How Long Should I Wait For a Real Commitment?

Hi, Evan.

I love your column and think you do a great job of answering questions and concerns with sympathy, empathy and insight. Flattery aside, I have a dilemma. I’ve been dating my boyfriend for about 3 years. I’m truly happy with him about 90% of the time. We discussed moving in together when my lease is up in October, but now I know he’s not ready. He’s really independent and values his alone time. I tell him that he can still have that if we’re living together, but he’s still not sure when he’ll be ready. That worries me.

He feels really strongly about living with me and equates it to marriage. We knew a couple who broke up after living together. I asked if that’s why he doesn’t want to move in—because he’s afraid we’ll break up and it’ll be a pain to move out. He said he’s not worried, that if we move in together, he’s sure we’ll stay together, like it’s a forever thing.

Right now we see each other 4-5 times a week, and I mostly I stay at his place. He also has this professional project that’s a big priority. He’s been working on it for more than 2 years so I don’t know if that’s also a factor in why he’s reluctant to move forward. We almost never fight, but when we do it’s always about the bigger issue: our future together. I want more, but he’s not ready. I’ve told him that I’ll wait and believe he’ll be worth it. I know this all sounds like justification, but he really has made improvements in the past year. Before me, he was in two longer-term relationships, and he said that he’s never had what we have now, that he’s never even considered marriage and kids with anyone else before and that I’m not just his girlfriend, I’m his best friend. He’s never even considered giving a girl a key to his apartment! But when he moved this past July, he let me decorate/organize his kitchen which he said was big for him because he likes to be in control of that.

I told him that, regardless of what the future holds, I won’t regret any of the time we’ve had together because I love him. So I realized that I said I’d wait for him, but I still find myself trying to pressure him to take the next step. I think I need to stop if I truly believe it when I say that I’ll wait and be patient, but I’m not sure how to do just back off and give him the space he needs to make a decision. Am I being completely foolish and just a pathetic girl? I truly believe that a lot of couples don’t have what we have, but a lot of those couples still have more commitment…and therein lies the rub… So I’m seeking an outsider’s view. Help? Thanks, Sophie

Dear Sophie,

I know you’re looking for advice, but I want to use your email as a teaching tool. See, I edited Sophie’s letter for brevity (really, I did!), where she mentioned how her relationship started…seeing each other once a week, then twice a week, then three times a week. By being patient and not putting pressure on her boyfriend, she allowed it to develop into a healthy, loving relationship that has a chance of going the distance.

Had she not taken this stance, her boyfriend would have bailed, and she would not have the chance of going the distance. So while you might think, “Yeah, but she may have wasted three years on a guy who won’t marry her,” you’d be mistaken.

By being patient, you allow a healthy, loving relationship to develop.

Sophie said herself that her relationship wasn’t a waste of time, no matter what happens next. She’s just (rightfully) insecure that her boyfriend’s afraid of taking the next step. But what course of action gives Sophie better options? Cutting him off after a few months because he’s not positive that she’s “the one”? Or patiently allowing him to fall in love with her, to consider her his best friend, to know that he can’t picture his life without her? I think the answer is obvious.

I proposed to my wife after 14 months because my girlfriend was 38, we both wanted kids, and I was a dating coach who finally figured out what was important in life.

But my story is the exception.

I have three very close friends who were with their girlfriends for 3 years before proposing. Their girlfriends were all 3-4 years older, and they were feeling far more biological pressure than I suspect that you do. And yet, despite their ticking clocks, they hung in there patiently, just like you… right up until the 3-year mark. That’s when they decided to leave if they didn’t get a ring. As well they should.

At the 3-year mark, there’s literally no new information that your boyfriend is trying to gather about you. He loves you. He’s attracted to you. He enjoys hanging out with you. He has everything he wants with you.

Which is why it’s so comfortable for him to keep things exactly the way they are now.

The problem is that it’s not comfortable for you to walk this tightrope, investing more and more time with a man who is not ready to commit.

