I can't decide. I can't decide. I can't decide

Should I get engaged? But I'm not ready. I want to get engaged. But I'm not sure. Sometimes I feel I'm ready. Other times not.

Published December 15, 2004 8:00PM (EST)

Dear reader,

Remember that problem you wrote to me about this year? So, how did things finally turn out, anyway? Assuming I answered your question in the column, would you be willing to write to me and let me know? That would be great if you would. Then I could write a year-end piece and call it something like How I'm Doing Now -- A Look Back at Since You Asked 2004.

You don't have to go into great detail. Just remind me what question it was -- if you have the URL, that's even better.

Now, this is a rush rush thing. I know I said that the masculinity series was also a rush rush rush thing, and that turned out to be a little delayed. But really, this time, I mean it. This is, after all, the fast-paced, always-changing world of daily online journalism, and the end of the year is nigh! So hurry up and drop me a line at advice@salon.com, subject line "How I'm Doing Now." I can't wait to hear from you.



Dear Cary,

I've spent till the wee hours in an anxious state agonizing over this every night for months. I am 22 and about to graduate from college. I've been in a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend -- who is 24 -- for four years. He has been pressuring me to get engaged ever since he returned from a 10-month deployment five months ago, and I'm just not sure. (He's an officer in the Army.)

I met him online and fell hard for him. It felt magical. I couldn't believe someone like him existed. I was sure we'd end up together forever.

He's a really wonderful guy who loves everything about me. He's a true gentleman, intelligent and considerate, sweet and incredibly handsome. We have common interests and a great sex life, too. He's the first guy I've ever loved and the first I ever had sex with. I trust him completely. I admire him to no end. I love his family. My family loves him. For the most part, we have a really good relationship.

On the one hand, I just don't feel ready. I've only become comfortable with monogamy in the past year (we had an open relationship for a while), and I only decided I definitely wanted to get married at all this week. I felt I had to really make a serious study of it, learn everything I could about it, before I could be sure. So I did that -- I read a bunch of books and Googled to my heart's content. And I concluded that it could be a really beautiful thing.

We see each other just about every other weekend. Sometimes it goes really well and we have lots of fun. But often I feel uneasy around him. When it goes well, I tend to feel vulnerable. When it doesn't, I find myself getting bored and restless and feeling really freaked out, thinking, "There is no way I could marry this boy" while he tells me how he wants to grow old with me.

The future plans are somewhat of an issue. Neither of us wants to have children, and that's a huge thing. But he'll probably need to be working out of D.C. (he wants to work for the Man when he gets out of the Army), while I see myself surfing in California or as a journalist in New York. That makes me feel like I'm going to have to give something up.

He's losing his patience with me because I've gone back and forth so many times. I feel terrible that I'm putting him through this, but I can't help it. I want to want to get engaged. Sometimes things will be going incredibly well and we'll discuss my preference in rings and what our wedding would be like. That never lasts beyond a few weeks, at which point I invariably start to get anxious and uncertain and scared. So I tell him, "Let me just enjoy being your girlfriend for a while, without pressure, and see where that goes." And usually that goes somewhere good. And then the whole thing starts all over again. I call friends and make therapy appointments.

He's afraid I'm wasting his time, that I'll never commit, that after deep emotional investments, we'll not end up marrying at all.

I don't know what to do. I'm just tired of stressing. Can you help?


Dazed and Confused

Dear Dazed and Confused,

It sounds like you need a little more time to figure out what to do with the rest of your life. But you also need to bring some clarity to your immediate situation. Perhaps you could accomplish both by making a short-term decision about your long-term decision -- that is, set a deadline for setting a deadline.

Say, arbitrarily, three months. It could be six months or longer, but let's try to hurry things along if we can -- not to rush but to keep things moving toward resolution. Write up a little contract that says three months from this day I will decide. At that time, either you get engaged and set a date for a wedding or, if for any reason you're not ready, you give up all rights in the matter and he's free to pursue other women.

Pick an amount of time that sounds right and stick to it. Use that time to apply for graduate school in journalism, take some surfing lessons, price condos in Malibu, wear your Uggs on the beach or whatever you feel you need to do. In fact, given that you tend to waffle, I would suggest that you then break down this period of time into activities with deadlines as well. Plan it all out.

Also, you might use some of the therapy sessions to examine your own pattern of decision making. In your correspondence with me, after your initial letter, you followed with second, third and fourth afterthoughts, amending and adding to your initial letter. The afterthoughts were actually helpful, but they could have been included in your first letter had you taken the time to think it all through before sending it. That indicates to me that you may have a tendency to go through life in an improvizational fashion. That can be fine. You may be a creative type. It's just good to know. There are situations in which that is best and situations in which that will get you into trouble -- mainly those involving ironclad commitments to other people. In business and professional life, many people want their final answers upfront, the first time, and if they don't get them, they become discouraged with you.

So set a deadline for setting a deadline. Then make the best decision you can with what you know and feel at the time, even if you don't feel entirely at ease with your decision. Decisions always involve risk. You won't always feel entirely at ease with them. You have to trust that the process you go through will lead you to the least imperfect of many imperfect paths.

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