Carolyn Hax: How long is too long to wait for a partner who claims to not be ready to commit to marriage?

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My girlfriend and I broke up this year because I was ready to get engaged and she was not. She said she didn’t know when she would feel differently and didn’t want to make me wait too long. I was hurt and disappointed but agreed with her sentiment and we parted ways for a few weeks. At which point she contacted me, saying she regretted breaking up, that she does think she wants to get married, and that she hoped I would consider giving her a second chance.

Now that we are back together (yes, she was worth giving a second chance), I’m conflicted about what to do next. I still want to propose to her, but to do so too soon seems undignified. Now what? I really don’t want to start our marriage by begging her to take me.

Dignity vs. Desire

No, you don’t, but not because it’ll make you look or even feel bad. You don’t want to beg because you want her to go into a marriage aware of what life with you is like, and eager to live that life, period. Pressure makes bad decisions.

Please figure this out by paying attention to her, to see whether you and she are genuinely at a point where you want to be together, all in, regardless of marital status.

Maybe you need more time to be sure this is right for you, which would be understandable so soon after she walked. But when you do feel ready, instead of proposing to her, maybe explain to her that you won’t propose this time — you’ll leave it to her to bring it up when she wants to talk about it.

Re: Dignity vs Desire: I am exactly in this person’s shoes, except that I am female, and my boyfriend broke up because I want to be married and he doesn’t. Now he is reconsidering — but if I just wait around for him to bring up marriage, I will feel like I am giving all the power to him. There has to be another answer.


There is a Part 2 to my answer, since, yes, you don’t want to hang around indefinitely. To avoid that, you can decide privately how long you’re willing to wait, and wait for just that time.

Another thought: Stay apart during his “reconsidering” phase, and get together only when he’s ready to commit.

You can also talk about it with him: “OK, you’re reconsidering — what does that mean? It’s kind of awkward for me just to wait, but I think it will help if I know your reasoning.”

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