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“It’s Been Five Years and My Boyfriend STILL Won’t Propose!”

I’m a 27 year old female, and I’ve been with my 31 year old boyfriend for over five years now. We have made a happy and loving life together, including sharing a home, sharing our finances, being closely involved with each other’s families, and we even have two cats and a puppy together. About a year ago we started talking seriously about getting engaged within the next six months, but by the time fall rolled around, my boyfriend told me that though he loves me and wants nothing more than a future with me, he was just not ready for an engagement yet. He had some issues from his parents’ divorces, and decided to begin counseling to deal with them.

He has been making great progress over the last six months, and though it has been difficult to delay our engagement, I truly felt it was all worth it to make sure we’re both in the right emotional place. Finally, he felt that he had “gotten there” emotionally, so last weekend he took me ring shopping, and we picked out a beautiful engagement ring! He even told me he would propose within a week. Well, instead of proposing, he absolutely shocked me by announcing that, though it would break his heart to do so, he thinks we have to split up because he’s still not ready to get engaged.

This weekend we talked and cried, and ultimately decided to try to work through this. But I am at a loss as to how to actually do that, because he has no idea why he’s not ready to get engaged now. How can we do this if he can’t even identify what is stopping him? I want to give him more time, but at this point, am I being foolish for thinking that he’ll ever change his mind? I thought that months of counseling (after over five years together!) would do it, but it feels like we’re back at square one. I don’t know how much longer I can wait for him to be ready, but I hate the thought of giving up on a relationship that is so amazing in so many other ways. Should I just cut my losses and MOA? — Tired of Waiting

If your future happiness is contingent on getting married, I would cut your losses and MOA, because clearly there’s absolutely no promise of that. On the contrary, the chance of marriage seems to be getting slimmer with each passing month. It’s been five years, after all. He’s had six months of therapy! And still, he is no closer to marrying you than he ever was. Furthermore, he doesn’t seem to even respect you enough to give it to you straight. He keeps letting you believe that he will change, and he won’t let you go despite knowing that he is unable to give you the thing you desperately want (marriage).

Well, if the risk of divorce is scaring him much more than the risk of losing you — or if his fear of commitment is bigger than the fear of losing you, it may be time to show him exactly what losing you would really feel like. It might be the only way for him to finally reconcile what the biggest risk really is. But if you do leave him, you have to understand there’s a risk for you as well, and that is that he won’t be the only one to lose what he loves the most. But in the end, as heartbreaking as it will be, leaving him is probably your best chance to get the marriage you want eventually. You just have to accept that it may not be with him.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

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Public Pearl Public Pearl February 17, 2011, 9:14 am

And have you tried seeing his counselor together as a couple? If you’re determined to work through this together, couples counseling might help. But otherwise, yeah, sounds like this one might be a dead end.

avatar Amber February 17, 2011, 9:22 am

I agree couples therapy would definitely be a good idea. And really she needs to ask herself if what she ultimately wants is to be mrs. someone or would be happy with her current bf unmarried.

avatar baby.blanka February 17, 2011, 9:24 am

If it weren’t for the issue of marriage the relationship would be rock solid? If this is correct then I think you might be putting unnecessary pressure on yourself, for whatever reason, to get married.

If you have doubts *other* than the wedding issues then I think Wendy is 100% correct to say cut your losses and MOA.

I like the idea of couples therapy as it would give you the chance to work through your own issues and his issues, instead of just him working on his.

avatar TMSC February 17, 2011, 9:27 am

I can imagine how hard this must be for you, and I am so sorry you are going through this after so much time together, and having built a life together. I wish I had sage advice to give in addition to Wendy’s words and the idea of couples counseling (which is a great idea). It seems strange that it is just the “marriage” part he is having trouble with, after 5 years of building a home and a life together. For all intents and purposes, the only thing missing seems to be a piece of paper. Try finding out what he thinks is going to change once you have that piece of paper.

avatar TMSC February 17, 2011, 9:31 am

and, as others have said, why you might need that pie
ce of paper…

avatar DS February 17, 2011, 9:48 am

That’s just the thing. People seem to like to say “it’s just a piece of paper, so why bother getting married?” Well, on the flip side, if it IS “just a piece of paper,” then why NOT get married? That “piece of paper” is a representation of the commitment and the intent of a long term life together. It’s a statement. Those who claim it is just a piece of paper, but still refuse to get married obviously regard a marriage as more of a commitment than they are willing to make.

