How to Deal with Maybe-Possible-Impending Marriage Proposal
February 22, 2013 2:54 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I have been together for a little under 3 years, and we have lived together for over one year. We are in our late twenties. We are extremely compatible 90% of the time, have so much fun together, are mutually supportive, generally very communicative, and love each other deeply. We get along with each others' families, we travel and live well together, and we share so many interests. I am ready to marry the man, and he is maybe/kinda/sorta ready to marry me. Ouch!

I have what I've found to be (in my internet searching) a rather classic issue. The following thread had some great insights, but it is from 2008, and I wanted to see if there were any fresh or more specific ideas for me:

He is about to go to graduate school on the opposite coast, starting in the fall. I would like to go with him, but feel nervous not knowing anyone out there, picking up my job, etc. I would like to be engaged before we move. I would also just like to be engaged to him in general because I am confident that I could spend the rest of my life with this man and be happy. I want to have a family with him. He agrees, when I bring it up, that he wants these things too. We've been discussing marriage seriously for about 4 months now. I am ready for a proposal. But he is not ready to propose, and I'm not sure when he will be. He said he will propose before we move, and I just have to trust him, but when I ask him if then, why not now, he balks. He has said various things, mainly centering around that we fight and it makes him feel bad.

No, things are not 100% perfect, but in what relationship are they? Yes, we fight sometimes-- most often coming from some deep-seated insecurities I have that I have gone a long way to resolving through therapy. I accept fighting as a part of being in a relationship, especially if we can fight in a respectful and healthy way. He, on the other hand, is very conflict-avoidant, and tries to find ways to prevent confronting issues, although he has gotten so much better at it over the course of our relationship. He says that he knows it's important to confront issues and communicate to resolve them, but that it makes him feel bad and would rather avoid hurting me at all. I respect that he wants to resolve something that bothers him before making a lifetime commitment, but I really think that he can't run away from all conflict. I'm open to expressing discord in a way that's better for him, and we're working on that, but no conflict at all? Impossible.

I'm ready to take this next step with him, and it's hurting me that he's not ready. It seems to make him uncomfortable to even discuss it in passing. I've always been a plan-and-take-charge type of person. I haven't always known what I want to do next in life, but I always have multiple possible things to do and paths worked out to get there. Sooner, rather than later, I choose a path and take it. It is driving me crazy to have someone else in charge of choosing that path, when I know I'm ready to take it, especially when there's a cross-country move involved and all the planning that goes with it. These sentiments are well-expressed in the following thread, using a metaphor involving a glass door that you can see through, but your boyfriend has the key:

I want to be proposed to, but I was feeling so anxious about it recently that I asked him if it would be ok if I proposed to him. He said he wouldn't like it- that he wants to do the proposing. Which, honestly, I prefer as well, maybe for the romanticism of it or maybe just because it's the societal norm. He's not doing awesome financially, but he makes do and has a substantial amount in savings from relatives. So, he could afford a ring, and I don't want anything big or flashy or very expensive. I would also be willing to split the cost of it, which we haven't discussed since it seems like pushing it too far.

So, I need some advice surrounding: how to bring it up with him? It clearly upsets him, I don't want to "bully" him into proposing, yet I need to voice my concerns and feeling of urgency. Also, I haven't set an ultimatum out loud, but I've been thinking that if he has not proposed by June, then I need to break up with him to release myself from the heartache. This is the last thing I want, but I also cannot be in this liminal space, waiting forever. It hurts. Should I set an ultimatum out loud, to him? Or not set one at all? Any general advice is also welcome.
posted by tentwentythirty to Human Relations (56 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I've been thinking that if he has not proposed by June, then I need to break up with him to release myself from the heartache. . . Should I set an ultimatum?

I wouldn't make any ultimatums - rather, I'd tell him that you love him and care about him, but don't want to have a long-distance relationship and you don't want to move unless you both feel similarly committed to the relationship.

You've had a good time with this guy. You're now in different places - you want to get married, he does not. He may in the future, he may not. But you're in different places in terms of what you'd like in life. It might be time to start thinking about moving on. Hugs.
posted by arnicae at 3:00 PM on February 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am speaking from experience when I say: things will go much better for you both if you work through the "he hates fighting and it freaks him out, I think an occasional fight is no big deal" issue BEFORE you get engaged, let alone married. This is exactly the kind of dynamic that gets exacerbated by stress, and the combo of moving across the country AND planning a wedding is guaranteed to be super stressful even in the best of times.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 3:03 PM on February 22, 2013 [31 favorites]

If the move isn't for several months, I would chill out and enjoy the spring/summer. If he's going to propose, he'll do it when he's ready. Maybe he has big plans for some really specific date in July. Relax.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:03 PM on February 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

It sounds like he's already said he will do this before this Fall and he doesn't want you to plan the proposal or really discuss it any more at all. I'm not sure what an ultimatum would accomplish.

Why don't you use that plan-and-take-charge energy to directly address the conflict issue that he says is holding this whole thing up by setting up some couples counseling that is specifically about how you guys can manage disagreements in a civil way that makes him feel more comfortable?
posted by steinwald at 3:04 PM on February 22, 2013 [12 favorites]

Set an ultimatum. "Ultimatum" is almost a dirty word these days, gets a bad rap because people read manipulation into it. In your case, however, you really and honestly are trying to make the best decision for you. Call it "setting healthy boundaries" and "protecting yourself from being used" if you like, it sounds much nicer, but essentially, yes, it is an ultimatum, and you should carefully but clearly tell your boyfriend you're willing to move for a fiancé but not a temporary boyfriend. Take care of yourself.
posted by quincunx at 3:05 PM on February 22, 2013 [20 favorites]

If I was in this situation, what I would do is wait (note that this is not necessarily what I would advise someone to do, I just know that it is the route I would likely take). I would wait, knowing that I would not make the move across the country without that proposal if it was that important to me and if that has been made clear to him already (in which case, you have already made an ultimatum and doing so again would just be changing the timeframe).

