Dear Rosie & Sherry,
You provided some wonderful advice to me in 2005, which was published as Dating Maze #186. I used your advice to good advantage to weed out wonderful people, who were simply not looking to get married.
A year ago, I met someone very special. I really liked her and followed your instructions and made sure she was interested in marriage. We both agreed that nine to twelve months would be a good amount of time to get to know each other. In that time we met each other's families and friends, and spent quality time together. "This is the one," I said to myself.
So when I raised the topic of getting engaged, she became very upset and angry. Not exactly what I expected. She said that she wants to marry me, but that she needs another year to get her "sense of self" worked out. Also she says that she now feels pressured and would like a year of dating without pressure.
I cannot imagine enduring another year of dating! We're both not getting any younger, and I feel like this is putting me at risk. She might request another dating "extension" next year!
Of course, she is very special and we do have a year history. But I've been burned before. And I get a sense that I'm being made to be the bad guy.
So my question: Should I wait the year?
We sense the frustration that prompted you to write us a second time: being ready for marriage, finding someone who seems to be "the one," and then discovering that in spite of your belief that she is also ready, that's not the case. And this, after making a concerted effort to date someone who is as marriage-minded as you are!
It seems to us that most daters express one of the following five approaches:
1) "I'm not thinking of marriage. Dating is a social outlet for me."
2) "I'm not thinking of marriage, but I'd like to be in a relationship. I just don't want a long-term commitment or a family at this stage in my life. "
3) "I'm not thinking of marriage right now, but if the right person comes along I'll be open to thinking about it."
4) "I'd like to get married, but I don't know if I'm really ready. Maybe when I meet the right person, I'll realize I'm ready."
5) "I'd like to get married and I am ready to look for someone who's right for me and build a relationship that will progress to marriage."
The short analysis of your situation is: She's a 4 and you're a 5.
It's true that unlike many women you dated in the past, your current dating partner is at least thinking about the possibility of marriage. But thinking about marriage and getting married are very different. As we wrote to you last year, "You cannot even assume that when they tell you they want to wait a year or two to get engaged, they will actually be ready to make a commitment at that point in time. What they may be doing is pushing off something they are not yet ready to do."
We're not going to tell you that there's no chance the woman you are dating will be ready and willing to get married in the foreseeable future. She might, for example, tell you that she is determined to address any barriers she may have to moving forward (fear of commitment, for example), or to discover the personal issues that might be causing her self-doubt (such as concerns about knowing how to be a good marriage partner, or repeating the mistakes she saw in her parent's marriage).
Therapy is the best way for her to discover those barriers and work on removing them. If she chooses to work with a therapist who uses a goal-oriented approach, she may make a great deal of progress in a matter of several sessions, or in a matter of several months. Because of her determination, you might be willing to wait for her to go through the therapeutic process, even though there is no guarantee she will decide that she wants to marry you when her therapy concludes.
We're much less optimistic when someone who has been dating for a while asks for more time and expects to work things out on their own. In our experience, if she's come this far in a courtship and hasn't discovered or resolved the issues that are holding her back, she won't be able to do so without guidance.
There's another scenario that we've seen a number of times: someone is "pretty sure" the person she's dating is right for her, but is bothered by some aspect of his personality, background, value system, or way of relating to her that she's never been able to accept. Event though she may hope that in time, she will be able to work through the issue, another year or two usually does not make a difference. Experience has shown us that when an individual cannot come to terms with significant issues such as these during the early stage of a courtship, she never will.
You're now standing at a crossroads, with three different paths to choose from. Before you make a choice, we suggest that you have a talk with the woman you are dating. Ask her to clarify the type of issues she believes she must resolve, and whether she has decided to do so with the guidance of a therapist. Here are your possibilities:
1) Wait the year (or more) that she feels she needs to sort things through. We expect this will be very difficult for you without putting your dating partner under "pressure" to come to a decision. In addition, there is a strong likelihood that the relationship between you will start to deteriorate after a few months, as you tire of waiting because you are ready to move to the next level and she isn't. Furthermore, what happens if a year from now she announces that she's still "not ready," or comes to realize that she has been spinning her wheels trying to make something work that really wasn't right for her?
2) You muster the patience to wait because she is determined to try to resolve her issues with the help of a therapist. Because you know she is making a concerted effort, it may be easier for you to not pressure her about making a decision. If you make this choice, both of you should be mindful of the fact that while she will try to resolve her issues in a short period of time, no one can set an arbitrary time frame for the process. Both of you should also understand that even though you may be very supportive of her efforts, there may come a time that you tire of waiting and decide to move on.
3. You break up with her, give yourself time to heal, and move forward. If you do so, we suggest you close the door, lock it, and leave the key with someone. In other words, cut off your ties with each other and move on without looking back and without hoping that she'll decide she is ready and ask to revisit the courtship. If this happens at some time in the future, and you're not involved with someone, you can at that time consider whether you want to re-start things.
If you make choice number three and begin dating other people, we have the following suggestion to avoid a misunderstanding in the future: When you reach the point in your courtship that you are ready to let your dating partner know that you are dating solely in order to find the right person to marry (i.e. sometime between the first and fourth date), ask her the following:
- When two people come to the realization that they're right for each other, how long do you think they should wait before getting engaged?
- How long should the engagement be?
- Is this a time frame you are comfortable with for yourself?
Anyone who is dating for marriage should be ready to follow the momentum of a promising relationship through engagement and marriage. As things develop, the daters should be able to clarify their separate and mutual goals and expectations, reach a consensus about major differences of opinion, and feel they agree about the paths they'd like their lives to take, how fast they want to travel, and how they believe they can resolve any bumps they may encounter.
Even though many people seem to think that they need to date for a year or more before they will be able to make a decision about marriage, our experience has shown us that most couples who are focused on building a relationship that will lead to marriage can do so in substantially less time.
Once two people decide that they want to marry, we recommend they have a short engagement. Engagement is a time to plan a wedding, make any logistical changes that are needed for the couple to be able to set up a home together, and set up that home. It isn't a time to work out issues that should have been addressed before engagement. While we've seen some "older" engaged couples plan their weddings in a month or less because they were concerned "cold feet" would derail a longer engagement, there's seldom a reason why two people cannot plan a wedding and set up a home in four to six months.
We hope that this discussion has helped you gain the clarity to make a decision. And, in the not-too-distant future, we hope to receive a letter from you that joyfully announces your marriage to Ms. Right, whomever she may be.
Rosie & Sherry