Is it normal to get cold feet this early?
November 3, 2011 8:07 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I are in our late 20's and we've been together for almost three years. We've talked a lot about marriage (both casually and seriously), and we've both been enthusiastic about it. I'm getting the feeling that he may propose soon, and suddenly I feel nervous about it. I think I'm just generally scared of making such a big life decision. I know it's normal for people to get pre-wedding jitters, but what about pre-engagement?

If pressed, I would say the only sort-of issue we have is sex. We don't have sex very often for being a young, childless couple, maybe 3-4 times a month. I honestly don't want it more often and he doesn't seem to either. Sometimes I think that we “should” be having more sex, but it seems stupid to apply outside social pressure to something that works for us. We have good sex – not bad, not amazing. We talk about trying new or different things, but I think both of us are guilty of not taking the time or energy to implement them always. I am satisfied overall though. I think there are people out there who might be more sexually compatible with me, but it'd be hard to find someone as compatible with me otherwise.

I know people always say that you “just know” when you're with the person you want to marry. Probably 95% of the time with him, I feel like I just know. I often catch myself thinking, “I could seriously not be happier with another human”. The other 5% I get gripped with worries about “what if next year, 5 years, etc. I realize that I've made a terrible mistake?” But if I listen to that 5% I think I probably wouldn't ever marry anyone.

I am awesomely in love with him and still feel a lot of romantic spark. Our senses of humor, our general life goals and outlooks mesh really well. We've gone through some stressful life situations together (not relationship-related) where I feel like we came out more supportive and appreciative of each other. We've had fights and handled them well. We understand each other's flaws. It makes me really happy to think of having a life together. I genuinely want to do things for him, even crappy household chores, and he does the same for me. It's hard to imagine finding someone else more long-term compatible with me.

Should I keep waiting? I don't think I'll ever be 100% certain with anyone, so when do you decide that you're sure enough to go ahead? If we broke up and I met another guy, I feel like I'd just repeat the cycle of falling in love and wondering if I'm absolutely sure this time. I feel like if I told him I'm still unsure and we should hold off, I won't get any closer to “just knowing”. Did you feel a little terrified before you even got engaged? Did it still turn out well?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
For a couple who has been together for three years, that amount of sex is fine. Please don't let society tell you what you should be doing. And if 95% of the time you couldn't be happier with another human, fucking ring the bells and get hitched, because that's a really high number. I'm married and I could make loads of silly jokes, but the bottom line is that relationships are work. You sound like to are an intelligent person pinching yourself to make sure that you aren't dreaming. Guess what! You aren't. You really do have a great relationship!
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:23 PM on November 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

All I can offer you is this: life is always going to be a series of negotiations. Do you think you can work with what you have? Are you not going to expect him to turn about-face just for you? If so, then you can proceed.
I'm almost three years married now, and I'm still terrified of the person across the dinner table some evenings. She is too, I bet. We talk to each other, we share our concerns, and we stumble along. I don't think that ever changes.
posted by Gilbert at 8:23 PM on November 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

You sound compatible. That extra 5% is normal. Frankly, I don't think it ever goes away. There is a lot more to marriage than just passion and love, and it sounds like you've got most of those bases covered.

For what it's worth: I was pretty terrified before I proposed to my fiance. It's going well so far, but it was only a couple of weeks ago so I may not be the best example
posted by asnider at 8:25 PM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I always thought that that 5% was something that was just part of being with someone. Then I met my wife.
posted by ftm at 8:33 PM on November 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

The other 5% I get gripped with worries about “what if next year, 5 years, etc. I realize that I've made a terrible mistake?”

I sometimes catastrophize too, and I find that it helps to follow through to the end of the thought. If, later, you realize you made a terrible mistake, you'll break off the engagement, or get a divorce. Pretty typical stuff - tough, definitely - but within the realm of an entirely ordinary lifetime. Given the relatively low stakes of the downside, it might be a smarter bet to privilege the 95%.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:04 PM on November 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

No, it is not unusual AT ALL. This is a major step in your relationship, and you don't know whether things may change once you've made this level of commitment. Anxiety is perfectly natural at this stage. Just breathe, discuss your anxieties with each other, and move forward together.

My engagement was, in addition to being a long and amusing story, a time of serious decision making for me. Now, 21 years later, I'm glad I talked through my concerns with Mr.blurker. Best decision I ever made.

Best of luck to you both!
posted by blurker at 9:17 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

My fella finally got around to proposing after six years of dating, so I've probably endured about four years or so of pre-engagement anxiety. Based on my own experiences and those of my circle of friends, those early jitters are fairly normal, although I don't know that I spent a lot of time feeling anxious, just touches here and there, and they were usually connected to outside stress overwhelming my thought processes.

You two sound reasonably well matched, and if you're happy with the sex and he's happy with the sex, then I'd say don't worry about it. Every relationship is different, and there is no "normal", just whatever is right for you. There's also nothing that says you have to get married just because you've been together for three years, but I think that if you're blissfully happy most of the time, that's pretty darn good. If you start feeling panicked and anxious about all the "what ifs", I would just try to take a step back, relax, and remember that you can't map out the future perfectly; you can only do your best with what you've got right now.
posted by Diagonalize at 10:29 PM on November 3, 2011

Why not propose to him, thereby dealing with your anxiety and getting on with life together?
posted by Carol Anne at 6:14 AM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I honestly don't want it more often and he doesn't seem to either.

