Ask Team Practical: Demanding A Proposal

Fuck the proposal. Get a say in your future.

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

Ask Team Practical: Demanding a Proposal | A Practical Wedding

My boyfriend and I have been together for a little over two years and living together for eight months. We both knew just a few months into our relationship that this was it. He is absolutely wonderful, my best friend, and more than I ever dreamed of in a man. We are very good at communicating about everything, except the engagement. We talked about it briefly a little over a year into our relationship, but decided we should both graduate first and then get engaged. Well, in May we graduated and moved in together. And things have been great. But engagement is something he will not talk about with me.

The main reason I think he won’t talk to me about it is because he absolutely loves surprising me, whether it’s bringing home flowers just because or tickets when my favorite band is in town. I know he is the kind of guy that wants to surprise me with everything—the ring, the proposal, the whole thing. But I feel a little left in the dark. I feel like every time I turn around someone I know is asking me when we are getting engaged, and honestly I have no idea! I have tried to bring it up but he brushes off every attempt. One time I started with, “Bobby just took his girlfriend ring shopping,” to which his response was a pause, and then, “Wait, do you mean nose ring shopping or belly-button ring shopping?”

The problem is not that I want to ruin the surprise, but that I want to understand the timeline. I want to know if it’s going to be six months, or at least another year. Part of me really thought it would have happened by now. We both graduated, both got great jobs, moved in, and are happy. Our only real discussion was almost a year ago when we said after graduation and that both of us didn’t want to live together too long before being engaged because we both have traditional families. But that was so long ago, I don’t know if he’s still on that timeline.

How can I bring this up with him in a way that doesn’t sound like I am demanding an engagement but want to make sure we are on the same track?


Dear Anonymous,

There’s one thing we need to get clear. “Demanding a proposal” is very different from asking to be in on where your future is headed. Surprise proposals are lovely, sure. I’ll take surprise jewelry and a night out any day of the week. But a surprise engagement is something different altogether. Surprising you with a ring is fun! But surprising you with a major decision that he’s made about your life is not fun. And it’s not fair.

I get that he loves surprising you, and that you’re trying to be appreciative and respectful of that, but that should be coupled with his appreciation and respect for what you want, also. At the heart of it, I’m sure he wants to surprise you because he wants to make you happy. But, it’s not making you happy. He’s so fixated on what he thinks you want, that he’s completely blinded to the fact that you’re super not happy waiting to find out what’s going on. He’s missing the point of the whole thing, and won’t realize it unless you tell him.

In order to do that, you’ve gotta step away from this trope of the impatient demanding girlfriend and the slow-to-act dopey boyfriend who’s dragging his heels. Instead of all that, this is just two adults trying to figure out the best next step for their future together. Saying, “Honey, I see this moving toward marriage, and I think xyz is the perfect time frame,” is fair. It’s fair! You’re allowed to say that. It’s not pushy or manipulative or demanding. And he’s allowed to say, “That’s not what fits for me right now.” And the feelings might be swapped, at a different time or for a different couple. And that’s okay too! Instead of imagining marriage as something that girls pine for and guys withhold, think of it like any other life-changing decision—where are we going to live, when will we move, will we have kids—and then it just plain old makes sense to say, “Here’s what fits my life, what do you think?”

Luckily, you can have that conversation and still have a splashy, surprise proposal. Honest! Talk about what the next steps will be, and when they’re going to happen, and he’ll still have plenty of room to surprise you with something glittery on some special night of his choosing. In fact, I’m sure it’ll be even more glittery and special without the haunting pressure of wondering what next.


Team Practical, how do you make sure you’re on the same page with your partner about time frames for engagement and marriage?

Photo by Vivian Chen

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not 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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  • E

    Liz’s response is spot-on. Before marrying my husband, I was engaged once previously. My boyfriend at the time wouldn’t discuss a timeline for engagement because he was “traditional” and wanted it to be a surprise. His lack of willingness to discuss engagement led me to assume we weren’t getting engaged for quite a while. When he surprised me with a proposal, I was completely shocked, sure, but also on a completely different page from him in regards to the status of our relationship. I’m not saying this will happen to Anonymous, or that this was ultimately what caused the demise of that relationship; however, going through this once led me to be pretty insistent with my husband that we share openly our thoughts and plans in regards to engagement and marriage. Some of my friends accused me of being pushy, but man, I was so much happier.

  • MM

    Liz is totally right about being able to both have the conversation about timelines and still be surprised. Last November I said to my then boyfriend that I wanted to make sure we were on the same page about the timeline regarding marriage, kids, etc. He said “if not on the same page, we are definitely in the same chapter”. Which completely reassured me that we were on the same path. And two weeks later I knew the reason he was a bit vague about it was because the ring was in the process of being resized when I initiated that conversation. The proposal was still a total surprise, and I think having had the conversation when we did added to the story for us. I too worried about being the pushy girlfriend, until I read a post here that called BS on that.

  • Laura C

    The fact that so many women don’t think they have the right to be direct about this and so many men think they have the right to brush it off and refuse to discuss a major shared life decision is evidence of something so profoundly f’d up about our society, I really can’t get past it. Because I read this and I want to say “you shouldn’t be in a relationship where you can’t be direct and he won’t listen to you,” but that’s bringing it down to the individual level when really it’s so much bigger, and while you should not get trapped by these patterns and pressures, you also shouldn’t be blamed for them.

    But as for how you make sure you’re on the same page, literally the only way to do that is to discuss it. In person, by email, Skype, text, however, you have to be able to talk about it. And that means all the power and right to decide cannot cannot cannot be reserved to one person. Personally, if I hadn’t been able to be straight with my now-fiance and hear what he was thinking at times when we weren’t on the same page about timing, I don’t think I could have stayed with him because I wouldn’t have felt like our relationship was honest and in balance, and I would have had so, so much resentment that something important about the next few years of my life was off the table even for discussion.

    • Jessica B

      My big problem with this whole society thing is that people ask the woman when the couple is getting engaged, but balk if the woman actually proposes. There are all sorts of double standard traps set up for the pre-engaged, and it’s hard to tell people to butt out.

      I agree with you as well, btw.

      • Karen

        I was in one relationship where there were subjects I was not allowed to bring up. I felt totally powerless. I do not wish this upon anyone. In my next relationship I got a lot better about being direct and I was up front about what my deal breakers are – and this relationship is amazing. Engagement is definitely one of those issues where women are told it’s wrong to ask for what you want. Wrong. Life is too short to live that way.

      • Laura C

        That’s a great point.

        I once had a gynecologist ask me “so where’s the ring” after I told her I’d been in a relationship for a couple years!

        • Anon

          So inappropriate! If I were snarkier, I’d respond “oh, you mean Nuvaring? I’m not actually on that– I thought you’d know.”

          • Laura C

            Oh, that would have been perfect. I was so shocked I don’t think I said anything, but if I had, it would’ve been along the lines of not wanting a ring.

          • Anon

            @ Laura C:

            In real life if this happened to me, I too would have been caught off guard. I probably would have made some fake laugh and generic comment.

        • Jessica B

          Yeah, my uncle’s ex-wife hadn’t seen me in 8 years and she asked me that–it was the first thing to pop out of her mouth. I was deeply offended and thought it was really rude of her. She was not invited to the wedding.

      • Sonarisa

        This. From our decision to get engaged to his “officially” popping the question, there were 15 months of agony- every single wedding or family gathering I was asked when we were getting married. 6 months in, I ended up in tears after a wedding of a couple friends and he asked what was wrong. When I recounted the 4 times that people asked when we were getting engaged, and tried to convey how that made me feel, he was utterly shocked that people were asking me about it! Apparently no one had asked him anything!

    • Lauren

      My guy is also going for the traditional surprise/secret proposal. When he first said we can’t talk about it, I sat on the idea for a few days (maybe 12 hours) and then said screw it! We need to talk about this because you implying several years still to wait doesn’t work for me! So he finally communicated a timeline and his reasons, all of which made me super happy and confident because he had clearly thought it through.

      However since I take the lead in a lot of our plans (he is a laid back sort), I understood why it was important to him to plan the proposal part all on his own. So we agreed I would email him jewelry and proposal input (like no jumbo trons) so his proposal would could be covert but still in touch with my ideas. Email rather than talking about it directly made him feel more comfortable. Maybe other non face to face communication would work for others to do a semi-secret proposal?

      • Alyssa M

        This sounds very very similar to what happened with us, except we just opted for vague guidelines not ruining the surprise. My laid back guy also wanted to control the proposal, but as long as I keep out of the specifics he’s ok with my input. (ie “i don’t like diamonds, but white metal is pretty” instead of “i like this ring”)

  • Jessica B

    Spot on advice.