Thus, the only leverage you have is to walk away from him and see if he follows.

At the 3-year mark, there’s literally no new info that your boyfriend is trying to gather…

Sure, you can wait for another year.

Sure, you can move in together.

Sure, you can discuss a future together.

But this doesn’t give you what you’re looking for. This is just moving deck chairs around the Titanic, spinning wheels, making noise. These are just things that you might do to avoid breaking up, but they don’t ensure that you’ll be together forever.

If you want to be married, it’s time for him to step up and marry you.

If he doesn’t want to marry you, it’s time for him to let you go.

After 3 years, there are no valid excuses. Only some version of “I’m not ready,” or “I’m not sure”. Too bad, mister. You had three years to figure it out. You don’t get three more.

You talk about your boyfriend’s “professional priorities” that prevent him from proposing. Bullshit. My best friend is getting married this week even though he’s quitting his safe job as a lawyer to start his own company. I assure you, if your guy wanted to marry you, it would happen.

Waiting is just moving deck chairs around the Titanic.

What you don’t want is to be the woman who holds on, hopefully, giving him everything he wants and sacrificing everything that you want. I know someone who has spent 7 years – her childbearing years – waiting for her boyfriend to propose. He negotiated for her to move in with him, and that’s where they stand. Satisfying for him. Not so much for her.

If you’re willing to be that woman – the one who waits forever for the day that never comes, then that’s your prerogative.

You’ll have another 3 years with your boyfriend.

What you won’t have is a husband.

Because he doesn’t want to be a husband.

And you knew it.

And you ignored it.

And there’s no one to blame at that point but you.

You did the right thing to get here, Sophie.

Now cut the patience, get your answers, or move on.

Good luck.

13
3

Join 5 Million Readers

And the thousands of women I've helped find true love. Sign up for weekly updates for help understanding men.

I hate spam as much as you do, therefore I will never sell, rent, or give away your email address.

Join our conversation (91 Comments).
Click Here To Leave Your Comment Below.

Comments:

  1. 1
    Katarina Phang

    Great advice, Evan.  Another thing she can do is still seeing him but decrease her level of commitment until he steps up to the plate.  She should start dating other men.
     
    That will keep her busy and less available and appear more confidence around him because other guys adore her.  See how it works for a few months.  And she might get lucky along the way by finding the right man whom she’s crazily attracted to who is ready and available for her.
     
    It’s a losing battle for any woman to get attached to a man who doesn’t want to man up.  And like you said, it’s all bullshit excuses he’s giving.  If a man wants to do something and if he’s so into a woman and fear of losing her, he’ll do anything in his might to keep her.
     
    Hopefully by dating, she -and eventually he- will see her real values.  Don’t give in, don’t give up.
     
    Good luck.

  2. 2
    Eve

    what difference will a ring make? A couple I know have just hit the 12 year mark & had their first kid. He didn’t want to get married-The End. It might not have been what she wanted but she wanted him & stayed, they’re very happy.

  3. 3
    Lynn

    Excellent advice, as usual Evan. But I question the *three year* milestone. Unless this is a young couple in their 20′s, just establishing their careers and generally establishing their independence, I would think that 1 – 2 years would be sufficient for commitment minded people.

    1. 3.1
      Carolyn

      Completely agree. If there’s nothing new he’ll learn in three years, same can go for two. Im 30 and giving my boyfriend of a year several more months to tell me he loves me and mention me when he talks about the future. Waiting TWO ADDITIONAL years would just be plain stupid. And I’m not that stupid, anymore. 

  4. 4
    Honey

    This letter doesn’t say how old they are – if they’re still in their 20s then there’s no reason to rush.  I think the “alone time” thing is a bunch of crap, though, if they’re considering having kids. You’re NEVER ALONE AGAIN after that…

    1. 4.1
      Cat

      Honey (#5) “I think the “alone time” thing is a bunch of crap, though, if they’re considering having kids. You’re NEVER ALONE AGAIN after that…”

      That cracked me up! So true!!! Not only will they not be alone, they won’t have any time! All the parents I know, whether divorced or married, run from soccer practice to karate practice to school function, multiplied by number of kids they need to chauffer… The ones who’re divorced and trying to date have very few free nights, especially on weekends. “Cat, do you want to go out to dinner? On Tuesday, two weeks from now? You’re busy? OK, how about Tuesday night in four weeks?”

