I'm stalling

My boyfriend wants to marry me but I won't say yes. What can he do to make me marry him?

By Cary Tennis
Published August 9, 2004 7:33PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I read your response today to the woman who wanted to get pregnant accidentally on purpose, and this paragraph stood out:

"From the many letters I receive on this issue, it's apparent that men are rarely 'ready' to have kids. They are rarely ready to get married. In fact, they are rarely ready to get up in the morning. But that doesn't mean they have to be tricked into doing it. They usually do it on their own once they see the spot they're in: refuse to get up, lose the job. Refuse to marry, lose the girlfriend. Refuse to have kids, lose the wife. Life intrudes upon glorious oblivion, and men grudgingly accept it. They don't need to be treated as dupes, or imbeciles, or sperm banks. They just need to be pushed sometimes. That doesn't mean trickery. It means you put your cards on the table."

I read it and had that click of recognition -- that describes me perfectly! Only one problem. I happen to be female. (Which leaves out being treated like a sperm bank, of course.)

So here's my situation. My boyfriend and I have been together for over a decade. We don't live together. He'd like to get married. I am stalling. What advice do you have for him?


Dear Stalling,

I got so much response about the column you refer to that I can't tell whether you are being serious or trying to bait me into starting another round of discussion about how to get other people to commit to the things that you want them to commit to, and whether that will work out well or poorly in the long run, and what means are ethical and what means are deceptive.

It's funny that you'd be asking me what your boyfriend should do. I'm wondering how your boyfriend is going to find out what he should do. Is he going to read this column and know it's from you? Are you going to tell him?

I believe men are helpless children who have to be manipulated and coddled into doing the bidding of their women, but that this particular woman in this particular case needed to put her cards on the table and give her man some stark choices. I didn't call that forcing him to do anything. I thought of that as clarifying the options.

Of course, as the Table Talk posting linked above makes clear, sometimes when you push someone to make a decision, all that person wants to do is not lose you, so he goes along with whatever you want, with bad consequences. By being supposedly open and aboveboard about the decision-making process, you are actually avoiding the truth. You know what the right decision is. You know the guy doesn't want kids, or whatever. So sometimes you just have to do what your gut tells you to do.

So my advice to your boyfriend would be the same as it was to that woman: Push you. Put his cards on the table. He should tell you that he wants to get married and if you won't marry him he's going to go find someone who will marry him. But then the other part of that is: Once you put your cards on the table and ask the person what she wants to do, or is willing to do, whatever that person says, you still have to evaluate it yourself and ask: Was that the truth? Or was that just a yes to get me to calm down and stay in the relationship? You often know, although you can't empirically verify it. That's where it gets tricky.

Ten years is a long time to wait for someone. He should set a deadline. He should say either we're married by this date or I'm outta here.

By forcing the situation, he will find out what he's willing to sacrifice and how hard he's willing to work for the relationship, and so will you. You'll find out how valuable he is to you.

In other words, you clarify the issues, you negotiate, and you discover a little bit more of reality. But the final decision is still yours.

It's never easy, is it?

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Cary Tennis

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