How do I decide whether I should marry my boyfriend?
May 26, 2008 3:20 PM   Subscribe

Do you have any suggestions or insight that could help me figure out whether I should marry my boyfriend?

My boyfriend and I have been together for 4 years (we're both 26.) In our day-to-day relationship we're very happy together, get along very well, and enjoy being a couple. The problem is that although we've been together for quite a while now, I don't feel myself getting any surer about whether I want to get married. He's known for a while now that he wants to marry me, and he's recently started to set some boundaries and let me know that as much as he loves me, he doesn't want to wait indefinitely, especially if I'm not at least moving closer to a decision. Clearly I owe it to him and to myself to be moving towards more clarity on this. But I don't know how to do it.

More details: I love him very much, and he is loving, supportive, and kind to me. We were close friends for years before we started dating. We have very compatible outlooks on life (attitudes towards money, children, religion, etc... almost all those things that show up in the lists of "things you should discuss before you get married.") We make a really good team. We have a lot of fun together. We do have mismatched sex drives (mine is very low), which is an occasional source of frustration, but we're generally able to respect eachothers' feelings/needs on that front.

My biggest concern is that neither now nor ever have I felt really head-over-heels, intensely in love with him, and I don't know how much that matters. There's no crazy butterflies and overwhelming passion, no powerful feeling that I want to spend the rest of my life with him, just a calm love and affection that's wonderful but doesn't match with what I always thought that you ought to feel to want to marry someone. That makes me worry that I don't love him deeply/strongly enough to marry him... but then I wonder if I've just bought into an idea about what love and marriage is "supposed to" be that isn't necessarily the only way.

Other background:
-- I am incredibly indecisive about most things in my life, tending to obsess about the pros and cons both before and after I make a choice.
-- My only other romantic relationship of note was a dizzingly intense "I could be content if I died tomorrow because I have now experienced this great love for you" at age 20, but in retrospect the love was not that deep or substantial, and afterwards I came to be really regretful and ashamed of how I put that relationship ahead of everything else in my life while "under the influence" of that intense emotion. Other than that relationship, I don't really have anything to compare this one to.
-- When we first started dating, his mother was dying, so my can't-stop-thinking about him phase was less "I wish we were spending time together now, I love him so much" and more "Oh goodness, he is hurting so much right now and I wish I could make it better." I often wonder whether the beginning of our relationship might have been more passionate if that hadn't been the case, and if so, whether that is relevant.

Anyway, I'm having a really hard time figuring this out. If this could really be a happy and satisfying mariage then it would be a terrible shame to throw it away based on unrealistic expectations about how I should feel. But on the other hand, I don't want to end up getting married but having growing doubts that undermine our relationship. (And if he deserves to have someone who feels "more"/differently, then I don't want him to miss out on that; and if "more" is actually really worth giving up what I have in order to try to find, I don't want to miss out on that myself.)

I think that if I continue feeling this unsure, then we shouldn't get married (which essentially means breaking up.) Thinking of getting married really scares me because I'm afraid it's the wrong choice. (Although for what it's worth, thinking of breaking up scares me because I'm afraid it's the wrong choice, too. And saddens me, of course.) But I really want to figure this out (as much as possible) rather than say "no" by default.

So I guess I have two questions for all of you:

1) Do you have any suggestions for ways I can think about this to help me get more internal clarity? Questions I can ask myself? (Even thought-provoking books-- nonfiction or fiction-- exploring love, marriage, and/or committment?)
2) Have you been in a similar situation? What decision did you make? How do you feel about that decision in retrospect?

Thanks, and you can reach me at
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
We do have mismatched sex drives (mine is very low)

Based on that and your unsure feelings, I'd say breakup and start dating within a few months, if not sooner. Not necessarily because you guys have zero chance, but it seems as though you need to date around a bit more. Yes, you may lose him permanently but that's a risk you need to take, in order to fully experience what's it like not to have him around.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:39 PM on May 26, 2008

I couldn't disagree more with Brandon Blatcher. I think that it is some of the worst advice I've seen on AskMe that doesn't involve physical danger (mix bleach and ammonia, it's cool!). It sounds like you have an excellent relationship overall, exceptions noted. Advising you to break up is like advising someone who has an ingrown toenail to amputate the foot.

