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. 41
    The InBetweener

    Katarina #35
    “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.”
    Nowhere in my comment did I say anything of that nature. My comment was based on what “humans” need vs. what they want. With that said, no one “needs” to be in a committed relationship but it is something that most, (if not all) people want. When the word need is used it is implied that it is something that can not be lived without – similar to food, water, air etc. But I concur, it is most definitely MORE THAN OKAY, for humans to want/covet marriage, children, a committed relationship etc.

  2. 42

    Katarina Phang #40:
    “It’s my business, anyway and I prefer to keep it that way.”

    That would be better accomplished if you weren’t writing about it on several internet sites.

    I probably  agree with you about settling. If one settles for a person, or relationship that doesn’t make them happy, then they only have themselves to blame for their unhappiness.

    Dating multiple men is not manipulative. Doing so in the hopes of making someone you love jealous is. If you believe this is the “goddess way” then you and I have different concepts of what goddess means. I prefer the goddess who believes honesty is the way to happiness. This means every woman needs to be honest with herself. Why is she choosing this man? This relationship? If it is not fullfilling why is she persisting? There’s where the focus should be; not on a man who won’t commit, but on why she is fixated on that particular man.

    We choose who we want as a partner. We choose whether or not to stay in a relationship after one has formed. It is so easy to blame someone else for not being/doing what we want them to, harder to be honest in why we are accepting less than we claim to want. Because…perhaps what we claim to want isn’t what we truly want?

    That’s what I’m arguing here Katarina – Sophie’s boyfriend who likes their relationship “as is” isn’t the problem; it’s Sophie’s own ambivalence that is her problem. If she’s as unhappy as you and some of the other commenters believe, it’s time for her to move on. Her letter to EMK did not quite convince me that she’s that unhappy. Perhaps there is more explanation into why they are not officially sharing a home than she has chosen to divulge.

    Not unlike you and your marriage.

  3. 43

    Generally men know within a few minutes of meeting a women if he wants to commit to her or not. This goes both ways.
    If it has been three years there isn’t anything new or anything that would drive him to commit. Even if you were seeing other guys. When you start seeing other guys your actions is stronger than words that you are looking for a guy who will marry you.
    Katarina says date other men. I say go to the gym exercise become fitter and more tone. He will somehow go wow I want to get married. Men are very simple and basic. If he won’t commit go and lose the flab and look more attractive  physically.
    Dating multiple men is what women dating advice professionals like to give as making yourself more attractive. Realistically it is your physical beauty that probably needs to be increased. Not to sound like a asshole.
    I have heard my real good female  friends  asking why won’t he commit/why isn’t he into me. I won’t say this to my real good female  friends  but 90% of the time is because your not the best he can do another words your not that pretty. Go to the gym lose that flab. It will make the biggest  difference.
    Read what women have said after they became fitter/more tone/

    1. 43.1

      Bill (#44) “If he won’t commit go and lose the flab and look more attractive physically.”

      There’s nothing in her letter to indicate she’s not physically attractive or that her boyfriend doesn’t find her attractive. And anytime someone says something that starts with “not to sound like an asshole” or “I’m not racist, but” they’re about to say something they know is offensive.

    2. 43.2

      Interesting bunch of crap, considering how many fat women are married and how many slim women are single.

      1. 43.2.1


    3. 43.3

      “…  but 90% of the time is because your not the best he can do another words your not that pretty.”

      This is the world we live in… a world where an intellectually lacking and grammatically challenged individual feels he has the ability to tell a woman what makes her insufficient and/or undesirable and what she should do to be “better.”

    4. 43.4

      I get that being in your best form helps. I exercise 6 days a week and keep fit. I also work hard in my work life. Still no commitment. I was just told to move 2 hrs away from my family and job after 3 years of us dating. I couldn’t without any effort or engagement from him. Now he has told me he wants to move on, he waited for me and I couldn’t move in. That’s not respect and that’s not love. Good luck to him.

