The Dirty “U” Word

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.

Photo by: Emily Takes Photos

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  • M

    YES! I also became engaged due to an ultimatum. We had also decided we would get married someday, etc, but he had moved across the country for school and I had stayed back for family and job reasons. I told him I wouldn’t quit my beloved job and move across the country to a place where I knew no one unless he proposed. I felt that moving and finding a new job was just as much of a commitment as him getting on one knee and saying the words. I had actually resigned myself to the fact that I would likely move and maybe 6 months later he (the ultimate procrastinator) would eventually do it, when he surprised me during one of my visits. It was important to both of us that he ask, not me, but gah!! Waiting when you are a) super dooper ready and b) bossy and a control freak is really hard.

    Way to go for sharing your story and for knowing what you needed.

    • I gave my brand-spanking-new husband a similar ultimatum when he quit a lucrative job to go back to school to be a mechanic. Supporting him financially and emotionally through that was a huge commitment for me to do that I needed him to be able to make the big commitment to me. When I presented the idea that I needed the proposal to happen before he went back to school he was down with it.

      The ultimatum was way harder on me than him though. He procrastinated (as seems to be the case) and eventually I started to feel like asking me to marry him was going to be an obligation not a choice. So I freaked out and told him that if he asked me in the two weeks left in him timeframe that I’d feel like nothing but obligation and so I’d say no. So keep in mind that putting the ultimatum out there can play head games with you as well. (It all worked out – he asked about six weeks later and it was super awesome and perfect.)

      • I was in a similar situation when my now husband finally proposed. He was heading to school across the country and we had talked about wanting to get married, but still no ring. It was awful waiting for him to finally propose (but so joyful when he finally did!).
        I think what finally clicked for him was “working backwards”, which is like an ultimatum, but not quite. We talked about where we wanted to be in 10 years, and then I started working backwards for him – If you want to have kids and your own firm in 10 years, then you need to do X, Y and Z on this timeline to get there. It hadn’t occurred to him that if he wanted to be married before he started grad school in 9 months, that he needed to ask NOW. Or that if he wanted to have kids in 10 years that we probably needed to start trying in 5 years. I just don’t think guys think about that stuff in that context (no shocker there, their sperm doesn’t have a “best used by” date on it and they generally aren’t aware of how long it can take to plan a wedding), and sometimes you have to lay it out for them. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.

        • Cali

          I think this is SO TRUE in a lot of ways. We had a discussion a while back about how I would prefer to be done having kids by the time I’m 35, therefore we need to be trying for our first by the time I’m 30. It seemed to genuinely startle him that we actually were going to have to plan ahead for that, but once he realized it, he was pretty much just like, “Oh, OK, cool… that’s good to know.” Haha.

          Though I didn’t give him a proposal ultimatum, he did wait WAAAAAY longer than I thought he would. We talked a little about rings, etc., and he mentioned that he figured he had a six month-ish window before I started getting annoyed with him. A little over six months later (at which point I had just begun to start losing my mind and convince myself he wasn’t really going to do it), he proposed. Haha.

          • My partner and I have been talking about our plans for the future a lot lately, and I think it’s harder for him to grapple with the biological clock stuff.

            For example, my partner probably wants kids even more than I do, but he is always talking about it as something off in the far distant future. That was true 9 years ago when we first got together, but now that window is closing and it is always startling for him when I talk about making life decisions about this even that he thinks of might as well be in the next century.

            I figure women are so consistently bombarded with all sorts of messages about the state of our uteruses, that we are especially clued in (and anxious about) these sorts of timelines.

      • Allie

        I surprised myself with my ultimatum. I never understood when my mom would comment / tell stories about that kind of thing. Then one day I heard D pushing back the timeline we had discussed by about 6 months. Something snapped in my brain and went “wait a minute! I got a new job and moved to be with you. It doesn’t matter that I wanted the new job and hated my old one, or that I am perfectly happy with this move. I have DONE something to be with you. You don’t get to keep pushing this back, 6 months at a time.”

        We never got engaged. We just decided to get married. And even though we had discussed it for a long time previously, that conversation is the date I attach to our decision. (In retrospect, had I not been pushed into feeling like that – *I* probably would have been the one to keep procrastinating on it!)

  • Kess

    Your fiance sounds a lot like my SO – he needs direct motivation and while he may start things by himself, he won’t typically follow through unless under pressure (Got a deadline at work? No problem. Want to go on vacation sometime this summer? Isn’t happening). We’re in that ‘pre-engaged’ state and I’m really wondering how this will all play its way out as I typically finish most things up.

    I think the biggest thing for me is just going to be remembering that even if he doesn’t do something the way I do, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me. Sure, if I was the one proposing (he’s made clear he wants to do the proposing) I’d likely have some sort of scheme that I’d be working on for quite some time and it’d have backup plans if something went wrong, and have backup plans for the backup plans!

    He’s not the same person as I am, so he’s going to do things differently, and heck, maybe when the time comes he’ll need a little nudge in the side as a catalyst. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love me.

    • SC

      Your boyfriend sounds exactly like mine, and we sound like twins! The difference is you are in a much better mind-state than I am right now… I’m pretty frustrated that we’ve talked marriage, we agree that we are in it for life, we joke about kids, we’ve looked at buying houses, and still no ring. I’m like you – I’d have been planning for months before I was even sure if I was going to do it, just to see what’s out there, test the waters, check my finances, etc… I’d have proposal plans a, b, and c, etc. He on the other hand deals with things when they are right in front of him, and not a moment before. I usually really appreciate the calm that brings to my neurotic insanity, but with this it’s just HARD. I feel like I’m going crazy not knowing when, and if he’s taken any steps to get ready, and he isn’t even phased. It’s hard!

  • Rachel

    It’s so easy for those of us in different situations to judge ultimatums, just like it’s easy for us to judge a million different things about the way other people live their lives every day – without knowing the whole story.

    I’m sure that, at one point or another, I’ve cringed at the idea of a proposal resulting from an ultimatum, and, for that, I’d like to apologize. Just because an ultimatum would have felt inappropriate in my situation, and because there have certainly been marriages that have started with ultimatums and ended badly, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a time and a place where they not only make sense but actually make things better. I think you’ve proven that.

    In fact, I’ve felt similarly judged for marrying young, and the exact same things could be said to those who judge me: just because marrying young would have felt inappropriate in their situations, and because there have been young marriages that have ended badly, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a time and a place for them. It can be so frustrating when people who barely know me (or don’t know me at all) think they can tell me what’s right for me.

    For me, the moral of the story is that we all need to be a little bit better at separating “what’s right for me” from “what’s right” – and, in general, probably just a little slower to judge other people’s choices.

    • meg

      Man! If that’s the message we win, and APW can just shut down tomorrow. MWAH! (I kid, I kid. We have good posts tomorrow.)

  • Anya

    Love it! I don’t get all the bad ish going around about ultimatums. They make sense. Obviously, at some point, you either get married or you’re out. Making it explicit isn’t cruel, it’s just honest.

    My fiance kept telling his parents that he was going to marry me in 2012. I can’t marry in the summer because of work. So come April and no proposal (okay – lots of proposals – in the car, while chatting at dinner etc., but none “proper” as in – down on one knee. I didn’t even want a ring. Or an orchestrated event. or even really a surprise. Just to feel like I got proposed to.) So after weeks of “I’m going to propose SOOOON,” and no forthcoming proposal, I realized a good occasion was coming up – Passover. My whole family was coming over. It was the perfect time to tell everyone, and it would be magical. So the day before Passover, I cried about the endless suspense to him – earnestly, but also as a mild form of “get on with it!” I know, it sounds awful to pull out the waterworks, but it worked. We went to the park and he got down on one knee (adorably awkwardly) in the lilacs and I knew he would do it, and I didn’t cry (I already had), and it was fine.

    BUT the next day was the kicker I had been waiting for. I didn’t get a big surprise proposal, but so what? We knew we were getting married. The next day, with my whole extended family around our Passover table, and me dying of butterflies, my fiance surprised my whole family at once with his formal and beautiful announcement. And you know what? The proposal was just okay, but THAT was amazing. In fact, it was perfect.

    I don’t regret throwing in a bit of feminine whiles into getting a perfect co-conspired engagement – even if I had to move his hand. After all – I’m a wily gal, and that’s not changing anytime soon. There’s two people in a marriage, and despite all the stories you hear, it takes two people to get there. We’re not passive dolls – and I know very few women who were passive about their own engagements, no matter how the story goes. As Miss Manners says, it’s hard to surprise a woman whose parents, grandparents, and third cousins five times removed have been asking her when she’s getting married for years. (rough paraphrase)

  • Rachael

    Great post!

    Ultimatums go both ways, as well.

    In our case, *I* am the one procrastinating. I constantly look for one more piece of the puzzle, nugget of information, one scenario discussed, or one hurdle crossed that lets me know without a shadow of a doubt all will be well. Birds will sing, our marriage will be life long, and it will be fantastic and wonderful. I know, right? (and the laughter begins………now)

    A while back, my beloved put my feet to the fire. He made it clear he knows what he wants, and his directness forced me to own up to my own waffling.

    • meg

      Now THIS is a post I want to read.

      • Rachael

        I would love to. Just say the word.

        • meg

          That was the word! Go for it!

    • AWB

      Gosh mine dud that! I was always waiting for something else to line up so that it’d be perfect.

      He proposed when it was all awful (our situation not us!!) and it’s been tough because the reactions aren’t Ives I dreamt of.. But he has a way if pulling me up into showing up and that’s what we are doing

    • I was also the one waiting to feel ready to deal with the unknown things that could happen. I finally came to peace with the fact that you have to make that leap of faith when you get married, but I also waited until I knew I was fully committed to making that leap…if that makes sense? I got comfortable with the unknowns.

      Anyhow, I’d like to read your post too!

  • Ali

    Its funny how in an otherwise very direct relationshio where we talk about EVERYTHING, there was so many things unsaid about our engagement.

    I gave an ultimatum before the ultimatum. Basically that I could still be patient, but there was some point that I wouldnt be able to be patient anymore. Then at some point he started referring to us getting married. Then from my understanding, we agree on a time frame. He ended up proposing (and surprising me) within that small time frame. But if you ask him now, he knew nothing about that time frame and never agreed to it….

    Haha oh well – Alls well that ends well..

  • OHMIGOSH thank you!!! All of my friends were making me feel like a total b*tch for giving my now-fiance an ultimatum. But similar to this post, we knew we wanted to be together, he’s just a procrastinator. A big motivator for him, but needed a little spelling out was this: I stayed in the area to be with him, stayed in a job I wasn’t happy, and spent a lot of time missing my family that lives 300 miles away. Don’t get me wrong, as a part of a couple I was extremely happy. But, as an individual I was upset most of the time. I figured if we weren’t moving forward in our lives together, I needed to figure out how to make myself happy in my life alone. Thank goodness he proposed though, because I was really freaking out about how to live my life without him in it!

    As an aside – now that we’re engaged I’m taking steps to make myself happy outside of our relationship, including looking for new jobs, going back to school, and making new friends. Looking back I realize I could’ve done this without giving him the ultimatum, but since he told me he was glad I did it, I won’t regret what I did to get us where we are now.

    • kimikaze

      ” as a part of a couple I was extremely happy. But, as an individual I was upset most of the time.”

      It is so hard to explain this sometimes! I love my husband and our life together but I am so far from my parents, and my job situation is less than ideal.

