Everything I Know About Love: Marriage Is What Brings us Together Today

AdviceWelcome to Everything I Know About Love, I Learned from Romance Novels, a column that pre-dates the upcoming book, but shares a title and the best of intentions: to demonstrate that many real-life problems can be examined with the strength and lessons of romance fiction. Today’s letter is about marriage.

Dear Smart Bitch Sarah,

I would love some advice from you and the Bitchery, regarding my rather contemporary guy problem.

My boyfriend and I have been together almost four and a half years and are still very much in love.  He was, and is, a wonderful, kind, gorgeous, caring man that I would be lucky to spend my life with.  After about a year of dating we started to throw around the, “well, someday when we get married…” talk.  Being raised in a community of drum-beating hippies where many of my friends parents shunned the patriarchal institution of marriage in favour of “life partnering”, I recognize that marriage is not a necessity, but it’s something I have always wanted.  I  thought that my very traditional, old fashioned BF felt the same way.

Now, fast forward a couple of years to one month shy of our three year anniversary.  My lady clock is starting to tick while all around me girlfriends are getting engaged and my family (read: my mother) is starting to drop hints.  I ask him what he thinks about getting engaged in the next year or so and getting married in the next couple.  He flips his lid.  Totally loses it.  He is a stunned, shocked, horrified mess at the mere mention of getting married.  He said, “wouldn’t it be easier to go our separate ways if we’re not married?”  Now I am a shocked, horrified mess and think that I have spent 3 years planning a future with a man that doesn’t know if he wants to stick around.

After about a year he managed to fully convince me that he doesn’t have one foot out the door and does want to marry me…someday.  Eventually, but hey, what’s the rush, it’s just a slip of paper. 

Has any woman ever dreamed of meeting her perfect man, dating for awhile, eventually cohabitating while keeping clear financial boundaries, eventually getting a dog as a test run and after 8 to 10 years of “just making sure” and extensive discussion, reaching a mutual decision with her partner to tie the knot in a quiet, low-fuss civil ceremony?

I think that I can safely speak for the majority of the romance-addicted bitchery that this scenario falls woefully short of the mark.

I can think of only a couple romance novels where the hero and heroine fall in lurrrve and don’t put the cherry on top with a mawwiage (that was an ode to the Princess Bride, by the way).  I know many couples that don’t bother to make it official and have wonderful, long lives together.  I also know that a marriage isn’t a guarantee that you’ll work out.  While I don’t expect our life together to always read like a shiny, sexy romance I suppose I always hoped for the love of my life to feel something more than a commingling of terror and apathy at the thought of marrying me.

He’s recently started talking about, “for our wedding I’d like…” and saying, “when we get married…”  I either want to cry, punch a hole in the wall or slink away in embarrassment.  I have managed to leech all visible romance and eager anticipation from the prospect of a proposal.  The entire thing seems ruined to me.  I also recently found out that I can’t have kids, which adds an entire new dimension to my obsessing: if I don’t get to do the pregnancy/baby/mommy gig, can’t I at least have that stupid slip of paper, some tacky wedding photos and a cheap gold ring?

He may be low on the romance, but I do have a great guy that treats me like gold.  Am I being a twat?  Should I shut up, move on and count myself lucky regardless of whether or not we get married?  If he does propose eventually can I in good conscience accept when I know that my marriage is taking place as a result of my tears and emotional blackmail?

Sincerely,

Where Have All the Knuckle Draggers Gone

Dear Knuckles:

You’re not being a complete twat, but clearly your hurts are overwhelming your clarity. I think that’s understandable.

It sounds as if the officially and legally binding commitment of marriage means a lot to you, particularly as you say you were raised in a community where challenging authority and institutional establishment was commonplace, and marriage as a state-defined commitment was disdained. Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be married. But whether you have a notarized marriage certificate or whether you’re living together happily and the only thing in both your names is the electric bill, relationships and happily-ever-afters still take work. The official stamp of federal joint tax returns doesn’t make marriage any easier or harder. It’s still tough.  

As for your news of infertility, I’m so sorry. That sucks out loud and it sounds as if you are hurting from it. But even if you can’t do the “pregnancy” part, you can absolutely have the baby/mommy gig through a few different options. Granted, some of them take longer than nine months (and are just as difficult, hooray) but it can be done. There are many, many ways to welcome a child into your heart and your home, and if you want to be a mother, infertility is an obstacle that can be and has been circumvented. 

But you need to work out your relationship problems first, obviously. Parenthood is enough of an emotional hurdle without bringing relationship struggles into it. There’s no sense in bringing a child into your drama, and your feelings about being a spouse and about being a parent are different things. They’re related, but for the time being you need to separate them a bit.  

