Should I break up with my cold-footed boyfriend? If so, how?
February 4, 2016 10:52 AM   Subscribe

I am 28, female. My boyfriend is 27. We’ve been dating for almost 2 years. He has consistently talked about marriage, “someday when we’re married” etc. and I don’t doubt he really meant it in the moment. But, as seems pretty typical, I get the feeling that his “someday” really means “after you’ve dated me for 5-6 years and we’re both 31.” I don’t want to wait that long.

He has pursued me the whole time, always been communicative, etc. I don’t feel like it’s been a bad or abusive relationship at all, and I haven’t really felt neglected. Our sex life is good, we’ve met each other’s families, traveled with each other, and all that jazz. But there has been a consistent problem throughout the relationship- I think he’s just generally a little bit less mature than I am, and I’m starting to wonder if the people may be right but the life timing is not right. For instance, he is not where he wants to be in his career (making steps towards it though), he plays video games “admittedly too much”, he is not very good at planning things or cleaning things. What has stopped this from being a problem before was that he really wasn’t as much of a “man child” as I read about in horror stories. It’s just enough to be a little bit noticeable. Sometimes he seems very mature and diligent, but those times are probably less than the times he seems pretty boyish. I thought this was probably well within the “normal spectrum” and nothing to worry about. I don’t know if I’m describing him well enough. And he does have a desire to be more mature, so there’s that. He’s generally very funny and likable and a nice person. He’s pretty introverted though and I think I am his first real, serious relationship (he had a LTR before but he says he wasn’t really in love) which worries me that’s he’s staying with me because he just doesn’t know any better.

And I don’t really blame him for this. I look at him and think, maybe he really would be better off waiting until he’s 33 or 35 and marrying someone then. Maybe he needs some life experience and time to be bachelor. Maybe most men do? That’s really unfortunate, but he’s not a bad person, and he’d make a good friend. It hurts to think about it, of course. It feels like a sinking weight in my chest. He’s definitely the best relationship I’ve had so far. But I don’t want to pressure him into marrying me. That seems like a terrible way to commit to someone. Because he won’t make a decision, though, I am going to have to make one for both of us. This is incredibly difficult because I think he doesn’t really know what he wants, not consistently. He definitely doesn’t want me to leave and stop having sex with him (lol.) But I don’t think he really wants to get married, either. And, you know, I halfway understand that, I really do. It’s not like he’s been a terrible jerk, and I don’t think he led me on purposefully. I think he’s just not psychologically ready. And come to think of it, most of the marriages around me (friends, family) involve an older man with a woman my age. Not a guy the same age or younger. I’m starting to think there’s really something to that and maybe he’s just not old enough. I think he will probably marry his next serious girlfriend, and I'm just unlucky enough to fall in the penultimate slot.

So the thing is I have to be the decisive one. I have to decide if I’m going to stick around, or if we need to break up. I am nearing the point of no return where I really need to just do it. I have no idea how he’s going to react to this, but probably not well. I doubt he’ll actually propose on the spur of the moment if I break up with him, and I don’t think I would want him to. I thought about making an ultimatum- “if you don’t propose in 6 months I’m gone”- but I decided I couldn’t trust him if he only proposed because of an ultimatum. And I just really don’t like the idea. I really want to be dating someone who is excited about me and is ready to move on to the next stage in life. Ultimately, even if we break up, it’s the best thing for both of us, right? I don’t want to be the one “dumping him” with hurt feelings. I almost want to just talk him into admitting it’s better for both of us if we break up. It is especially important that this breakup not be acrimonious because we have families in town, know each other’s friends, etc. I would like to stay friendly acquaintances around town.

This past month, right after the holidays, it all came to a head because my mom gave me a “he needs to propose or you need to move on” talk. Then, so did my dad. Then my boss at the company Christmas party asked him “what are you doing man?” Then one of his good friends got engaged and invited us to the wedding. Then his other friend asked us when we’re going to get married and said he expected a proposal at Christmas. Etc. More coworkers, friends- really basically literally every person we know- brought it up. I really almost had a breakdown dealing with all of this. I talked about it with him, and he brought up not being ready with his career, not being sure he’s ready to be a “husband”, wanting to go to couple’s pre-martial counseling first, and “we shouldn’t care about external pressure.” I told him, “Look, I’m sorry, but I can’t not care about external pressure. You buy your mom a Mother’s Day card, right? That’s caving to external pressure. Life is partially about external pressure. I don’t live in a vacuum. I get your point, but external pressure can’t be totally ignored either, for my sanity.” He sort of agreed but the conversation ended there. He told me he’s sure he wants to get married to me, just not ready right now. He let slip during this conversation that “do I really want to be engaged in the next 6 months?” which is more or less a tacit admission that he hasn’t even thought about proposing in the next 6 months. At all. That really crushed me. I thought he would have at least considered it!

Ever since then, things have been weird. He’s still being more or less his normal affectionate self. But I’m feeling more and more distant and less and less inclined to spend all our time together and have sex. I’ve really barely seen him in the last couple weeks because of this. At a weak point, I reactivated my OkCupid profile and then deactivated it out of guilt a week later. I got some messages from people I would have gone out with though, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I don’t know what to do. I am feeling really shitty and confused. I almost want to talk him into “taking a break” or “dating other people for a while” while he “gets his stuff together” because it’s “better for both of us.” Does that sound terrible? I don’t think I can stomach just “We need to break up. I’m dumping you.” I won’t go through with it if it’s that harsh. This is someone I really love and care about, after all. What do I do?
posted by stockpuppet to Human Relations (72 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am a much older guy, so take what I say with that in mind. The friends: they should not butt in.
Parents: ok to mention to you but not to him, though even there it may be annoying for you.
You: if you are willing to marry him at this point in his career then there is no reason why career should be his excuse. Not sure your (in quotes) suggestions are anything but a way to hang on instead of being firm, but I think you need to be straight forward: look. we have been together for X time. We have had fun. We love each other. Now is the time to move to the next level. Or call it quits.
posted by Postroad at 11:03 AM on February 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


Honestly, from what you've written here, I think YOU are the one who is not mature enough to get married, at least not in this particular relationship. It sounds like the only serious conversation you've had about this was about "external pressure" -- but your boyfriend is right that any amount of external pressure is BS if YOU two as a couple don't want to get married. I know couples who have had kids and been together for a decade and haven't gotten married because they didn't want to, and there is nothing wrong with that because they are both happy! So quit playing around with these hinting-around-the-issue "my dad said this" conversations and have an honest conversation about how you feel about marriage and what you want from the relationship, and listen honestly to what your boyfriend has to say about this as well. That's not an ultimatum, that's communication.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:07 AM on February 4, 2016 [82 favorites]


It's ok to cease dating someone for literally any reason. Dating is consensual.

Great advice that has been on here many times:
To have a great relationship you have to be willing to have conversations that might end your relationship.

Talk to him about how this is a deal-breaker for you, because it is. You're already planning the breakup in your head. I think he deserves to know that before you just drift into resentful pre-break-up.

Data point: I'm an eligible guy and I was married quite a bit younger than you.
posted by French Fry at 11:09 AM on February 4, 2016 [14 favorites]


There's a lot on the line here and you need to take away the irrelevant inputs and put in the relevant ones.

Take away: all your friends, their engagements, their opinions, all that. Half of them are going to be divorced anyway in five years, believe me. Ignore. Not important. Do not think about this or bring it up to him.

Do bring up to him: that you, personally, want to be married by age X. And that you love him and would like to be married to him (if this is true -- frankly I'm not entirely convinced by your phrasing, so think about it. Do you actually see this man as your forever husband and the father of your kids? If so, proceed.) "Boyfriend, I love you, and I want to be engaged to you this year, and married by next. If you don't want that, we need to break up, because vagueness isn't an option."
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:09 AM on February 4, 2016 [12 favorites]


rainbowbrite:

I really didn't make this clear for brevity's sake, but the external pressure merely brought this to a head and forced it to come up in conversation. We had previous conversations about it, and I want to make it clear that I want to be married, regardless of what my parents think. They are just echoing my own thoughts and perhaps being a little bit more harsh with him than I would be because I love him and they are naturally protective.
posted by stockpuppet at 11:10 AM on February 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


“Look, I’m sorry, but I can’t not care about external pressure. You buy your mom a Mother’s Day card, right? That’s caving to external pressure. Life is partially about external pressure. I don’t live in a vacuum. I get your point, but external pressure can’t be totally ignored either, for my sanity.”