    I don’t like surprises that much–I like the anticipation of something much more than the actual having it (in most cases.) My husband had told me at the beginning of last summer that he was going to propose by Fall, which was a great way to let the actual event be a surprise, while building up my anticipation, and prepping for what came next.

    Fast forward to last Halloween when I got super drunk and asked him, almost tearfully, “are you still planning on proposing? Do you still want to spend the rest of your life with me???” It was a little pathetic, but hey, my expectations that he set up were not met, and that is worrisome. He assured me that yes, he was still planning on asking me.

    Turns out he hand made the ring he proposed with out of wood, and it took a lot longer to get it right than he thought it would. When he finally did get it right, we couldn’t find time to go on a date with just the two of us for a couple months–and apparently I washed the pants he had the first good ring in, so it broke, and then he had to start all over again. The proposal didn’t happen until January.

    So, I guess what I’m saying is that he may have already had a plan to propose, but it went awry!

    • Something similar happened to me. I knew we were getting engaged on vacation in Ireland but Kevin waited until the very last moment to ask. Seriously, the last possible second. I spent the second half of the vacation wondering if he was going to ask, and if he didn’t if it meant he wanted to at all (I had determined it would mean he didn’t and we’d have to break up). It would have been a very long awkward transatlantic flight home if he hadn’t asked!

      • Liz

        Something very similar happened to me where his plan went awry! After we were already engaged, my now husband told me he was actually going to do it months prior but the trip he had anticipated taking me on with his job was cancelled last minute. So he had to come up with an entirely different plan. He’s not the creative type AT ALL, so it took him a few months. I will say, either plan would’ve been magical, because really, all that mattered was that he was the one I was spending my life with. :)

  • Kelly

    It’s not pushy to know what you want and ask for it in a respectful, adult way! That’s totally bullshit. You have a right to express your feelings and expect that he will hear you. Just talk! Being pre-engaged was brutal, but being able to sit on the couch some nights and say “waiting is killing me and I want a clearer picture!” made everything feel so much better. If he loves & respects you, he should be willing to listen to how you feel and truly explain his side of things. And don’t be afraid to be direct! Instead of trying to lead into it from what your friends are doing, just say “I want to talk about getting engaged and what our timeline looks like.”

  • Ellen

    Please, please please take the time to have a conversation- actually, have many, many conversations- with your significant other to make sure that you are operating under the same assumptions regarding the future of your relationship. Liz is totally right on this. It can lead to a lot of hurt feelings if you are not thinking the same things as far as what is “a long time” or what is not.

    Case in point: my now-fiance and I dated long distance for the first three years of our relationship. In our conversations about our future together, we decided that we would have to move in together before he would propose, which I was totally fine with. About three weeks after I had moved in and we had successfully not killed each other, I was going nuts waiting for him to propose, which continued for some time. Eventually it came out that he considered a year of living together an appropriate amount of time to determine if we could stick it out in the long haul or not. Finally knowing that he wasn’t going to do anything before that 1 year mark was much needed for me. By the time the 1 year mark came, he already had the ring (and I knew he had the ring) and the anticipation I felt was not anxiety over whether we would get engaged at all, but rather anxiousness to continue what we’d already committed to. And when he finally did propose it was perfect, and I was still surprised.

  • I really like the idea that the engagement and the proposal are separate. You can have discussions, and mutually come to an understanding that you will be getting married in a time frame that you both think is right. The proposal would be separate, can be done by either of the pair, and means that you are ready now to share your plans with the wider community.

    • Ann

      One of my former coworkers was thinking of proposing to his girlfriend a while back–shortly after I had gotten engaged. He was talking about how she was going to be so surprised by his proposal because he had been telling her that he didn’t want to get married in the new future. And he thought that was a good thing!

      I tried to tell him that an engagement should not be a surprise. The exact proposal can be. But deceiving a partner about your timeline for marriage is just. not. okay. He was working under the assumption that “all women want to get married as soon as possible.” She was working under the assumption of “this relationship that is not immediately progressing towards marriage.” I had a very, very poor time articulating that I thought this was the case, and he didn’t believe me.

      He proposed. In public. She said yes. And then two weeks later gave him back the ring and said she wasn’t ready to get married.

      All of that because he thought that a surprise proposal required a surprise engagement. And a surprise engagement meant “throwing her off” his plans…

      Coworker was completely, totally baffled that I became engaged as a result of a conversation that went something like this:
      Husband: So I think next summer would be a good time to get married.
      Me: Um. Okay. I was thinking you that were thinking you wanted to finish your degree first.
      Husband: F-that. If we wait for my PhD, we may never get married. F-ing research is not. going. anywhere.
      Me: Okay. So next summer. To implement [previously discussed ideas] within this kinda short time frame, I’m gonna need to talk to my parents when I visit them next week.
      Husband: Sounds good.
      (Happy ending: a year after that conversation and a few months post wedding, Husband’s research is cruising and he should be done next summer!)

      • Laura C

        I always wonder how many of those total surprise public proposals result in the woman saying yes in the moment and then changing her mind a couple weeks later when she’s had a chance to think it through, and there isn’t the pressure not to embarrass him in public. Does it seem like your coworker’s mindset shifted any as a result of that?

        • Jennifer

          I’ve wondered that too.

          My fiance surprised me with a ring in front of a huge crowd at a firefighter banquet where friends and family were. But because we had spent months talking about our timeline regarding marriage, kids, etc (we’d even already set a wedding date) I had absolute zero hesitation when I said yes! And we’re still engaged 8 months later, counting down until our wedding :)

          I can’t imagine him doing it without ever talking to me about marriage before though. Any time I hear stories about guys trying to “throw girls off” by saying they aren’t ready, I think of that episode of Friends when Monica almost leaves Chandler when it turns out he was about to propose. Great for comedy, not so great in real life.

        • Ann

          That entire episode happened around Christmas of last year, and I left that job this spring… so I don’t know his long term thoughts. He did tell me that he appreciated that I tried to warn him, and that he was super disappointed. I think they later broke up. But since he and I weren’t super close (and certainly aren’t now that I’ve moved), I don’t have the full story.

          Gender essentialist narratives hurt men and women, and I’m sorry he got caught up in it…

          I can definitely see how women would feel pressured to say yes with a public proposal and then end up saying no. The decision to marry someone isn’t the type of decision that you make in a minute. So if marriage hasn’t been on the table, it makes sense that some women would say no after thinking more about it for more than the 5 seconds allowed in a public proposal…

  • Amy March

    This is where my feminism lives. I want marriage, and babies, and a partner I can talk about that with. He can surprise me with pie. I promise to be giddy about that.

    • KC

      Surprise pie sounds pretty awesome.

      • Way better than surprise proposal!

        • anon

          i think i would like engagement pie better than a ring

  • Amy

    I almost submitted a post during Risk month on this very subject, because the riskiest moment of my relationship to date (maybe second. We’re pregnant and deciding to have a kid might top it!) was when I gently told my husband that I was interested in talking about getting married, and the timeline. Specifically, a faster timeline then he might be thinking. There was no way he could have known I wanted to get married that year if I haven’t brought it up in a non-confrontational way. He listened to all my reasons (everything from “I want to marry you so much it hurts” to the practical “your student insurance runs out this summer, and your lease comes up this summer”). He told me he needed to think and pray about it, and a few weeks later he let me know he also ready to get married and was on the same page as my timeline but the proposal would be a surprise and I was not to ask any more questions. We were married 7 months after this conversation, which I’m not giving to you, or anyone, as a goal, but to show that my risk paid off!

  • Pamela

    I have a different take on this. Sometimes a refusal to talk about something *is* an answer to your question, it’s just not the answer you want to hear. For example, I’m kind of in the same boat regarding baby-planning – ideally, I’d like to have a conversation about timelines, etc (not necessarily jump into TTC, just have a game plan) – similar to Anonymous and getting engaged. However, my husband just will not talk about it, period. He will in an abstract way, saying things like “when we have kids one day” and that sort of thing, but if I try to pin him down to a timeline? Nope, just ain’t gonna happen (trust me, I’ve tried). And you know what? His inability/refusal to talk about it means – guess what – he’s not ready to talk about it. I know him well enough, and I hope Anonymous knows her man well enough, to know that when he’s ready he’ll say so.

    Is it fair? Maybe not. But if the relationship is worth it and is good in every other way, what harm is there in being patient?

    • KC

      With some things, timelines can be really important, either for sheer practical reasons (such as someone mentioned above, getting married *before* one partner falls off health insurance might be a good plan) or for “I’m going nuts” reasons.

