This Proposal Is Over Starting Right Now
July 13, 2012 7:48 AM   Subscribe

How do you cope with waiting for a proposal that isn't likely to come?

I want to get married. He's "conflicted". He's been conflicted for nearly half a decade. I'm non-delusional enough to acknowledge that a proposal isn't likely to materialize. For reasons that are numerous, varied, and semi-unique to the situation, I DO NOT (I cannot stress this highly enough - I DO! NOT!) want to break up... even if my suspicions are well-founded and this relationship will never, ever result in marriage.

My question, HiveMind, is not "what do I do?" (because I know that I'm staying)... it's "how do I cope with this?" Have YOU been in a situation like this? How did YOU cope? The prevailing opinion among my friends (and in popular culture) seems to be "get what you want or get out of the relationship". However, things aren't that cut-and-dried. Some relationships are wonderful and unique and fulfilling... and incapable of satisfying 100% of one partner's wishes. People can and do make sacrifices of this nature without automatically becoming weak, pathetic doormats. Have you voluntarily deferred to a partner's wishes and abandoned a wish of your own? How did you deal with it? How did it pan out?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Who says he has to be the one to propose? Maybe all he needs to clarify his thoughts on the subject is to actually be forced to answer the question.
posted by valkyryn at 7:53 AM on July 13, 2012 [15 favorites]

Have you pinpointed for yourself specifically why you want to get married as opposed to continuing on as you are?

There isn't a right or wrong answer I'm fishing for here. I'm asking because I get the sense that you maybe haven't (and because not too many people do, actually). But spending some time figuring out exactly and specifically what it is about marriage in particular you want will help you better figure out "okay, is this specific thing something I can either live without, or somehow work with him to obtain outside the context of a marriage?"

Warning: this may be tricky and subtle stuff to figure out. But at least you'll know yourself better and what you personally want better, which can only help you figure out how to get it or how to do without it. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:58 AM on July 13, 2012 [11 favorites]

I think the way to cope is to figure out what it is about marriage that means so much to you (as opposed to simply being in a committed relationship without the legal and often public items associated with being married), and see if there is some other way to recreate that. For example, if being married means to you that he is committed to you to be your partner always, maybe you could have your own private ceremony one romantic evening where you exchange something (rings?) and talk about your commitment. Maybe just knowing he plans to be there even if not married would suffice.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:58 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you imagine someone saying "I would have preferred to get married, but in the end it wasn't a dealbreaker?" Is that a narrative of the relationship you'd find acceptable? Maybe your friends wouldn't, but if you would, that's what matters.

It might be worth trying to figure out what it is about marriage that is important to you -- permanence, white dress, Social Security survivor's benefits if you're in the US, social acknowledgement of your relationship. There are a lot of legitimate reasons to get married. Maybe you could figure out how to get some of your needs met while also honoring his objections to marriage.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:00 AM on July 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Have you voluntarily deferred to a partner's wishes and abandoned a wish of your own? How did you deal with it? How did it pan out?

Yes. Dealt with it by getting more and more irritated.
It panned out by being dumped.
posted by KogeLiz at 8:10 AM on July 13, 2012 [10 favorites]

You might find this essay and the ensuing comments helpful: Relationship Vo-Tech
posted by ocherdraco at 8:10 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think it is important to clarify (and you may already know the answer to this) whether he is opposed to marriage as an idea or opposed to marrying you, specifically. Without knowing the answer to this for sure, you are going to have a lot of unavoidable (and justifiable, I think) insecurities about this relationship.

I also want to make sure you know that you aren't wrong for wanting to be married. He's not wrong for not wanting it, either; you're just incompatible on this very very big issue.

