How Long Should You Stay With A Boyfriend Who Does Not Believe In Marriage?

How Long Should You Stay With A Boyfriend Who Does Not Believe In Marriage?
Dear Evan,

First of all, I love your advice. In fact, it’s because of your advice that I’m in my first serious, long-term relationship. (We’ve been together a year and a half and live together.) Now, however, I’m confused about the state of my relationship.

See, ever since we started dating – even before we started dating and knew each other through friends – I knew this guy didn’t believe in marriage.

I know you’re going to say: “Why didn’t you pay attention to the negatives?” I can honestly say I didn’t realize at that point that it mattered to me. I’m fairly young (late 20s) and it is just beginning to dawn on me that I’d like to get married. Now I realize how much I do want to get married to the person I love. He still doesn’t believe in it. He believes in long-term commitment and family, but not marriage (his family history is pretty rocky). I said to him that I don’t want to wait, and if I weren’t engaged after a couple years together I would think of moving on.

This really hurts him – to him, BECAUSE I want to marry him and wouldn’t just want a relationship, it means I love him less. He’s offered the following compromise: in a few years, when we decide to have kids, then we can get married. I’m scared, though. Is it stupid to wait that long? And is it a bad idea to marry someone who is basically like “fine, fine, we can get married.” I know he loves me and is committed to me, but I wonder how healthy that is.

Now I feel that this big difference in values is constantly hanging over me, and is making me feel negatively about things.

For a point of reference: our relationship is pretty good. We rarely argue (I would say we’ve had about 3 large arguments in our relationship, and maybe a smaller disagreement every couple of weeks.) We both want kids. We both have our irritating habits but we accept them. –Katie

Dear Katie,

Thanks for your kind words. I’m thrilled that you found a serious, long-term relationship using my advice, and I’m candidly delighted that you even quoted the advice you ignored about “ignoring the positives and believing the negatives”.

It would be easy for me to tell you to run from him. But I’m not so positive that you would be closer to achieving your goal that way.

Except now the chickens are coming home to roost. Or something like that.

Listen, I can’t tell you anything about your relationship that you don’t already know.

I think it’s unfortunate that he has such a distorted view of marriage that he’s given up on it as an institution.

I think it’s great that you’re trying to understand where he’s coming from – how it hurts him that he feels that HE’S not enough without a ring on your finger.

I think it’s telling that he attempted to come up with a mutually agreeable compromise, especially since it’s one where, apparently, you get exactly what you’ve always wanted: a husband, a ring, and a baby

So you’re faced with the timeless dilemma that all women face – should I stay or should I go? This very question was the topic of an hour long FOCUS Coaching call so believe me, I’ve got a lot more to say about it than I can compress into a single blog post.

It would be easy for me to tell you to run from him. I’m sure some of the other readers will say just that. But I’m not so positive that you would be closer to achieving your goal that way. And what we’re always trying to figure out here is effective vs. ineffective – what’s the best way for Katie to achieve her dream of marriage and kids with a man she loves?

So here’s the reason I think you might want to stay and make things work:

As Dale Carnegie pointed out many years ago, people don’t want to be sold; people want to choose.

You meet a pushy car salesman who wants to give you a great deal and won’t let you off the lot until you buy…and you’re not gonna buy from him.

That same car salesman takes the time to ask you what you’re looking for in a car: speed, price, mileage, safety…and you WILL buy from him, because you’re getting to choose on your terms, without any pressure.

The way you have the greatest leverage over your man is if he can’t imagine his life without you.

This is what women routinely forget when they’re angling for marriage. The more you pressure him to know that he wants to spend every day of the rest of his life with you and give you half of his income if he’s wrong, the less he’s going to want to do it.

So your arbitrary timelines: six months, nine months, one year, a year and a half… they don’t mean anything to your boyfriend. They’re arbitrary ticking clocks that you’ve created to justify your insecurity about investing time in one man. If you push for marriage too soon, before he’s ready, you will not get married to him. The woman who does get married to him will be the one who is patient enough to let him choose her.

The way you have the greatest leverage over your man is if he can’t imagine his life without you. One and a half years into knowing my wife, I could easily imagine life without her. Three years in, and I would be a hopeless, lonely, drooling idiot without her.

Your age, Katie, is a considerable factor. If you invest two or three more happy years in your boyfriend and decide to have kids at age 32, then you will likely get everything you want.

If, for some reason, your live-in boyfriend of 4 ½ years – a man who is virtually a common law husband – a man who says he loves you and wants to be a father someday – if, for some reason, he balks at marriage before kids, THEN you dump him.

However, unless your boyfriend is a liar, such behavior would be entirely illogical and inexplicable. And since he’s your boyfriend, I’m not counting on him being a liar.

I think he’s a good man who loves you, wants to be a dad, but wants to make sure he’s not making a huge mistake like so many others he knows.

Enjoy your relationship, become indispensable to him, and he will voluntarily want to lock you in for life when you’re both ready to have kids.

Remember, men act in their own self-interests and it’s in his self-interest to keep the woman he loves the most.

If I’m wrong, you would still be 32 and have your prime dating years ahead of you.

This woman and this woman gave their relationships 2-3 years to fully cement and ended up getting the marriage they always desired. It just took a little more patience.

If you think he’s “the one,” then I think it’s worth the risk. Good luck.