      • Sarah

        Deep breath. To be with my fiance, I’m halfway across the world from my friends and family, not happy in my job (although amazed to have found one here), and constantly down. For me the hardest thing to describe is feeling lonely, even when part of a loving and happy couple. I’ve always had a strong community around me, and now being in an alienating place without anybody to turn to aside from him, I miss my foundation. If he hadn’t promised me a future, I wouldn’t have been able to slug through this phase in our lives.

        • This! We just moved to a new city for his education – I miss my old life, family and friends so much, and I don’t like our new city at all so far. He’s always asking me if I’ll ever be “happy” again and if I’ll ever forgive him for moving us so far away. I feel like I can’t explain that being with him makes me the happiest I’ve ever been, and I woudn’t do it any other way, but still really miss our old life.

          • Sarah

            Lots of love and support from the other side of the world. You’re not alone. I’ve had the same issues with forgiveness — he has wondered if I ever really forgive him for dragging me here. I might not be happy with my life here, but I am willing to invest in our future. It’s just hard to keep that in sight sometimes when the view is so bleak.
            I do think though that there is a damaging cultural narrative surrounding women changing their lives for our men — all the way from last names to physical location. We are thought of as more adaptable somehow, and are supposed to be the partner to sacrifice for our families. I think this needs to be rewritten.
            Luckily, I gave my own ultimatum — one day I broke down in tears and told him that I was sorry, but I couldn’t make a life here. And because I came here for him to give our relationship a shot, he is willing to come to Canada and build a life once he has finished with his degree. To be honest, if he expected me to change my own life to fit into his without any reciprocation, then he wouldn’t have been the man for me.

  • L

    This is so similar to my experience. Except in my case, he was looking for the clarity that Rachael describes. And what gave it to him was me finally leaving.

    After nearly five years of dating, I left. If I wasn’t the one he wanted to spend his life with, then I needed to work on putting together a life for myself. A month later, he proposed. It was the whole down on one knee thing of dreams, and I just stared, emotionally numb after a month of trying to remember how to breathe, how to put one foot in front of the other by myself.

    I wish I had happier memories of that fall, our proposal and first few days of engagement. I cringe to tell people this story, because I feel like “that kind of woman.” But here’s what really matters: it’s now four years later, and we’ve enjoyed three years of happy marriage. And periodically, my husband _thanks_ me for forcing his hand, and expresses his own regret that he couldn’t manage to do this years earlier, because he loves where we are now.

    What gave me strength then, and still gives me comfort in this, was that I was not trying to manipulate him. I was making decisions about what I needed my life to look like, and following through on them. I was genuinely walking away; there was no acting. I absolutely agree with everything that’s been said on making needs clear, but if you’re really making an ultimatum, then much thought needs to be put into figuring out what happens if it turns out that you’re not both on the same page.

    • meg

      This. Brave stuff.

    • Huge props for being able to walk away when it made sense for you. (And I’m so glad for you that he got his stuff together in the end!) Walking away from a relationship that’s not going anywhere has to be one of the hardest things I can imagine.

    • ns

      I was aso there (4 years ago now) – I had given ‘weak ultimatums’ or at least had been very honest about the state of our long (seven year!) relationship … mostly that I was ready to take it to the next level, which caused my boyfriend no end of stress (I think the major commitment terrified him). Finally, after he decided to move to Africa for 3 months, I broke up with him — a month later he called me and proposed. Alas, at that point I was done: I wasn’t manipulating a proposal as some of my friends seemed to believe, nor at that point did I want to marry him any longer. It was HARD. But, I had been very honest in the year and months leading up to the whole thing and he just … couldn’t … seem to understand that I was serious. So I agree with the thoughts that you have to put in a lot of thought to figuring out what happens if you’re not on the same page. I did, and it helped me get through that time with less stress than otherwise. Not that it was easy, but I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do.

      Sorry if this is a more negative perspective – I did not mean it to be! It’s just that sometimes things shift along the way and the results can surprise you.


    It’s also hard when you give someone an ultimatum many times over (so I guess not a real ultimatum, though you thought you’d be strong enough to walk away) and they keep asking for more time, and it breaks your heart but you do it anyway, because you hope. You know that they are procrastinators, but also that they are overthinkers and need absolutely everything to be perfect before being able to take that next step, ultimatum or not. But after awhile the hope starts to die out, and you wonder if you’ll ever be able to love them as you did before. I think your heart starts to walk away after waiting so long. It’s great that Kristen addresses how difficult it is to think about just walking away – I think that she gets that having a choice between getting married and leaving is kind of black and white, and dragging things out and just hoping is kind of a grey space some of us might live in, especially if we begin to think about how it might be if someone whom we love with everything doesn’t respond to an ultimatum.

    • This comment cut me to the core, but in a good way (I guess). I totally, absolutely, 100% understand what you’re saying. I’ve been there and I guess I kind of still am there.

      • NAH NAH NAH

        @Barbra – That makes me sad to hear. =( I guess it takes awhile before you feel safe enough to love freely again, right?

    • km

      Yes… I gave an ultimatum. And got nothing. And eventually had to leave. Even later, when he came back saying that he had made a mistake, it was just too late. My heart had “walked away,” as you said here. I guess the feeling of rejection of me, and my love, eventually just got to be too much.

      • meg

        Yes. I know friends who gave (frankly, probably years overdue) ultimatums, nothing happened, and they left. Those were situations where I think we all breathed easier: they were taking care of themselves (caveat: not everyone needs marriage, but sometimes you do need to know that you’re both in it for the long haul, or you are going to move forward with kids, or fill in the blank, and in the end it can be about respect). Then their (ex) partners came back with proposals when they realized that it was the only way to win them back, and you know what? Too late. They didn’t want “Oh shit I need to propose if I want you back” proposals, they wanted someone who genuinely wanted to be with them forever. In those cases, it turned out they were two different things.

      • KH_Tas

        There is a friend of a friend who may reach this stage soon. Three years of living with him waiting for him to propose, working/studying full time and doing all the housework, putting up with his derogatory comments and selfishness – the connecting friend thinks if he doesn’t do something soon, she’ll walk.

        • anon

          This sounds exactly like it’s describing me!! These people don’t live in the UK do they?!

          • KH_Tas

            Only a month late, but in fact, we live in Australia. So I guess it’s just a widespread thing

  • Joanna

    I feel like I wrote this myself! The only thing I did differently than you was ask him, repeatedly, to marry me. (He turned down my proposal, repeatedly, because he wanted to ask me and not the other way around.) I also gave him an ultimatum, fully realizing I wouldn’t leave him. I like to think it got the ball rolling, but I also know he would have done it the way he did with or without my pressuring. He waited until the first day of winter, which he’s always said is our anniversary (I elected to make it “easier” and just round it to December 20th… a friendly battle we went through every year). So in the end, he got the last laugh.

  • Jennifer

    My fiance and I had a discussion about ultimatums and if they were justifiable. His mother’s friend from work was planning a wedding. When we asked about the engagement, we found out her friend demanded either marriage or the relationship would end. My fiance thought it was ridiculous, I thought it was reasonable. She was in her late 40s and I thought it was reasonable to ask if he planned on getting old with her. If he isn’t “the one,” she didn’t have much time left to find the right one.

    Funny thing is that I kind-of gave my future hubby an ultimatum. We never had an official proposal. We just knew and talked about how we wanted to stay together. I wanted to sign the documents, and get married in the cheapest fashion possible. He wanted a traditional wedding. We both knew it would cost a lot so we saved money up. Then his brother got engaged after dating for about 4 months. Needless to say this caused a storm of issues in his house. And my fiance felt pressure from his mother to slow things down with us, despite dating for 4 years, and more or less living with each other. About a year and half later, his brother tied the knot, I was living at his parents house, and we weren’t any closer to getting married.

    That was when I did it. We had to get married and move out of his parents house, otherwise we were going to the courthouse. To me it wasn’t so much a threat as it a was to start a discussion about where our relationship was. We were more so scared. Not by commitment, that came naturally to us. It was the money, the uncertainty, and for him, judgement from his parents. An ultimatum should be a way to talk things out, it isn’t fun but it might be what you need to get your significant other to get serious and talk.

  • KB

    I think the problem people have with ultimatums and proposals is the notion that you’re “forcing” someone to get married. But I think Kristen totally hits the nail on the head when she describes the necessity of the ultimatum – that at some point, you have to look at this person who you and who says s/he loves you back and have the courage to tell them that love just isn’t enough for you. You need a commitment, you need something beyond promises and just ambling through life together – which could totally make someone else perfectly happy! Just not you. I don’t think it’s mean or selfish to say, look, here are all my cards on the table, this is what I need, and if you can’t give it to me, I need you to tell me that so that I can start reconciling myself to that or moving on. Because, otherwise, it’s not fair to keep me on the hook here. And hopefully whatever the result is, even if it’s not what you expected, hopefully you can live with it.

    • meg

      Also, women’s biology isn’t an infinite time frame. So, if for the two of you (or one of the two of you) you need marriage to move on to having kids, and you want kids, reality better prevail. And by your mid-thirties, you know that if this person doesn’t want kids with you, and you want kids, you have to move on.

      Life, it turns out, is not actually a romantic comedy.

      • Men’s biology isn’t infinite either! New research is showing that older fathers are linked to some health problems in kids:

        Women’s fertility obviously becomes limited as we age, but guys’ don’t go on forever either. I find it comforting that men should be shouldering some of the responsibility for reproduction too.

        • Diane

          Ummm, great minds? See below…

          • Ha ha, yes Diane! I feel some satisfaction too. It’s just too easy, and totally unfair, to place all the blame/burden of reproductive and fertility issues on women. It’s gratifying to have science back us up ;)

      • Diane

        Also, a study came out last week demonstrating a correlation (not casality!) between advanced paternal age and schizophrenia and autism (both almost certainly have a genetic component that comes from many genes). So after all these years of women getting crap for worrying about our biological clocks, turns out that men might be hearing that “tick tick tick” as well. I know I shouldn’t type with quite this much satisfaction but a big HAAAAAAAAA!!! to all the men out there who were feeling all smug about their Hefner-esque pretentions to geriatric parenting.

  • Miriam

    I gave my husband the opposite ultimatum – I told him I wouldn’t accept a proposal unless he agreed to go to couples financial counseling with me. It was really important that we be on the same page about money and planning for our lives together.

    • meg

      Post! You should write one!

  • My fiance told me once, a long time ago, that if I gave him an ultimatum to not expect the results to be what I wanted. that was five years ago, when our relationship was very young. This year a friend told me I wasn’t a marriage person, she wasn’t a marriage person, and a month later she was engaged, which became the impetus for me to say to my now-fiance, then-boyfriend, that I needed to know when he wanted to get married, because based on his timeline, we should be engaged already and we weren’t. I told him that I wanted children but I wanted to be married before having them, and that if we wanted to try for a child before we turned thirty, we needed to get married sometime in the next year and a half.

    One week later, he took me to the jewelry store and bought me a ring. Two months after that, we sat on the sofa chuckling about it all, and he took my hand, looked at my ring and said “you want to know something really cool? I bought that for you. I love you.” and I melted. We are both excited to be getting married, and I’ve asked him several times if he felt like I pressured him and he’s said no every time, even once saying “i’ve known for a while I wanted to marry you… and now we’re getting married.”