I'd suggest you maybe talk to a couples therapist. It really does sound like a good relationship but a couples therapist could help you deal with these feelings and, as a bonus, you could work through the mismatched sex drives a little bit.

Have you talked to your SO about the sex drive thing? In the long run that could be even more of a problem than your current cold feet type feelings.
posted by Justinian at 3:45 PM on May 26, 2008 [9 favorites]

Based on that and your unsure feelings, I'd say breakup and start dating within a few months,

just remember than any "should I stay or should I go" AskMe will end up with the majority answer being "go". The reason is that it's a simpler answer, because there's at least a theoretical outcome that if you "go" you will fall head over heels for someone else who is perfect for you and live happily ever after, whereas if you stay, you will always have to deal with the problems that come with the relationship. The tricky part is that your new "perfect" relationship will end up coming with problems, too, and you could well find yourself constantly going, because no one is ever perfect enough...

Really no one can answer this but you. Sorry - I wish I could help, I really know how you feel, but these are life choices that contain a lot more than just the tidbits you laid out, and it's up to you to either take the risk that you'll end up unhappy and alone, or take the risk that you'll end up unhappy and married. Which sounds worse? Which sounds more likely? Don't stay with him because you don't want to hurt him, but don't dump him because he's not a fairy tale ideal.
posted by mdn at 3:54 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

no powerful feeling that I want to spend the rest of my life with him

I think this is the essential requirement for getting married. If you don't feel it, don't do it.
posted by ottereroticist at 3:55 PM on May 26, 2008 [5 favorites]

I was in a very similar situation to you. My relationship was almost 4 years long. I had almost the same questions you had. What I did was to get hooked up with a really good therapist. We spent several months of focusing on this issue, I came to the conclusion that I shouldn't be in the relationship I was in at the time. I was terrified of leaving the security of a relationship that wasn't all that bad, but that never 'turned my crank'.

It didn't help matters that 2 years in to the relationship I took a "philosophy of romantic love' course with a professor who had been through multiple divorces. His whole stance was that romantic love was a farce, and to look for it would only lead to pain and misery. Had I not taken that class, I likely wouldn't have needed a therapist to put me back on the right path!

So... my advice to you is to get in contact with a good psychologist. This doesn't have to be a relationship counselor, as it's more about you and what you want/need right now.
posted by xotis at 4:01 PM on May 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Read Should You Leave, by Peter Kramer. It's interesting because he doesn't give you answers; he gives you scenarios, from which you give yourself answers.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:03 PM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Asking yourself these questions is healthy. So, first off, take care not to pathologise your totally reasonable, rational doubt into a symptom of a fundamentally broken relationship. Fools rush in, and all that. Talk of commitment brings someone's pros and cons into sharper relief, and it's important you find a way of examining these with as much emotional distance as you can manage (obviously easier said than done).

I guess the hardest barrier to cross is finding a way of discussing these doubts with your S.O. And, if you're really to give your feelings the respect they deserve, the possibility of walking away must be on the table, as one of several options. But then, realistically, the possibility of walking away is always on the table, in any relationship.

What you can't do is come up with an answer which will guarantee your future happiness. There's not necessarily a right or wrong choice. Any kind of relationship needs constant work - successful partners are more farmers than warriors. Flip the question on its head: what are you doing to contribute to passion and 'butterflies' in the relationship? When did you last do something hugely romantic for him? What decisions do you make every day that help create an environment where love and excitement and intimacy can blossom?

I'm not suggesting that with enough effort and self-castigation anybody can turn the crappiest relationship into a wonderful joy-garden, just that it's worth remembering that a relationship is a dynamic entity, and you have an awful lot of power over how it plays out. Best of luck.
posted by RokkitNite at 4:10 PM on May 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

I married him, mismatched libido (his is the low one) and all. We're celebrating 17 years this August. I'd had the OMG butterflies thing previously, and that relationship was so full of drama, that I wanted something quiet and reliable. People told me it'd never last (thanks guys).

We've had difficult times, but we both really value the deep friendship and respect between us. Very rarely but not never I think of what it might be like to be with someone else, but in my day-to-day life, my husband helps me to be happy, loves me unconditionally and always has my back. After 17 years, I've come to the conclusion (watching other couples), that that sort of relationship is actually quite rare.