You're blaming external pressure for your desires. If you want to get married, own that desire. If you didn't want to get married, you wouldn't feel that pressure. Either way, tell your parents/boss/friends etc. to back off. You're a grownup and so is your boyfriend and you get to set your own boundaries with regard to answering intimate questions.

Because he won’t make a decision, though, I am going to have to make one for both of us. This is incredibly difficult because I think he doesn’t really know what he wants, not consistently. He definitely doesn’t want

You're an adult, you're supposed to make decisions. That's not a burden he's putting on you, that's what you do as a grownup.

Sometimes your decisions for yourself differ from others' decisions for themselves. That's when it's time to move on. But you're waiting for him to act when he has shown you he won't and outright told you he doesn't want to.

Again, own your desires and act on them.
posted by headnsouth at 11:12 AM on February 4, 2016 [10 favorites]


First of all, while you say this is "the best relationship I’ve had so far," almost none of the specifics you mention really back that up. You start off by saying he's not abusive or neglectful, and you've hit a lot of relationship milestones "and all that jazz" - so, um, yay? You make him sound kind of meh, honestly. So the sex is good - what else? Is it really anything to write home about in any other sense? Anyway, maybe you're leaving all the good stuff out, but if he really is not knocking your socks off in general, then yeah you should break up for that reason alone, not the marriage stuff.

Moving on to the marriage stuff.

I can't tell how much you've really talked this through with him. Your post is LONG on your internal thoughts about this and the comments from family and friends, and then in the 4th paragraph you mention one conversation that you've actually had with him about it. IF you want to give this relationship a real chance (and you don't have to; see above), you should have a few more conversations with him about it, see where he really stands, and see if you're ultimately compatible. The conversation you describe seems really not enough. I can kind of see where he's coming from with not wanting the decision to be about outside pressure - I think you should counter that by saying YOUR OWN INTERNAL DESIRES are consistent with those of your family and friends, this isn't about "caving" to anyone else.

Ultimately if he's been positive about wanting to be married to you eventually, I don't think pushing him a bit on the schedule is overly manipulative or an effort to wrongfully "change him." Likewise, if you want to be married to him (which, again, I'm not totally clear on), think to yourself about, and maybe eventually talk about, whether and how much you'd be willing to compromise on the schedule. So it's not going to be within 6 months; is it OK if it's within a year? My wife and I went though a similar negotiation and in retrospect, I probably made her wait about a year longer than she wanted. But we talked about it a lot during that year, ultimately we both compromised, and it would have been very sad if we'd broken up instead.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 11:13 AM on February 4, 2016 [9 favorites]


"I want to make it clear that I want to be married"

Have you asked him to marry you? There's some serious internalized gender roles going on here where you're "pressuring him" to ask you. Just propose. If he says no, you move on.

If you know what you want -- to be engaged now, to be married in 18 months, to consider kids before you turn 33, whatever -- propose that course of action to him. Allow him to say yes or no like a damn-ass adult. I'm not sure why you keep suggesting you want him to propose; if you know you want to be engaged, YOU propose. Then you will have a clear answer from him one way or the other, then you can make your decision to stay or move on.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:25 AM on February 4, 2016 [100 favorites]


In my opinion, your question fits very well with the five letters in this Dear Sugar column:

I think Sugar's response would serve you well.
posted by Kwine at 11:28 AM on February 4, 2016 [10 favorites]


I know it can be hard when there are a lot of engagements and pressure around you, but he is correct that other people's marriages, engagements, and questions are not the things that mature your own relationship. Why do you want to get married? Why do you want to get married to him right now? Once you really know the answer to those things, then you have to talk to him about his wants and expectations. And then the two of you decide together, even if you are the kind of person who wants a surprise proposal.

For what it's worth, the only reason you present here for wanting to marry him is external pressure. In fact, when you say this:

he is not where he wants to be in his career (making steps towards it though), he plays video games “admittedly too much”, he is not very good at planning things or cleaning things.

... it doesn't sound like you want to be married to him right now and your reasons are the same as his.

Jobs and habits are not things that should (necessarily) stop people from getting married and the things you list in particular here may never really change. If that is the case, do you still want to marry him? Or are you saying he needs to make some changes?
posted by juliplease at 11:31 AM on February 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's really hard for me to tell exactly what's going on for you.

On the one hand, it sounds like you appreciate him as a friend but want to break up with him for reasons. You're casting the reasons as him not being ready for marriage and you wanting to be married right now, but I honestly can't believe that's it.

Are you simply unsatisfied with the relationship? That's a good enough reason to end it.

What's hard for me to believe is that everything is good with the relationship and this is the man you want to marry and you're planning on ending it for the sole (or primary) reason that he doesn't want to get married today. Consider what that really means for you: I assume it means that if he were ready to marry today, you see him as a good father, good husband, good life partner, etc. If all of that is true, wouldn't it be true in a few years, too? What do you get from being married that you don't already have?

You say that because he won't make a decision, it falls on you to make it. However, the decision that you make could be to ease up on the pressure, both on him and on yourself, and enjoy the man and the relationship for what they are today.
posted by janey47 at 11:32 AM on February 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


He let slip during this conversation that “do I really want to be engaged in the next 6 months?” which is more or less a tacit admission that he hasn’t even thought about proposing in the next 6 months. At all. That really crushed me. I thought he would have at least considered it!

Mmm, I don't think so. I think this was him asking you outright if you wanted to get engaged in the next 6 months. To me he absolutely has been thinking about it. Now based on what you've told us he probably feels pretty crappy and confused, just like you. Why not let him know you'd actually love to be married to him and that sooner rather than later would be really lovely?
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:34 AM on February 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Sincere, non-snarky, non-rhetorical question: why haven't you proposed to him?

There are a lot of totally fine answers to this: maybe it's not a thing for women to propose where you live; maybe you've been dreaming about a romantic proposal for years; maybe you want him to want it on his own, rather than you pushing the decision. Or maybe you're not sure you want to be married.

When marriage is on the table, two conditions need to be met: both your head and heart have to be in it, and you have to want to marry the person in front of you now, rather than the person he might become. There's not much room for doubt or speculation here. It doesn't sound like either of these are in place for you.

This is horribly simplistic and I'm sure there are zillions of counterexamples, but it seems like if you have to choose between marriage and breaking up, you should probably break up.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:40 AM on February 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


You're free to talk about it in terms of "taking a break" or whatever if you can't bring yourself to actually break up with him. After you get some therapy/life coaching/distance under you, you'll figure out that it is an eternal break. It pretty much always is.

But you need to speak plainly to him about what you want and need and what isn't going to work for you, and listen to him as he plainly and honestly (and if he lies, that's on him, not for you to magically interpret) tells you what he wants and needs and what isn't going to work for him. Every relationship deserves that conversation before you bail. Or before you commit to someone permanently and possibly have children with them who will have to live with the consequences.

And if those two conversations cannot find an acceptable meeting point, the relationship is over and it should be pretty obvious and maybe sad and hard but mutual.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:41 AM on February 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Sorry guys, I don't want to thread-sit. There was so much more I wanted to explain in my OP but it was already getting too long. This is going to keep coming up though, so I might as well answer:

Sincere, non-snarky, non-rhetorical question: why haven't you proposed to him?


Because he would say no. Or would say, "Yes, in 3 years." Because he probably wouldn't like it. Partially (and this is far less important) because I have no idea how to propose to a man. (Just get down on one knee and ask? How is that different from just having a conversation? Should I just book a wedding venue? Halfway kidding.) I think that's really what it comes down to.
posted by stockpuppet at 11:44 AM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


1. he is not where he wants to be in his career (making steps towards it though)
--> Lots of guys aren't comfortable with settling down until they feel they've gotten to a certain place in their careers. It's the idea that he has to be able to look after a family.
2. he plays video games “admittedly too much”
--> Lots of guys do this, they can learn to back off.
3. he is not very good at planning things or cleaning things.
--> I have rarely met a guy who's good at planning. Cleaning can be learned.

Your potential red flags here are actually pretty normal for a 27 year old guy. These are all things that can/will change with time.
posted by lizbunny at 11:47 AM on February 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's good you realize this guy won't appreciate being pushed, and you don't want him if he's pushed...

