The longer answer included not-small-amounts of frustration and doubt, much of which I’ve hesitated to write down. But this heartfelt post from Cassie of Tales From the Trenchs on being ready for a lifelong commitment before your partner really struck a chord with me, and reminded me of what it feels like to love someone who loves you but isn’t quite ready to take the marriage step.
Long-time readers will know that my husband and I met in high school and dated pretty much continually since. I first started thinking about getting married a couple years after college graduation, at which point we have been dating 7 years. CB was less ready than I was. For a while I thought that CB didn’t propose because there was something wrong with me. It was a topic of conversation that brought up a lot of hurt feelings and made me felt really unwanted. Finally, as I was deciding on my graduate school applications, I put on my big-girl pants and decided no more tears, no more inner turmoil. I know what I want, he knows (or should know) what he wants, and we just have to figure out if what we want aligns.
One night I sat CB down and said something along these lines: “I love you and I want to build a life with you, which for me means getting married. If you do not feel this way, that’s OK. But you need to be fair to me and let me know so that I can make my decisions accordingly. If you do want to build a life with me, then we need to be talking about engagement within a year.” I believe I even rehearsed this little speech.
What I tell my girlfriends who come to me with tales of woe on why they aren’t engaged is this: first, you have to decide: are you willing to stay in this relationship if it never results in marriage? And if the answer is no, then second question: how long are you willing to wait? There is nothing wrong with NOT getting married. The problem arises when there is a mismatch between the two parties on what they want. Also, laying your cards on the table isn’t giving an ultimatum. You have value, your feelings and desires have value, and your time has value. Your partner should respect all of these above, even if what he/she wants may not necessarily coincide with what you want. This is what “laying the cards on the table” should get you – honesty and respect.
(Also, don’t believe there is something wrong with you if you want to get married. Wanting to get married doesn’t mean you are not a feminist, doesn’t mean you are too old-fashioned, doesn’t mean you are unenlightened.)
We had the “do we want the same thing” conversation in April 2010. He proposed in April 2011. The funny thing is that since we have been engaged, and then since our wedding, CB has been full force “in it to win it,” marriage-edition. He has been supportive through a cross-country marriage (our first year, no less), given me time when I needed to focus on job recruiting, and demonstrated willingness to move to wherever my job lands us. And I really believe that we got here because I was honest with myself and what I wanted, and I was honest with him.