Besides, she may want the stability or the commitment to stability that marriage offers. A boyfriend/girlfriend can wake up one day and say, “I’m done with this relationship. Get out.” You can’t do that with a marriage. There are legal protections that go along with the status as well as just social implications. It isn’t wrong for her to want to know that she isn’t wasting her youth on someone who refuses to make a long term commitment to her. Why waste the pretty?

avatar Anne (I Go To 11) February 17, 2011, 10:45 am

I completely agree, DC. I’m so tired of the “it’s just a piece of paper” argument against marriage. Why should a “piece of paper” be so scary if you’ve been together for 5 (or however many) years already, then?

avatar TMSC February 17, 2011, 10:58 am

I just meant they already seem to have made the commitment with their actions, and to me when you have created a home and a life together, you are committed. But I can see that perhaps not everybody feels that way, and to him it might be a different level of commitment. I wasn’t suggesting she give up getting married. I was just suggesting they both look at what “the piece of paper” means to them individually and together, and make a decision based on that. You make a very points, and I agree with what you’ve said on a personal level.

avatar TMSC February 17, 2011, 10:59 am

*you make very good points – I meant to say

avatar Ang May 24, 2014, 3:16 am

If it’s just a piece of paper…why do ppl go get their bachelor degree! point exactly! it’s NOT just a piece of paper! It means more!

avatar Wolvie_girl February 17, 2011, 3:29 pm

I can see both sides of this argument. On one hand, I can see why it is so important to LW and why it might be MOA-worthy, if you’ve put years into a relationship, live as a family, ect, I can certainly understand feeling like, WHY NOT!! WHEN???

As someone who has been divorced, however, I have a little different perspective. After going through an ugly divorce (and perhabs LW’s BF witnessed his parents go through an ugly divorce) I made a choice to never get married again uness I was 100% sure it was what I wanted and was ready for. Because the LW mentioned he had divorce-related hangups, I can certainly understand him holding off until his is 100% ready…it took me almost 2 years living together to be comfortable with the notion of maybe getting married again.

avatar Spark February 17, 2011, 9:16 pm

So well said!

avatar MissDre February 17, 2011, 9:33 am

Guys are weird. My brother was the same way. Loves his girlfriend more than anything, lives with her, even owns a business with her! But was so afraid to get married, I think because our parents are divorced. I’m not sure what the breaking point was, but he eventually did agree to get married. He didn’t seem to want to talk about the wedding plans at all… but now that they are actually married he just seems SO happy!

I think it’s just the fear of change that gets them.

avatar MissDre February 17, 2011, 9:29 am

This story wasn’t told to me personally, but I heard it from my mother. I know a girl (yes I know her personally) who has been with her boyfriend for over 10 years. They share a home together as well. Her boyfriend told her many times that he loved her and loved things the way they were, and he didn’t want to change anything by getting married. Apparently. he was very afraid of getting married because so many people he knows have been divorced. It was a big issue in their relationship.

She finally told him that she loved him and would stay with him if he did not want to get married, but that she would not have children with him, because she believes that children should be born into a family with married parents. I guess that is what did it for him… the thought of not being able to have children with the girl he loves. And, within a few months, he proposed. And they have a wedding date set in Europe this summer :)

avatar baby.blanka February 17, 2011, 10:24 am

It’s a nice story, especially since they are both happy.

I have seen the other end of the spectrum though, when a woman has put pressure on a man to propose – and then he did – and that’s where the trouble really started. I often wonder if my boyfriend is going to propose (dating 2 years, living together for 1 year) but then I kind of think… well we’re happy, so we’re ok. I would hate to be married to him and everyday ask myself if he only married me because he felt pressured. That might be my own personal insecurities (obviously, the LW does not have these types of feelings) but it’s something to consider. A marriage isn’t just a wedding. You live with yourself and your husband all day, everyday.

avatar TheOtherMe February 17, 2011, 10:49 am

That is very close to what I was going to suggest. If the relationship is perfect apart from the fact she would like to be married, is it really worth it to give up on it ?