  5. 5
    Selena

    Sophie,
    He likes the life you have together just the way it is. There is no guarantee that “waiting for him” will ever result in him feeling differently. So take the focus off him. ARE YOU content enough with this together, but not-living-together arrangement? Could you live the rest of your life with him in this arrangement if it came to that?

    If the answer is yes, then accept that you are not like other couples and be content with what you have. If the answer is no, then you should consider breaking it off with him, or following Katarina’s advice and dating other guys as well as him. It just depends on what you truly want.  Some people believe “if it aint’ broke, don’t fix it” .

  6. 6
    Steve

    @Eve #2
    It makes a difference to the children in our culture, to have their parents married to each other ( in the present or the past ).

  7. 7
    Zann

    “…he let me decorate/organize his kitchen…”  Oh man.

    Sophie, you’re so smitten with this guy that you’re appreciative when he LETS you make his life easier.   Evan said it clearly and kindly.  Three years?  Enough.  Special work project? BS. Needs alone time?  Well, who doesn’t? Many people are in live-in committed relationships and still manage to have alone time. It’s time to be proactive. If he pursues you, good for him; but even if he does — be clear about what you want and stick to it. Marriage and commitment are important to you. You’ve offered it to him and you’ve been patient.  Now it’s time to put yourself first and move on to your next chapter.  Best of luck.

  8. 8
    InaccessibleRail

    @Eve: Why should it have been all about what he wanted? It makes me concerned for her that it was his way or the highway. If the ring really didn’t make that much difference, why wasn’t he willing to give it to her, knowing how happy it would make her if he had? It also confuses me that he was willing to have a kid but not get married. You can get divorced and get someone out of your life for good (and get your freedom back) if that’s what you need to do. But if you have a kid, you’re stuck with the other parent for 18 years at least! (And that’s how long you sacrifice your freedom, too, incidentally. So that just seems like an odd decision for someone who’s commitment-averse to make.You say they’re happy now, but I have several friends and acqaintances who have been waiting seven years or more. They put on a good show, but when you get a drink or two in them, the truth comes out–and most are very unhappy and insecure in their situations. Not saying everyone should get married. Some couples really don’t want to, and that’s more than OK. But when one person wants to and one person doesn’t, that usually spells trouble.

  9. 9
    Imperfect Love

    At age 30, I was in a 1.5 year relationship.  Had the talk with him and walked away…best decision of my life.  I now have been meeting better men…and in turning back realized that he wasn’t the right one.  If he was the right one, I’m sure for the both of us that he would have followed.  I think there is a reason for everything.  He wasn’t worth it for me to wait. It’s hard to walk away, but when you look back, you’ll know it was the right thing to do.  Why would you want someone who doesn’t want you forever?  It’s just common sense! :)

  10. 10
    BeenThruTheWars

    @Eve 2 – if she wants a ring, she wants a ring.  Many people – men and women alike – truly want to be married.  They want that standing in their family, their church, their community, as well as legally and financially.  You raise a valid question for Sophie to think about; but if her answer remains, “I want a husband, not a steady boyfriend,” then seeking a traditional commitment is her prerogative.
     
    Sophie, three years is a very long time (unless you are under 25).  Generally, 18 months to 2 years is the stage where you want to seriously think about fishing or cutting bait.  I agree with Lynne @3 on this, and Evan is right on the money all through his post.
     