That said, holy hell, did your man screw up. He essentially said, when you asked about that permanent binding commitment, “But what if I want to leave?” NOT COOL. No wonder it’s taken a year or more for you to begin to trust him again. And it sounds like you still don’t trust him entirely. I understand that. He did a number on your confidence in his feelings for you. 

I think the first step is an honest, possibly painful conversation wherein you explain how you’ve been feeling, vent all your hurt and frustrations of the past year, and explain specifically how his recent talk of marriage makes you feel guilty, ashamed, and hurt. If he’s been acquiescing to the idea of marriage because it is important to you, and he personally finds it repugnant, you need to hear that as well, and hear his reasons why. You have to explain, and you have to listen, and so does he. This is not going to be an easy conversation to have. 

But if you want an unpolluted future with this person, you need to be honest, get your feelings out of your head and into the air between you, and then, together, get past them. Time to move on, either together, or separately.

Part of why there’s so much marriage in romance is because once you tie the knot, it can be very hard to undo. In the expectations of the reader, courtship leads to commitment. However, happy ever afters can be tough. There is no “just making sure” and “we’re good enough for now.” There are “happy for now” endings in romance but in most cases, the likelihood of forever afterward is more than a mere possibility. Most romances, however, end with a defined moment that establishes the relationship as permanent.

Real life certainly doesn’t come with guarantees like that, but you aren’t out of line for hoping that your boyfriend of four-plus years would be able to say without test-dogs and joint finances that he is sure you are the person he wants to be with. If he’s not sure, it’s time to end the relationship and find someone who is as sure about you as you are about them. By focusing on marriage, you’re asking him to declare his surety that you’re the one for him permanently. If he’s not willing or able to make that declaration, with or without marriage, it’s time to ask yourself hard questions about moving on.

As for weddings, some people do live together, and quietly have a no-fuss civil ceremony because that’s what is meaningful and beautiful to them. Other people want as many ruffles as possible. Both are totally ok. 

But there’s a balance between what you want, and what your boyfriend wants, and that’s what you need to find. There is room for fewer ruffles in your dream wedding, for example. But there is not much room for “If you love me, you’ll want what I want” in a relationship – and neither is there a lot of room for, “Well, you’re good enough for now, but maybe someday we’ll break up.”

That balance, if you can find it, may mean that you move on separately, or move on together. But you need to stop thinking about this in your own head, have a painfully honest conversation, and see what happens. Good luck to you.

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  1. 1
    AgTigress says:

    I think this is a really difficult one. 

    The situation can almost certainly be saved along all the lines that SB Sarah suggests; that is, assuming that the bloke is committed to the relationship deep down, which I think he may well be, since he is now, rather clumsily, apparently trying to make amends.  He has realised belatedly how much the whole marriage thing matters to his partner.

    I think the key point in the letter is:

    I have managed to leech all visible romance and eager anticipation from the prospect of a proposal.  The entire thing seems ruined to me.

    The marring of something perfect, in this case, the response that the writer imagined, hoped for and expected from her man, is something that all of us find really hard to accept, but it is important to discipline oneself not to feel that ‘the entire thing is ruined’:  only the perfect response and the proposal have been ruined, and those are only moments within what is planned to be a lifetime together.  It matters:  it is disappointing and hurtful.  But it is not a deal-breaker.

    It’s as though someone who hoped for and expected top marks for a qualifying examination were to be so disappointed by merely getting a good pass, and failing to achieve summa cum laude then started questioning her whole career choice because she was unable to embark on it ‘perfectly’. 

    Life is full of disappointments and imperfections, but we should not let them taint all the good things.

  2. 2
    Kaetrin says:

    What Sarah said. And AgTigress too actually. Sometimes one has to let go of “perfect” to appreciate an attractive (sometimes even, better) alternative. A heart to heart with the BF is the best starting point.

  3. 3
    Batty Tabby says:

    I’ve been with my husband for almost 14 years now, married for 10.5 of them, and the thing I try to learn to do is accept my love’s “livable” flaws. I realize I have flaws too, and I really appreciate that he doesn’t make a big deal out of them. It’s not that he ignores them or won’t help me out in getting past their problematic aspects. His patience and understanding helps me to offer him the same.

    Then there are the bigger problems, and we’ve had a few. I agree with Sarah, it’s important to face what’s really eating at you and your (plural) relationship right now and talk about it.

