Q: My partner and I have been “pre-engaged” for over a year now. We made it clear to each other that we are certain about getting married and being together, talking about where and when and what it would be like—down to dresses and centerpieces. When we first started talking, we were not yet living together, so we set a few goals for when we might get engaged: when we were settled, when we’d been living together six months, etc. We even recently did a preliminary ring shopping trip—her idea.
And then, as those deadlines came and went, as I expressed more interest in getting engaged in the very-soon, she backpedaled, saying that while she did want to marry me eventually, she just wasn’t ready (though could give no more concrete a reason as to what made her feel unready).
I feel misled because, through all these very concrete conversations about weddings and timelines, she never gave me that indication. She doesn’t know why she doesn’t feel ready, nor when she might want to get engaged. She also says she still wants to marry me, and I should not interpret this as being unready to commit to me. It’s just the marriage, she says.
She then went to her parents, who agreed with her that we are too young (midtwenties, together four years), and that there’s no reason to rush this. Whereas I feel completely ready right now, specifically because of how long we have spent talking about this and planning for this, with an approximate date of… now… as the engagement goal.
What am I supposed to make of this? Am I right to feel misled? Am I being too pushy for wanting very much to get engaged? How can I not take such a sudden fear of commitment personally? Most of all, how can I help her be ready when she doesn’t even know why she’s not?
—Looking for Understanding Regarding Commitment Hangups
A: Dear LURCH,
Hell no, you’re not pushy. Expecting your partner to follow an agreed-upon timeline certainly isn’t pushy, and neither is expecting some answers when things shift.
I can understand feeling misled. My best guess is that she made all of these plans hypothetically, assuming she’d be ready to get married when the time finally came. But now she just… isn’t. If that’s the case, she might have been mildly dishonest in all of those planning talks. Not that she was outright lying, but she was (knowingly or not) playing pretend, and you weren’t, and that may feel a little unfair in retrospect.
Or, it’s possible that she really was ready then, and suddenly isn’t now. If that’s the case, then what’s changed?
But before we get too far, there are two important things we can’t overlook. First, she said, “It’s just the marriage,” and that little line made me screech to a halt. “Just the wedding” you can get over easily (elope!). But “just the marriage”? The marriage is the whole thing! That isn’t a “just.” What about marriage is so scary to her? Is it marriage in general, or the idea of being married to you?
The other important thing is that she ran to her parents. Going to her parents for backup about a problem between the two of you isn’t a great precedent. Her parents shouldn’t have a say in your engagement, and you’ll want to make sure she knows that they don’t get a say in any relationship issues you’ll potentially have in the future. You know, if you guys decide you have a future together.
But listen. Lots of couples figure out that they’re in different stages of readiness and it doesn’t necessarily spell doom. In these situations, the person who’s ready has to wait for the less-ready one; there’s no real way around that. So you have two options: stick around and wait it out, or GTFO. If you’re sticking around, you’re not stuck twiddling your thumbs until some unforeseen time in the distant future. Clarify a few things and set some parameters. Why wasn’t the conversation more clear the first time? What are the next steps to try to get on the same page?
And if she honestly doesn’t know why she’s not ready but you two still want to make a go of it, it’s probably time to talk to a counselor. These are trained professionals who help you figure out why you’re feeling stuff. And while I understand all of your feelings, it sounds like your partner could use some help sorting hers out.
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