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  1. 1

    FWIW,  I don’t think much of marriage either.  Unless raising children is in involved marriage doesn’t do much for two adults beyond mundane things like health insurance.   It wouldn’t be a statement of my love for a woman.
    Your BF said he is willing to marry you after several years if you both want children.   That is everything you want and the way things should be.  A couple spends time together and they know if they can make it as a couple, long term,  before bringing a child in the world.
    I know that you WANT him to WANT to marry you.  I think you are missing the boat on that.   Marriage is nothing but a legal contract.  What you want is to be convinced of his love for you and his commitment to you.  Those things exist apart from the marriage and in a way he has demonstrated them by being willing to do something he doesn’t believe in to be WITH YOU.
    You haven’t mentioned how long you have dated him.  Why not date him for at least 3 years?  After that point you will know if he is willing to stick around or not and you will both know each other very well.

    1. 1.1

      I used to agree with the above, and was almost violently anti-marriage. My 7 year long relationship was awesome and we were moving forward in life like we were on fire. And then he developed obsessive compulsive disorder, and his life effectively ended as he quit his graduate program, job, and our relationship.

      And there I was, with no meaningful recourse for the loss of shared belongings, the money I’d invested in his future, the sacrifices made to support this person.

      And now, a legal contract called marriage sounds really damned great. My opinion is now, if a guys wants years of my time and emotional commitment, then “put a ring on it” because I am not going to get used and let devastated again in the name of”commitment is more than paper.” The paper IS the commitment, clear as day, and made public.

      1. 1.1.1

        Exactly, if it’s just a piece of paper, why not sign it? Also, we, as women don’t have that much time to waste, specially if we want to have children.

        1. Anonymous

          Spoken like a true chick. Women risk nothing and gain everything in marriage which is one of the main reasons women rush to it. Even prenups get thrown out of court at incredible rates these days leaving men to lose, in some cases, their entire lives just because she wanted out of the marriage. MEN SHOULD NOT BE FOOLED INTO THE SUICIDAL MALAISE MARRIAGE HAS BECOME. The wedding is nothing more then a party ABOUT HER, the ring and marriage certificate is nothing more then a gun pointed at a man’s head and that’s where it all ends because women simply do NOT want anything real to do with the “marriage”. 

        2. Julie

          Because unmarried women do not have the rights that married women do.  You’re basically giving him 100% and getting nothing in return.  I would get married asap or start opening up to other options and not waste any more of your precious years. 

      2. 1.1.2

        I have trouble with someone who says they believe in marriage to get back at their ex with a psychological disorder. I realize you can’t see a psych issue, but it’s the same as a medical issue–there’s something wrong with him, and it’s not really his fault. Even if you’d been married, he would probably have ended up on Medicaid, because he can’t work, and YOU would end up owing HIM, not the other way around.
        Also, independent women do not go for their ex’s jugular. It’s not necessary.
        Sorry Evan, I dislike when someone says things like this. I pity the person who marries someone who only gets married so if they break up they get paid.

      3. 1.1.3
        Right on

        I wish more people thinking like you. Don’t waste your time if you don’t get a ring, and wedding,that is commitment. Don’t be cheap people.

        1. John

          No, it’s not commitment.  It is buying into a 1930’s marketing campaign by the DeBeers diamond group.  “Engagement” rings didn’t exist until DeBeers decided it needed to exist.  I should work for Porsche and have them start a marketing campaign called the “Engagement” car for men.  THAT is a commitment, and it shows how strongly a women loves her man.  See how ridiculous that sounds?  Maybe a catchy slogan:  Show him that your love is just as strong as his.  Porsche.

      4. 1.1.4

        I agree with this 100%. Why put 5 years or 7 years of hard  work sacrifice in trying for him to see that he doesnt see his life with out you, when you could go out and find someone that wants the same things in life as you. Plus who would want to respond to someone by saying my bf is willing to marry me, that makes it seem like you are trying to control him and like you are making him. 

      5. 1.1.5
        Vive la vida

        I certainly agree w You CJ, i wasted 10 years of life! It was all about him and the demands he wanted.. I pleased him, spoiled him, loved him w al my heart.. He bounced in and out, until i finally gave him an ultimatum, we either get married or we split.. The only thing i saw beneficial here was the benefits at work.. So when he said he did not believe in marriage, I said perfect! I dont believe in investing without a return, so I walked! Its still hard to think back but moving forward is the best decision ever.. :)

  2. 2

    I’d reccomend patience.
    If your relationship is solid, as you say in your writing, and everything else works and you really want to be with him, waiting three more years should be a reasonable compromise.

    And given the fact that early you mentioned he did not believe in marriage and you knew before you started dating, it seems to show his character that he actually compromised to do so.

    Changing paradigms like that is not easy. And it seems he needs the three years to make absolutely sure that choosing marriage is the right path for him to take.

  3. 3

    A friend of mine believes in marriage but her boyfriend of 5yrs didnt. They’ve been living together, travelled the world together, go on lots of wild adventures together, they were basically perfect together. Yet, my friend was walking on eggshells everyday trying to figure out whether he’s ever going to propose to her or not. They have talked about it, but he never gave her a proper confirmation as to whether he wants to get married, he thinks that domestic partnership is enough.

    So what my friend did was that she would subtly make small remarks or fun little comments that hint towards marriage (e.g. “Hey, Melissa & Jake are getting married soon, isnt that great?” or something like “that wedding scene in the movie was so romantic!”) Ok well maybe more subtle than these, but you get the point. My friend did this almost every day but only when the topic comes up. And then finally, when they hit their 6-yr mark, the guy suddenly proposed to her! And now they’re married with a cute baby boy.

    So yes you should let men be free to make their own choices when it comes to marriage, it might take a while for him to be ready. But at the same time you shouldn’t suffer too much from this uncertainty, if you are then maybe you would be better off finding someone else. Otherwise, like Evan says, enjoy & focus on the Present, not the Future.

    1. 3.1

      Why do you live with a guy before marriage if you want him to marry you. I am not getting this at all.