    My personal strategy for preparing for things like that is to either journal about it in as much detail as I can manage and/or writer a letter to him about it (that I don’t really plan to give to him, but I pretend I will as I write it). I read it when I am done because this organizes it in my brain into key points I want to talk about and which problems are priorities. Often, I realize something was bothering me that I did not realize before. It gives me confidence that I understand myself and am ready to deal with the issues.

    I also realize my partner often understands me a lot better than I give him credit for. When we get to “the talk,” I often find myself learning a lot more about myself.

    A couple of times, “the talk” has led nowhere but to frustration caused by feelings of being unable to cooperatively resolve problems yet a strong desire to make them right. That’s when we decided we needed to see a counselor, which was very helpful. A third party who had no investment in our relationship except a desire to assist made a lot of difference at that time.

    Big *hugs* to you.

  4. 4
    Lucy says:

    Wow. This is so hard, and I’m so sorry, Knuckles. You are obviously in a lot of pain, and you have every right to feel exactly what you’re feeling. The only thing I can tell you is that Sarah’s right – an honest conversation is called for. While there is absolutely room for compromise, and must be in any relationship, you need to know what your lines are. If you know that you will not be happy without marriage, and he knows he won’t be with it, then you need to take that into consideration, and you need to face it bravely. Know where you can compromise, know where you can’t, and go into that conversation ready to face the consequences of that knowledge. Be sure to tell him the same thing, too.

    I had twelve years of a marriage that went from meh to worse because I wouldn’t be honest with myself, or with him, about what I wanted and needed. I didn’t want to lose the relationship, and so I compromised on things until there was nothing of me left. Of course, this flavors my advice to you, so keep that in mind. I’m on my second marriage now, and the difference is staggering. I thought I hated the institution of marriage; it turns out, I really just hated what I did to it.

    Think about what you absolutely need from him, and what you really don’t. I can tell you this – a piece of paper makes it hard to leave, so very very hard, but it doesn’t make it impossible. The promise comes from the person, not the paper. If he can make you that promise with his full heart, and that’s enough for you, then that’s great. But if it’s not, don’t compromise something that really matters to you.

    And last, it doesn’t matter what matters to you, but that it matters to you. No one else can tell you if it’s right or wrong for a piece of paper to mean that much to you, because there is no right or wrong here. There is just honesty, with yourself and your boyfriend, and honesty is the most important factor in a relationship that’s going to last. Trust me on that one; that I know for sure.

    I wish you the best of luck, with everything.

  5. 5
    Faellie says:

    The difference between “you’re the only one for me permanently” and “you’re the only one for me but what if it’s not permanent” could be the difference between an optimist and a pessimist, rather than the difference between love and not-love.

    The only way to find out is to talk to each other.  Seeds of a “big misunderstanding” otherwise.

  6. 6

    There’s no one-size-fits-all in life, but it’s probably not the ease of break up that’s been keeping your guy from making it permanent and it’s not the “free milk” either.  It’s probably the fact that you’ve been doing all the work of a wife and making his life easy and comfortable without him ever having to commit to anything. 

    I agree with Sarah that you need to talk to him.  Maybe you should tell him that you are ready for a committed relationship but you don’t want to push him into anything.  Suggest a temporary separation in which you both see other people and be prepared to follow through.  That puts the ball in his court.  He may agree about the separation or he may have to do some real work to court and convince you of his intentions. 

    It’s even possible that you separate without separating.  Stop doing all the things that make his life so easy and set your schedule around what you want.  You can text him or leave him a note about your plans. He’d probably demand an explanation and then you could have the talk because he wanted it…

    And if/when you do get ready to be married, be sure you want marriage and not just a wedding.  Most of the “big weddings” I’ve been involved in ended in divorce.  Create a ceremony that fits you.  Mine was in the park by a co-worker who was a notary. It was casual and beautiful.  I had a friend whose b/friend owned a restaurant. They got married in their church w/only their parents/siblings there and then came back to the restaurant, put on jeans and had a big party with their friends. 

    Also- keep in mind that you do have options to be a mother but I agree you need to settle your life first.  With or without him or any man, you can parent and raise a child. 

    Life is full of doors.  Take a deep breath and stop feeling trapped.  You’re only out of choices if you don’t give yourself any.  Whatever happens with this man, you’re going to be fine.

  7. 7
    AgTigress says:

    The difference between “you’re the only one for me permanently” and “you’re the only one for me but what if it’s not permanent” could be the difference between an optimist and a pessimist, rather than the difference between love and not-love.

    Faellie, I think that is a very interesting and valuable comment.

