Propose or hint?
January 4, 2008 8:05 PM   Subscribe

[Proposal Filter] We've lived together for 7 years, been together for 9. We've discussed the future, kids, plans, etc. I was always okay with our living-in-sin/unmarried status until recently.

I probably have changed my mind as my biological clock has been ticking and because of questions from family/friends. So, I've been dropping vague jokey hints to my boyfriend that I want him to propose to me, but they come off as passive-aggressive "I'll die alone with my 20 cats..." etc. Would you suggest dropping less-subtle hints so that I can get the romantic proposal setup that some people seem to have or just coming out and saying "Do you/when do you want to get married?" I have a sense that if he doesn't want to get married and I do, that it will continue to nag me for the rest of our lives. We are in our mid-30s, by the way.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Just come right out and say it. Jokes are for children.
posted by macadamiaranch at 8:14 PM on January 4, 2008 [12 favorites]

Probably the route to go: Try and have a conversation with him about whether or not he sees marriage in your future. If he is against the idea of marriage, make sure that you find out why so that you know it's not just you.

The fun route that I would probably take: Propose.

There's no reason you can't have that romantic proposal setup that some people seem to have, if it's what you want. You just get to be the person who plans it. :)
posted by plaingurl at 8:15 PM on January 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ah, I'd talk to him straight up. While proposing is very romantic, it must be crushing to get a negative answer. Skip being tactful or subtle. Tell him, "You know what, as I get older, my ideas change about my goals and values. How about you?" And from there, you might get to a point where you say, "I feel like having kids/getting married. What about you?" and you might ask "Is that a deal breaker or can we negotiate that?" And you need to know if it's a dealbreaker for you too, if say, he says, no I never want to get married. Would you be okay with a registry office wedding, or is the big expensive church & reception & honeymoon $thing necessary? Because that might influence his decision as well. But seriously, hinting really doesn't work, it often baffles the recipient, unless they were brought up in a hinty family.
posted by b33j at 8:29 PM on January 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

You say you've discussed the future - did those discussion include marriage? If so, I think you can propose safely with the knowledge that he will probably say yes. If not, you might want to have the straight out discussion first. Do you know what his feelings on marriage are?
posted by Nickel at 8:35 PM on January 4, 2008

I've known more than a few girls who have gotten their boyfriends to propose by constantly showing them ads for engagement rings and then swooning over them. However, this doesn't mean I'm advocating this tactic.
posted by whoaali at 8:35 PM on January 4, 2008

If you've lived with this person for seven years, you should be able to come right out and (gently) say what you're feeling. It'll be okay. Give it a shot.
posted by secret about box at 8:36 PM on January 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Counselor? ughhh....

After all this time you should be able to just bring up the subject of marriage and kids, no jokes, but not overly serious either. You may have to bring it up a few times as the first few times he may be a bit taken aback given the apparent total lack of communication on this subject over the years. This is something that guys need some time getting comfortable with, and for many that is months not days.
posted by caddis at 8:43 PM on January 4, 2008

Propose to him.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:55 PM on January 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

You've been together long enough that jokes about this should be unneccessary. Tell him how you feel. If this would be up your alley, suggest going to Vegas or something and getting married there - it's marriage without all the pomp and stuff.
posted by pdb at 9:07 PM on January 4, 2008

Just another vote for talking it over with him. My wife and I eloped last year (at 38 and 34) after 11 years. I honestly couldn't tell you who brought it up, but had we not had that conversation we'd never have bothered.
posted by JaredSeth at 9:14 PM on January 4, 2008

Ask him "Are you ready to make an honest woman out of me?"

It's an old saying, from back when you didn't have sex until marriage... or else. If members of the community found out that a woman was sexually active, she would be ostracized, labeled, and prevented from marrying. So, she would have to be secretive, deceptive about those activities. Unless she's married to her lover. - Earth Queen
posted by JujuB at 9:33 PM on January 4, 2008

Another vote for laying your cards out on the table. Some people just don't get the whole romantic notion of a proposal. My husband was one of those people. We're about to celebrate our 10th anniversary. It will work out, probably better than you expected.
posted by Ostara at 9:50 PM on January 4, 2008

If you want to get married to someone, the only sensible thing to do is ask them to marry you.
posted by anildash at 9:51 PM on January 4, 2008 [7 favorites]