Sometimes I see people who are still holding out for that fairy tale thing, and I sympathise with them. What if Mr Right never turns up? I don't feel like I've settled. I think I have something really special. It depends on your values, and it's important to remember that the in-love feeling doesn't last for ever, for most people, anyway. So if you let him go, and find someone else, you're trading what you have for maybe two years of butterflies, and then back to same-old.
posted by b33j at 4:25 PM on May 26, 2008 [10 favorites]

I started typing a long answer outlining the similarities in our situations, and scrapped it.

The question I asked myself that gave me my answer to my SO was whether I would want to wake up next to anyone else. Thinking about the rest of your life together is impossible, it will drive you mad. But if you have similar outlooks on the big issues (kids, et al., that you outlined) and want to wake up next to the person, you have what you need to work through a lot of things.

As for sex drive, have you tried anything to change it? Def. see someone about this, as suggested before, but also try kissing, holding hands, feeling each other up - all the little things that make young relationships crazy passionate. Many women I know, self included, are not suddenly 'in the mood'. Maybe remember that with a bit of physical coaxing, your mental state will change and you will be? I try to go for it just about any time my partner initiates. No regrets on that front.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 4:39 PM on May 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

I think one of the hardest things about growing up is the narrowing of options and choices. When you're in high school and undergrad, the world is your *oyster* and infinite paths are available to you! Anything's possible! You can be anyone and do anything! Blah, blah, and so on.

With each choice you make, and with each commitment, your field narrows. You are now a *insert career here* and not a person of infinite possibility. You now live in *insert city here* and not in any city in the world. The options are narrowing, narrowing, narrowing. I struggled mightily with this in my mid-twenties. I wanted to go into academics/the Peace Corps/business/NGOs/travel writing...I hated making a single choice. Perhaps that is part of what you are experiencing?

Although you characterize yourself as indecisive, I believe you have access to your true voice inside of yourself and can listen to your own, unique music, and follow that. Really listen to what you know to be true, deep down.

I hate to bring age into it, but you are very young, and my parents and other relatives always told me that no one becomes who they are until they are 30. I know I found 30 to be incredibly revelatory and freeing. This number is relative, so I should say "around 30", but perhaps your hesitation is your wise self talking? This is only one possibility. There are many others. You know, inside. I know it is difficult to find that inner voice sometimes. Good luck.

And gawd, I hate to quote Oprah here, but the best thing I ever read that she wrote was, "If you don't know what your next step is, stay put. Don't move!" I've found that to be incredibly wise and useful in my own life.
posted by frumious bandersnatch at 4:40 PM on May 26, 2008 [17 favorites]

There's no crazy butterflies and overwhelming passion, no powerful feeling that I want to spend the rest of my life with him, just a calm love and affection that's wonderful but doesn't match with what I always thought that you ought to feel to want to marry someone.

I assume you had this passion in your other "dizzyingly intense" "relationship of note". You should think about what that means--despite those feelings, that relationship ended.
posted by Benjy at 4:49 PM on May 26, 2008

Dear god, I could have written this myself. I've got about 20 years on you but, aside from that, you sound exactly like me at the moment and you can bet I'll be hanging on every word in this thread.

I've been seeing my bf for about a year a half and, though I can count thousands of ways why I should marry him, I'm having a devil of a time agreeing to it (he'd elope tomorrow if I said yes). In my case, I keep saying, "How will getting married change things? What's the big deal?" but since I've been married once before I know it IS a big deal and it DOES change things.

He's being infinitely patient and I appreciate that, though I know it can't last forever. I just keep feeling like there will come a point where I stop wanting to be so independent (or, I don't know, maybe just that I'll quit looking at the decision so clinically).

An interesting thing happened this weekend: He's been out of the country on business for the last couple of weeks. He mentioned in passing on the phone that one of the higher-up said if he wanted to spend a year at the overseas office taking on some new projects, he was welcome to do so.

I think I stopped breathing for a minute.

