My boyfriend and I have been dating for close to 3 years. He is significantly younger than me (I’m 36 and he is 25). We are living together and also have young child. I know, we have put the cart before the horse. Be that as it may, I want to make things official and get married, and I have communicated my desire to marry. We are nearing 3 years together, and I would have imagined given that we are living the life of a married couple, that it should have come up already, or sometime soon. Obviously the honeymoon phase is over and we’re in the phase of hashing out our differences and working together, neither of us is perfect – but he has all the qualities I feel I could spend my life working with (the good and the bad). We both love each other, and I don’t know why he is stalling. Is it a sign he doesn’t want to marry? I have been patient given his young age, but I also have to think of myself – I don’t have 10 years to throw away hanging around for a proposal that might not come. So, I have been considering actually popping the question myself and seeing what he says. If he turns me down, I know I’m wasting my time. Obviously there is a lot at stake here because of our child, who I would like to raise with two loving parents in a conventional family. To me, it seems like we are already living the life of a married couple, so why hesitate to make it official? Am I being too hasty? Is proposing the last thing a woman should do?

Charmaine

This is the second in a series of cart before the horse emails. The following one comes out next Monday. In the meantime, Charmaine, my take on this is going to be consistent with advice I’ve given previously.

It’s not that you “can’t” ask him to marry you. It’s not that you “shouldn’t” ask him to marry you.

It’s that you shouldn’t HAVE to ask him to marry you.

Because if he wanted to marry you, he would have proposed to you. That’s what men do when we want to get married. We propose. If we don’t want to get married (or are not yet sure or not yet ready) we don’t propose.

That’s pretty much it.

It’s not that you “can’t” ask him to marry you. It’s not that you “shouldn’t” ask him to marry you. It’s that you shouldn’t HAVE to ask him to marry you.

I’m not going to get into biology vs. society vs. heterornormative blahblahblah. All I’ll point out is this – based on my entirely unscientific anecdotal assessment of the world – men propose to women 99% of the time.

And if your boyfriend hasn’t proposed yet, it’s for the reasons I mentioned above:

  1. He doesn’t want to marry you at all and he’s just enjoying the relationship for what it is
  2. He isn’t sure if he wants to marry you yet and is waiting for more information.
  3. He wants to marry you eventually, but isn’t ready yet, because he’s only 25. He’s probably aware of the statistics that say that people who marry under the age of 25 have a 75% divorce rate, that people who have kids out of wedlock are less likely to last, and that less than 1% of marriages have a woman who is 10 years older than the man.

So let’s ignore those statistics and backtrack through the possible options:

I’ve got no defense for the men who stay in dead-end relationships way past their expiration date. A few close friends have done this – for 5 years and 9 years – and it didn’t make any sense to me.

Instead of getting down on one knee to ask him to marry you, try having a conversation to assess what he’s actually thinking.

I’ve got no defense for the guy who has been with you for 3 years and still hasn’t figured out if he wants to marry you. I mean, I have a defense – he doesn’t KNOW – and some people, if they’re not POSITIVE, don’t want to take action, or think it means that something is wrong. That’s a maturity thing. When I was 25, I was a big believer that chemistry was everything and that I would “just know”. By 35, I didn’t “know” my wife was the one, but I had a pretty good hunch and made a smart, nuanced decision that has rewarded me many times over. But sometimes, “not knowing” can be pretty paralyzing.

(By the way, do you want to marry him because you’re highly confident you’re going to be happy over the next 40 years with him? Or do you want to marry him because you love him, you have a kid, and you’ve already put in 3 years? Those are two very different things.)

Finally, if a guy wants to marry you but isn’t ready because he’s 25, he doesn’t have a stable career, he hasn’t really found himself, or explored his options, and isn’t ready to settle down – well, that’s unfortunate, but that’s his prerogative. You can’t undo the past, but that’s what happens when you date someone so young and choose to have a kid with him – your timetable is just different than his, and those differences may make you incompatible.

For all of these reasons, I feel like you’re asking the wrong question here, Charmaine. Instead of getting down on one knee to ask him to marry you, try having a conversation to assess what he’s actually thinking.

Once you hear HIS thoughts on why he hasn’t proposed yet – and why he’s not planning to – you will have all the information you need to make your next big decision. Good luck.