Maybe for her it is, she’s the only one that can answer that. All I know is that happiness can be found in many less-conventional ways. Sometimes, we are so caught up on a “vision” of what we think the perfect life would be that we don’t see the value of what’s right there in front of our eyes.

If you really love him and don’t want to lose him, I say tell him that you are willing to spend your life with him and build a future together regardless of marriage. Maybe the fact that you remove that sense of ” obligation” that he feels MIGHT make him change his mind. If not, you can still have a wonderful life together.

avatar kerrycontrary February 17, 2011, 9:36 am

I agree with Wendy, as hard as it may be you might have to leave this guy so he can see what its like to lose you. On the other hand, and this is harsh to say, you may not just be “the one” for him. It’s not like you two are young, he’s gone through therapy, so what’s holding him back? If you really want to get married then you need to move on to someone with the same goals as you.

avatar jena February 17, 2011, 10:40 am

ouch, at the idea of 27 and 31 being “not young.”

Dear Wendy Wendy February 17, 2011, 10:55 am

I’m 34 and I had the same thought. Very sad. :(

avatar sarolabelle February 17, 2011, 11:19 am

it’s not like you two are young?

avatar Uyzie February 17, 2011, 12:13 pm

I think maybe kerrycontrary meant ‘it’s not like you two are too young to get married’. (As in, they’re both old enough and presumably mature enough to take that step. As opposed to being, say, 19-21, which for some people, would be a little bit too young to make that sort of life commitment.)

At least, that’s what I’m hoping she meant. Because at 30 and unmarried, I still like to think of myself as fairly young! :)

avatar baby.blanka February 17, 2011, 1:19 pm

I have age related anxiety attacks on a daily basis now… this does not help :/

Is there a Dear Wendy letter with advice on how to deal with that?

avatar cmarie February 17, 2011, 5:17 pm

So I just turned a quarter of a century, does that make me old?

avatar Jess February 17, 2011, 9:42 am

It seems a lot of people base marriage readiness on what their friends are doing, as that is a measure of what life stage you’re in. Are most of your friends married? If not, that could be a reason he doesn’t feel ready for that step. Once he see’s the people he loves and respects making the decision to marry (and being happily married) it could counterbalance the bad association he has of marriage from his childhood.

avatar Jessica February 17, 2011, 9:44 am

that was some tough love advice. I liked it though.. kinda seemed like the only option.

avatar Desiree February 17, 2011, 9:48 am

I am inclined to think that if a 31-year-old man can’t bring himself to propose to his live-in girlfriend of five years after buying a ring, it probably just isn’t going to happen at all. He initiated a break-up as opposed to going through the trauma of proposing. I might say, “maybe the man needs therapy to handle the baggage from his past,” but he’s already had that. Which makes me think that as much as he loves his girlfriend, she may just not be enough to push him through the chapel doors. That was basically what he said when he broke up with her; he just couldn’t say, “I love you but not enough to marry you” out loud. There is a slim chance that the separation from her will be a sort of wake-up call to get him over some deep hang-up. But I suspect it’s just a (tragic) case of he’s just not that into you. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t care–obviously the break-up is hard for him as well. But I think the best way for the LW to bring this to a swift close is to leave–whether that ends up being permanent or just the way to bring him around. Otherwise this dramatic state could last for months before he finally admits what I suspect or she just becomes too emotionally exhausted to continue. Men usually respond better to a simple, single, bold act than they do to a drawn-out drama war. I will add that I hope the LW manages to depart gracefully–easier said than done, but ultimately very important.

avatar mf February 17, 2011, 1:07 pm

“Men usually respond better to a simple, single, bold act than they do to a drawn-out drama war.” Well said. I agree 100%. The desire to marry her has to come from within him, and he just doesn’t seem to have that desire.