  • The only thing wrong with ultimatums is if they are executed leaving you feeling like he’s done you a favor by complying. For the rest of the marriage.

    • meg

      True. This isn’t always true, but you need to *watch out* for it being true. Eyes peeled, etc.

    • This is exactly why I reversed my ultimatum. I started to feel like an task on his to do list that he was OBLIGATED to fulfill and I couldn’t live with starting our marriage that way. So I told him that I was upset that he hadn’t asked yet, how I felt, and that he needed to NOT ask me in the original timeframe. In fact, I told him that if he asked me on the last day of the ultimatum I’d say no.

      He asked six weeks later. On his time. Because he wanted to. Which was what I needed in my heart.

  • rys

    This is a timely post for me, though my reference point is a much earlier stage in relationship building — that is to say, the “is this a relationship” period. I’ve been spending a lot of time with someone who is in the midst of several life transitions (moving, new job, etc) and thus has his reasons for being reticent to call whatever we have a relationship and move it forward, but my impatience is starting to build. Some of my friends are understanding, others think I’m being too understanding, and it’s all quite murky (not aided my my own self-consciousness in navigating what to me are always muddy waters of dating). So it’s not quite the same situation, but this post gives me lots to think about in terms of framing a conversation that I want to have, albeit one that won’t happen for a few weeks at the earliest.

  • Chalk

    I think this post had some very grounded points. She knew what she wanted for her future and didn’t play games about making those needs known. I can certainly respect and admire that.

    But there was a layer to this post that really rubbed me the wrong way. If you want a certain kind of proposal, plan it yourself. Propose to him yourself. If you want to celebrate NYE a certain way, plan it yourself. Treat your date. I guess I’m just an advocate for cutting to the chase. It seems like the OP’s process was emotionally exhausting for everyone involved. However, I’m glad it ended well with the OP getting what she needed, and with the finance happy to be moving forward.

    • Anya

      I tend to totally agree with you, most of the time. If you want something done to your own exacting standards, just do it. But I think the OP may have been worried that she’d regret it forever. I know I didn’t propose to my fiance because if I had I would have always, always worried if I married the kind of man who needed me to do things for him. It’s so important to know how to get what you need from each other, and to know when doing it yourself can undermine your relationship (ie: “I’m going to do these dishes because they HAVE TO BE DONE but spend the next week fuming about how you don’t care what a state our apartment is in”). So often, being direct works. Other times, being underhanded works. Know thyself and know your partner.

      • Faux

        I read the OP this way, too, that basically the two of them had agreed to get married but she wanted some artificial masquerade to serve as The Proposal as though the question had not already been decided between the two of them.

        I loath faux drama and would have no desire for this and so, I have a hard time relating to this mindset. Some people seem to thrive on the drama. They tend not to be my friends.

        To me the issue would have been: WHEN will we be married now that we’ve decided to be married? And if a ring is required, secure his agreement to go to a store and pick one out.

        If he is reluctant to do these things, set a date and buy a ring, then the two of you really did not “agree [you] were ready to marry.”

        And for the record, there is nothing wrong with an ultimatum, but it’s about setting boundaries for one’s own behavior, not using an ultimatim to control someone else’s behavior. Many people don’t get that.

        • Anya

          I totally understand your frustration with drama, but I think this is more to the point of “what do I need to feel something is done?” Some people feel a dinner is cooked when the meat and potatoes come out of the oven. Others can’t have it any way except plated and delivered to the table with garnish. The same goes for proposals. The OP didn’t need a dance in Central Park with a flash mob, just her version of a plated, nicely laid out dinner. Call me old fashioned, but I support the desire to see things done in our own version of “right” even if it’s archaic, just as I support you doing it your own way. Personally, I find that without archaic forms all tradition is lost from life, and a life without tradition lacks a certain genuine feeling of gravitas and occasion.

          • ItsyBitsy

            Exactly! I feel the same way but couldn’t find the words. This dinner analogy is perfect.

    • anon

      I was a little uncomfortable with the division of roles here, too. The question this post left me asking was “Why didn’t SHE propose to him?”

      • JC

        I don’t know about the OP’s situation, but my SO has told me outright that if I proposed to him he would say no. Not because he doesn’t want to marry me, but because he so badly wants to propose- and to go through all of the pomp and circumstance of making it perfect for us. I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t want to be proposed to, either, but it does seem kind of silly and frivolous at times because we have had many conversations about how we are going to marry each other, and it is a sure thing. I just need to keep waiting, to give him the opportunity to do what he feels he needs to do. And I am still waiting, rather impatiently, I might add :)

      • aelle

        As someone in a long term relationship with the same kind of procrastinator that Kristen is now engaged to, proposing myself hasn’t worked. Well, I haven’t done an actual getting down on one knee and ring thing, but all my attempts to talk about marriage and get things moving have lead to answers like “Sure, we’ll get married one day” or “Let’s get married on paper for tax reasons, but let’s not think at all about what the concepts of marriage or “forever” or “becoming family” mean to us.” I completely understand the need to feel actively chosen by your man, and the need for a symbolic gesture that proves it’s his choice and his will, not like he’s just coming along for the ride.

    • meg

      True! And we’ve talked a whole lot about women proposing to men, and why we think that should be a done thing, and also why some people don’t want to do it even as ardent feminists, on APW, so this is part of our unspooling, multi-angled narrative on the subject.

      However, in some cases, no matter what the gender dynamic is, there is one person who just doesn’t feel ready to get married. And often the ultimatum is really about that person making a decision (fish or cut bait) not about who buys a ring and gets down on one knee. And that, I think, is what I found fascinating about this post.

      • Chalk

        I got the impression that he was always on board to get married, and just needed a kick in the pants to A.) stage the perfect proposal and B.) understand her (very legitimate) timeline. That’s why I drew the conclusion that the anxiety she expended on accelerating the proposal, and the guilt he felt as a result of not giving her the proposal in the time frame she wanted, all seemed avoidable. It sounds like they are very much on the same page now, and feel comfortable with how the proposal ultimately went down, which is the best outcome for such a emotionally exhausting journey to get there.

        • meg

          Well, I do think we should try to avoid judging people’s individual decisions in the comments. But, more to the point, this is part of the ongoing APW dialoge about feminists engagements and proposals. I don’t think any of us should feel bad about needing what we need, even if sometimes that’s a proposal. I’ve written very opening about needing a proposal, and asking for exactly what I needed. I think that’s perfectly compatible with being a feminist.

          • This!!

            I feel like this is one of those things where being a feminist and being kind of traditionally Southern crosses my wires a bit. I needed (wanted? needed? that line blurs here) a proposal, and I communicated that. Proposing to Bryan was something I would not/could not do; it’s just not how our relationship works in my brain.

            Also interesting to note: I also “needed” Bryan to ask my dad’s permission. He didn’t, and that was something that hurt some feelings, mine included, and was a bit emotionally fraught for a while. I needed Bryan to tell my father about it beforehand, because my dad is not one for life-altering surprises and is very sensitive to change. However, I didn’t communicate that well to Bryan, and he had decided not to ask on the very clear and correct idea that no, I did not view myself as my father’s property.

            So there’s that. Communicating needs clearly is super important, especially when it’s things that get so intertwined with layers and layers of beliefs and emotions. Tough stuff.

          • BarryMayor

            No it’s not. Feminism is about equality, not one person giving more than the other. Having an adult conversation and essentially proposing to each other is an act of equality, not one person (usually the man) being required to go down on their knees, as if they are a beggar.

    • Yes. I understand that not everyone has the same principles or dreams about how their engagement starts or should start. I asked my husband to marry me, not because I was tired of waiting, just because I thought if I wanted to marry him, asking him was the next logical step. I know that what worked wonderfully for us is not what would work wonderfully for everyone else, and I know the topic of women proposing to their partners has been covered a lot here, which I love.

      But I sure bristled at the “real, grown up proposal” line because there are so many ways to propose and I don’t know if trying so hard to control having a “proper” proposal, as another commenter put it, that results in an ultimatum should be held up as the best example of either real or grown up handling of this decision.

      • meg

        But sometimes some of us need a proposal, no matter what words we put to it (and she’s putting words to her situation, not passing judgement on others situations). And that’s fine too.

    • Alexandra

      I don’t feel that that’s the right answer for a lot of people. Some women, on some level, just truly want to be proposed to. Some men just truly want to do the proposing. And I’m not sure it would have felt right for me (me feeling like I could have written this post myself) if I’d proposed and he accepted. I would have always wondered if he meant it or it was just convenient, or if I’d rushed him into a decision, and always a little shorted for having to just do it myself if I wanted it done right.

      Plus, at least in my case, I did ask him, several times. Never properly down on one knee with a ring, but he wouldn’t accept the proposal from me. He had to make it, and I wanted him to do it.

  • Cat

    I’m glad this worked out in the end, and I don’t think the author did anything wrong (certainly not in asking for a resolution), but….

    I mean, why do we do this to ourselves? So many women in control of their lives in so many ways, and then we come over all passive princess waiting to become engaged, because if you have to ask it’s all a bit sad and he doesn’t really love you, right? Or: Maybe he’s skint. Or scared. Maybe he doesn’t know what you want. Maybe he looks at rings and the thought of choosing you the wrong one and your disappointed wee face makes his lower gut go funny, in a bad way. Maybe he thinks you need him to be Ryan Gosling, on top of the Eiffel Tower, with airplane writing and a rock the size of a pizza.

    And I can’t help but wonder if the “grownup” thing to do to isn’t make ultimatims and then half-pretend to be waiting around patiently (with an increasingly wild look in our eye and throbbing forehead vein) until they are acceceded to (or not)… but to accept that we want to have a say in our own futures, and start properly talking about our wish to get married with our other halves. Like, less “propose to me!” more “let’s get married.” And to start to see this as a bit more romantic than twitching silently in the corner, stressing out more and more because social norms tell us it’s pathetic to do anything other than be “surprised.”

    • rys

      “Why do we do this to ourselves…Accept that we want to have a say in our own futures, and start properly talking about our wish to get married with our other halves.”

      This. As I was reading the post, I had that niggling feeling of “why not just make a joint decision to get married and be done with it. Why is a proposal necessary?” Then I also thought: this is what I would want, should the opportunity (i.e., the relationship) arise: make a decision together to get married, no proposal or ring necessary. At which point I thought: But Kristen makes clear that she recognizes that could work for others but not for her.

      So then I’m back to two ideas itching at me: 1) why are women culturally conditioned to want/need a proposal rather than taking charge and making decisions for themselves? and 2) why do I think women can and should speak up and make these decisions and yet I still feel really uncomfortable about needing to have a discussion with a guy (see above) about whether we’re really in a relationship and what it means.

      The latter question is something that I’ve experienced multiple times in my adult life, and the collision between my politics and my personality drives me batty. I want women to be empowered to take charge and initiate and make things happen (and I am perfectly comfortable doing so in professional and friendship situations) and yet I become a nervous crazy lady who struggles to be that empowered, take-charge sort in relationship situations. The vulnerability attached to relationships is so different for me than the vulnerability embedded in career decisions/relationships and regular ole friendships such that I often feel like the manuals for How to Excel as a Career Lady and How to Be an Awesome Friend were implanted in my brain but the manual for How to Rock at Relationships was deleted at start-up. Or something.