      But sometimes those conversations can be “here’s what I’m thinking about important things coming up where we need to have a decision made” (such as, for TTC, potential job changes or moving or whatever that might affect maternity leave?), saying “can we talk about this within the next [week] sometime?”, and then letting the unprepared partner process (because asymmetrical conversations where one person has it all figured out and the other person is blindsided aren’t great, either).

      • Lindsey d.

        “Letting the unprepared partner process (because asymmetrical conversations where one person has it all figured out and the other person is blindsided aren’t great, either).”

        — This is something I need to get so much better at…

        • KC

          Me, too! (That’s why it made it onto that list…)

    • Laura C

      But if he can’t/won’t say “I’m just not ready to discuss it and here’s why”? I’d have a problem with that. Refusing to commit to a timeline is one thing, refusing to discuss at all is another.

    • Liz

      We were in this situation, but flipped. He was gunning to get married. I wasn’t. And I wasn’t ready to talk about timelines because I just flat out didn’t know when I’d feel ready.

      We set a time for when we’d revisit the topic, which felt fair to both of us. He wasn’t left wondering, “Well are we EVER going to talk about this??” and I sort of had an established timeframe with which to gather my thoughts.

      • Pamela

        I like this approach!

        As a big planner, I like having things set out on a list I can check off. For example, whe house or apartment shopping, I go in with a list – does it have x number of bedrooms/bathrooms, how big is the back yard, etc. My husband goes in thinking “does this feel like home?” I don’t think about my feelings as much, if that makes sense. I tend to think “we should have a baby when the *time* is right” and my husband tends to think “we should have a baby when we *feel* it’s right” – neither approach is wrong, just very different. And the “feeling” approach doesn’t lend itself well to timeline discussions, becuase how are you going to know when you’re going feel a certain way?? Hence, his lack of communication on the subject.

        (and yes, this came up A LOT before we married and during discussions of engagement, etc)

    • Emily

      Yeah. I mean obviously I have no idea what is going on with anonymous’s and she should have a conversation with her boyfriend.
      Anonymous moved in with her boyfriend 8 months ago, but she doesn’t mention how that major life change has affected their relationship. Maybe they are adjusting just fine, but before she asks him about marriage again I think she should ask him about how the living together is going for him.
      When I moved in with my boyfriend (now husband) I was totally ready to marry him. Two weeks after we moved in, I wasn’t ready anymore. It took me about six months to adjust to living with him, and then I was ready again.

      • Rebecca

        You have no idea how much I can relate to your post! I was totally ready to marry my boyfriend too. Then I moved in with him about 7 weeks ago. While we’re happy and getting along fine, I am freaking out a little and not sure that I’m ready anymore. I’m definitely not as ready as I was before we moved in together! We’re getting married in about 4 months, so I really hope that I’m adjusted and ready again by then! I have been feeling like such an oddball and like I shouldn’t be feeling this way. It helps to know that someone else has experienced the same thing. Thank you so much for sharing!

        • catherine

          Rebecca, those feelings are totally normal! I know this site is thrown around here a lot, but I recommend and the book the Conscious Bride by Sheryl Paul :) It really address the stages of transition and rites of passages and how our culture today isn’t conditioned to feel their feeling, or that grieving is healthy thing to do when going through life changes. I love her blog as well. Hope it helps you :)

          • Granola

            I love her blog and book. It’s gotten me through so many phases, starting with engagement.

        • catherine

          Also Rebecca, if you need to talk, my email is catherineeure at gmail dot come.

          • Rebecca

            Thank you, Catherine. This isn’t my first marriage, but it is my first time living together before the marriage. So I totally wasn’t expecting to have these feelings at all! I guess in some ways it feels like the stakes are higher this time around and I want so much for this marriage to last. This time around is so different and so much better than any of my past relationships. And I am lucky enough to have a laid back and supportive future husband to get thru this transition with as he is having to make adjustments too.

          • Emily

            Sorry, I didn’t see your reply earlier! Your story makes me feel like less of an oddball too! Moving in with someone can put a lot of pressure on the relationship. For me it was really different than spending the night a lot, because we had to share responsibilities and things and I kept asking myself if it was going to be “like this” forever. Being open (gently) with him about it helped a lot, and it sounds like you are already doing that (kudos).
            Good luck :-)

      • Sarah

        I totally relate to Emily’s comments as well. When we first got together, my SO was much more enthusiastic about getting married than I was. After we had been together about 9 months, we had a serious conversation where he ended up telling me that he was planning to propose in a few months. At the time I wasn’t quite ready but decided to use the in between to adjust to the idea. I knew after only a month of dating that we would get married eventually. But in terms of our different family and cultural expectations, I think he always expected to get married whereas I didn’t necessary. Three years later we are living together but still not engaged and I am the one who seems more enthusiastic about marriage.
        The expression ‘life is what happens while you’re making other plans’ is pretty apt to our situation. Various things came up (mostly financial) not long after that conversation that meant he no longer felt ready to get engaged. We are now dealing with other issues (work, health, family) that mean that neither of us is really ready to get married right now. We are both fully committed to each other and our life together, and I do often wish that we were engaged. But I am finally starting to acknowledge that neither of us is in the right headspace for that at the moment. Adding wedding planning into the mix would just cause additional stress.
        Recently (thanks to APW!) I had the timeline conversation with him, which was helpful. He said he thinks it will probably be about 2-3 more years before he thinks we will get married. Reluctantly I have to agree that any earlier than this would be unrealistic, and me getting upset about this is a little crazy. More than this, it was really useful to finally hear him say that he wishes we were married now too. It’s good to know that we ARE in fact on the same page, even if he is quieter about his feelings.

        I think tv, movies, etc, set up some crazy expectations when it comes to relationships. So often we are told these stories about couples who apparently never speak about marriage prior to the man proposing (and it is always the man). And then it that moment of surprise the woman seems to magically decide that she does want to marry him, even when she seems to she never really considered it up until that moment. Things seems to put a lot of pressure on both parties (and seems to be why Anonymous’ boyfriend doesn’t want to talk to her) and possibly isn’t good for communication in the relationship.

        • HeartvsBrain

          I just wanted to say that when I read you had been told that at about a year into your relationship he was planning to propose and that you’re now three years in and he’s saying it will be another 2-3 years…I didn’t think you, “getting upset about this is a little crazy”. No, I thought it seemed pretty normal.

          I don’t know what your situation is and I’m not here to pressure you into being angry you aren’t engaged. I just wanted to point out something I’ve been coming to realize lately. There’s always something going on. I’m in charge of what is a priority in my life and two years ago, I decided my priority was to formalize my relationship so we could move forward on our journey. There were a lot of other things going on that could and did sometimes distract me. But none of them was more important to me than my own future and happiness and for me, that translated into getting married – which includes deciding the kind of marriage you want and talking about it.

          Maybe there are way big things in your lives right now that force you to put your own life on hold. I’m just suggesting you pay attention and ask yourself if your priorities are in line with what you ultimately want.

          • Sarah

            Heartvsbrain, thanks for your thoughtful response. I have actually been doing a lot of weighing up of priorities recently. I totally agree that there is always something going on, and there will probably never be a ‘perfect’ time to get married. Unfortunately, this year has been really quite awful, mostly for reasons beyond our control. There has been a steep learning curve in working through these things, both separately and together, and I think we need to get to a place where we are able to feel more positive before we decide its time to get married. In the meantime, we are doing other things which hopefully will get us to that more positive place.

  • M.

    Perfect advice. I was in the same situation, and it was Rachel’s piece about being wanting to be engaged ( that directly led to me using her actual words with my now-fiance, that I know he wants to really surprise me, but that “I have a right to a say in my future” and the timeline should fit both of us.

    That we’d get married was clear, but we were able to confirm that out loud (squee!) and talk about when we thought it would work for us. When we decided 2014, and he led me to understand we’d get engaged this summer, it took so much weight off, and we were able to have so many more good convos about the future, a ring, a wedding, a life, while still leaving room for a surprise.

    Good luck to you!

    • MM

      This was the piece that did it for me too.

  • Annie

    I agree with Liz! When my husband and I were pre-engaged, we talked about a timeline. However, when we were still not engaged a while after the previously discussed timeline, it freaked me out. I told him that the longer we waited to get engaged, the more I worried I became that it would never happen at all. Because that’s how I truly felt! Although those were emotional days and difficult discussions, it was important for me to express how his “engagement plan” affected me.

