Why Doesn’t My Girlfriend Want to Be Engaged Anymore?


I thought we were both all in

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

woman holding mug with engagement ring

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.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTIONPLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE NAMED, ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ARE ALSO ACCEPTED. (THOUGH IT REALLY MAKES OUR DAY WHEN YOU COME UP WITH A CLEVER SIGN-OFF!)

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • Emily

    You moved in together. That’s a huge deal. A lot of pre-engaged people get cold feet when they move in together. In fact, we have gotten like ten different versions of this question and a lot of comments along the same lines.

    That doesn’t mean you should panic, it just means you should talk about how the big move is going. It might be the case that she just needs a few more months to adjust to living with her partner.

    I “basically” lived with my partner before we moved in together, and I had had a lot of roommates, but it’s different when you are sharing bills, responsibilities, and stuff. Everything was “ours” and everytime we had a fight I thought “Is this how it’s going to be forever”. I got over it pretty quickly, but I’m happy that my partner didn’t freak out.

    Part of the magic of getting engaged is knowing that you and your partner both made a choice to be with each other. In order to experience that, you have to give your partner space to make up her mind.

    • april

      “I “basically” lived with my partner before we moved in together, and I had had a lot of roommates, but it’s different when you are sharing bills, responsibilities, and stuff.” This was my experience too. My partner and I lived in apartments across the hall from each other for two years, and during that time we were cooking together, spending most nights together, etc. Still, actually moving in together – just the two of us, no flat mates – was kind of jarring. It made things really *real*. Most of our biggest fights as a couple occurred during those first couple of months living together, but we eventually got through it and came out stronger because of it.

      My suspicion is that something similar is happening here. The engagement timeline probably seemed fine to LW’s girlfriend in the abstract, before they actually started taking concrete steps towards marriage. It’s not totally surprising that she’s feeling a little more unsure now that things are getting more *real*. That doesn’t excuse her behavior or her failure to communicate her feelings – it’s just an attempt to put things in perspective.

      • raccooncity

        Yes…I had a lot of people (who didn’t know me) tell me that things *CHANGE SO MUCH* when you get married. However, I didn’t find that at all. There was no adjustment time for us. We literally went back to work on Monday and it was like nothing happened.

        However, moving in together (5 years + before we got married) took a lot of adjustment time and figuring out how to get mad at each other in the same space, and who cleaned what, and who did what with their money, and when we could clip toenails, etc. Luckily we didn’t have plans before moving in on when we were getting engaged, but I doubt it would have been a rosy outlook on a wedding in the year following the move-in.

        • Danielle

          This is such a personal experience. I have friends who felt really different after marriage, and those who didn’t. I personally felt different after marriage, and my husband didn’t (he felt he had already made the decision to be with me long-term much earlier).

          • Cathi

            It’s so interesting to me how varied these experiences are for people.

            For me, I felt really different about our relationship after we got engaged which lasted through the wedding and just deepened over time. My husband felt things were different after marriage. We also didn’t live together before getting married, but we found that transition to be painless.

            My sister lived with her husband for several years before they got married and says getting married changed their dynamic and that she feels very different, despite the day-to-day being the same. My best friend had a similar experience to racooncity above. It’s fascinating.

  • Lisa

    Great advice as always from Liz. LW, I also wouldn’t be afraid to clarify your timeline with your partner and be prepared to follow through with it if she can’t get on board within a specific time frame. You’re in that in-between time where you don’t have to make definitive plans yet, but eventually you might want to buy a house or have kids, and you’ll probably want a partner whose life goals align with yours. Make sure you give yourself enough time to accomplish the things you want and possibly find someone new if this doesn’t work out for you.

    • Amy March

      I feel like they did this. They had a time frame, and now is the time to follow through.

      • Lisa

        I agree with you, but I think, as part of the LW making decisions about whether to stay or not, she should consider the timeline she wants for the rest of her life and decide how long she’s willing to stay in this relationship before she has to move on to keep the rest of her life on track.

