Should a Woman Ever Propose Marriage?

My boyfriend and I have been dating for close to 3 years. He is significantly younger than me (I’m 36 and he is 25). We are living together and also have young child. I know, we have put the cart before the horse. Be that as it may, I want to make things official and get married, and I have communicated my desire to marry. We are nearing 3 years together, and I would have imagined given that we are living the life of a married couple, that it should have come up already, or sometime soon. Obviously the honeymoon phase is over and we’re in the phase of hashing out our differences and working together, neither of us is perfect – but he has all the qualities I feel I could spend my life working with (the good and the bad). We both love each other, and I don’t know why he is stalling. Is it a sign he doesn’t want to marry? I have been patient given his young age, but I also have to think of myself – I don’t have 10 years to throw away hanging around for a proposal that might not come. So, I have been considering actually popping the question myself and seeing what he says. If he turns me down, I know I’m wasting my time. Obviously there is a lot at stake here because of our child, who I would like to raise with two loving parents in a conventional family. To me, it seems like we are already living the life of a married couple, so why hesitate to make it official? Am I being too hasty? Is proposing the last thing a woman should do?


This is the second in a series of cart before the horse emails. The following one comes out next Monday. In the meantime, Charmaine, my take on this is going to be consistent with advice I’ve given previously.

It’s not that you “can’t” ask him to marry you. It’s not that you “shouldn’t” ask him to marry you.

It’s that you shouldn’t HAVE to ask him to marry you.

Because if he wanted to marry you, he would have proposed to you. That’s what men do when we want to get married. We propose. If we don’t want to get married (or are not yet sure or not yet ready) we don’t propose.

That’s pretty much it.

It’s not that you “can’t” ask him to marry you. It’s not that you “shouldn’t” ask him to marry you. It’s that you shouldn’t HAVE to ask him to marry you.

I’m not going to get into biology vs. society vs. heterornormative blahblahblah. All I’ll point out is this – based on my entirely unscientific anecdotal assessment of the world – men propose to women 99% of the time.

And if your boyfriend hasn’t proposed yet, it’s for the reasons I mentioned above:

  1. He doesn’t want to marry you at all and he’s just enjoying the relationship for what it is
  2. He isn’t sure if he wants to marry you yet and is waiting for more information.
  3. He wants to marry you eventually, but isn’t ready yet, because he’s only 25. He’s probably aware of the statistics that say that people who marry under the age of 25 have a 75% divorce rate, that people who have kids out of wedlock are less likely to last, and that less than 1% of marriages have a woman who is 10 years older than the man.

So let’s ignore those statistics and backtrack through the possible options:

I’ve got no defense for the men who stay in dead-end relationships way past their expiration date. A few close friends have done this – for 5 years and 9 years – and it didn’t make any sense to me.

Instead of getting down on one knee to ask him to marry you, try having a conversation to assess what he’s actually thinking.

I’ve got no defense for the guy who has been with you for 3 years and still hasn’t figured out if he wants to marry you. I mean, I have a defense – he doesn’t KNOW – and some people, if they’re not POSITIVE, don’t want to take action, or think it means that something is wrong. That’s a maturity thing. When I was 25, I was a big believer that chemistry was everything and that I would “just know”. By 35, I didn’t “know” my wife was the one, but I had a pretty good hunch and made a smart, nuanced decision that has rewarded me many times over. But sometimes, “not knowing” can be pretty paralyzing.

(By the way, do you want to marry him because you’re highly confident you’re going to be happy over the next 40 years with him? Or do you want to marry him because you love him, you have a kid, and you’ve already put in 3 years? Those are two very different things.)

Finally, if a guy wants to marry you but isn’t ready because he’s 25, he doesn’t have a stable career, he hasn’t really found himself, or explored his options, and isn’t ready to settle down – well, that’s unfortunate, but that’s his prerogative. You can’t undo the past, but that’s what happens when you date someone so young and choose to have a kid with him – your timetable is just different than his, and those differences may make you incompatible.

For all of these reasons, I feel like you’re asking the wrong question here, Charmaine. Instead of getting down on one knee to ask him to marry you, try having a conversation to assess what he’s actually thinking.

Once you hear HIS thoughts on why he hasn’t proposed yet – and why he’s not planning to – you will have all the information you need to make your next big decision. Good luck.


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  1. 1

    It’s not likely this child will grow up in a two parent household.  Not impossible, but not likely.