In the end, if marriage is really, really important to you and he doesn't want it, one of you is going to have to change your stance in order to have long-term happiness. Compromise is okay if your whole heart is in it, but if you're talking yourself into something you don't really believe you want, that's going to lead to a lot of heartache.
posted by something something at 8:15 AM on July 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you love the guy, plan a late marriage and make it your secret. By late I mean 25 years from now. There are couples that live together, have children, and get married when their kids are adults. They seem to be about as happy, on average, as married people. Maybe happier. Pressure is going to work in reverse.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:16 AM on July 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

Right - figure out why getting married is important to you. Its perfectly absolutely 100% reasonable for that reason to be "Because I want to be married". Then tell him that. If its something else then figure out how to do that without getting married.

But if its "BIWTGM" and he still says no. Really you should consider what you getting yourself into. If he's really your life partner and this is something that is really important to you, and basically costless to him if he really is committed long-term, then he's being selfish beyond any reasonable standard and its a warning sign for what potentially might happen when you guys have a bad twist in the road of some sort.

If you "Want to Get Married" you shouldn't have to cope with him saying no.
posted by JPD at 8:18 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was in a relationship where I wanted to get married, that wasn't going to happen, and it wasn't a dealbreaker. What would have been enough for me was to think about all of the things marriage represented to me - a legally contracted relationship, medical next-of-kin, family holidays and traditions, children if that was what I wanted - and then put all of those things into place* with the full and wholehearted cooperation of my non-marrying partner.

When it became apparent that my partner at the time would not or could not get on board with that plan, that was a dealbreaker and I left.

(*I guess, on reflection, I was prepared to be content with that because I had many, many relationships around me that were constructed as legal and social partnerships without the benefit of legal marriage because the people involved were same sex couples. I was 100% okay with that model.)
posted by DarlingBri at 8:19 AM on July 13, 2012 [10 favorites]

If you getting married WAS a dealbreaker for you (or even something that is just very important to you) would he voluntarily defer to your wishes?

Some relationships are wonderful and unique and fulfilling... and incapable of satisfying 100% of one partner's wishes. People can and do make sacrifices of this nature without automatically becoming weak, pathetic doormats.

Of course you can do this without becoming a doormat, as long as you are in a relationship where the person you are with is willing to do the same for you.
posted by inertia at 8:20 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

The reason it is hard to put up with this sort of thing is that it slowly kills your soul to give up on a "heart's desire." Full stop.

People typically live with this type of choice by burying their true desires and feeding the pain with addictions, both positive (exercise, for example) or negative (drinking, drugs, etc.)

There is no magical way to "unwant" a commitment from someone you are actively involved with, when that commitment is not forthcoming. Sorry.
posted by jbenben at 8:24 AM on July 13, 2012 [31 favorites]

All relationships are incapable of satisfying 100% of your wishes, and marriage certainly doesn't stop you from having to make sacrifices. As other people have pointed out, you haven't really said why you want to get married so it's hard to offer advice. You also haven't said what he is conflicted about. Is he conflicted about the idea of marriage? Commitment? Starting a family? If he is committed to you, and you are both on the same page in terms of kids and whatnot, then probably this is just a matter of sucking it up and accepting that you'll never get everything you want in ANY relationship. If you guys are actually still conflicted over the much bigger issues of monogamy, long-term commitment, children, etc. then this is going to be very tough for you and the answers you find are going to be personal and hard-fought. Be forthright and honest about what you want. Keep some space in your life that is just for you and the things that you want. Consider whether you can have the things you want from marriage even if he never marries you. I wish you the best.
posted by NathanBoy at 8:25 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with EmpressCallipygos about asking yourself what it is about being married that you want that you don't seem to have in your relationship in its present state. The difference between married and not married is...

I always thought it was just a piece of paper and a big party. You can still have a big party without the piece of paper. What does that piece of paper mean to you?

Do you feel safe? Loved? Respected? Secure?

I had a girlfriend who was fine with not being married until she was pregnant. Then she was irate. She said to me, "Does he think it is right for me to walk around with his child in me without making me his wife?!" I thought she was crazy because she was a willing partner in getting pregnant without getting married and then changed her mind.

What are his reasons for not wanting to get married, have you actually asked him what causes him to be conflicted?