And if it came, I would move, and if it didn't, I wouldn't. You will know by the fall.
posted by AnnaRat at 3:07 PM on February 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

you need to tell him that you are not moving with him unless you are engaged. period. then you need to drop it. period.

i know how hard that will be. i know how you will obsess about it. i know how you will feel like you could be doing something to make it happen faster. i know this because i have been in this situation before. it is a terrible situation that very often does not end in the ending that you want.

make your plans both ways - as if you were moving and as if you were not. do not hinge your life on what he decides to do - your life is your own.
posted by kerning at 3:10 PM on February 22, 2013 [19 favorites]

I was all ready to give you advice on dealing with your different marriage timelines, but then I got to this:

He has said various things, mainly centering around that we fight and it makes him feel bad.

This isn't your classic "my boyfriend doesn't want to get married yet and I do" question. He has a specific reason related to your relationship that is making him hesitant to commit to marriage. There's no secret here. And as far as I can tell from your question, you aren't exactly making a huge effort to work things out with the conflict issue. In fact, you style it as a problem with him rather than a problem with the relationship:

I respect that he wants to resolve something that bothers him before making a lifetime commitment, but I really think that he can't run away from all conflict.

Your boyfriend is using his words to tell you why he doesn't want to get married. Listen to him. Work on fixing the issue, or leave.
posted by murfed13 at 3:10 PM on February 22, 2013 [52 favorites]

I need some advice surrounding: how to bring it up with him?

There are some guys who just will, not, talk, about, marriage. It can literally be like watching a scene from a sitcom. They will dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge the issue and you will never get them to have a serious conversation about it. Depending on the personality they might explode with anger, they might implode into silliness, or they might just go quiet and leave the house for a few hours. But with some guys, that conversation ain't gonna happen.

I don't know your boyfriend. You describe some traits that might put him in this category, but it's an assessment you'd have to make for yourself. I'm just saying, consider the possibility that he isn't going to discuss it. Some guys won't. It's a commitment thing, it's totally weird and I personally find it head-scratching, but it's a very real phenomenon.

I've been thinking that if he has not proposed by June, then I need to break up with him to release myself from the heartache.

This is good, the fact that you're in a place, mentally, to be aware of your needs and assertive about getting them filled. Go with that feeling. I'm not telling you to break up with him, because what do I know, but you definitely should stick with whatever gut instinct is telling you that you have needs and they've gotta be met. Many people in incompatible relationships (whether fixable or not) don't have this, and so just languish. You sound healthy and strong in this regard.

Should I set an ultimatum out loud, to him?

No. Think about it for a minute. You have talked about this issue, right? He knows that you want to be engaged/married. So...okay. That's the important part of the communication, and it's done. You tell him, he knows, now we wait and see.

If you pose it as an ultimatum, one of two things happens. Either you break up, which would have happened anyway except now it's more antagonistic; or he proposes, and you wonder whether he'd have done it without the emotional shotgun, and you keep wondering throughout the engagement, which maybe ends because your wondering was right.

Or, scratch all that and think about it this way. Can an ultimatum get you what you want? If what you want is "to be proposed to, by him," literally just that without any other connotation or ornamentation, then maybe it does. On the other hand, if what you want is more complicated—like, "for him to want to propose to me"—then an ultimatum might not be a ticket to that destination.
posted by cribcage at 3:19 PM on February 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Point 1: "Not making a decision is a decision." If he doesn't "do" anything before he leaves for graduate school, he is, in fact "doing" something. So his "lack" of action can be interpreted as an "action" of rejecting you.

Point 2: You really gloss over the "fighting" issue. Like you kind of know it's a big deal, to the point where you're in therapy regarding the insecurities that are leading to it, but you also evade the issue by saying, "everyone fights, and he should just figure out how to deal with it." You guys could simply be incompatible, and need to accept that. It might be that no one is right or wrong in this case over who has the "right" approach to disagreements, but that you and he aren't compatible that way and he (understandably) is hesitant about the prospect of spending the rest of his life dealing with conflicts and disagreements the way you guys have been doing so.
posted by deanc at 3:19 PM on February 22, 2013 [13 favorites]

You would like to move with him or you are moving with him?

Making plans for the rest of your life doesn't make sense when the next six months are unclear.
posted by munchingzombie at 3:21 PM on February 22, 2013

It sounds like you want to be engaged right now and are getting impatient. The problem with this is, even if you guys have a talk about marriage today and even if you guys figure out how to resolve the issue of fighting that seems to be holding your boyfriend back, you still shouldn't get engaged immediately after that discussion. You guys are going to need time to practice doing whatever it is you need to do to resolve the fighting issue, AND THEN some more time to make sure the solution sticks.

Trust me on this- you do NOT want to get engaged right away if he has a concern about how you guys fight. You need to resolve that first and give it several months (at least!) to prove that it's resolved.

I say this as someone who rushed into my first marriage without waiting and seeing if our own issues had resolved and ended up divorced a couple of years later. Bonus: we also got married right before moving out of state for grad school (sound familiar?) which just made it even harder to resolve those initial issues because man, grad school is hard and time-consuming, and meeting new people is exhausting and learning a new city is tough.
posted by joan_holloway at 3:28 PM on February 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also consider the fact that being engaged is not an ironclad guarantee that you will be married in the future.