    My brother, bless his naive heart, fell victim to our society’s message to men that the proposal has to be a big surprise orchestrated by him. He proposed to his now-wife before she was ready or expecting it. They got engaged, dis-engaged and re-engaged later, and now have been married for years. We need to re-write the societal message men hear about proposing/getting engaged!

    I also witnessed a friend go through a difficult pre-engagement to her now husband, who also loves surprising her. He took it a cruel step further and tried to convince her that he was not interested in getting engaged any time soon so she would be even more surprised when he proposed. I wish she would have had the wherewithal to stand up to him at that point – she needed advice like this!

  • honey cowl

    THIS IS MY LIFE! We had yet another “we’re going to get engaged right? but when?” conversation the other night. My partner has the conviction that he must surprise me, down on one knee and all that, but that he also wants us to have our ducks in a row. The “ducks are wily” school of thought didn’t convince him much. Neither did the “can we talk about whether this is six months or a year” type of thing. He knows I don’t want to be in the dark, and he’s totally on board with that, but he can’t work with me on any kind of timeline, especially when our lives are in such flux. Frustrating.

    Thanks for letting me vent.

    • Cleo

      you described my life too! My partner doesn’t want to surprise me (we were watching THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT and the scene where Larry and his wife get engaged in the hot tub by discussing it and he said, “that’s my ideal proposal/engagement situation”), but he’s not ready to get married, he doesn’t know when he will be, and he says when he is, it will be because of taxes or when we want to have kids.

      There’s no discussing timelines or anything because he doesn’t want to make assumptions about the future. And he doesn’t have particular ducks he wants to get in a row, but he makes vague statements about how he would like to be more financially stable, though there’s no number on that.

      Aaanyway, my point is that I’m there too and I hear you and it’s so frustrating to be in a place where you know what you want, and there’s no sign of when you’ll be able to think about it happening for completely legitimate reasons! (that last part is the worst)

    • Blimunda

      We also had a problem with ducks. We agreed we will get married, but it took some hard conversations to understand why one was so hurt/disappointed byt the other’s behaviour/requests/expectations. The key to the solution came on a long car trip (yay for situations you can’t escape) and was that both of us needed to take care of each other’s well being, as we always do. For us that meant that the one who had issues with his ducks needed to have a bit more of time to check how long it would take to put them in a row, but since it wasn’t fair for the other to be let waiting (weeks? months? years? decades?) we agreed on a timeline. After that, screw the ducks, we’re doing it anyway.
      I, too, was in a place where I felt there was no way I could sort this out with my otherwise perfect partner, and it was probably the most frustrating thing that ever happened in our relationship. But it can be done. The key was really understanding (both of us) that we needed to make sure the other didn’t feel un-listened and un-taken care of, and that both positions needed to be respected.

  • Josie

    Sometimes we forget that our partners have their own set of wedding expectations, moulded for them over the years by friends, family, the media etc, and they often *don’t* have a progressive community like APW to discuss (and debunk) them with. My husband believed that the proposal was his chance to do something flashy, to demonstrate his feelings with a grand gesture, and he wanted to do it RIGHT – not just for me, but also in the eyes of his friends and community. When I started to say that I wasn’t sure I wanted a surprise and that I needed to have an opportunity to weigh in on my future, he was quite visibly deflated. It really took some time to convince him that very few of the ‘engagement stories’ he’s heard truly reflect the many, many conversations that precede the actual moment, but he understood it intellectually even if he felt a sense of loss emotionally for not getting to fully experience the moment he’d imagined. When we did get engaged it wasn’t really a big surprise, but he still planned some wonderful romantic activities for the day and a special night away, and that gave him the story he needed for those in his broader circle. I think we can be gentle with these precious men of ours and know that they are often also dealing with their own WIC issues! They don’t mean to uphold patriarchal traditions – they genuinely believe they are doing what is needed to make us happy and fulfill our fantasies, and sometimes we just need to reassure them that we don’t have those expectations of them.

  • Hannah

    You know, I thought we had done a really good job of discussing our timeline and being on the same one, entirely through me being blunt and laying all my cards out. Seriously, just one day I decided it was the time for this discussion and told him exactly where I stood and he was actually ready to counter with his opinions, which ended up being very similar. It’s been a shift in my personality, but I decided I was sick of the idea that I shouldn’t ask and shouldn’t discuss these things and shouldn’t be a blunt upfront person cuz I’m a ~*~lady~*~ and said F it, if he doesn’t like it he can leave and it will mean we wouldn’t have worked out anyways (A very cavalier attitude to take when you think you know someone well enough to assume they won’t react negatively). But being upfront with my feelings (about everything) has been really positive in our relationship.

    But, of course, ducks are wily, and I recently told him that I wanted to re-do our timeline to accommodate the rapidly failing health of my grandparents. He agreed that since they are such an important part of my life we should fast track our timeline, but he still wanted to be the one to ask… Now I keep getting negative updates on the health of my grandparents and I’m wondering if I’ll even get to tell them about my engagement, but don’t want to be pushy and naggy to a stressed-out final term grad student.

  • Gina

    This is hard. I know how hard it is to have that conversation. Like Anonymous, my husband and I both came from traditional families and moved in together with the understanding that it was the final step before engagement. Having that expectation set before we moved in together really started the conversation in a way that never really stopped until we got engaged, which was helpful. Of course, specific timelines is another conversation that is necessary and not fun but gives you an enormous sense of relief when it’s over. And learning those skills was SO helpful when we had to have other “timeline” discussions– when will we make the eventual move closer to family? When do we want to have kids? When do we want to buy a house? You need to be having those conversations Your. Whole. Life. Starting with the hardest one, with the heavy burdens of societal expectation, makes those subsequent conversations seem like a walk in the park.

    I will also say that knowing we were getting engaged soon-ish did not ruin the surprise. If anything, it allowed me to enjoy the moment more. My poor husband had been working non-stop for the 6 weeks before last Christmas, so he abandoned plan after plan in those 6 weeks and ended up proposing Christmas morning. I was able to be calm through that time period knowing that he was looking for the right moment, and I loved that we ended up sharing that moment with family.

  • Marina

    Great advice, as per usual.

    I was in a similar situation with my partner. What really helped us was me being open and explaining how the lack of communication made me feel – and how it was really much more stressful being left in the dark! Once we started having those discussions and opened the lines of communication, it made it easier to talk about and keep eachother abreast of “where we were” in the process of being ready for an engagement, etc. We didn’t talk direct timelines (e.g. in 6 months we’ll be engaged, etc.), but it was helpful to know if things were moving in the direction of engagement, as that really took the stress off for me.

  • sarah

    Something that was extremely helpful to me was discussing the reasons why my now-fiance did not feel ready.

    Due to the practicalities of lease timing, we were discussing moving in together but I didn’t want to move in until we were engaged – I figure moving is hard enough that the drama associated with moving out if things go south is bad enough that throwing a ring return on top of it would be about the same. He strongly advocated that he wanted to live together before getting engaged to see “if things work out.” The way he initially framed the issue, made it sound like not getting engaged left him an exit option, which is not exactly the kind of commitment I was looking for to be willing to move. Upon further discussion, however, it came out that he was feeling financial pressure about being able to afford a ring and that he wanted more time to put that together. This is an ENTIRELY different response than not being sure you want to get married, and that put my mind at ease that we were, in fact, on the same page.

    I did get really antsy a few months later though and had the extremely disappointing experience of expecting a proposal to happen with a romantic gesture that I wasn’t able to enjoy the dates or gifts for what they were – awesome. We had several frank discussions and ended up setting a date (that he picked) before a ring was on my finger and beginning the planning process. Even though I actually knew when he ordered the ring, he still managed to catch me off guard with an incredibly sweet and somewhat surprise proposal.

  • Liz

    I just got engaged and we went through the same thing! We’d settled on a proposed timeline (“after Labor Day”, he said) and as soon as we got in that window I got anxious wondering when it might happen and worried it wouldn’t. I was afraid to speak up, for fear of being a nag, but finally got the nerve to just do it – phrasing it as a check in that we’re still on the same path, rather than an “OMG WHEN WILL YOU EFFING PROPOSE?!??” rant. Sure enough, it happened a few weeks later and I still managed to be surprised. You can totally speak up without being a crazy gf!

  • My husband also wanted to go the more traditional route and surprise me, and I knew this because we had lots of conversations about our future. We’ve always been fairly open with one another, so we did at one point talk about whether or not we saw ourselves getting married one day, and we both wanted it. We didn’t talk much about timing, but both knew that we wanted a family, so if it was going to happen, it would have to be within a certain timeframe. I actually like being surprised, and knew he wanted to be more traditional when asking, so I simply said, when the time comes, I have a certain ring that I wear on my ring finger that you can use as a size guide if you need it. It wasn’t always easy waiting, but because we had talked – I knew it was just a matter of time. Knowing that it was going to happen within a certain amount of time didn’t ruin the surprise at all, so I think it’s more than fair (and helpful) to have these kinds of conversations.