It's normal to want to get married and be disappointed if you are not asked. We all want to be wanted. Are you not feeling wanted enough?

You don't want to break up, so enjoy the relationship. If it's loving and happy, then be loved and happy.
posted by Yellow at 8:28 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

A good friend of mine once said to her long-term boyfriend, "I promised myself that, if I wasn't married by age X, I'd go to Paris as a single lady, exploring the City of Romance. I'm (X-1). What are your thoughts?"

Her LTB said, "Love should be free. Love shouldn't be constrained. blah blah blah commitmentphobia..."

She said, "OK. Bye," and went to Paris within the month as a single lady.

When she came back, NOT HAVING HAD CONTACT WITH HIM FOR OVER A MONTH, he rang her door and asked her to come back.

"I'd be willing to discuss it, if marriage were on the table."

"I'd like to marry you someday within the next year, but I'd like the chance to propose romantically, too."

"Let's date again."

They have two beautiful boys and a lovely house.

(It WON'T work if you cave and have contact. It may not work, anyway. But it is an excellent method to sort out, King Solomon-style, if he is seriously attached to you, or just cruising on relationship inertia.)
posted by IAmBroom at 8:45 AM on July 13, 2012 [34 favorites]

The reason it is hard to put up with this sort of thing is that it slowly kills your soul to give up on a "heart's desire."

On the contrary.

You were not born wanting to be married. You were born not even knowing what marriage is, nor anything else. How can you want something when you don't even know what it is? At some point, someone explained to you what marriage is, and made it seem worthy of pursuit, and thereby put that desire in your heart. So someone (perhaps you!) can take it back out again.

Likely it will require more effort to take out than it did to put in. Still, giving up unrealistic desires, even things you have wanted since you have been a child, is not damaging; it is liberating. Imagine not being a slave anymore to the things you never even consciously decided to want! Imagine being free to mindfully define yourself rather than being defined by whatever happened to influence you when you were young and impressionable!

Wanting things that you cannot have is a cause of much of the world's suffering. You cannot have this man as your husband. You may choose to suffer over it, or you may choose to no longer desire to marry him and thereby not suffer.

Some will say that you do not have a choice, that you cannot change your "heart's desire" for fear of damaging your "soul." This is basically the same as saying that you are required to suffer in this situation. I tell you that they are wrong.
posted by kindall at 9:06 AM on July 13, 2012 [23 favorites]

To me the problem isn't the lack of marriage but the constant waiting. Deciding that non-marriage isn't a dealbreaker for you even though it's not your best choice won't automatically make you an addict or desperately unhappy and it is possible to own and live with that decision happily. But spending the rest of your life waiting, never sure if it's going to happen, that sounds hellish to me.

So personally I'd give him an ultimatum. Not one where you leave him or whatever, but just sit him down and say you need to know either way so that you can get on with living whatever life you're going to have together. Say really clearly that you're not going to leave him, there is no right or wrong answer and that you're not going to hold it over him if he says no, but please just decide.

Also work out first what parameters you're prepared to live with. If he says he might want to marry you at some point but doesn't know when is that OK? Or maybe you need a proposal within a set amount of time, or even to agree to get engaged right then. It's not a case of you leave him if that doesn't happen, but that if the deadline passes or he can't agree to whatever conditions you decide then you revert to it being a decision to never get married and that option gets taken off the table. Personally I'd want either a yes we'll get married within x short time frame or no we're never going to get married (and is actually the decision I put to my now husband, although our situation was different), your parameters might be different.

If he really is conflicted and can't decide then you should probably take that as a no and go forward assuming you're not going to get married. Whatever the decision now things might change anyway but it will drive you crazy if you keep waiting for the proposal when it's fairly obvious you're not going to get one.