Trust me on this.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:29 PM on February 22, 2013 [18 favorites]

I accept fighting as a part of being in a relationship

Then you are selling yourself and your relationship short.

The fighting thing - the thing that he's clearly identified as The Big Thing Keeping This All From Moving Forward - is the issue, and one that you seem to need to address from a couple different angles.

I broke up with someone ages and ages ago because we fought/argued all the time. About stupid stuff. About completely inconsequential stuff. He'd argue with me for no damn good reason. Eventually, I just got tired of it.

When I told him that I didn't want to be in a relationship with him because we argued all the time, he said, "But that's what love is." Maybe for him, it is. But not for me. Sorry. I can't and won't live my life that way. It isn't because I'm conflict avoidant. It is because that's a seriously dumb way to spend your precious few years on Earth. I have better things to do than argue with someone about a political candidate that we both support!

While my ex saw fighting as a way to express love, I did not. So while he might have categorized our relationship as 90% positive/yay/happyfuntimes, I would have given it probably somewhere in the 40% range. And at that point, leaving outweighed staying. And so I left.

I've been in another relationship now for two years, and we have had precisely ZERO arguments. ZERO. NONE. We've discussed important and sensitive subjects. We've both expressed displeasure or concern about issues. We've both been annoyed and even angry with the other. But we have never, not once, ever, argued. And we've never had anything even close to resembling a fight.

Fighting does not have to be a part of any relationship.

It sounds to me like your boyfriend is telling you that he does not want fighting to be a part of his relationship. It also sounds to me like he actually genuinely likes you, and believes that you can make that happen - because he hasn't left. It also sounds like you're doing a good job of addressing this issue. Great job in therapy. But this might not be an issue that you can address partway. And it may not be an issue that you can address alone. Bring him on board if he isn't already there. Let him know that you hear him loud-and-clear on the fighting thing, and that you are committed to eradicating this issue, so that you two can move forward together. Then make it happen.

I just think it is telling that you manage to identify fighting as an issue in your question, and even manage to identify that your insecurity is the root cause of that fighting - but you never really manage to get all those ducks lined up in a row so that they show you exactly how this whole situation is a vortex of doom. You want to get married but can't because you fight. You fight because you're insecure. You're insecure because you want to get married. You want to get married but can't because you fight...

That loop, and not some shiny diamond band, is the one you need to be focusing on.
posted by jph at 3:36 PM on February 22, 2013 [26 favorites]

I accept fighting as a part of being in a relationship

This is not actually true. Disagreeing, yes, discussing and compromise, absolutely, but fighting, no. If you feel that it's ok to get into heated arguments as conflict resolution, then of course you can see a happy life together with this person, because what you have now is just fine for you. Clearly, he doesn't see fighting as something he is willing to accept as part of his life, and he's not going to commit to you until you are able to resolve differences in a way that he is comfortable with. Issuing an ultimatum is not going to work, it's only going to show him that you are digging in and becoming even more inflexible. If you want a good relationship with this man, you're going to need to be willing to try understand his point of view, and work on finding a way to resolve your differences that works for both of you.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:36 PM on February 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you have more work to do.

I read your question and I felt like the problem is not just that your boyfriend is conflict-averse but that you sound somewhat conflict-inclined. Your compromises - proposing to him, sharing the cost of the ring - sound pushy and undermining. I think you both really need to work on how you disagree -- not fight, because fighting is not part of every relationship -- more than you need to work on getting him to propose to you.

I don't think it's a secret to your boyfriend that you have a sense of urgency and anxiety about this issue. But the problem is really not that he hasn't proposed yet. My advice would be to wait and to keep working on the communication issue in your relationship.
posted by sm1tten at 3:47 PM on February 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

A relationship doesn't have to include fighting. Compromise, yes. Disagreements, yes. But fighting? No.

I think this is a much bigger deal to him than you acknowledge. I know you want a proposal, but he is concerned this may be an incompatibility, and the best thing for your relationship is to work through this issue together.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:02 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

He said he will propose before we move, and I just have to trust him, but when I ask him if then, why not now, he balks.

I will tell you why, it's because he doesn't want to give up his freedom yet and he is putting it off. Freedom from the certainty that he will spend the rest of his life dealing with the conflict that he doesn't want to deal with.

I really think that he can't run away from all conflict. I'm open to expressing discord in a way that's better for him, and we're working on that, but no conflict at all? Impossible.

Maybe you are right and he is wrong. Maybe you can even convince him on a level of logic that you are right and he is wrong. And maybe after all that effort he will give in and propose to you. That would be the worst possible thing to happen in your life. Because then you will enter into marriage with someone who resents the shit out of you and resents living their life with you, because they are in a situation that they don't want to be in. In this case a situation where they have to deal with conflict. And you know what is worse than a life with someone who resents the shit out of you? A life with someone who resents the shit out of you who is also conflict-avoidant and passive aggressive. Here are some questions you might be posting in the future: "how can I make my husband understand that it's important to me to be told that he loves me? How can I make him understand that it's important that he show me affection?" Or, "my husband comes home from work at night, gets online and ignores me all night. How can I make him understand it's important to spend time together?"

You might be RIGHT, but the fact is that he doesn't WANT to live like that regardless of whether you are right or not. You need to RESOLVE this issue to the high satisfaction of BOTH OF YOU before you bring up engagement again. Just take engagement off the table until then. If it hasn't been worked out by the time he leaves then the relationship is going to end. And I think that is fine because that is a long time, if you can't resolve it by then I think it's likely that it would not be possible to resolve anyway.