  • Caroline

    I needed to read this. Because right now, I’m going through wanting-to-have-kids almost exactly the same way as I went through wanting-to-get-married — feeling kind of scared and uncertain and going back and forth on it in my mind sometimes, doing a lot of research, and ultimately knowing that I want it. Wondering if he wants it too and worrying about what if he doesn’t, because in the past when we were younger we used to be all insistent that we weren’t in a rush for [marriage/kids], and what if he thought that meant never. Being afraid to open my mouth and say anything about it like an adult because what if he feels like I’m pressuring him, but trying to play guessing games with what he says about it in other situations.

    And yeah. The answer is to open my mouth and say something about it like an adult. Just like it was for getting married. Because both of those are big life things, and it’s totally reasonable to converse and discuss and plan for things like that. Like an adult.

    Using my words: a skill that I keep having to re-learn throughout my life.

    And yeah, he might be a little uncomfortable when I first bring it up. But he’ll see that I’m not being all like OMG BABIES NOW RIGHT NOW, just like I wasn’t all OMG DIAMONDS NOW RIGHT NOW, and that we’re probably both kind of scared and conflicted and maybe this is a thing we can help each other think through.

  • Mezzanine

    I actually DID demand a proposal.

    The boyfriend had been doing the I’m-not-sure-yet-need-to-wait-and-see dance for a couple of years, and it was driving me crazy. By which I mean: randomly sobbing in the middle of the day. I was giving my heart, more and more, to someone I was half-afraid would break up with me at some random juncture when he finally made up his mind, and I couldn’t cope very well.

    Then he had to go overseas for three months. And I decided it was time. Either I needed a definite commitment to cling to, or I needed to use that three months to get some distance and start healing.

    So, we talked about where things were at, and I pointed out that he couldn’t just keep postponing the decision so he wouldn’t make the wrong one – and that, by not deciding to marry me, he was actually deciding NOT to marry me. And I said, gently, that if he didn’t decide about marrying me before he went away, I’d take it that he’d decided not to.

    Ultimatums like that can work, but they’re not for everyone. I think it worked for me because:
    1) I was not focusing on his behaviour, but on mine. I pointed out that I was failing to cope with the current situation, and told him how I was going to need to deal with it continuing (ie – by running for the hills).
    2) I was fully prepared for it to go either way. The proposal, or the break up – whichever happened, I’d be fine. I just needed to KNOW.

    (In the end? We got married, and are now having a wonderful time.)

    • Hintzy

      I had a similar ultimatum… in our particular circumstance it was how I felt and so there it was. After some on and off separation, I said that I could not consider trying to rebuild the relationship if a marriage was not what we were aiming to build. So yeah, demands made, it was a huge gamble for me but so far so good :)

  • Sarah

    I just want to chime in here to say that all of this advice is really good, and you should take it!

    Now, a little story about how this worked out for me, because I got to talk about and be reassured about the timeline, while also getting the surprise proposal that he wanted.

    After about a year and a half together, and living together for over a year, I sat him down because I couldn’t stop thinking about getting engaged. We had already talked about and planned on him moving to law school with me the following year, and I had it in my head that I wanted to be engaged before we did that (though I probably still would have done it if we weren’t). So, after thinking about it, and being anxious about it, and not really knowing what his timeline was AT ALL (in fact, I thought he was in the “in a couple of years” camp), I brought up my timeline to him. He refused to talk about it, but after pressing him to (because yes, it’s not fair for us to be left in the dark) he admitted that he was saving for a ring. I told him that I wanted to use my great-grandmother’s ring, which I’ve had in my possession since age 16, and he asked to keep it.

    He proposed to me the very next day, which I didn’t expect AT ALL. He threw together a really lovely day: shooting range, Empire State Building (where he proposed), dinner, and Avenue Q. Because I had only just brought up this conversation the day before, he totally caught me by surprise, and now I’m so glad that I spoke up, because it feels like a wonderfully mutual decision that we came to around the same time.

    So yes, definitely bring it up!

  • MacKenzie

    Oh man, this was such an internal battle for me. I totally feel you and needed (but never found them or knew where to look) a million posts like this before we got engaged. It’s your life, too. And for me, a very independent woman, it felt totally weird/foreign/not fun leaving such a huge life decision in someone else’s hands. You like your life. You like it with him. And sometimes living in the limbo of “is it going to be today?” gets really old and, in my case, really overwhelming.

    I initially dealt with this with a lot of subtly and a lot of tears. I wouldn’t recommend that route. I was convinced that I was the only one thinking about engagement and what was coming next, and I was totally miffed. Finally, it came down to one fateful conversation: he, thankfully, admitted that he had absolutely been thinking a lot about not only getting engaged, but the wheres and hows and whats AND he said, in May 2012, that “another summer will not pass before we are engaged.” I had a timeframe. I could wake up in the morning and wonder, “is it today?” and know that AT MOST I’d be wondering that question for a few more months. It was such a huge relief. And, you know what, his proposal, like him, was so much better than I ever dreamed of AND minutes after her proposed, he whisked me away for a weekend in Paris where we drank wine and walked hand-in-hand along the Seine talking about our future together. I was amazing.

    Honestly, though, the hardest and best part of all of it was learning that 1) this was his life, too, and the timing that he felt comfortable with mattered just as much as the timing I wanted, and that 2) if I really professed to trust him, then I needed to trust him in this, too. That was so so hard for me to learn. I’ve been burnt, and I make my own way, and trusting another person to have a hand in my major life decision was really unnerving. But, again, it’s OUR major life decision, and it’s just one of many that we will make together, and if I trust him enough to commit the rest of my life to him, and to build a family with him, then trusting him to propose is really not such a difficult thing to let go of after all.

  • Not Sarah

    My boyfriend and I have a bit of a messy story of how we started dating – we were friends for 5 years AND had worked together AND lived in the same apartment building (different apartments) AND I helped him get his job in our current city when he graduated. We transitioned from friends to sleeping together by me asking him via a form of asynchronous messaging, which actually turned out to be great because it gave him time to react to his shock and process it. We almost followed a similar process when we transitioned to boyfriend/girlfriend in that I was the one who brought it up, but in person this time and he knew it was going to happen.

    For other things, I’ve followed a process of “Do you want to meet my parents some day?” and him going “Yes” and then bringing it up some time period later. Or “Do you want to live together some day?” and him saying he’d thought about it and then me realizing a few days later that the logistical thought completely freaked me out, but the hypothetical idea was okay. So I like this process of hypothetical idea -> individual thoughts -> later discussion. It seems to be working okay for us so far. Since we’ve known each other for so long, talking is so easy now and makes everything else fairly awesome too :) I truly think we will get married some day, but not necessarily on any specific time frame and that it will make sense then. I’ve thankfully finally stopped shocking him all the time with the things I say and that definitely results in a lot less crying and confusion on my part.

    I’ve been trying to educate him slowly that proposals aren’t a surprise by talking about my girlfriends who have known about their proposals, rings, etc. so that I don’t have to specifically talk about that with us :)

  • Meredith

    I actually felt totally weird about admitting to my friends that yes, my fiance and I had a direct, honest conversation about marriage before we got engaged, and yes, I picked out my own engagement ring (I chose the setting, he picked the diamond). Apparently a proposal is supposed to have such a mysterious, romantic quality about it that we aren’t allowed to talk about it! Many of my friends said they never spoke of it directly, it was only implied (like, oh, I’d want this many groomsmen or whatever).
    Now that I’ve been through the marriage discussion and the proposal, I’m so happy that things happened the way that they did. When we initially talked about marriage, I wrestled with the idea, and by the time he proposed, I felt confident in saying yes, and the occasion was so much more joyful than it would have been if I had still been debating if I wanted to get married!
    But I still thought my fiance and I must just be in the minority in terms of wanting to have a direct conversation about marriage before the proposal. But now I think that’s wrong- people just don’t talk about the conversations they’ve had.
    And as an aside, not that we are talking about engagement rings exactly, but I feel like that’s another thing you aren’t allowed to talk about- it also apparently must be shrouded in mystery to be special! And if he can’t pick out a piece of jewelry for you that you’ll wear forever, clearly you aren’t compatible (lies, of course). I am so, so happy I told my fiance exactly what I wanted. I worked with an excellent jeweler to choose the setting I loved, and then he went back without me to finalize the details and choose a diamond. I LOVE my ring, I gaze at it constantly, and despite the fact he didn’t choose it, it is a special reminder of us and the commitment we are making. He is also thrilled that I got a ring that I love. It’s a win win.
    Bottom line is- even though we are lead to believe that this is all somehow supposed to happen naturally, it’s ok to have these conversations; you aren’t crazy for wanting a timeframe. In my opinion, that is the opposite of crazy.

