Q: Most of the posts I’ve read here about the pre-engaged state begin with, “I know it will happen to us eventually.” I thought I was in that camp, too. I’m approaching a year of living with my partner, and I’m more in love every day. My boyfriend is a total romantic, and as far out as we have any real plans (maybe five years), our plans involve each other. We had talked about marriage (hypothetically) once before, and I remember leaving the conversation thinking, well we’re obviously not both ready right now, but someday.
Flash forward four months, to a week ago, when we’re on the couch and he’s saying he “doesn’t believe in marriage” because shit happens and you can’t predict your life with anyone that far out; he feels that people only get married so others think differently about the couple, and that getting married for others would be meaningless; his parents and our best friends have dysfunctional marriages; and he just doesn’t ever want to be divorced. He might get married if he had already been with “someone” for twenty years. He said, “If I married you, it would be to appease you, which would be worthless.” He said, “Let’s never get married. I think it would make our relationship worse.”
He may be a cynic, but I had not expected that. No matter how many times I reminded him that I wasn’t proposing, just talking (we are on either side of twenty-five, young), he was worked up and defensive. To my end, I was calm but not a hundred percent affirming his view. I was so incredulous that he felt so strongly that I kept asking questions to see what he felt.
I believe in a thing called marriage!!! I am really fifty/fifty about kids, but I know a hundred percent that I want to be married and be half of a marriage with THIS man. I don’t want to “lock him in so he can’t run away,” a comment he’s mentioned before, just make a promise to this man I love so deeply that I will show up every day, rain or shine, and put in my effort, compassion, and support.
So, I thought we were pre-engaged, but it looks like we might not be pre-anything. If I wait a year to bring it up again, am I being disrespectful for thinking he’ll just change his mind when he’s older, when the idea of marriage is more real and less nightmare/fantasy? How am I supposed to feel about this? Help!
This is Great, but not “Pre”-Anything
A: Dear TIGBNPA,
If this is truly a wild surprise to you, there’s a good chance something has happened. A marriage close to him has fallen apart, a friend is caught in an extramarital affair situation, something. You mentioned both his parents and his best friends are in “dysfunctional marriages”—is that a recent development? Have those relationships taken a significant turn for the worse lately? If the man you know has always been pro-marriage, and then suddenly thinks it’s all a sham, it’s likely that something has shaken his understanding of marriage.
You’ll need to talk about it again. He was defensive, you were caught off guard, and I’m guessing neither of you communicated what you meant to. Revisit that conversation now that you’ve had a chance to process this new information a bit, reassure him that you aren’t trying to put him in a corner, and maybe explain that this stance is coming as a surprise to you. I’m sure you expected me to say all that.
But before you have that conversation, we need to get one thing straight: never wait around for someone to change their mind.
By doing so, you’re assuming that you’re right, and he’s wrong. That he just needs to eventually see the light. That’s not a great place to start. You’re both adults with very different, equally valid choices regarding this topic. I may disagree with his opinion of marriage (and I do), but I can’t disagree with the idea that he’s decided that marriage is not for him. That’s not my call to make, and it’s not up to you to decide that he’ll eventually change his mind, that this is a phase he’ll outgrow, or that he just hasn’t given it enough thought.
It also sets you up for disappointment. Let’s say you wait a year, like you said. What if he hasn’t changed his mind? Now you’ve invested an additional twelve months of time and energy and emotion into this guy who still doesn’t have the same long-term goals that you do. That only compounds the disappointment and confusion in laying plans, rather than adding any clarity.
So take this new information at face value. He never wants to get married. You do. What next? With the knowledge that he’ll never marry you, will you be content in this relationship? Or is it time to set out and find someone who is on board for the type of life you’d hoped to build?
Like I said, that means at least one more conversation with him, but also a lot more thought for you. What does marriage mean to you? What is it about marriage that you really want? What will you be sacrificing by staying with someone who is unwilling to sign on for those things?
You may answer those questions and realize that he isn’t able to offer you the sort of commitment you hope to have. Or you may answer those questions and find that your definition of marriage isn’t too far off from his definition of non-marriage. Either way, make that decision with all of the information available, not with the hope that things may possibly change.
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