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. 91

    So Evan, when did you know for sure your wife was the one you want to marry?  my boyfriend and I are dating 8 months now and I know I want to marry him but he is not sure yet.  I am trying to be patient and cool about it but I wonder how much time to give him before I start decreasing level of commitment.  what about another 4 months?

    1. 91.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      I proposed in 16. Married in 22. I didn’t “know” until AFTER we were married for six months.

      1. 91.1.1

        Thank you! Evan.  I understand I need to be more patient and continue to strengthen the bonds between my boyfriend and I but I am also 34 now (I was married once, no kid. we both want kids).  (32 never married. I am his longest relationship.  Most of his past relationships didn’t last more than 4 months because he knew they were not right.  However, with me, he knows it is not wrong but he is not sure if it is right.  He said most days he felt great about us and can be positive about us getting married but some days he is not so sure.   We broke up last year after 3 months of dating because he felt he should make a decision about marriage and he got really confused.  Then he asked me to give him another chance after 2 months but I was dating someone else already.  We both later realized we had something great and we were very compatible and should just relax and let our relationship grow so we got back together after 7 months being apart. I also took responsibility of being fearful last time to give my entire heart to him last time.   This time, we both tell each other we love each other and I know he is not a very verbal person but he has been really opened and tell me he loves me everyday.  My boyfriend is very analytical and he likes to focus on the differences such as I am more multicultural but he grown up in the small town.  However, he forgot he is 32 years old (he moved away from home since he was 18) and living in Los Angeles for a few years now.  How can I help him focus more on the positive and our similarities so he can overcome his fears and doubts overtimes? (we both have a MBA, graduated from the same college, the same religion, have the same financial goal and value in life, we have fun together, can talk about both silly things and intellectual things).  Thank you again! Evan

  2. 92

    I agree with Evan and I think the only thing that would change is if this was a very young couple say 25 or so.  In that age range I could understand her willingness to wait or his hesitancy, although she is still entitled to move on.  But based on my reading and the fact that she says he has been in two other two year long relationships I doubt that.  She needs to move on.  This mans not even willing to take the step of moving in and she’s making excuses for him.   Don’t waste your time.  He won’t change.  It’s hard to move I’m from something you are comfortable with.  But it’s better to move on and be alone then waste your time here.  Either he does not want to marry and committ and never will to anyone or you are not the person he wants to do that with and he may not realize that.   That’s hard to swallow.  But it’s best for both of you.

  3. 93

    Hi guy’s,

    Most of what you have to say sounds like a load oi f horse shit.

    If you pressure a man to get married when  he’s  not  ready to, you reap what you sow.

    I’m speaking from personal experience when I say that I wasn’t ready for marriage until 5 years after I tied the knot. I know I really damaged my wife’s self esteem.

    Yhats enough for now

  4. 94

    This is so true.  I myself find myself in a situation similar to hers.  Thank you for this helpful advice Evan.

  5. 95

    See I am in the position opposite of Sophie:

    My gf and I both want to be married.  We had a very rough first year and a half, with very emotional blow ups and almost walked away several times.  Then she moved in eight months ago after threatening to leave because at the time she was 36 and needed to see I was committed.  I thought we should be more stable before moving in but said ok, because I saw potential in us.

    Two months later, last September began the talk about engagement.  I was given an ultimatum that if we weren’t engaged by Christmas she was walking.  I told her please no timelines or ultimatums given our unstable history.  She said she wants a baby and to be married and there are many guys out there who would want to marry her if I did not.  She threw tantrums with all night emotional outbursts.

    I maintained that I love her and see a future but we need to get to a place of stability for me to want to propose and not do it because of fear or threats.  I needed a few months where we focused on us, and didn’t talk about getting engaged that way.  I knew what she wanted and if she gave me what I needed to get there, I would get there.

    It is now April.  While we have improved, she has threatened to leave every month or so when she felt the anxiety of waiting.  It made me feel very uncomfortable and hasn’t helped us move further along but had the opposite impact.

    It finally came to a head yesterday.  In her mind I had a couple of weeks since our last blow up (not about marriage) when I could have suggested ring shopping.  In my mind I have been getting to that feeling where I want to talk about it.  I want it to be organic and natural and not forced  and I was planning on being the one who brought it up soon.  We had a trip to Europe planned and then to Seattle and during this time I thought we would be in a great place for us to move forward, actually go ring shopping, then propose soon.

    So she hasn’t given me what I wanted and she hasn’t gotten what she wanted.  I don’t want to lose her but I don’t see any way out of this cycle except for putting what I need to feel aside (I mean, shouldn’t this be a happy, warm and fuzzy occasion?).  The biggest trouble with that is that instead of my heart telling me to propose, all of the conversations and threats around it have gotten in my head and I don’t know what my heart or gut are telling me anymore.