      • Anon

        I find the concept of proposals fascinating. Here in Spain, more often than not, couples simply decide to get married. Together. Although thanks to the influence of American TV, more and more men are starting to think they *need* to propose…

      • Because sometimes you just really want that proposal. I wanted it. And I didn’t get it. Instead, I got the loveliest of decisions to marry. Sometimes though, sometimes I still wish I would have insisted on that proposal. Not in a horrible way. But in a wistful, I wish I would have sort of way.

      • “1) why are women culturally conditioned to want/need a proposal rather than taking charge and making decisions for themselves? and 2) why do I think women can and should speak up and make these decisions and yet I still feel really uncomfortable about needing to have a discussion with a guy (see above) about whether we’re really in a relationship and what it means.”

        I thought about this a LOT in the months leading up to my non-proposal (we made the decision together that it was time, we announced it to our families as a surprise, we exchanged engagement rings, and no one got down on one knee because we both knew the answer to the question) and I’ve concluded that a lot of this is instilled in women when we are YOUNG. We are told that we are the ball-and-chain, holding a man back, or dragging him to the altar. We are told not to talk about it too much with him because that will make us desperate and therefore he won’t want us. It’s not surprising, then, that women want a hugely romantic gesture from a guy who they have been told for a long time doesn’t want to do this and is not the romantic type by nature.

        The thing is, this thinking hurts women and men. It makes it really impossible to have a conversation about your future because you hate yourself for even bringing it up (which is bullshit because you have every right to!) and he’s feeling all “Oh noes! Ball and chain! Smothered! Where is my man cave?!” because he was told that’s how he’s supposed to feel (which is obviously also bullshit). Just for both of us to even let go of our ideas of gender roles and proposals was a huge task; once we did that, though, it all fell into place much easier. But our ideas about proposals and marriage got in the way of our actual engagement for a long time.

        • One More Sara

          OMGOSH! YES! THIS!!! This is exactly what I have been wanting to say reading through all these comments, but whenever I tried to say it, I couldn’t find the right words.

      • KC

        I think there’s some cultural stuff in “the guy is supposed to propose; it’s his job”, but at this point, I think there’s even more baggage in the standard girlfriends-are-pushy narrative “the guy doesn’t ever want to get married, the girl is going to pressure or trick him into it”. I think this might explain some reluctance to initiate conclusive discussions or to issue (even entirely sensible!) ultimatums; if he proposes as a “surprise”, it feels like that means that he has independently decided, probably over a period of time and not exclusively while you’re talking to him, that he really does want to marry you. And that means, in the narrative, that you’re at least mostly “safe”; he decided independently that he wanted to marry you, so he’s not one of those guys who never wants to get married, and you’re not the pushy girlfriend.

        I think this narrative is damaging to our concepts of long-term relationships, and it’d be great to get rid of it. (I have no problem with anyone proposing, but the negative emotional clutter needs to go.) If you can get to where you’re both on the same definite page of commitment via a mutual discussion, that would be really awesome. (as opposed to really vague discussions of marriage, which can sometimes afterwards result in “I was just exploring the idea!” “Well, I was being serious!”)

        I guess, when we do need something, it’s okay to say “I need X to be proved to me before we move forward. This is how it can be demonstrated to me.”, even if it’s not what we think we “ought” to need, whether that’s a proposal/ring or a discussion-with-goals or a list or remembering your birthday or a pet hamster or being willing to visit your grandma or whatever (always taking them into account as well as you and trying to be as sane as possible in requirements – like, ideally not requiring an introvert to prove they love you by singing a full set of karaoke love songs?). We’re not entirely rational/consistent beings, and that’s okay. And each relationship is going to get there a bit differently… :-)

        (I also did not have the “How to Rock at Romantic Relationships” manual. It worked out eventually anyway, just in a more geeky and talky way than is apparently usual.)

    • meg

      See my comment above. We’ve run quite a lot of women-proposing-to-men posts on APW (and will keep doing it). But I think the heart of the issue in this post is needing one partner (no matter what the gender) to decide if they *want* to get married in the first place, and how sometimes ultimatums can have a place in that.

      • rys

        I totally get that. But I’m still dwelling on the ways in which the mesh of personalities (be it the combination of the procrastinator and the organizer, the overthinker and the impatient one, the spontaneity-loving and the planning-focused, the cautious and the thrill-seeker, etc) intersects to create the need for ultimatums as well as the ways in which personality and politics don’t always align neatly and thus make ultimatums necessary but nonetheless challenging.

        • meg

          All of that is true, and good stuff. Particularly the fact that personality and politics don’t always align neatly.

      • Moz

        The only one I remember is Carrie’s amazing post, and that ran more than two years ago. Links please?

    • THIS. If I had waited for my husband to propose, it never would have happened. I knew him well enough to know that he is content to follow me in many of our “couple-decisions” (he’s a laid-back guy) and that I needed to take the lead on this.

      We made a mutual decision to get engaged. I got the ring from my mom and put it on myself.

      But when you tell people you’re engaged, everyone expects a damn proposal story. Over and over again. At the end of the day when we announced our engagement, I actually felt disappointed, because it was like my story wasn’t good enough, like people thought I’d been robbed of some fairy tale moment with a limousine.

      I think this narrative needs to change. I mean, when you announce that you’re pregnant no one wants to know how the damn baby was conceived.

      • KC

        (note: I think that’s a great proposal story. :-) )

      • One More Sara

        “When you announce you’re pregnant, no one wants to know how the damn baby was conceived.”

        bahahhahahha. Brilliant.

        • If only that were true. I have a feeling that date, time, and method of conception will be expected to be common knowledge in my family.
          We all freely talk about sex, but sometimes get a little too close to ‘how the sausage is made.’

    • AnotherCourtney

      It’s not always women doing this to themselves. In my case, it was my partner doing it to me. I came home from a long trip abroad back in 2008 and announced I never wanted to leave his side again, if he took me to the courthouse the next day I would have been thrilled. And I was very vocal (to him) about it.

      But part of “let’s get married,” is that it’s two people making the decision. And he just wasn’t in the same place I was. He wanted a solid full-time job. He wanted savings, and a ring (I told him to tie a string around my finger, but he wasn’t having that). He wanted his ducks in a row. And, nearly three years after I suggested going to the courthouse, he got down on one knee with a diamond he bought with cash, and asked me to marry him.

      The path was definitely emotional. I know I had that wild look in my eye. There were probably ultimatums involved. Oddly enough, I actually asked him last night how he would have felt if I had proposed to him instead. He didn’t have an answer at first, but after a while, he said he would have said yes, but he would have felt uncomfortable about it. Gender roles probably come into play a little here, but he also said he was happy that he was able to get engaged on his terms. He needed that, more than I needed to get married.

      • Melissa

        “Gender roles probably come into play a little here, but he also said he was happy that he was able to get engaged on his terms. He needed that, more than I needed to get married.”

        Oh man, THIS. Your description of your partner reminds me strikingly of my own. He really wants all of his ducks in a row before he officially proposes, and it’s driving me absolutely bonkers, because I love him. Regardless of his employment status, the level of completion of his education, or even his bank account.

        Thank you for reminding me that it’s not just my terms, or giving him the kick in the pants I think he needs. There are two of us going into this; it shouldn’t be one of us shoving the other along.

        • Taylor B

          oh, the waiting for the ducks! My fiance articulated repeatedly that he didn’t want to propose until he was ready to get married, though we had agreed for several years already that we would eventually marry. We watched our friends meet partners, date a year or so and then get married and it got harder for me to wait patiently and harder for him to feel responsible for my sadness. I think we really made progress when he understood that it made me question my judgment to be so madly in love with someone who wasn’t ready yet to commit – why was I ready and he wasn’t? And then, he basically set an ultimatum for himself, and told me in August we would be engaged by the end of the year. And on October 9, he surprised me with the simplest and most romantic proposal I could have imagined – on the beach in my hometown, in our sweatshirts, tearful. Perfection, and well worth the wait! Now we are stronger than ever for having walked through that process together, honoring what the other needed.

    • (Totally beside the point, but I was actually at the top of the Eiffel Tower when a guy quietly proposed to his girlfriend. It was sweet, but both David and I immediately agreed that it would have been SO wrong for us – he basically had to make someone move so he had enough room to kneel down, and there were dozens of people pushing around them. One of those things that sounds far more romantic that it probably is in real life.)

      • Moz

        I would love it if we could dispense with this idea of men having to kneel down.

        • Class of 1980


    • ruth


      My proposal also sort of resulted from an ultimatum. My partner and I had been together for more than a decade, and had for many years agreed we wanted to eventually get married. And he is just… not a doer. And yet, he insisted on being the one to propose, though I was more than happy for the two of us to just decide to get married. So I waited. We had many anguished discussions. After some friends got engaged, he promised he’d propose soon. Months later, I asked what he meant by soon. Ultimately he said he’d propose before I finished graduate school… which he did, about four days before graduation.

      I have seen so many women, unhappily waiting to get engaged, often after agreeing with their partners that marriage was something they both wanted, and I find it so frustrating/baffling/odd. Why, when our partnerships are more egalitarian than ever, is this narrative of the women in want of a proposal as common as ever? And I’m beginning to wonder if it happens MORE in less conventional partnerships, where there is perhaps less external pressure to get married.

    • Faux

      Smart answer, cat. the “grown up proposal” comment rubed me the wrong way, too. I don’t see that as grown up.

      • One More Sara

        I can see how that might rub someone the wrong way, but when I describe something as “grown up,” I mean it more like how I saw things when I was little, and then how those experiences molded my expectations for the present day. So for me, the phrase “grown up” is how I would describe something to fit the 8 year old me’s expectations.

    • Spines

      I don’t think it’s always us women doing it to ourselves…in my case it was my fiance who was very clear that he had to propose to me, and not the other way around.

      Not because he’s a traditionalist, but the way he looked at it was that this was his shot to doing something amazing to show how much he loves me, it was his moment in the (private!) spotlight, as it were.

      And so in my situation I was waiting around for him, but he gave me a clear timeline to expect action by, but it really meant a lot to him to be able to do this for me (and since he is the worst secret keeper in the world and I have a knack for guessing things, it wasn’t a surprise, but is was an epic 12 hour event, haha!)

  • Maize

    A couple of years ago I was in a relationship that was filled with complication and because of extenuating circumstances he moved in. I didn’t want to live together before we were engaged or married but if he didn’t move in the he would have to move back to South Carolina (I live in Chicago). After 1.5 years of living together and hoping that he would ask me to marry him I finally gave him the ultimatum that we either need to get engaged or you need to move out. He moved out a couple of weeks later. I actually never saw him again and as difficult as it was at the time I am so so SO glad that I gave him the ultimatum. I am nowengaged to a wonderful man, whom I would have never met had I stayed with my ex.

  • Kudos on the brave post. I’m so happy that it was the right choice for you – as it was for so many of the commenters! I see some of the same foot-dragging/procrastination/etc. in my husband sometimes with big decisions and it makes me kiiiiinda crazy. I guess my question is: what’s the deal with that? I understand that it can be solely a result of personality but I wonder what else can be at work underneath. Is it different kind of relationship-perfectionism that results in paralysis rather than overanalyzing/planning (my chosen vice)? Maybe also dudes are less likely to have emotional resources/tools at their service to process scary emotional situations and they can’t rely on partners completely for that support because proposals are often designed to be surprising?