It is fine to break up if the relationship isn't where you want it to be (engagement) by the time he leaves. I think he is passively telling you in his own way that the time he leaves for grad school is HIS ultimatum too. Going to grad school is his out. If the relationship isn't where he wants it to be by then, he will passively avoid proposing to you until it is "too late," and then he will be out.
posted by cairdeas at 4:06 PM on February 22, 2013 [15 favorites]

When the two of you argue how does it go, what about it makes him uncomfortable? Why is marriage so important to you? I think if you focus on you and your life and let him live his you will come to realize that perhaps...a. you know deep down that it won't work and you are hanging on because you don't want to lose what you have and the impending move is making the situation hot. or b. he won't be willing to give you what you think you need.

In your explanation it seems like you pester him about the engagement...that will never ever get anyone to do anything...believe me I know I'm a pester-er. Communication is tricky and based on histor, socialization, biology and psychology women are talkers and men aren't.

What if you removed the move from the equation, would you be so up in arms about the engagement? really think about that. a move is no reason to get married...

Good luck, I know your frustration and I can relate. I hope you find what you truly need in this situation.
posted by gypseefire at 4:06 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

especially if we can fight in a respectful and healthy way

I dunno, but I don't think that "fighting" is a thing that is healthy or that can be done respectfully. Maybe I'm just being semantically pedantic, but my definition of a fight is that it's a thing where one party wins and one loses. Ideally, in a relationship, nobody loses, because you're both trying to work together to find the best solution for the relationship.

But I don't know what you mean when you say "fight." Some people are so conflict-averse that hearing "Honey, I'm kind of unhappy that you didn't take out the garbage yesterday," equals "fight." Is he that conflict-averse?

I don't think it's unhealthy to not want to discuss a difficult subject in a way that involves (for instance) shouting, stomping, slamming doors, and the like. It is entirely possible to have hard discussions without those things.

So what does "fighting" look like to you? What does it look like to him?

I agree that you should neither marry nor move unless and until this is worked out.
posted by rtha at 4:07 PM on February 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

While I agree with all the above posters on the fighting issue, "He said he will propose before we move, and I just have to trust him" also kinda sounds like someone that has proposal plans and would really like you to stop bugging him about it lest you ruin your own surprise.
posted by sawdustbear at 4:23 PM on February 22, 2013 [12 favorites]

Don't give an ultimatum unless you are willing to leave.

Since you want him to propose, don't you want him to feel utterly and completely sure and propose on his own free will?

I think it's very wise that you are seeking therapy to work on your issues. I think it's great that you don't want to bully him into proposing, but you kind of are.

He said he will propose before we move, and I just have to trust him, but when I ask him if then, why not now, he balks.

Why don't you trust him? It sounds like it's in the bag. Stressing and asking him "why not now?" is telling him outright that you don't trust him. That's very disrespectful and damages the relationship. This is where resentment starts.

Give him a chance. Work on soothing your own anxieties and giving the marriage talk a break. I would ask why it's so important that he propose to you on your terms. There is something very phony about a forced and pressured proposal. Neither of you will feel good about it and it certainly doesn't strengthen the relationship.
posted by Fairchild at 4:52 PM on February 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

I accept fighting as a part of being in a relationship, especially if we can fight in a respectful and healthy way. He, on the other hand, is very conflict-avoidant, and tries to find ways to prevent confronting issues, although he has gotten so much better at it over the course of our relationship.

Other people above have commented on this. I'm like your guy: I avoid conflict. Although I do fight with my partner sometimes, it badly destroys me and makes me incapable of affection (or most any emotion) for days after. You may need to recognize that that is something in your relationship he is not ready to make permanent. If I'd known my partner's predilection for conflict I would probably have stayed single or found someone else.
posted by anadem at 4:53 PM on February 22, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses so far. Really good thoughts out there, and I agree with many of them.

I want to respond to rtha's question about what constitutes a "fight" for us, which I think might also change some other posters' thoughts: Yes, he is that conflict-averse. I think, in retrospect, fight was completely the wrong word to use, and I totally agree about the "winning" and "losing" thing. That is not what I meant. I'm not sure what word to replace it with- difficult discussion perhaps. Anyway, our difficult discussions usually do not involve any yelling or slamming of doors. Okay, a few times they have. But more often than not they are just a conversation that involves discussing hurt feelings or other challenging things, and they may involve a few tears.
posted by tentwentythirty at 4:57 PM on February 22, 2013

But, fighting has to be the symptom of a bigger problem, right? I mean, it's not like you two fight just for the sake of fighting. And if that's the case, well, I can see why your boyfriend doesn't want to commit to that kind of relationship.

So is your boyfriend sick of arguments about normal disagreements like chores and money? Or is there some issue you didn't mention here? What do you fight about? That's the bigger issue.

It sounds like he is saying he doesn't like the 'fighting' because he is too afraid to tell you the causing issue like, 'I hate the weird dynamic our personalities have that causes us to get sick of each other and yell at one another sometimes." There is some issue he has with your relationship that is so apparent that you actually fight about it on a regular basis and it's holding him back from making a commitment. The actual institution and idea of marriage might not even be the problem.
posted by daisies at 4:58 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Another comment, speaking to the issue about why I keep pushing it: I have some great job opportunities where we live now, starting this summer. Obviously I cannot pursue them if I will be moving. I am more than willing to pursue jobs in the place I might move to; but why would I do that if I'm unsure I'll even be going there?