  8. 8

    Legal marriage is much much more than “a slip of paper and a tacky gold ring.” It is over 1100 federal and state rights, including the ability to inherit, to keep possession of joint property, rights of hospital visitation and medical decisions. (I’m a marriage activist, and most of the time my characters don’t get a legal wedding, unless they’re SF)

    Let me put on my minister hat here, and say that marriage is not created by ceremonies and dresses and rings. It’s created every day in a million small ways between the couple themselves. On a spiritual and emotional level, the people who have cohabited for two decades are just as married as the ones who went through the ceremony.

    The problem I’m seeing is that you were thinking of yourselves as married, just awaiting The Perfect Scenario. BF was thinking of you as an item, but one he could leave. Differing expectations are the cause of most relationship strife.  You need to clear the air and work it out, not plunge headfirst into legal entanglements with differing ideas of your future.

    Also? Romance is not the relationship. Romance is the launching pad for the relationship. Eros (romantic love) gets you off the ground. Other kinds of love, phileo (friendship) and storge (settled mature love), are what keep you flying.  Your Sermon of the Day from Mama Angel.

  9. 9
    anonymous says:

    This is the first one of these where I’ve really been convinced that some professional counseling is the way to go. This couple needs someone who is as invested as they are, who will be there through the entire process of working through this conflict and helping them reach a resolution.

    This conflict seems to me to rise from both the core of their relationship and from the core of their respective personalities. To solve it, they are going to have to talk about and reveal things that will make them extremely vulnerable to hurt, and I would love to see them with a trained “spotter” at hand because the degree of difficulty for this maneuver seems awfully high to me.

    The best of luck to both of them.

  10. 10
    Alia says:

    How to Handle A Big Misunderstanding: Talk, and give each other permission to screw up and start over. (We go, “Can I have a do-over?” and one of us will leave the room, walk in and start the conversation over. It works surprisingly well.)

    If It Isn’t A Big Misunderstanding: Ok, so I’m a puddle of neuroses, but if my boyfriend said, “What if I find someone better?” I would think, “What, you’re looking?” and I would cry. A lot. And probably break up with them… or at least be prepared to.

    (I get that I am not quoting, but that’s what I would *hear* if he said he didn’t want to get married because it would be hard to get a divorce.)

    …(For me, YMMV) A wedding is not about saying, “This person is the one and only person I could ever be happy with, the rest of you suck.”

    (though they do. but anyway….)

    My wedding was about saying “This person is pretty damn awesome, and we are both—here and now in front of our community in the most embarrassing and public way possible so none of us ever forget it—committing to make it work whether things are awesome or not and for the rest of our lives. And you all who are watching? It’s your job to help us make it work. In token of that, go eat.”

    …If your partner is awesome now, but not willing to work to keep being an awesome partner later (because you will change, he will change, the climate will change), then… the relationship will become less awesome. And that is a sad thing.

    I know an adorable couple, married for 15 or twenty years… they were an arranged marriage. They were both willing to do the work to make living together pleasant, and they are beautiful and loving and hilarious.

    …so… The big misunderstanding might not be whether or not you both want to be married, but what you think marriage is or will change…

    (for me, it truly changed the nature of our relationship—I knew he was willing to withstand excruciating public embarrassment *and* fill out government paperwork to be with me, and that was very reassuring.)

    Good luck. I hope you find your happy ending and have the strength to see what comes after, too.

  11. 11
    Lara Amber says:

    My advice is a little blunt: pack and leave.

    When my boyfriend of 4 years didn’t seem ready to propose, I gave him until our 5th anniversary to figure out what he wanted and to propose.  (He didn’t say “what if I want to leave” but “what if getting married ruins everything” and “what if our marriage turns out like my parents marriage”.)  On our anniversary he chickened out and couldn’t ask.  So I started to pack that night.  Once he realized I really meant it and was not just leaving our house but leaving the state and there were no more second chances, he sat in the living room and thought about what life would be like without me.  Finally he came and got me and got down on both knees and asked.  We got married on our six year anniversary.  We’ve now been together 12 years.

    A true “I’m out of here” will force him to think instead of coasting along.  He will either decide “wait a minute, I’ve been taking a good thing for granted” or “no, we’re not forever material”.  Either way you won’t be in limbo about your future.

  12. 12
    Lara Amber says:

    Oh, and can I also recommend the book Should We Stay Together? by Jeffrey Larson, not only to think about your potential marriage, but as a sort of self-directed pre-marital counseling.