  2. 2

    I don’t know if I would have had a child with some one so much younger than me.  There is such a difference in maturity between men and women anyway, and especially at 25. However, since there is now a child involved, I would have the “talk” and see if you guys are even on the same page.  It’s the least you could do for your child.   Best of luck.

  3. 3

    I agree with Evan..IF a guy wants to marry you he will. 

  4. 4

    I would say that women propose marriage most of the time.  Sure, the man will get down on one knee and ask her to marry him, but from my experience, the woman will usually bring up the idea of marriage first.  The man’s proposal is merely a formality at that point.  Sometimes the man will agree to marriage without any additional discussion, and sometimes the woman has to do some additional arm-twisting.  So, it is completely normal to propose marriage to your boyfriend.  If you don’t, most men will be happy with the status quo (dating indefinitely).    

    1. 4.1

      I am in that process of twisting his arm. Real hard. Its annoying, some girls are so lucky and just have the proposal without having to. Sigh.

      1. 4.1.1

        @Sue: But is that the kind of marriage/relationship u want–where u had to drag him to the altar? Don’t u think it could affect the marriage, how well he treats u after getting married etc? When women do this, I feel it makes men think that the man is out of her league, and he was ‘settling’ for her, even though that’s often not the case–but psychologically that’s what he’ll likely think.
        Also, it’s not about other ladies’ “luck”, it’s about them having certain attributes that make men wanna commit. Unless u’re refering to their “luck” in being born with, or being able to develop, these attributes. 
        If u have any other guys in your life who seriously wanna date u at the moment, I’d suggest considering if any of them could make better life partners for u. And maybe talk to more pple and ask their advice. Sometimes we ourselves can’t see the forest when we’re distracted by the trees.

  5. 5

    I think 3 years and 1 child together should have raised the idea of marriage in his head.  The fact that he hasn’t asked you to marry him or even broached the subject doesn’t look good.  It’s not because “he just hasn’t thought of it”, or “it never occurred to him”.  I hate to say it, but the age difference gives him more power.  He knows that if you two break up now, he has more and/or better options than you do.  Did you have a child with him in the hopes that it was a step towards marriage and commitment?  If you had a child with the hopes that it would solidify your relationship and get closer to commitment, it probably means that you were feeling insecure about the relationship.  This is the consequences of putting the cart before the horse.  I think Evan’s advice is right.  Best of luck to you.

  6. 6

    Evan, I did have a question about your paragraph here:
    “(By the way, do you want to marry him because you’re highly confident you’re going to be happy over the next 40 years with him? Or do you want to marry him because you love him, you have a kid, and you’ve already put in 3 years? Those are two very different things.)”
    Are you implying that “you want to marry him because you love him, you have a kid, and you’ve already put in 3 years?” is not a good reason to get married whereas “want to marry him because you’re highly confident you’re going to be happy over the next 40 years with him” is a good reason to marry him?  I just wasn’t sure if you were saying that some reasons were better than others?

    1. 6.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. One is based on inertia and fear. The other is based on sound, long-term reasoning.

  7. 7

    Evan is right; if the dude wanted to marry you, he would have. Men can plod along with the status quo forever, is this what you want? I do hope that you are in a position to support your child solo because I have a feeling that this is where things are heading. At this point, it is the child’s quality of life and welfare that is paramount.

    1. 7.1

      Spot on Noquay. And if the relationship doesn’t move forward, then the OP is going to have to be prepared to co-parent with dad if they split up. She’s going to have to find a way to work through any hurt and anger so that child doesn’t have to deal with the emotional fall out. I do hope that if the two of them don’t stay together, that dad will continue to be active an involved in that child’s life. Fathers are so important in molding their children’s character.

  8. 8

    This is pure speculation on my part, but my guess is it’s his age. At 25 if he’s already been shacked up with a woman for 3 years (that means he was 22 when they first started dating), it seems to me he is probably just trying the whole situation on for size. I doubt he is in a rush to get married, whereas the letter writer certainly would be because of her age. I have to wonder if having the child was an intentional decision? I have a feeling it happened accidentally, and the more committed-seeming, “marriage-like” nature of their current relationship is out of convenience and necessity because of the child. This makes a difference. If they chose to have this committed set-up of living together because they wanted to be together it mitigates in favour of marriage. If it was a set-up which came about because of convenience for the child, I wouldn’t want to push the marriage card. To me, it would seem manipulative.

    But, there’s nothing to be lost by having an honest conversation with him about it.