    • Emmers

      YES! Shrouded in mystery!

      My guy and I recently had this talk about engagement rings. I tend to like more vintage, but I think his plan was to just choose a stone and then have me choose the setting, which doesn’t work if I want vintage. So we had a long (slightly tear filled on my end) talk about this, and I think we’re going ring shopping sometime soon. Where I’ll try a million on to give him an idea of what I like, but I’ll still be surprised.

      I felt like I was pressuring him (?) by having this conversation– I guess I was intensely worried that I’ll end up liking something that’s more than he planned to spend. So we’ll see how this all works out.

      Such a fraught with emotions topic, at least for me! But he told me to dry my tears, because he really doesn’t care what the ring looks like– he just wants me to like it, and it sounds like looking at rings is the way to go.

      So, this part makes me think of us, and how I hope this will end up:

      “I LOVE my ring, I gaze at it constantly, and despite the fact he didn’t choose it, it is a special reminder of us and the commitment we are making. He is also thrilled that I got a ring that I love. It’s a win win.”

      • Meredith

        Emmers, what you are describing is exactly how I felt initially about ring shopping. Total basketcase, and I too was worried I would choose something that would be beyond his budget. However, I’ve come to believe that if you are the type of lady who is concerned about such things, you are probably not being unreasonable in your ring expectations. The first time we went ring shopping, I was just kind of like- “Is this what you were thinking in terms of price?” And then we were basically on the same page.

        Another thing about ring shopping- be patient with the process. The first time I went ring shopping with my now fiance, we went to a vintage shop because I thought I wanted a vintage ring. I was downtrodden and stressed when we saw nothing I loved. I eventually realized I wanted a new ring but in a vintage style, which is what I ended up with. I found a jeweler I loved with exceptional customer service, and that improved the process 100%.

        It will all work out! I can’t tell you how much I relate and feel for you. Sending good vibes your way that you’ll find something you love!

        • Emmers

          Thank you so much for this comment!

          Last night we talked about this again (he brought it up), and he asked more about the type of ring I was thinking of, and the general price range and carat size I had been liking. I sheepishly told him, and he didn’t freak out at all, was very matter of fact that it was fine.

          I think this is us:

          “However, I’ve come to believe that if you are the type of lady who is concerned about such things, you are probably not being unreasonable in your ring expectations. The first time we went ring shopping, I was just kind of like- “Is this what you were thinking in terms of price?” And then we were basically on the same page.”

          So, thank you for the good vibes, and calls to be patient! I’m going to try to be open, and will hopefully try on a lot of rings. I like the new but vintage inspired option. Good idea!

        • Emmers

          PS, I’m just really excited that this time is almost here! SO exciting!

    • ART

      Exactly, exactly. My fiance brought it up and we sort of discussed it that first time, though I got all flustered (which I didn’t expect), and it made me realize I needed some time to live with the real possibility of choosing him before I was ready to give that emphatic “YES!” and I was so thankful that I had it. But even though I love how it all happened, it has been weird telling people who ask about “our engagement story” that it is more like “well, we sort of talked about it for three months and then he told both our entire families and all our friends before he did it, so no one was really surprised, and that was pretty cool.”

      Also, Emmers, this:
      “I LOVE my ring, I gaze at it constantly, and despite the fact he didn’t choose it, it is a special reminder of us and the commitment we are making. He is also thrilled that I got a ring that I love. It’s a win win.”

      …is exactly our situation, and it rocks. He spent a month or two looking at rings and had no idea, and finally proposed when he just wanted to be effing engaged already, and then we picked a ring. It worked out fabulously for us. I gaze at it constantly :)

      • Emmers

        Ahhhhh, so excited!

  • ariel

    A few months after he didn’t propose when we were in Paris (dude, it would’ve been so easy), and after his cousin got engaged (that one may have sent me over the edge), I asked for a timeline. I had been so upset for a long time, thinking I wasn’t good enough – why was EVERYONE ELSE getting engaged?! He told me he didn’t understand what the “rush” was (we had been dating for over six years at this point and had been living together for almost 3 years – um, what rush?). I finally asked him if we were going to be engaged within a year from then, to which he responded, ‘yes, of course’. Then I asked if it was going to happen within six months, because, hey, why not get this bumped up a little? He seemed a tiny bit hesitant.

    About 7 months after our timeline talk, I proposed when we were on vacation. Turns out he was ready at this point too – he had a ring with him and was planning on proposing on the same trip, just a day or two later.

    • Liz

      This was soo similar to our situation! After last Thanksgiving, he told me he had had his “a-ha” moment that he was ready. It made me really happy to know that we were both on the same page at that point. It was a big relief.
      We went to London and Paris in February. Perfect opportunity, but he didn’t get his act together soon enough. :) 3 weeks later, my little sister got engaged. Then I started to freak out a little bit. A few of our other friends had also just gotten engaged, all who had been dating for much less time than we had!! After a few crying fits stemming from jealousy of wedding planning and dress shopping for my sister (I remember trying really hard not to cry while reading the APW book on the plane home from our dress shopping weekend with her!!) we had another couple of check ins and he promised it was coming “before the end of the summer.” Again…it really helped just to know that we were still on the same page.
      We had a trip planned to visit his family in Boston in May, and my parents were coming up that weekend for a conference for my dad and so everyone could meet. The ring pass-off (he used the diamond from my great-grandmother’s/grandmother’s ring) finally happened in Boston that weekend, and we got engaged in June while on vacation with my family.
      Still can’t believe he didn’t take up a Paris opportunity but I’m just so happy we’re getting married now :)

  • Regina

    I had it both ways. I already had a date (and a dress, as it turned out) when my fiancé proposed. But I was also totally surprised. Of course, a big part of why I was surprised (though apparently my mother wasn’t), is because the proposal came about a month earlier than I thought would be possible.

    I should also add that I’m very easy to surprise–any time anyone’s really made an effort to surprise me, they’ve succeeded (roommate throwing a birthday party for me in college for instance–I made us late for it by insisting on getting dessert before we went back, as it turned out, for cake).

    But that’s just the thing: if you’re surprisable (which it sounds like you are, if he like surprising you–people who always know what’s going on are no fun), then you’ll still be surprised.

    Of course, then for us, there was the issue of announcing our engagement. To my inner circle in the town I lived in then, I used a lot of airquotes saying “I guess we’re ‘official’ now,” because we were already effectively engaged, even before I had the ring that spurred these conversations, and all of my friends knew it. With his friends, however, I followed his narrative: ok, Now we’re engaged. But I also sent out an email to all of our mutual college friends that same night with a date in it–so it was probably obvious that this had been in the works for a while.

    Anyway, that’s all just to say that I absolutely believe in letting other people have their own narratives–but Not in letting other people’s narratives get in the way of yours.

  • Negotiating getting engaged is this HUGE THING in my life right now and has been for almost a year.

    I am at a point where I kind of want to bang my head against a wall, but I can’t drop it either.


  • Bryna

    I always take the Annoying-Customer-At-Work approach when talking about Big-Things-That-Won’t-Be-Talked-About with my fiance.

    1 – Write a big long ranty letter/email in a sarcastic and snide tone detailing exactly why he’s Wrong and Annoying and should really JUST UNDERSTAND ME;
    2 – delete that email;
    3 – sleep on it;
    4 – talk to my fiance.

    I find that it works a treat, on anything from weddings to money to kids to annoying customers at work!

    Get it all out – figure out exactly what you want (to know about your future) and how & when you’re going to get there (when is the engagement, wedding, conversations about kids etc). If you don’t want to bring the frustration that you’re obviously feeling to the conversation with your fiance, get it all out in order to figure out exactly what it is that you DO want to say to him. Delete the rest!

    The second version of that letter/email, or the conversation that you want to have with your boyfriend, is always more productive your thoughts in order, stressful emotions taken out of it, and it can just become a sensible discussion about what you want.

    It is absolutely ok for you to want to be part of the conversation about your future with your potential husband.

    And tell him that a surprise can be just about anything! My fiance and I decided to get engaged together and went to pick out the ring together. I knew when he was going to pick the ring up, but nothing could prepare me for the surprise of emotions that flooded me when he got home, got on bended knee and gave me that ring.