  13. 13
    Lynn M says:

    If marriage is important to you, either as a gesture of his determination to remain in this relationship through thick and thin or as a way for you to publicly declare your commitment to each other, then you have every right to expect it from the person who claims to love you. There is nothing wrong with that or with you for wanting it. All of this talk of “it’s just a piece of paper” is hogwash, IMO. Marriage is so much more than a piece of paper – it it weren’t, why would it be an institution that has been the backbone of society for most of human history? I’m not saying that people who choose to not get married are wrong or don’t have a valid, loving relationship. Just that I think they are fooling themselves if they equate what they have with a legally and/or religiously sanctioned marriage. As further proof, if “marriage” was so insignificant, why would so many people have their panties in a twist over the prospect of legalized gay marriages?

    That said, I agree with Sarah that a difficult discussion has to happen. My hubby and I dated for 2 years long distance (after having dated a year in college) when I realized that if this relationship wasn’t leading to marriage, I needed to move on. Yes, he was a great guy and I loved him. But I had a vision for my future and I felt I owed it to myself to follow that dream, which included marriage (with that makes-a-huge-difference piece of paper). As much as I don’t advocate ultimatums, I told him that while I loved him, if he couldn’t envision us being married within the next couple of years, I needed to move on. The ball was in his court. He thought on it a while, and 18 months later we were married. We’ve been married now for 18 years and neither of us has any regrets.

    So I think you owe it to your great guy to ask him why he said what he said, what he meant by it in maybe some nicer words, and how he feels about marriage now. If his vision for your future isn’t the same as the one you want for yourself, you might have to cut him loose. Otherwise, you’ll spend years resenting him, and that’s no way to live your life with another person.

  14. 14
    Ashley says:

    Great point, Alia:

    The big misunderstanding might not be whether or not you both want to be married, but what you think marriage is or will change…

    He seems worried about what marriage will take away, you seem interested in what marriage will add.  Maybe y’all should talk about what you both fear to lose/hope to gain.

    Also agree with AgTigress.  “Let not the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Voltaire.

    As an infertility veteran, I feel for you (am crying, actually).  But kids don’t make things better (or perfect), just different.  I hope good things for you.

  15. 15
    Isabel C. says:

    What Faelie said.

    Also, without knowing the exact context, I can think of another interpretation for “going our separate ways”: not that he wants the freedom to leave, but that he wants to know *you* do.

    I have many friends who are married. It works great for them, there are definite material and emotional advantages, and I was very happy to be a part of their weddings. For me…well, my own insecurities regarding relationships are easier to live with when I know the guy has made no promises, and that if he didn’t want to be there, he would have a much easier time leaving.

    Just wanted to throw that possible perspective out there.

  16. 16
    Amber says:

    I had a similar thing happen… but worse. He balked after we had been together for 5 tears, long engaged AND wedding plans HAD BEEN LAID. Le sigh.

    We made our way back together (in fact, neither of us could really stand to be apart). As he should, he accepted total blame for the shitstorm, but I did understand that a lot of stuff was going on his life at the time AND that he had normal male scaredy-catness. The OMG-this-is-forever hit him really hard. That doesn’t excuse his behavior, and he had mucho groveling to do (and even got a tattoo with my name BEFORE I agreed to marry him again, just to show his permanence). Now we’ve been married 5 years, things are SO MUCH BETTER than he or I could have foreseen. We are closer than we ever thought possible, so happy together, the “spark” is actually stronger than it’s ever been, (the sex is fan-freaking-tastic), and we have an awesome son (though I am personally pushing for adoption for the next 1-2 kids).

    The moral of the story is that it can work out. It can work out VERY WELL.

    However, the wedding still sucked balls. It just wasn’t the same knowing it wasn’t the first one we planned, and the whole way through I was miserable. I seriously regret not hoofing it to Vegas and just bein’ done. Maybe if I were a stronger woman, I could’ve overcome my hurt at the whole thing enough to enjoy the wedding, but I couldn’t. I’m not sure exactly how much this will affect you vs me, considering my wedding had been much further along in the planning stages, but the feelings you describe sound similar. My recommendation would be to do a quickie ceremony. Or maybe a destination wedding, just the two of you. Something that you will ENJOY, of course, but not something that will be big and grand, and make you pull your hair out and STILL not be satisfied when it’s all said and done. If you’re anything like I was, I kept waiting for the fabulousness of the wedding to overcome the hurt I felt about the whole mess – and it’s just not going to happen.

    But I’d say, given all the nice things you have to say about this guy, and that it seems like you two are so great for each other, don’t give up on him just because he got cold feet at some point. You have to remember that guys are stupid sometimes. Part of being a good mate is forgiving them when they do that, especially when they are willing to come back around. The little hints he’s dropping about a wedding, while they are understandably painful for you to hear, are his way of showing you that he is WITH THE PROGRAM. I do think you need to do like Sarah said and make sure he understands how hurt you were by his earlier words, and that you viewed it as a betrayal. But at some point, it’s put up or shut up time for YOU to decide whether you’ll stay with the boy, despite his sometimes-stupidity.