    2. 3.2

      At the start of the story it sounded like me and my boy friend.  In everyway until later on.
      We are now together 12 yrs+ and I have aged and changed in a way that is not attractive anymore and being 59 well I am lost with this subject.  I have given my all but tired and we have now also lived together past 2 yrs.  I have waited hinted, cried, talked but he never gave me a ring or planned to marry.  He is able to live comfortable for him.  But for me I cannot afford to live without his help.  With saying this I don’t want to wind up any older and alone with nothing.  So I AM STUPID!!!  But today I sent him away and not sure what to do with the situation I am in.  I am lost and sad.  I was thin, attractive, and young when we started out but now?  Just sad with no answer to what to do.  I feel so stupid.  To old to start again. 
      Just lost with what is right. 

  4. 4

    This is why I’m not a fan of living together before marriage, unless you’re engaged. The man has all the domesticity he wants without having to commit to marriage. 

    However, if you both want kids, and that wasn’t something either one of you were sure about prior to getting together, that changes things, doesn’t it? It’s a pretty good reason to marry. And I’ve read lots of research that has said that men are most motivated to commit in the first 2 years (maybe 3 if you are under 30) or so of a relationship, so I don’t think these timelines are completely arbitrary. 

    How long should you wait? I’m not sure, but I think that when you really begin to feel strongly about having children, that would be a good time to revisit this. Remember, too, that an engagement can last for a year or two, so you may not want to wait too long before at least getting engaged.

    1. 4.1

      Yes, living together before being at least married puts women at a disadvantage. It’s giving men all they need without the effort of actually committing to anything. 

      1. 4.1.1

        I couldn’t agree more.  Men don’t see the reason to propose and get married while they are already living together in a domestic long term relationship.  But if any other women are like me, they need to know if this is a serious relationship and not just friends with benefits.  Sometimes I feel unwanted and undesirable when my bf says that marriage is stupid and that he doesn’t want to get married. It makes me feel like there is something wrong with me that makes me unworthy of marriage.   Marriage means something to me and I feel let down when he always says that marriage is stupid.  I think it shows dedication to me and our lives together and that I am not just some friend with benefits all the time.  hurts my feelings to hear that my dreams are pointless and meaningless to him. Guys should take that into consideration. Sometimes us ladies just want to feel “claimed” and wanted, even if boys think it is dumb.  Sometimes its not about you.  Sometimes it is about making your lady happy.

  5. 5

    More and more people are choosing not to marry and are leading happy lives. A new book by a (presumably) happily married male sociologist with 2 little kids (putting that in so that you can leave aside any ad hominem attacks on his research) describes this trend in detail. He had an op-ed about it in the NY Times this past weekend. You can read it here:

    The point: There is nothing wrong with his lack of interest in marriage, and while you see it as a “negative” or the result of some kind of psychological damage, you might consider that your take on his lack of interest might be wrong. Choosing to remain single is a positive intention for many people, the research now tells us, and it might be so for him. His desire to stay unmarried may never change, no matter how great your relationship is.  So would you consider staying with him without the ring and the contract if all else is in place?

    I predict that we’re going to be seeing more of this kind of friction between lovers as time goes on–I mean, this demographic shift is huge–and there are no easy answers. The conflict doesn’t fall out along traditional gender lines, either. Just as many women are saying no to marriage as are men. Maybe more, if you look at divorced/widowed–the women are less likely than the men to say they want to remarry (acc to the sociologist above). 

    To the readers here: Please don’t take what I’m saying as an attack on marriage or on your desire to find “the one.” If that’s for you, go for it. Just respect that not everyone wants that, and, evidently, fewer people want that than was previously thought. It’s important to understand where the other person is coming from and to accept it, not try to change it, not hope that he (or she) is going to “come around.” And if you believe that there is something wrong with a man or woman who doesn’t want marriage, then you’re going to lose that relationship because no one is going to stay with you if you’re always putting out that that other person a loser, or damaged, or not moral, or immature for not wanting the lifestyle that you want.

    1. 5.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Diane, thou dost protest too much. No one is attacking anyone. The OP said that her boyfriend “believes in long-term commitment and family, but not marriage (his family history is pretty rocky).”

      Thus, we can conclude two things: 1) That he doesn’t choose to remain single – he believes in long-term commitment and family. 2) That his lack of interest in marriage is specifically due to his rocky upbringing, thus suggesting some psychological damage.

      The article you posted was about people who choose to remain single and unencumbered by long-term romantic relationships, which means that they can go to art openings and take spontaneous weekends away whenever they want. Good for those people. It just has nothing to do with the original question, which is about a man who wants EVERYTHING that a marriage offers…without the ring on his finger. No one is judging those who don’t want marriage but if this guy wants everything associated with marriage and his girlfriend wants marriage, one of them is going to have to change their minds…and, in the long-term, it’s probably him.

      1. 5.1.1

        Evan, What about a couple one and a half years into a relationship, living together, very in love who have been making plans for their future together, she thinking it means marriage he recently stating he doesn’t believe in marriage?

        1. Deb

          I might add he did say she might be the one to talk him into it. 

      2. 5.1.2

        Makes sense. 

  6. 6

    EMK@6; Actually, the article doesn’t go into any detail at all about whether those folks who are living single are romantically involved with anyone else or in what way they are (gay, abstinate, polyamorous, committed but living apart, into casual liaisons, with children, without children, etc.). Statistics on “singles” or “unmarrieds” would include all sorts of romantic attachments, just as statistics on “marrieds” would (gay, abstinate, polyamorous, committed but living apart, into casual liaisons, with children, without children, etc.). So I would say that the boyfriend can want long-term commitment and kids and still not want to get married. I’d say that because there are many, many people out there who are in just this kind of situation.   

