How do I broach the subject of marriage with my unsuspecting boyfriend without scaring him off?
January 22, 2010 12:30 PM   Subscribe

How do I broach the subject of marriage with my unsuspecting boyfriend without scaring him off?

The long and short of it: I've been with my boyfriend for 4 years now. We have a very stable, loving and happy relationship. For the past 6 months or so, I've been thinking seriously about marriage, and I realize that I want to get married. The more I think about it, the more I want it, and the more I get excited about spending our lives together.

The thing is, I'm pretty sure that marriage is probably the furthest thing from his mind. It's not that he never wants to be married, or that he has a problem with the institution of marriage, but I just don't think it ever even occurs to him to think about it.

We've only ever talked about marriage in very brief and casual conversation, and never in the context of 'us'. More like "someday at some point in my life I'd like to be married." I'm willing to wait, as I don't think that this is something we should enter into lightly, but the radio silence is killing me.

I realize that waiting around and dropping subtle, passive-aggressive hints will only make me crazy and strain our relationship. Obviously the best and most logical approach is to just have a conversation with him. But I must admit that I am terrified. I'm scared that if I bring it up, it will take him by surprise and scare him off. The last thing I want to do is ruin the perfectly wonderful relationship we already have.

Basically, I'm looking for any tips or suggestions on how to broach the subject of marriage without freaking my boyfriend out or ruining our relationship. I want to avoid the overly serious "We need to talk..." type conversations, and I don't want to deliver any ultimatums. I just want to let him know that it's something I've been thinking about and want to know what he thinks about it.

So, any suggestions for good, casual matrimony conversation starters?

(I'm posting anonymously because my boyfriend is a Metafilter user too!)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (50 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
"So, when are we getting married?"
posted by shownomercy at 12:33 PM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

"What are your thoughts on marriage?"
posted by kitty teeth at 12:34 PM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

"Will you marry me?"
posted by greekphilosophy at 12:35 PM on January 22, 2010 [36 favorites]

"So, whaddya wanna do Friday night? There's nothing playing at the movies. We could go to that new Thai place. It got three stars in the paper."

"I dunno. Wanna get married?"
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:36 PM on January 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't think that passive aggressive hints work for anyone (not really suggesting that's your plan, but still...). Personally, on some appropriate occasion--a nice quiet comfortable dinner at home, or whatever--I'd just ask, "BF, do you see us getting married." Listen to his response, and actually pay attention to it. Then "I've been thinking about it myself, and I'd love to get married to you, because I lurve you and want to spend the rest of my earthly days with you." Listen to his response, and actually pay attention to it. And then improvise. He's clearly not going to ask you on the spot, but maybe you can plan to touch base about it again in a few months.

I think it's overstating this to say it's a negotiation, but it's a definitely a big decision that both people need to have ownership of.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:37 PM on January 22, 2010 [9 favorites]

"Let's run away and get married."
"Haha, funny."
"No, really."

His reaction alone will let you know how to proceed.

If you're ready for marriage, you should know how to communicate this to him without asking a bunch of strangers.
posted by theraflu at 12:39 PM on January 22, 2010 [13 favorites]

"How do you feel about getting married?"will work. Or you could just do what men are seemingly expected to do: propose.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:41 PM on January 22, 2010

If you don't want to freak him out, follow this script:

"Hey loverboy, I don't want to freak you out, but do you ever see us getting married."

IF YES: Have you given any thought to when?
IF NO: Why not?
posted by craven_morhead at 12:41 PM on January 22, 2010 [10 favorites]

Haddock's right. I'm in a situation similar to your boyfriend's, although I may (before my girlfriend made her feelings known to me, at least) have been more opposed to getting married. If you're outright with him without being pushy or seeming judgmental or owed or something, he should seriously consider your feelings and maybe in ways that will change how he thinks--or that's what should happen, ideally. Even if he's still far from ready, you two should be able to have a respectful and even romantic conversation about it.

