How Long Should I Wait For a Real Commitment?

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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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Comments:

  1. 21
    Karl R

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  2. 22
    JB

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

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

  3. 23
    Helen

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

  4. 24
    Christie Hartman

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

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

  5. 25
    Selena

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

  6. 26
    Katarina Phang

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

  7. 27
    Luxe

    @26 ROFL. Love the quote there!

    @24 Helen

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

  8. 28
    Selena

    Re:#28

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

  9. 29
    Christie Hartman

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

  10. 30
    Katarina Phang

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

    1. 30.1
      Anita

      This is such great advice Katarina! Thumbs up. I agree and am using this strategy as well.

    2. 30.2
      Tiffany

      Katrina, that’s good advice.   Not one appreciated by all i’m sure, but in this day and age why shouldn’t a woman (or a man) in this situation regain some sense of self control.   It is empowering and personally, having found myself in the same kind of life that Sophie finds herself in, i have found an inner peace and strength from dating other men. I love my boyfriend, and want him to be ‘the one’, but he’s struggling to make that commitment of living with me, despite telling me i’m the one he wants to spend the rest of his life with. He’s still married to his wife whom he separated from over 10 years ago, and i know this will never change. I’ve felt a fool, but i continue to compromise.

  11. 31
    Selena

    I agree that dropping down a level is easier said than done, because one changes the dynamic when deciding to do that. There is a difference in being partners who live together, to *  just dating*. And there would be a difference between spending 4-5 nights together every week to dating other people. If this woman chose to try it, she would have to be prepared that her boyfriend(ex-boyfriend?) would be free to court other women as well. And staying in touch (to remind him of what he’s missing), may not be the best way if he becomes involved with someone else. How would she feel then?

    All these “strategies” are basically a form of trying to give the guy an ultimatum, “Let me move in with you, or I’ll walk”. And hope he gives in and allows her to move in. And as is the nature of ultimatums: when you give one, it’s not only to the other person, it’s to yourself as well. Does she really want to walk if he doesn’t take the bait? Maybe she is that dissatisfied and she should. BUT…it seems to me a better strategy would be to have someone who wanted you to live with him – not trying to coerce, or finagle him to do so. For whatever reason(s) this guy doesn’t want her in his home fulltime, and if he did give in (so as not to lose her),  what makes anyone  think their living together relationship would be happier? He might turn out to be resentful, and that 90% happy on her part would drop despite getting what she wanted.

      So that brings her back to the crux of it: would she be happier staying in the relationship she has? Or would she be happier done with it? Which is more important: the *committment*, or the man?

    Since she wrote the letter months ago, it would be nice if she wrote back in with her thoughts on the situation now.

  12. 32
    The InBetweener

    If you’re ever dating a person that thinks being married is more important than being with you, that person MIGHT NOT love you.  

    I hear a lot of so called “NEEDS” vs. “WANTS” but no one “NEEDS” to be married. People CHOOSE/WANT to be married, so they get married. However, there are a lot of people that ARE NOT MARRIED, yet they still continue to live. Go figure.

    NEEDS are things you CANNOT live without. WANTS are things you can live without but covet. People “NEED” food, water, air; etc., but NO HUMAN can really claim to “NEED” to be married. If someone claims to love you, but then says, “We can’t continue on because we NEED to be married” they might not really love you (the person) they might just “LOVE” the idea of being married, which is why you hear, “I need to be married by the age of XX – after we’ve dated for X amount of years”. Which is why, sadly, people become interchangeable in these situations – if not you, then somebody else. How would it make you feel if the person you were with told you that if you did not do “XYZ” that they would find someone else who will?

    Love doesn’t give ultimatums or ask you to choose between them and you. Love doesn’t walk away from you to see if you “claim” to love them enough to “CHASE” them. Love only knows how to give, it never takes, it never demands and it isn’t selfish.

    With that said, I’d rather be wanted (someone wants/chooses to be with me) than needed (someone claims to need me for some reason or another). Remember, no one needs you to live and you don’t need anyone to live either.

  13. 33
    Selena

    Re: #32

    And I suppose it’s still a winning strategy if the guy decides he doesn’t want  chase his ex if she’s dating other guys, and finds himself someone else instead.   That’s the gamble the woman takes when she employs this empowering strategy.

    If Sophie wants someone she can live with 7 days a week instead of 5, I’m sure she will find that someone. And hopefully she will be more than 90% happy with the new guy.

  14. 34
    Katarina Phang

    Selena, obviously one takes this strategy taking into account that she’ll be happier having more options rather than in a “half-baked” relationship that doesn’t give her what she really wants deep down.
      
    If he can’t take it, he knows what to do.   But you’ll never know if you just settle and accept things even when they bother you so much.   At least both parties will get a better picture after all these experiments of what they really want and what they’re bound to lose.   It’s better than stifling status quo.
      
    All is fair in love and war.
      
    And Inbetween, are you saying that women are not supposed to expect/want marriage?   That they can’t have both love and marriage.   What a limiting belief that is!!!   The “need” to be in a committed relationship (marriage) is inherent in most women (or even men).   It’s perfectly okay to expect and want it, especially if she/they want to have kids.
      

