the way you're going (and you're really being unfair to yourself, by the way), you risk waking up at the age of 47 or whatever next to a man who feels trapped and resents you for it. But you know that already.

Don't condemn yourself to an hellish marriage to meet a deadline.

I don't know why you are compelled to marry by a certain age, but let me tell you, I've known women who had to be married by this or that birthday, and they're divorced now. One of these women, one of my best friends, suffered repeated and humiliating pressure from relatives who considered her a total failure when she reached her 29th birthday and still hadn't hooked a live one.

After answering some personal ads, she met a guy who fit the bill: Right religion, right job, right salary, and so on. On paper, they were a match made in heaven. Her family did a tap dance and threw a lavish wedding.

They were miserable and divorced three years later.

Take the pressure off yourself. Avoid people who pressure you. If all your friends are engaged or married and stopped spending time with you, find new friends. Console yourself in the knowledge that many of them will not be married forever.

The divorce statistics tell the tale. Have I convinced you to back off and start taking better care of yourself?

Then, if your guy does propose, you'll know that it's because he wanted to spend the rest of his life with you. You won't ever have to wonder if you pushed him into it.

But let me leave you with this:

Better single and happy than married and miserable.


smiley said...

Hi Terry,

Thanks for that post. You remind us time and again we are precious beings who deserve nothing but the best.

Hoping to seek your advice on something. There's this guy that I like. We've been going out in a big group with other friends for the past few months. We laugh, talk and have a lot of fun when we are out.

However, I am always the one to organise the big-group outings, and he has never asked me out on a single date. I suppose that means he's not interested in me in the romantic sense. Well, so how can I attract his attention, let him see me in a different light, and make the necessary moves? :)

Terry said...

Thanks for writing, Smiley, and for the really nice words.

When you're in a big group, do you make a special (but casual) effort to speak to this guy on his own? Are you smiling at him and making eye contact?

If so, and he's not picking up on it, you could be so bold as to say, "Hey, I have an extra ticket to ______________. Would you like to go with me?"

If he says yes, congratulations and good luck. If he says no, it's his loss. Take another friend and have a great time!

ModelElaine said...

First off, let me start by saying I love your blog and visit it periodically. You give really good advice.

Now, as far as this particular post goes. I am convinced that the longer you date a man, the less chance you have that he’ll ever marry you. I have witnessed numerous friends get frustrated in relationships that never lead to marriage.

I don’t think that waiting for a marriage proposal for several years is a smart thing to do. I personally have been married twice so far, and both times my ex’s asked me to marry six weeks into the relationships.

Do you really think that someone has a chance for a marriage proposal after being in a dating relationship with a man for three years?

Terry said...

Hi, Elaine-

Thanks for your comments and question.

Yes, I do believe men who are in love will propose to women even after dating them for several years. Such men are usually under 35, and they may want to finish grad school or establish a business before settling down.

But, believe it or not, I know an older couple who married after dating for 10 years. In this particular case, the poor woman did a lot of pleading and knuckle-biting. In the end, she did get her 48-year-old man, but I seriously doubt he was worth it.

In another situation, a guy I know (good-looking, funny, well-paying job, owns Manhattan real estate) dated a lovely woman for 11 years. She said she loved him but "wasn't ready" for a commitment.

He finally decided to get on with his life. He's since fallen in love with someone else and is engaged to marry her at the end of the year.

If I were in a relationship with a man I really and truly cared for, and he told me after three years that he still wasn't ready for commitment, I would start looking for other ways to spend my time.

I would never allow myself to marry a person I had to talk into marrying me.

On the other hand, I'm not adventurous enough to marry a man who proposed to me after knowing me six weeks, either. I'm a slow, plodding thing who has to know exactly what she's getting.

I want to get to know a man's family, I want to know his values, and I want to know what marriage means to him.

For instance, is it a temporary arrangement he slips out of when the going gets tough, or is it a lifetime commitment?

How does he handle conflict? Does he talk it out or does he head for the door? Does he believe in God? Does he vote? Who does he look up to and why? Does he get along with his siblings? Why or why not? How does he talk about the other women in his life (his mother, sisters, coworkers, boss)?

I wouldn't marry anyone I didn't know for at least a year, but that's me. I have a cousin who became engaged to a man after two weeks, and they're still happily married 20 years later. But she was 33 when she met him, and she said that she'd dated enough of the wrong men to recognize the right one when he came along.

But back to your question: Sure, I do believe a man will propose after three years because I've seen it happen. But I wish women would ask themselves if the guy is even worth waiting for. I wish they'd get on with their lives and stop fretting about whether Fred is ever going to pull out a ring.

Women who value themselves highly are the ones who are highly valued.

Thanks again for your excellent question.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I needed to hear that.

Terry said...

Glad I could help!

Mutum said...

How sad it can be... Knowing that my boyfriend said that "I love you but I don't think I will be ever able to get over my issues and marry you..." I'm still with him because I can't find the strength to leave him....

MetryJen said...

I'm having the exact same issue, only we've been together for over 5 years. We had this discussion at 3 years, and 4 and finally this morning I told him I thought he needed to find somewhere else to live. It's SO hard, because I know he loves me and I love him - and we've built an entire life together over the years. But the reality of it is that I need to plan the rest of my life, and if after 5 years he's still not "sure" then clearly he's not whom that life will be with. I've already given him most of my twenties, and it's time to move on. I'm just glad to see I'm not the only one going through this.

Anonymous said...

Reading all of this made my stomach drop, but my stomach dropped because I know all of this is true. I'm a little late posting a comment on this subject, but at this point in my life, I needed to hear this for myself.

Today my boyfriend of 5 1/2 years told me that I was selfish because I'm pushing the marriage issue. He says I'm only thinking of myself, but doesn't that mean he is thinking only of himself if he says he's not ready??

Maybe it is time to move on. I'm glad I found this blog.

Anonymous said...

That was incredibly helpful. I think I too am going to take a big step back now and look at things differently. Thank you for such wonderful advice.

Dating said...

Women who value themselves highly are the ones who are highly valued!