        • emmers

          Yes! It’s OK to give the relationship more time, if that’s what LW wants. But she should also think about what happens if there is no more progress– when would she cut it off? I’m pro-counseling, and in this case it may be helpful for the LW to go to a counselor on her own, even if she & her partner don’t go together, just to figure out what she wants, now that things aren’t proceeding as planned.

      • Totch

        Checking in again could help, though. We picked a ring together, planned a timeline. A few weeks after my fiance picked up the ring, he hadn’t proposed. I brought it up, he said he just wasn’t quite ready and please give him some time.

        He proposed a week later. It wasn’t that he’d planned it for the next week and I was spoiling things by asking… he literally took a week for himself, felt ready, proposed 2 days later.

        After we got engaged, we started planning the wedding and he (dramatically) confessed that he was ready to be engaged, but not to be married. Like LW’s gf, he had a hard time articulating why. This time I asked for a real timeline, because the previous time I worried it would be months and he took a week. He said he didn’t want to get married for 6 months, I said I refused to plan a wedding in 6 months anyway. We’re fine.

        • Rebekah Jane

          That’s actually an adorable story. I think most of us would panic at the idea of planning a wedding in six months!

  • Eenie

    Although it’s not great to run to your parents with every relationship issue, I’ve definitely talked with my parents about my husband pre-marriage and got their opinion on the matter. They’ve rightfully highlighted some issues in previous relationships that I couldn’t see at the time, so I trust their judgement to a certain extent. Since she couldn’t figure out why she was feeling hesitant all the sudden about the potential marriage, this may have prompted the parental conversation. Unless there’s been other times where her parents have become involved with your relationship inappropriately, I’d let this one slide for now. But I don’t think she should be hiding behind her parents – she needs to figure out exactly what is causing the change of opinion.

    I also wondered if she has reservations about marriage or being engaged. If she does know she eventually wants to marry you, perhaps a longer engagement could be a compromise that helps you know the timeline is moving along, but gives her some more time to come around to the actually being married part.

    It sounds like an unfortunate situation for you both, and I hope you can figure it out together. From your letter, I don’t think you’ve done anything wrong or acted pushy. Do your best to take care of yourself while you figure out what the future holds for the two of you.

    • Parents will most often side with what their child wants (or what they think s/he wants). A counselor, either individual or with both people in the room, is a somewhat more balanced way to go…

      • Eenie

        For sure! I just would like to push back on the advice that Liz said parents don’t get a say in who you marry. I think they can depending on the relationship. For example, I was very interested in my parents’ opinion of my now husband, but he did not care if his parents liked me. I think the bigger issue was that she is trying to hide behind her parents opinion instead of using the information to better form her own reasons for why she’s changed her mind recently.

        • Oh yeah, we’re agreeing here. LW’s partner is using parental input in not-so-great ways. If you’re going to use it, you need to use it in context and possibly with a grain of salt.

    • Jess

      I mean, obviously we have no idea how the parents thing actually came out, but…

      I would be semi-ok with a signifcant other looking to parents for general advice. Sure, talk to them about the way you feel, and take their responses into consideration. I’m not fond of it, but I get that people have different relationships where that’s just what they do, and I could probably deal, as long as my personal feelings and actions were not a discussion point.

      That said, I would not enjoy a partner telling me what their parents think like I’m supposed to take their thoughts as law.

      I’m mostly ok with a partner processing parental advice and saying to me, “Yeah, I feel like we’ve got no reason to rush, I have some things I’d like to experience on my own before being actually married.”

      It’s unreasonable, to me, to say, “I asked my parents, and they say we have no reason to rush, that we should see the world/live alone/whatever.”

      ETA – Summary: basically, I agree, with the caveat that I would personally be very bothered.

      • Eenie

        Yes!

        I actually had a really difficult time understanding why my husband didn’t take his parents opinion into consideration on anything. It was the complete opposite of my relationship with my parents. Five years later I’ve come to understand better how their dynamic works, but when we first started dating it was baffling to me.