    Your conversation will start with some variant of, “I know I said I would wait for you to be ready indefinitely, but I’ve rethought my position on this.  I am not willing to wait forever for you to make a real commitment.  I love you and I want to be with you, but if that’s not in the cards for us anytime soon then let’s take a break and see other people.”  Then follow through.  Step back, don’t contact him, and live your own life.  You should know within a couple months whether he’s going to step up to the plate – perhaps much sooner, if your relationship is “90% positive” for him, as well.  If he doesn’t come to you with a ring AND a calendar, then as Evan points out, you will be free to find the man who can’t live without you, and is willing (eager!) to marry you to make sure nobody else scoops you up first.
     
    The calendar part (setting a date and closing the deal) is important with a guy like this, who has already demonstrated that once he gets comfortable he likes to just put it in park and stick there.  You don’t want to wind up with a pretty ring on your finger and a three-year, go-nowhere engagement, such that you have to have this same talk with him AGAIN six years in.

  11. 11
    Sam

    I’ve known a couple of successful marriages that began with the girlfriend giving her boyfriend an ultimatum: propose or I’m walking.  It’s not romantic, but it ends the limbo. 

    I think the “he’s just not that into you” principle works here too.  If he wants to be married to you, he’ll ask, and he won’t let work committments get in the way.  He probably does love you more than any other girl, but he might have some issues with you.  If you know you want to be married, it’s time to prod him.

  12. 12
    A-L

    Evan, Selena, and BeenThruTheWars have hit the nail on the head, assuming that Sophie and her boyfriend began dating when they were 25 or older.  They said it so well, I’ve got nothing left to say.

  13. 13
    Selena

    Did I miss something? In the letter posted she doesn’t say she wants a ring, or to get married, or that he wants kids without getting married. It came across to me that she wanted to move in with him and he’s not ready.

    I dunno folks, but I think being 90% happy without living together may not be as bad as some of you are making it out to be. Better than being being more unhappy living together. Which can happen, especially when one person would rather not.

  14. 14
    M

    @ Salena #14:

    If she wants more, she is not 90% happy. I JUST broke up with my boyfriend of 1.8 years because he is “not ready” to get married, and wont be ready for 10 years, or so!! Ya, he has issues from his divorce, and has general concerns about marraige. But if I was the one for him he would work that shit out so he could keep me. It is a very lonely feeling to be with somebody you are deeply in love with and want a future with, that does not want a future with you. Feeling that way is not 90% happy. Its very sad. 

    3 years is more than ample time to figure out if he wants to spend the rest of his life with her.

    She deserves the healthy, intimate, commited relationship that she wants. We all do. If he cant give it to her than she is not getting what she needs from this relationship and should move on to find someone that can and will give her what she needs.

    Just my 2 cents :)

  15. 15
    M

    Oh ya…
    …I know she said she was 90% happy, and you were just speaking to that, but I dont think she can be that happy if she really wants more. It really is a sad thing. It overshadows the positives of the relationship. So maybe their interactions are positive, but she isn’t feeling good about the relationship…thats all I was saying :)

  16. 16
    Selena

    @M#15:

    It’s her last sentence that I’m thinking about: “I truly believe that a lot of couples don’t have what we have, but a lot of those couples still have more commitment…therein lies the rub…”

    Suppose she does breakup with this guy because he doesn’t want to live with her, where’s the guarantee she will find someone else she is happy with 90% of the time? Who considers her his best friend as well as his girlfriend? Who wants her to live with him? She could be “wasting her time” for another x number of years with a guy who doesn’t want to make a formal committment – and she could also waste the same amount years unhappily dating man after man like apparently many people who read this blog have/are.

    This is a circular argument: if he really loved her he’d give her the committment she wants; if he doesn’t give in, then he didn’t really love her. But if she really loved him, then why couldn’t she be content with having what alot of couples don’t have? And how much did she really love him if she was willing walk anyway?

    It seems hard enough to find someone to truly connect with that leaving a relationship where one is happy 90% of the time might just not be worth the gamble. So it goes to her to decide: how content/discontent is she with the relationship really?  Maybe you are right and she’s lying when she says she’s 90% happy. Or maybe that was just you.