You can't really change what he wants out of the relationship. But you can own your own decisions about it, and I think the decision to stay with him regardless is a valid one. So do your best to understand why he wants things that way, maybe have a small mourning period to say goodbye to the life you won't get (half an hour say), but then decide that since you actively choose this you're going to be happy and make the most of it. Then move forward focussing on your great relationship putting your energy into making a positive life together regardless of marital status.
posted by shelleycat at 9:13 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you want to get married, ask him. If he doesn't want to get married, ask whether he would be willing to put the various legal protections marriage affords in place--being each other's health care proxies and "next of kin" for health reasons, being each other's 401k beneficiaries, being each other's heir (the things same-sex couples are fighting for in many US states and many countries)--as part of guaranteeing each other's security should, heaven forbid, something happen.

If he doesn't want to do that, like DarlingBri I would wonder. Someone who doesn't want to be the person to help me if I get hit by a bus isn't someone I want to be partners with. But that's me, and that's my boundary. Yours may be different.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:30 AM on July 13, 2012 [10 favorites]

May I ask; what is it about marriage that you find attractive? The big ceremony and feeling like a special princess? The vows of unending commitment? The ring? The piece of paper? The additional legal privileges?

Answering that (in some detail) might give you some insights into alternatives to marriage that might be palatable to your boyfriend and still scratch your itch(es).
posted by browse at 9:33 AM on July 13, 2012

Here is the breakdown I find helpful. Which of the following are reasons marriage is important to you? How does he feel about each of these things?

- legal rights (in case of hospitalization, insurance, division of assets, etc.)
- cohabiting
- raising a family/co-parenting
- sharing a name
- wearing rings
- personal/family reasons
- religious reasons
- social reasons, like marriage is a developmental/lifetime milestone
- pressure to have a wedding
- what else?

A couple can accomplish lots (almost all?) of these things together, if getting legally married is the problem. The crux is whether you can both be happy with the compromises you make. Framing it this way might help you guys talk about what you both want.
posted by juliplease at 9:45 AM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

edit: that should probably read "desire/pressure to have a wedding" not just "pressure" lol I don't like weddings :)
posted by juliplease at 9:46 AM on July 13, 2012

I hadn't even thought of the legal stuff and actually that's a very valid consideration. Right now things are drifting along uncertain, which is fine for a while but eventually gets tiresome and the legalities will probably catch up with you too. So the ultimatum you need a decision on from him probably needs to be tweaked to 'either we do get married or we don't get married and what are we going to do instead'? Then hash out the legalities and see where that gets you.

It might take a few discussions but hopefully you can get closure on the marriage and commitment question and put your relationship on a steady footing going forward. Because it's difficult to come to terms with something when you're not even 100% sure what that thing is exactly or how it will be in the future.
posted by shelleycat at 9:57 AM on July 13, 2012

I posted this thread awhile ago that may be helpful to you.

One of the things that has helped me is doing a lot of thinking about why I want to get married. While I had done that kind of thinking about having kids, I had never really sat down and thought long and hard about exactly what it was about marriage that was so appealing to me. I had just been told from a young age that I was going to fall in love and then, of course, I would get married.

What I came to realize was that it was less about the actual marriage piece and more about the idea of a partnership - legal, social, etc. That can be done without marriage, but it's tough. As DarlingBri said, if my boyfriend wasn't on board with that idea, I wouldn't be sticking around.
posted by anotheraccount at 9:58 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

After reading the thread through a bit more.. it's only been seven months, but I can say that continuing with my relationship knowing that marriage is never going to happen is not slowly killing my soul. Being in a relationship is about learning from each other. I have learned from him to take things one day at a time and savor the great relationship that we have together. He has learned to commit more and more and open his heart, even that means he could get hurt. Honestly, it feels more like we've met in the middle than I gave up something for him. I am getting more from being with him than I could get out of the things I wanted from marriage, at least right now.
posted by anotheraccount at 10:02 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't try to convince yourself that you don't care about being married or don't need it. Marriage is a way of proving commitment.

Your partner may have a foot out the door by not marrying you. He may want to keep his options open.

Wanting to get married is not a bad thing. Wanting to take care of someone is not a bad thing. Wanting to be a family is not a bad thing.

