“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.


  1. Avatar photo Public Pearl says:

    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.

    1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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

      1. 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?

      2. Anne (I Go To 11) says:

        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?

      3. 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.

      4. *you make very good points – I meant to say

      5. 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!

      6. Wolvie_girl says:

        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.

      7. So well said!

    2. 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.

  4. 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 🙂

    1. 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.

    2. TheOtherMe says:

      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.

  5. kerrycontrary says:

    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.

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

      1. I’m 34 and I had the same thought. Very sad. 🙁

    2. sarolabelle says:

      it’s not like you two are young?

    3. 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! 🙂

    4. 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?

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

  6. 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.

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

  8. 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.

    1. “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.

  9. 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.

    1. Wolvie_girl says:

      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.

  10. 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. \

    1. Most states do not recognize CL marriage.

      1. Wolvie_girl says:

        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!)

  11. 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…

    1. 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?

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

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

  12. 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.

    1. Anne (I Go To 11) says:

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

      1. TheOtherMe says:

        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 …

      2. Wolvie_girl says:

        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!

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

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

    4. 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.

  13. Skyblossom says:

    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.

    1. thefierycrash says:

      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.

  14. 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*

  15. honeybeenicki says:

    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.

  16. ArtsyGirly says:

    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.

  17. 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.

  18. sarolabelle says:

    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.

    1. 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.

  19. AnnaBanana says:

    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.

  20. 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.

  21. bostonpupgal says:

    I don’t know that I agree with all of the comments about getting couples counseling. I mean, he’s been in personal counseling for months, they’ve been in a (presumably) healthy relationship for years..I just don’t see what more counseling will do for them.

    As Desiree said, he’s already made it clear he’d rather break up than propose, and to me that’s that. It’s not going to happen. As hard as it is, and believe me I know it is, you have to MOA. Maybe leaving will jolt him into proposing, maybe not. But you have to leave with the mindset that you’ve got to move on to other relationships and let this one go.

    I have a ton of respect for all manners of relationships and commitments, but I personally view marriage as a lot more than ‘just a piece of paper’, and getting married to the right person is a non-negotiable goal of mine. It’s just not a piece of myself I’m willing to give up, even for a great guy. And if the LW doesn’t think she can be happy without the marriage, and he can’t be happy with it, they both deserve to move on to other commitments that suit them.

    1. Thanks for your comments on marriage not being “just a piece of paper.” Some people feel that way, and that’s fine for them. But for people to say that about this woman’s relationship–I think that belittles her desire for marriage.

  22. But why should he marry her? He has all the advantages of a wife right now in his life – they have a home together, pets, lets assume mutual friends and shared family holidays, shared expenses. Where is the advantage to being married? To many men there is no advantage to being married once you have cohabited for several years. Marriage means a more solid commitment – lifelong responsibility if taken seriously -financial commitment etc. that they don’t feel they need to commit to once they have it all under one unmarried roof. My Granny used to say “why buy the cow when you can have the milk for free”.

    Just a thought.

    1. bitter gay mark says:

      Hah, I almost used the cow/free milk reference in my post below, but then felt I was getting a bur too long winded as it was so I cut it. Now, I see you beat me to it!

      1. I still think my Granny had a point.

      2. demoiselle says:

        Yes, if you’re dating a jerk.

    2. demoiselle says:

      “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”

      What a tired old line.

      Any guy who has this attitude towards the woman he is living with does not love THAT woman enough to marry her. Plus, he’s probably kind of a misogynist. But I bet that attitude would change if he found someone he really LOVED and WANTED to be committed to. She wouldn’t look like a cow to him then, no matter how many advantages he was reaping from cohabitation.

  23. bitter gay mark says:

    Well, this guy’s recent behavior is what seals the deal for me. (MOA!) His actions speak louder than words. I almost have to wonder if this relationship is as perfect to him as it is to her? If so, then he is a total tool. Frankly, in this day of age, I don’t get why anybody would be THAT afraid of marriage. I mean, it’s hardly like it’s REALLY ever till death do you part anymore. If this was one hundred years ago — and the vows actually meant something — then I would get all the fear. Look, I’ve been in seven weddings. (SEVEN!) And only two of the couples are still together. (Curiously, one of those couples is absolutely the LAST I ever suspected would work out, and now, I must say they are definitely the happiest married couple I have ever known.)

