Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I've been dating a wonderful guy for nearly a year. I'm 31 and he is almost 40. I would like to get married and start a family with this man, but I don't know how to get to that point. I know he wants to get married and have a family, too, I just don't know his timeline for this. My timeline is ASAP.

I don't want to scare him off, so I keep my mouth closed and continue to have fun in the relationship. I have asked some questions about kids, but can't seem to mention the M word.

I don't want to waste precious time. I've did enough of that already in my 20s. What should I do?

Leslie

Dear Leslie,

If you're afraid to bring up the M word after nearly a year of dating, there's a good chance you've sensed some undercurrents that make you afraid that doing so will indeed "scare him off." Yet this is a topic you're going to have to raise, for precisely the reason you've mentioned -- not doing so may cause you to waste even more time in a courtship that is heading nowhere.

It's understandable to want to hold back from talking about marriage in the early stages of dating. Asking someone, "Where is this relationship headed?" when the two of you barely know each other, is more than ill-advised -- it's an invitation for the other person to make a quick exit.

What is appropriate at such an early point is to tell the other person: "I know it is far too soon for either of us to know the direction our dating is going to take, but I wanted you to know that the reason I date is because I would like to find the right person to marry. I wanted to know if you're dating for the same reason." If the other person asserts that they, too, are dating for marriage, then you can ask about their timeline. "If you met the right person, how ready would you be to move toward marriage? In what time-frame could you see yourself deciding to become engaged?"

Some people will be honest about their lack of intentions. They'll admit they can't see themselves being ready for marriage in the foreseeable future. Others will insist they're marriage-minded, but hem and haw about the specifics. And quite a few will reply that they can see themselves becoming engaged within a matter of months, and married several months after that.

But even those who seem clear about their desire to get married may be reluctant to discuss the subject of marriage with someone they've been dating and have apparently developed a strong connection. They may be afraid of commitment, change, or "what if it doesn't work out?" They may be satisfied with the status quo because by simply "continuing to have fun in the relationship" they don't have to sort out difficult questions about their future or about whether the other person is really right for them.

Any of these issues can turn a yearlong courtship into a 3-to-5-year relationship with no chuppah in sight. It seems from your letter that this may have been your pattern for the past several years. Now, there is only one way to break it. You need to arrange a quiet and opportune time to tell the man you're dating that you enjoy dating him, but would like to see more come out of your courtship than simply having a good time together, and you wonder if he has thought about moving things forward.

It's possible that your introducing the subject of marriage may give this man the impetus to shake the status quo and do some hard thinking about what he wants from this courtship. If he admits that he needs some clarity in order to make decisions, you could encourage him to speak with a dating mentor, dating advisor, or therapist. In our experience, 40-year-olds who have not previously been married often benefit from help of this nature, to feel ready enough to make a decision about becoming engaged and then married.

As you muster the courage to talk with him about this, there's something else we'd like you to think about. Sometimes, people who genuinely like each other, have fun together, and feel emotionally connected, haven't really developed much depth to their relationship. They're often quite capable of relating to each other on a deeper level, but haven't engaged in enough serious conversation to learn about each other's many dimensions. The couple maintains the status quo because they like each other but can't see themselves marrying someone they can only relate to on a superficial level. If, during your talk with your dating partner, you realize that this issue may be keeping the two of you from moving forward, take a look at Dating Maze #266, which lists questions that may help you delve beneath the surface.

It may very well be that the man you are dating doesn't want to deal with questions about marriage, and that once you ask him about the future, he will decide to leave. If that's the case, then the sooner you know, the sooner you can end things, heal, and move on.

We wish you success in navigating the dating maze,

Rosie & Sherry