“We’ve Been Engaged for 20 Years and He Still Won’t Marry Me!”

I have been with the father of our two amazing children for 21 years and engaged for almost 20 of those years. We have had our ups and downs. I have always been the one who feels unworthy of him, and even more so now. He is my world; he has been since the day I met him. And yet, he never mentions getting married. Maybe twice in all these years. He blames me for arguments we have had in the past in which I have taken off my rings because I wonder why I wear them if he won’t even talk about marriage. I’m going to be 45 next week and I am tired of waiting. It may seem silly, but why did he bother to ask me if he had no intentions of following through? — Hopelessly Unwed Mother

Well, he probably thought, either because you told him outright or you gave enough hints, that you wanted a commitment from him, so he gave you a ring and engagement, hoping that would suffice. And it has…for nearly 20 years. He has seemingly had zero incentive to make it official and tie the knot; have you ever told him you’d leave him if he didn’t? *Would* you leave him if he didn’t? If not, you’re probably going to have to accept that you will likely be perpetually engaged to this guy and never married, unless you can give him some convincing reasons why marriage would benefit him. If you *would* leave him if he downright refused to marry you, tell him so and give him a date that you need to be married by. If it doesn’t happen, leave.

Before you do all this though, are you sure you want to marry the guy after all this time? You’ve probably been so focused on why he hasn’t wanted to marry you — analyzing his feelings—-and his behavior for signs of his feelings — that you may have lost sight of your own feelings. Do you feel loved and supported in this relationship? Does he make you feel good about yourself? Would you be satisfied if your relationship, aside from the marriage thing, remained forever as it is today? Or, do you think a lot needs to change — beyond your marriage status — in order for you to feel happy and satisfied and loved and cared for?

A marriage certificate is not going to change things between you. Whatever you have together now is what you would have after you marry. If it isn’t making you happy, there’s no sense in legally committing yourself to it. But there would be some sense in working through your issues to see if you can get your needs met and vice versa. You might find that if you can do that, the marriage thing won’t feel as important to you, or it may feel more important to your partner. You may also find that the relationship has run its course and ending things will be easier without the red tape of a divorce.


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.


  1. Northern Star says:

    He is treating you like a fool. Together for 20 years= eh, OK. I wouldn’t stick around for it personally, but you don’t have to be married to stay together forever. Plenty of people prove that.

    But to be ENGAGED for 20 years? Your relationship is the punchline to a bad joke at this point and has been for more than a decade. He doesn’t want to marry you—he lied when he said he did.

    You shouldn’t wear that stupid ring. It has to be embarrassing, right? What’s the point, since you’re not married and you obviously never will be. Time to accept that he doesn’t care enough to follow through on his promise—or move on.

  2. He has made his desires quite clear. You allowed it so here you are. At this point it’s not happening and I’m surprised you didn’t accept that over a decade ago.

  3. Seriously, find out as much as you can about his, your, and your joint financial affairs and talk to a lawyer. Getting married after 20 years engaged may not change your relationship one iota, but could make a huge difference in your financial security. For instance, would it improve your financial outlook to be entitled to half his social security benefit. Would it matter to be his default heir, should he die. What protection do you have if he either walked out the door or dropped dead tomorrow. Does he have a will? Have you seen it? A marriage is a lot more than romance and a big party. It is a financial partnership. It is the ability to make medical decisions for an incapacitated spouse. You could find that his parents could bar you from even visiting him in the hospital. State laws vary greatly. You need legal advice.

    1. Totally agree with Ron, the emotional quotient aside LW, what is your legal and financial position: do you live in rental housing or is the home owned by one or both of you? how have you been filing tax returns all these years? Do you live in one of the few states where common law marriage is still recognized?
      You sound passive in all this. Time to wake up and figure out exactly where you stand. I would do that before having any “big” conversations with your partner.

  4. JD —
    She obviously did accept it over a decade ago, but is now having second thoughts as a middle-aged adult.

  5. I learned here that it’s probably because you keep asking and he doesn’t want the surprise ruined. If you stop badgering him he will certainly propose.