What's keeping you from asking? Yes, it's possible that he doesn't want to get married, but wouldn't you rather get that out in the open? Seems to me that it's a better, healthier thing to do than stew over it privately. Talk it over, make your case, and work it out. Either you'll come to an agreement (or start to), you'll table it for another time, or you'll know it's time to move on.
posted by me3dia at 9:54 PM on January 4, 2008

I'd just say, "I'd like to be married." And leave it at that for a while. See if he pciks up the cue and respond accordingly.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:06 PM on January 4, 2008

"Diplomacy is the art of letting someone have your way."
posted by rhizome at 10:11 PM on January 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

I probably have changed my mind as my biological clock has been ticking

There it is. Tell him you want to have a child. Let him think it over. If he's OK with it (and chances are pretty good that he will be), it naturally raises the question of marriage. At which point you can say "I've always wanted to be asked," and he should ask you.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:02 PM on January 4, 2008

Save up a couple months salary--a few thousand or so. Then buy him a big shiny worthless rock to put on his finger. If he feels that was the best way for you to spend your joint funds, then he's yours.

Or, you know, talk. In that awkward way that people who have been living and sleeping together for nearly a decade do.
posted by sourwookie at 12:28 AM on January 5, 2008

Propose. If you feel more comfortable, talk to him about it first. Then propose. It sounds like you want to get married to this guy. That's what marriage proposals are for.
posted by Brak at 2:06 AM on January 5, 2008

I've been married twice. Both times, my wife-to-be brought it up.

My late first wife advised me, after we had been a serious couple for a year, that she was headed to graduate school and if we weren't going to get married, she'd probably meet someone there who would. I proposed, and even went the southern boy route and did the 'ask for her hand' thing with her dad. Was a good move and lasted 24 years.

Second time, my current wife and I had been living together for a few years, and when it became her time to do grad school, she said more or less the same thing... her life goals included eventually being married and she did not want to do the grad school project (far away and 3 years) under a cloud of relationship uncertainty. After a few months of introspection, I took her ring shopping and we did the deed.

Point is... mind reading is a poor method of getting what you want. Use your vocal chords and see what happens. If nothing else, you'll discover where you and your partner differ on the subject. You really have nothing to lose. Read Difficult Conversations , if you need some approach methods for the subject.

As to the value of marriage... that's another post. Despite having been married twice, I am not a big fan of the institution, but then, I don't have or want children. I see its primary value as being for the benefit of kids. I've known a lot of successful relationships that do just fine without marriage and a lot of marriages that involve totally unsuccesful relationships. It's not a panacea and won't, in and of itself, guarantee you anything but certain inheritance rights, etc. It will certainly not guarantee eternal love, as the 50% of folks whose first marriages fail will tell you.

Nonetheless, you know what you want and I wish you good luck obtaining it!
posted by FauxScot at 4:37 AM on January 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

well, he probably a) doesn't know you're serious, or b) is afraid that your desire for marriage means that you expect new, different things from him. men don't like it when expectations change. i guess nobody does, but i think men feel it more acutely. it screws with how they judge their accomplishments and makes them feel insecure. he may think you want to get married because the current situation isn't cutting it, and that you somehow want even MORE from him than he's already giving, and he's probably already giving you everything he's got.

the way to spin it, i think, is not that marriage is a next step, but rather a confirmation of your present commitment. one entry point may be to suggest getting your paperwork in order--wills, living wills, power of attorney, etc.--which is something you should do anyway if you plan to stay together for the rest of your lives and have kids. it's a good nudge, and will get him used to the idea of making commitments on paper as well as in his words to you.

if he doesn't take the hint, but seems amenable to doing all the binding paperwork, then let that situation have time to dissipate and then propose to him yourself. if he resists the paperwork, by the way, then you may have to accept that he may have no intention of committing to you forever.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:38 AM on January 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't know if you have any connections to the UK, but since 2008 is a leap year, the 29th of February is traditionally the day, here, when women can propose to men.....

Here's some brief information from Wiki: Marriage Proposals

Good luck in whatever you decide.
posted by Blacksun at 4:49 AM on January 5, 2008

I read your question a couple of times, and it seems to me you are focused on what he wants. Don't you think your needs are important to him, as someone he has chosen to love and live with for so long? It almost sounds like you are scared that if you utter the "M" word, he is going to automatically kick you out of the house, no questions asked. Did it never, ever come up, ever? In nine years? Is there precedent here?