        • Jess

          Ha, I am the exact reverse. I am like, “Why would you even talk to your parents about that?”

          Cue me breaking down, sobbing, “They don’t deserve to know details about our lives” and slowly realizing that actually, maybe to R they do…

          • Ella

            I think it’s perfectly healthy for parents to steer you towards acknowledging your own feelings about something, helping you think something through, and acting as a sounding board. I agree that “my parents said I should x, so I’m gong to x” is not healthy but it’s hard to know if that’s what happened in this case. I think it’s more likely that LW’s partner went to parents with the issue – “I thought I would be ready but I’m not, what’s going on?” and they said “well, you’re still young, it’s not uncommon to not feel ready” as a reassurance that actually everything will be fine.

          • Jess

            Yeah, I mean, for me parents are not a safe space. So that kind of thing feels like a betrayal if parents are brought in before I even know there’s a problem with my future.

            I totally acknowledge that other people have great family relationships, but for me it’s much more than just that.

    • tr

      Long engagements really can be so helpful in situations like this! My husband and I had an absurdly long engagement (seven years) because even though we knew right from the start that we definitely, 100% wanted to get married, we needed some time to actually feel *ready* for marriage. Being engaged helped us to both feel secure and confident that things were actually progressing, without either of us feeling pressured to make a trip down the aisle to prove our commitment.

  • Throwing my two cents in as someone who was ready to be married for a couple years before my partner came around. In hindsight, I’m glad we waited to get engaged until now. It gave us time to work through some things and grow up a bit, and it gave my partner time to fully get behind the idea of marriage. Now we’re both all in on the idea and it was totally worth the wait. I know not all relationships get to that point, but if you can stand to wait a bit and your partner seems like she’ll eventually warm to the idea, I’d stick it out a little longer.

  • MrsRalphWaldo

    If you decide that your partner is worth waiting for, you could always go the Big Bang Theory route. Tell her how you feel, that you’re completely ready for the next step, and that when she’s ready she can propose to you. That way she feels less pressure, and you know that you’re not pushing her toward a commitment she’s not ready for yet.

    • Ella

      That can work if they’re on the same page about why she doesn’t feel ready yet, if LW knows that partner is working through those things (so she can trust that it will eventually happen), and if a deadline is set. Otherwise, LW is going to feel in limbo and that’s a shitty place to wait for (months? years? infinitely?)

  • Juliet

    While I totally get it feels like the conversation has changed that that is frustrating, if your partner is in her mid twenties, it feels totally reasonable to me that she’s not ready, and that’s about as far as she can articulate it. And going to her parents to seek advice? That too seems like a reasonable step on her part, especially given her age and the fact that her parents might be the married couple she knows the best. I think you should give her some slack and some time knowing you have many years to get on the same page.

    • sofar

      I agree with you. As soon as I saw their ages, I was like, “Yep. Makes sense.”

      Actually, my husband had to put up with a lot of this wish-washiness from me. We dated six years before becoming engaged, because he wanted me to be 100% ready. Truth be told, when he did propose (like a month after I gave him the green light lol) I still wasn’t totally ready. The sudden spotlight on me from friends and family and the fact that everyone was treating me differently made me so uncomfortable. But 31-year-old me was equipped to work through that. Twenty-five-year-old me would have run for the hills!

    • Annie

      I think it’s totally reasonable for someone to not be ready regardless of their age, so long as they communicate it. There are plenty of people who *are* ready at 25, plenty of people who *aren’t* ready at 35. Personally, I think it’s all about individual needs, circumstances and maturity*, rather than a particular age making a difference. I just hesitate to say, “Oh, she’s in her mid-twenties, that’s obviously the crux of the issue” when the average age for marriage is 26 or 27 and plenty of those marriages are successful!

      *Not that someone who doesn’t want marriage is necessarily immature, but if you eventually do sometimes it can play a factor.

  • Amy March

    I don’t think it is time to talk to a counselor. She is sure of her feelings- her feelings are that, right now, she doesn’t want to marry you, doesn’t want to be engaged to you, and doesn’t see a clear path for getting there, but would actually quite like to continuing dating you whilst holding the possibility of someday marriage out there. I don’t see her needing to sort anything out.

