Q: I’m 28 and my boyfriend of five years is 29. I’m ready to get married, and he’s flat-out not, but wants us to stay together. Our maturity levels vary greatly. I’m getting my Ph.D. while working full time. He has a job, but can’t save or manage money and just wants to play in his bands, and stay out and party. He’s very affectionate and constantly tells me he loves me, but regarding getting married, he always says things like, “It’ll be our turn one day,” or says he’ll propose by the end of X month, but never does. I’m in therapy over this, but he refuses to come. In general, he can’t articulate himself in an argument and often refuses to discuss unpleasant topics (money, bills, or emotional issues). Everyone around us is getting married, and in our society, there are articles and websites that say a man’s proposal is the ultimate way of showing his devotion and love. I try to remember that my value comes from within, but I need to know that the man I love wants me that much, and forever.
A: It’s hard to compete with all those girls showing off that princess-cut diamond in a platinum setting when all you have to show for your relationship is the ring your boyfriend’s pint glass leaves on the table in a dive bar setting.
Everything you say about the guy screams that the only aisle he’ll be walking down anytime soon is one with a big sale on Tostitos or beer. This doesn’t make him a bad person — just a bad person to be hitting up for a marriage proposal. Sure, in the name of love and conflict avoidance, he’ll pluck a month off the calendar for the big day, or tell you “Our day will come!” and maybe even believes it in the moment. But, let’s get real. Distant consequences don’t exactly play a part in his decision-making, and his idea of planning for the future probably involves remembering to get to the payday loan place so he can get his guitar out of hock before the weekend.
Women in your position ask themselves (and some strange lady on the bus, and anybody who’ll listen), “If he loves me, why won’t he marry me?!” It isn’t always that simple for men. Studies by sociologist Pamela Smock and others suggest that men’s readiness to marry is often tied to whether they feel financially stable and successful in their careers. Careers? Your boyfriend doesn’t have one, let alone $20 to carry him through the weekend. Still, he clearly isn’t commitment averse. He’s been committed to you for five years; he’s just squeamish about signing a contract to drive you to Bingo when you’re 90.
Yes, getting married is supposed to be the ultimate way of showing love and devotion, and maybe that’s why so many people do it four times. You need to ask yourself: Are you more in love with the guy or the idea of marrying the guy? Whatever you do, quit trying to drag him to therapy. He isn’t mentally ill. He doesn’t even sound troubled. Okay, so he can’t hang onto a dollar or have adult conversations about uncomfortable subjects, but he seems to love you and want to be with you. And maybe he can, if only you can accept him for who he is — a guy who might eventually pop the question, but it’ll probably be something along the lines of would you like another round, and if so, can he “borrow” $8.
Q: My wife has a big family, getting bigger all the time. Not only do they celebrate numerous holidays, but they have birthday parties for everyone (adults and little children). This averages out to about two gatherings a month. While we were dating, she said not to feel obligated to attend family events that didn’t appeal to me, but now she’s very upset if I want to do something else.
A: Some people get fat after marriage; some people get family. There’s been some event attendance bait and switch here. While you were dating, it was “Don’t feel obligated,” now it’s “Don’t think you have a choice.” There needs to be some point of compromise between your wife’s family culture and your happiness. Maybe you show up for major holidays and events (as much as you’d rather be fishing, golfing, or dead), but maybe the 5-year-old’s birthday can still be a happy affair without you suffering through it. Then again, consider whether the potential aftermath is worse — going to pick up your wife and having the birthday boy present you with a set of oddly shaped balloon animals: “This one’s you, Uncle Charlie, escaping out our bathroom window, and this one’s Aunt Gloria, refusing to have sex with you ever again.”