    I made the comment about people perceiving what I’m saying as an  “attack on marriage” (not on a person or people, as you suggest I am saying) because I’ve read that kind of stuff on here on other posts.

    Also, just to point out one other not-so-small thing–people who come from rocky upbringings are not necessarily psychologically damaged, and people who come from stable upbringings are not necessarily psychologically healthy. To attribute his lack of interest in marriage to some kind of trauma is a very simplistic understanding of mental health and relationship and is exactly the kind of misinformation that I was suggesting that people stop bandying about. We know better now.

    I would also say that until we speak with him we can’t conclude anything. I take people at their word. If someone says to me that they don’t want to get married, I believe them, without judgment or psychoanalyzing them. I figure that they probably know better than I do what they want and what is best for them. If I think they should get married, or that they should get married to me, or that they will get married to me even if they say they don’t want to, who sounds crazy?  

  7. 7

    The OP might want to ask herself why she wants to get married. What is it exactly about marriage that she feels is essential to their relationship? I say this because a lot of folks, especially those with less experience with long term relationships, tend to have Hollywood and fairy-tale like views of marriage. Furthermore, they’re more likely to be reacting to social pressure from friends and family, than those who have “been around the block” more.
    She also might want to, if she hasn’t already, really sit down and solicit what her boyfriend’s objections are – in detail. Without any pressure to talk about their relationship status. It’s hard to know if his “compromise” is unhealthy or not because we don’t know in more detail what his objections to marriage are, or if he’s just offering to get married later to keep the OP around.
    Evan assumes he has given up on marriage. Perhaps he has. Or perhaps he wants it to look differently than the models he has seen around himself. Or perhaps he questions the way in which it’s viewed by many as the only possible “good” outcome of a relationship. I have had a lot of conversations with friends who aren’t interested in marriage, or who are – like myself – on the fence about it. And there are countless reasons why they think as they do. Some maybe are stemming from a failure to deal with past family trauma, but a lot are simply viewing relationships in a different manner from what was given to us by society.

  8. 8

    I think that the pressures that women used to exert on men to get married are working less and less these days. As others point out, nobody has to get married to anybody anymore to have what marriage offers. So little hints and waiting around and hoping he’ll take those hints and notice your foot tapping away may not work in the long run.

    I say that if you’re sure that you want to be married and he’s said that he really doesn’t, cut your losses and go find someone else who does want to get married. It isn’t fair to waste his time and put him through all of the trauma of thinking that he has a life partner on one set of terms but then giving him an ultimatum because one day you’ve decided enough time has gone by for him to change–especially when he’s been clear about not wanting to get married all along, & you knew all along that you were going to bail if he didn’t propose.

    My sister is big into giving guys ultimatums. It works, she says. She should know–at 43 she’s on her third marriage. My brother was on the receiving end of pressure to marry his long-term girlfriend and gave in. That also ended in divorce. And many of the divorced guys I know complain about not having wanted to be married to begin with, but that the woman (or the family or whoever) pressured him into it. The guy may love a woman and not want to lose her but not want to be married. Women shouldn’t take advantage of his feelings or of the social pressure to make him do something that he doesn’t want to do. It may not backfire, but it also stands a really big chance of backfiring. Wouldn’t it be better not to have to deal with that and just find someone who’s on the same page as you? If lots of people want to get married then it’s just a matter of going out with guys from that pool and not going out with guys clearly not in that pool.

    It’s not just about getting the ring, it’s about what happens after.

  9. 9

    I have seen cases where one partner, who strongly wanted marriage, immediately wanted the relationship to change, to match more with his/her idea of marriage. The OP then feels trapped or deceived, having expected the relationship/person to be the same as before the ceremony.  Yes, it can also work out just fine, but people need to tread carefully.

  10. 10

    My darling, wonderful, amazing boyfriend of 4 years also doesn’t believe in marriage, but also wanted a life partner and long term commitment- but we don’t intend to have kids, so there is even less legal reason to get hitched.  However, similar to your boyfriend, he knows its important to me.  When we decided to move in together I made it very clear that I wanted to get married, but was willing to do it on a timeline he felt more comfortable with.  For him, that was after he and paid off a good chunk of his student loan debt.
    We’re planning to get engaged this year and married next – is he jumping for joy?  No. But is he willing to do this thing that means so much to me?  Yes.  There are times where I wish I had a guy who was so “head over heels in love with me” that he HAD to marry me, but I realized that my guy is so head over heels in love with me that he’s willing to do something he would rather not in order to keep me and make me happy.
    Sure, there’s always the chance that he’ll not be able to do it when the time comes, but I believe deep down that it won’t happen.  If I know nothing else, it is that he is a man of his word.  My point is that it’s not about the romance of a man desperately wanting to marry you – but knowing that this is a man you can compromise and build a life with.

  11. 11

    I see marriage as a great legal way to get your financial stuff in order as a family, if you’re going to depend on each other physically and financially. Being able to add each other to your medical insurance is pretty high on the list. Personally I don’t plan on remarrying, but that’s because I’m done raising a family and at this point I’m just out to enjoy life and have fun together as a couple. That, of course, may change, but at least it’s where I stand at the moment. If I were in a relationship where we planned on owning a house and having kids together, I’d sleep a lot better at night if we were legally married. That said, Katie’s BF seems to be of the same mindset, since he’s OK with getting married when they start having kids.