    1. 8.1

      …. I have a feeling it happened accidentally, and the more committed-seeming, “marriage-like” nature of their current relationship is out of convenience and necessity because of the child.
      Exactly !!! However, it could also be the case that Charmaine fell pregnant deliberately to force his hand and now that it hasn’t happened, she can’t or won’t walk away. 
      Totally agree that saying marriage is a natural conclusion where a child is involved, is definitely manipulative. Particularly as the man really has no choice as to whether the woman keeps the child or not.  It is nearly impossible for a man to “trap” a woman into marriage by getting her pregnant these days. 
      Don’t know why Charmaine has to get married.  They seem to lead a married life for all intents and purposes. Having that piece of paper is not going to stop him walking away if that is what he wanted. Maybe this marriage thing is to reassure her that he is going to stick with her long enough to co-parent their child, or maybe give her another child.

      1. 8.1.1

        I agree on all points. In this ay and age, why would a woman even think that they can trap a man by having a child? When you look around at all them men who don’t marry the mother of their child, what would give you the confidence to think that having a child would force his hand? I do agree that it is unfair because it does trap him into being a father, but it does not trap him into marriage. Women need to talk more about this evidently. Apparently there are women out there who still think this is the early 20th century when men would marry a woman they got pregnant to to make things right. Well it doesn’t happen anymore.

        I should highlight that I do believe it is a strong chance that this is exactly what she did.

  9. 9
    Kenyan gal

    I think this lady is acting out of desperation and now wants to ‘settle’ for whatever…. Not a good idea

  10. 10

    I think there are tons of biological reasons (and some are societal) that support why a man should be the person who ultimately proposes.  I would never propose to a man and frankly, find the thought cringeworthy.  While there will ALWAYS be exceptions to the rule, a man should be the one doing the ask.

  11. 11
    Peter 51

    My first relationship was with a woman 5 years older than me.  My second with one 24 years younger.  In neither case is age difference an issue.  However, age itself is sometimes an issue.  The early 20’s is a tough time for young men.  Struggling to start a career that must support a family – there is no other option.  Very modest levels of interest from young women who are probably doing better in the early stage job market.  At 22 this man found his way into a very comfortable place.  If he says an outright no to marriage, he’s losing a lot.  It could be ten years before he gets back to such a situation.  However, if one day, his career takes off and he acquires some status then Charmaine could be in trouble.  She might have to accept a  mistress to keep the family together, assuming he’s committed to the child.  If he is neutered by comfort, she’ll keep him.  In ten years time, her ability to trade up will be greatly reduced and any man will be better than no man at all.  15 years ahead with teenagers around, the tensions will be huge.  He’ll be 40 and very eligible; she’ll be 51.  Those qualities she sees shoud be related to coping with teenagers and strained family relationships.

  12. 12

    I have a neighbor who has tried to trap a man twice by intentionally getting pregnant. Didn’t work either time and she has 20 year old twin sons and 5 year old daughter and is now late forties. Two different men many years apart but same result. My husband says men dont want to marry women who are liars. She proposed marriage to the father of the five year old via text and he simply didn’t answer. Boy was she pissed! That being said this guy is staying around and maybe he wanted a child. I think the woman could have a discussion with her guy to gauge his intentions for their future. She may end up as simply a baby mama which you see alot now and she is in for a painful time as you end up seeing the guy you love moving onto other women and because you share a child youre never able to have a clean break. Its very hard for people to co patent responsibly and without bitterness with this situation. I thinkthe only way a woman can ssuccessfully propose to a man is if you is if you know he wants to and he was waiting fir you to be ready . Otherwise I think she should just bring up the subject  of planning for their future and his reaction will be very telling  and she will have an idea where she stands. She could also do nothing but may be blindsided by him leaving her for someone else in the future when he feels things have run their course. Of course lufe gives no guarantees but a willingness to commit and marry someone you love and have a child with does say something. In my mind if some man refuses to consider the thought at all that would tell me he wants to keep future options open. Unless he has philosophical opposition to marriage in general. I think it is hard to figure these things after the fact. Its definatly a different deal when you have the ultimate c ommitement before the pregnancy. Only this woman can know the right course to follow as she is the one who knows what they share as a couple and how much the child plays a part in this. If I were her I would definatly start a discussion of what we are wanting for the future with us and our child and what we expect the n the next several years. To me that’s only normal and I’m kinda surprised it hasn’t happened allready. I guess I’m still old fashioned about proposals and I see that the man doing the asking is one of the few things that hasn’t changed as of now.

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