I do wish I would just trust what he says, and maybe I can. Is that trust enough to base a job search on?
posted by tentwentythirty at 5:00 PM on February 22, 2013

If this the guy you're going to marry, and he says he's going to propose before you move, then my question is: if you don't trust him/yourself/the relationship/some combination thereof to start looking for jobs in his grad school town, what exactly is it about the words "Will you marry me" that will flip that trust switch to fully on?

That is, if you don't trust that he's looking out for you now, what makes you think you can trust he will do so after you're married?
posted by rtha at 5:15 PM on February 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: In response to daisies:

We have difficult discussions that delve into issues that help us understand each other better. We never fight about chores or money. An example of something we've had repeated conflict over: is he setting healthy boundaries with his ex-girlfriend? (Answer: in the past, no, which hurt me a lot. Now, yes, very much so). Another example of a recent conflict: Is it okay for him to share with me the sex stories (ie. who have they slept with) that his friends share with him? My answer: no, it makes me uncomfortable and I don't want to think about whom they've slept with when we're hanging out- His answer: yes, because we share everything, and he wants to talk it out with me. The things that flare up tensions the most, ie. our raw spots, tend to have to do with his ex-girlfriends or ex-hookups. When we first started dating, he had some serious boundary setting issues that led to some behavior that I feel really disrespected me. I have mostly worked through this, but it still hurts sometimes.

In response to steinwald:

We have visited a counselor together twice, and have read/ done the exercises in the book Hold Me Tight together. I think both of these things have really improved our communication, but have not kept us from having "difficult discussions." Which he doesn't like. Maybe doing the exercises in the book again, with a focus on him and his dislike of conflict would help? Or maybe we are just really incompatible at this deep level because he is so conflict-avoidant. Which makes me just really sad.
posted by tentwentythirty at 5:15 PM on February 22, 2013

I do wish I would just trust what he says, and maybe I can.
Just doesn't sound like your relationship, even with a proposal, is on solid ground.
posted by sm1tten at 5:19 PM on February 22, 2013

You have, in essence already proposed to him. He has responded in the negative, by putting you off and delaying and hiding behind some weird need you both have to make him go down on one knee and say the words he does not want to say. If he did, he would have said them already, or been happy when you did.

It is hard to let go, but do you want someone who has to be dragged into wanting to be with you? It's not about love, it's about wanting to share your life. He doesn't want to, even if he loves you.

Don't follow him. Enjoy the rest of your time until he leaves or make a clean break as soon as you are able. You deserve someone who wants you and can't wait to be with you. At the very least you deserve a life lived on your own terms.
posted by emjaybee at 5:21 PM on February 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Does your boyfriend know that you have great job opportunities in your current city that you'd need to start pursuing this summer? If so, he should understand that you sort of need to know whether you're moving or not by the summer. I personally would not move with him without being engaged (that's just me though).

Continue working on the fighting (I agree with the other posters that it sounds like that's the reason he's dragging his feet). Do not bring up engagement again. At all. Trust me, he knows your position on this. Trust me, I've been there! Bringing it up is only making it worse. If you get to the summer and he hasn't proposed, apply for those great jobs in your current city and make preparations as if you're going to stay put. If he winds up proposing at the eleventh hour (which, by the way, I think is pretty shitty in that it gives you no time to plan your job/life/move), you can always decide to follow him to the new city a few months later once you're ready and you have a job lined up there.
posted by whitelily at 5:48 PM on February 22, 2013

I think you should trust that he is going to propose before the move, because that's what he said. I think you should stop hounding him. I say this as someone who has been waiting for a proposal for a lot longer than 3 years, so take that with whatever grain of salt you need.

As someone who was young and desperate to get married and then ended up divorced 4 years later, please just give him the time he needs to be comfortable if you are able. Let him plan the proposal.

If he *doesn't* propose by the time the move happens, you will have a decision to make. Don't put so much pressure on all this right now.. as others have said - enjoy your spring and summer. You're young! Try to relax. You have your whole life ahead of you.
posted by getawaysticks at 5:53 PM on February 22, 2013

Re: your update. Since this hinges on you getting a job (never pass up your dream job for a maybe-man, IMO) I would approach it from that direction. Calmly, briefly, and with minimum of fuss explain to him that you are going to start putting in applications for jobs where you are, right now. And then do it. Tell him in general, non-specific terms: "I am going to start applying for jobs here. I need to take care of myself now and can't delay this. As for moving in the fall, I'm not sure I'm ready to give up the job search here yet, without being married or at a more secure stage in life. I can't wait, this needs to be done now, and I hope you can understand my reasoning." Say this matter-of-factly and offhandedly. Then simply drop it, and wait for his next move, if any.
posted by quincunx at 5:57 PM on February 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

Don't underestimate the importance of the difference you described in the way you guys handle conflict. This difference can be a huge problem in a marriage. I absolutely cannot stand there being yelling or other strong displays of anger when discussing conflict, and although I don't know what you are doing, it's possible he feels similar to how I feel. He is wise to be very concerned about it. Don't ignore it or hope it will go away. See if you can resolve that first before considering getting married. You see, there will always be conflict in marriage, and he can probably live with that, but he probably can't live with conflict always being resolved in a way that he feels is inappropriate, highly stressful, or otherwise hard for him to stomach. And you apparently feel the same about conflict not being resolved in a direct and open way. So the same problem exists for both of you.
posted by Dansaman at 6:06 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, find something to pour all your planning-take-charge energy into that will benefit you. That might be job searching, that might be a new exercise program, that might be an awesome new artistic hobby. Take charge of some aspect of your own life - it will distract you from wishing on this, and in the end you will have the results of that effort, less anxiety, and possibly a happy relationship, too.
posted by ldthomps at 6:07 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