  12. 12

    I’m curious about why he doesn’t want to marry. I can honestly say that I have two friends who are in a satisfying longterm relationships without marriage. Both my friends and their significant others are declared atheists (one is American, one French), without a chip on their shoulders, generally happy, gainfully employed, good relationships with their families, etc. I think that unless the individual holds particular philosphophical views (like these people) about why they don’t want to have a legal marriage, I am not convinced that he/she will have a satisfying longterm relationship. I have a very close friend who tried to believe that she didn’t care, but she did and it turns out that her now ex-husband was too chicken to break things off. She got him to marry her, he had an affair with a coworker while she was pregnant.

  13. 13

    Ooh! This is fun. And nobody has said anything mean yet.
    Thanks for your great advice, Evan.
    I think I sent that email a month and a half ago… obviously, I knew that a busy dating guru would take some time getting to my dilemma so I had to sort of figure things out myself. I told my significant other that I would leave it alone for the time being, but that marriage is still important to me. I haven’t brought up the topic with him since then, which I think was a good choice on my part.
    I know it will come up again in the future, and I’m not looking forward to that day, but at least for now I have taken the pressure off him.
    Who knows why I care about marriage? I’ve never been the type of woman who has fantasized about the fairy-tale wedding or catching a husband. I’ve had a lot of positive single female role models in my family, so I’ve always thought that it could be possible for me to have a full happy life as a single person.
    But, I always sort of assumed that if/when I did meet a wonderful partner, it would lead to marriage. I guess it’s just the value I was raised with. 
    Does it change anything that we are planning to immigrate to another country in about six months’ time? I sort of thought it would be good to sort these things out before making such a big life change together.
    As it turns out, some other potential incompatibilities have surfaced over the last few months. In the interest of working at the relationship and not discarding a good man for the hope of an impossible ideal, I/we have been trying to sort through these snags. I think we are working them out. But it has made me realize that I should probably stress less about HIS problems with marriage, and spend the next while evaluating whether he would actually be the right husband for me. 
    Thanks for your kind words, again. I especially like the part where you say when I’ll be 32 I’ll still have so many good years ahead. That is refreshingly optimistic.

  14. 14

    @ Katie “Does it change anything that we are planning to immigrate to another country in about six months’ time?”
    This may change a lot! My family came from my home country to the US on a refugee status, our close friends came on the husband’s student visa, a number of people I know came on the husband’s or wife’s work visa… in all those cases, if the man and the woman hadn’t been legally married, I really cannot think of a way they could’ve both come here together as a couple. There wouldn’t be any legal ground for the other person to come here. I guess it depends on the country and the type of immigration.
    “As it turns out, some other potential incompatibilities have surfaced over the last few months”
    I was wondering when you said in your letter that you two never had arguments. To me, for a (relatively) new couple, arguments are a way of locating any possible issues and working them out together.  If the couple has never or hardly ever argued in the whole time they’re together, then in all likelihood something is being swept under the rug :( Of course by arguing I mean having civil constructive discussions, not screaming matches.
    Thanks for the update and good luck with whatever you two decide!

  15. 15

    Let me start with this… everyone has the right to their feelings about marriage. If one doesn’t want marriage, fine. If one does, fine. I don’t think people need to necessarily go through a ton of mental gymnastics to explain what they want or don’t want.
    As for me, marriage was always a given. A man uninterested in marriage was an immediate dealbreaker for me. I made no apologies for that… in fact, almost four years ago, a decent six-month relationship ended because the guy said he didn’t know if he’d be ready to think about marriage for at least three years (note, I was 30, he was 38). Not marry in three years, but think about marriage. He knew how I felt from the beginning, so my answer wasn’t a surprise. I said no dice. Didn’t give him an ultimatum (I don’t believe in those either), but just said that our beliefs and desires on marriage were incompatible.
    So we broke up. I met my husband six months later, he proposed a year after our first date, and we married seven months after our engagement. I sometimes shudder to think that I could have missed out on the love of my life because I was giving that other guy space and a chance… instead of celebrating one year of marriage (and a pregnancy), I’d probably be in the throes of a breakup with that guy who clearly had desires that were incompatible with mine.
    Meanwhile, I have a girlfriend who met a guy around the same time I met the first guy. He told her from the beginning that he didn’t believe in marriage (because of what he saw in his family, etc.). She gave him a chance, knowing she wanted to be married. Two years later, she let him go, noticing that he had not only not changed his mind, she had not met one family member of his during that time. She considers it a waste of two years and says she should have paid attention from the beginning to what he said. She’s 37 and back out there trying to date.
    My point is simply that if you want marriage Katie, you have every right to desire that and you don’t have to twist yourself and your desires to fit your boyfriend’s. 

    1. 15.1

      This comment is very reasonable and and the same time makes me have more hope. There are very smart and open minded people here.

  16. 16

    @Goldie #15 – Actually, in the country where we are going common-law relationships have the same legal status as marriage. 
    Yes, we almost NEVER argued at all in practically the first year of our relationship. I believe that some disagreements/arguments are healthy, but he really doesn’t like confrontation. I’ve adapted to that, more or less.

  17. 17

    As others have touched on, I think it is important to realise that “marriage” means very different things to different people. It is not a single,straightforward concept. For some people, marriage is a symbol of their love and commitment, made public to the world. For others, it is a religious concept, to do with being right before God and bound in a spiritual union. For others it is an important legal arrangement offering stability and financial protection.For some, it is a mark of social status, a sort of “belonging to a club”, the ticket to certain social circles which function according to traditional norms.   In some cultures, it is a political arrangement to strengthen business arrangements and improve your power base.

