This week (because why not end the summer with a bang, right?) we thought we’d focus on The Last Taboo—the bits about engagements, weddings, and marriages that we’re still not entirely comfortable with discussing. And to kick the discussion off, we have Kristen talking about ultimatums. The thing is, ultimatums have a bad rap (to say the least), and while they’re certainly not right for everyone all the time, I think that there are times when you have to know where a person stands so that you can protect yourself and walk away if you need to. Let’s dive in.
I got engaged on December 30th of last year and it happened because I gave him an ultimatum. I know. I can feel you cringing. But I did it and I’m glad.
We’d spent the six months after we agreed we were ready to marry battling each other about getting engaged. Because despite the fact that I am in charge of everything and have trouble letting go of control, I wanted a real, grown-up proposal that he orchestrated and surprised me with. And it wasn’t happening.
We’d both agreed we wanted to do it, we were ready… but no one was making any moves. He’d say all the right things—that he knew he wanted to spend forever with me, that he was ready, but then he never actually did anything. The control freak in me pulled at the shackles I’d put on myself, feeling like every moment of inaction on his part, was him telling me he wasn’t actually sure and didn’t think I was good enough to marry.
It was a tough time, those last few months, and I don’t think I did every thing right—I know I didn’t. I was lucky in the sense that he was always very vocal about how much he loved me and how he knew he wanted to marry me. He fought me when I told him I thought the lack of movement on his part was due to him not being ready. He assured me he was. But with his actions painting a completely different picture and my perception that a rapidly aging uterus was about to gasp its last, I gave him an ultimatum.
After six months of no movement, no secret shopping trips or requests for me to not look at the credit card bill—I told him that we needed to be engaged by the end of the year. If he truly was on board with getting married the following year, then he needed to get a move on. Otherwise, he owed me the truth so I could make plans for my life accordingly.
Life is real. I’m thirty-five and I want children. I didn’t have endless amounts of time to wait around. I wasn’t interested in investing tons more time when all I was getting were words and no action. I was distraught and seriously considered just leaving versus telling him he had to make a move. To me, every day without a ring and sweet words felt like a rejection of me and my love.
Thankfully, there was logic and calmness in the wings. With the help of my therapist and several friends, I was able to see that I had chosen a man who isn’t good without direction. He’ll clean the whole apartment, but you have to tell him what and how. And I accept that about him. In fact I love that about him (because obviously I like being bossy) so I needed to accept that this man here, he wasn’t going to get this done easily or without help. And I had to let the dream of a surprise proposal die. Because that isn’t who he is and I wasn’t the girl who could sit still and wait patiently for it.
People have a lot to say about ultimatums and most of it is bad. But I think ultimatums are for those moments in life when we need something from someone and the only way to happiness is to get it. An ultimatum narrows it all down and clearly states, “This is a deal breaker. It’s this, or I have to leave because without it I can’t be happy.” They shouldn’t be used lightly and they should be last resorts, but they exist for a reason and they serve an important purpose. I didn’t demand my fiancé love me and want to marry me. I demanded that if he did love me and want to marry me, he do things on my timeline.
Christmas brought several depressing inquiries as to whether Santa had brought me anything shiny and the end of the year loomed with absolutely no indication that anything was going to change. I sat myself down and took a look at my ultimatum. Because in the scenario I had laid out, it was a ring or I was walking.
When I realized I couldn’t just leave, I freaked out. I felt trapped and locked into a life I didn’t want. Things felt huge and upsetting. Until I reminded myself that you can’t want to marry a person one day and then be fully capable of leaving the next. I accepted that I was not going to get my proposal and I wasn’t going to be able to leave. But I also knew that I was not powerless. Giving up the control and power in this situation at every turn had made me feel terrible—so I was going to take it back. I spent the week before New Years telling my boyfriend exactly what I needed, I asked for extra affection and surprises and treats to help soothe my anxiety and keep me in good spirits. After a fancy dinner I sweetly asked to be taken to on the Friday before the new year (because if I wasn’t getting engaged, I was gonna be treated like a damn princess), he got down on one knee and said all the awesome things you want him to say and asked me to marry him.
After he proposed and we dried our tears and smooched for like an hour, he pulled back and looked at me for a minute with really sad eyes before he said something that erased like 90% of the suffering I’d put myself and him through in demanding it be done my way.
He said, “I’m so sorry this was so hard on you. I wasn’t going to apologize, but I am just so sorry for how long this all took and how much you were hurt by it.” His baby face then cleared up and a twinkle appeared in his eyes and he continued, “But look, I’m a procrastinator. I wait until the last minute. I work best under pressure.” He gave me a big grin. And then in his classic “talks without thinking” way, my beautiful boy said, “If you’d told me we had to be engaged by August 31st, we would have been engaged in August!”
So not only did my ultimatum work, he admitted it could have had even more pressure and it wouldn’t have scared him off. Because ultimately I think he understood that it was kind of awesome I was dying to marry him and when he finally made himself take the scary but necessary steps to get it done, he was happy and knew he’d done the right thing.
I fully realize that this could have been easier on me if I hadn’t needed a proposal, if I’d been more patient, if my fiancé and I didn’t have all the emotional baggage that make us who we are. But I did it the way I did it and I’m not sorry. I made mistakes like I do every day, but I learned from them, I learned a hell of a lot about the man I’m going to marry, and he learned a lot about me. At the end of the day, we were still absolutely ready to make it forever, because no matter how crazy we made each other during the process, we still couldn’t imagine life without the other. And maybe that’s good e-damn-nough.
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