    1. If he hasn’t proposed over the span of two decades, TWO DECADES, it is highly unlikely that he would do it in the future. What kind of incentive does he acquire doing it? Nothing, if you ask me. They both live a like-married life, with children and shit.
      I wouldn’t have been so passive if being married represented something of matter to me. Something tell me that waiting for long without establishing a deadline implies that they both live happy that way, or something else that LW should do some soul searching to acknowledge.

      1. Fyodor was being sarcastic, something he’s well known for around here. He was just teasing based on crappy advice previous LWs have insisted on.

      2. It totally happened to a real person. The LW just needs to be patient.

  6. “…I have always been the one who feels unworthy of him…”

    In what possible world is this healthy? Leave, now, and invest in A LOT of therapy.

  7. Stillrunning says:

    Check to see if your state recognizes common law marriage. If so, your relationship might be considered a legal marriage, if not, well there you are, still engaged after 20 years and two kids together with no plans, at least on his part, to get married.

  8. Stillrunning says:

    You’re kids are grown, so if this eternal engagement isn’t what you want, then it’s time to make a choice to stay or go.

  9. What bothers me the most is the financial aspect (why doesn’t he care to make sure she and his kids would be taken care of if he was gone? ) And the emotional aspect…he obviously knows it is important to her to get married. I don’t feel like this guy cares about her feelings at all. She should rethink this relationship. It doesn’t seem like this guy really gives a s**t.

  10. My brother and his fiance have been engaged since I met my husband, so 7 years now. The difference is, as far as I can tell, they’re both happy with the arrangement. You’ve given your partner the baseline for treatment you’ll accept; that you’ll put up with his decisions about your relationshp and let it make you feel how it will without him being too affected. He has no incentive to change at this point so it’s up to you to be the change you want to see, to borrow a phrase.

  11. anonymousse says:

    You teach people how to treat you. He’s learned he doesn’t have to marry you, and he has learned that he can dangle that carrot in front of you seemingly forever. At this point I’d almost say, why now? He certainly seems committed to you. But the legal and financial parts are important.

    Have you ever asked him why he won’t marry you? Have you ever sat down and said, I want to be married in three months, and I’m going to book the justice of the peace? Stop going along to get along and make it happen.

  12. ishkabibble says:

    “And yet, he never mentions getting married.”

    Um, honey, you’re engaged, so he’s already asked you to marry him. Now, it’s up to you to plan the wedding. I would look into what you need to do to get married before a Justice of the Peace (marriage license, anything like that), do it, and tell him you’re making an appointment at city hall ASAP. Then see what he says.

    A lot of men are socialized to think that the proposal / getting the ring is the only thing they have to do, and after that a wedding will just magically happen because their bride/the bride’s family will do all the planning. (I’m not saying this is a good thing–I’m just saying that this is a way a lot of men think.) Based upon your letter, I have this weird idea that he asked you to marry him (complete with rings!) and you said yes, and then you both just. . .sat around for twenty years and each expected the other to bring up the wedding and marriage. I know this can’t really have happened, and probably he has dodged and made excuses. But if something is important to you, you can’t sit around waiting for him to bring it up. Schedule a wedding, and see if he shows up or not. And if he doesn’t, it’s time to break up.

    Wendy does make a good point that you should think long and hard about if you still want to be with this guy, though. Keep in mind that after you’re married the relationship will be exactly the same as it is now, you will just have more legal protections. Getting married won’t change who he is and who you are together.

  13. Alreadydonethat says:

    I was married to someone for 28 years that betrayed me and my son. I finally settled an ugly divorce that cost me a lot of money but was well worth it in the end. I was fortunate to meet a wonderful honest and trustworthy man who is in no rush to be married. We live together and We are both very happy.
    Your happiness is the most important thing in life. We aren’t on this earth for very long so make your decision whether you stay or go and get on with it.

  14. CanadaGoose says:

    I don’t know about elsewhere, but where I live in Canada, if you live together as a couple for more than two years, the government views you with the same legal obligations as if you are married. So, for example, if he owns the home you have shared for 20 years, legally, it’s half yours. Know your rights before you talk to him. He must have good qualities if you have stayed this long but they are not shining through in this post.

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