    Katie, you said “Who knows why I care about marriage?” Well, if you don’t really know the answer to that, I think it would really  benefit your relationship for you to work it out in some detail. What does marriage symbolise to you? What does it give you? Because the problem is that whatever it symbolises to you will fester in your mind as “What my partner is NOT offering me”…. when in fact, this may not be the case at all. After working out what marriage means to you, you then need to ask your partner what it symbolises to HIM. These two things may be the same, or they may be totally different. What I’m getting at here is that if marriage to you symbolises “economic protection” or “total commitment” and your boyfriend won’t marry you, then in your mind you are thinking “he doesn’t want to offer me economic protection.”or “he doesn’t want to offer me total commitment”.  But if, to your boyfriend, marriage symbolises “a religious bond before God” and THIS is the concept he rejects, you may actually discover that he has no problem offering you economic protectionor total commitment, which is actually what you are looking for. Him saying he doesn’t want to get married imples (in your mind) that he is unwilling to give you those things, when in fact he may be perfectly happy to give you those things, he just doesn’t use the terminology “marriage” to describe it.   If however, your concepts of marriage are the SAME, and he doesn’t want it, then in that situation, you DO have a problem. In that case yes, he IS withholding the thing that you want because he doesn’t want to give you that. But at the very least, you will have clarified the situation, which sounds rather ill defined at present.

    1. 17.1

      Helene’s is the most sound piece of advice on this entire board. You have to determine what marriage means to you and what it means to him, and try to see eye to eye. Just like you would with everything else you decide on together. 

      My fiancé and I met in somewhat unique circumstances. I had just moved away from my hometown to start my adult life on my own in NYC (I was only 25). He had been doing something similar for a few years, in Seattle–nobody in his family understood what kind of life he was trying to lead, because it was just so different. We found each other online, and I believe that that was destined. I think we were both searching for someone who thought the same way we did.

      Shortly after I moved to New York, he moved there as well, but a week before that move, my father died tragically. I tried breaking up with my fiancé many times while I was dealing with that situation, because I knew I could not give enough of myself to the relationship. I had to give it to my grief. My career plans were also put on hold. But he was incredibly patient, and knew how much he loved me, even then. He stayed with me because he had faith that someday I would be OK again (and this was after knowing me only three months), and he never stopped supporting me and my dream of making it in New York. And I never stopped supporting him.

      The trouble with women who start getting anxious about when a man is going to propose, I find, is that half the time what they’re worried about is how they look to other women. They start getting confused and they start comparing the man they are with to every other man. They wonder, what does it mean about me if my one friend’s husband is doing this, or my other friend’s boyfriend is doing that? It’s almost as though your man is a commodity, the Ken to your Barbie. It’s a rather consumerist way of looking at love.

      Because my relationship with my fiancé developed somewhat in a vacuum (i.e., online, away from our families, while dealing with a tragedy, in a city filled with tons of people), we had the luxury to really get to know each other separate from too much outside influence. He is very much an individual and not the type of person who does something unless he truly believes in it. And he has helped me to learn how to be more true to myself, too, even if that self is different from other people. I am more in touch with my inner strength because of holding true to this philosophy and could not survive some of the things I have in my life without it.

      It wasn’t until we’d had several years of relative security in our careers, home life and family’s lives, that the pressure started. As I said above, about consumerism, I think people reach a point where they want to stop striving for things and instead sit back and start acquiring things. It’s as if they’ve figured out who they are, so now they are ready to start building their empire. They become attached to things, homes, cars, places–their identity is no longer just their own. And they place that attachment on the person they’re with, too.

      Too many women fall into this trap, and then they put pressure on themselves to be a perfect wife or perfect mother and lose themselves in the process. Trying to become a perfect bride is only the beginning.

      I’m saying this as someone who bought into the pressure for a few years there. I let people convince me that despite all the odds I had overcome in my life, despite the amazing person I had become, something was just plain missing if my long-term boyfriend, the one who had been there longer than anyone else’s significant other, wasn’t into proposing to me. So I extended that pressure onto him, and it almost ruined our relationship.

      To this day, he still doesn’t believe marriage and a wedding are necessary. But you know what else he doesn’t believe is necessary in order to love someone? Lots of things. Tons of things, things without which every single other guy I dated before him would have left me. I’ve been sick, out of work, scared, grieving, 40 pounds overweight, 20 pounds underweight, the list goes on. Not one thing I’ve ever taken away from our relationship or given to it monetarily has changed his unwavering commitment to me.

      He is marrying me simply because he knows it will be a nice ceremony, it will make me happy, and he will likely enjoy it as well. But he doesn’t require that ring, and eventually I came to realize that neither do I.

      The month he proposed to me was the same in which I’d had a breast cancer scare. Your priorities really shift when your whole life flashes before your eyes. It was in those few weeks that I realized what really mattered, and a ring was not one of those things. And he was happy to see that my love for him was so truly unconditional that I’d decided I’d be happy to just spend my life with him, wedding or no wedding.  

  18. 18

    @18 Very interesting thoughts, I hadn’t thought about that. I guess my definition would be the first one your wrote, “marriage is a symbol of their love and commitment, made public to the world.”

  19. 19

    I tend to agree with Ruby @4. Based on what I’ve read and seen among friends, if a woman is serious about wanting to get married, she loses her leverage if she lives with her boyfriend. For a guy, living with a girlfriend makes it seem like he’s “sort of” married. He will likely put off the bigger decision (to make it official) for as long as he can. Some couples who live together end up having children, and then the guy may decide he wants to be with someone else, leaving the mother of his children stranded, financially compromised, and likely heart broken.