    I can definitely see how ultimatums, delivered with thought and love, can circumvent the above problems (talking about it makes it less scary, and time frames circumvent endless perfectionism). Just wondering if there’s also something that could happen in our culture in the future that would also address the same issues before the ultimatum becomes necessary. A girl can dream . . .

  • Jashshea

    I wouldn’t call this an ultimatum by the strictest definition, but…

    A few months before we got engaged I had a job opportunity outside of the US which is my lifelong dream (and, incidentally, his lifelong dream) . While talking through all of the issues wrapped up in that decision he mentioned that he would want to join me – I explained that (blah blah yawn immigration yadda yadda paperwork) the only easy way for that to happen was for us to be married.

    I think that woke him up. We were moving in together, we’d been together for years, but I think he really started to think…well, think like an APW’er. Like “oh wow, if we were married we could make these sorts of plans together and that sounds both awesomer and way easier than doing it alone.” We were engaged a few months later. The job fell through, but I think it was absolutely the impetus that got us talking about the right things that made us both realize we were ready.

  • K

    While this conversation is about engagement and marriage, I am seeing ultimatums pop up a few years after the wedding. As my mom-friends and I are considering having more kids, several friends are facing conditions and ultimatums on the next pregnancy. “We can only have a second child if …” I don’t have to do anything for the first year, we completely change our parenting style, …

    Ultimatums make me nervous — I wouldn’t know what to do if my husband said something like that to me.

    • When faced with an ultimatum, wouldn’t you weigh all the options and make the decision based on what’s right for you, your marriage and your family with your partner? If your husband requested a total change to parenting styles before another baby could come along you’d say yes I’m open to making that change or no I’m happy with our family how it is.

      Do you think these ultimatums are caused by a lack of open conversation in the first place? I’m sure for us parenting, if we choose to have a child and are lucky enough to, will be trial and error with lots of talks about if we’re crazy or demanding to much or expecting to little or spot on!

      • Katy

        Yeah – ultimatums may be the result of, and a perpetuator of, a lack of open conversation in the first place. An ultimatum narrows “all the options” down to two options (my way or the highway). In that sense, an ultimatum narrows the conversation.

        • meg

          Well, possibly. Except I’ve known people with open conversations who still needed engagement ultimatums, for example.

          But in general, you can talk about an issue till you’re blue in the face, but at some point it’s fish or cut bait. Take action or don’t.

          I don’t know how I feel about it when it comes to parenting, though I think that at the end of the day one partner has every right to say “I can’t bring another human into this world” or “I can’t bring another human into this world under these conditions” or even “We have gotten to the point where if this doesn’t change I can’t stay in this situation.” These conversations ARE usually best had in couples counseling though, big or small. But knowing your needs are not being met and action has to be taken for you to continue to stay sane, and making that clear, is not a bad thing in my book. And it’s DEFINITELY not something I think open communication can always solve, in the very real, very messy world.

          So yes. I think ultimatums narrow the conversation. But at some points in life, I think the conversation has to be narrowed to the two (or three or what have you) specific choices at hand.

  • Lori

    Hahha, I thought I was the only one with an ultimatum! People thought that it was a little strange, but it really worked for us. Early in our relationship we discussed whether marriage was something we wanted, and how long we should be dating before we decided that this person was that person we wanted to marry. We both agreed that four years was the goal. We continued to talk about it over the years, especially as Prop 8 reared its head and we talked through her views on not conforming to heterosexual norms, and mine on highlighting the support of our family and community through a traditional ceremony, and whether gays need “marriage” or just civil unions, and which we would like, given the choice. At year four, she asked for a year extension while she decided how she would like to propose, and a few months later, we were engaged. It all sounds so cut and dried, and oh-so-unromantic, but the discussions we had about what we want and expect out of the relationship were some of the most intimate, revealing and emotional discussions we’ve ever had. And in setting the four year bar, we were openly acknowledging the acceptance of the unknown, which APW has so thoroughly covered: that you don’t have to go through everything with someone to have faith that you can make it through anything.

    • Taylor B

      beautiful! Thank you for highlighting that the discussions and shared decision of getting married are separate from the proposal. Maybe this is why so many of us want the proposal? And why so many partners want to propose – the work we do to reach the joint decision to get married is arguably not the most romantic part anymore :) I love your story!

  • Kristen

    OP here and I wanted to thank everyone for like the nicest things I’ve ever read about my thoughts, like ever. I truly appreciated all the comments, including the questions of why I didn’t do it myself. The problem is, how do you put all the layers and facets of yourself into telling a story like this?
    Because the huge underlying issue to this whole thing, the “reason” I didn’t propose is something that I’m still working out and coming to terms with even now, months later. And it was this:
    Because sometimes the people in our lives need to step up and do what we’re asking them to do. If it doesn’t go against their beliefs, if it doesn’t hurt them in some form or fashion, then if they love us, they should let us know. Sometimes in real, tangible ways.
    I’m no feminist so this may not feel right to everyone, but I’ve worked really long and hard to combat the idea that I was worth nothing and I was only here to do things for other people. They could treat me as they liked, with indifference or animosity, but I was here to please and take care of others.
    I couldn’t get married to someone who wouldn’t respect how important this silly, symbolic gesture was to me. Because it would have been him saying what too many others in my life had said, I wasn’t worth the effort.
    Most of my misery and what Chalk correctly referred to as “emotionally exhausting for everyone” was me learning for the first time in my life to ask for what I needed to be happy. Instead of just trying to do it all myself. I believe in couples as a lifestyle. I believe I am bettered by being with my Besty just as he is bettered by being with me. We try to influence and encourage each other to be the people we want to be and to live the lives we want to live. Sometimes that includes one of us saying we need something from the other and trusting and expecting that will be given if at all possible. I’ve worked too hard to get out of the frankly personally, unhealthy frame of mind that says to just do everything myself. I expect him to take care of me just as I take care of him. Just as I will expect him to take care of our children with me. If I’ve learned anything during my wedding planning so far (and MAN have I learned some biz!) its that I deserve to reap what I sow. I deserve to be shown I am special and treated as if I am loved. It is hard and it hurts to think that way, but I refuse to do anything else. This is the only path to happiness for me, and I intend to stay on it.

    • KEA1

      You. Rock. My. World. If I may be a bit picky, though, what you’ve expressed here *is* feminism. And by whatever name you wanna call it, you absolutely deserve to reap what you sow. Absolutely stay on this path, and celebrate it!

      • meg

        That’s what I was going to say. But aren’t you a feminist? Sounds like it in my book. Own the word, ladies. It’s just valuing yourself, as simple and as complicated as that.

    • Cleo

      “I’ve worked really long and hard to combat the idea that I was worth nothing and I was only here to do things for other people. They could treat me as they liked, with indifference or animosity, but I was here to please and take care of others.”

      This! I figured this out in a previous relationship and gave him an ultimatum as well, not for a proposal, but to treat me as if he wanted to keep me around (i.e. logging out of World of Warcraft to eat a dinner that I had cooked and brought to his apartment for him, at the table with me, instead of at his desk; and to not push me away when I tried to hug him hello in public). He did not, and I left

      It was hard to get to the point of thinking I was worth enough to put my foot down and demand to be shown affection and respect — my breaking point was realizing that I felt like the sad friend in the movie of my life, and not like the star. I still get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I ask for something I want, but at least I’m asking.

      Anyway, I applaud you for asking for what you want and realizing you’re worth it! It’s a hard thing to do, in my experience, and I’m so happy that doing it got you a positive result!

      • ItsyBitsy

        Good for you for realizing your self worth and acting on it! It can be very hard sometimes and is a tough thing to learn, as many of us (myself included) know from experience.

        The “sad friend” comment made me think of this wonderful scene from The Holiday between Kate Winslet’s character and her neighbor, which I always think of when trying to remember to take care of myself:

        Arthur: Iris, in the movies we have the leading lady and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you’re behaving like the best friend.

        Iris: You’re so right. You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for God’s sake.

    • AnotherCourtney

      What a great response!!

    • Thanks for following up. I think what you wrote in the comments clarifies so much more about the reason this needed to happen this way a lot more than just the original post does. Learning to ask for your needs to be met instead of settling for less or expecting people to read minds is indeed significant growth and maturity.

    • Kara

      Thank you much for the further insight (I posted a bit of something earlier, but hadn’t seen this). I’m so glad you’re learning to ask for what you need and what you want. I’m glad for you that you “owned” what you wanted in terms of his asking you. I desperately wanted my now-husband to propose to me too. And for many similar reasons. When it has meaning to you, symbolism is rarely silly.

    • Diane

      Love what you’ve written here but one thing (that others have pointed out as well): what do you think of as “feminism” in that case? My mom had a mug when I was a kid that said “feminism: the radical notion that women are people” which I still love. It is my fond wish that we’ll stop running from the term feminism and defining it as hating men, thinking that the world would be perfect if only women held most/all positions of power, or wearing only Doc Martens. If we, as women who believe in owning our own decisions and taking the role of protagonist in our own lives, can define ourselves as feminists for doing just that, I think we’d all be a lot better off.

      (And no offense to Doc Martens — I have nothing against practical footwear. I’m wearing Toms right now and they’re burlap, comfy, and awesome.)

      • meg


    • I love this response!

      (And please, come be a feminist with us! We’d love to have you!)

  • Mell Man

    This hit home. I am in a similar situation. I have told him what I want and put an expiration date on it. I haven’t to him the date, but I have one. The idea hadn’t occurred to me, “that you can’t want to marry a person one day and then be fully capable of leaving the next.” She’s so right. I have to factor that into my decision…prepare myself for the fact that this might happen. Hope it doesn’t, but it could.

  • mimi

    I’m feeling like Kristen did, except that I don’t think an ultimatum would work with my guy. He’s a little stubborn and I think if I push, instead of waiting patiently, he’s going to react negatively. So here’s to staying patient, with gentle nudges here and there….

    However, I did get this fortune cookie fortune at lunch today: “Good news of long-awaited event will arrive soon” :)

  • I love this article, it completely resonated with me. I could see my own boyfriend in everything you said about your fiance (including how you need to spell out what you want him to do around the house, and being a procrastinator). It’s good to know other people have had to say the words “or else” because I hate doing it!

  • Sarah

    I want to comment on the idea that you can’t want to marry someone and then walk away thread. I thought about that when I left my ex because he wasn’t going to marry me and I needed to focus on my life rather than building a shared life that didn’t have a future. He knew he was causing me a lot of pain by not deciding and ultimately, I told him that I thought that was a decision that even though he loved me he would rather continue to hurt me with his indecision than commit to me. Accepting that and walking way was one of the most important things I ever did. As it turned out I met my husband two weeks later but even if I hadn’t, I couldn’t live like that any more and I needed to put myself first.

    I have a question for OP. You say that you aren’t a feminist. Can you explain that a little more?


      This, exactly – “He knew he was causing me a lot of pain by not deciding and ultimately, I told him that I thought that was a decision that even though he loved me he would rather continue to hurt me with his indecision than commit to me.”

    • Kristen

      Sarah, I think walking away like you did is incredibly brave. I personally walked out of a 14 year relationship just 5 months before I met my fiance who I gave the ultimatum to. So I know how hard it is and how much strength it takes and I applaud you for having it. I just knew that having done it only a few years before, I was totally capable of walking away. I just also knew that being as in love as I was, it wouldn’t stick if I’d done it this time. That’s what I meant about not being able to one day want to marry someone and the next be capable of giving up completely. At least, that’s not how I work. It also sounds like your choice to leave was extremely reasonable, though tough.