  17. 17
    Selena

    @M #16:

    For anyone in this kind of situation I believe it comes down to which is more important to them: the committment, or the person.

    Personally I don’t think I could walk away from a relationship in which I was happy 90% of the time. But I’ve been in cohabitating relationships that often fell far short of that.

  18. 18
    Ruby

    I think you can be happy much of the time and still not want the same things out a relationship as your partner. But for many, many people those things are incredibly important: marriage, security, children, commitment beyond dating. Three years seems like enough time for the boyfriend to know.

  19. 19
    M

    Salena:
    She is not satisfied with that level of commitment, or she wouldn’t be emailing EMK for advice. It could possibley be just me, and just about every other person that posted on this board, but the bottom line is if she is getting her needs met. It doesn’t sound like she is, so as much as she loves this guy, he isn’t meeting her needs. Someone else will.
    There is nothing wrong with living with someone without marrying them, or for that matter staying a “living apart” couple, if that is what you want and need. She is saying she needs something different. If he doesn’t want to or can’t give that to her, than he’s not the one for her. She should not compromise that need to be with him or anyone. That is not “I need my morning coffee before 6 am” that is something a little more serious. You should not compromise needs to be with someone, you compromise on wants. 
    Yes, it is possible that she could leave him and never find someone else like him…but it’s more possible that she could leave him and find some one with similar future goals and desires that can and will make her happy.
    There are a lot of fish in the sea. If you know what you want, it is not that difficult to find.

  20. 20
    Steve

    Popular articles state that romantic love is state of the brain and that it impairs a person’s  judgment about who are in love with.   These articles also state that the delicious insanity of the brain state of “romantic love” only lasts between 1 – 3 years.

    So, if you believe that,  3 years doesn’t seem like a bad place to draw the line for deciding if a relationship should move on or not.   The buzz has cleared and you are free to take an objective look.

  21. 21
    Karl R

    Sophie said: (original letter)
    “I’m truly happy with him about 90% of the time.”

    What’s the other 10%? Frustrated? Annoyed? Even some abusive boyfriends are great guys 90% of the time. A lot depends on what that other 10% is like.

    Lynn said: (#3)
    “I question the *three year* milestone. [...] I would think that 1 – 2 years would be sufficient for commitment minded people.”

    I think that can vary with factors besides age. If someone is in a long-distance relationship where they only see each other once a month, that will slow things down. If someone feels urgency in starting a family, that will speed things up. For people like my girlfriend and I who don’t want kids, there’s no rush.

    However, I don’t see any of those factors in Sophie’s letter.

    Selena said: (#17)
    “Suppose she does breakup with this guy because he doesn’t want to live with her, where’s the guarantee she will find someone else she is happy with 90% of the time?”

    I’ve always believed that I could always do at least as well as I have in previous relationships. There are always tradeoffs (better in one area, not as good in another), but on an overall level, I have repeatedly done at least as well (or left because I hadn’t). That standard has moved up over the years because a couple girlfriends were distinctly better than anyone I’d ever dated before.

    I can’t guarantee that this will hold true for other people. A couple other factors may have contributed to my success. I have improved over the years: more attractive, more confident, better job/income (not the most important traits, but they open options). Furthermore, since I don’t want kids, I have the luxury of time. If it takes a year or two to find another great girlfriend, that’s preferable to spending years with someone who doesn’t meet that standard.

    My situation is not comparable to Sophie’s, so I can’t tell you whether she can do as well (or better). Based on my experiences, my knee-jerk reaction is that she (or anyone else) can find someone else who is as good.

  22. 22
    JB

    Without knowing these people’s stats ie: ages?,prior marriages?,kids? etc…. it’s impossible to know what to tell them because there’s so many variables. We need more info on all these “abstract/real situations”???
    Obviously it’s alot easier at 25 to cut and run and meet someone “new” and “fall in love” all over again. At 38-44…. good luck with that….LOL

    @Cat # 6 ….LOL That’s the story of my life,meeting or NOT meeting women on or offline who are so busy with their kids they can’t even make a date for 2 weeks from now…lol  ………….NEXT !

