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Q: So to start, I am 23 and my boyfriend is 28. We have been together for four years now. After about a year together things got serious, we moved in soon after, and have been living together for about three years. I never wanted to get married (and yes, I've been in love before). I saw my parents relationship turn to something horrible, and I have always said I didn't see why people need a piece of paper to prove anything. Until now. I want to marry my boyfriend.
We have had the "future talk" and he says that he doesn't know what he would do with out me and that he knows that I am the woman he wants to marry. With our four-year anniversary coming up this month, I have brought up the marriage thing again. He says that he knows he will ask me but that he does not know when. He said that he would like to be more financially stable, and that there is nothing wrong with our relationship so why do we need to change it. He also points out the fact that he has at least three friends that have been in relationships for seven to 15 years and are not married still.
I have never said, "I want to be married within ...," and I have always said that I would never give a guy an ultimatum. I have said that when I'm ready, I will make sure the guy knows, and then it's up to him to make his move. I've said that if he did not make a move in the time I thought was acceptable, the relationship would be over. Although I did not state that five years is my deadline, I did make it obvious that five years is my time frame before I would walk out. When I said that I would just leave, my bf said he didn't think that was true -- that I wouldn't just up and leave over getting married. I explained that if I gave a guy an ultimatum I would always feel that he only married me b/c I was ready, even though he wasn't. I would just leave and never look back and think "what if" because I would know that I put everything I could into the relationship and it didn’t work. Soooo ... is it wrong to walk away after five years if we are not engaged -- or if our relationship is good should a piece of paper not really matter?
– Hopeless Romantic, Westborough
A: HR, you say you're not giving him an ultimatum, but "I did make it obvious that five years is my time frame" means you have. Just because you've passive-aggressive about the deadline doesn't mean it's not an ultimatum. He knows that if he doesn't make a move within the next year, he may lose you. And he's already said he's calling your bluff. He doesn't think you'll actually leave. He's matching your passive-aggressive behavior with his own. Awesome.
It seems crazy to walk from a good relationship because you've set an arbitrary deadline based on what makes you feel comfortable. Wanting a proposal after four years isn't crazy. But what does it mean to you? Why do you need it? Do you fear that he's not being honest about his intentions? Is this about needing security? Or is it just that you feel as though a person should be able to commit after five years and that there's something wrong if he can't?
You seem to know that the important thing isn't the wedding or the paper. You know that it's more important that you both share the same goals and that you both intend to follow through. Your boyfriend seems to share your promise and your plan, except for the marriage thing. Are you worried that he won't follow through? If so, you need to explain that to him.
It seems to me that the two of you define "marriage" rather differently. For him, it's a party celebrating what already exists. For you, it's about solidifying a promise.
Abandon all deadlines. Abandon all rules. Just sit down and talk to him about what you want without being passive-aggressive about it. Instead of threatening each other, talk about what you want and how you can get there without rushing him or making you wait 15 years. That seems to be what’s missing here -- a simple conversation to come up with a plan that suits both your needs.
Readers? Should she walk if he doesn't meet the deadline? After four years, should he know? Is this about him not knowing? Is it OK to want to wait 15 years if the status quo is good? And ... is this just about different perceptions and definitions of marriage? Share.
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Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.