If you're scared about spooking him, it probably means that you're not wanting to rush out to the invitations store either--so I doubt he'd be scared away. Just ask him: do you see us married? I'd like to see us married, maybe not now but sometime within the next x years.
posted by dervish at 12:43 PM on January 22, 2010

I hate to think that talks of a vague and eventual marriage (as compared to the sudden and definitive "I need to be married in 3 months" statement) would end a solid four-year relationship, but I guess it could happen.

Personal anecdote: I think I was the one to bring up the possibility of getting married to the lady who is now my wife of 3+ years. I had been thinking about it for months, and I, too, was scared of ruining a wonderful relationship. I brought it up one evening when we were relaxing together, and I think I mentioned it fairly casually. We then spent some time chatting about it, not making any solid plans, but saying that sounded like a nice thing for the future. We the eased into talking about it a bit more, and we eventually went to look at rings when we knew we wanted it to really happen. Then all the tedious planning began in full.

Back to your current position: my advice is to bring it up casually, as just another topic of conversation. "What do you think of getting married?" If this is greeted with stunned silence, or no real words, you could elaborate that you love him and think spending the rest of your life with him sounds like a nice / wonderful / pleasant sort of thing. But that's just my take. (On preview: others are thinking the same thing)

Also on preview: if you're afraid, I wouldn't start with "So, when are we getting married?" Then again, I'm not shownomercy =)
posted by filthy light thief at 12:44 PM on January 22, 2010

Have a discussion with him on marriage and what it would bring you that you don't get from your relationship now. Ask him what he thinks marriage would bring to your relationship. But realize that thinking about and talking about change will often lead to change, whether it's the type you want or not.
posted by Durin's Bane at 12:44 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

My (now-)wife had a sit-down with my (then-)best friend while I was on a solo road trip and had him pass along her ultimatum ("figure out if you wanna get married in six months.") when I got back.
posted by notsnot at 12:51 PM on January 22, 2010

"So, when are we getting married?"
posted by shownomercy at 12:33 PM on January 22

If you are looking for the worst possible reaction, follow that advice.

You can propose to him if you think it's the right time. The expectation that men should always be the ones to propose is goofy and sexist, in my opinion.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:52 PM on January 22, 2010 [11 favorites]

After 4-years, I can't see the need to hint at anything. You need to tell him that marriage is something you'd like, that you'd like it with him, and would like to know soon. I'm not sure how old you are, but the longer you wait.....the longer marriage might take to happen with "someone". I'll tell you this one though, my now wife was pushing marriage on me about a year into dating and I was young (25).....I told her that if I was going to be committed to it that I'd have to come to it and wanted to her to go a while without mentioning it.....about half a year later, I HAD to marry her as we fell more in love and I knew it was not easy for her from a personal or family perspective to keep dating indefinitely. So, if it's something he needs coaxing into, I feel personally it's not a good sign.......I feel a good marriage is something you work at daily and if he feels rushed or pushed into it, it can make the commitment harder. Good luck!
posted by skepticallypleased at 12:52 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ask him what he thinks about being married (1) in general, (2) to you, (3) within the next X years. As a "just wondering" thing rather than a serious talk type of thing.

I think when you're in a steady relationship that's happily clicking along, it can be easy to forget about marriage or to think, "well, sure, someday, but I don't want to go through the stress of planning a wedding right now, and we're happy as we are." If he's not really thinking about marriage, it doesn't mean he's scared of it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:54 PM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

My now-wife and I had had lots of the same casual conversations you've had, along the "marriage is not something I'm opposed to" lines. These gradually got less casual. How many kids do we want? How do we handle finances? If we got married would we do it in her hometown or mine? She started attending bridal shows, with friends who were getting married, and coming home with stuff. One day she left a book called "How To Buy A Diamond" on the coffee table. We'd talked about it enough, it didn't come out of the blue, I took the hint.
posted by IanMorr at 12:56 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, after four years there's no need to tip-toe around. I believe I started the conversation with, "Let's get married at some point." It wasn't a proposal, it was a conversation-starter.
posted by muddgirl at 12:56 PM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

"Honey, we have to talk."

He's not thinking about the future with you because, I get the sense, that neither of you have been discussing it all, let alone marriage.