  23. 23
    Helen

    There’s another reason for Sophie to make herself less available: that is that someone who is so available (either male or female) is just not attractive or someone you can easily respect.  Katerina Phang mentioned this in the first comment.  Sophie is definitely coming off as a doormat in her letter.  I don’t say this to condemn her, because to a certain extent, society encourages all women to be self-sacrificial.  But it’s not good for us, and neither is it desirable to men.
     
    Making herself less available to this waffling boyfriend, taking a step back, will indicate respect for herself as well as providing him the distance he needs to make a decision, either in favor of or against taking the relationship to the next level.  No matter what happens, it is better for both parties.
     

  24. 24
    Selena

    Maybe her being not happy with him 10% of the time is enough reason for him not to want her living with him. And for her to re-think why she wants to live with him anyway.

  25. 25
    Christie Hartman

    This is a good example of an exception to the 90% Rule. You can be happy in a relationship 90% of the time, which is quite good, but if the relationship isn’t moving forward at a pace faster than, say, a snail’s, that 10% will be the Deal-Breaker. Three years? This dude sounds like a true Commitmentphobe. Shit or get off the pot. Avoiding your fears isn’t going to make them go away!
     
    “I’ve told him that I’ll wait and believe he’ll be worth it.”

    That’s fine for a while, but it has to have a time limit, and you’ve reached it. Why should he change if he doesn’t have to? Time to move on, Sophie. Hopefully he’ll face his fears and come after you.

  26. 26
    Katarina Phang

    Luxe, I’d recommend her either:
    1.  have the honest talk, that she can’t risk losing more years without getting what she really wants, so she will need to get out there and let other men who are ready and willing to step up to the plate find her.  It’s only fair.  She can say that she will only have sex with him but she will be open to other guys courting her.
     
    2.  Just do it anyway, show him with action by withdrawing.  He’ll get the message.
     
    Whatever she feels comfortable with.  The idea is not to put one’s eggs in one basket anymore.  Three years is enough time.

  27. 27
    Luxe

    @26 ROFL. Love the quote there!

    @24 Helen

    I don’t get how you make yourself more unavailable. By just not going to see him as often? By going out with friends more? That’s the only way I could think up of if I wanted to be come more unavailable to someone. Someone here mentioned to break up with him and date him and other men. I don’t see how that would work. I also don’t see how dating other men without a clean break would work, which is what I got out of post #1.

  28. 28
    Selena

    Re:#28

    Ofcourse if she did decide to see other men, she risks him not going along with that idea and breaking it off completely with her. And if she was prepared for that, why not just go ahead and make a clean break?

  29. 29
    Christie Hartman

    I can see the benefit of stepping back rather than just walking away, as Katarina and others have suggested. But it’s much easier said than done. You have to be disciplined. And it’s tough to be open to new people when your heart is still the original partner. A clean break done with kindness, and still staying in touch (to remind him of what he’s missing), may be the best way.
     
    But can she find someone else she’s compatible with who will commit? You bet she can.

  30. 30
    Katarina Phang

    A clean break is always easier said than done. Sometimes decreasing level of commitment is good enough and workable for both. Like in my case with my husband.  I met my new guy while still dating him.  It works for me (and bet for him too…granted somebody else might snatch me away sometime soon).  It makes me less needy and anxy and allows him to come to me and initiate all the contacts.
     
    Guys value their freedom more than love, initially.  When they have overcome the fear of losing their freedom by giving them a taste what it may feel to them losing love, they will hopefully start to rearrange their priorities.  And women can’t do it by clinging to them.
     
    So this is why dating as many guys help.  It gives her the sense of empowerment and her boyfriend a space to think things through while seeing her far more attractive for the scarcity factor (less available) and more self-confidence (the goddess/diva vibe).
     
    It’s a winning strategy for both

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>