avatar rosalee February 17, 2011, 10:10 am

This sounds like a horrible situation, and though it’s tough to accept, I think Wendy’s advice is the way to go. Only, I hope the LW doesn’t walk away from this thinking she isn’t “the one” for him, or that “he isn’t that into her”… because those explanations imply the shortcomings are on the side of the LW. No way! If a 31 year old man can’t marry the woman he loves and has spent five years with, that is HIS failing, his issue, and not a reflection on the LW. Maybe HE is not “the one” for HER. I feel sorry for him, because he might be a great guy that just can’t grow up emotionally, and now might lose the woman he loves because of it. But it is HIS loss, not hers. If the LW makes the very difficult – and brave – decision to walk, she will be better off, because she will have a real chance at the marriage she’s looking for.

avatar Wolvie_girl February 17, 2011, 3:53 pm

Again, I have to say…Why is it a failing to be reluctant to make such a huge commitement??? If someone isn’t ready to be married, it doesn’t necessarily make them immature or failing in some way! It is better to never be married then to be in a bad marriage. The feelings of lonliness, dispair, frustration, helplessness, regret that I felt while being married to someone whom I never should have married, and rushed into marrying b/c that was “the next logical step” were MUCH MUCH worse than being single, infinately worse!

I’m not saying these people are wrong for each other and shouldn’t get married…who knows, certainly not us, but if he isn’t sure then he SHOULD NOT get married, period! And it doesn’t make him immature to take that stance.

avatar Geoff February 17, 2011, 10:38 am

How many years have they been living together / sharing finances? Not sure about laws in specific states, but you might want to look into whether or not you aren’t already (common law) married, if it’s really just his parents bad marriage pulling some jujitsu on his head it’s possible that finding out that he’s already ‘married’ might get him over it. \

avatar Kate February 17, 2011, 3:54 pm

Most states do not recognize CL marriage.

avatar Wolvie_girl February 17, 2011, 4:07 pm

And even in ones that do, It’s not a label that is given to you automatically, you have to essentially “prove” to the court that you are common law married (and it’s not easy to prove!)

avatar MissDre February 17, 2011, 10:43 am

I have often read that couples who live together before they are engaged are more likely to end up divorced. Simply because one or both partners feel pressured into marriage as they feel it is the next logical step. Had they not been living together, perhaps the marriage never would have happened. It’s a lot easier to walk away when you’re not sharing a home and finances, etc.

I honestly don’t know if this is true, it’s just something that has popped up a lot in the news over the past few months. But as a result of this I’ve told myself many times that I wouldn’t live with a boyfriend until we have firmly agreed that we want to get married. The date doesn’t have to be set, but I would like to be engaged. But, maybe this is easier said than done…

avatar Jess February 17, 2011, 10:50 am

i know my last relationship lasted about 8 months longer than it should have because we were living together. It was such a hassle to break up I kept waiting for things to get better. Therefore I can see how this would be true.

I don’t think its a good idea for her to push too much for marriage. You want him to *want* to marry you, right?

avatar TMSC February 17, 2011, 11:07 am

I think living together first has its advantages, and I am very glad my fiance and I made the decision to do that. It is very difficult to get used to living with someone, and being able to weather those times and find out if your relationship is strong can be invaluable. However, to your point, we tried to be smart about it, and did not share finances for a year, and when we discussed moving in (from the very first conversation) it was with the intent of getting married down the road. It was very clear that was our goal and that we were committed to each other. I know that doesn’t always work for every relationship, though.

avatar MissDre February 17, 2011, 11:15 am

Yeah, I think if your intent is to get married, living together is certainly wise. You’re right, I’m sure it’s a huge adjustment. But moving in together to “see where this goes” is maybe not the best idea. I don’t know… I have never lived with a boyfriend. I like having my own place.

avatar TMSC February 17, 2011, 11:44 am

yeah, I agree with you on the “let’s see where this goes…” not being a great idea.

avatar AnitaBath February 17, 2011, 11:22 am

Am I the only one who thought the guy was being manipulative? He knew his g/f loved him and wanted to marry him and was (somewhat) pressuring him to get engaged, so I feel like he pulled the, “No, no, we can’t be together if that’s what you want,” so she’d back off. I think he partly did it to scare her into giving up the topic, so she’d be too afraid to approach the subject again if it meant he’d leave.