So, start conversations about long-term plans however, plans, moves, even vacations. Do you know what he feels about and wants from the future? Have you discussed how you both feel about kids yet, for example? What about finances? Do either of you have long-term plans that you feel you need to follow through on (go to school, start a business, move to Peru and keep llamas)? These should come-up somewhat organically and all of them should be, need to be, in my opinion, addressed before the question is popped.

You don't need formal plans, financial arrangements or kiddy day care preferences, necessarily, but the preferences you and he have should be in sync if you want things to work. And you need to find out what those are. Once you get him in a frame of mind to consider a few years ahead, then you can talk about how you and he together fit into all of this.
posted by bonehead at 12:57 PM on January 22, 2010 [7 favorites]

i think i brought it up casually. then he tried to bring it up during a phone call and i was feeling crazy that day so i shushed him. then about a month later we spent a wonderful day with friends and their baby. after they went home, we cuddled and talked about the day and somewhere in that conversation i said "i'd like to get married".

if bringing up the topic will ruin the relationship - then it wasn't as great as you thought it was

if you or he aren't/weren't anti-marriage only the most clueless guy would be surprised at the topic coming up after 4 years.
posted by nadawi at 1:00 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

First, before talking to him about it, I would figure out why you want to get married. You didn't say in your question. It's often something people just feel is right -- that marriage follows love -- but if he's ambivalent, it's probably a good idea to have a specific, personal reason for wanting to do this.

Once you've thought about it, and decided that this is something you want for X reason(s), I think your fear that you'd "scare him off" is unwarranted, in that, if your expressing a sincere desire to him would really make him not want to be with you anymore, you don't have a "perfectly wonderful relationship." If this is what you want, that's you. If he doesn't want someone who wants this, he doesn't want you. You hiding what you want doesn't change that.
posted by palliser at 1:06 PM on January 22, 2010

I was in a relationship for about 3.5 to 4 years before people started asking questions like, "So when are you two going to make it official?", so my ex fiance and I started thinking about it at that point. It was not like we'd never discussed our views on marriage, or what we wanted in life, but we never had a serious talk about it. We never had moments where we said to each other, "I want to spend the rest of my life with you." That was probably a good sign that we shouldn't have gotten engaged.

Now, I'm in a relationship in which I have no doubts about our future. We both want to marry the shit out of each other, and we have no problem talking about it.

That said, I'm not necessarily saying that you aren't right for him or that you need to express your desires to marry the dude every day, but you SHOULD bring it up! Maybe he secretly wants to marry you, too.
posted by Lizsterr at 1:11 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ask him to marry you.
posted by DWRoelands at 1:12 PM on January 22, 2010

Here's seconding bonehead. I once dated a girl that I knew marriage was out of the question for because she didn't want even think a few months ahead about taking a vacation. I've been with my current to-be fiance for three years now and we both knew the time was right when we began talking about plans in terms of years and not just weeks or months.

If you talk with him about things you both may be doing together years from now on the assumption that you will still be together, then you probably shouldn't be too worried about broaching the subject. If not, then try expanding your plans out beyond the present and see how things go.
posted by cimbrog at 1:16 PM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you're ready for marriage, you should know how to communicate this to him without asking a bunch of strangers.

You don't need to have a perfect relationship with perfect communication before you can start talking about getting married. This is a hard topic for many people to broach because they don't want to screw up a good relationship by pressuring their partner.

There are many upsides, but also a few quasi-downsides to the fact that it's socially acceptable to be a long-term unmarried couple. One of those quasi-downsides is that you have to say "I want to get married" out loud and you might get a surprised "Why? Aren't you happy with what we have now?"

I like some of the gentle but direct questions suggested above, such as "How do you feel about getting married?" (rather than the somewhat presumptuous "When are we getting married?" or passive aggressive hints).
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:18 PM on January 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think you should think about what will happen if he says it's not something he wants, or if he doesn't see it happening between you guys. If you live together, figure out what you want to do if he says no.