      As for not being a feminist, I often feel (and I hesitate to say anything too specific lest I offend some of our feminist friends out there with my lumping things under the title ‘feminist’) but I often feel that the idea of equality for women is just not something I relate to. I do not feel nor want to be equal to a man. I’m just me and you’re just you, man or woman, regardless of age, race, or sexual orientation. I don’t want to be thought of as a woman, I just want to be thought of as me. I much more identify with the idea of people being equals instead of pointing out the dissimilarities like you’ve got a penis and I don’t get paid as much as you. Does that make sense?

      Like a lot of things in life, I try to appreciate who I am and my place in this world. My fiance told me the other day he was at a presentation about child abuse (he’s a teacher) and he got so upset he thought he would have to leave the room. I feel so fortunate that as a woman, I wouldn’t be looked upon in the same way if I’d had the same problem. Even if its said with condescension like, ‘oh the little lady got upset!’ I completely embrace it! I don’t care if someone is dumb enough to think crying when you feel something big is wrong. I just care I get a free pass cuz I’m a lady, you know? And as someone who feels EVERYTHING real big, I need that free pass in life. Its more acceptable for me to be the overly emotional person I am than it is for my Besty. And I get to have a job and be in charge of money and no one thinks that’s weird either. In some ways, its the men I feel badly for. Now trained to feel and care about things their father’s weren’t, but still told by the same society a lot of this stuff is chick stuff. Poor guys!

      • meg

        “I’m just me and you’re just you, man or woman, regardless of age, race, or sexual orientation. I don’t want to be thought of as a woman, I just want to be thought of as me. I much more identify with the idea of people being equals.”

        And that, my friends, is the perfect definition of feminism.

      • Well, “people being equal” is the bare-bones definition of feminism. Working to make men feel comfortable crying is just as much a part of feminism as encouraging more women to run for office.

        “Equal to a man” doesn’t mean you have to act like a man (nor does it mean that men have to adhere to notions of “acting like a man,” not to mention all the folk who don’t fit neatly into a binary gender structure). It means that nobody will try to control your actions through discriminatory legislation, pay you less for the same work, fire you for getting pregnant, blame you for being sexually assaulted, bar you from certain positions in an organization, etc. etc. etc. Feminism also seeks to ensure that men are not discriminated in any of those ways, either. Feminism is generally anti-discriminatory.

        So, sorry, but you might be a feminist after all.

        • vron

          I totally agree. But even describing yourself as feminist should be a choice. Sometimes words have connotations and in some ways choosing the label of “feminism” is actually a bigger statement than believing that people of all genders are just people. It’s ok if someone doesn’t want to choose that label for themselves because even just the word feels like a fight. Do I feel like it should? No. But I’m not going to say it’s not hard or tell someone they have to do it.

  • hope

    Bada bing, bada boom, you go girl! I really appreciate this. Sometimes people need pressure, restrictions, laws, even, to help them do the things they want to do. Thank you for sharing your story–it will help people.

  • Copper

    I think a lot of the judgement of ultimatums comes from insecurity. Like, I know that if I had to give my bf an ultimatum, I would always wonder whether he didn’t really want to marry me and had felt ‘forced’ into doing so. So I think the reason it’s a dirty word is because insecure people (and I’m one of them) project our own feelings onto other people’s situations, which just isn’t appropriate but is so subconscious that most people probably a) don’t realize they’re doing it or b) don’t realize there’s anything wrong with it. APW has brought me a long way in realizing when I do this and taken a lot of the stigma away for me, but it may similarly help you to remember that when someone else judges you for this, they’re probably really judging themselves.

    I’m in that pre-engaged zone right now and I can’t see myself getting to an ultimatum point (see above-referenced insecurities), but a while ago did reach the working-backwards point that some posters above referenced. We sat down and he said “well I pictured this about then, and that about then…” and I’m like “um, what about this other factor? How does that work with that timeline?” and it changed our plans. Just feeling like we’re on the same page and know and respect the things each other are taking into consideration relieves so much of the burden of pre-engagement! I’ve felt about 1000x better since that conversation.

  • Kara

    I’m glad things have worked and are continuing to work out for you. Congratulations to you both.

    Your post did raise a major question for me: what’s the difference between an ultimatum and the line in the sand of your true-est true boundaries?

    I don’t think that’s a rhetorical question as it seems like there’s a fine line in there somewhere. Is that in the eye of the recipient? The end result of the action?

    I don’t think either my now-husband or I have given each other ultimatums about important things, but have had some pretty frank discussions about where our boundaries on certain things are (family, living situations, as-yet theoretical babies) that sometimes get formulated in the same sort of ” I can’t/won’t do ‘y’ before ‘x’ has happened (where x is an action the other person (or universe) needs to take). Does that count?

    • Kristen

      I think an ultimatum is basically saying, “If you love me, you’ll do this.” That’s how I viewed it and that was certainly my intention in giving him one. Luckily he loved me. :)

    • Cleo

      This is a great question.

      I wonder if it’s all in the presentation. Perhaps an ultimatum is a boundary with a timeline or a boundary with a call to action attached to it. That is, an ultimatum puts the onus for action on the other person, where your boundaries speaks about what you, yourself want to happen without attaching another person to it?

      Based on your discussions with your husband, though, which you classify as about boundaries, I also wonder if a discussion of boundaries creates room for compromise, whereas an ultimatum means one party has already chosen their action and outcome.

      • Copper

        I think an ultimatum comes when one party has already made their choice and is forcing the other party to make theirs. As long as there’s still discussions, room for adjustment, and real listening from both parties, then I think you’re still making decisions together. Ultimatums feel like each party is backed into their corner of the ring.

  • Margret

    I gave my now-husband an ultimatum, although I don’t like that word because of all the baggage associated with it. I prefer to think of it as being honest about my needs and expectations, and giving him a deadline to decide if his matched up with mine. I told him in September 2009 that I was not going off to law school with a boyfriend–I would either be single or engaged (I was graduating in May 2010). He had been upfront about wanting to spend our lives together for a long time (we started dating as juniors in high school), but was never sure if marriage was for him. We lived together for the first time that summer and I realized marriage was for me, I didn’t want to live with someone without that formal commitment. I gave him plenty of time (9 months) to decide, and what do you know, we got married summer 2010. He sometimes brings up “my ultimatum” as a joke, but I think of it along the lines of, “I’m in control of the rest of my life, I talk about expectations and goals in every other aspect, but I was supposed to wait for him to maybe never make a decision about the rest of MY life?” But there’s this cultural narrative telling us that if we’re honest and upfront about our expectations in a relationship we’ll somehow ruin it or we’re being “nags”. Unfortunately, life is not a rom-com and we penalize women who are realistic about that.

  • Ambi

    After 7+ years of dating and 1.5 years of living together, I gave my guy a Meg-inspired ultimatum: Go to couples’ counseling with me, or I’m out. He surprised me by immediately agreeing to go, and we spent several difficult months in counseling working through the issues that have held us back from marriage. About a month ago or so, he and I talked to my parents to get their blessing for us to get married. I got very very excited about an impending engagement, and now I am having to just back off and calm down and let things happen in their own time. After so many years, and my “ultimatum.” and his huge leap forward in asking my parents, I feel like we need to get engaged NOW and I am starting to slip back into that pressure-y mindset. But I am trying to just let it go and wait for it to happen whenever it happens.

  • Adi

    I wish I’d given my fiancé an ultimatum and a timeline. I was so worried about being “that girl” that I just steered a conversation one night and we got engaged that way. Maybe it’s silly, but I wanted the surprise and the excitement and the moment, too. Instead I got a conversation during which I was angry and scared and helpless. I’m glad to be marrying him (in a MONTH!! Eek!!) but I think I’ll always be a little sad that I chose my ring six months after we were engaged and part of me will always feel like if he loved me more, he would have just asked himself instead of me asking him. The feminist in me is horrified, but the little girl is heartbroken.

    • Kelly

      “The feminist in me is horrified, but the little girl is heartbroken.”

      This sums up my feelings about pre-engagement exactly. I am absolutely horrified to see myself devolved into urgency and desperation and an overwhelming desire for a proposal any day now, but it’s just what we’ve been told to expect and hold out for for so long that it’s hard to let go of our expectations, which as one commenter already mentioned, is the real work being done. Learning to make our relationships our own and not just a pantomime of what’s expected is hard, but it’s so important, not just as we move towards marriage but at all stages of the lives we build together.

  • Jaime

    I had such a similar experience, and it’s very relieving to hear how many others felt this way. My now-fiance and I have been together for about 6 years, and I’m only 26. Since we got together so young, it almost felt as if time wasn’t moving at the rate that it would have if we were older? If that makes any sense at all. Getting engaged at 25 is by no means late, but it felt like an eternity after all we had been through.

    My fiance is similarly programmed, where timelines don’t register with him until they’re explicitly conveyed. We don’t want children either, so that made this process all the lengthier. BUT, I do have a very strong urge to travel, and it’s important to me that we do it as young as possible, so that was always in the back of my mind. (He comes from a very religious family who would severly frown upon us venturing off on trips, therefore sleeping together.)

    He was also offered a job in another state, which he took. I let him know that I wouldn’t even consider moving without a ring. I thought his overly-religious parents would push that timeline a little quicker, but it didn’t, really.

    Turns out he had the ring for a pretty long time before we got engaged. As a control freak who plans out every minute of every day, it’s aggravating in retrospect, but I’m so happy with him that my aggravation never lasts that long!

  • Martha

    I love the bravery of this post – not only of her ability to issue and ultimatum and stick to it, but the bravery required to write about it so unabashedly.

    I remember my pre-engaged stage. While I initially felt like I was going to issue an ultimatum, it was not for similar reasons. I was under so much pressure from my mother – almost daily – because I had moved in with my boyfriend 800 miles from home. This pressure did nothing to speed things along, and if anything, forced me to re-examine why I was in such a rush. There was no reason for us to hurry getting married (engaged now, I’m still just 24, he 26). The pressure I felt from my family caused me to relax about whatever per-conceived time frame I had in my head and made his eventual proposal that much better because it was just right for the two of us and no one else.

  • Ellie

    I know I’m late to the conversation, and so I didn’t have time to read all the replies–and I’m really, really, unendingly grateful to Kristen for sharing her story–but I just have to say that I really dislike the reinforcement this gives that men have to ask women to be engaged.

    Why couldn’t Kristen ask him? I just don’t understand. Like, I am absolutely, utterly confused. And I think this is something we need to discuss on APW as a whole (even though I don’t really comment, I just read all the posts and most of the comments), but I think the culture that supports men asking women in order to be a “real” proposal causes SO MUCH DAMAGE–I mean, just look at what Kristen says about her struggle and anxiety and sadness during this time. I just think that if Kristen had been okay with being engaged when she and her partner had decided they were ready, then… hurrah! Everyone’s so much happier and healthier! Why let a single act (that is totally symbolic, anyways) have so much control over one’s life?

    • Margret

      I don’t know that the ultimatum is as much about the act of proposing as it is about the decision to be married at all. My ultimatum was for the decision, not a proposal. Although he did propose (which was important to him), I would have been just as happy if he had come to me and simply told me he had thought it over, marriage was for him and was I ready to set a date? His hesitation was whether he wanted to be married at all, so me asking him would have been moot because he would have said no, not because I would have been a woman proposing, but because he wasn’t mentally or emotionally ready for engagement.