You're making a possibly dangerous assumption. Talk to him and verify that he's OK with the frequency. It doesn't matter what the frequency is relative to other people as long as you are both honestly OK with it. But if he really wants it 7 days a week and is settling, you're setting yourselves up for resentment down the line.

Other than that, I think it's totally normal to have some cold feet. Personally, I am hesitant about making any big commitment - changing jobs, buying a car, etc., so if you're like me, you're naturally going to have a little doubt about making the biggest commitment of all.
posted by desjardins at 7:07 AM on November 4, 2011

About the sex thing talk to him . Tell him to be honest. He might not want it that much either.

Him being horny and the woman not being horny is easier to remedy then the other way around (ITs all about hints and being romantic).

Anyway If he is like me I waited till 3 years. I am a big fan of making sure we are compatible first and for me 3 years was that mark.

If you have talked about it and both want marriage its most likely him waiting for 3 years and the right time.

Also if he does his job right you wont even have a feeling that he will propose to you. I got married a year and as half ago. I proposed to my weife on a horse and carriage ride in central park and she had no idea that i was going to do it. she knew we were going to get married at some point but had no clue that i was going to propose that day.

She was so shocked that for 1 hour she couldnt say anything but omg (in a happy way).

Also cold feet is normal.

PS ask him to be honest with you . ask him if he wants him to marry you. Tel lhim your not rushing and that your just really worried. Any real guy will understand this. My wife got this way and my answer was relax dont worry.
posted by majortom1981 at 9:33 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had cold feet, mainly about all the big life issues we'd confront together eventually if we married-- (ex: does my crazy mom come live with us one day or do we put her in a home? What if I only want one kid? What do we do about religious stuff? What if he wants to impulsively quit his job and move down to the carribbean? Etc) so we finally decided to set a day to talk about this stuff. We gave ourselves two weeks to write down all the things we were worried about or had questions about regarding "what life would be like" if we WERE to get married.

Honestly, even though I'm sure many, many of the compromises we agreed upon will change once we're "in it," for me the ability to talk to my person about the BIG SCARY THINGS and realize his attitude wasn't "you're either in agreement with me or it's a deal breaker" made me feel so much better about the idea of getting engaged. It made me realize how much we're ALREADY a team, in our thinking.

Plus being able to creatively brainstorm solutions to future potential problems was incredibly great (ex: I have fears about eventually having kids and then not being able to do my creative work. He said he would love to consult part-time and work from home, and has no problem being a "Mr. Mom" should my salary be able to cover us financially.) Things I hadn't even thought he would consider! We talked for several hours and by the end of it, we both were on the same page.

He proposed five months later, and by then I wasn't scared anymore. Also I feel it's key to frame the discussion as a way for you both to get on the same page regarding major life issues, "for if we WERE to ever get married" rather than "here's my pre-engagement info checklist."
posted by np312 at 12:22 PM on November 4, 2011

I guess I would ask, what are those 5% worries really telling you? I mean, really sit with the worries and let them have it out for a long while. Are they just generalized "What if one day we fall out of love" stuff or are they more specific, maybe along the lines of "What if one day our different views on religion make child-rearing difficult?".

It's almost impossible to say whether feelings like that are just normal doubts or if they are very very very tiny red flags, but if you really LISTEN to them instead of pushing them away (which I know is what I would do) they might tell you something useful. If nothing else, it might help you figure out something that you're actually worried about so you can talk about it with your dude -- and maybe be less worried!
posted by andhowever at 2:22 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Engagement freaked me right the hell out too. Ask yourself if it's the idea of being married period, to anyone, at this stage in your life that is scary or anxiety-making or if it's specifically your partner and solid things about them that are making you second-guess yourself. I knew for me it was the former--I never thought I'd get married so it was like, well he's great but is he SO great he can overrule my assumption about marriage period? In short, is it really anything about him giving you pause or is it you? That might help you focus your analysis of how valid your anxiety is in terms of whether you should or shouldn't heed it.

FWIW (probably not much, everyone's different) just this morning after waking up to snuggles and sunny making out and then laughing so hard in bed at stuff my husband said I had tears in my eyes I was thinking about how I can't imagine not wanting to spend my life with him, every day I look at him I am overwhelmed with joy and gratitude I changed my mind about getting married; that person I was feels like a lifetime ago.
posted by ifjuly at 11:28 AM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

How would you feel about him if you could not use "what if" or "should" at all?

I had a teacher once who compared looking for the right partner to shopping for the right outfit. I strongly disagree with her as a grown-up. You can spend all your life searching for the perfect person. Your life will be over before your search is.

So, to answer your question: are you happy with this guy right this moment? Not in the past, not in the near future, just right now. Are you?
posted by xm at 3:36 PM on November 5, 2011

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