    I think the only person who needs to sort something out here is LURCH. Do you want to be with someone who, after 4 years, isn’t sure about you and can’t articulate why? Do you want to be with someone who is perfectly happy to yes you about plans and timelines but when it comes time to follow through, doesn’t and can’t really explain why not? If you’re okay with that, great! But I think you need to be okay with it understanding that it might always be like this. You could easily set another timeline, and talk about your feelings, and be right back where you are now- with someone who tells you what you want to hear but has zero follow through.

    • Jess

      See Also: Do you want to be with someone who takes your joint relationship problems directly to her parents for a final ruling?

    • Leah

      This might be totally on the nose, and it’s just up to the LW to know when to leave.

      But, just to offer up a counterpoint – It took me 4 years or so with my now-husband before I was sure. I had some things I had to sort out in my head/heart about who I was and what I wanted, and I couldn’t have articulated it very well at the time (I’ve gotten better, in retrospect, at understanding what was going on with me). And he definitely had some things to figure out as well, in terms of whether he was able to give me some of the things I needed. In any case, 2 years into our marriage, I’m just so grateful that he waited for me to come around (he was sure from pretty much day one).

      So maybe this is right, and maybe LW’s partner will never be able to commit to this relationship. But it’s really a real thing that she just might need some more time.

    • Violet

      I agree. Honestly, my reaction would be quite different if partner came to LW, of her own accord, saying, “Hey, I know we set this timeline, but something’s not feeling right to me; can we talk?” As it is, she let the clock run out on LW. What kind of reassurance does LW have that it won’t happen again if she sets another timeline?
      If she does set another timeline, it should be for herself only. As in, how much longer is she willing to wait for her partner to be ready, without letting resentment seep in or giving up time she could spend elsewhere.

  • Abbey

    The way my partner and I talked about being ready, we broke it down into the question of feeling “ready for marriage”–i.e. grown-up or mature enough in whatever way that means to the person, and being sure about the other person. I was ready for marriage before he was, but he was sure about me before I was. My being unsure about him had a lot to do with my own family history (divorced parents whose main relationship advice was “Don’t marry the wrong person because every doubt you have now is a clue that they are awful and everything will be ruined”). His not being ready for marriage had a lot to do with wanting to feel like he was on a career path he felt good about, and, more broadly, getting to some mysterious moment in his life where he felt like he could commit to sharing the rest of it with someone. For both of us, we just needed time, and we got to the places we needed to get to. Not exactly on the same timeline, but close enough that it won’t seem like much of a wait in a few decades.

    What I’m saying is that not being ready can have a lot of things wrapped up in it–not being ready for marriage is real, and doesn’t have to be sinister, or about you. Not being ready can also be about hurt or fear that isn’t necessarily about you.

    • Agreed! My partner and I are both figuring this out now and it means different things – for him moving in together was like marriage, but for me it wasn’t. We have different opinions about marriage and are working it out in our own time. We can love each other but still take time to be marriage ready, and we’re 5-10 years older than this couple. I wouldn’t have been ready at that age, regardless of the person I was with.

      “Don’t marry the wrong person because every doubt you have now is a clue that they are awful and everything will be ruined” – my fear also.

    • Jen G

      Thanks for this! It articulates the feelings that my partner and I have at the moment really well; we’re both sure about the other person, and have openly spoke about that, made plans for our futures (including the non-exciting financial planning etc, etc), but I think the both of us aren’t ready for marriage because it maybe feels like something…too old for us (we’re late 20’s by the way)? It’s difficult to explain the difference, but there definitely is one

      • raccooncity

        OMG, i wish I was in the “I have a financial plan” boat. You guys are grown ups in all the important ways, it sounds like.

        • Jen G

          Haha thanks! I might be the one weirdo who finds budgeting and personal finance stuff fun to do so I think that helped!