    Now, I suppose, the guy could say what he is REALLY afraid of is divorce. Um, okay. But ending a five year relationship with pets and shared home, finances and various other worldly possessions is basically going through the motions of a divorce without the help of legal counsel.

    And so I wonder if maybe the guy has felt this way a long time. Maybe he feels that they “should” marry because on paper in makes good sense. But maybe he’s just not really feeling it in his gut. This makes him all the more horrible, because he has led her on and on and on. Meanwhile, I suspect, he will make her feel WAY worse in a year or two when she hears that he has up and married somebody else and she must endure that awful “When Harry Met Sally Moment” where she’s left wailing “All this time I thought he didn’t want to get married, but really he just didn’t want to marry me.”

    This letter is a tough one. But yeah, I would MOA. He is being insanely selfish. If I were her, I would cut my losses and move on.

    1. I disagree that it’s not really about death do us part. I believe my generation is acutely aware that divorce rates are sky high, and the traditional “marriage is forever” ideals are sadly falling by the wayside. You saying that it’s not REALLY about “till death do us part” is exactly part of the problem. People are too quick to get married with the idea that “Oh well, if it doesn’t work out there’s always divorce.” I think there is a bit of a shift in thinking now, or maybe that’s just me hoping, that perhaps we should take marriage more seriously, as did past generations. We WANT the vows to mean something. Otherwise, what’s the fucking point? Ending a live-in relationship is actually NOT like divorce. There are other legal ramifications you wouldn’t deal with in that situation. Name changing, taxes, property divisions, etc.

      1. I don’t think marriage changes a committed relationship that much beyond the legal ramifications and I don’t think it should. Although, coming from someone who legally can’t get married to the person I love, I have very different view of what marriage should be. Marriage should be an extension of the committment a couple has already made to each other, it shouldn’t BE the committment. People don’t get married to build a life, they get married after they already have a life built. I really question the importance of it beyond tax breaks. Divorce is no more emotionally devastating than is breaking up a truly committed long-term relationship. It’s just financially more burdensome. Getting married is important to the LW and that good for her to stand up for her values but as it’s already been pointed out; they were essentially already living as a married couple. Leaving him now will hurt just as much as divorcing him 5 years down the road.

      2. Wolvie_girl says:

        It changes a committed relationship completely cmarie. It’s not the same, and it’s not just a peice of paper or a legal distinction.

        “Divorce is no more emotionally evastating than is breaking up a truly committed long-term relationship” TOTAL BULLSHIT! Until you’ve stood in front of every person you love and care about in your life and vowed in front of them and God to be together until the day you die and have it fall apart, you simply have no idea what you’re talking about!

      3. Wolvie_girl says:

        BTW cmarie, I hate that you don’t have the right to marry the person you love, and I wish you enjoyed the same right to marry freely. I don’t mean to sound elitist, like hetero-love is different, it’s not. But marraige IS different. It just is, and until you’ve been in it, and suffered through a divorce, you have absolutely no basis or right to make the claim that it’s the same as breaking up with your committed boyfriend or girlfriend.

        People tend to make light of marraige these days, they think, you’re committed, you love each other, why not, it’s the next step just grow up and do it already…but it’s so much more, at least it should be more. Those vows are serious stuff and they should be taken seriously. It’s not just about finances (although the reality of a person who vowed to love you forever and then abused that love suddenly having the power to RUIN you financially is truly terrifying) it’s the deepest level of commitment you can make. It’s not just breaking up, it’s a death. I’ve been in serious, committed relationships that ended before, and it hurt, sure, but it was nothing compared to divorce.

      4. What makes marriage so special? Is it the “eyes of God” that changes everything. I may not have been divorced myself but I’ve experienced it and I’ve also experienced the breaking up of a committed relationship and they hurt all the same. Sure, a divorce is more complicated legally and unfortunately getting a divorce still carried a lot of social stigma but beyond that you go through the same motions. Most long-term couples live together, merge finances, buy homes together, have children, etc. Marriage used to be the only to have those things but these days more and more people are choosing not to get married and they still manage to make the some committment a married couple would make and when those relationships end it still hurts and there is still a lot of disentangling that needs to be done. And being married isn’t the only way to ruin someone financially. A long-term committed couple goes throught the same motions a married couple goes through. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be able to marry because I’m traditional like that but I don’t think it’s really going to make a difference in how a view my relationship. I lived through my parent’s divorce as a child and I’ve gone through my own break-up after spending 5 years with someone. I hurt just as much as my mom did. I have a friend who married her boyfriend of 10 years this summer and nothing has changed about that relationship except her name. Marriage has a lot of legal benefits and protections but when it comes to the actually committment, the actualy relationship it really is just a piece of paper. It may bind legally but emotionally that connectiong is made between the two people long before they get married.