Which sorta brings me back around to the point that you feel great with him, it's everybody else getting up into your business that is a problem you are acutely feeling.
posted by jbenben at 11:48 AM on February 4, 2016


Because he would say no. Or would say, "Yes, in 3 years." Because he probably wouldn't like it. Partially (and this is far less important) because I have no idea how to propose to a man. (Just get down on one knee and ask? How is that different from just having a conversation? Should I just book a wedding venue? Halfway kidding.) I think that's really what it comes down to.

If he says, "Yes, in 3 years," you could then say, "Why not sooner? I love you lots and sooner would be awesome." And then a dialogue begins. Be honest with him about wanting to be reassured that he genuinely wants to marry you and that he's not putting you off for other reasons. Being a successful married couple involves learning how to talk to one another about this kind of stuff. You and he would both benefit if you stopped making assumptions and started letting him make his own decisions.
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:51 AM on February 4, 2016 [25 favorites]


I talked about it with him, and he brought up not being ready with his career, not being sure he’s ready to be a “husband”, wanting to go to couple’s pre-martial counseling first, and “we shouldn’t care about external pressure.”

Have you considered taking him up on pre-marital counseling and scheduling something? We did premarital counseling when we were engaged, with the minister who officiated our wedding, and we both found it very valuable. This might help you guys work through your communication issues around this topic.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:01 PM on February 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


You mentioned that he said he doesn't want to get married without going to premarital counseling. Have you guys done that? That's a good starting point. You can work through some things with the help of a professional and see where things go.

As for how to propose to a man, here's how I did it (after three years of dating and six months of living together): I said, "So, are we going to get married someday?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Can we set a date?" He said, "Sure. Two years from now?" I said, "How about six months?" He said, "Yeah, okay." We've been married for 21 years as of last November.
posted by cooker girl at 12:01 PM on February 4, 2016 [24 favorites]


Maybe he needs some life experience and time to be bachelor. Maybe most men do?

Do not count on time or marriage to change him significantly. He will probably always be less about planning and cleaning than you. He will likely always have a fondness for videogames that you hint at disapproving of. If that's a slow burning dealbreaker that's going to cause resentment, walk away.

He will change some, especially if having kids forces him to substantially change his routines. But it may be less than you want, and in my experience, neatness and planning are things that are pretty static throughout someone's life.

Do not get to the point that you give an ultimatum, because those are toxic to relationships. I would suggest that you get a copy of "Before You Say 'I Do': Important Questions for Couples to Ask Before Marriage" by Todd Outcalt - it's a series of questions about what both partners want in life and in marriage to see if they're on the same page. It's written by a minister but quite open ended to lifestyle choices. There is a similar book with an almost identical title that's appears to be fundamentalist Christian oriented, so check the author before buying.
posted by Candleman at 12:02 PM on February 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


If I'm reading this correctly, you are considering breaking up rather than directly asking him for what you want, or at least letting him know what the stakes are. For this reason, I'm absolutely nthing premarital counseling, even if he manages to read your mind and pops the question out of the blue later today.
posted by gimli at 12:08 PM on February 4, 2016 [15 favorites]


This guy doesn't sound like he's ready to be married. It sounds as though you believe this, he believes this, and he has explicitly confirmed this in conversations with you. He may be a perfectly lovely person, but if your marriage timetable is genuinely running ~3 years earlier than his, I'm mystified as to why people would be recommending gritting your teeth and waiting it out, or going ahead and proposing despite his clearly-expressed reservations. In what sort of bizarro-Ask-Culture universe does I'm not sure I'm ready to be a 'husband' mean Honey, I'm just waiting for you to clearly communicate your needs?

In my experience, people do not mature significantly within a relationship. They may mature between relationships, or during breaks in a single relationship, or (unpredictably) with major life changes like the birth of a child; but all the relationships I've known that involved one party waiting for another one to grow up (whether within the context of a marriage, or in anticipation of one) have ended in stasis and disappointment on both sides.
posted by Bardolph at 12:17 PM on February 4, 2016 [15 favorites]


I talked about it with him, and he brought up not being ready with his career, not being sure he’s ready to be a “husband”, wanting to go to couple’s pre-martial counseling first, and “we shouldn’t care about external pressure.”

I have to say -- to me these all sound like reasonable, thoughtful responses, and not like dodging the question. I, personally, wouldn't have an issue with what point I was at in my career, but that's me. (Data point: at age 22 I married the person I'd been dating since I was 16; we are still very happily married 15 later.)

It's the last three things that struck me. For starters, do you really want a husband who's not sure he wants to be a husband? Wouldn't you rather plan a wedding with someone who was excited and eager to take the next step? I think it's okay if he needs time to work that out before agreeing to marriage, and I think it's a good thing that he's up front about not feeling ready, rather than pretending to be ready. Pre-marital counseling would be an excellent idea, as it seems like you two aren't communicating very effectively & are clearly not on the same page, and counseling could be a big help with both. And.. I have to say that "external pressure" in and of itself is a terrible reason to get married. You need to do what's right for you & for the relationship.

But all of this stuff aside -- if you're not excited about spending time with him, making profiles on OKCupid (and only deleting them out of guilt & after noticing potential interest from potential dates), and if you're in a place where deciding to marry is emotionally equivalent to sending a greeting card just because you have to... I mean, really, at that point you're probably in "break up" territory, or at least in the land of "taking a long break." Regardless: You two need to have a real, honest (possibly painful) conversation about all of this, with each other.
posted by dryad at 12:19 PM on February 4, 2016 [9 favorites]


You could dump him and start looking for someone else... and take a year or more to find the next right guy, be in a relationship for another 2 years until you get married and then maybe have kids at 32 if all works out well.

You're looking at 3 or more years to find and marry someone else. Though it's a bitter pill to swallow, if you really like this guy, it's in your best interest to be patient, and help him with whatever he needs to finally feel ready. Counseling? Easy. Go.

I am totally sympathetic with your frustration at the seemingly slow pace. For a woman the period between ages 27-35 is the worst for social pressure, both external and self-inflicted, if she isn't already married with kids. I'm on my second marriage, met my now-husband at 27 (he was 28), married at 30/31, and now I'm pregnant with our first at 33. All at his pace because he needed time and certain things to happen before he was ready.

Being patient is maddening. Keep your eye on the prize.

posted by lizbunny at 12:20 PM on February 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


(I'm in a six year relationship with someone, 33, still not married).

You're only 28. If I knew someone who was around your age and freaking out about getting engaged after two years, I would think they were moving extremely fast (but in case you can't tell, most people I know take forever to get married).
There's nothing wrong with knowing what you want, but it mostly sounds like you just really want to unlock the adulthood achievement of getting married. I say this in part because you sound completely unenthused about this guy, but maybe you're crazy about him the way you describe him in this question is coming from you feeling sad and stressed out.
I saw your previous question from October about feeling unsatisfied with the state of your life (did you guys ever end up moving in together?). Late 20's is hard, man. You feel like you're supposed to have really nailed it with adulthood and it's easy to feel like you're always coming up short. Cultivating happiness outside of what people think of you, your relationship status or how successful you are is extremely difficult (I haven't begun to figure it out), but worthwhile.
Your feelings of "meh" will not go away just because you're married.
posted by cakelite at 12:23 PM on February 4, 2016 [9 favorites]


I will be 27 this year, and my boyfriend (who I live with) 26. A pretty long while ago, when we were still in the pretty early stages of our relationship. he was VERY reluctant about marriage and I asked him to think about that because I definitely want to get married some day and keeping on dating him and falling more and more in love if marriage will never happen seemed like a recipe for pain. He thought about it, long and hard, and said we would get married eventually. (I asked him what changed his mind, and he said he didn't want to lose me, and the marriage I envisioned is different from what he thought it would be, i.e. him having to be the sole breadwinner supporting a family when he wants to choose a low-paying career instead, whereas I insist on working myself. Being anxious about marriage doesn't have to mean you're not marriage material.) I told him I wouldn't wait around forever, and we have set a date for 2018, because right now, we're still pretty young and he is in grad school and I have some issues I want to work with first. If he had wanted to get married this year, we could have done that, too, because it doesn't really matter all that much now. (If you want kids right away, that may be different.)