      • Ditto, we have talked about wills and investments and kid rearing etc. but it still seems like deciding to get married is a big next step to me,a nd I like being sure and right about everything. Perfectionism strikes again!.

    • CMT

      That’s how my thinking went when I read this, too. I went to a wedding recently where the bride and groom structured their vows as 1) Why I want to get married; 2) Why I want to marry this person; 3) Promises they will make to this person (I guess that would be the actual vows part). Those first two questions might be good for both LW and girlfriend to think about.

    • emmers

      This is true. I was ready for marriage well before my husband. He loved me, but he said that marriage itself was terrifying. It’s been like that with every big decision for us, where one person will get ready first– there’s an adjustment period. I think the tricky balance is figuring out how long of an adjustment period is OK with you, and realizing that sometimes the person “adjusting” will come around, and sometimes they won’t.

      • This is different to me though because he was upfront about this and was able to explicitly state the reasoning behind this.

        I’m confused by his girlfriend and, truthfully, I feel like she’s either hiding something or wasn’t truthful previously when having these discussions. And if the latter, why would you ask your boyfriend to take you ring shopping? As a woman, I would never ever do that to someone and confuse them with unclear intentions. I hurt for him.

        If she knows that she still wants to marry him someday but isn’t ready to take that plunge, why not just embark on a longer engagement? Then you can at least both affirm that you feel the same way, are on the same page and have the same goals, but to put the brakes even on an engagement after you’ve asked someone to take you ring shopping and not being able to explain why is just cloudy to me.

        I think they should really consider some counselling together and I really hope they’ll be able to move forward – with or without a marriage. Marriage isn’t the be all and end all. He needs to ask himself if marriage, itself, is crucial to his future plans or if he’s content putting that aspect of his future plans on hold and concentrating on the rest until the timing was right.

        Although, truthfully, if I was in his shoes this would upset me greatly and I would find it very hard to trust my partner in this instance. It’s always better to be honest rather than to hold back, so she really should communicate to him why she no longer is on this same path and what those reasons are- even if it can potentially hurt his feelings in some capacity. Best of luck to them.

  • Her Lindsayship

    How confusing and difficult this must be for you, LW. I just want to say that your partner not being ready for marriage isn’t about you. It could be that she loves you but doesn’t feel prepared for such a big commitment – that’s valid, and could be something you can work through together. Or it could be that her feelings on your relationship have changed and maybe marriage really isn’t in the cards. Either scenario is not a result of you being pushy.

    One thing you might try is having some conversations about what marriage means to both of you. (Maybe you’ve done this already, but the convos you mention in your letter are more about the wedding and the engagement, not so much about the big thereafter.) APW has some awesome suggestions for conversation starters and scripts to get talking about this, and it might bring some things to light regarding her hesitation.

  • Violet

    Oh LURCH, my heart hurts for you. To your specific questions:

    You feel misled, because you were. It might not have been some malicious, intentional thing on your partner’s part. But as we all know, there can be hurt and pain even when intent wasn’t there. She let you think one thing (for a while), when that thing wasn’t really how she was feeling. She didn’t correct it by addressing it with you; she was essentially forced to acknowledge it when you showed her that time had run out on your timeline. I’m of the opinion that the partner with big or different feelings has the responsibility of bringing them up. Otherwise you have a scenario where the other partner is checking in every day—“Everything still good? You still love me? Anything I should know about?”—and that’s no way to live. She was having misgivings about marriage and your timeline; she needed to bring them up. She didn’t, and that is troubling to me. It speaks either of a lack of knowledge of her own mind or a communication issue, and both are pretty important to a relationship.

    You ask how to not take it personally. But isn’t this intensely personal? Not in the sense that it was something you did, or who you are, or that you are at fault for her feelings, but this is a personal, romantic relationship. And isn’t that a crucial element to this? This is not, “Oh, no biggie, I’ll sit here while you figure out yourself and what you want in life.” It’s that you are a person, with feelings and a right to feel secure in
    your own relationship.