avatar Anne (I Go To 11) February 17, 2011, 11:30 am

I picked up on that too, AB. Something fishy’s going on here…

avatar TheOtherMe February 17, 2011, 11:33 am

I am not sure. Maybe he just doesn’t want to waste her time if after going to therapy he sees that his fear is till there when he thought it wound go away …

avatar Wolvie_girl February 17, 2011, 3:57 pm

I agree, I think manipulative behavior only goes so far…I doubt dude would be paying for therapy for months if he was just trying to manipulate the LW into dropping the issue!

avatar rosalee February 17, 2011, 12:33 pm

It’s possible. Whether or not it’s deliberately manipulative, his behavior strikes me as childish. Especially the post-ring-buying meltdown.

avatar Amber February 17, 2011, 1:08 pm

i didn’t think about this way at first, but after reading your comment it does make you think.

avatar mf February 17, 2011, 1:12 pm

Yeah, what the hell is he doing buying a ring and promising to propose within a week?! I’m sure he didn’t mean to be cruel, but she must have been devastated when he suddenly backed out. Sounds like he hyped himself up to go through with it and when the reality of it hit him, he fell apart. He doesn’t sound like the kind of stable, emotionally sound kind of guy you’d want to spend your life with.

Skyblossom Skyblossom February 17, 2011, 11:30 am

Judith S. Wallerstein has studied and written about divorce including ‘The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce’ which is a 25 year study of the effects of divorce on children. It follows them into their adult lives and how their parents divorce affects their adult life including their ability to marry. It’s eye opening and helped me to understand my cousins whose parents had divorced.

I’m not sure if it is in this book or another she wrote after studying these children for 20 years (I can’t find that one for sale) but she found that the children of divorce either married very young for poor reasons and ended up divorced or married at about the age of 35 with great trepidation. The marriages at the age of 35 seemed to work but the parent’s divorce did affect those marriages. Your boyfriend isn’t quite there yet and probably really does need more time.

I think if you get a copy of this book it will really help you and maybe it will help your boyfriend too.

avatar thefierycrash February 17, 2011, 12:37 pm

i think i need this book to help understand my boyfriend’s aversion to marriage. he comes from a family ridden with divorce whereas i don’t… sigh. he seems to be more on the waiting til 35 to get married. :/ hrmpf.

avatar cmarie February 17, 2011, 11:33 am

MissDre, I completely agree with you about the living together before getting married. My relationship lasted way longer than it should have because we were livin together and it was too difficult to break up. I really think the LW should take Wendy’s advice and move on. I hate to say it but after 5 years, a shared home, finances, pet responsibilities, etc, if he’s not ready to at least propose to her than he probably never will be. There’s something here that tells me that he knows she’s not the one for him and he’s not the one for her but he’s just to cowardly to come out and say it so he orchastrated the “break-up” to make her take that step. I feel like he thinks if he can just drag it out and cause her more pain she’ll be the one to end things and he’ll be in the clear. Additionally, she’ll be the b**ch who broke-up with him because she didn’t want to wait for him to be ready for marraige. Maybe I’m being cynical but I just feel like he’s manipulating her. He got what he wanted and the relationship could have lasted longer if she hadn’t pressed the issue (good for her!) but now it’s time for him to cut his losses but he’s doing it in a way that lets him come out on the other side squeeky clean while she gets to be the on to break-up a wonderful relationship because she’s too selfish to be happy with what she has. *insert sarcasm here*

avatar honeybeenicki February 17, 2011, 11:43 am

I think previous comments about couples counseling are excellent; however, I do agree with the later comments that it seems to be a manipulation on his part. There seems to be something else going on in that scenario that maybe LW doesn’t know about. As far as divorced children go, I imagine it can be tough to get married after dealing with a parent’s divorce.

My husband and I are both from divorced families. In my case, my mom and dad divorced and my dad married someone else and my mom embarked on a 10 year relationship with someone else. Both of those 2nd relationships failed also. In my husband’s case, his mom never married his biological father, but the man he grew up with as his dad was married to his mom. They were divorced and his mother has now been remarried for 19 years and his ad went through a total of 5 wives but passed away a few years ago.