      • Ellie

        Yeah, I do totally get that distinction, and that’s where I can see an ultimatum making sense. My impression from this post (and I apologize if I read it wrong) was that both Kristen and her partner were clearly totally on board with getting married… so why did a formal engagement, with him giving her a ring or getting down on his knee or whatever, have to occur? Perhaps it was the act that meant he was ready, but it sounded like he said he was…

        • Copper

          maybe it’s that when one partner feels like they are driving the conversation, the other partner is the one who makes the gesture, as an official symbol that they’ve caught up and are now all in? I definitely agree that there’s some heavy gendering around the topic, but I realized that if my boyfriend had been pushing me then I would totally propose to him and expect that it would make his day that I’d arrived at the same point. On the other hand if I was pushing, then asking would feel like me pushing MORE and be the ultimate ultimatum. Maybe the slower/more uncertain partner needs to be the one to finally pull the trigger?

    • Alexandra

      I hate to say it, but Ellie, your comment actually quite bothers me. I felt this post really resonated with me and my own experiences with being pre-engaged and delivering my ultimatium, that your comment is just adding to the fuel of why people look down on this exact problem. Because it does take bravery to talk about giving your boyfriend that ugly “U” word. If it’s not the cultural narrative telling you that you’re a pushy person, just trying to pin down a guy, it’s the feminists telling you that you’re weak for not proposing yourself. It’s not reinforcing anything, it’s one woman telling about her own struggles, which many other women here echoed. Just because it’s not true for you doesn’t mean it’s not true for someone else.

      But here’s some reasons why the girl might like the guy to actually make the proposal. 1) Because you want to know that he’s arrived at the same conclusion you did, and is willing to take the step to tell you that. 2) Because there’s a very distinct difference between telling someone that this is what you want and need to happen, and “Screw it, I’ll do it myself.” 3) Because the men have the same brain-weasels as the women, and want to be the one to do the proposing, for their own reasons (It’s how it’s done, it’s something special I want to do, my guy friends will tease me otherwise, whatever) 4) Because if you start initiating the conversations, then later are the one to propose, you start feeling like you’ve just pushed and shoved your way into the outcome you wanted. 5) Because not everyone has generous and understanding parents. 6) Because a lot of people just never even considered that proposing themselves is an option until after they’re already engaged (I strongly avoided any wedding related media while I wasn’t engaged, because I was worried it would seem pressuring to him)

      I mean, sure it would be great if there was just no cultural influences that said this was just the way it was. But, we don’t live in a world like that yet. Though you should read more of these comments, Kristen has also responded about why she wouldn’t just propose herself. Her answer was: Because sometimes the people in our lives need to step up and do what we’re asking them to do. If it doesn’t go against their beliefs, if it doesn’t hurt them in some form or fashion, then if they love us, they should let us know. Sometimes in real, tangible ways.

  • Portia

    This is so helpful to read, as I am still processing the results of my own engagement ultimatum.
    In June, after a year of indirect arguing about marriage, I told my boyfriend of 8 years that we needed to find separate apartments if he wasn’t ready to be engaged. He hugely resented the ultimatum, tried to put a bunch of conditions on the engagement (“you can’t tell anyone we’re engaged”), and finally refused. So I left.
    The next morning, he showed up at my sister’s apartment with a ring. So now we’ve been engaged for two months. But although my boyfriend is definitely less decisive than I am, and although he often needs a big push to make any kind of life change, I am still dealing with the fact that he did not (does not?) want to marry me, and is now refusing to commit to a wedding date. I can’t quite figure out whether his hesitation is about marriage in general, or about me as the person he marries. And then there is so much baggage for me about being the “pushy girlfriend” who “pressured” him into proposing. (His parents, who have been lovely and gracious to me for the past eight years, are suddenly cool and distant.)
    We start couples counseling next week. Wish us luck.

    • KEA1

      Oh, dear. TONS of good luck, and tons of hugs. May the clarity, for whatever the outcome may be, come soon!


      Good luck! Hope counseling goes well.

    • eight years is really something to still not be sure or to not be able to supply a reason why there was the hesitation. i really hope the couples counseling brings you resolutions.

      • Portia

        Thanks, Kea1 and Nah Nah Nah and Kate for the good thoughts. We’ve just come back from 8 weeks apart (he was doing research abroad), and we’ve had a wonderful few days just being together and talking. I’m very happy, and hopeful that counseling will bring more insight.

        • Ambi

          Portia, I have been away from my computer for a few days and hadn’t come back to read the comments on this post until now – and I am so glad I did! I hope you are still reading this. I have been exactly where you are – almost 8 years together with no commitment and I gave him the ultimatum that we either had to start counseling and figure out whether we are going to get married (as in, figure it out by a set deadline), or I was moving out. And I was dead serious. I never actually had to leave, because he agreed to counseling immediately, but I had already found the apartment I wanted, and if he had’t been willing to go to counseling I was 100% going to sign the lease and schedule the movers to come. Luckily for us (and I hope for you), counseling was a godsend. I won’t lie – it was really hard. There were definitely moments during that process when I was absolutely sure that we were going to break up. But after months of hard work, we are in a better place than we have ever been. He asked my parents for their blessing for us to get married, and more importantly than that, I finally believe that he really does want to be with me. I can really relate to your description of feeling like, even if you do get married, you’ll always feel like he didn’t want to be with you. I have been struggling with this for so long, because like one of the commentors here just said, 8 years is a long time, and it is hard to get past the idea that, if he really loved me, he would have just proposed already. But, you really don’t have to feel this way! Seriously, this is something that you absolutely MUST discuss in counseling. In our very first session, I started crying and said that I kind of felt like this whole thing was pointless because, even if he got down and proposed right now, I’d spend our entire engagement waiting for him to change his mind and I’d be haunted for the rest of my life by the nagging fear that he never really loved me enough to do it on his own. When my guy heard me say this, I think something finally clicked and he was able to understand how I felt about his lack of commitment, how much it hurt me, and how this wasn’t just a situation in which there is no harm in waiting until you are 1000% sure – there is real harm in waiting, in that it eroded my self esteem and my confidence in his feelings for me and created lasting relationship issues that we are going to be working through for a while.

          So, the good news is that counseling helps. It really does. And I can promise you that, even after 8 years, his lack of commitment really can be his own issue – it isn’t necessarily about you. My guy has always said he wanted to get married, but if you scratched the surface you’d find that he has one of the most negative views of marriage you’ve ever encountered. He honestly thinks all of our friends and our family members and just about everyone we know are miserable in their marriages. It took a lot of discussion in counseling for him to see that, just like he and I have our issues but we are happier together than apart, our friends’ marriages each have their own issues but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be married to each other. Fear of commitment is a real thing. My counselor put it this way: If your issue is low self esteem, and that issue manifests itself as insecurity and jealousy that causes problems in your relationship, you’d want your partner to have the love and patience and compassion to work with you through that and treat the underlying issue, rather than just threaten you that you have to stop being so jealous or they’re leaving, right? Well, fear of commitment is the same, and telling someone to just snap out of it isn’t usually very successful – it is a process and you deal with it.

          So, that’s the good new, and it is kind of the bad news, too. Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly at all), my guy’s mom recently revealed to me that she gave his father an ultimatum, and when he did propose as a result, she thought that her days of feeling insecure about his feeling for her were finally over, but in the end she spent the early years of her marriage still plagued by doubts about her husband’s love for her and the fear that he only married her because it was the easier choice between marriage or a messy and painful breakup. They’ve been married 37 years. She knows now that her husband loves her more than he could ever possibly express. But unfortunately, the proposal (and even the wedding) didn’t magically fix things. They had quite a long time of both working through their issues until they were finally content.

          All of this is to say good luck, I will be thinking about you, and genuinely hope it works out for you two. I am a firm believer that lack of commitment does not necessarily reflect deeper problems in your relationship (although it can CREATE deeper problems if allowed to fester for years). Counseling is the best decision you two could possibly make right now.

  • Ceebee

    Sometimes the boys work on a different perception,
    Ask when did you have a baby.. They’ll answer the conception time instead of your due date.
    Same goes, happily ever after started with the proposal, not the wedding.

  • z

    I think ultimatums have a place in our romantic lives. Not to be carelessly tossed around, but as a clear statement of needs/priorities/boundaries they can be really helpful.

    And I think it can be important in some relationships that a particular person formally propose. Some people are just conflict-averse or don’t want to get married but aren’t decisive enough to end the relationship, and setting up a symbolic hurdle like a formal proposal can clarify whether they are really coming to the marriage of their own initiative, or just being carried along by the other person’s drive. My husband taking the initiative to propose made me feel comfortable that he was ready and eager to be married, not just saying yes to keep me happy. I would never want to feel that I had to do all the emotional work of creating special events in a relationship, or that I was the only one in charge of our long-term path together. And I don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world for the engagement process to be difficult and involve some hard conversations and reconciling different styles, views, and timetables. That’s what married people have to do their whole lives, right?

    However, the one time I considered using an ultimatum I ended up just breaking up with the guy instead. (It wasn’t over engagement, but over moving to the same city.) He just hemmed and hawed, procrastinated, refused to decide, and finally I came to see that personality trait as a fundamental incompatibility. I just cannot be with a procrastinator or someone who didn’t like thinking about the long term! I realized that we would have to go through a similar process for every major life decision, and it would drive me bonkers. So although I don’t have a problem with ultimatums in theory, I do think that if it gets to that point, there may be some relationship issues or fundamental incompatibilities that should be addressed separately from whatever your ultimatum is attempting to resolve.

    • Jess

      “I would never want to feel that I had to do all the emotional work of creating special events in a relationship, or that I was the only one in charge of our long-term path together.”

      YES. Exactly. I tried to explain this to my boyfriend, who is from another country where proposals (and rings) are not common. We had already talked extensively about marriage, but I insisted that he propose somehow. I didn’t care so much about the ring, but I needed that “moment” where he took charge and had a really hard time articulating why it was so important, which you just did so succinctly.

      Even now, after the proposal (he did get down on one knee, though without a ring) and a month from our wedding, I feel like most of my family and friends still feel like it wasn’t a “real” proposal.

      • My husband is also from a country where marriage (and proposals, rings, etc) is not common. He did propose in a way that’s traditional to my culture (except for the fact that it was only a couple days before the wedding). (We planned our wedding without a traditional proposal.) It was all fine in the end, and much later on he came to understand more about how important a proposal was to me and why. He honestly just hadn’t realized what it meant to me and what it symbolized…

        I wish you well in your upcoming marriage!

  • JC

    I gave my SO an ultimatum, but not about a proposal. We started dating in high school and did five years of cross-country long distance during college and his grad school, and when he finally graduated he was seriously dragging his feet about moving to my town. Now, I’m also in graduate school and in a not-so-stellar location, but I mean we had been dating for SIX years and successfully navigated the waters of long distance for five of them. We had always had the attitude of Whatever You Need to Do to Get Where You Want to Be, but now that he was for the first time in complete control of where he moved I felt like if I wasn’t a large priority, that was a bad indicator for our relationship. When I stated it plainly for him (If you don’t make every effort to move to be with me, I don’t know that this is what we should be doing anymore), he was a little surprised. He didn’t even consider what dragging his feet was doing to me emotionally, just that he was nervous about taking this next big step in our relationship.

