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. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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😢😢

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.  

  9. 109

    That is the BEST advice I’ve ever read!! Thank you, I really needed to hear this!

  10. 110

    This is the problem with falling in love with the idea of getting married and people wanting things too quickly. You get married, the honeymoon phase is over, and then what? Look at how high divorce rates are. Do you think couples weren’t giddy when they proposed and the other said yes, or when they exchanged their wedding vows? Do you think when couples married, it wasn’t one of the best days of their lives? Yet, divorces are too frequent. If I want to know what spending 50 years with a person is like, dating 1-2 years is too little. 3-5 years is good, but I would also let my SO know of my thoughts, feelings and intentions. My policy is be open and honest and be willing to a risk if your gut tells you to do so.

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