As someone who just went through a breakup of a 3.5 year relationship over moving and next steps in the relationship, I'm so sorry - I know this pain. My piece of advice is that no good can come of persuading someone to want to marry you. Seriously consider whether you would move without an engagement. If the answer is no, then I think you should consider pursuing those jobs for the summer. Until the commitment is actually made by him, it isn't there. Don't lose you in this.
posted by quodlibet at 6:34 PM on February 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't think you and your boyfriend sound remotely ready to be married to one another. (I'm sorry for being harsh -- it's not my intention to be mean because it rarely does any good to be mean to anyone.) But ... you really glossed over the conflict between you; he continues to have boundary issues (he really can't shut up about his friends' sex lives even when you asked him to? holy boundary-violator, batman); and it sounds like you are in therapy to deal with his problems with boundaries. (Couched in terms of your "deep-seated" insecurities? Ugh. I don't doubt that you have insecurities but the bit about the friends' sex lives is a strong indicator that his issues may be more deep-seated than yours.) This all sounds very co-dependent and unpleasant. And to top it all off he's heading across the country to grad school. I can tell you, speaking from personal experience, that you do not have the kind of relationship that can withstand grad school. He's not mentally in a place to put the relationship first. You're pushing hard for him to do so. It's just not going to work out in a get engaged and go off to grad-school-land together.

Life is so much easier when you don't have this kind of conflict with your partner. It's so much happier when you both want the same big things on roughly the same timeline. It's just so much more wonderful in every way when you get engaged and married without any doubts or manipulations to get there.

Again, my apologies for being harsh. I just want you to know that you have much happier options available to you. Relationships don't have to be such a struggle.
posted by stowaway at 6:48 PM on February 22, 2013 [10 favorites]

You're having tearful, difficult conversations about boundary-setting and that sort of thing on a regular basis. He thinks this is a problem. It would not hurt to set up a third session with the counselor to talk about your different feelings about conflict and to investigate why these issues keep coming up.

You might want to read some research about outcomes for couples dealing with a conflict style mismatch, like this article.
posted by steinwald at 6:52 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've skipped most of the other answers, because this part of your question leapt out: "I accept fighting as a part of being in a relationship, especially if we can fight in a respectful and healthy way."

My wife and I have been married for nearly 18 years, and together for over 22, and I think I could count the number of fights we've had on the fingers of one hand. We've had disagreements that we have worked out, but we almost never raise our voices to one another, let alone yell, recriminate, storm out of the room, give one another the silent treatment, or the other kinds of things that most people think of when they hear the word "fight."

I'm not saying that you are wrong, but if you see fighting as normal, and he sees it as abnormal, then that's a pretty big difference that you had better work out before making a life-long commitment.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:58 PM on February 22, 2013

while i wouldn't give him an ultimatum about the proposal i would let him know you need to know whether or not you will be moving with him a few months in advance of the move so you can organize and plan your life. also, if you are not planning on moving without a proposal then he does need to know that too if he doesn't already.

i am concerned how he is so conflict-avoidant and doesn't even want to have "difficult discussions". this is pretty unrealistic and not healthy at all as it sounds like he'd just rather not deal with unpleasant things altogether. it's one thing to have a hard time with conflict, i very much do so myself, but it is another to think that having difficult discussions shouldn't even be happening. if that is in fact what he thinks then i'd suggest more couples counseling to address the "fighting". problems need to be worked through as uncomfortable as that makes some of us. if he doesn't get that and just wants to sweep everything under the rug and never address them then yes this needs to be dealt with before a proposal takes place but i'm saying that largely for your sake and the sake of a healthy future relationship.
posted by wildflower at 7:04 PM on February 22, 2013

If I were your boyfriend and reading this, my concern would be that you don't want to move with him unless you're married. I mean, if your needs are being otherwise sublimated in this move, that's totally a legitimate problem-- but one that needs to be talked out on its own. But for me (and quite possibly for your boyfriend, because who cares what I think), marriage is something that happens after you've decided to tie your life to someone else's. If I were your boyfriend I would be asking the complete inverse of your question, which is "why would I marry someone who doesn't seem to want to work together to make sure we can live in the same city?"
posted by threeants at 7:09 PM on February 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Has he actually asked you to move across the country with him? Or is this generalized talk, perhaps initiated by you, of what it would be like?

If the dude already asked you to move across the country with him, that would've been the natural time for you to discuss your conditional requirements (marriage, etc.).
posted by 99percentfake at 7:28 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I realized that my comment kind of sounds like "suck it up and move!", which is not what I meant. But I think the issue that pressingly needs to be resolved is the move, not the marriage.

Also, I disagree with other posters saying that you've effectively proposed to him. A "how would you feel if I were to theoretically..." is equivocal. It sounds like you haven't even been able to make it to a conversation where you definitively tell him you'd like to marry him. Do that!
posted by threeants at 8:05 PM on February 22, 2013

Pursue your career where you are NOW.

It's totally shitty of him to leave you hanging like this. Frankly, it doesn't sound like he's going to propose. It sounds like he's unsure and he's buying time.

Fuck that.

You deserve someone who wouldn't leave you anxious about job prospects and a cross country move for six months. Even if he was planning to surprise you, he could firmly reassure you that you should be looking for new jobs in New City, etc., etc. - and he hasn't done this, has he?

This guy doesn't sound like marriage material. Adults can have conversations about Important Things. He seems incapable of this skill. He's handling the proposal and relocation very poorly thus far! He's driving you nuts with his feet dragging. HIS plans are set, so I guess your plans don't rate?? Pftt.