    Now THAT was a good surprise!!!

    • Not Sarah

      I LOVE THIS! This is an awesome approach. And basically exactly what I do. Sometimes I send him the long rambly email so that he has time to think over it and process before replying rather than in person, depending on the subject.

  • KH_TAS

    “I get that he loves surprising you, and that you’re trying to be appreciative and respectful of that, but that should be coupled with his appreciation and respect for what you want, also. At the heart of it, I’m sure he wants to surprise you because he wants to make you happy. But, it’s not making you happy. He’s so fixated on what he thinks you want, that he’s completely blinded to the fact that you’re super not happy waiting to find out what’s going on”

    Liz; you’re the best(est)

  • AnonForThis

    I dated and waited on someone for 2.5 years because I didn’t want to be *that* girlfriend / woman / person who pushes for a ring. When I finally womanned up and asked, “You know, I need to know if we are in this with marriage on the horizon. I want to be married to you and I’m ready for that – how do you feel?” And the response I got from him, “Areyouf**kingkiddingme? I don’t want to marry you. We’re having a great time and get along well. Why mess it up. Besides – I don’t believe in marriage. You know THAT.” =/ No, actually. I didn’t. And we broke up a month later.

    Five months after that, I met my husband while on vacation in Europe and just *KNEW*. So did he. And he said so.

    Point being: if you want to know an engagement / proposal is coming, ASK HIM. Gently, kindly, directly…whatever works for you but ASK. It’s your life too. Best wishes!

  • KE

    Thank you for this post today. This is something that has been incredibly stressful for me lately, mostly because my boyfriend isn’t a planner. He’s more the “I know we’ll get married…one day”. Only that means literally one day in the future but not even he knows when that is. I’ve been wrestling with this dilemma for quite some time and this answer was like getting the smartest, most reassuring advice from my best friend.

    • Alyssa M

      My partner is very like that too, and I found the best way to frame that conversation without pressuring him into something he may not be ready for was having the “Where do you see us in X years?” conversation. That way you can (together!) put a timeline that works for the both of you on the table. Not just for engagement either. This really helps to get you both on the same page for most milestones; moving-in, getting a pet, moving to a different city, buying a house, having kids(or not). A lot of this stuff you need to agree on before getting engaged anyways…

  • Lindsey d.

    I refer to the 10 months during which engagement went from the theoretical to the practical as our marriage negotiations. In September of last year we started much more frequently mentioning marriage (1.5 years into dating). In October, I bought a book a friend recommended, 1,000 questions to ask before you get married, and we started working our way through chapters on our childhoods, faith, money, kids, chores, in laws, etc.

    In November, he mentioned marriage out loud to his brother and SIL and we started talking venues. In January, at my urging, we went ring shopping. In April, he bought a ring (but I didn’t know it). In June, I freaked out that we weren’t engaged yet and cry-screamed at him. In July, he proposed.

    There were definitely things we did right and things we did wrong. We had the right conversations about whether marriage was right for us and what our future looked like, but we didn’t talk timeline specifically enough, definitely causing my breakdown. We are now 4.5 months from the wedding and working our timeline for loving in together. At least that one has a definite outside date.

  • anona

    So this post went up in “Feminism” month, right? I can’t believe nobody has brought up the option of the OP proposing to her boyfriend!
    Rather than demand a proposal FROM him, why not just propose TO him…? Why does it automatically have to be the man’s job/right?

    • Thank you! I was wondering the same!
      I understand that some people need to wait until their partner is ready.
      And I agree that you should talk about your future and not feel left in the dark.
      I also think it’s possible that Anon’s boyfriend might not want to talk about it because he’s planning to propose soon (not to get anyone’s hopes up, but I’m surprised no one mentioned that as a possibility)

      But when I wanted the control back in my life, I womanned up and proposed to my boyfriend, and he said yes! Don’t forget that proposing is an option, too.

  • Kristen

    I sometimes wonder if moving in with each other delays a proposal or marriage planning/talk. It seems I’ve heard stories of so many women who moved in with their boyfriend thinking of it as “the next step” towards marriage, and the man was not on the same page at all. Does anybody have thoughts or experiences relating to this?

    • Sarah

      I have the opposite experience of this. I moved in with my boyfriend after we had been dating six months. It made complete sense at the time, logistically, and emotionally. I felt like we would be together for a long time, and I knew/felt that he was on the same page as me. However, we hadn’t talked about marriage specifically at that point. The only thing I really knew was that we were just as serious about each other as the other person, and…that was about it.

      We lived together for a year when he proposed, so about a year and a half into our relationship. I think why moving in together didn’t delay marriage was because marriage is a whole ‘nother thing than moving in together! I think no matter what steps you decide to take, you just have to make sure you are on the same page at the same time. When we moved in together, we were on the same page feelings-wise–that we were serious about each other and wanted to enmesh ourlives–but it wasn’t, at that time, a step towards marriage.

      We also did other things kind of out of the traditional order. We merged bank accounts, bought furniture, adopted cats, before we talked marriage. I think I was okay with that because it felt natural, and so then talking about marriage and engagement felt like a natural step as well. It was an easy step to take because of the ways we’ve been living together over the past year.

      So, I guess my main point is, every relationship is different and I don’t think the prescriptive “moving in together before engagement will only allow him to delay marriage” is very helpful to anyone. Just make sure you’re on the same page, whatever that page may be!

    • That was one of our biggest negotiations. I didn’t want to move in before we were engaged on principle, and he wasn’t willing to be engaged before we’d lived together for a year. It’s something that we did a really decent job discussing, but I wish we’d talked about it more during that first year – we talked lots about the issue before I moved in, and lots about it after the year was up and I was sitting there thinking “ok, I’m ready for my proposal now” but we didn’t really check in as much as we should have during the year and I wish we had.

  • I’m really enjoying reading about these engagement stories and I’ll weigh in with my own engagement. My husband and I had a conversation about getting married around two months into our relationship. In essence I date our engagement from that night, but we didn’t do a proposal until about a month later. That was sort of a mix between surprise and not surprise. He bought the ring one night when I was at work, I knew that’s what he was doing, he was planning to surprise me with the proposal on Christmas Eve, but having a ring in my bedroom that night was just too exciting to both of us and we ended up doing the proposal in our pajamas. Not exactly a huge dramatic romantic gesture, but it did and does feel exactly right who we are as a couple. I’ll always be glad that we that serious conversation about getting married before we had sheer joy of getting engaged.

  • Jennifer

    Yep. Great advice.

    After two years of emotional insecurity, I finally told my boyfriend of five years that I wanted to be planning our wedding by the beginning of the next year. He agreed that it seemed fair. I gave him no other parameters, and we were seven months out from the new year at the time. I never mentioned it again. On Christmas Eve, he surprised me with a ring in the bottom of my stocking… just in time to surprise our families over the holidays! It was very sweet, he got to plan his big proposal, and I didn’t feel like a bystander anymore in the biggest decision of my life.

    There is a risk to this. He could have said, “no, I’m not on board with that.” But I ultimately decided that it would better for me to know that than to invest more of my life into a relationship that wasn’t what I wanted. When I made my needs clear to him, he acknowledged and met them. I knew, for sure, that he was the right man for me.

    Good luck.

  • this topic is endlessly fascinating to me – i brought up a conversation early in the summer about timeline for getting married and what kind of rings i like, which i felt like were fair things to discuss before getting engaged. but my boyfriend thinks i shouldn’t have brought it up because i didn’t give him enough time to just surprise me with the question, because in his mind, the proposal is supposed to be THE question where you decide whether or not you are getting married, and that if you have a conversation first, it can’t possibly be a romantic surprise anymore. that’s what men are conditioned to think, and it doesn’t take into account women who are control freaks/planners like me who want to know what the eff is happening with their life.

    also want to thank you for this post, which inspired me to have a conversation with my boyfriend to help him fully understand how frustrating it’s been to me all fall that we’re not engaged yet. and helped me understand his perspective of why he was dragging his feet on getting a ring – it turns out he was trying to wait until i hadn’t asked him about it in a while (which wasn’t going to happen) so it could be more of a surprise and felt like we had plenty of time till next summer to plan (while i’ve been eager to start planning), and just had no idea how stressed it was making me.

    • Andie

      No no no, “want[ing] to know what the eff is happening with their life” is nowhere near synonymous with “control freaks”, and that’s a message I wish people (including myself) could internalize more. This is not 1920, and we should not be told to hang back and take no active role in our own futures. That’s ridiculous. Not letting someone else run your life doesn’t make you controlling–it makes you sane and awesome.