  6. 96

    Wow. Thank you so much Evan. I literally just prayed about this exact situation this morning. I’m 40, divorced, have no children and completely in love with my boyfriend of 2 years. He is also divorced with a little girl and I am patient. Sophie said it perfectly for me. He is worth the wait but how long? And you answered that. I know our situation is different because we have both been married and we want to take it slow. I appreciate that. I also am ready to live together and he is not. I can be patient because he’s worth it but I worry about selling myself short. I’ll wait patiently 1 more year 🙂 he’s worth it. Thank you

  7. 97

    I feel like I am in the same boat. I love my boyfriend and we have been together for three years but the discussion about moving in has been ongoing for the last two years. I really want to have a place together and financially it would be better for both of us but I can feel that even though he says that we will he doesn’t want to. He comes up with excuses and changes his mind constantly. I decided to give him an ultimatum that we either move in by the end of the year or we call it quits. It was one of the hardest decisions of my life because I love him so much it feels like I’m stabbing myself in the heart by doing this but at the end of the day I can’t ignore what I want just to keep him happy.

  8. 98

    Why pay for the milk if the cow is free?

  9. 99

    So I am in the same position as Sophie except that my BF and I are both over 65. I moved in with this man and up until about 3 months ago he was talking about getting married. At that point we had been living together a little over 2 years and known each other for 4 years. Well, I said okay and he suddenly went running with his tail between his legs, leaving me in a state of shock. His excuse? He was worried we would have a big argument after we were married and everything would fall apart. Another excuse? We didn’t need to be married because he loved me and he wasn’t going anywhere. After much thought I told him that when my house, which is currently leased out, is available next summer I would be moving out since we were obviously not on the same page. And at this time he keeps thinking I am going to change my mind and is surprised that I still plan to move. He would rather lose me than marry me. From what I can tell, all this man wants is a live in maid and companion for his later years because he is afraid to die alone. Ultimately, my advice for any female out there wanting to get married don’t wait more than 2 or 3 years on some man who can’t make up his mind. If he wants to keep you he will marry you without any hesitation.




  10. 100

    I read this Sophie and I had to write. I don’t even know the date of this so I may be too late. I went out with my now husband of 31 years for 6 years before he put a ring on it!! I did have to finally walk away before he committed to marriage. I, too, was 90% happy. I stayed at his place overnight on weekends and sometimes during the week but we never lived together. I never had clothes there. I just wanted more. He was afraid. He kept saying, “What if you leave me?” What if it doesn’t work out?” I finally said, “You know what? I am leaving you now. When you are ready to ask me to marry you, let me know. If I am available I will let you know if I still want to.” It took him 6 weeks to ask. Every week he would pathetically call and ask to go out to dinner or to talk and I would say, “Are you ready to ask me to marry you?” He would say something like we can talk about it and I would say, “Call me when you are ready.” It was awful, I was a wreck but I came to the conclusion that if he did not want what I wanted then what was I doing waiting and hoping and thinking it would work out? I should point out I had married at 21, far, far too young, to a “child” who cheated on me numerous times. We split after 2 years of off and on attempts to make it work. I got an annulment through the church as I was a Catholic teacher and 2 years later I met my husband, the father of my 2 wonderful children! I was 25 he was 29. He was everything my “child man” was not. He knew how to save money, he was self assured, he was kind, he was always where he said he was, he treated me like I was special and he was there for me. It took him  a year to say he loved me and that was because I forced that out of him as well. I knew he did but I needed to hear it. I asked him and he said he loved me but he wasn’t in love with me and there was a difference. He said he didn’t want a house with a picket fence or kids. So I said, “Oh, okay good to know. I am going to Toronto for the weekend with a couple of my single girlfriends and if I meet someone there I am going to see where it leads because I thought we had more so this is good to know.” He was shocked. I came home and packed. While packing and crying the phone rang and he said, “Don’t go.” I said, I thought we were more but I have to go. I want more.” I hung up. A few minutes later he called back and said, “Okay, I love you. I am in love with you. Please do not go, come over.” Inside, I knew he did, outside, I said, “What did you say, I don’t think I quite heard you?” LOL Repeating it was even sweeter. I don’t know why I waited so long to press for marriage, maybe I wasn’t really ready either. I don’t know if he would have been ready at the 3 year mark and that is why I want to say, Sophie, do what is in your heart. I loved him enough to wait and see, but you are older and you have to do what is right for you. You can listen to advice after advice but only you know how you feel. Write a list of pros and cons. Start working on your confidence. Believe in yourself. If he isn’t the one, I can guarantee you there is “the one” out there looking for you. Be fearless. Be brave. You will figure it out and it will be perfect!