Knowing I can't leave the country and go with him, he never even entertained the idea but in that split second until he said so I was pretty sure I was about to pass out. I guess my point is: you may be a lot closer to a decision that you think you are.
posted by actuallyiam at 5:03 PM on May 26, 2008

Can you live without him? I know you can physically LIVE without him, but can you see living a life without him? Think about how you might feel if you were to break up with him. Not the romantic, "I'm free" feeling that you might feel at first, but do you think your life would suffer irrevocably if he were not ever to be a part of your life? Can you just walk away? If you can walk away without any feeling at all, you might consider searching for a happy life without him. Good luck.
posted by boots77 at 5:13 PM on May 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

There are two problems here. One is you have a warped sense of romantic love probably due to cultural/media saturation. The second and related problem is you are expecting too much out of a romantic relationship generally. A relationship will not provide your life with constant engagement, excitement, and meaning. Meaning in your life is really still left up to you.

The question before you is whether you want to be in a relationship at all or not, not whether you want to marry this particular guy. From what you've written, no guy is going to be a better suitor as far as providing you a romantic relationship goes. If you want to be 'head-over-heels' in love become an actress. If you want to be alone leave him. If you want to be with somebody keep him.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 5:41 PM on May 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Your post provides many clues that suggest you shouldn't marry this guy. Mismatched sex drives + you being indecisive + the way you describe the "sensible" emotions of this relationship compared to the topsy turvy one in your 20s + the fact that the relationship was somewhat forged upon you taking care of his emotional needs while his mom was dying ... the fact that you have anything beyond platonic love for this guy sounds more like an accident than anything else.

Maybe you could chalk this up to personality, and conclude you'll simply never have head over heels feeling for people you love, thats just not the way it works. But if you contrast it with your first relationship, then I think it's hard to make that claim. I'm not saying you need to be with someone who makes your heart aflutter all the time, but if you _never_ feel head over heels for your guy, and it's been 4 years, you should strongly consider cutting him loose. Both of you can probably find someone better.

(Obviously, there's many people who don't need that "head over heels" feeling and are in fact not comfortable with that type of relationship. Many men and women who had a significant other that treats you the way you've described would jump at the chance to spend a lifetime with them. But you don't appear to be one of those people.)
posted by Happydaz at 5:47 PM on May 26, 2008

I think that it is some of the worst advice I've seen on AskMe that doesn't involve physical danger

Worked for me.

there's at least a theoretical outcome that if you "go" you will fall head over heels for someone else who is perfect for you and live happily ever after,

No, the point is that the OP doesn't appreciate what she has, so she should walk away. It that sounds horrible or unthinkable to her, maybe that's her answer.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:34 PM on May 26, 2008

The only person who can answer your question is you. If you have to ask, then don't marry him. I think this is the biggest commitment you'll ever make and you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to have absolutely no doubt at all when you make it. Good luck with all this. I hope you find the love you have dreamt of finding because it is somewhere.
posted by mamaraks at 7:05 PM on May 26, 2008

Your post is exactly - frighteningly exactly! It sounds like one of my journal entries! - what I went through with my now-husband. (We were best friends for two years, dated for two years, then lived together for two years). As I kind of went into in a previous comment, I even had trouble making the commitment to start seriously dating, much less get married. I grew up on fairy stories and romance, and was just not sure that this non-passionate, friendship-based love was right for marriage. I thought it might just be platonic.

I was so indecisive that the night before the wedding, when we went out for a walk together, I told him I didn't think I could do it. That day we'd had the rehearsals, and I couldn't meet his eyes, and there was this voice in my head saying this isn't right, I wasn't sure, I was freaking out. I told him all this and cried and said I was sorry, and he held me and said "You know, if you're still not sure in a year, it doesn't have to be permanent." I agreed to go through with it finally.

And you know what? The moment I walked into the church on the wedding morning, my eyes locked with his and the biggest surge of love I have ever felt welled up in me. Tears spilled. I knew it was right. And I have never looked back.

I have trouble deciding between colors of socks, times to make hair appointments, bank accounts to open, movies to go see. Choosing our cats took days.

But this decision? Once it was made - was the best, most solid decision of my life. Trust what you have with each other. It's real, and it lasts. You have no idea how wonderful it is to be married to your best friend. Please don't throw it away... give it a chance.
posted by GardenGal at 7:28 PM on May 26, 2008 [7 favorites]

I married for security and regretted the shit out of it, although my situation was rather different from yours. The marriage ended rather quickly.