I know modern relationship culture puts a lot of pressure on women to play it cool and aloof. Guess what? If that means neglecting or rationalizing yourself out of your needs, take some time to figure out how to get out of that mindset. Don't let other people accuse you of your desire just being for a pretty ring or a big party or something shallow.

You aren't being shallow. You want to commit yourself to someone. That's a very good and healthy thing. You want to take care of him and be his family. You want to build a real life with him.

You should read Attached.
posted by discopolo at 10:09 AM on July 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

For reasons that are numerous, varied, and semi-unique to the situation,

Yeah, I get you, but don't just cast these out of hand. In my case, they were the entire reason.

I came home from work one day to find my girlfriend of five years basically crying on the couch, and when I asked what was wrong she looked up and asked me, "ARE WE GETTING MARRIED OR NOT?" This was completely out of the blue, and at that moment I thought we still had some ground to cover, not the least of which was starting a conversation like this, like this. I said, "I don't think we're ready yet," to which she responded by leaving me rather than, you know, building the relationship. That was in 1999 and I still don't know what to think of it. Half of me thinks I dodged a bullet with what I eventually learned was called "an emotional cripple," but I'm still nostalgic for how well we got along as long as we didn't talk about Us, about things that were numerous, varied, and semi-unique to our situation.
posted by rhizome at 11:06 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

"You were not born wanting to be married. You were born not even knowing what marriage is, nor anything else. How can you want something when you don't even know what it is?"

It's probably more along the lines of "I've always wanted lifelong partnership ever since puberty kicked in" rather than marriage, I suspect. That's kind of in the gene pool for most of us.

"Some will say that you do not have a choice, that you cannot change your "heart's desire" for fear of damaging your "soul." This is basically the same as saying that you are required to suffer in this situation. I tell you that they are wrong."

I really like this idea, BUT...I don't think everyone can pull it off. I say this as someone who has tried for decades to not want what I want about some things, someone who has chosen and chosen and chosen again to not want them...and I still do no matter what I've done or said about it. If I could exterminate certain shit from my heart, I WOULD HAVE by now. She may not be up to it either. I agree that it might be best for her under the circumstances (and I really don't want to quote Woody Allen's heart quote here), but... not everyone detaches from their desires so easily.

Back to the question, it seems to me that the options are:
(a) Learn to not want what you want--if you can pull it off, realize that you'd rather have him than a husband, etc. Ideal in this situation, but may or may not be doable given who you are.
(b) Have compromising legal paperwork drawn up along the lines of common-law-ness and learn to be okay with it.
(c) Investigate the situation and find out if he doesn't want to get married in general or if he just doesn't want to marry you specifically. (I hate to say it, but if he's been "conflicted" for five years, it may very well be the second one. It's not like he doesn't know what it's like to be with you long-term by now, eh?) Proceed from there.
(d) Try to not want what you want, but constantly feel resentment and anger towards him for not giving you what you want, eventually just not want to be with him any more or demand a "marry me or else" ultimatum.
(e) Break up with him so that you can find a husband.

Which one you decide depends on what you can stomach and live with on a long-term basis. And some folks here can tell you that option (d) really didn't work out for them at all. Maybe it would work for you, I don't know, but you're really going to have to sit with your feelings right now and decide if you can deal with this situation going on indefinitely/forever as is. Sure, you might magically just get over the need. It wouldn't hurt to talk to a counselor while you figure out what you want and what you can live with also. But you might not, and blah blah clock ticking being a woman sucks shit means that time is a factor for you if you want kids. So saying "I'm never leaving no matter what" may not be realistic either.

In the end, it's your life, and your time to waste or not. I wish you luck in making this decision.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:15 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm absolutely baffled by your question. What coping mechanism do you think there is to accomodate yourself to the idea that the man you love enough to marry doesn't feel the same way about you?

Sure, the relationship you have is comfortable, mostly for him. Why are you willing to compromise on what is a very foundational issue? If you really want to be married and your boyfriend hasn't decided about it after five years, then that's a problem.