You have every right to be happy and satisfied and have your needs met. Wouldn't he be happy to "M" you, if that would make you happy? I think you kinda have to take your power back. You don't sound like one of those demanding, 10-karats or else girls, obviously. I think you should remind yourself that it is okay to want things that you want! There are two people here. I bet you are really sweet and giving...which is great. Just remember yourself, too.

I agree with all the others above that just talking about it, no frills, no big deal, is the way to go. Also, FauxScots' hilarious advice to use one's vocal chords would solve many of the world's problems.

Good luck, anonymous!
posted by frumious bandersnatch at 5:10 AM on January 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

Just propose. Worked for my wife. ;)
posted by LairBob at 5:39 AM on January 5, 2008

Tell him you want to have a child. Let him think it over. If he's OK with it (and chances are pretty good that he will be), it naturally raises the question of marriage. At which point you can say "I've always wanted to be asked," and he should ask you.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:02 AM on January 5 [1 favorite +] [!]

I think that is the best way to get the conversation started. Again, the idea of having a baby may be something that he takes time to warm to unless he has already been thinking about it a lot himself. No doesn't necessarily mean no.
posted by caddis at 6:45 AM on January 5, 2008

I agree with everyone who says to bring it up. But you should decide on the best tone to use, based on what feels comfortable to you and what you think your boyfriend will respond to:
Humor? (not passive-aggressive humor, though)
Light? ("You know what would be fun? If we got married.")
Serious? ("I've been thinking a lot...")
Assertive? ("Marry me!")
posted by bassjump at 7:12 AM on January 5, 2008

Welcome to the 21st Century. Ask him to marry you.
posted by nax at 7:24 AM on January 5, 2008

Personally, I'm not sure that proposing to him out of the blue is a good idea (frankly, I don't feel it's fair to spring it on women, either, if it hasn't already been discussed). If this is not something that has been part of your conversations he may need some time to think about what it means to be married and whether that's something he can or is willing to do.

Talk to him about it. That's what worked for me - after living together for four years, I brought it up to my now-fiancé and found out he had been thinking about it a lot, but was worried about some things we needed to work on in our relationship. We also needed to talk about what marriage meant to us, and how we can make sure that our marriage is about us and what we want and not about societal expectations and the things we don't like about marriage.

About six months later I brought it up again - not as an ultimatum, just as a "where are we on this" conversation - and he said he agreed that we were ready. But now he was overwhelmed by the act of shopping for and picking out a ring, making sure it was what I wanted, deciding what to do for the actual wedding, etc. Because the whole surprise on-one-knee "romantic" proposal wasn't important to me, and I didn't like the idea of him spending his own money on the symbol of our joint commitment, we decided to shop for and buy the ring together, out of our joint account. When we got home from picking up the ring, we sat on the couch together and he put it on my finger. It was very low-key and very us - a team effort from beginning to end, which is exactly how our relationship works and exactly how we want our marriage to work.

I understand the pressure to be the "cool" girlfriend, the one that doesn't fall into stereotypical roles of pressuring the guy for marriage. I felt that pressure acutely, and was literally terrified to bring up the subject for a long time, for fear of becoming "that girl" - or worse, scaring him away. I would start shaking just thinking about bringing up the subject. But if it really is important to you, you need to tell him in a straightforward, honest, caring way. Dropping hints and resenting him for not picking up on them, or trying to guess what he's thinking about them or if he even noticed just doesn't work. Having an adult conversation is the way to go.

Good luck! We went from never ever saying the M word to being engaged in less than a year. And I know my fiancé is just as excited and happy about getting married as I am - and he got there on his own, prompted by but without pressure from me, once we started talking about it.
posted by misskaz at 7:48 AM on January 5, 2008 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure if the discussions you've had with your SO have included the kids part of the equation or if this is what you mean when you say that you have "probably changed your mind." In any case, I'd like to offer a cautionary tale. I had been with my long-term [five years] SO for about four years when I was in a health insurance crunch after my job ended. I brought up the marriage idea as a pragmatic consideration because we were planning for the long term and if this solved our problem so much the better. The fact that he did not enthusiastically say "oh that's a good idea" should have given me pause that we were not thinking about our futurie in the same way. Instead I got a grudging "well if it's the only option..." response out of him. I should have paid more attention to that, in hindsight.