Mr. Fairytale, OTOH, rocks my socks on both the security *and* the butterflies levels. I firmly believe it's possible to have both, and that you *should* have both if that's what you want out of your marriage.

If you don't know what you want out of a marriage, you've probably got no business getting married, though.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:36 PM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think this is such a common fear for so many women, myself included. I consider myself fairly logical and system-oriented. In the area of love, however, I have more or less given up trying to figure it out. It really seems that there is no right or wrong, no same path for any couple, and definitely not the same needs that will satisfy everyone.

This is what you have to ask yourself- are you content with never having head-over-heels love with your mate? Some people are, do not believe in such romantic fairy tales, and go on to have wonderful partnerships. Some people aren't, will always wonder, and it will kill them slowly inside. You will never know the answer to all the possible "what ifs." Unless you have a million lives and are able to try out a million possibilities with a million people, you will never know. This is what you have now- are you able to accept it?

(I wasn't able to. I ended it despite the comfort of security, took the risk and am now in the fiercest, deepest relationship ever. The doubts are gone and it is amazing.)
posted by pinksoftsoap at 8:38 PM on May 26, 2008

-- When we first started dating, his mother was dying, so my can't-stop-thinking about him phase was less "I wish we were spending time together now, I love him so much" and more "Oh goodness, he is hurting so much right now and I wish I could make it better."

The latter quoted statement has a lot more to do with love than the former.
posted by stevis23 at 4:07 AM on May 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

I might be reading this wrong, but it sounds to me like you're happy with him and happy with the relationship, but because he wants to be married you're feeling pressured to decide right now if this is the perfect relationship and if it's what you want for the rest of your life and you're just not sure. I think it's really pretty reasonable not to be sure, because you have no idea what is going to happen in 5, 10, 20 years--it's also easier to ride the status quo. Especially for those of us who are typically indecisive, it is painful to feel that you have to make a decision that will affect the rest of your life but that you cannot absolutely determine what the outcome will be. But this probably won't change the longer you're with him. I'd think about why this has been okay for the past four years and why it's okay now, but why you think it might not be okay for the rest of your life. Whatever you decide will be okay though. You sound like you have a great relationship with him, and could potentially have years of a great, loving, caring life with him, although maybe not enough perspective to realize that. (Do you want a family? Can you see yourself having kids with him? Could you see yourself having kids with someone else?) You'd also be okay if you broke up; you'd get a chance to be on your own and to have other relationships, but if you break up for frivolous reasons you will probably regret it.

The suggestions for couples therapy are good ones.
posted by Polychrome at 5:55 AM on May 27, 2008

if you're asking the internet "should i get married" then the answer is no.
posted by swbarrett at 6:43 AM on May 27, 2008

I look at relationshipfilter a bit differently--Nobody here knows really anything about your relationship and we are especially ignorant of the main thing that is bothering you--the idea that you have conflicting feelings of staying and going which you cannot reconcile or trust.

What we can do is help you find a few guideposts to go by.

First, you need to realize that there is no one blueprint for a successful marriage or relationship. You can have the kind with butterfiles or the kind with slow, steady, love which does not die. Either is acceptable.

Second, ask yourself if the things you want are likely to persist in the long term in a marriage. If not, look to see if the things he provides are something that might last over the long term.

Finally, get a good therapist to see if the things that are getting in the way of decision making can be cleared out.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:00 AM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

1) Do you have any suggestions for ways I can think about this to help me get more internal clarity? Questions I can ask myself? (Even thought-provoking books-- nonfiction or fiction-- exploring love, marriage, and/or committment?)

I think you're already thinking about this way too much, and more thinking is not what you need.

2) Have you been in a similar situation? What decision did you make? How do you feel about that decision in retrospect?

I too am incredibly indecisive, and although I am deeply in love with the guy, we disagree on some fundamental issues, like where to live. I also wasn't sure if I could accept some of his behavioral traits. HOWEVER, we communicate very well, he's worked on his behavior, and we've managed to compromise. We've gone to couples therapy to work out a few issues. We're getting married in September and I couldn't be more excited. What tipped the scales? I couldn't imagine anyone else I'd rather be with. He totally accepts me for who I am, warts and all, and at the same time, he challenges me to be a better person. That is a very, very rare thing.
posted by desjardins at 11:44 AM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

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