  11. 101

    I forgot to say, we are still in love. We do everything together as we are retired. He is my rock and I do not regret a single day of waiting for him. He is the BEST husband and father I could ever have hoped for. Just saying!

  12. 102

    Sophie’s boyfriend sounds like mine, but I am the idiot at the end of the article who spent 7 years waiting for him to come around. He had all the same excuses… but my free time! moving in is a FOREVER step!

    It is hard to lose a long term friend though. I’m still trying to get over him.

  13. 103

    I have a similar situation. My bf.& I, have been together for 2years and six month,we see each other 5x  a week. We argue sometimes like other couple do that leads him better not to move in yet, I told him that I am very tired this kind of situation and like to try to live with him wether our relationship will work or not. He said we could only move in if argue will stop! I don’t know if I should wait him as I feel arguments is just his excuses but the reality he doesn’t want to. I am getting very tired😢😢

  14. 104

    I also broke off a relationship with my bf of 2.5 years due to this.  He was never on the same page regarding timing for a proposal. I tell you this Sophie, when a man knows, he knows and he would absolutely do anything to keep you so no one steals you from him. The excuses come from when he is not sure. I don’t know your relationship but if marriage and a proposal is priority to you and would make you happy. Don’t wait much longer. Look at it this way, if it was meant to be he would pursue you and make it happen. So if you indeed call it off and he still doesn’t do these things despite knowing that he is about to loose you. Then there is your answer. Bitter truth but you are not the one.  Trust me when I say this – when a guy sees and knows what he wants. He goes did it aggressively.

  15. 105
    Rakhi Kar

    I really liked the conversation.I am also running from the same situation as well as Sophie.I was just searching google and thenI came to see all those comments.I am feeling really less-stressed as I think I would get few friends who would be there with me to overcome this situation.

    And Dear Sophie don’t you worry.Many of us are in this kind of situation,not only you,time has the power to heal every worst thing,right thing will always be happen at the right time.

  16. 106

    So I am a mother of three dating a man who has two kids. It’s been almost five years. We live 45 min away from each other and I stay at his place when my kids are with their dad.  I want marriage. Even though he says he understands. He just bought a house a year again so his five year plan just turned into ten. So I’m guessing I just answered my own question. It’s never gonna happen

  17. 107

    When I met my boyfriend, one of the things he said he wanted in a relationship was to get married. Well, it’s been 3 years now and we aren’t married yet and when I bring it up, he gives me the look. I tell him I can understand if we were in our 20’s or 30’s to be scared, but I’m 62 and he’s going to be 61 and we should know after 3 years if we want to be with each other, if we love each other…if we want to spend the rest of ours lives together. He says he loves me but his fear, he tells me, is what if after a few years, I decide I don’t want this anymore….well, I told him if I didn’t want to be with him, I would have walked away a long time ago and not stuck around 3 years. I’m old enough to know who I love and who I want to spend the rest of my life with. He will be getting the “not waiting forever” talk.

    Fed up.

  18. 108
    Raechel Taylor

    I was in a relationship for 5 years…I (46) have been married and have 4 kids who are  teenagers, two have gone off to college…he (44) has never been married, no siblings, no kids. He was a devoted, present, committed partner in every way EXCEPT with MONEY, RESPONSIBILITIES, KIDS and STAYING COMMITTED IN A DISAGREEMENT. SO basically, when it came to being an actual adult, he was totally uncommitted to me and I was on my own, which was fine, given that I have always been self-employed and successful. When I would bring up a future together, he would cite wanting to have certain “basics” before a future together (basics meant, a certain amount of money in the bank, buy his own house, have stable income coming in). Organic progression was something he told me that was important to him as well. His third issue was that I already have been married, had kids, and have lived with other men so he would never have these “firsts” with me, which kept him from moving forward. All these were valid concerns and I respected them, however, at year four, even he stopped mentioning them because he knew he sounded ridiculous after kids moved out, he had made no real progress with savings or career, and was living at his father’s house where all expenses were paid. When I brought up a future together for the last time, at year 5, he panicked and absolutely said I was the one, he wanted to get married, BUT then nothing else happened. I almost thought he was going to propose right then and there, 2 weeks went by, and I realized that he has been making excuses not to be an adult this while time. When we met, we agreed that we wanted to find a partner to build a life with from the ground up (house, careers, finances) and that we both wanted a partner who would love us even if we we broke living out of a car. What I finally realized was that I gave him exactly what he wanted in a partner, but he couldn’t give me the same partner in return. I broke up with him by phone, cried for two days, started my online business within the week, and never looked back. No regrets. If it was meant to be, he would have done something about it. The best thing about this culture empowering men to choose a bride, is that it also empowers women to walk away when they don’t. 

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