    To you “most of all” question, sadly, I don’t think there’s anything you can do to help her feel more ready. She’s not ready. She may never be. Since you already tried setting a timeline and actively discussing plans
    and she *still* pulled the rug out from under you, I don’t really know that there’s anything else for you to do here. If I were you, I’d take care of myself. If you like the idea of counseling, go, but for you. Go without her, to see if this is really what you want.

    I agree with Liz, that lots of couples can be at different stages of readiness without it being doom. But those couples who then make it are talking, exploring, figuring out. If her answer is “we’re too young,” then what’s not too young? Does she know? If she does, is that age okay with you? But if she’s not at the same stage as you AND she’s not interested in getting on the same page, then…

    • Jess

      “It’s that you are a person, with feelings and a right to feel secure in your own relationship.” YES, THIS. You have a right to take this personally, and to feel unsure about your relationship.

      This isn’t necessarily The End, but it is ok to be hurt by this.

    • Ella

      “I’m of the opinion that the partner with big or different feelings has the responsibility of bringing them up. Otherwise you have a scenario where the other partner is checking in every day—“Everything still good? You still love me? Anything I should know about?””
      This made me laugh and is so true.
      It also means that LW’s partner is the one responsible for figuring her stuff out. Not just waiting to see if she eventually feels ready, but actively working through whatever’s going on so she has an answer – and keeping LW in the loop while she does that.
      I’m going to give LW’s partner the benefit of the doubt though and assumed she wasn’t being actively deceptive, just mulling on her own stuff and not knowing how to bring it up. It’s quite possible this is her first serious relationship and she’s still working out how to have difficult conversations.

      • Violet

        Exactly- I don’t get any impression there was ill intent here; just that her partner was maybe only very gradually, subtly, as the timeline progressed, realizing her feelings weren’t aligned with her partner’s. It’s hard to know when to bring up issues if they are unfolding gradually- there’s no one incident to prompt the “I need to talk to you about this,” discussion. Where my conjectures differ from yours is that this is their first difficult conversation in a four years-long relationship. Even though my husband and I are each other’s first serious relationship, we had difficult conversations even fairly early on. LW and her partner have already discussed wedding timelines and moving in together before this, which could both be classified as pretty tough conversations. I don’t think her partner’s misstep in handling this was due to age or inexperience so much as just being an imperfect human being, like we all are.

    • SmooveT

      You have given me validation that I need right now. Thank you.

  • RT

    Am I the only one who’s sympathizing more with the partner than the LW? The LW is coming off as a bit controlling and not sensitive to their partner’s needs, what with the timeline. And I don’t know why it’s a complaint that the partner talked to her parents? Of course she talked to her parents about such a huge decision as marriage! It doesn’t sound like something crazy happened like the parents coming over and announcing that there would be no wedding.

    I can totally see how the partner is committed to LW but a little freaked out by marriage. Didn’t we just recently have a thread – was it called something like “sometimes it sucks to be engaged” – talking about how so many of us totally freaked out about how we were making a decision about who we were going to be with for the rest of our lives?

    I agree with what someone else said – maybe let the partner propose when she’s ready. Maybe see if the partner has a rough time frame. Maybe the LW should think about if she has a timeframe for how long she’s comfortable waiting.

    • Violet

      Mmmm, I’m very sympathetic to LW’s partner, too. But that doesn’t mean partner hasn’t put LW in a very painful situation. My impressions are based off of LW saying her partner was actively involved in the discussions that set the timeline. Her partner actually suggested ring shopping! I don’t see evidence of LW being controlling, but I do see her partner not speaking up earlier when she started getting cold feet about their jointly-agreed-upon timeline. And then when asked about it, kind of skirting the issue. “I don’t know,” should be the jumping-off point to many discussions, not the end of the conversation.

      Like you, I also don’t have any issue with her speaking to her parents, as long as she’s ALSO speaking to LW. But LW feels left in the lurch and confused about what’s going on with her partner. LW is in this relationship, too, and has the right to know what’s happening with it. By LW asking if *she’s* the one being pushy, I see LW as being very sensitive to her partner’s needs.