It's not wrong to want to be married. Hearing him be ambivalent about it might hurt, but be prepared to leave the relationship. If you're not at that point, where you are okay with leaving if he says no, and you want the relationship regardless, I would be prepared for the feelings of hurt and unhappiness that come with him not being on board. You might see him differently.
posted by anniecat at 1:19 PM on January 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

16 years ago, I asked my then-boyfriend this question, "So, are we ever going to get married?" He responded in the affirmative. I then said, "Should we set a date?" He said okay, and we've been married for 15 years now and have two kids. Apparently he was going to ask me about a week later and I ruined all his carefully laid plans.

If you're going to ask, you have to be prepared for a "no."
posted by cooker girl at 1:19 PM on January 22, 2010

All of the above are good openings for the inevitable discussion that will follow. What's going to be hard is that you are already heavily invested in the outcome of this discussion, so (assuming he doesn't jump up and say "let's fly to Vegas and do it this weekend!") it's important to find a way to dial back your zeal. You have been thinking about this actively and repeatedly for the last 6 months. He has not. As strange as it may sound, it's possible he hasn't thought about this AT ALL in that time. Not that he's ambivalent about it, but it just isn't on his radar.

Case in point: I'm a guy, I'm madly in love with my wife, and we have a wonderful marriage, but my wife wanted to get busy with the baby making two years before she finally got fed up with my obliviousness and tearfully confronted me about it. She was so worked up when she finally broached the subject that she was practically hyperventilating. Her need to start a family *right now* caught me by surprise in much the same way this may catch your partner by surprise: I knew I wanted kids "sometime", but I wasn't in any particular hurry. She, however, had been obsessed with this issue, and it just didn't occur to her that I might not be thinking about this at all. Once we talked about it, I realized that "now" was actually a very good time; that was 9 years ago, and we have two beautiful kids, so it was great that she confronted me when she did. The takeaway here is that sometimes guys are completely, utterly, totally, and hopelessly clueless, even when we love our partners dearly and our hearts are in the right place.

It's good that you bring this out into the open, and for both of your sakes, you should do it soon! Good luck!
posted by mosk at 1:26 PM on January 22, 2010 [6 favorites]

Oh, I remember how hard this was! Around five years into our relationship, I started to get the same bug with my then-boyfriend. I started to conversation simply enough (although I was terrified): "So, I'm pretty sure I'd like to get married some day. Probably to you. Not yet, I don't think. But what do you think?" His response was pretty much, sure, I'll be game when you are.

I proposed about a year later, on our sixth anniversary, and we were married this October.

The problem with the passive aggressive thing is that it only works if you have a very traditional relationship where you insist on the proposal being a surprise to you, the party who sounds like you might be more motivated towards marriage. The thing is, conversations can be just as romantic, as can the idea of a woman doing the "work" of the proposal.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:32 PM on January 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

I strongly suggest you avoid actually proposing until you have had the time to have a serious conversation about marriage, and I would advise the same were the gendered reversed.

You need to figure out if you are on the same page as him in terms of a) what you want out of this relationship, b) what you want out of marriage (children, shared assets, where you want to live), and c) what you want out of being married to each other.

Surprise proposal (and I don't mean the circumstance of the proposal, I mean the very idea of one of you potentially proposing) do not necessarily end well. He might feel strong pressed to accept in order to not let you down or embarrass you, especially if it's in any way a public or grand-gesture proposal. He might also feels unjustly cornered and resentful.

Just start a conversation with him about what you want from your life. You want to get married. You want to get married to him. Ask him to share his - non hypothetical - opinions on the subject. No to "well, someday I would really love to be a bride." Yes to "I love you, I want us to be together, where do you see our relationship five years from now? Because I feel strongly about marriage as a welcome next step."

Good luck!
posted by lydhre at 1:33 PM on January 22, 2010 [6 favorites]

Start talking about weddings and marriage in a bit more of the abstract. I have a text message from my wife when we'd been dating about 6 months in, that says, "We're gonna have an NES-themed wedding!" On the one hand, we weren't ready to get married yet, but on the other hand, we both knew it'd happen some time.

I proposed to her after having dated for nearly 3 years, and she thought I was joking. Fortunately, she said "Yes" when I said, "No, really."

So, uh, I'm not sure I'm a good source of advice, but I'll say that there is a middle path between blurting out a surprise proposal and dropping super-subtle hints. Talk about the future and where you (plural) will be in 5 years. Talk about other friends who are, or might soon be, married. When you know his opinions and feelings on marriage, it'll come together.

