Surviving The Pre-Engaged State


My boyfriend and I have known each other for over 15 years, been close friends for over 9 and have been dating exclusively for almost 4 years. We are both 28-years-old. We talk about marriage. We talk about the things we’d like to include in our hypothetical wedding. And yet, we’re not “officially” engaged. He has told me that he feels like he needs to have a better job before we get married, and he has said that it is very important to him to be the one who proposes. He says he has a plan, but won’t elaborate past that. He tends to get a long-suffering look on his face when I mention it.

I have told him that I feel a lot of sadness over not being engaged yet and that the longer I wait, the harder it is for me to hang out in my own personal limbo without losing my sh*t. I have told him that I don’t think we should wait, since I want to help support him as he pursues his dreams, not wait in the wings for them to come true. I think he feels that he should have all his ducks in a row before we get hitched. I disagree. I think getting married means that I can come with him while he goes after his education and dream career. I think we can line our ducks up together, and it’ll be way easier with two people. ‘Cause, you know, ducks are wily.

So I’m really torn. I don’t want to pressure him, but I feel like a bit of an idiot just waiting around at this point. What am I supposed to do now? I feel so frustrated and lost, and as someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression my whole life, this feels like the ultimate gauntlet. I try to focus on the fact that our relationship is otherwise fantastic, but it’s getting more and more difficult to do that. I just don’t understand why someone who clearly loves and admires me, who tells me daily that I am amazing, who treats me as his partner and equal and with whom I have amazing chemistry would still be waiting to propose. Most of the time I am absolutely sure that he is the man I will marry. Other times, I wonder if I’ll still be waiting next year and the year after that and on and on until it destroys us. I also feel a little left behind by our friends, who are mostly married with kids now or are planning weddings. Will I be 30, still just plodding along with my boyfriend while everyone I know is raising babies? I don’t think I can live with that.


Dear L,

Well, my dear, ducks are wily. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it put better than that. So, knowing that you’re wise, let’s dive into this issue. It seems to me there are several things going on here, so let’s parse this out.

Ducks Are, In Fact, Wily

Lesson number one: your partner doesn’t feel ready to get hitched. He thinks he needs to get his ducks in a row; you think you can get your ducks in a row when you’re married. And both of you are right. Last year, someone wrote to me saying that she was ready to get married, but she didn’t have the money. And I told her F*ck The Economy (Get Married Now). Because, when you’re ready to get married, you shouldn’t let things like not having a swimming pool full of money hold you back.

But here, I think the issues are a little different. It sounds like your partner genuinely does not feel ready to get married. And that’s fair. I’d also argue that there does not have to be a rush. My partner and I have a timeline spookily like yours. We’d known each other for nine years before we got together, and were in a serious relationship for five years before we got hitched. And for a long time we just didn’t feel ready to get married. We knew we wanted to get married to each other at some point, but we wanted to feel like we had our lives sorted out a bit more first. We wanted to feel like we were heading towards careers; we wanted financial stability. While we didn’t want all our ducks in a line, we wanted them to at least be toddling towards the place where they might consider lining up, and they were not ready to do that yet, adorable wee duckies that they were.

So it’s fair that your partner isn’t quite ready to get hitched. And while I’d like to tell you F*ck The Ducks (Get Married Now), sometimes you have to wait on your partner a bit. But what’s not fair is his lack of communication around the issue. “I have a plan,” sounds great, right till the point that your partner walks out on you because she’s sick of waiting (ducks are wily indeed). So that brings me to…

What Partnership Means

Marriage is a partnership of equals. It’s forming a team and making sure things work for both members of the team. And right now, your boyfriend has bought in to the cultural narrative that it’s the man who decides when you get hitched, and he’s keeping you in the dark. It’s the keeping you in the dark that’s not working. And it’s up to you to tell him that.

Tell him you’re not willing to wait without information anymore. Tell him that if he has a plan, he needs to talk about it with you because his plan involves your life, too. Tell him that you’re willing to wait if you know why you’re waiting, what he needs to think over, and where you’re generally heading. Tell him you understand if he doesn’t have firm answers yet, but that you need to start the conversation. Tell him that no matter what the cultural dialogue says about engagements, the rest of your life cannot be a secret from you and that decisions have to be made as a team.

And then tell him that ducks are wily, and you want to be there for him no matter what happens. Tell him that the fact that you feel that way is what makes you know that you want to marry him.

And then after you’ve had a long talk, realize you might need to wait a little longer. And here is one last secret: 28 is young. Heck, 30 is young. Enjoy where you are right now because your relationship is wonderful, things are good, and you won’t pass this way again. Oh, and read this post on the pre-engaged state.

Good luck (and keep us posted).

Yours in Duckies,

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