  20. 20

    Katie can be patient and wait as long as she wishes but if I were her, I wouldn’t live with him prior to marriage (if it ever happens).
    The facts are she has a man who doesn’t believe in marriage. Imagine moving in, setting up house, mixing finances, and doing every other conceivable ‘married’ behavior sans the  marriage. He’ll likely find even LESS reason to marry then.
    He can say, “everything is wonderful the way that it is. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
    She can still hope that if they decide to have kids, he’ll honor his promise to marry then. But he may not. AND, what if the pregnancy isn’t planned. What if it’s a surprise? He may say, “I don’t want to rush and get married just because you got pregnant. Let’s wait until you have the baby.”
    There can always be a reason to wait, and wait, and wait.
    The point is: How easy will it be to leave at any of these stages? After years of living together, investing time, home, money and possibly a child too? I’ve seen women find themselves in this situation.
    If you want marriage and you’re with a man who isn’t on board, don’t live with him now or even after the ring is on the finger. Wait until you’re actually married.

  21. 21

    Regarding marriage – I think there’s something wrong either with the man or the relationship if it doesn’t happen. I believe one hundred percent that men are programmed to marry and if they won’t marry the woman they’re with, something is up. What is it? I haven’t figured that out, but as women, I think we do a disservice by trying.

    I will run screaming (and I have) from any new man in my life if he starts telling me he doesn’t want to get married. It indicates to me that he is controlling the future of your relationship without consulting you. That he doesn’t even need to get to know you or experience what a relationship with you is like before he makes up his mind. He’s basically TELLING you, like it or leave it. Doesn’t sound like much of a partnership to me.
    My story: 

    I took the track of waiting for my guy to come around to marriage and I’ll tell you what happened.

    We developed a close and loving bond. His family loves me. I’ve been with him during health problems and the death of his father. I feel that I can be my real self with him, ALL my best memories include him and losing him would feel like committing suicide it would feel so wrong and self harming.

    The problem? All this has happened over 16 years of waiting. We don’t live together and in fact, I moved three hours away for college 10 years ago and now we commute. There are no plans to live together, there are no plans to marry. Although he claims if I got pregnant that would “force” him to get over his “issues.” (religion is his biggest road block, which I think is super ironic).

    I am now 36 years old and suddenly, time no longer feels like it’s in endless supply. I have tried dating in the past, but I am so entangled with him that I probably need major time alone and therapy first just to be a suitable partner to someone new.

    I am trying to escape the relationship because I am tired of being alone 95% of the time. I don’t have a real partner or even a real life – I live with one foot in two cities. All the back and forth just adds stress and compromises my ability to handle my responsibilities.

    No matter how great you think someone is – there is something extremely important to be said about their ability to be a partner. 

  22. 22

    Another thought: Marriage is not the most important thing to me. I was unhappily married for many years, and as much as I want to great relationship in my life, getting married again, in my 50’s, isn’t on the top of my list. However, if I met the right man and marriage was really important to him, then of course, I would marry him. These choices and trade offs come up all the time in life. Katie’s boyfriend knows how much she wants to get married and he’s not stepping up. That could be an answer unto itself.

  23. 23

    Let me get this straight.
    1) The guy has “such a distorted view of marriage that he’s given up on it as an institution.” 2) The guy is psychologically damaged because he doesn’t want to get married. 3) EMK came around and got married, and all guys are like EMK, so this guy will come around and get married, too.
    This is a whole lot of BS to dump on a guy who isn’t even speaking for himself here.

    1. 23.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Yeah, you got that completely wrong, Dan. The guy DOES have a negative view of marriage from his childhood. You can act like that won’t negatively impact his worldview, but, by and large, everything that children see when they have poor parental role models negatively impacts their worldview. So there are your first two points. As for the third point, that if I got married that every man will want to get married, that’s obviously not the case.

      What is the case is that a man is more likely to get married when it’s on HIS terms, because he’s built a life with an indispensable woman who gets him, loves him, appreciates him and isn’t asking him to change. And if he moves in with the OP, has an amazing life, and wants kids – and the only way for him to do it is to get married, then I predict he’s going to get married. What exactly is wrong with that line of reasoning?

  24. 24


    I’ve dealt with women who “didn’t like confrontation.” I tried to accommodate this.  It led to disaster.  If you avoid talking about small problems, they will become BIG problems later.  One woman in particular didn’t like confrontation because she grew up in a family that couldn’t have civil, calm discussions.  Maybe your BF is like that, but its something that will have to change for there to be long term success.

    It’s also sad that so many women feel like they have to beg men to marry them.  Begging men, issuing ultimatums and the like are recipes for disaster.  If you pressure a man into marrying you, he will eventually resent it and it will likely lead to divorce.  A man has to want to marry you.  If a man doesn’t want to marry you, but marriage is important to you, you should end the relationship.  Find a man who does want to marry you.  Otherwise, you will never be happy.  Deciding whether marriage is in your future is a major deal, and I don’t think it is something you can compromise on.

  25. 25

    @EA 22
    If a man tells you he doesn’t want to get married he is telling you his boundaries regarding his relationship with you. This is not about him controlling you, it is about telling you what he believes he has to offer. It is up to you to accept what he offers or leave. I am sorry you lost as much time as you have understanding this. Now that you have, you will move on if you want that.
    For some people a three hour commute relationship might be acceptable for a few years if you have a definite plan to end it (the commute part or the relationship part), but certainly not an ongoing 10 years, because it does impede growing roots outside of your relationship.
    No matter how great you think someone is – there is something extremely important to be said about their ability to be a partner.
    That is very well said. I add that what each person needs for a partner will be different depending on life circumstance and individual preference so there is no single partnering-ability litmus test.

    @Gem 21
    In many places when you “move in, set up house, mix finances, and do every other conceivable ‘married’ behavior sans the  marriage” you become married in the eyes of the law with all the rights, responsibilities and headache it takes to get out. All that is missing is the rite of passage ceremony. I believe there is value in that ceremony; the promise before friends and, if you are religious, God,  but many married people do not.