Hon, you don't need someone like this.

Prepare to move on. You can wait until he's about enter grad school, or do it now.

Find someone who treats you like the bees knees! You can do MUCH better than this guy's level of interest and affection. This is certain.

I'm confused by the people who says he's planning a surprise. Unless he is firmly encouraging you to make relocation plans, I can't see how that might be true.

He's driving you nuts with this bs, and that's not okay.

Take all your positive energy and move on.
posted by jbenben at 8:07 PM on February 22, 2013 [11 favorites]

And I don't want to engage in wild speculation, but sometimes young-ish couples cohabitate due to financial need more than being so wonderfully close. That is doubly dangerous because then the financially weak person feels trapped into continuing a relationship that they would otherwise terminate if they were more financially flush.

I'm only giving alternative perspectives on this dilemma. This and my previous comment could be totally offbase.
posted by 99percentfake at 8:23 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is he working on the conflict issue, or is this something you're supposed to fix alone at this point? Have you been the one to drive the couples counseling sessions and workbook stuff? Or were some of those things his idea?

I guess what I mean is this: assess what he is doing to fix this problem that is preventing him from asking you to marry him.

That will tell you all you need to know.
posted by k8lin at 8:30 PM on February 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

When I hear you talk about engagement I actually hear you stressing about a lack of commitment. It is possible to feel a commitment without being engaged, and engaged without feeling commitment. You have talked with him about your reasonable expectations, and that was an opportunity for him to affirm there was a commitment from him, but maybe a delay in the actual engagement. I didn't hear you feel there was a solid commitment from him.

With my first serious LTR we were discussing marriage (because that was the natural next step in our mid-twenties after being together for five years) and I realised that even if he asked me to marry him, I just didn't feel he would necessarily follow through. And I didn't want to show for a wedding missing the groom. In my next LTR we discussed marriage much sooner and we had a strong commitment. Even before he "officially" asked me I knew we were going to get married and continue to have this strong commitment. It was stressful waiting for the actual question, but I didn't doubt it was going to come, just as he never doubted my answer.

Don't follow him without a commitment, risking your own career and finances for his gain. Maybe he is just waiting for the special moment to propose as others have suggested, but leaving you to meanwhile agonise over his basic commitment while making you feel like discussing it is "nagging" seems cruel and immature of him.
posted by saucysault at 10:00 PM on February 22, 2013

I think this whole "popping the question" thing is silly. The idea that one person in a relationship has the power to, whenever they choose, spring this question on you and that determines your future is strange to me.

You are both at points in your lives where you are making big decisions about the future, and those decisions affect one another. You have to talk about this and really hash out where you both think the relationship is going. I think it's important that couples agree that they want to get married, move to a new state, have children, take new jobs, etc. There needs to be open communication and a sense that "we are in this together."
posted by theuninvitedguest at 11:32 PM on February 22, 2013 [9 favorites]

Is there a chance your conflict-avoidant boyfriend is using this as a way to end the relationship?

You've said you don't want to move with him unless he proposes. He's dragging his feet on proposing. Seems like an excellent way for him to get out of the relationship without having to actually be the one saying those difficult words.

I was engaged once, and though it didn't work out for various reasons, the thing I always remember is how natural it felt. I'd never been particularly interested in weddings and the whole puffy white dress thing, but I was very much interested in being married to this man.

I think that's what's missing in a lot of these discussions that I see on the green and elsewhere. Yes, marriage is partially about stability, and it's reasonable of you to want that before you uproot your life and move to a new city. But it's also about wanting to be married to this person because it feels more right than not being married to this person, and I'm not reading a lot here that suggests your boyfriend feels that way. I would be surprised, based on everything you've told us, if he proposes at all.

And as much as that would hurt you, and I hate that it would hurt you, it may end up being the best thing in the long run. The couples I know where one person entered into marriage reluctantly? They're all divorced now.
posted by Georgina at 12:50 AM on February 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am about to turn 30 and currently engaged to a man my age. My fiance and I fight, not like scary screaming fights, but there is conflict. I also lack the self-control to remain calm about it all the time. The thing with my fiance is that he knows this about me and he is able to defuse the situation. He knows about my deep issues and engages with them in a way that is healthy and healing for both of us. He is by no means a perfect man and there are things about him I would change, but I have no doubt that we have a stable and healthy relationship based on love.

Before I met him, I was in relationships with lots of issues with men who I also loved. We talked, we argued, we laughed. One of my exes could make me laugh so hard, I would literally collapse in tears. But he wasn't the right one for me. I suggested taking our relationship to the next level and he couldn't do it.

The other thing about my current fiance is that years ago I left for grad school while we dating and he did not come with me. We actually split up and lived separate lives and came back together later. Our relationship was SO MUCH BETTER the second time because we had both dated other people and knew that what we really wanted was to be together. There was definitely some drama before we were both single and ready to admit that, but it seems so obvious now.

When we talked about marriage, we were both really excited by it. He wasn't ready to propose right then and there, but he looked happy. For me, marriage without that would be sad, and I don't think I would have gotten this out of my current partner without our time apart. It really made it clear how much we want to be together.