    Having the conversation was a HUGE relief for both of us. I felt better knowing that he was just apprehensive about making a large life change, and he knew that I was in this for good and wouldn’t make light of the choice he was making for me.

    Now, this isn’t exactly an ultimatum, but I also told him that I wouldn’t agree to marry him unless we had proven that we could live in the same place and still get along. I loved him, but I was uncomfortable agreeing to live with him forever when I had only seen him for scattered weekends for five+ years. Fast forward to present day, we’ve been living in the same town for 8 months now (He got a great job!) and my ring is currently in production (I’m also a control freak and he’s a perfectionist so he wanted me to be involved in the process to make sure that I’m 100% happy with the ring he gives me. The proposal will be all him, I know nothing about it).

    I think that ultimatum was the best decision I could have made. Not so much for the deadline, but for the open conversation that followed.

  • kimikaze

    I did the half-ultimatum – he found me one day, sitting on the edge of the bed and crying. I told him I felt stuck, because we had been talking about getting married, and agreed to do it, but now I couldn’t make any moves because the next step was his. Imagine your boss talking about what things will be like when you get a promotion, and then never being offered one! And you can’t ask because then you’ve forced your boss into it and they resent you forever and refuse to have babies with you. Or something.

    I started planning to propose to him on the fifth anniversary of our first date. Lo and behold, he beat me by two months. And I’ve dismissed any concerns that I might have manipulated him into marrying me because frankly? I’m just not that convincing.

    He ended up totally surprising me, too. Planned a whole big thing, asked my parents while I was on a plane so they couldn’t tip me off, utilised Twitter (so Gen Y) and a My Little Pony and friends from three different countries to arrange for me to find the ring. So excellent. No idea he had a crazt orchestrated proposal in him.

  • We always knew we’d get married at some point, but actually proposing was a different matter for him. I asked if he wanted me to do it, and he said no, so I left it at that.

    After three years together, I started to get a little antsy for several reasons. First, even though we were right at 19/20 years old, the cultural narrative says that when you’ve been together for any length of time, a proposal is right around the corner. And two, I am a control-freak planner (I feel, somewhat like the OP!) and I really felt the NEED to start making concrete plans for the wedding.

    (We are having a very traditional wedding because most of my family is from out of town and to ask them to a reception only, I feel, would be a lot of work for a little payoff. We want the celebration to be as big and exciting as possible for them).

    That cultural narrative reared its ugly head again. I mean, how many jokes/comments have you heard about girls without a ring in sight planning their weddings on Pinterest? I didn’t feel comfortable booking caterers, reception sites, etc. without a ring.

    I told him my feelings and he was actually floored. He thought that engagements should only last one year – from engagement to wedding, 365 days. I had never heard of that! So we talked it out and met in the middle: he would do it by the end of 2011.

    He’s honestly the most predictable person I know, so I expected shiny Christmas rings, but apparently his dad told him that was a little sappy. So on Dec. 21, not a special day at all (I hadn’t showered, was playing Ms. Fix-it on a computer chair), we got engaged in a funny, meaningful way that incorporated our favorite local spots and people. It was lovely.

    I didn’t cry. I wasn’t surprised. I actually apologized for a few weeks for “forcing his hand.” He finally sat me down and told me, again, similar to the OP, that he needed the kick in the pants or he wouldn’t have even known when to do it.

    I think with engagements, there is such a strong push for it to happen a certain way that we get freaked out if it doesn’t end up happening. The same thing with kids, jobs, etc. It’s not a unique experience to the fiance/fiancee, and it will likely happen again.

  • You are more patient than me. I thought about giving an ultimatum. I dropped lots of hints, and I even showed his mom some rings I loved. We talked about getting married, and we knew we’d get married. But he is a deliberater, and I know that.

    In the end, I proposed. It was spur of the moment, on a walk, but I just decided I was done. I made some major life decisions based on him, and I needed to know if I had made the right choice.

    I’m happy to report that we’ve now been happily married for a year. I only occasionally regret proposing. But that’s the way we are, and it was the right approach for us.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    In civil litigation, we have deadlines, sanctions, and remedies. Depending on what’s due, if you’re late, the judge can disregard your work (meaning you lose), make you pay money, make you do it again, exclude some of your work (so you don’t lose, but you’re at a disadvantage), or just ignore your tardiness. The maximum sanction for any missed deadline is clearly spelled out in the Code. If you have a good excuse, the Code also spells out the remedy for fixing your tardiness.

    I like this system. Everyone knows where they stand. I see ultimatums as a similar thing for relationships (except, as discussed above, maybe without the “remedy” part). I haven’t had to employ an entire-relationship ultimatum, but I do mini-ultimatums all the time. Don’t get me the addressing information for these family friends by X date? I can’t invite them, because I’ll go nuts managing the data trickling in over several weeks. Don’t clean the rugs by Friday evening? I can’t go out with you Saturday morning, because I have to do them. Want to go out for lunch Saturday? Then we can’t go out to dinner Sunday, because there won’t be the money.

    Being very clear about your needs can make for healthy communication. It’s also part of the self-respect Kristen talks about in her follow-ups in the comments. To take my first example, my peace of mind truly is more important than the invitation of a family known so slightly there’s no certainty of the number or names of the children, so I will stand up for it.

    And setting deadlines and expressing consequences is so much better than passive-aggressively saying, “When you get a chance, please clean the rugs.” Then fuming when they’re not cleaned according to an unexpressed timetable.

  • Louise

    This is a great post! My engagement was sort of the result of an ultimatum too. A different one, one without a possible unhappy ending, but none the less. You see, we’d agreed years prior that we were going to get married once we could afford it, and everyone felt ready. For my husband, “ready” meant (among other things) able to buy a ring, though I insisted i didn’t need one. Then, after 8 years of dating and 5 years of cohabitation, I (not so suddenly) felt ready. More than ready, actually. I knew that money was no longer quite as big an issue, so I asked him, “when do you see us getting married?” “I don’t know, within a year?” And I said, “ok, so let’s start looking at venues, then!” at which point, he reminded me that he really wanted to propose. Even though I’d have been happy to just decide we were getting married, it was important to HIM to do the proposal thing. So, my ultimatum: propose by the end of November or you don’t get to and we will start planning the wedding. (this was purely practical. My work gets really insanely busy in January, and if we wanted to get married in the summer, I needed a few weeks in December to get the planning ball rolling) So, he designed a ring with a local artist, and “proposed” just before Thanksgiving so we could celebrate with both our families. So, even though the worst case scenario was only that he’d lose the proposal story, i was clear with the timing I needed and he got it done.

  • Lisa B.

    My proposal sucked. I’ve tried to get okay with it, and I just can’t. It was a year ago, and still it sticks in my craw. It just makes me really sad.


    I’d be interested in knowing how people who had ultimatums come and go and nothing happen dealt with it, particularly those who knew that their partners were not ready but that they might be ready later.

  • Ashleyn

    I found this post really interesting, and all the comments, too. It’s so nice being able to hear all sorts of different perspectives on a sort of touchy subject.
    I consider myself pre-engaged (we live together and we have both expressed that we want to be with each other for the long haul and have talked about being married in the next four years) but have recently been getting anxious as to actually getting engaged. We recently moved across the country together for his work opportunities and it’s been really hard telling people that I moved here for my “boyfriend”.
    From his perspective, I think he just wants to be more established, so to speak, with a better job, steady income, etc., before we actually get engaged and then have a fairly short engagement. I on the other hand, would be more than happy to have a long engagement while we both work together to get to where we need to be before we actually get married. I think I want the engagement more to know exactly where we stand.
    I’ve been feeling like I need to have a conversation with him about this but have no idea how to broach the subject. I’m not ready to give him an ultimatum – I know there are things in our lives that we both want to address before we get married, and I don’t really have any sort of clock-ticking or deadline or timeline to lay out for him, but I’ve been feeling frustrated.
    I don’t feel like I need a proposal, or even a ring, as I have one of my Grammie’s in my possession already that would do quite nicely. I would actually prefer, I think, to have one of those “we decided together” conversations, but seriously, how do those happen?

    • Ellie

      our “we decided together” conversation was over dinner. I said that I was in this for always, and he agreed, and I said, “so… should we plan a wedding or something?” and he said “…yeah. let’s figure this out.”

    • Alexandra

      I gave my boyfriend an ultimatium because I felt similarly to you: I was really uncomfortable calling this man I’d been living with for 4 years a “boyfriend”. The label just didn’t match the situation anymore. I’d tried to start a couple of conversations about it, but what really ended up getting through to him was when I ended up a crying mess in the car, declaring that I really wanted to be at least engaged within the next 3 months. So, I wouldn’t say I’m a shining example of how this works, but my suggestion would be to try and get a serious conversation with him, that’s not just before bed (One of my own problems, I kept only getting the courage to bring it up when he already half asleep, and would forget it by morning). Then just explain to him everything you said up there, about not needing a ring or proposal, and that engagements can be long (My fiance had this idea that being engaged meant you were going to be married within the next month or so) but really do want to move on to the next stage, as it were.

      And well, it might turn out that in the end, he wants the ring and the proposal himself. Mine did, so we went out together to look at rings, and he later surprised me with it.

  • BarryMayor

    It makes sense that she’s not a feminist. There is nothing consistent with feminism in this. At all. Those who claim it is don’t understand feminism. The core concept is equality, not unequal gender-roles, which is what this is all about. That’s fine and her choice totally but it’s certainly nothing to do with feminism.

    This account is all about gender-roles with the woman demanding that the man beg her to marry him (on his knees), having unilaterally spent thousands on a diamond ring. Where’s his gift of equal value? Where’s his down on one-knee proposal? There’s no equality here. This isn’t feminism at all.

    • Alexandra

      Personally, I’d say she claims to not be a feminist because people like you are unwilling to accept that not everyone wants or needs the same thing. And where does it say that she didn’t buy him a ring? Or that he spent thousands on that ring? Or that she hadn’t already started the conversation? It’s a story about needing him to be on the same page she was, and her stating that need. Certainly sounds feminist to me, to talk about her having a say in how the relationship plays out too.

  • Nancy Drew

    I cried after I read how your man said “I’m sorry for…” [all of the agony you felt before you got engaged]. Not because I was happy (which I will admit I truly was!) — but because I wondered if my man feels this way, too. I know he realizes since we talk about it, but I don’t know if he knows the extent to my emotions. 4 1/2 years and no solid game plan makes most girls crazy but for me, I’m more worried that I will never get to that engaged state, despite our “plans” to get married one day. I’m truly afraid that I will lose all romance inside of me while “waiting.” Had my DB speak about marrying me more often, I wouldn’t feel like complete shit. But you canNOT say “TALK MORE ABOUT MARRIAGE” hahahaha I am just driving myself into misery while typing ;) PS If it were only easier to tell your friends these things whilst removing any judgments as they arise.

  • Kassandra

    I know this is so late, but I just have to thank the author for this post. I have been struggling and hurting so much while living through such a similar situation. After an incredible fun weekend spent with my SO and friends I woke up Monday morning crying, because yet another weekend has gone by without a proposal. I have been on a mostly self inflicted emotional roller coaster of hurt, guilt and doubt. When my boyfriend asked if I was okay this morning ( i know he knew why I was teary) I felt like I couldn’t explain without hurting both of us more. But then I found this post and I felt so much better. I emailed it to my SO- it said everything I needed to say and explain. I know he will propose within a few weeks, and this post is allowing me to survive this time.

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