  26. 26

    Re living or not living together before marriage, I’m biased in the other direction – we couldn’t really live together before marriage, so we didn’t. We took vacations together, visited each other when he was in school and I worked in another city, but that was about it. We moved in together a few months before getting married, but by then we were already past the point of no return — we’d agreed to get married a long time ago, he’d relocated for me and there was no way for either of us to back out. Pretty much as soon as we started living together and running a household together, I realized that we were so incompatible, and our ideas on how things should work in a family were so different, and our ability to negotiate and compromise so non-existent, it was never going to work. We kept trying for eighteen years, but never really got things to work the way a healthy marriage should. So from my experience, I’d rather be missing a ring on my finger than be stuck in a bad marriage with no easy way to get out. And there’s really no way to tell how the person is going to handle the “domesticity” until the two of you are living it.

  27. 27

    Ok, here goes the rant.

    Evan, “become indispensable to him?” If she’s no indispensable after 4+ years, she never will.

    I always wonder what women who agree to open-ended living together arrangement are thinking, it just makes my blood boil when i hear these stories – “oh we’ve been living together for X years but he doesn’t want to marry me”. Honey, why would he? Why??

    Of course he’s never gonna put a ring on her finger, he already got her where he wants her – she is a de facto wife and provides domesticality and regular sex (hopefully) and financial help through shared expenses, yet he has no responsibilities towards her whatsoever. He can dump her like a hot potato if anything goes “wrong”. And, because she wants marriage so badly, and she gets advice such as this one – to become “indispensable” – she will be so much more eager to please and get his approval to get that ring, that he will definitely enjoy it wholeheartedly!

    To make it absolutely clear – the OP should’ve never moved in. Never. It is her call what to do now, but one way to figure out how much he really is into her is to distance herself. Not saying move out completely. Get a share house. Go on a long vacation w/o him. Start going out more with friends. Remind him that he doesn’t own her and that she won’t always be there waiting for him necessarily. She’ll have her answer soon enough – it may not be the answer she likes, but better that than finding herself disillusioned, bitter and single at the age of 32.

  28. 28

    Helen #18

    While marriage may mean different things to different people, I think it is important to recognize what it ACTUALLY, factually means in this country where we live. Simply put, it means no freedom to bail when you want to and to do whatever the hell you want. If your spouse gets hit by a bus you can’t just leave them sitting in an empty apartment in a wheelchair and move on with your single life. Nope, no such luck. If you want to take out half of your 401K and spend it on gambling – surprise you can’t without your spouse’s consent. You can’t change your name without your spouse signing off on that. You can not take your kids on a vacation abroad w/o your spouse signing off. There’s limits on how you can will your assets. There’s so many limitations that come with marriage, that all this fluff about “statement to the world” and other stuff is really secondary. Personally, I don’t give rat’s ass about any statements to the world or any of those things, what concerns me is the actual implications of marriage. And I am a woman.

    I think a lot of women just tend to romanticize marriage and make it 99% about feelings, while men are more acutely aware of the actual implications, and therefore they marry only when they feel they have to and they are massively into you. All other b/s such as “don’t believe in marriage” is just a boatload of BS. It is marriage. What is there to believe in. If you just don’t want commitments and limitations that come with it, or you feel the woman in front of you is not worth it – just say so.

  29. 29

    EA – no one is “programmed” to marry. Where did you get that idea from anyway? Secondly, there are plenty of couples out there who are great partners to each other, but aren’t – for various reasons – married. Furthermore, I have known married couples with situations fairly similar to yours. One person got a job in another city. They rarely see each other. And the connection has weakened over time. Even if the guy you are with agreed to marry, you’d still have all the other issues to face. Getting married will not solve all your problems. That’s a fantasy.

    1. 29.1

      @nathan: Yes! This. Again, we’re so focused on marriage being the endgame. I just want to remind everyone that it doesn’t have to be. And it doesn’t imply a soddy lack of commitment if you don’t do it. Eesh. Been there, done that. Might do it again but meantime? I’m enjoying every second of my incredible non-married relationship (and no, we don’t live together since we both have houses from our previous marriages). :) 

      There is more than one way to be happy and committed! :)

      1. 29.1.1

        Now you’re talking!     If you’ve been married before, the idea of getting into something yet again that may be difficult to get out of is very unsettling.   I don’t believe I would co mingle assets with someone else (again) even with a prenup – I’ve seen friends have 2nd marriages fail and go through incredibly painful experiences with yet another costly failed relationship.       Why get married all for the label of “Married”?     I personally think that if you want to raise a family then it makes perfect sense to tie the knot – its better for children.   But if that is not your goal – then why stress over it?
        petitlapin has a great set up – maybe someday they will change it, maybe not.   Sounds like they are comfortable and enjoying one another as is.        Good for you!

  30. 30

    EMK@31: 1) That’s what she says. You know, the one who wants to marry a guy who doesn’t want to marry her. 2) Who said anything about his having poor parental role models? Even she didn’t say that. 3) Unlike you and this woman, I don’t try to psychoanalyze folks from my armchair. As others have pointed out, this idea that people (especially men) are scarred animals who aren’t able to “sustain relationships” because of something that happened in childhood is both overblown and simplistic. People are a lot more complicated than that, and we develop our own unique “world views” using lots of different inputs. Most of which are our own thoughts and desires, not our parents’. We aren’t hapless pieces of clay in their hands. 

    The end of the story is this: He doesn’t want to get married. Those are his terms. Why don’t you and the girlfriend just leave him alone? This seems like it’s her problem and yours, not his.  

    1. 30.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Dan, this is my JOB. If you don’t like the way I do my job, go find a blog that you DO enjoy.

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