      5. Wolvie_girl says:

        Those relationsips and breakups seem the same to you, but you weren’t in them, you don’t know that they were the same. And people that merge their lives together but aren’t married may love each other just as much, certainly, but they have not made the same commitment. The difference is the promise you make to another person, out loud, in front of at least one other witness (not just God) to stay with them till death. The difference is the VOW. That may not mean anything to you, maybe you’re vow (your promise, your word) is as worthless as a piece of paper, but to me, a vow is real. Being with someone, and promising to stay with them are not the same.

      6. I may not have been in the relationships but I experienced them. I was my mother’s confidante and my friend is very open about her feelings. They only go married because she wanted his health insurance, not because they felt marriage would be more of a commitment than they had already made. By saying that non-married couples don’t have the same level of commitment demeans every other committed relationship; you devalue all non-hetero married relationships. My 5 year relationship had the same level of commitment any marriage has. I made the same vows just without the piece of paper. I promised to stay with my partner and when that relationship didn’t work out I promise it was as painful as a divorce because it was a divorce in every emotional and financial way. You don’t marry someone without already having taken those vows. Nobody tells a woman to get married even if she has some doubts because everyone knows that if the relationship wouldn’t work without marriage it won’t work with marriage. You devalue every relationship, including mine, by saying the level of commitment isn’t the same. I promise you that I can maintain that level without getting married.

  24. bitter gay mark says:

    PS — To me, if you need couples counseling BEFORE you get married, then you are doomed. I mean, c’mon. The beginning — or during courtship at least — is when the relationship is supposed to be fresh and exciting and above all else FUN! If you have all these problems going in, forget it. Because, face it. Relationships only get tougher as time goes on. It’s not like getting married will magically make all your troubles and issues fade away.

    1. demoiselle says:

      While it is not a good sign if you “NEED” couples counseling before getting marriage due to massive interpersonal problems, it is often recommended (and I’ve heard it heartily praised) that couples getting engaged go through some kind of counseling in order to make sure that they are on the same page about expectations, financial and familial. It can be a good move for a relationship that is already strong.

  25. Chantelle says:

    It sounds like he’s afraid to hurt you because he does care for you. I agree with what Wendy says. I think it comes down to your common goals. If you’re dating someone who wants to travel the world and you want to settle down and create some roots then it isn’t going to work out without compromise. If you want to get married and your partner doesn’t, it’s hard to find a compromise there.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter what his reasons are for not wanting to get married. If he truly wants to work on things, he can do that with you not in the picture. He has to realize his decisions have consequences because they directly affect you. Right now he’s getting exactly what he wants and you’re not. I’m afraid that you’re understanding, patient, loving attitude is being wasted on someone who isn’t ready to give you the same things. Dating, love, and marriage take a lot of work and vulnerability. If he’s hung up on the fear of failure you have to show him that he’s lost you because of it. He’s creating a self fulfilling prophesy and you sticking around is only going extend the cycle.

    Leave because you love yourself and know you’ll be ok.

  26. justpeachy says:

    While some of the previous commentors have suggested that it’s just a piece of paper and if you’re happy with your life with him, you shouldn’t worry about getting married, but I disagree. It’s not just about getting married, it’s about all the big life decisions they’ll be making together, whether or not the decisions are about a piece of paper. If this guy keeps leading you on and misleading you about marriage, what about children? Do you really think he’ll be “ready for” children in the next ten years? If you got your dream job but it forced you to relocate to the opposite side of the country, would he follow you? If he had always told you he didn’t want to get married and had been up front with you, I would reevaluate how important that “piece of paper” is to you, but since he’s flip flopped on this, what’s to stop him from doing it in the future again. Could you handle more of the indecisiveness?