I work with rather conservative co-workers, and almost everyone around me is married. Some people tell me I should marry quickly before I get too old. (WTF?) Some guy even told my boyfriend at some party that if he didn't want to marry me, he'd better break up with me for my own sake. We talk about those comments and laugh, because we know we will be married in a few years. It sounds to me like your boyfriend wants to marry you and just feels like he's not yet mature enough - and you seem to feel the same. Do you really love him? Maybe you just listed the bad parts because the good parts seem super obvious to you. His bad habits may change, but they may stay the same also. My boyfriend plays video games when he has time, and I often have to drag him up to clean. He also never plans romantic things for me. But, he is also there when I need him, has supported me when I hit rock bottom, and we can laugh and be silly together. Do you have that? If he stayed exactly how he is right now, would you still want to spend the rest of your life with him?

You don't have to propose to him, but I think you should have a very honest conversation with your boyfriend. Tell him how you envision your future, and listen how he sees his. If he needs more time, ask him why. If he says he needs three more years, ask him what he thinks will be different in three years. Ask yourself if waiting a little longer - if it seems he will marry you eventually - won't still be faster than breaking up and looking for the next guy. I would also think hard about that external pressure and why it means so much to you. Those other people are not living your life, so their comments are cheap.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 12:26 PM on February 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


I have a few thoughts about your question.

1) He does not know what you want. You have never told him what you want. You need to tell him. Yes, one version of that looks like: "propose to me in the next six months, or we are breaking up". But what if you said this instead? "I would really like us to get married--not in the distant future, but soon. It means a lot to me because to me, it represents moving to the next stage in our relationship, demonstrating a lifelong commitment to each other, and joining our families together as one. Those are all things I want. I would love it if you could propose in the next few months. What do you think about that?" and then just listening to what he says and giving him a chance to put his thoughts on the table and share his emotions and worries without your judgment. It's a starting point of a long conversation, not a decision point in and of itself.

2) You seem to make a lot of assumptions and generalizations about relationships in general and your relationship in particular that I think it's worthwhile to question. I'm talking about statements in your post like:
-"worries me that’s he’s staying with me because he just doesn’t know any better"
-"Maybe he needs some life experience and time to be bachelor. Maybe most men do?"
-" I think he will probably marry his next serious girlfriend, and I'm just unlucky enough to fall in the penultimate slot."
These phrases suggest to me that you might have an underlying worldview around how men and women interact with each other in relationships based mostly on media and stereotypes. If I were you, I would spend some time thinking about why you have these ideas in your head, why you might be anxious about them, and whether you have counterexamples you can refer to. There isn't one overarching narrative that explains how heterosexual men view marriage, no matter what the media want us to believe. You need to view him and his thoughts on marriage through the lens of this man, this relationship, and this moment, not all the weight of society's expectations that has come before.

3) As much as I hate to say this, I think you sound like you may have already checked out of this relationship mentally, and it's not about his hesitations around marriage. I think you don't like certain aspects of his personalty--you feel they're "immature"--and it sounds like all you do in your time together now is have sex. I think you might want to ask yourself if you're really in love with this guy, and whether it might be time to move on.
posted by capricorn at 12:42 PM on February 4, 2016 [10 favorites]


You have to ask him. Not in a hemming and hawing way. Not in the context of what everyone else is doing or thinks you ought to do. Who cares what they think?

You have to sit down with him, look him in the eye, and lay out what you want. What you want is to get married. To him. Soon and with a date certain. It's not unreasonable that you want this. Don't feel bad about asking for what you want. You're not crazy or being too demanding.

Conversely, it's not unreasonable that he might NOT want this. That is a risk you are taking with this conversation. You are laying bare your desires, and you are also exposing what might be the end of your relationship. Because you've made it clear, to us at least, that this is a dealbreaker for you. You need to make it clear to him, too. You owe him that, rather than blowing up the relationship by looking around on OKCupid and maybe meeting someone else.

Just have the conversation. Be clear. Let me him know what you want, when you want it. And be prepared, if he is unwilling to say that he wants to be married to you, to move on.
posted by megalodon at 12:46 PM on February 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


In what sort of bizarro-Ask-Culture universe does I'm not sure I'm ready to be a 'husband' mean Honey, I'm just waiting for you to clearly communicate your needs?

After posting my previous reply, I did want to come back to what he's said explicitly. I think he's responding based on you floating the idea of marriage as a theoretical thing, rather than explaining what it means to you personally. But he might still say this when you ask him to propose to you in the near future. And then I think if you guys have a good relationship, the next steps are that you talk through what it means to him to be a 'husband', what aspects he's not ready for, what being ready would look like, and whether that matches up with what you need emotionally.
posted by capricorn at 12:47 PM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don’t feel like it’s been a bad or abusive relationship at all, and I haven’t really felt neglected.

Ooof that's some damning with faint praise.

Genuinely, you don't sound like you're all that into him.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:50 PM on February 4, 2016 [9 favorites]


I want to say that it is totally, totally acceptable and even normal to want your boyfriend to be on the same page for marriage as you. 28 is a perfectly fine age to be getting married, you shouldn't have to wait until your thirties, and if you're looking for kids, you need to be married sooner rather than later.

There's this trend now that women should have to propose if their guys are being slow to mature, but I feel like this doesn't really fix the problem. It's no different than offering an ultimatum.

There are some men and women who genuinely don't want to go by society's strictures and gender roles. But that also provides a lot of cover for guys like this - guys who don't have their shit together and are just kind of aimless, or who Peter Pan their way into effective bachelorhood, even in relationships.

This guy does not sound like a principled actor standing up bravely against society. He sounds like a guy who doesn't want to be married and is hiding under "What does this external pressure matter?" to hide the fact that he has no intention of buckling down to the serious work of being married.

That said - if you dump this guy, it is no guarantee you'll find another one on an appropriate timeline for marriage. This generation of men has an extended adolescence problem - I'd say more men than you might think are ducking it longer. I think it's worth running the probabilities on which you think is going to be more beneficial for you.
posted by corb at 12:53 PM on February 4, 2016 [15 favorites]


I actually think he's being more mature about this than you are. Wanting to do premarital counseling before getting engaged is super thoughtful and emotionally mature! Reactivating an online dating profile, not so much. Pretty childish and petulant. All the reasons you give for wanting to get married right now don't have anything to do with you or your relationship. Being married isn't something you do because everyone else is. You can be with the right person and not be married to them right now. It doesn't mean you need to breakup.

It does sound like you need some reassurance that you're with someone who is ecstatic about you, and that's an ok thing to need. But the reassurance doesn't have to come in the form of a ring, and speaking from experience, a ring won't actually provide the security in your heart that you're seeking. That comes from thinking about what you really need and want emotionally and asking for and receiving it. You have to do some hard work, but it's good work.

Stop casting yourself as the mature one here, and really listen to him. It sounds to me like he really wants to be with you, but you're one foot out the door because what you really want is a ring. A ring is just a symbol, and you already have what it symbolizes: a healthy and happy relationship. If you'll stop obsessing over the symbol, that is.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:17 PM on February 4, 2016 [32 favorites]


I kind of see a few things here.

1. Honestly, it doesn't really sound like you respect him as an equal partner. You think you're more mature than him, and that he might "get there eventually". Well he's more immature than me and not as driven but... is not how you describe someone who you don't think yourself superior to. This kind of drips out through a lot of seams in this post. I've seen this slowly kill friends relationships, and possibly even one of mine. The last big Serious Sitdown Talk i had with someone i was dating had this as a huge element. I'd file it partially under contempt, but also under disrespect... But as it's own things i'd say it's basically a subtype of slow moving relationship cancer.

2. I'm not sure if i buy the external pressure just moving you forward thing. That stuff is hard to resist! Even for a strong willed and generally fuck-da-police type person. I would know. You gave it an awful lot of room in the original post and the clarification didn't really, for lack of a better phrase, un-sell it. It felt like a politician shifting a major piece of their platform after the first speech when it didn't poll well, or something.

Maybe if you divorce it from the marriage thing, and look at it more as them saying "this guy is basically a deadbeat"... I don't know, basically just reflect on whether you don't care about their opinions on marriage but do care about their opinions on his character? Especially if this is family members and close friends basically getting directly at that? That can be a very very tough nut to crack. I'd definitely reflect on whether this was a revelation not just about him stepping up, but what that meant... And also whether any of this is "i don't want to be dating someone all my friends think is a deadbeat/loser/wont step up" which is completely valid as a feeling to have but also worth interrogating.

