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.

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  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

    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.

    1. 2.1

      Only applicable if the woman is satisfied with this situation. For many women,marriage is important and the man should honor this if this is what the woman wants. Women should not be sacrificing their values and beleif in marriage just because he’s not ready.


      1. 2.1.1

        “For many women,marriage is important and the man should honor this if this is what the woman wants. Women should not be sacrificing their values and beleif in marriage just because he’s not ready.”

        Right. Because only one person’s values matter in this equation.

        1. monica

          It’s not that only one person’s values matter. What it is about, is that one person wants something. Very badly, I might add. It’s important to her. And I’m willing to bet that he’s known this for a long time and has never came out and said “listen, I don’t want that, but I love you and want to build a real life with you forever.” I’m also willing to bet he has quietly led her to believe the potential for this to happen exists. But that after 3 years it has become increasingly obvious that he was full of sh*% and wants her, as is, because he loves her (at least in some way), is comfortable, and figures by not marrying her, he won’t be alone and when someone better comes along, he’ll be free to go….haven’t not locked it down with a marriage. Where does that leave her? Her dreams? Her trust in him? I doubt she would’ve written to Evan had he ever told her he “wasn’t” going to or “didn’t want to ever” marry her. It’s a con. And it robs her of her best years, of her dreams and hopes for the life she probably has always wanted. ….because he was too selfish to tell her the truth. I’m not anti men. But they do this often. And I’ve spoken with many who have and they all say that they always knew they weren’t going to marry the girl.

    2. 2.2

      I’m sure that she actually has a lot of resentment that she has not been married yet. Just because you have committed to living together, which really seems like saying I like you enough to live with you but not enough to share the rest of my life with you. Which really living together a uhaul and some boxes, that is your break up, but marriage is a promise of forever. People have children out of wedlock all the time and it doesn’t say anything about their relationship. If she wanted to get married, but he didn’t why would he have a child with her? Maybe in hopes of a shotgun wedding?

      The bottom line is that if one person wants something like marriage and the other doesn’t there really is no compromise in it. You might wait “X” amount of time, but the desire for marriage doesn’t go away. After a while the person desiring marriage will feel less worthy, and they might try to change things in order to be more desirable to the other person in a marriageable sense.

  3. 3

    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

      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.  

      1. 3.1.1

        @Carolyn 3.1 – Sorry,  but I think you should double check yourself as if you are with someone for a year and he STILL hasn’t said “I love you” or spoken about any future, then I don’t think it’s going to happen. I don’t see how  3 more months after 12 months is going to make a difference.  
        Not sure when you posted this, but if it did happen, congrats!

        1. hilarityensues

          It’s almost as if each relationship moves at different speeds.

          But nah, let’s just use our arbitrary, subjective opinions define  every relationship.

      2. 3.1.2

        Hi Carolyn! Just wondering what has transpired in your relationship?? I was in similar situation. Took my guy a little over a year to even say “I love you!”

        Hope things went as you hoped! Please update?

    2. 3.2


  4. 4

    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

      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

    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

    @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

    “…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

    @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! 🙂

    1. 9.1

      @Imperfect love: thanks for sharing. I agree with you! 🙂

  10. 10

    @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.

    1. 10.1

      @beenthruthewars: powerful!

  11. 11

    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

    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

    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

    @ 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

    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


    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.

    1. 16.1

      I total understand her feeling of being 90% happy….. But is everybody 100% happy in there relationship all of the time.   NO!   I believe she a commitment to her.   He just need time adjusting his life.   I am have been with my boyfriend for 2 year and he is divorced, as am I, and his girlfriend after the divorce and before me was a very bad person.   She was an alcoholic and criticized him and treated him badly. When him and I started dating i knew it was going to difficult for him.   He shows me everyday he loves me and is just so sweet and takes care of me in so many ways.   I have been divorced for 12 years and said i would never marry again.   I would marry my boyfriend if every given the chance. I love him.   He has been divorced only 3 1/2 yrs.   If it has taken me this long to finally want to marry, I have to be understanding to how he might feel.   He never makes me doubt his love.   There are many cruel men and woman out there, who are unfaithful.   If he is faithful ans shows you how much he loves you everyday in his words and his actions, why won”t you wait for him to ready.   Do not compare your commitment of your relationship to others.   They have a different story.   If you rush your relationship to have what everyone else has then, you will be the one losing out.   They might have rushed their relationships to be more committed, but i am sure they have   more issues then you can imagine.   I see this with all my friends around me. Several friends of mine got into relationships around the time i did, with my boyfriend.   They rushed into a commitment such as living together and marriage and they are more miserable than you can imagine.   They all wished they had a relationship like ours because we honestly get along great and love each other deeply.   

      1. 16.1.1
        Nikki G.

        Oh Nice, I dated a divorced man for over 3 years who couldn’t commit to me when I was in my early 30’s, I was so hurt an confused by what he had going on that it threw me off for a few years. I am now dating a divorced man again and after speaking with a close male friend who is divorced I realize that while part of it was my ex, part of the drama that characterized our relationship was my lack of understanding and patience. Don’t get me wrong, I tried, but I had no clue about the feelings divorced people had about commitment. This time I’ll pay attention to what’s going on and while I won wait forever, I don’t believe in ultimatum and I will let things grow at their own pace and if/when I have to walk away, it won’t be to see if he’ll follow.

  17. 17

    @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

    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

    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

    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.

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