  27. Ugh. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to chime in or not, but here I am. LW, I feel your pain. Really, I do – more than you know.

    I think it’s pretty shitty that he took you ring shopping, bought the ring, got your hopes up, then dashed them. That said… I get the impression that he knows how high your expectations are and he’s simply not ready for marriage. I actually disagree with Wendy on one thing – rather than string you along, he is being honest with you. I’m guessing he really DID think he was ready, but now he’s in freak out mode. Now it’s up to you to decide if you want to give him time or not. The fact that he says he’s not ready to be engaged after taking obvious steps to the contrary actually took balls. He probably thinks YOU are going to break up with HIM over that fact, and decided to make it easy on himself and just be the one to do it first. I feel like he doesn’t want to lose you, but knows you really want to get married so he’s “letting you go” to make your own decisions. If you really love him, can’t picture your life without him, then it would be worth it to stick it out for a while to see what happens – that is, as long as you don’t have other deal breakers, like kids within a certain time frame or something. You’re only 27, and still have a few years before I think it’s time to really stress out over it. Though I’m kind of jaded, and in my situation 5 years isn’t a long time to go without being married, so I have a bit of sympathy for you both. 🙂
    I hope to hear an update on this one.

  28. WatersEdge says:

    The other LW’s did a great job here, so I’ll keep my comment short. I’m in the “if it hasn’t happened, then it won’t happen” camp. Marriage IS different from dating, even if you’re living together, sharing finances, etc. It feels different to know that you can’t leave without a huge legal production. I think you should leave this guy because even the best marriage is difficult at times… and occasionally being married is VERY difficult. I’m sure you can understand that after 5 years of being a team. I think that a fundamental characteristic of a good spouse is the simple desire to be married. To “live on the married side of the street”, as Chris Rock says. Don’t go into a marriage with a guy who doesn’t know if he wants to be married. He currently acts married to you. You both have left nothing to the imagination as to what married life would be like. If he doesn’t know if he wants it, then go find someone who does like the idea of being married. He will be a more collaborative, supportive partner for sure.

    1. I think that a fundamental characteristic of a good spouse is the simple desire to be married.


  29. atmartin06 says:

    I completely understand how you feel, LW. I have been with my live-in bf for 7 1/2 years. We have had the marriage talk many times, namely each time he tells me how he’d like for us to have a baby. I told him I would like that as well but I will not go off my birth control until I’m married. He doesn’t believe in the establishment of marriage but says he will do it for me because all he cares about is that we spend the rest of our lives together, married or not. For me, not is not an option and he knows that. Still, though, I wait.

    It’s really easy to say “Just MOA” but I know it doesn’t really work out that easily, esp if you live together. Can you imagine your life without him? I know in my case I cannot because he is my soulmate, and therefore I am *trying* to be patient. Your case may be different. If you value being with him above being engaged right now, you could have a conversation with him in which you ask point blank if he feels that he will be ready at some point to get engaged and if so ask for an approximate timeframe for when that might happen.

  30. evanscr05 says:

    I can sort of understand where her boyfriend is coming from. My parents are divorced and the fall out from that experience left me jaded on relationships and marriage for a long time. I’m with my perfect person, but there are days where I question what will happen down the road. It’s not him, it’s me (and I’m not being cliche), and I truly wonder how damaged I am from my childhood. I NEVER want to be divorced. I know what that does to a child, and I would never put children through it unless absolutely necessary. I think that no matter how solid your relationship is, or how right you are for each other, there’s still a lot of pressure put on marriage and perhaps 6 months of therapy is not enough time to dig deep enough to find his true fears. If you’re only with him because you want to be married, then MOA because you’re not doing yourself or him any favors. And honestly, marriage just isn’t for everyone. One of my coworkers has been with her fiance for 15 years. They’ve been engaged for 6. She no longer wears her engagement ring and marriage isn’t really in their future. They have a life together, and the benefits of marriage weigh less than the commitment they made in their hearts. If you love this man for all that he is and who you are with him, why in the hell would you risk losing that right now? Give him some time. If after a year more of therapy, he hasn’t gotten to the bottom of his fears, and he can’t communicate with you exactly what he wants, then definitely MOA. But don’t run before you give him a chance to catch up to you.

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