Does your boyfriend want to commit to you forever? That's what you want to know. Can he answer that question quickly, and with a resounding YES? If not, then what exactly do you think is going to happen in the future?

Are you just not picking up what he's putting down? What exactly is he "conflicted" about? YOU?

If your boyfriend is conflicted about YOU, then really, what are you waiting around for?

If he's happy to have you around playing wifey until the real love of his life comes along, then no matter how you look at it, you're a doormat.

I recommend that you do what he does. Keep an eye peeled for someone who IS going to fulfill these needs for you. I don't know why you think that you're not deserving of 100% of your needs fulfilled. Why are you settling for a relationship that is fundamentally NOT what you want?

You might luck out, he might be the laziest son-of-a-bitch on the planet, in that he's not actively looking for another, better girlfriend, but what if you don't. What if he actually meets the woman he CAN commit to?

I have seen many women limp along in relationships like this, wondering "Why won't he marry me? What do I need to do?" Then they're absolutely floored when their boyfriend cheats, or leaves them for another woman. At the heart of it, they just weren't what their boyfriend wanted. He never lied about it, he was perfectly okay with letting them hang around, give him blow jobs and pay half the rent until they were ready to leave.

Do you want to be a woman like that?

Don't be complaisant. Don't assume that he intends to keep the relationship as it is today. What he's been telling you for five years is that, "You're not the one, but you'll do until she shows up."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:20 AM on July 13, 2012 [19 favorites]

You cope by first facing the reality of the situation. You want a type of commitment that he does not wholeheartedly want (whether with you or anyone or whomever) and has not wanted despite knowing your feelings and considering it for years. Therefore, it looks likeyou have a need that he is unable or unwilling to fill. It is okay to want to get married. It is okay to feel like you need that as part of your vision of a happy, committed relationship. Therefore, you can then decide which way to handle this. Do you:

A) Resign yourself to remaining committed to a relationship where your need is not being fulfilled because you love the person, even though unable to provide that thing and you may view your relationship differently.


B) Resign yourself to the fact that you need to leave the relationship in order to meet someone else who will be able and willing to fill your need. Make the tough call, strike out on your own, and seek a relationship with someone who is looking for the same type of commitment you are.

Personally, I would choose B, but YMMV. Despite insisting that breaking up is not an option, you sound like this is making you really sad. Wouldn't you rather be in a situation that makes you feel satisfied and like you don't need to deny your own needs to preserve the relationship's status quo? A good gut-check question--including your desire to get married, in the big picture, does this relationship make you smile more than it makes you frown internally? Just something to think about.
posted by anonnymoose at 11:45 AM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also, I was friends with couple that was together for 7 years and the guy always said he thought marriage was ridiculous. the girl agreed. Eventually they broke up ("we were more like roommates") and the guy and I started dating fell in love and he asked me to marry him.
posted by KogeLiz at 2:09 PM on July 13, 2012

How do you cope with this? By simply realizing that
1) you're not going to get what you want and
2) he is uninterested in solidifying a commitment to you
3) recognizing a lack of commitment means just that. Marriage isn't forever, but at least it's more than, "my SO can just drop me next week with no repercussions"

Usually when people say they don't want to get married, ever, they are really just saying they haven't met the person they DO want to get married to (again, I say usually, not always). Over 95% of people get married at some point. So if he's unwilling to marry you, you have to realize that there's a 95% chance that he might meet the woman (I'm assuming, based on the "he has to propose" set-up) of his dreams and leave you. You might be that 5% ....but the odds are not in your favor.

I think recognizing that, and coming to terms with how you would feel about that would be a bigger issue. Personally if I were 23 and in a five year relationship with no marriage, I really wouldn't care.... at 30, I would give the relationship maybe a year, and if we weren't on the same marriage-page (not saying planning for marriage, but at least on the same page), the relationship would have to change drastically.

