Ask Dr. V, Why Won’t He Propose?

Venus Nicolino holds a Ph.D. in Psychology. Her column addresses Love, Life and Relationships. This week: why won’t he propose?

Dear Dr. V,

My boyfriend and I have been together for almost seven years. I’m going to be 35 years old and would love to get married and have children. We talk about marriage and we talk about children but he doesn’t seem to be moving in that direction.

When I bring up the topic, he seems to be really into it and I think, “ok, he’s gonna pop the question this weekend.” Or I find myself thinking about future holidays and birthdays as perhaps the time when he’ll ask me to truly be his partner.

But the holiday or birthday just comes and goes like any other. I know I could think of it as, “it’s just a piece of paper” or “why do you need to get married to truly feel like someone’s partner.”

The bottom line is that I do want to get married and I feel it is indeed a sacred institution I want to be a part of. I’m ready to have children and have a family but I’m afraid if I press the issue, I’ll end up alone … so I just stay quiet and in waiting. What should I do?

Kate from Connecticut

Dear Kate,

What particularly struck me about your question was what you said at the end, “I’m afraid if I press the issue, I’ll end up alone … so I just stay quiet and in waiting.” Let’s consider this for a moment.

The way you phrased it, it sounds like your fear is holding you back from taking action, in this case, it is the action that could lead to the emotional and spiritual fulfillment that comes with a healthy marriage. I’ll have to make some assumptions to do so, but let’s go ahead and dissect (and hopefully defuse) this fear.

I assume your fear is that if you bring up marriage in a more direct manner, as in, “OK buddy, we’ve been together seven years. How about it?” your boyfriend might feel undue pressure from you, become upset or worse. Yet you also said he has seemed receptive to the idea of marriage when you broached it in the past. Perhaps the ball is, in fact, in your court. Maybe, to a certain degree, he needs you to pressure him a little bit. I don’t mean to suggest you should couch the subject in a demanding, overbearing fashion, but when it’s up for discussion again, simply ask him “When?” Tell him in a direct but gentle way that you want to get married now and you feel the time is right.

What is the worst that will happen? The absolute worst thing that could happen? Judging from how you describe your relationship I don’t think it’d be a deal-breaker. It would just mean you and your partner have some work to do, either with each other or on your own. Your boyfriend’s issues with marriage could have nothing at all to do with your relationship. He could simply be frightened of taking one of the Big Steps we face in our lives.

What’s the best that could happen? You’ll be engaged with a wedding date to look forward to.

Our society puts all kinds of silly, fairy tale requirements on the process and ceremony of getting married. Women are taught unless a series of events unfolds in precisely the right way: The man must get down on one knee and speak the magic words, whereupon he opens the jewelry box revealing the Ring. The Wedding Day itself must be absolutely perfect, and Lord help you if the floral arrangements don’t match the bridesmaids’ gowns, their marriage will be a failure from the start.

But what does any of this have to do with a couple knowing how to love, care for and support each other unconditionally? So much focus is put on the trappings and symbolism of the wedding day that the meaning of the marriage is lost in the fray.

On the other hand, men are taught to fear marriage and that any hope of enjoying their life after marriage is gone, sex will evaporate, etc. Taken out of context the silliness and falsehood of these myths is self-apparent, but they are ingrained in us from when we are young, courtesy of the movies, television shows, advertisements and so on. Some of these tapes may be running in your boyfriend’s mind. Comfort him and assure him that your married life will not look like a sitcom or bad stand-up comedy bit.

I bring this up because I would hate to see you held back by these distractions. From what you tell me you and your boyfriend have a strong, enduring relationship. In some ways getting married may really be a formality, as it sounds like the two of you have already made a deep and meaningful commitment to each other, the wedding will just make it “official.”

This is not meant as a dismissal of the importance of marriage, but more to reinforce your faith in the strength of your relationship. True, traditionally it is the man’s role to be the initiator of the proposal, but the times are changing; the way women and men relate to each other and themselves is evolving. You may need to be the one who says “Let’s do it, let’s get married.” That’s not to say once you’ve got this thing figured out you couldn’t say to your man “OK, but we gotta do this right. Get down on one knee and propose …” Or by that point he might be hip enough to what is going on and take the initiative himself.

Good luck,

Dr. V

Note: All information in the Ask Dr. V column is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment, please feel free to call or email Dr. V, or consult your doctor.

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