That, and there can be lots of time between a proposal and the wedding.
posted by explosion at 1:38 PM on January 22, 2010

The expectation that men should always be the ones to propose is goofy and sexist, in my opinion.
posted by Optimus Chyme

Just to further illustrate this point, I (a lady) make it a monthly habit to propose to Optimus Chyme (a manly dude). Sometimes it's when we're drunk and standing on the subway platform late at night, sometimes it's when we're hanging out at the bookstore and he miraculously points out a book that I'd love, and once over a game of Scrabble. These aren't "when do we tell our parents" proposals, but more "hey bro, you are rad and I'd be lucky to spend the rest of my life with you" proposals, but it still brings that agenda to the forefront of dialogue.

And honey, you've dated this guy for four years, which means that even if he hasn't expressly thought of setting a wedding date, he's still stuck with you for enough time to consider you as a life partner. I highly doubt he'll immediately pack his bags if you bring up marriage.
posted by zoomorphic at 1:44 PM on January 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

Aww, I know exactly how you feel. After I'd been with my now-husband for four years and we hadn't talked about marriage, I got really edgy. I was terrified of bringing it up. I kept expecting him to bring it up but it wasn't happening. It wasn't that I had any sexist idea that guys should be the ones who propose, either, but because he had always seemed far more commitment-phobic than I was -- his parents had gotten divorced when he was a kid, and a few years into the relationship he seemed terrified about talking about the future -- and I thought I was doing him a favor or something by just being patient and letting things go at their own pace.

After four years, though, I got to worry that I was being strung along. When it got to be too much for me to deal with -- I got to the point where I was so confused about what he wanted out of the relationship, and whether I apparently had to be the one with the strength to end it since he was seemingly happy to let it languish, that I had begun privately crying over it -- I finally blurted out "marry me" one day and he was actually really happy. I felt super stupid to have wasted so much time worrying about it. He said he had always assumed we'd get married and asked if I wanted to be officially engaged, and I was so stunned that I just mumbled something about it didn't really matter, just whenever he was comfortable with it. We weren't officially engaged until another year after that, when he brought it up again and proposed to me.

So my advice is: propose before you drive yourself crazy. Yes, it's terrifying, but whatever the outcome, it's better than privately torturing yourself with whatever could go wrong. Not to mention that his feelings will be whatever they are whether you're worried or not, so worrying before you know his reaction is just unnecessary stress.

For what it's worth, my husband never said much about getting married because he looked at it a lot differently than I did. To him, his commitment to me was obvious, and getting married would just be a formality that we'd get around to sooner or later. He felt we were so close that he didn't see how it would fundamentally change the relationship. I didn't have quite the same perspective; I didn't think getting married would fundamentally change the relationship either -- it hasn't, and I tend to think marriage on its own doesn't really mean anything -- but based on his apprehension early in the relationship I had real concerns that we didn't have a future together; I needed him to express his intentions to me in some way or other and he had never done so. He was shocked to know that, and asked how I could think that because he was so obviously happy and adored me, but he was obviously happy and adored me back when he was terrified of discussing the future, too, so I couldn't read anything into that.

In other words, there could be any variety of weird perceptions between the two of you about this sort of thing, stuff that you couldn't really predict. I would be very surprised if it's like you say that it just has never occurred to him; I would have said the same thing about my husband, perhaps for my own sanity's sake, but it ended up not being true at all. Now I'm pretty sure that anyone in a years-long relationship thinks about whether or not they want to get married, even if only as a thought-experiment. The only way to get closure and answers is just to put it out there and either ask him what he thinks of getting married, or outright propose. There's no magical way to do this; if he's freaked out about marriage there's probably not a way to bring it up without his getting freaked out, and if he's not freaked out about marrying you then it doesn't matter how you bring it up. I mean, assuming you don't say something like, "HOWS ABOUT WE ENTER INTO A LEGAL CONTRACT WHEREIN I AM ENTITLED TO COLLECT ON YOUR LIFE INSURANCE POLICIES?" anyway.