Is he on board for your other life goals? If your idea of bliss is getting married, getting a house, having he on board for all the other stuff and is just balking at the "paper confirming our commitment!" bit? Or is he "conflicted" about all the bells and whistles that come with an in it for the long haul relationship? If so, he's really not committed to you at all, and this is what you really need to learn how to deal with - perhaps through therapy?
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 3:18 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend was conflicted about marriage too -- he said it wasn't important to him, but he also wouldn't just DO it, so clearly it was important to him to *not* be married. We did some counseling, I explored my feelings on the subject, and what they boiled down to were two things:

1. In the culture I was raised in, when people knew that they were playing for keepsies, they got married. People who were not married were not playing for keepsies.

2. I wanted to have children, and I was categorically unwilling to have children with a man I was not married to. This was because of the legal protections accorded by a marriage, not for social reasons.

So I told him that, after five years of being conflicted, and told him that he had two more years to either put a ring on my finger or else offer up an alternate strategy for how we were going to get those legal and social situations handled without being married, or I was walking. He proposed one year, eleven months, and 23 days later. We have been happily married for nine and a half years, we have two kids, everything's great.

So, yeah. It's fine to want to be married. It's fine for him to be conflicted about it, too. But his conflictedness is not a free pass; you're allowed to say "hey, don't just hang out being conflicted. Resolve this issue to the best of your ability, please, and work on this problem with me." If his answer is "eeeeeuuuuuh I don't wanna," well, that does not really bode well for you getting the kind of intimacy and stability you want, either in a marriage or out of it.
posted by KathrynT at 6:19 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm in a very similar situation, except my partner isn't just conflicted, he actively hates the concept of marriage. He has said that one of us is going to have to spend the rest of our lives pretending that we're good with not getting what we really want. So far it's been me.

As an update on the link above, my partner and I have rings now (we wear them on our right hands). In deference to me he's entirely cut one ex out of his life and we rarely see the other. He's saved my life (pulled me out of the way of a car that was about to run me over). We're making plans for our future and our old age together. I believe he is committed to me for life.

But I'm also about to have major surgery next month - on my face - and I'm scared, and I'm sad that he is not my next of kin.

Some days it's a lot easier than others, and our relationship is great even without the big M. Other days it can make me feel sad, resentful and rebellious ("if he doesn't want to marry me, I guess that means the escape hatch is open and I don't have to be fully committed to this relationship either!") That is poisonous and dangerous. I've fantasized about leaving, being alone, buying myself a little condo... and when the going has gotten tough, rather than honoring our commitment, I've threatened to leave. And that's not fair. He is totally committed to me, but in my mind it doesn't feel like it sometimes, because it's not the same way I want to be committed to him. If you want to be married because you're insecure about your relationship, you will not be able to cope long term.

As others have said, make sure you're crystal clear on why you want it, and why he doesn't.
posted by thrasher at 6:39 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

My partner and I had this fight. For a year and a half. It ended up being the bedrock of our marriage.

First, let me say CONGRATULATIONS! This is a tricky and valuable conversation to sort out, and it is much better to know that you're not on the same page about marriage than to assume that you are and then find out after the wedding that you meant different things by 'marriage'. You have an opportunity to be curious about each other and grow closer.

It may be that above answers are correct and he's just not that into you, but I'm going to assume in my answer that that's not the case.

What I meant by "I want to get married":
- I'm in this for the long haul! I want to keep you forever and I will stick by you through thick and thin.
- Let's let the government know about this wonderful love we've found! Because every time you fly somewhere for work I am terrified that you'll die in a plane crash and I'll lose my home because you technically own it and I'm not technically your relative (also What If You Are In A Coma)
- Every time I tell someone you're my "boyfriend" I feel like I have to add "but he's my super-serious not-temporary boyfriend and this relationship isn't trivial and we're not breaking up and also we own a place together" and it would be easier to just say "husband"

What he meant by "I don't want to get married":
- My dude friends get married and then relax about their relationships as if their need to pursue their partner ended when they put a ring on her finger — I never want to do that to you, I want to keep our relationship fresh and healthy because I love you
- We don't need to prove anything to family/friends (independence)
- I don't want to be on stage; weddings feel artificial and awkward and unlike us
- I don't want to move to the suburbs and have a boring job and long commute and drink crappy beer at weekend BBQs while talking to the neighbours about football and cars (which can feel like part of the package of "settling down")

The fight turned into a wonderful discussion when we realised that we were both saying the same thing: we were both committed to working on the relationship and not letting it get stale. We just expressed this in seemingly opposite ways.