  17. 17
    Flo says:

    Get out while the getting is good.

    If he won’t commit NOW after four years and he keeps dropping those hints WHILE NOT ASKING TO MARRY YOU… leave.  He has what he wants.  He’s got the cow and the milk for free.

    Is that cold and cruel?  Maybe.  But look how you feel?  It’s YOUR fault.  It’s YOUR problem.  Clearly, it’s all on YOUR side… bull and shit.  It takes two to tango.  Obviously, you’re doing the dance all by yourself.

    My dad would say “Fish or cut bait” and in this case, even with the years together and the time together it is JUST NOT WORTH IT.  Don’t destroy or remake yourself for this person.  You are what you are supposed to be.  No amount of time is going to make him suddenly wake up and realize “POOF!  I love her!  I shall marry her!  Now!”  And having all the joy leached out of it is HORRIBLE.

    I’m not you and I’ve never been in the situation where I waited.  But I KNEW, in every ounce of my being, that my husband was going to BE my husband.  And so did he.  He wasted no time in letting me know I was his and he was mine.

    Your dude may be a very nice guy.  But he doesn’t seem like THE guy for you.  But that’s my 2cents.

  18. 18
    cleo says:

    If he does propose eventually can I in good conscience accept when I know that my marriage is taking place as a result of my tears and emotional blackmail?

    I can think of two couples I know in similar situations – long term couples where the woman wanted to get married / was ready to get married before the man and where the man eventually came around and proposed.  One couple was divorced within one or two years – he never really committed to the whole marriage thing and it just didn’t work.  And the other couple is still married after almost 10 years and 2 kids and he is the most devoted husband – they’re a great couple.

  19. 19
    RaeRae says:

    1. Totally have the heart to heart like Sarah suggested.
    2. If you don’t get any resolution, it’s ultimatum time. 

    Two relationships ago, I didn’t give an ultimatum.  We were together for four years, the last year was miserable, and he ended up cheating on me and leaving me to marry another woman he’d met online.

    My last relationship, I did give an ultimatum.  He declined, I left, and I am grateful every day that I got out when I did.

    My current relationship, I’m about 6-12 months from an ultimatum.  We’ll see how it goes.  Like you I find marriage to be a core value for myself, and if a guy doesn’t feel the same then he’s not the one for me.  I wish you the best of luck!

  20. 20
    Hannah says:

    I say, either get out of the relationship now, or give him an ultimatum, like we get married in six months or we’re done.

  21. 21
    Stephanie says:

    I just wanted to point out to everyone condemning her for wanting the “perfect” wedding/proposal – that’s not what I got from the email.

    From what I read, she knows marriage is going to be hard work and she’s willing to put fourth the effort, but she’s not sure that her boyfriend is will to do the same.

    I don’t think she’s asking for the perfect proposal and the perfect wedding and the perfect HEA. I think she wants a proposal that she doesn’t feel like she had to rip unwillingly from him. There’s a huge difference.

    I think that marriage is important to her, but she wants assurance from him that he wants it too; that he’s in it with her, and not just going through the motions to appease her.

    Honestly? I don’t know what to tell you at all. I don’t know the guy in question and I’m not familiar with your relationship. Obviously, even though you say you’re past that comment he made, you still believe he has one foot out the door and I can’t blame you for that. You need to figure out why you’re still feeling that way – because of the blow that was to your sense of stability or because, despite his convincing you over the course of the year, some things (even just little things or comments!) have made you still doubt his commitment. The first one is something you’ll have to work on, or maybe you can work on that together, and in the case of the second one, you should definitely leave. But NOT until you have that Big Talk.

    It’s possible that he is just too comfortable. It’s possible that you guys want different things. There’s no way for any of us to know without knowing both of you. You need to talk.

    (Also – as an adopted kid, I just want to say that adoption is a wonderful institution. If you can get past the “not being pregnant” part, please consider it)

  22. 22
    CathyKJ says:

    I think it’s time for a serious, honest, heart-wrenching, all the cards on the table, talk. 

    I’m in a similar situation with my boyfriend – we’ve been together 9 1/2 years and bought a house last year.  I will not threadjack with our whole history, but I will say you need and your boyfriend need to know exactly where the other stands, and decide where to go from there.  If marriage is important to you, he needs to respect that – whether that means by marrying you, or by leaving you so you can find someone who is ready for that.  And, you need to be prepared to accept and trust his answer – whatever that may be.