Good luck! You can do this!
posted by Nattie at 1:46 PM on January 22, 2010 [6 favorites]

I asked my boyfriend to marry me. He didn't say a word for about the next half hour, but we're still together 6+ years later. Not married, but living together and perfectly happy. I have no desire for a big wedding and it's just a question of when and how to run off to Vegas. My emphasis has been on building a happy *life* and not necessarily on marriage, per se.

Nothing stopping you from asking him, if you ask me! :)
posted by at 1:48 PM on January 22, 2010

After 4 years, I pretty much said what shownomercy said at the very top of this thread. It went very well!
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 1:59 PM on January 22, 2010

I'm guessing your mom hasn't had this conversation with him already? Or, even, his mom? That's how the subject is usually brought up.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:11 PM on January 22, 2010

I'm with the "propose to him" crowd. There's no reason to wait for him to show up with a silly rock. If he says yes, then you can start the planning. If he says no, can start the planning, only for something completely different.
posted by dejah420 at 2:17 PM on January 22, 2010

I'm with the crowd that says either propose or ask him what he thinks about getting married...and to you.

If you do want him to propose, you can always play cute after you have this discussion. "So just so you know, should you want to get all goofy and get on one knee to the whole thing where you propose to me...I'd totally say yes. Lemme know if you need help booking the romantic weekend."
posted by desuetude at 2:36 PM on January 22, 2010

Recommend The Power of Commitment by Dr. Scott Stanley. This excellent book reflects recent research on commitment in relationships. Also "How to improve your marriage without talking about it." by Stosny and Love. (I feel like a broken record, recommending these so much, but they're good!)

I agree with the above advice that direct communication, but some knowledge can help you make that communication, and your reaction to his response, more effective.

Keep in mind:
Often, men and women move into marriage for different reasons (statistically, studies show) women see marriage as a natural progression of the relationship where men tend to like things as they are -- happy go lucky -- and often move into marriage as a measure to save what they value in the relationship. Moreso if the relationship is already sexual and/or cohabiting.
These differing levels of commitment are what make cohabiting couples who move into marriage more likely to divorce. (i.e. Sliding vs. Deciding) When I work with these couples, I make sure they both agree on the value of moving into marriage and have an idea of what will be better once they become married.
Marital commitment changes men (again, statistically, studies show) and makes them more serious and increases "grown up" behavior (e.g. abandoning dreams of becoming a rock star and getting a paying job). Men tend to view marriage as a huge step and associate it with big changes in their lives (which they usually like just fine as they are.)
Men avoid shame, which tends to be their greatest fear. They react to shaming situations by withdrawing. Women tend to avoid feelings of isolation, their greatest fear. They react by trying to connect and draw closer. Learn about the pursuit/withdrawal cycle to understand how these differing fears play out badly in a lot of relationships.
Men who like Now just fine, might feel inadequate in the face of Forever. They confront the possibility of failure with you, which is a source of shame for them, so they avoid talking about it. Don't take this as a judgement on you. (Of course this is hard because you might interpret his avoidance as abandonment. See the Pursuit/Withdrawal Cycle above)
Men also, for a number of neurological and other reasons detailed in the Stosny and Love book, find long conversations about the relationship to be shaming as well. That's why their most feared words tend to be "Honey, we have to talk..."
But there are soild strategies to improve your level of connection with your man (again, in the book) in ways that will alleviate and not aggravate his sense of shame.

So, with that above (not a substitute for the actual books) please don't take it personally if his reaction is not what you want. It's likely more about him and his own self-perception than a measure of how he feels for you.

But, of course, I hope he scoops you up and proposes at your first hint of marriage. :)
posted by cross_impact at 2:44 PM on January 22, 2010 [14 favorites]

Unless he's stridently anti-marriage (and it doesn't sound like he is) my vote is for phrasing it like cooker girl did, when the mood seems to fit; during or after a particularly fun or romantic outing.

And not "So, are we ever going to get married?" in a pouncing, demanding way... more like, "So, are we going to get that new rug for the living room?" It's not a light decision, but if you're both grown-ups who are comfortable and in love with each other and don't have any baggage that makes the mere concept of marriage a big scary thing, the initial discussion needn't be huge and momentous.