3. I agree with others here that it sounds like you already have one foot out the door. Being afraid to ask for what you want because then he'd just be doing it to appease is legit, but that's also a pretty big sign that the relationship is moribund when it's something this big that also involves moving the relationship forward rather than just like, not forgetting to lock the door when he leaves.

I talked about it with him, and he brought up not being ready with his career, not being sure he’s ready to be a “husband”, wanting to go to couple’s pre-martial counseling first, and “we shouldn’t care about external pressure.”

This is all reasonable stuff, but honestly, the people i know who got married and are happy had it involve both people being really excited about it. It's one thing to say "well i'd want to finish grad school and get the job i was offered and foobarcorp first" or set some clear goalpost of a Major Life Event like some big family change, a planned move, a major job or school thing for either of them.

The more i reread and reflect on this question and some of the good responses, the more it feels like you're both sort of approaching this like "i... guess? yea, sure, totally" instead of "hell yea". I realize no relationship is hell yea 100% of the time, limerence is a thing, etc... But two years in if you're Serious About Getting Married i feel like there should be more fire on both sides than this unless both parties mutually agree that marriage is a sometime in the future thing and neither is hot on fire to do it?

If i had to give a one blurb thing of comment on this, it would be that yea, maybe he will marry someone when he's like 35 instead of now. But it doesn't really sound like either if you want it to be eachother. It sounds like you believe that if someone is going to have a relationship with you it should turn in to a marriage, and he's not sure in general. Doesn't mean it has to be with him on your part though.
posted by emptythought at 1:18 PM on February 4, 2016 [9 favorites]


I agree with corb. It is fully okay for you to want HIM to want to marry. However, this is not the case. And it's okay for him to not be 'there', and it's okay with you to end the relationship over this.

Yes, he knows you want to get married. Yes, he is not acting very excited about it. I think deep down you're concerned about his ambivalence in general. If he was very enthusiastic about marriage, he could have probably negotiated a long engagement and you'd have been okay with that. What you're concerned is his lack of excitement in general. And yeah, if you propose, then you basically reaaaaaaly took the issue to the head an bullied him into it. It's okay to want the guy to act out his gender assigned role and do the proposing.

I have to agree that you don't sound super thrilled about him either at this point, and that makes sense too. If he was jumping for joy at wanting to marry you, you'd overlook his admittedly minor flaws. However, you're pulling away because you don't sense that joy at wanting to be with you in the marriage sense. So you're protecting yourself by backing away and looking at other options.

It really sucks, but it's also reality. It's the huge, adult version of 'he's just not that into you'. And you're right that when he's readier AND he's deeply in love, he'll pull the plug - probably in his next relationship. And at the root of it is, if HE wanted to marry you, you wouldn't have to have multiple conversations about how important this is to you, or be heartbroken over hearing his timeline comments. You probably really just want him to want it too, and he doesn't and I'm so so sorry.

So. I would gently and with love tell him that you want to be with someone that wants you so much, and loves you so much that the prospect of marriage is the only logical solution and fills him with pure joy because it's important to you. Then I would go no contact, do some healing, and go on those OKC dates.
posted by tatiana131 at 1:34 PM on February 4, 2016 [17 favorites]


Yes, to answer your question, you should break up with your boyfriend. You want to get married, and he does not. Presumably you would like children.

While there are likely other 27-year-olds out there who are untidy and play too many videogames, there are many 27-year-olds who are not, and it seems that those are the sorts of partners who interest you.

There are also lots of other nice guys out there.

I think you are wise to confront this question now. If you are a woman, if you have a career, and if you want children the pressures "to do it all" become immense as you move towards thirty and beyond.

In short, it doesn't sound like this is a relationship that's really salvageable. You want to meet someone with energy, passion, verve, excitement... someone who shares your goals (which are pretty ordinary, really) and will figure out a way to make them happen.

This relationship does not sound like that and sticking it out will be frustrating for both of you.

Seize the day, move on, and be gentle if you decide to break up. Make it about your needs, rather than something that could be perceived as his inadequacy. You could even do an "exit interview" and explain all the things you love about him that someone else will love.

But we're only here once, and we all deserve to be happy.
posted by My Dad at 1:37 PM on February 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


You think long, you think wrong.

You are overthinking this. Talk to him. Decide TOGETHER to either head more proactively toward marriage or go your separate ways.
posted by AugustWest at 1:54 PM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


What, if I may ask, is the big rush? Why exactly is it so important to get married this year. I think this guy sounds like a pretty good guy and you, and everyone else is putting a lot of, kind of crappy, pressure on him. He probably loves you very much, but hates being forced into something he's plainly said he doesn't want to do yet. Either ease up, or break up, but don't break up with the expectation that it will force his hand.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:55 PM on February 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


OP, when I read your question, I was sure you were going to receive a bunch of links to the emotional labor thread, because that’s the pattern I’m seeing in your description of your relationship: a pattern where you do the emotional labor and he doesn’t have to. Or in simpler terms: you’re the one who has to be responsible, who has to do the grown-up work.

By this, I’m NOT suggesting that grown-ups get married and non-grown-ups don’t—it has nothing to do with marriage specifically. I’m saying that you’re the one who notices problems (i.e., that messes need to be cleaned up). You’re the one who uses self-control (i.e., not playing too many video games). You’re the one who makes plans, who always “has to be the decisive one.” And that sounds unfair and exhausting.

I’ve known women in situations like yours. They were dating (young) men who couldn't be bothered to make decisions. These men were probably great in many ways, but decision-making was always something that they left up to the women in their lives. And while that can sound nice in theory, it can become a burden in practice to be the one who has to do all the planning.

It can also make you feel insecure in the relationship. Because you wonder: Is this guy even into this? Or am I just dragging him along? And as much as everyone here is saying “So just ask him!”, it’s not that easy if you suspect from experience that he’ll just agree for the sake of getting along, and because he’s always left it up to you to make the big decisions.

OP, I have a lot of sympathy for you. I don’t blame you if you want to be with someone who takes on more of the emotional labor—that is, who takes greater responsibility for his own decision-making and his own life. I think you just want a partner who carries an equal share of the weight. And if it's what you want to do, I think you shouldn’t feel guilty about ending this relationship so you can find him.
posted by honey wheat at 2:13 PM on February 4, 2016 [37 favorites]


look. i can write out a bunch of shit about how blah blah blah waiting and youth.

but you deserve to be with a person who can give you the things you want. if you want to get married, then you deserve to be with a person who is REALLY EXCITED to marry you. like over the top excited. and even if he is not emotionally ready to take that leap just yet, you deserve a person who is excited about the possibility and will answer your questions with concrete answers and not just "eh maybe someday" or "i don't even know if i want to get married."

i have dated a guy like your boyfriend before. things ended bitterly and it completely wrecked my self-esteem and self-worth for a few months. don't let that happen to you. believe me, there is another person in this world who will be so psyched to marry you that he will sing with an acapella group when he asks you to marry him.

if you are truly interested in sticking this out, i highly recommend couples counseling. they can maybe help discover the internal reasons your boyfriend doesn't want to matrimonally commit, and they can also help you to communicate your wants and needs to your boyfriend without encountering gridlock or shutdown on his part.
posted by kerning at 2:21 PM on February 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


I’ve known women in situations like yours. They were dating (young) men who couldn't be bothered to make decisions. These men were probably great in many ways, but decision-making was always something that they left up to the women in their lives. And while that can sound nice in theory, it can become a burden in practice to be the one who has to do all the planning.

It can also make you feel insecure in the relationship. Because you wonder: Is this guy even into this? Or am I just dragging him along? And as much as everyone here is saying “So just ask him!”, it’s not that easy if you suspect from experience that he’ll just agree for the sake of getting along, and because he’s always left it up to you to make the big decisions.


Can't favorite this enough times. It's okay to leave a relationship in part (or wholly) because you don't want to always be wondering if he really wanted to [do X milestone here], or if he was just going along with it because you wanted to. Living with someone who approaches big relationship decisions in this kind of passive way can be incredibly draining, and it can eat away at the foundation of the relationship over time.
posted by superfluousm at 2:22 PM on February 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


if you want to get married, then you deserve to be with a person who is REALLY EXCITED to marry you.