I know it would hurt you to leave him, but you should not settle for someone who can't look at you with joy in their eyes that they get to spend their time with you. Especially if you are compromising career opportunities. He might still come around and give you what you need, but he also might not. Take care of yourself and be as amazing as you can be. Let him see what he's really missing.

posted by ohisee at 1:25 AM on February 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

Another example of a recent conflict: Is it okay for him to share with me the sex stories (ie. who have they slept with) that his friends share with him? My answer: no, it makes me uncomfortable and I don't want to think about whom they've slept with when we're hanging out- His answer: yes, because we share everything, and he wants to talk it out with me. The things that flare up tensions the most, ie. our raw spots, tend to have to do with his ex-girlfriends or ex-hookups. When we first started dating, he had some serious boundary setting issues that led to some behavior that I feel really disrespected me. I have mostly worked through this, but it still hurts sometimes.

FWIW, this doesn't read to me as a generalized discomfort with conflict / fighting. This sounds like there are some particular unresolved issues between you, and you wish he would just stop talking about things that make you uncomfortable -- *poof*, all better, now let's get hitched and move on. Maybe he can't do that for you. Even if most people would agree he's got some boundary issues, keeping his mouth shut isn't going to change who he is or what he's thinking about. Your wanting him to keep his trap shut on certain topics may come off as a rejection of who he actually is; it may feel fake, like he's playing a role for your comfort. Of course you're in no way obligated to help him through this stuff by being willing to talk about it, but it sounds like he needs to work through it with someone. And if you're not able to help him through this this thing he needs help with, then, uh... what is the relationship for?
posted by jon1270 at 2:45 AM on February 23, 2013

The things that flare up tensions the most, ie. our raw spots, tend to have to do with his ex-girlfriends or ex-hookups. When we first started dating, he had some serious boundary setting issues that led to some behavior that I feel really disrespected me.

It sounds less like he has boundary setting issues, and more like you have different ideas on where appropriate boundaries ought to be. It's hard to say which is right without knowing more about this behavior that you feel really disrespected you. The way you frame this really leaves out his agency - is it possible that he is unhappy about this and doesn't want to talk about it /because/ he's unhappy about this?

When he says he doesn't want to marry you because of these fights, and you always fight about these things, it may be that he's not sure marrying you will end these conflicts - that you will always have issues with where he prefers to set his boundaries. That is a reasonable thing to want resolved before committing to marry someone.

At the same time, the issue of whether or not you will get married before you move across the country for someone is plenty reasonable to take. In this case, it'd be you demonstrating all the commitment, with him losing nothing if it goes south. It is completely reasonable to want a ring on your finger - an actual (and in some cases, contractual) promise of marriage, before you undergo such a huge step. Your feelings of that are totally valid.
posted by corb at 5:59 AM on February 23, 2013

Best answer: I've been with my husband for over seventeen years, we've been married for nearly ten, and we fight. Sometimes we yell. We mostly fight respectfully, but sometimes we don't, and then we leave the room or otherwise walk it off. My relationship is great, so I absolutely don't think that occasional fights means y'all are doomed.

I did give my then-boyfriend an ultimatum: when we'd been together for nearly five years and in our house that we owned together for nearly two, I told him he had two more years to either put a ring on my finger or explain to me cogently why he was never going to get married. I explained that I was unwilling to be in a relationship this intimate unless it was for keeps, and that in my culture, the way we showed that a relationship was for keeps was by getting married. I explained that I was willing to sleep with, live with, and own a house with a man I wasn't married to, but not to have children with a man I wasn't married to, and that if he wasn't going to be the father of my children, I only had a certain amount of time left to FIND the father of my children before my fertility began to decline. I told him that not-deciding was, in and of itself, a decision, and that I was willing to wait for two more years -- but after that I would take his non-decision as a decision that he was not going to be in the kind of relationship that I wanted to be in. And then I put it out of my mind and quit talking about it.

We got engaged one year, eleven months, and three and a half weeks later. The last six months was agony for me, and I cried a lot. We are very happily married, we have two wonderful children, and I strongly doubt we would have the life we have now if I hadn't explained to him so clearly what my needs were and that I was unwilling to have them go unfulfilled forever.

If this is really the guy you want to be with forever, trust his June timeline -- but don't put your life on hold. If he wants to wait, he can deal with the consequences of waiting, and that includes you moving forward with your life. Let him know kindly that in the absence of a formal commitment (i.e. a proposal), you will be pursuing career opportunities here; tell him that if he needs to be with someone who will put her life on pause without a proposal, that you are the wrong partner for him. And then put it out of your mind and act like you'll be staying where you are for the foreseeable future. It sucks, but it's the only way not to go mad.
posted by KathrynT at 10:02 AM on February 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

Keep in mind too, he can most likely delay his grad school for a year while you pursue this dream job. If that is not an option (or one that neither of you have even thought of), ask yourself why his personal priorities are trumping yours. Shouldn't both your priorities be the relationship first?
posted by saucysault at 4:19 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I'm actually feeling much less anxious now. My internal reaction to those who have suggested that my boyfriend and I are simply incompatible has been to mentally list all of the reasons we are wonderful together. I truly do think we are compatible in the vast majority of ways, and are usually good communicators, so I think we can live with each other on the rest. Obviously, here I've brought up ways in which we clash, which is only a small window into the relationship. Additionally, he brought up marriage himself this morning, so maybe he's not completely avoiding the subject.

steinwald's reading suggestion led me to this article, which I found very helpful and insightful:

It basically says that there are a few conflict patterns for individuals, and provides suggestions for ways to work out conflict pattern clashes.
posted by tentwentythirty at 8:53 PM on February 23, 2013

I'm glad it's working out. If you haven't found it already you might be interested in the Gottmans' book "seven principles for making marriage work". It's like a 200-page version of that article with exercises and stuff. You can probably find a copy at the library.
posted by steinwald at 5:13 PM on February 24, 2013

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