  23. 23
    AgTigress says:

    I think that those who recommend an immediate split, or even an ultimatum, are over-reacting in this particular case.  Alternatively, I suppose I may be under-reacting, but I do not see, in what the writer told us, any real evidence that the man is emotionally detached.  I think the writer’s hurt and disappointment over a couple of romantic details have been upsetting enough to undermine her confidence in the whole relationship.  I honestly don’t think that issuing ultimatums, or packing up and leaving, will help.  On the contrary, they would simply be the death-knell of the relationship.

    The diverse views of marriage that have been expressed here are very significant, and clearly, if two partners have completely different perceptions of the institution, they must discuss it and get it straight.  For many of us, marriage really is no more than a traditional (and sometimes useful) legal convention quite unconnected with the creation and maintenance of a permanent pair-bond.  For others, it is something mystical, romantic, and a religious sacrament.  That’s a pretty wide range of perception.

    In the past, there was little or no choice over these matters;  if a couple wanted to live together, they had to marry or face really severe social disapproval and sanctions that could affect their lives and livelihood.  Now we can choose.  But we still need to understand each other’s feelings on the subject for any choice to work smoothly.

  24. 24
    Jody W. says:

    Sounds like the letter writer’s fretfulness is based on the BF’s proven reluctance to agree that they are “it” for each other, to agree that they will work equally toward that goal. Despite his offhand “future marriage” comments, his freakout at the thought of being with her and only hear for the rest of his life has not been rectified. Whether marriages/commitments end up as “you and only you forever and ever”, that’s generally how most people go into it (Hollywood celebs notwithstanding), and if somebody is not willing to agree on “you and only you”, then there are issues to be parsed.

    Hopefully she can work it out with him, if that’s what she wants!

    My verification word is george83. Hee! DH’s name is George. I’d like to be with him forever and ever, plus 83 years.

  25. 25

    My husband and I dated for 8 years before we got married. We were teenagers when we met, so that makes a difference. I was ready a year or so before he finally agreed to make me an honest woman. :) We went to the jewelry store together so I could pick the ring I wanted. He got down on one knee and proposed in my parents’ driveway before we went inside to announce our engagement.

    Perfect? No. But I never doubted his commitment to me.

    I’m curious about how the couple has been communicating since his freak-out. I would have wanted to resolve the issue right then and there. Actually, I think I’d have walked out the door. This situation calls for a major grovel.

  26. 26
    kkw says:

    Romance novels make it clear that it’s very important to talk openly and honestly about what’s going on, as that is usually the only thing postponing happily ever after.  I’m not disagreeing with that, I think Sarah, AgTigress, Faellie, et al. are very eloquent on that score, and totally right.  Personal experience, alas, has shown me that talking openly and honestly about my feelings accomplishes only an outbreak of hives, or worse, tears.  I think it’s silly to base advice strictly on personal experience – my boyfriend manned up (or didn’t), so yours will (or won’t) – but in case other people don’t have the knack of this mysterious communication business, here’s what I’ve got.  Don’t go with straight ahead category romance for these situations, think rom-com instead.  It’s a comedy of errors, not an angst-ridden bodice ripper.  He says the worst thing, she has the worst reaction – how can we possibly come back from this one?  It’ll be a wild crazy ride, but love, laughter, and lots of sex win out in the end.  Channel more of a Crusie heroine than an old school victim type.  Which is not to say that Knuckles is over-reacting, or being victimized, or anything like that, at all, but that when one wants High Romance and is offered everyday life, it makes sense to embrace the painfully funny, mundane side of romance.

  27. 27
    JL says:

    I’m with Stephanie on this one. Huge difference between wanting a perfect princess wedding and feeling like you dragged someone kicking and screaming to the alter.

    I was in a similar situation and relate deeply to the advice seeker. My hubby (married 3 weeks ago!) and I were dating for six years, very happy. But, being academics, I had to make a lot of decisions and sacrifices for his career and mine. I wanted the reassurance of marriage to know he financially and emotionally valued the sacrifices I made since I made a whole lot more than him. He didn’t want to get married until he was established, with a career and home to his name. I thought that was the most unromantic and unfair opinion ever. But as I look back, it was romantic in his own way that he wanted to ‘provide’ for me as a husband. In the end, he proposed because we thought had to move to a different country. We didn’t end up moving but had announced the engagement anyway. I was almost embarrassed that I didn’t have a more romantic engagement, but in the end he pointed out that he was happy to marry me even though ‘the reason’ was no longer there. I had a wonderful wedding.