  4. 44

    Bill, I have seen some very fit people who were still butt ugly, both inside and out. If Sophie became more fit, assuming she’s not already, his desire to marry her would not increase. Sleep with her even more perhaps, although he might would have to watch out for competition. 😉
    Sophie needs to stop agonizing herself over the glimmer of hope that her boyfriend will change because he won’t. When you consider how briefly we are here on earth, three years of your precious life is a sizable amount of time to give to another individual, and three years is enough. As long as his life with her continues smoothly along, there’s no reason for him to change. He gets her company, his sexual needs met, his independence, his putting other priorities before their relationship and so on.
    Sophie has also made it clear to him that he’s worth waiting forever for, but is he really? She has put him on a pretty high pedestal from which he can only look down. She also shouldn’t base some of her thoughts and feelings on other people’s experiences. And even though she has also let him know how she would like to see their relationship move forward to living together, her actions are not supporting her words. He is also doing the same. She is straddling the fence, hoping that he will make the decision she wants, so that she won’t have to deal with making the painful decision that will lead to months of devastating heartbreak.
    Sophie is living in fear. The best thing to do is for her to confront her fear and let her boyfriend know that while she loves him move than anything and would love to see a future with him beyond what they currently have, if he’s not in agreement with what she needs to continue to be happy in their relationship, then she understands, but she is leaving, and she wishes him well; that she loves herself too much to continue on this way, and she loves him too much to feel as if she’s pushed him into something he isn’t truly happy with. She then needs to have absolutely no communication or contact with him, unless he changes his mind. She doesn’t need to say that she’ll be dating other men, or anything like that. If he truly believes in all that he has shared with her, he will come after her. And if not, then Sophie will know that despite the pain, he was ultimately, not the one for her. And her life will begin anew.

  5. 45

    #45 Cat

    Haha, Cat, that is very true!   I had a friend that would start off with “Not to be mean…”, then proceed to say something mean.

  6. 46

    #39 Selena

    Very well said from beginning to end….seems pretty simple.   I think many people, some men included, like to complicate things to fit their purposes.

  7. 47

    In response to Bill’s comments, I think we should consider that Sophie is probably already beautiful.   She sounds pretty together in her letter, and her boyfriend does keep coming back for more, even though he declines a greater commitment.   *All* women have got that feminine light, and it is just a matter of letting it come out to the surface to be seen.   Sure it’s great and healthy to be fit, and to be as well-groomed as possible. But men who carry on relationships with women and then will not commit to them due to their looks are just lame.
    Also, not to be a ballbuster, but please note:
    your = possessive pronoun, i.e. “how was your date?”
    you’re = contraction for “you are”
    (chicks dig smart guys)

  8. 48
    The InBetweener

    “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.”
    Let’s TRY not to take relationship advice from Abraham Maslow and his so called “theory” of needs.
    If 90% of happiness is not something a human could be satisfied with (in regards to another human being WANTING to be with you in which you have ABSOLUTELY no control over), there just MIGHT be a chance that the person in question will NEVER REALLY be satisfied. She could replace him with another human being to achieve her desired effect of “living together/marriage”, but even if that course of action were taken, there is no guarantee that she would be happy at least 90% of the time.
    Hmm, maybe love has absolutely nothing to do with what she wants.   Her very (EXACT?) words were, “I WANT MORE“. She also said; I truly believe that a lot of couples don’t have what we have, but a lot of those couples still have more commitment..”
    Never leave sure for unsure. 🙁

  9. 49

    Telling Sophie to date other men  is not intended to  make her BF jealous,  the point is  to expose her to other men who may be willing to commit to her, because her BF is apparently not that guy.

  10. 50


    Nothing wrong with dating different people to find one who fits. Can be unpleasant to date someone who’s holding onto their previous relationship in some half-assed way though.

  11. 51

    ” I wish my girlfriends would stay around for 3 years.  ”   I must be saying something wrong.

  12. 52

    I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it, I’m saying that should be the purpose of dating around, not making the current BF jealous.

  13. 53

    Another problem I see is that Sophie has made it clear that she will wait – perhaps indefinitely – for her BF. I think it’s time to let him know that she WON’T wait much longer if he can’t step up. Otherwise, if she’s content to wait, what’s the incentive for him to change?  
    It really doesn’t matter if she dates other men or outright breaks up with him. The important thing is to let him know that that she won’t wait around forever.

  14. 54
    Katarina Phang

    Yes Ruby, that’s the whole point.   It doesn’t matter which method she uses, she just makes him know she’s taking care of her own needs first and foremost as women need to do to be happy in a relationship.

  15. 55

    Funny that I just ended my 2 year-3month relationship, and it was pretty much the same situation as Sophie.    We were happy together but we never see eye to eye on the future.   He said he never wanted to get married, then he  said he preferred living alone, finally it came out that he actually didn’t want to  be a “life partner”. specifically, he doesn’t want  any responsibility of a full time  relationship.   He only wants a girlfriend, conversation and  “benefits”.   He is 43, when do you think the Peter Pan will ever grow up?   I am gonna go with never.   There are many reasons/excuses why a man doesn’t want to marry or marry you – the problem is NONE OF THE REASONS ARE GOOD.   I can be perfect for him on all levels and treat him with kindness and patience.   But if he doesn’t want to man up, what choices do I have other than walking away??      Good luck to both of us.  