In the end, we settled on this:

- considered a package of Power of Attorney/Will/etc legal documents but opted for the Pre-Packaged Government Documents known as Marriage (cheaper! more enforceable!)
- secret introvert wedding in our condo with as many cats as guests in attendance (on Feb 29 because only having an anniversary every 4 years is hilarious), no rings
- and we like our condo and living downtown and marriage has nothing to do with that

The key to all of this? You need to be able to talk about it. Assume that every conversation you have about this is just a start. You will not sort this out in one night. (We didn't sort it out in the first year of the discussion!) It will get tense sometimes. Take a moment to step back and calm down, and then give it another go, because no matter what you decide, this is a GREAT discussion to have as a couple. Be curious about his stance. Take it in small chunks, because this is difficult and emotions run high. Commit to trying again and again until you can truly hear each other.

I did 'win' this argument, but I think that even if we had opted for different legal documents, it would have been satisfying because I now know that we're on the same page about the important stuff. I think it's okay to settle for not-marriage, but not okay to settle for not-on-the-same-page-and-not-talking-about-it. Perhaps that is a useful distinction for you as you navigate this? Best of luck.
posted by heatherann at 6:51 PM on July 13, 2012 [16 favorites]

Not unlike heatherann above me, my partner and I moved from "we're not getting married because he doesn't want to" to...being married.

We were together five years before we got married. What threw the decision over the line was the combination of being parents and me quitting the job through which our son and I had our benefits (which was not in the pre-baby plan). We had a very, very small "wedding" in our living room, with our best friends.

I spent most of those five years before our marriage struggling, thinking about what I wanted out of marriage, trying to figure out why I wanted it so badly. My partner made it very clear to me that he was NOT avoiding commitment (hello, house and baby and other things), but that the institution of marriage bothers him. That made it easier to imagine never getting married. I thought I wanted the party, but we didn't have that, and I feel great about our marriage. Turns out I wanted the paperwork -- it's made so many things so much easier, both legally and socially.

So, here's what I think you should do:
- Get solid with yourself about what you want from marriage and with what you want from this relationship.
- Talk about it a LOT with your partner. Clarify between the two of you what you want from your relationship. Ideally, the information you'll get out of this is a) does he want to marry you or not? and b) if not, is he commitment-averse or marriage-averse?
- If he is still waffling after that (and believe me, I understand -- my partner is the Great Waffler), figure out what things can happen to help you be comfortable with the situation in the mean time. If that means working towards some tangible signs of commitment, what are those signs? Do you need the Power of Attorney and 401(k) stuff? Or does buying a house together/getting a dog/wearing rings help?
posted by linettasky at 9:57 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Some relationships are wonderful and unique and fulfilling... and incapable of satisfying 100% of one partner's wishes. People can and do make sacrifices of this nature without automatically becoming weak, pathetic doormats.

Yes, this is very true - it happens all the time and is commonly accepted and even supported - a common version is one partner making allowances for another's career.

Have you voluntarily deferred to a partner's wishes and abandoned a wish of your own? How did you deal with it? How did it pan out?

I certainly have, a few times. I dealt with it with communication - my partner understood the sacrifice, realised the sacrifice and valued it, and there was some kind of reciprocity from my partner, and full understanding and appreciation of the sacrifice.

It panned out well when I was with an aware and understanding partner. It panned out poorly with a partner who took me for granted.
posted by By The Grace of God at 5:46 AM on July 14, 2012

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