    • CMT

      Whoa. No, I didn’t get “controlling” from the LW at all. These were conversations they had together and timelines they made together. It absolutely does not make LW controlling to ask if the timelines are going to be followed.

      • Violet

        Totally. There’s a “cool girl” narrative (I think that’s what they call it, heh, not too up on all the lingo) where women are supposed to just be all okay with everything. No, it’s LW’s relationship, too. She has a say in how it progresses. She can’t control her partner, obviously. But mutually agreeing on a timeline, her partner showing initiative in taking steps on that timeline, and then just… stopping without sharing the evolution of her feelings means LW gets to say, “Uh, this is not what we discussed. What gives?”

        • tr

          I mean, I don’t judge the LW for being a little upset about this, but at the same time, she has to realize her partner is a person, not a spreadsheet. You can write down a list of steps involved in getting engaged all day long, but ACTUALLY taking the plunge can be pretty unnerving.
          There are a hundred things, big and small, that my husband and I have talked about doing eventually. I genuinely want to do all of those things, but if he waltzed through the door one morning and said “Hey, it’s time for us to take that two week trip to Europe that we’ve been talking about! Pack your bags, because we’re leaving tomorrow morning!” I’d freak the heck out. Because yeah, I really want to visit Europe, and technically we have the requisite passports and money in our bank accounts, but that doesn’t mean I feel ready to leave tomorrow (or next week). And that’s just a short trip to Europe.

          • Violet

            Planning and doing are TOTALLY different, absolutely agreed. There’s also this psychological construct of time, where as a planned event gets closer, we tend to focus on more minute details and negatives, where in long-distance planning we have a wider view and it tends to be more positive. This could have totally happened to LW’s partner. But it’s still on her to speak up. If anything, *especially* because humans are not spreadsheets. Our feelings change and evolve, and it’s on us to fill in our partners so they’re not blindsided. People are not slow cookers, where you can “set it and forget it.” You’ve gotta keep checking in with each other.

    • Amy March

      Maybe don’t tell someone you want to go ring shopping if you don’t see yourself buying a ring in the imminent future?

    • Liz

      I don’t get controlling from this letter at all!

      • Kyle

        I don’t know about controlling but LW feels pretty steamrollerish to me. There just doesn’t seem to be any awareness of the fact that people change their minds and/or start to see things in a different light, especially people in their early 20s. My (deeply flawed and very possibly inaccurate!) impression is of the LW’s girlfriend going along with the LW’s plans, rather than participating in them fully, and starting to rethink that as she matures and the plans get more irreversible.

        I guess I just wonder how easy of a person LW is to disagree with, and to me LW’s plans seem to be strapping into the relationship escalator to a dangerous degree.

    • laddibugg

      If you can’t talk to your parents about shit, who else can you talk to? Sounds like they were a sounding board for her, not the decision makers.

  • Olivia

    Of course I can’t speak for the partner in question, but in my experience, hypothetical planning and actual planning are very different. That difference can certainly inspire a pretty big freak out and some backpedaling. My partner and I are also in the “pre-engaged” stage, and when he first started speaking in concrete terms about what needed to happen in order for us to get engaged and how we could achieve those things and by what dates, I panicked. It wasn’t because I had any doubts about our relationship, but because the “someday” I had been daydreaming about was actually NOW. Realizing you have reached the point of making a life-altering, adult decision, not two weeks, six months, or a year from now, but today, is… terrifying.

    I think it’s also worth noting that it’s possible to be anxious about marriage without being anxious about commitment. I’m absolutely thrilled by the idea of committing my life to the person I love, but I occasionally get knots in my stomach when I think about the cultural/social implications of being married. Being so young and introducing my husband to unmarried people twice my age? That’s an uncomfortable thought. Being a married woman — arguably a signifier of being a “real adult” — and not having any idea where I want to go with my career? That doesn’t seem possible. (It is, actually, my brain just likes to make up problems where there aren’t any. Eventually it calms down and we go back to talking about potential venues).