  16. 56

    You told him (perhaps not in so many words) that you want to be married, but he hasn’t asked you. I think that tells you everything.
    Also, you might be 90% happy with things, but you sound 100% miserable with him not making a committment to you.
    Evan sounds right when he says that after three years what new information do you learn? Well, in this case YOU learn something: he isn’t sure he wants to marry you. “Not sure” is both a no and a maybe. But it is not a yes!
    The busy with work thing also sounds a bit cold-shoulderish. Stalling on moving in together, too. I think he’s emotionally unavailable to you. Do you want that? Sounds like you don’t.
    Best of luck with your decision. My vote is that you leave, see what he does.
    Oh and one more thing: I think the MAIN reason why more women don’t prod over the marriage thing is because deep down they fear that that means he only married her because she coaxed him into it. What do you think?

  17. 57

    Yes, Doubt!, only reason some men marry, is because if they don’t, someone else will……

  18. 58

    Sophie, above all, you need to stay true to yourself.   Don’t try to sugar coat it by trying to reason with yourself.   People  need what they need and want what they want.   My best advice would be to  to sit down with him and have a heart to heart about needs vs. wants.   Tell him where your heart is, tell him what your concerns are and see how he responds.   No need to play games.   Honor the man and honor your love for him.     If he doesn’t know what he wants then you have two choices – wait around for as long as your willing to wait, or walk away hoping that he will follow.   It’s true that sometimes a person does not realize what they have until they’ve lost it.   If you do walk away, make sure that you are commited to that decision and the results.   Don’t do it just to  test him,  because if he doesn’t follow – you need to be prepared to face and live with the consequences.   Follow your heart, and good luck!

  19. 59

    WOW!!! So many interesting comments here! And a lot of good advice, but I’m not so sure that the real issue has yet to be addressed.

    Sophie’s dilemma is that she deeply loves and cares for her boyfriend and she wants a secure agreement between herself and him (i.e., marriage) and she’s said that she is willing to do what it takes to spend the rest of her life with him. This is what women really mean when they say they’ll wait for him  until he’s ready.

    Yes, Sophie is looking for confirmation that she is doing the right thing and if she’s not she wants to be corrected. I feel like that is one of the reasons, not the primary, but one of the reasons that she wrote to EMK.

    I believe her primary reason for her letter is to understand how to spend the rest of her life with him. She wants to know how she can make him realize that he truly wants to be with her or that a lifetime together isn’t meant for the two of them.

    The widely held dispute between waiting patiently while not applying pressure vs. always keeping your options open and moving on if two individuals are not on the same page at the  given moment in time is a source of confusion for many women.

    Ultimately, Sophie wants to do whichever will allow her to be with him in a committed relationship. If she has to wait another year or two for him, she would if it meant lasting love and committment. If she has to tell him that she’ll move on (even though it would be with difficulty) if he can’t grant her security in the form of a committed relationship for him to realize that he doesn’t want to lose her, she’d do it.

    But the problem lies in that we don’t know what’s going to happen. We can’t predict the future.

    The truth of the matter is that both have their pros and cons.

      – Waiting patiently does allow a stronger foundation for deep, lasting  love and it does allow him to truly understand how he feels about her. It builds trust and ultimately a stronger emotional bond.

      – However, many men fall in love while in the absence of a woman. Her absence makes him realize and understand how much happier he is in her prescence.

      – But waiting patiently also provides no incentive for him to really focus on the relationship and really contemplate his true feelings.

      – While moving on, is not only heart wrenching but it takes courage and discipline  and it might not end up the way a woman hopes. But she must realize that when one door closes another better door opens. Easier said than done, I know. But the difficulty of the situation doesn’t make it not true.

    My advice to Sophie is to not move in with her boyfriend. She shouldn’t start dating other men either. She should take some time to herself, maybe two weeks to a month to really look deep inside herself and focus on what she truly wants. If she truly wants marriage, there’s nothing wrong with that. Anthropologists have revealed that committment is biologically programmed within us and other species as well. (Check out Helen Fisher’s work. She’s amazing.) But if she’s so in love with her boyfriend and is willing to sacrifice marriage, that’s her decision as well. Plenty of couples that aren’t married remain together forever and are happier than couples who are bound by marriage. But again, we cant guarantee any one outcome, because we simply can’t predict the future. Sophie, you need to look inside yourself, only you know the answer. I truly wish you luck and happiness, whether with this boyfriend or the next.

  20. 60

    @Jessica – 61

    Great response!

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