    So, my advice is that you can get over that weird unromantic feeling once you know he wants to marry you. Real love makes every wedding romantic, in my opinion. But you need that heart to heart desperately. I would say don’t give an ultimatum if he isn’t ready to propose in X amount of months, but consider a break if he is unwilling to really understand WHY this is important to you. Building a life together is a huge commitment and about more than romance, which I actually think you understand better than he does. Communication is everything. He needs to understand why you want to get married, and if he refuses to see it as anything but a romantic formality then cut him loose…

  28. 28
    Rainytown says:

    It’s your life and your relationship, Knuckles, but I keep coming back to your comment that the joy has been leached out of the process by your boyfriend’s unwillingness to realize how important this is for you.

    I’m sure I’ll be flamed for admitting to the following, but it’s the truth. I’ve been married for many years now. I love my husband, but if I had it to do over again, I would not have married him. I didn’t need a proposal on live national TV, or a ring stuck in the dessert at an expensive restaurant. I would have been very happy if he had gotten down on one knee and asked me to marry him. He did not. It was the first (and biggest,) indicator that I wasn’t going to have what I hoped for. I caved on a lot of things that were important to me because I loved him, and I thought I had to. I have nobody to blame for this but myself.

    You deserve to have someone that is every bit as excited and happy about marrying you as you are to marry him. If he’s not, please think twice.

  29. 29
    Rose Fox says:

    Wow, I’m stunned by the people saying “pack up and get out”. That’s really strong advice to give based on a single letter!

    The OP asked:

    Has any woman ever dreamed of meeting her perfect man, dating for awhile, eventually cohabitating while keeping clear financial boundaries, eventually getting a dog as a test run and after 8 to 10 years of “just making sure” and extensive discussion, reaching a mutual decision with her partner to tie the knot in a quiet, low-fuss civil ceremony?

    I didn’t dream of it, but it’s exactly what’s happened to me, other than the dog (we have two cats) and the clear financial boundaries; my partner and I merged finances (and, more crucially, libraries) when we moved in together a year and a bit after we fell in love. Another year and a half later, we started talking about how we wanted to be together and support each other through difficult times, at which point we realized we were basically reciting wedding vows. Oops. Good thing neither of us had their heart set on a romantic proposal! We had a non-legal commitment ceremony on our fourth anniversary. Now we’ve been together nine years and change and we’re talking about getting legally married. (We live in New York State and were waiting until it was legal for everyone.) Again, no romantic proposal, just practical discussions of how it would affect our finances.

    I’ve been the one saying “Gosh, this legal marriage thing would be a big commitment!” even though we’re tremendously happy together and have made all sorts of other commitments, including some that are legally binding like having a joint bank account. It’s not because I don’t love my partner. Far from it! It’s because I’m a worrier. The other day I turned to him in some disbelief and said that I actually could not imagine a scenario in which we split up. My imagination is pretty strong, especially when it comes to imagining disasters. And even though I know that we’ve been through one disaster after another—including him comforting me through the death of someone I loved very much, me comforting him through the collapse of his first marriage, repeated bouts of ill health and injury on my part, and two economic crashes that left him out of work and miserably depressed for years—and have always emerged stronger and happier than ever, in the back of my head I’m always waiting for something to come up that will destroy our partnership and leave me alone and miserable.

    That’s not in any way a reflection on my partner. It’s just who I am. My partner knows that and he doesn’t take it personally. He just focuses on giving me ammo to fight back against the demons of fear and doubt.

    So if your partner’s cold feet are about him being prone to anxiety and not about you, then I would urge you to help him fight back against the fear. That doesn’t mean setting aside your own needs and desires; of course you should tell him that you were hoping for enthusiasm and a romantic proposal rather than resignation and practicality, and you should seriously consider whether you want to be making a lifetime commitment to someone who’s inclined to anxiety and pragmatism in situations where you feel there should be gleeful bouncing up and down. But it sounds like things are otherwise really terrific, so I suggest it would be worthwhile for you to talk with him about how you can help him feel more secure and less fretful.

    Identify the real source(s) of his worries and you’ll know how to react to them. There might be a brain chemistry component (and perhaps you should be urging him toward therapy and/or meds if his anxiety gets in the way of other parts of his life) and there might be a component of his personal history (my mother’s first marriage fell apart almost immediately and the second lasted twenty miserable years, and my partner’s split with his first wife was really unpleasant, so it’s hard for me to even know what a happy, stable marriage looks like). If the foot-dragging is about him not really wanting to be with you in the long term, then yes, time to get going. If it’s stemming from something else, the two of you can cement your partnership by fighting your demons and his demons together.

  30. 30
    Stephanie says:

    I also feel the need to say, because I forgot to before, that issuing an ultimatum isn’t going to do much to convince you that he’s doing it willingly.

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