When we decided to get married (we lived together first with the intention of ultimately getting married), I made my views of divorce clear and so did he, so we went into it knowing it was not an option in our case. We’ve made it this far through a horrible legal situation and dealing with his ex-wife and the struggle over the custody and other issues of his two awesome children. My advice to the LW is this: explore the situation and try to look at it with an objective eye, figure out if theres manipulation or something going on, try couple’s counseling if you choose to continue the relationship and NEVER be afraid to openly discuss how you feel about marriage just because you’re worried he’ll leave. Honesty and open communication are key to every good relationship.

avatar ArtsyGirly February 17, 2011, 12:16 pm

LW – I am sorry you are in such a horrible position. I think there are some big questions you have to ask yourself since your relationship is at a crossroads.

1. Besides the lack of marriage, is your relationship healthy and fulfilling?
2. Have the two of you ever spoken about having children? If yes are you willing to have and raise children outside of marriage?
3. Are you seeking marriage because it is something you need to feel content in your relationship or it is something that friends and/or family is pushing on you?

Only you can make the ultimate decision on this but I do think couple’s therapy is something you should pursue (either with his therapist or with a couple specialist). I wish you the best in any decision you make.

avatar RMM0278 February 17, 2011, 12:38 pm

Wendy is completely right, especially on the part about showing him what his life will be like without you. I would go one step further to say that even if he comes back on bended knee (ring and all), it’s still not a good thing. I worry that he’ll see what life is like without her, hate, and come crawling back only because he doesn’t want to be alone.

He won’t marry her, but he won’t let her go either. Intentional or not, that’s just manipulative. I fear that if he comes back to her, she’ll never know if he really wants to be with her or not.

avatar sarolabelle February 17, 2011, 12:41 pm

LW – maybe talk to him about a premaritial agreement and make it legal and offical about things that happen if a divorce would come. Perhaps that would make it easier. I don’t know, though how you spent that long with him without a proposal. I’d wait maybe two years but that was it.

avatar Amber February 17, 2011, 1:07 pm

i think time before proposal is a very individual (to the couple) thing. i mean if they were 22 adn 26 when they first starting dating maybe 2 years in neither was ready, i just feel like time is relative. it matters more when you both feel ready.

but, i think talking about the potential of divorce and how it makes both of them feel is a great idea. maybe he needs to hear what her thoughts are to make him comfortable.

avatar AnnaBanana February 17, 2011, 12:58 pm

Three things: 1) Some men are really hung up on the “piece of paper” even though for all intents and purposes, the relationship they are in is a marriage. Many people live blissfully the rest of their lives without that piece of paper (I know several), but do you want children? If so, I would venture that children is a more important issue to discuss in terms of your long-term goals, than the issue of marriage. You can still be domestically happy in the present without knowing that a marriage license is forthcoming (as you are now), but it’s hard to be happy in the present if you have no idea if your partner wants to procreate. Because for a woman, eventually it will be too late. 2) Get counseling TOGETHER. 3) I know several women who have chosen the option of breaking up/moving out, as a way to force the issue (i.e. telling the guy if you don’t want to get married, there’s no point us staying together). I’m not saying they did this in a bitchy, conniving way, they were just very matter-of-fact and grown up about it. Just quietly told the guy that they needed to move on, because marriage was important to them. I can honestly report that all of them ended up with a marriage proposal within six months, because, like Wendy said, the guys got a taste of what their life would be like without the girl. But if you go this route, you must be prepared to have the opposite happen. But you’re still young, and there are other fish in the sea. Really. Trust me.

avatar Amanda February 17, 2011, 1:10 pm

I agree that leaving the guy to see how he reacts is a good indicator.
For me it worked but it wasn’t because I wanted to be married.
My boyfriend spent 3 weeks in the oilfield and 1 week at home where he lived with three other guys. All they did was get drunk and I would come over when I was done my shift at the restaurant. BTW, coming home to four drunk losers was not what I wanted after dealing with snooty guests at work. So I said “HIT THE ROAD. I can’t do this anymore. I love you but I don’t love how you’re treating me the only week I get to see you”.
We got back together four months later after he called me everyweek to see how I was and say how much he missed spending time with me, hearing my voice, and seeing me smile. Fast forward 2 1/2 years and we are happier than we have ever been. He just needed to be taught how to treat the girl he loves.
p.s. we’ve known eachother since we were 15&17. Now we are 21&23.