This.

And you can't put the genie - which is him showing you in every way, and also telling you in half the ways, that he does not have any strong feelings about marrying you - back in the bottle. It will always be a ghost haunting your relationship: he was never all-in.

Like, if you are a person who dates to marry, you should start dating someone with the understanding that if they become un-marryable you end the relationship because the goal you seek is not possible with them.

"Ready" is a thing someone should be from the start. It's fine to be reasonable - give it a year to shake out the big incompatibilities, start having serious discussions and see if you get through a second year while talking through the Big Hard Scary Stuff: Money, Sex, Children/Parenting. It is fine to have to work around concrete life event stuff. But if you're dating someone who is simply half-baked and not ready to have those conversations or to talk in concrete terms about the shared goal of a life together and what that would look like, it is very very likely that when they do get ready? It won't be with you.

(Take it from me, everyone's Penultimate Girlfriend! I think my count is 5? Five guys who married the girl after me.)

If you want a happier life and better chances of staying together and a better co-parent for your children and someone who's going to actually trade off all the shitwork of life (and there is so much, you can't even imagine it all yet) with you, only date people who are ready already. Do not continue dating people once you know they are not ready. It's neither your burden nor your right to change someone to be ready. They have to bring that to the table all by themselves.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:53 PM on February 4, 2016 [23 favorites]


I really almost had a breakdown dealing with all of this. I talked about it with him, and he brought up not being ready with his career, not being sure he’s ready to be a “husband”, wanting to go to couple’s pre-martial counseling first, and “we shouldn’t care about external pressure.”

I'm pretty sure he meant "pre-marital" (having to do with marriage) counseling. It's a good thing for people, and a step towards marriage, I don't know why you'd turn him down to go.

I can see why you'd be worried about pre-martial counseling -- after all, you don't want to have a war -- but he probably meant pre-marital instead. Clarify what he's looking for before you dismiss the idea.

Also, he might be concerned how you would hold up to external pressure when your family told you it was time to have a baby, or how to raise the baby, or how to spend you vacation. Many people don't want their in-laws making all the decisions in their life. You might hold up better to this external pressure if you get some counseling yourself.
posted by yohko at 3:01 PM on February 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


It sounds like you are trying to convince yourself to stay with him and you're holding on to the lack of proposal as your key dissatisfaction in your relationship. You really don't sound that into him and I worry that you'd get the proposal, get married, and end up just as frustrated in a few years because his other traits have stayed. A proposal will not make him into the husband you want him to be, he has to already be that person.

It's possible that the problems in your relationship are fixable by having a conversation about the issues you have but that conversation would require you not making assumptions about what he is going to say & resisting the urge to believe those assumptions over what he is saying. For example, he says he's not ready to be a husband but instead of asking him "why not" you are grabbing on to the cultural narratives (stereotypes) that you know, coming up with reasons for him. If you two can agree to go to pre-marital counseling, it would hopefully help you learn how to communicate more effectively, which you will need if you want to further enmesh your lives.

It sounds like you think you have been clear with him and I understand that this is frustrating for you. Only you can decide if you want to keep working on this relationship. You do not need to settle for this relationship because it "should" be working.
posted by buteo at 3:05 PM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


And I don’t really blame him for this. I look at him and think, maybe he really would be better off waiting until he’s 33 or 35 and marrying someone then.

You love this guy but you don't want to marry him. You want to marry someone who is more responsible, more confident, and handling his shit in an attractive, independent, grownup way.

So go find that guy! That guy is out there.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:02 PM on February 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


Also, once you're at the point where you're wondering how to break up with someone...it's time. It's hard. But you go ahead and do it, and then you take care of yourself and enjoy your time as an independent person.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:11 PM on February 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


You might like this response to a very similar question.
posted by Charity Garfein at 4:17 PM on February 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


I am torn on this one, so I will give you my two perspectives:

1) You totally deserve a great partner who you're excited to marry but

2) Literally NO ONE is perfect so maybe the devil you do know is better than the one you don't.

One of my favorite things to talk about here is how my boyfriend seemed reluctant to get married but finally proposed and now we are totally married. We were dating over 5 years before we got married, and I felt very insecure about it. We knew tons of couples who were getting married, many of whom who'd been dating less time than we had. And my now-husband would give similar reasons to your boyfriend; he wanted to have his career in order, he wanted to own a house, etc etc. We owned our house for a while before I started freaking out, and then shortly after a freakout he proposed. And I hated that it had to come to that, but it also got me what I wanted so I guess it was the right decision. Anyway, I did the same stuff as you--opened up my OKC account, considered what life would be like if I were single, and thought maybe he just deserved someone he was excited to marry.

Cut to now, and my husband is pretty much the best husband on the planet. He cooks amazing meals, he buys thoughtful gifts, he gives me a ton of attention, and things are just real great. And when I ask him now, "Babe, why didn't you want to marry me?" he says, "I was dumb!" I think some dudes are just scared of marriage for whatever reason, and it seems to be our job to cure them of it.

That being said, he isn't perfect! He gets muddy footprints on the rug that are somehow magically invisible to him but visible to me. He doesn't clean as he goes, ensuring that after-dinner dishes are always a huge ordeal. He is forgetful, and he doesn't always send thank you notes when my parents give him a present. But he's pretty damn good, and I can forgive those smaller things. Also he's 34 and I'm 33, so some of this stuff just doesn't go away with time. And some of it even gets worse! He used to be pretty awesome about cleaning when he had gross bro roommates, but now *I* am the clean freak and he doesn't mind letting shit go.

Soooo I think the best thing you can do is decide what you want, and then inform him of your decision. The external pressure to get married after dating a while is SUPER STRONG OMG, so maybe take some time and figure out if life is better with him or without him, and go from there. And honestly, with him or without him, you'll be fine! But you should put yourself first, always. If I'd ended up leaving and being single, it would have been hard but I would have survived. If you decide to break up, you'll be fine too. Don't let the "omg but you need to get married soon if you need a baby" stuff scare you into doing something you regret!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 4:21 PM on February 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


he brought up not being ready with his career, not being sure he’s ready to be a “husband”, wanting to go to couple’s pre-martial counseling first, and “we shouldn’t care about external pressure.”

1. He's working on the career, not sure why that would still be an impediment
2. Not ready to be a husband - not a big difference between being a boyfriend and a husband. Does he think he is ready to be a boyfriend? Or does "boyfriend" equal the types of relationships he had in high school? By the time we got married, my husband and I felt we had already been married a long time and we were just publicly legalising our relationship (married after a year of dating at 28)
3. Pre-marital counselling - if the next sentence wasn't "so I will get three suggestions to you next week for us to discuss and choose between" then he was just bluffing. The people in this thread that think you should be the one to choose and schedule the counselling made me raise my eyebrows - why is that soley YOUR job?
4. External pressure - if he can't acknowledge that as a woman you are receiving a HELL of a lot more pressure then he is happy to see you carry his burdens and lacks empathy.
posted by saucysault at 5:55 PM on February 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Consider that he agrees to marry you within two years. The slightly but noticeable immature traits he currently carries don't go away after you're married. Will you be happy with someone like that or are you thinking "I love him for the man he wants to be, and I love him for the man he almost is." Is almost good enough for the rest of your life or will there be a nagging urge to change him? That sounds tiring and stressful. If you can accept that marriage won't change him, I say propose, but if you are dreaming of a more mature partner I would move on and try to meet a guy at least in his 30s. Personally, the thought of marrying a 20 something year old man sounds depressing, although I know there are a few good ones out there. Men usually get better at responsibility, among other things, with age, as do women. Your current bf sounds more like friend material rather than husband/father material.
posted by waving at 7:00 PM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


You sound like you really, really want to be married, but not very much at all like you want to be married to him.
posted by jesourie at 7:21 PM on February 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


I want to thank each and every one of you who took the time to respond, sincerely. Even those who gave harsh criticism (really, I appreciate that too) but especially those of you who were kind and overlooked my distraught and somewhat confused narrative. I have just been sobbing and sobbing for the past couple of days and it literally feels liky my heart is being squeezed in a vice. Just having an outlet to ask this question really helped comfort me immeasurably and gave me the courage to do something about how I've been feeling.

