Popping the question

Things are great with my boyfriend, but he won't talk about marriage.

By Cary Tennis

Published July 30, 2003 7:22PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm 26 and have been with my boyfriend for the past three years. Things are great (I can't think of a positive quality he doesn't possess), but I can't seem to figure out where our relationship is going, and he seems reluctant to discuss it. Within six months of our first date, we would say things like "When we get married..." or "When we live together...," but after a year or so, those conversations pretty much stopped. I always figured it was because marriage was now (after we had been dating and happy for over a year) more of a real possibility and no longer something that you would joke about as you do in the initial phases of a relationship.

But lately I'm getting concerned. When anyone brings up the subject (like recently, when a friend of his said something about how he should be getting married and settling down by now, shouldn't he?) he laughs it off the way a 20-year-old would if he'd been in the relationship for a week. I've brought it up a couple of times, with similar responses.

Don't get me wrong. I'm in no huge hurry to get married. I'm not the stereotypical woman who's been dreaming of a wedding all her life. I'm not even close. I just need to know that it's a possibility. We talked about living together once (which I would be thrilled to do) about a year and a half ago, but he decided he didn't want to live with someone he wasn't married to. He'll spend the night with me every night, but if our desks reside in the same apartment, things are suddenly not OK.

Another part of the problem is that I'm somewhat hesitant to bring up the marriage issue. I figure that if he wanted to marry me, he would ask. I don't want to pester him into a proposal, but at the same time, I can't help feeling like it may never happen otherwise.

I'm at a point in my life where I'd like to buy a house and settle down (or at least know that will happen soon), whereas he talks about moving to the city (an hour away) next year with one of his friends.

Can you help me/us come up with some sort of middle ground? Or at least a way for me to bring this up without seeming desperate or like I'm pestering him? And please don't suggest that since we are in different places in our lives, maybe he isn't the one for me. I love him more than anything, and I'm willing to do many things -- but leaving him isn't one of them.

Alone and in love

Dear Alone and in Love,

One of the things you will need to learn to do, once you are married to him, is to force him to listen to you while you talk about things he doesn't want to listen to or talk to you about. Most married people do this in one way or another. It's called serious conversation or sitting down at the table or whatever. It might require drugging him, gagging him and tying him to a chair at first, but he'll get used to it.

Hold the drugs, the gag and the flexible nylon cord in abeyance for the time being, and just tell him that you need to sit with him for 15 minutes or so and just, like, be in the presence of a certain subject. You don't need to make any decisions. You just need to sit there with the topic in front of you. You don't necessarily have to even talk the first time. The idea is to attack the thing one piece at a time.

Ideally, if things went really well, for the next 15 minutes or so, you and he would share your feelings about your future together. The way you do that is you don't actually have a conversation in the usual way, where one person is clever and the other person is appreciative, and then the other person is even more clever, etc. Instead, you say really boring but true things like: I'm scared of marriage. Or: I love you but I don't want to lose my friends. Or: I really don't think I'm ready. Or: Can I have some cheesecake now?

Emphasize to him that you're not looking for a direct yes or no answer, but you have an emotional need to participate with him in a certain vision. And then give him a piece of cheesecake.

OK, so maybe that's going to sound corny as hell. Still, what you're telling me is that you're a little more adult than he is. This is what adults do. They say: "Here is what I need from you. I need for you to sit with me while we look at this thing together. I need that." You just need the satisfaction of having looked at the same map together. He may want to go to Palau and you may want to go to Istanbul, but at least you're looking at the same map.

And if he keeps pointing to Manhattan and saying, "I think me and Fred are going to move to the Village and get a third-floor walkup," or whatever you get in Manhattan (I'm a San Francisco guy), you really have to ask him: What about me? Where do I fit in? If you move to the city, an hour away, we will probably see each other less, not more. Is that what you want? Would you like to break up?

I mean, you can't let him laugh it off. You can't let him change the subject. Because either you learn to do this valuable and important thing together, this confronting serious things together, or you learn, eventually, after much time spent in bad faith, that he really has no place for you.

I don't think that's going to happen. I get the feeling you're going to do OK, that he's just young and not quite ready yet. I'm not sure why. I just do. So don't be afraid. Just tie him up, remove the gag, and see what comes out of his mouth.

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Cary Tennis

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