  • Hintzy

    Liz’s advice is so spot on, I want to add my thoughts about language too – “so and so went ring shopping together” is vague, and with something so very important I really think being direct and clear is a big part of it. Trying to drop hints might come across as being manipulative where as being blunt is just blunt.

    Maybe even starting out by discussing what being engaged means to you, i.e. planning to get married at some future time vs actively planning a wedding. A lot of strife that rose up between me and my fh was because to me engaged often meant “planning to wed at some point” however to him it was very strictly “actively planning a wedding” and so I deemed us “engaged to be engaged” because we agreed that it’s what we were working towards, and we couldn’t quite put a time line on it – for reasons that we both understood and agreed on.

    And it was rarely easy to discuss, I pushed the discussion a fair amount because I needed to hear the words.

  • Eva

    I just want to suggest that if he feels like you’re bringing it up passive-aggressively, it may deter him from actually being able to maturely discuss it with you. If the way you bring up talking about engagement is “so Bobby went ring shopping,” that’s not saying “so I wanted to check in with you about whether you have any thoughts about a timeline for getting engaged or married? I want to make sure we’re on the same page and I need to feel like I can envision a future with you.”

    ED: just noticed the comment above mine says something similar – I hadn’t had time to read through all the comments, sorry!!

  • Julia

    I was pretty sure we were on the same page, but my now-husband is not much of a planner. I was worried he wouldn’t leave me enough time to work out the logistics. So I told him: “If you want to get married this summer, then I need to know before we go home for Christmas.” He was a little surprised and had to revise his plans, but you know what? It worked. I didn’t get labeled as pushy or desperate or controlling. I just got some peace of mind, along with a great proposal that did NOT involve our extended families over the Christmas holidays (thank goodness!)

  • An idea

    Here’s an idea: If you want to marry someone, ask them to marry you. We live in the future, where women and men can do whatever they want. You don’t need to wait for him to do it.

    • Alyssa M

      Maybe she does want to wait for him to do it? I genuinely don’t understand why that’s a problem. I’m not a virgin, and pretty much everybody can guess that (we’ve lived together for years), and I fully recognize the SUPER creepy virginity-as-a-commodity symbolism behind white wedding dresses. I’m wearing a white dress, because it will fulfill lifelong fantasies and make me happy. My partner and I made the mutual decision to get married next fall. He’s still proposing to me, because he wants that moment of giving me a ring. It feels romantic to us and will make us happy.

      Sometimes doing things the way you want to and ignoring other people means you happen to follow antiquated traditions. That doesn’t mean you get to judge other people for it.

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  • Our Compromise!

    I was in this same position! My boyfriend has anxiety so I asked if he would like me to propose – but he said he wanted to do it, he wanted to pick out the ring, and he wanted it to be after we graduated. When that time came I sat with him and asked how he was feeling about proposing. He admitted he didn’t know how to propose and didn’t know how to pick out a ring, so that’s why he put it off (Poor guy, I mean think about it. Who realistically teaches people how to do these things? It’s a lot of pressure!)

    I came up with an idea so that he could still surprise me – I found 5 rings online (I tried to find different styles, but all ones I like) and sent him the links to purchase them, and then deleted them from my history. We also agreed on a time frame. That way, which of the rings I get will still be a surprise and I won’t know when the proposal is coming. Everybody wins! ; )

  • Mari

    It definitely wasn’t a surprise for me either, I had it pinned down to the exact night he was gonna pop the question! We talked about marriage lots (and what kind of wedding we want, what songs would be fun to play as we heard them on the radio, where we want to move after we get married, etc), over the course of the last year of our dating before he proposed, and he asked me to send him pictures of the kinds of rings I like and what ring size I wear. It felt better being out in the open about it than sitting and wondering where our relationship was going to go and when!

  • Gemma

    I just wanted to say thanks to APW and all the contributors who have written on this topic. I am generally a strong, independent, feminist, go-getter used to being able to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it – well, sort of. Previously suspicious and cautious about marriage, I met a wonderful person and all of a sudden was like”BOOM! I GET IT!” which was swiftly followed by “IWANTITNOW!” because, why wait?! (I do realise there are sooo many reasons why you might want to/should wait, but It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I tend towards the impulsive side – but hey, following my instincts have never led me wrong!)

    I felt all the guilt and worry and uncertainty that you has been discussed here – and why? because I suddenly felt like I had no say in my own future and felt like I had to sit back, be a ‘good girl’ and wait patiently for him to eventually get round to it. I did a lot of soul searching, but the biggest problem for me was that I really began doubting myself – I thought, as in the conventional-story-wisdom, that I just ‘knew’ and then wanted to get married, and that perhaps he, as he does not want to get married (because he hasn’t asked) meant that I wasn’t right for him, and therefore I might be wrong about him. It really started to affect the relationship because I couldn’t just trust that it would all be ok.

    So, buoyed up from the essays here, I decided to be an adult and talk to him about it. Like adults do. He was totally cool with it, had absolutely no idea i’d been worried about it and we talked for a while. Turns out he just has some vague notion that ‘we’d get engaged when you got pregnant’. He did have the good grace to say this in a really sheepish and embarassed way, and agreed that I was not some brood mare to get a medal once knocked up (he is wonderful, but planning is not his forte). We discussed how it was important to me, and to him, and he said ‘we’ll have to do something about that then’.

    Cue 3 weeks of me feeling fine, then slipping back because – like – what is his timescale for this? Is it anywhere near mine? I am doing a PhD and would like to get one baby out of the way before I start my proper career and reach my mid-to-late 30’s before I can try – does he realise this means I want to get hitched in the next 2 years? We were due another talk, but I get real shy so I sent him an email, explaining more in depth my rationale for my feelings, and linked him to 3 of the essays on here. We discussed this email and he asked what I needed to feel ok about this – I said a timeline – he said 1 year – I said yes, but 6 months is better! I also said I needed to be involved, and that I love the idea of a mutual proposal but also I could look for a ring. He wasn’t keen on mutual proposal, but said he’d like me to help look for a ring (note:OMG Alexis Russell!) as it’d be me wearing it and he wants me to have something I like.

    So now, I have been looking at rings and you know what, suddenly I am not in a mad hurry anymore – I feel part of my own decision about my future, I have something to distract me, we don’t have this ‘thing’ between us, and I can talk to him like an adult. All is as it should be. So thank you all for sharing.

  • Kassandra

    I’m joining this conversation because I feel like I’m going crazy-I hope I get some advice or responses but honestly it will be good to vent to. I have been with my boyfriend for six and a half years. We have been living in the house we bought together for two years. We have discussed where we are having our wedding and some ideas for it. I thought he was going to propose last New Years Eve because it was a special anniversary for us. But he didn’t. Maybe near our six year anniversary- No. In the summer when we were both drunk at concert I told how upset I was. I told him I thought he hadn’t proposed because he hadn’t made the time to plan something and that made be feel crappy. He told me he had a plan. (He did not remember the conversation later) We went on a romantic trip to Italy- no proposal. In October I talked to him directly about this. I told him that I had expected this since January, and I was not interested in surprise because at this point it just feels like a let down every weekend he doesn’t propose. Thanksgiving, New Year’s and Christmas have all past and no proposal. Besides going crazy myself I get to enjoy all my relatives, and friends (and recently his relatives) asking why he hasn’t proposed yet. I thought the plan was for us to get married this coming summer- but now time is seriously running out.

    I feel really shitty about this and it makes me mad. I love my boyfriend and I can’t wait to be married to him. But I feel like his delay has ruined whatever proposal he will make. I can’t talk to him about it ( I already did this three months ago) If I propose I will steal his thunder. And once he proposes how can I tell him how shitty this whole situation made me feel for all of these months.

    When I get frustrated I look up sites like this and see people’s stories who have been dating 2 years- three years. That only makes me feel more frustrated and isolated. I feel like I should just be happy about our relationship and future and excited for the proposal and that I am a total bitch for being so impatient. But goddamit!

    • AMG

      I know it’s been a while since this post, but I couldn’t help replying. I feel exactly the same way, and I thought I was the only one. My boyfriend and I have been together 5 years, and it’s getting to the point where I’m not even excited anymore. After all the questions, all the conversations dancing around the issue, all of the people who have met and gotten married in time we’ve been dating, it’s come to the point where I’m just angry and frustrated. It feels like it will almost be an afterthought, or anti-climactic. I feel jealous of all of my friends whose boyfriends just can’t wait to propose. I want that. Then I think like I shouldn’t feel that way, and feel guilty.

      Has anything changed for you?