I called my boyfriend and told him how I felt. I opened by saying I was very unhappy lately both in our relationship and generally in my life (also true) and needed some time to myself to think about things. Probably not the best way to put it, and sounds so selfish, but it felt true to say and just came out- I really do just need some time right now to myself. (I realized I don't really actually want to date anyone else right away either- I definitely need time to let my heart heal and get over the disappointment.) I mentioned I might want to go a different direction in my career. Ironically, he said that people in a good relationship can work through job difficulties together- I really had to bite back telling him "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" on that one as, you will recall, he earlier used needing to work on his career as a reason why we shouldn't get engaged. He guessed correctly that not being engaged was part of why I was upset. I said that was true, but I'd thought about it and I really didn't want to force him into anything he didn't want to do. I said I didn't think getting engaged would change anything right now. I said there was probably a good reason why we weren't engaged and if so, I didn't want to insist on engagement. I said I thought we might have different ideas of what direction our lives should take and if that was the case, that I really and honestly wanted him to be happy, too. He said he understood and agreed. He said I was the person he's cared for the most out of every relationship, and he also wants me to be happy.

He said he didn't want to go back and forth "taking breaks" and I agreed. (Honestly, I really knew this to start with, but I couldn't bring myself to say "a break that might turn permanent" - cowardly, I know). He ended up saying we should go to couple's therapy once a week, go on a date once a week, scale back seeing each other, and decide based on what the therapy reveals if we should stay together or not. He did actually say "I want to marry you." (But, again, he has said that before. Since early in our relationship. The issue is really when, and the practicalities, and if he'll still feel that way in x amount of time- or change his mind.) And he also said, "I've been thinking for a long time about whether or not we should get married, and deciding that." Which implies (correctly, obviously) that he's still not actually 100% sure.

Lyn Never was very helpful by pointing out and reminding me what this is really about- children. I want to have children. My sister is a single mom, my coworker is 40 and never married with no kids, having spent her 30s with a man who cruelly would not commit, then dumped her and broke her heart. My aunt got married late and spent thousands of dollars on fertility treatments and had a child with severe life-threatening health issues at 40. Having seen these things, I really, really, really want to just get married and have kids with my husband in my early 30s. I know it's the most cliche, boring, trite dream in existence, damn I really do. I know that. But it's really what I want. I don't want to risk the other outcomes. I just don't. I really want at least one biological child. I think I would rather have a kid via sperm donor at 35 then continue to wait- but until then, I would really, really like to try for the "boring traditional family."

Thanks again, everyone.
posted by stockpuppet at 7:24 PM on February 4, 2016 [20 favorites]


Your dreams are never boring or trite! I'm glad to hear that you were so brave, and I wish you the best of luck finding guys that are ready to make a family with you. :)
posted by corb at 8:32 PM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's not a boring or trite dream. It's what you want.

Going to couples therapy sounds ridiculous. You don't do that when you're dating. If you're having massive problems in communicating effectively it's a clear sign you're incompatible.
posted by My Dad at 10:10 PM on February 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Good for both of you for being so honest in the midst of a difficult conversation. Couples therapy sounds completely reasonable to me since you've been together for two years and are considering marriage. Get help when you think you need it. I do think you should be clear with the therapist that you're making a decision and not just going for relationship maintenance. Don't let the decision drag out endlessly.

A nugget to think about. There is a world of difference between " I would really, really like to try for the boring traditional family" and " I would really, really like to try for the boring traditional family with this person."" I've read your question and responses and I'm still not sure if you want kids with him or if he's just a good guy who's here on your timetable.
posted by 26.2 at 11:34 PM on February 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


Building on what 26.2 said, I have a slightly different opinion from some others above. If you guys love each other and your relationship works, then you don't have to let this "opinions about marriage" thing break you up without a fight. I know at least 4 couples who went through a whole thing because one person didn't "believe in" marriage in one way or another. They're all happily married, hanging out with each other day in day out, not unlike the way they did before the "should we get married?" decision crisis took over. Yeah, it'd be really nice if you both idealized engagement, weddings, and marriage in exactly the same way. A lot of things in life would be nice and would make relationships easier. But the fact that you don't doesn't mean that your relationship is worthless. Relationships are tough and imperfect. If you want to be married to him, rather than just to be married, then it might well be worth going to therapy, finding out what his hang up is about being "a husband" (what does he think that means?), and seeing if you could make it work. Not trying forever, but for some amount of time. If this is the same person you'd want to be with through thick and thin, while enduring childbirth or while he's battling a disease, then it seems strange to me that a thing like him not knowing a timetable for wanting to get engaged would be such a dealbreaker that you'd barely even clearly communicate it to him (as you were saying up top you didn't want to).
posted by salvia at 2:11 AM on February 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


You're doing the right thing. While this guy may love you in his way, he doesn't love you in a way that works for you.

Enjoy your time redefining who you are. When you're ready to date again, it's a good idea to let people know off the bat, "I'm interested in a relationship that leads to marriage and children, if that's what you want, great, we can see where it goes, but if that's not something that's in your near future, let's save each other's time."

Seriously, I'd rather weed out the folks who have NO IDEA, beyond wanting sex and company, what they really want out of a relationship, than spend time with someone who's waiting for angels to come down from on high and anoint him READY!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:33 AM on February 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


Aw, stockpuppet. I don't have kids, never wanted kids, and am generally pretty bored by the culture of kid-having, and it broke my heart to read that you think your dream of having a biological child is "the most cliche, boring, trite dream in existence." Please don't think that, or let anyone make you feel that way. And I think it's especially great that you KNOW what you want--so many people do not. Don't be dissuaded from that, and don't put yourself down for wanting something that is so, so normal and such a source of fulfillment and happiness for many people.
posted by tiger tiger at 7:20 AM on February 5, 2016 [12 favorites]


This is really hard and you're very brave. You're doing the right thing.
posted by superfluousm at 7:34 AM on February 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


You've obviously received a lot of comments and you've already acted on them, but I wanted to share my experience because it was somewhat similar. I posted this 2+ years ago. We are no longer together.

My ex and I had a very strong relationship. We were wholly committed to each other, got along wonderfully, and had an amazing bond. When we started dating, I was 26 and he was 31. A few weeks into our relationship, he casually said that he never wanted to get married. Against the advice of some on Ask, I decided to stay with him. The longer we stayed together, the more frantic I became about the fact that he never wanted to get married. I tried to change my mind. I read books about how marriage was an outdated, anti-feminist tradition. I read stories about couples that had happy relationships for decades and never got married. But I couldn't shake it. Still, we moved in together and continued to have a great life day-to-day.. but there was always that underlying tension. He said he was fully committed to me and wanted to be with me forever, but did not want to get married.

By the time we had been dating for two years, I was 28 and he was 33, and we were constantly going to weddings. At every party or work event we went to, someone asked me when he was going to propose. Nobody ever asked him. The pressure was all on me, and it made me even more upset. It felt like every day I read about another friend getting engaged and I had a breakdown and he had to reiterate again that he loved me and he wanted to be with me.

About 2 1/2 years in, we started going to couples counseling (his suggestion). It was more of the same - there was no compromise for either of us, so we tried as nicely as possible to sway the other one our way. I started talking to my girlfriends about breaking up. He was the one who finally ended it, just shy of our third anniversary.

It was really, really sad. It's been over a year since we broke up and I still miss him. I miss our life together. But I also know that our relationship was not sustainable because we were so far apart on this one big issue.

The funny thing is that with some time and perspective away from the idea of marrying him, I'm less fond of the idea of marriage. But I don't think I would've gotten to this point without us breaking up.

So, as others have said, you are doing the right thing. You are doing the brave thing. It is going to be difficult. You are going to beat yourself up for wanting the thing that you want - don't. You are entitled to get married and have children and live the life that you want, and you will find someone who will want those things, too.
posted by anotheraccount at 7:36 AM on February 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


As someone who doesn't have kids, watching people around me, my conclusion is this: if you do intend to have children, the single most life-affecting decision you will ever make for yourself and your children is the person you have them with. You are handing the keys of your life, and other little people's lives, to this person who will have full access, if they choose to do so, to tear them to pieces.

At the very least, don't choose someone who isn't all-in, who might be persuaded to give in just to not have to hear about it anymore. Because that's a man who will walk away when it gets hard, and kids are hard from the start.