But yeah - if you do broach the subject, you have to be prepared for the possibility of a "no".
posted by usonian at 3:03 PM on January 22, 2010

I posted this here, with one slight change:

I think part of every serious relationship is when you get a cup of coffee/tea/go for a walk, and then have a conversation around "so how do you see your life in 2, 5 years, personally, professionally?" Thats where you can bring up you see yourself with him, married.

I find that approach a little better (as a man) because it means the conversation isn't focused just around one thing but on us, as a couple, and our wishes for the future. I can bring up something I really want to be doing at that time (travel, living in another city, taking 2 years to meditate on a remote mountain) and you can bring up things you really want to be doing. But definitely be honest about what you want during this conversation, don't skirt around the issue.

You say he is oblivious? Then you need to muster your courage, and have that conversation. Not just about marriage, but your life, together.
posted by Admira at 3:12 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

We brought it up first in the abstract by making jokey, outlandish comments about our supposed future wedding ("Hey, let's get married in a barrel going over Iguazu Falls!"). After a few months of this, we moved in together. When that worked out, we started saying things like "I want to spend the rest of my life with you.". After that, the more practical, realistic "if we get married" conversations came, and then, the proposal ( which I was kind of expecting, since we were traveling to a special location). It all happened kind of organically.

So, if you are the kind of couple who joke around a lot, I suggest using your humor as a way to bring this up without freaking either of you out.
posted by matildaben at 3:24 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

bonehead and others have the right idea. Do not just blurt out, "do you want to get married?"

In my personal opinion, and clearly some disagree, a proposal should never ever be completely out of the blue. Not that it can't be a surprise, but unless you've laid the groundwork for it by having these conversations about the future, about all the things that are important to you, you might not really be making an informed decision.

So I think you should talk about those linked questions, if you haven't already. If you already know all that, and your problem really is just figuring out how to talk about marriage in the future, pick a meditative moment when the two of you are just hanging out and ask him what he thinks about getting married.
posted by canine epigram at 3:36 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

without scaring him off

Here's a question to ask yourself: If you scare him off by bringing up marriage, will you be scared off forever or just temporarily and then you two can talk about?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:56 PM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ask him what he thinks about the institution. In general. Don't even jump right into the two of you being married.

Talking to someone about marrying you, if you don't already know how they feel about the institution is a risk. Jumping in with both feet might not scare someone off - but why would you stay in a relationship with someone you wanted to marry after you learned that they never want to marry?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:31 PM on January 22, 2010

Why not simply ask him to marry you? If he says no, it's to marriage, not you. There's nothing to lose. You're already commited (per your description of your relationship + the fact that you've been together four years).
posted by marimeko at 5:09 PM on January 22, 2010

The thing is, I'm pretty sure that marriage is probably the furthest thing from his mind. It's not that he never wants to be married, or that he has a problem with the institution of marriage, but I just don't think it ever even occurs to him to think about it.

It would be extremely weird if you were correct about this. You've been dating for four years. He's thought about it. I hope knowing that makes it easier for you to bring it up.
posted by escabeche at 6:00 PM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

"How people actually see things is interesting. To you, what seem like the biggest drawbacks and disadvantages to getting married?"

This is not meant to be a rhetorical question; get direct, specific answers.

And after he answers that question, ask: "What would be some of the nice things about getting married?"

His response should give you a better idea of where he's at, and what he's open to considering.
posted by darth_tedious at 6:04 PM on January 22, 2010

Get invited to a few weddings. The conversations will come.
posted by limeonaire at 6:59 PM on January 22, 2010

Post a question on AskMefi anonymously, but with just enough details that that your boyfriend might *accidentally* stumble upon the post and realize, "Holy shit, that's me!" Or at the very least, be prodded into thinking about marriage.

posted by moiraine at 1:09 AM on January 23, 2010

Her: "Are we ever going to get married?"

Me: "How about next year." (Sounds dismissive) (It is November)


Her: "OK!"

We have been married for 20 years.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 3:16 PM on January 23, 2010

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