We muddled ahead for another year on what I felt was a pretty decent relationship up until the point it wasn't and then it wasn't a relationship anymore. It was for the best blah blah, but I saw that point, The Talk, as the point at which I maybe should have decided that someone who was ambivalent after four years was maybe too ambivalent for me. The kids thing wasn't part of the equation for me, but I know if it had been I would have been pretty upset at that point. It's easy to argue "Oh you were just making assumptions..." but absent some sort of statement of intent on a piece of paper, all you have to go on in non-traditional relationships is what someone says they feel and how they act towards you. The future is always a bit of a cipher.

My main point is this. Only you know your partner well enough to know whether him not picking up what you're laying down already jokey hintwise is a sign of something or not. However I'd advise you, if you're having your doubts about your mutual goals (whether you've both said these things out loud to each other in the past or not) to have a forthright talk with him that includes specifically that you'd like to have a child and you'd like to be married to do that. It's scary of course because what do you do if he says no? However I think for a lot of people, the concern that someone might say no means that they're forever not quite saying yes to themselves as frumious bandersnatch says above. If you have doubts it's better to get them out in the open NOW, like right now.

If you've been living together for seven years, in my opinion, you shouldn't be at the point where

a. you're talking about dying alone with 20 cats
b. he's not immediately jumping in and telling you you're crazy for talking like that.

So, something's up. Talk to him and figure out how the two of you need to move forward. I hope it goes really well for you.
posted by jessamyn at 7:56 AM on January 5, 2008 [5 favorites]

Would you suggest dropping less-subtle hints so that I can get the romantic proposal setup that some people seem to have or just coming out and saying "Do you/when do you want to get married?"

Always, always talk. This conversation can be difficult and it can take months to sort it out, but I highly recommend it. It's the type of communication you can build a marriage on.
posted by heatherann at 9:30 AM on January 5, 2008

Talk to him about it, and if he doesn't want to marry, find out why. It may not be you.

I was talking to a good friend the other day who recently got married. His main concern about marriage was the feeling he apparently gets sometimes, some odd instinct that he needs to run away really fast. He doesn't know why he gets that feeling, he loves his wife and it makes no sense to him. But he thought that being married might make that feeling unbearable and ruin the relationship.

Luckily it hasn't. He has been able to work out that feeling in other ways. He has plenty of places he can to by himself, and feel alone. They are things he was already doing (going to the gym and martial arts), so he didn't have to change his lifestyle to do them. They aren't destructive things, so he can do them whenever he likes, and not wreck the relationship.

It's possible that your boyfriend needs to know he has a comfort zone, and that a marriage wouldn't be all-consuming. Obviously you know him well, and this is just an example of one person who I know, but my point is that there may be an underlying reason behind the lack of proposal that could be solved in a way that would allow him to feel comfortable with marriage. I don't think you necessarily need a counselor to work through this (and I think many people would be uncomfortable if you told them that they need a counselor), but I think you might need some patience. You still do have plenty of time for kids.
posted by veronitron at 9:31 AM on January 5, 2008

My partner and I had been together unmarried for 11 years, when, at Christmas three years ago, I said the following to him: "You know what would make next Christmas perfect? A baby. I've reached the point in my life where if we're going to have a child we need to do it soon. I know I've sprung this on you, so I don't want you to say anything now, but I'll want to talk about it again after your birthday" (His birthday is in mid-February, so I gave him about six weeks to think things over.)

I kept my word and didn't mention another thing about it. (He's the "let me think about it" type, so I knew this was my best approach.) When his birthday came around, we never actually talked about it. Instead, he made it clear through actions rather than words that birth control was no longer necessary, and our son was born 16 months later.

We got married when our son was five months old - mostly for insurance and custody-issue reasons, frankly, but also because my partner felt like it was now something he wanted to do.

My point from all of this is twofold -- first, its not the ring and the ceremony that gives you the feeling of permanence, its the commitment. For us, the baby was a much bigger "sign of commitment" than a wedding ever could have been, because you can get divorced but a baby ties you together forever. So don't just discuss the future - plan for it. Second, (and more important to your question, I think), don't just drop hints. Come out and say what you want to say, but don't push for an answer right away. Let him think things over. You might be surprised how romantic his eventual response will be.
posted by anastasiav at 9:50 AM on January 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

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