At the very least, do this with someone who, if the relationship between the two of you doesn't withstand the process, deeply and truly wants to co-parent with you and work with you to make the best possible lives for your children.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:27 AM on February 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


Your dream is lovely, not boring or trite, and I commend you for your bravery and your honesty. You have every right to have your goals and desires! You never said a word about kids in your original post so the urgency thing was... wierd to me but it makes sense now. I think if you approach future relationships with this kind of honesty about your wants and desires, you will quickly find exactly what you are looking for. After all, if you want something, you'll never get it if you don't ask for it.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:24 AM on February 5, 2016


You sound like me a few years ago, but I was older than you. Best to break up now while you're under 30! I wanted to get married, my boyfriend of 3 years didn't, but I was worried that wasn't a good enough reason to leave him. It was. In retrospect, if he did propose just to keep me around it would have been wrong and I'd probably be in an unhappy marriage right now (or divorced). Even though he was the 'best boyfriend I've ever had' at that point, he actually wasn't right for me. MeMail me if you want!
posted by hellameangirl at 11:50 AM on February 5, 2016


Way to be brave, OP. You're on the right path.
posted by Kwine at 2:00 PM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm just coming up on my 8th year of marriage, and we had a long year+ of productive fights about marriage before we agreed to elope. As you're finding, "marriage" is code for a lot of issues and it can take some time to hash them out. "Marriage" can mean:

Settling down
A proposal by a man to a woman (we have much to learn from our queer friends about proposals and joint decision making!)
Playing less video games
Being a breadwinner
Being a wife (what does that mean in practice?)
Being a husband (what does that mean in practice?)
Getting ready for kids (which means?)
Moving to the suburbs
Buying a house
Buying a car
Joint accounts
Partying less
Moving from a social circle of individuals to a social circle of couples
New family obligations
All the engagement pressure turns into baby pressure
Being an adult - does this mean having less fun? Choosing a boring stable job over the one you really want? Does it mean not growing and changing anymore?

And then there's all the ways a wedding can go.

For YOU, marriage means it's safe to start trying to get pregnant. Does your partner want to have a baby that soon? Is he saying he's not ready for that yet?

It also seems to mean to you that he will stop playing video games, which ... given the video game habits of many of my friends' husbands is not a given. What does this mean to you? Why is it coming up in this question? Is it a symbol of childhood? Of wasted time? Of a hobby that doesn't include you?

Our fights and conversations about this are the basis of our marriage. We sorted out that it didn't mean (for us) moving to the suburbs or working on our relationship any less or becoming more formal or having a big wedding or anything like that. It did mean we could start planning kids, but we chose to wait on that — marriage didn't mean it was go time. It also meant we could renovate our condo together, with long term plans. And be each other's next of kin. And plan retirements together, and trips, and cats, and someday a baby hopefully. And we could rely on each other to be there through the ups and downs. He was there the last three times I switched jobs and he will be there the next three times, because at the end of the day we both work for US, not for our boss of the moment. We are a team.

Is a wedding required for most of that? No, not at all. But this is the marriage we chose to build. And we built it through conversation. No one proposed, we just talked like the way we talked when we decided to move in together. If we had been proposal kind of people I suppose we could have done that ceremony too.

Best of luck as you make your own kind of marriage.
posted by sadmadglad at 7:07 AM on February 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Update:

He found a therapist both for himself individually, and for couple's therapy. We have been going for the past three weeks, and also seeing less of each other. But still going on at least 1 date a week.

It's been helpful, but I don't feel like he's really closer to a decision one way or another and I'm wondering how long we should keep going. I am thinking that maybe this is sort of a stalling tactic. Either that, or he just honestly isn't able to make up his mind about this in the next year.

He has said some things about maybe wanting to adopt (which would be noble) and not being sure he's able to be attracted to a pregnant woman. (Which is a lot less noble and calls into question the reason for adopting. This kind of comment is generally what I mean by his immaturity. I know some people will disagree, and I got called "the immature one" a lot after my OP, but I really think that's because I am reluctant to tell the full story and make him look bad.)

He also brought up that he feels like I'm stressed after work and he would much rather I be nice and welcoming and sweet when I come home. He thinks I am too tired and don't want to go out and do fun things after work. I work 40 hours a week at a stressful job and he does not (he has a part time job and takes classes, has a large amount of passive income), so this really kind of stung. It feels like he wants me to live the life leisure without actually financially contributing- I told him I would not move in before being married or at least engaged, and now I'm really glad I stuck to that. I'm starting to think this is really a values clash, though, and that having more money without a full time job wouldn't solve the underlying problems.

I am absolutely certain he does not want to break up. That is somewhat comforting and nice to know. I am also pretty certain he has pretty large doubts about marrying me and even larger doubts about having kids, and so far have not really seen much progress in that direction. But he also doesn't flat out say he doesn't want to get married and doesn't want to have kids, 100%.

So...we'll see, I guess.
posted by stockpuppet at 8:47 AM on February 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm starting to think this is really a values clash

Sounds like you guys are making a lot of progress in figuring this out. Now that I understand what you mean about his "immaturity," I'm more inclined to agree you need to break up. The issues here don't sound like timing/immaturity or minor ideological differences (e.g., about the institution of marriage) but about differences of values and character. My mind immediately flashes to people I dated in high school and college who valued family and wouldn't prioritize things like "not being sure he's able to be attracted to a pregnant woman." The question here might be less "will he ever want to marry you?" and more "is this even someone you'd want as a life partner and partner in child rearing?"

Then again, I'm going off of three sentences you wrote, so I might be missing important context. Hopefully your therapy can bring this into greater clarity. Good luck!
posted by salvia at 9:33 AM on February 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am absolutely certain he does not want to break up.

No, of course not! He'd have to make an effort to find a new girlfriend to be sweet to him at all times, keep her figure, sit around while he drags his feet on any major life decisions as long as possible until maybe you get beat down enough to give up on expecting anything of him. And he's already made so much progress in that direction, so if you'd just, like, be less of a person so he can get on with it, he'd really appreciate it kthx.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:01 AM on February 24, 2016 [8 favorites]


"not being sure he's able to be attracted to a pregnant woman" is not only not noble, it is also absolute self-centered irrelevant garbage.

Deciding to have a baby means signing up for at least 18 years of unselfishly putting another person's interests before your own. He is worried that he might not be attracted to you WHILE YOUR BODY IS LITERALLY GROWING A NEW HUMAN??? I can't even comprehend how utterly self-obsessed he has to be for that to make the top 3,000 list of concerns about pregnancy. Your desire to have a child and a family is less important than his ability to get aroused for a few months? Ugh. ugh ugh.

He also brought up that he feels like I'm stressed after work and he would much rather I be nice and welcoming and sweet when I come home. He thinks I am too tired and don't want to go out and do fun things after work. I work 40 hours a week at a stressful job and he does not

Oh my gosh, this therapy thing is the best decision, because he is showing you even more clearly how much he expects (and maybe demands) that your entire personhood/life/existence is supposed to be tied up in his wants, his desires, his preferences.

He doesn't want you to have a baby, because he wants to be the only infant you're taking care of, basically. Please do not ever have a baby with this man. I would not even want to share a pizza with someone this selfish.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:31 AM on February 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


FUCK THIS GUY. RUN.

Any guy who can't be attracted to you when you are pregnant also won't be attracted when you're old and will constantly trade in for a younger model. Be glad he revealed himself. GET OUT.
posted by corb at 12:54 PM on February 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was one of the people who said you came across immature from the initial question. I absolutely would not have done so with this further information. Y'all are not a good fit. Quick clean break. He wants a mom not a partner. You're staring down the barrel of a lifetime of thankless emotional labor with this guy. Get out.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:13 PM on February 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


He also brought up that he feels like I'm stressed after work and he would much rather I be nice and welcoming and sweet when I come home.


Ah, so he feels like it's not OK for you to have emotions.

Why would you ever have kids with someone who feels like there's something wrong with you if you feel stressed?

not being sure he's able to be attracted to a pregnant woman

If you ever get sick or get older you can probably expect some upset from him about not being sure if he's able to be attracted then, too. Were you planning on getting older? Because this doesn't sound like a guy who is incorporating that into his thinking.

Well, he sounds like a great guy if you can just keep yourself from having emotions and getting older.

You could just DTMFA and get started with finding someone else to have children with. Throwing away more time on this guy isn't going to fix him.
posted by yohko at 8:54 AM on February 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


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