  15. 35
    Selena

    Katarina,
    I’ve read Rory Raye’s blog and I think the strategy of circular dating may work quite well for some women before a serious relationship is established. I don’t see it working as well in 3 yr. relationship where the two people love each other and spend 5 days out of 7 together.  How is that a “half-baked” relationship?  It’s hard to go backward successfully. You and your husband perhaps being an exception.

    From the letter, I didn’t get the impression the writer Sophie, was experiencing as much angst over “stifling status quo” as you and some of the other commenters are crediting her with. She says she’s happy 90% of the time. She understands that other couples, who have a “commitment” may not have what she and her lover have. My impression is that she was questioning whether she should be content with her relationship, not that she desperately wasn’t.   Maybe she isn’t happy 90% of the time. Maybe she’s just trying to convince herself she is. Who knows? Be nice if she would write in and clarify wouldn’t it?

    And all IS NOT fair in love and war. If only it were that simple.

    Quite frankly since you ARE married and dating other men, I find your “advice” suspect at best.

  16. 36
    Katarina Phang

    Selena, I’m NOT technically married…sorry to burst your bubbles here. We’re separated and considering reconciliation.   Please delay your judgment here.   He’s my “husband” only because we are not legally divorced.
      
    I talk to my new guy more than him these days and I feel great.   Less conflict to me, at least.
      
    You don’t know if the 10% of her being unfulfilled is the most basic thing she wants in relationship and I can imagine if it is (so it’s not actually not really 10% but more likely 50%).   It’s not hard to understand.   As a woman I want what she wants also.
      
    No matter how wonderfully we get along 90%, if he doesn’t want what I want: marriage/family, it’s a deal breaker.
      
    It’s really that simple.   The fact that she wrote Evan in the first place is a strong indication she’s not fundamentally happy and needs more.   What can a person do when she’s feeling stuck?   Right, try a different approach as we have given here.   The idea is you need to stir up the boat to really know what you really want and find out if you can change the status quo.
      
    You call it ultimatum, whatever….   You need to resort to it at one point or another when other ways don’t work.   I call it sticking to your values/principles.   Do you suggest settling instead?   I don’t think so.

  17. 37
    JuJu

    I am actually kinda confused by this advice: Sophie was right to be patient initially, but she is not right anymore? To me this whole situation sounds like she gave someone who wasn’t crazy about her from the beginning a chance to see how wonderful she really is, only, years later, he is apparently still not convinced.
      
    I don’t really believe in the concept of “the one”, but I do believe in unequivocally wanting to be with someone, and I personally would have needed to know that after a year, not three. I think if that feeling doesn’t develop within a year, it never will.
      
    Incidentally, I think that’s what being in love with someone translates into – that you have no doubts as to your choice. If you are not truly in love (even if you do love that person), you will not have the same kind of confidence.
      

  18. 38
    Selena

    Katarina,

    You’re not married? My mistake. When people refer to someone as their HUSBAND I assume that they are legally married. And unless they have a divorce decree they are TECHNICALLY married.

    As a woman you want what she wants also? She wants to live with her boyfriend of 3 years. You want to be married?    To your husband or to one of your  recent boyfriends?  Confusing.

    We are in agreement here: “I call it sticking to your values/principles.” To me that would mean Sophie decides if her values/principles are continuing a non-cohabitating relationship with someone she claims to love, OR deciding she would be happier with someone else who wanted to co-habitate with her. Not playing manipulative games to “stir up the boat” as you put it.

    SHE is the one to shit or get off the pot if this relationship is not enough for her. Resonate any?

  19. 39
    Katarina Phang

    Selena, I’m not going to argue with you about what marriage is all about.   It’s obviously not just a paper thing, but I digress.   You want to believe what you want to believe.   And if you want a black and white approach of things, there is nothing I can do to make you see where I’m or others are coming from.
      
    It’s my business, anyway and I prefer to keep it that way.
      
    Bottom line is, my relationship with my “ex” (legally still my husband) is on hold right now so I’m really single and so is he.
      
    I want to be happy with a great guy who deserves me.   How’s that?   It’s bound to a heartache for a woman to want a guy instead of focusing on what she really wants in life: great relationship with a great guy who adores and wants her more than anything else in the world.   It can be him or someone better than her current bf who can’t obviously give what she really wants.
      
    Do NOT settle.
      
    There is nothing manipulative with what I suggested.   It’s simply giving back the power to oneself.   It’s the goddess way.   Women are always in the loss when they focus on men who can’t fully commit to them after enough time has passed for them to make such decision.   I don’t think you can really argue on that.

  20. 40
    Katarina Phang

    You got it wrong, again, Selena.   No, it’s not about making someone you love jealous.   Sorry, that’s your words, not mine.   It simply boils down to a principle that until a man commits in the way she wants/needs him to, she can’t and doesn’t want to be exclusive with him and thus closing the door to other men who might be up to the challenge to find her.
      
    It’s her choice.   If he doesn’t like it, then so be it (and yes you should be honest about it with him too, tell him the truth about your needs to date multiple men).   She needs to love herself more than anyone else in the world.
      
    Inbetween, I’ll call it a need of a higher order as per Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.   It’s an emotional/spiritual need, not as “primal” as the needs for food or water (you’ll die without them in a few days/weeks) but a need, nevertheless.
      
    What you call it doesn’t matter, I’m not interested in being pedantic about it.   Bottom line is she won’t be fundamentally fulfilled until it is achieved.

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