    I have found that the remedy for both these things is time. When I start to get all panicky, I try to sit with the feeling and pick it apart. I talk to people. I read a lot of essays. I work through it slowly, until I become comfortable with whatever idea was freaking me out, or find a solution with the same result.

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  • Natalie

    I’ve been ready to marry my partner for 8 years (we’ve been together 9). He has never wanted to get married but has absolutely demonstrated that he is committed to me for life. That made it easier to deal with wanting to get married but my partner not.

    We are now getting married, partly because now in a Brexit world I feel more secure knowing I am legally tied to him and his other passport, and partly because it makes sense living abroad to ensure our legal rights are covered with respect to next of kin, inheritance (we’re just about to buy a home) and all that stuff.
    This has always been an issue, but I think now he’s changed his mind on marriage somewhat. Not dramatically, but in a more it doesn’t seem so bad kind of way.

  • Nell

    I have so much empathy for your girlfriend – and I hope you can find the same empathy. . .

    One thing to think about is why you guys came up with a timeline in the first place. I thought I’d be ready for marriage a lot sooner than I actually was – in part because I thought I’d have hit a lot of my career goals/life goals before 30. Timelines don’t always work out. Have you talked through what other things, aside from marriage, she wants out of the next phase of her life? Sometimes, those things feel like they are mutually exclusive — but talking through them might help her to see that they aren’t.

  • squirrelyone

    I do a little happy dance every time an advice column like this includes going to see a counselor. Communication is hard. Everyone handles stress differently. Study after study shows that premarital counseling has positive effects both in the newlywed stage and the long term, even among those who had no real problems beforehand. Here are two people who want to be together, who want to communicate, but who are struggling. It’s only sad that it takes a problem point like this for the subject of counseling to come up.

    That’s all, I’m just here to give two vibrant thumbs up for bringing counseling up at all, even though it saddens me that we still treat it as a last resort instead of an item to put on the basic checklist.

  • mssolo

    My Oh and I have considered our relationship permanent and forever since about month two. We moved in together at month four. But only now, five years later, do I feel ready to get married. The trigger has been buying a house together this year.

    Buying a house freaked me out for reasons I struggled to articulate. Even now, several months later, it still makes me a bit twitchy. Renting is easy. if the roof leaks, move. If the neighbours are arseholes, move. If your financial situation changes, move. But suddenly all that freedom is gone, and all the responsibility it mine. I have to fix that roof, speak to those neighbours, save up so if I lose my job we’ve got a buffer. You can undo buying a house, but it’s hard and complicated and slow.

    But I’m coming to terms with that, and now I’m ready to make my relationship high-responsibility and low-freedom, to make it hard and complicated and slow to make big changes to (and to undo, but the thing about five years of ‘definitely forever’ is that I can’t imagine that situation occuring). It’s ridiculous, the idea of permanence being scary when we’d already agreed it was permanent, but it was definitely an issue for me. The funny thing is, because he never had any issues around permanence, he’s not bothered about getting married at all – to him, it’s just a different kind of party, because it doesn’t change anything at all.

    Really, it’s all baby steps on the way to, well, babies. They’re the most permanent thing. You can’t change your mind and say ‘put it back’ when the nurse is waving a wet, squalling red thing at you. But one permanent step at a time.

  • Ann

    But…the two of them weren’t actually engaged. Talk is talk – no promises or vows were made as far as I can see in this one sided story (I’d like to know her take on it). People grow and change in relationships, and they are allowed to change their minds, so perhaps he should be happy that she’s being honest about her feelings as they come instead of just going through with his wishes and getting a divorce later? Also perhaps she loves and respects her parents which is why she went to them for advice? I don’t see this as her going to her parents to share intimate details about a relationship ‘problem’. She seems to have as some hangups about marriage and is trying to figure them out. It might not be about him which is why she didn’t involve him in that discussion. If he needs marriage RIGHT NOW then by all means walk away but why is the paper more important than the person? Perhaps, even, his clingy-ness is why she feels the need to postpone marriage.