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
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.