Dear Rosie & Sherry,

 

I'm a 25-year-old woman who has been dating a 26-year-old man for the past six months. I recently became certified as a nurse-midwife, and Danny is a software designer. We were introduced by mutual friends, and I liked Danny from the very start. However, I really wasn't so focused on the dynamics between us, because I was concentrating on finding a job in my field and getting acclimated to a new hospital. I just knew that I liked spending time with Danny. It seems like before I could catch my breath, we'd been dating for only four months, and I started to hear different versions of, "It's time to get engaged. What are you waiting for?" from friend, relatives, and even Danny himself.

I really like Danny, and I can see the possibility of marrying him… But right now I'm not ready to make that decision. I feel like we need to date longer, especially now that I don't have the job-related pressures to preoccupy me. Danny has told me that I'm the "One" for him, and he can't understand why I'm hesitating. I'm afraid to tell him that I need more time, because everyone says that if I do, I'll lose him. I don't want that to happen, but I'm not ready to get engaged yet, either. Please help!

Sheila

Dear Sheila:

From the volume of letters we receive, it appears that yours is a common dilemma. It often happens that one dating partner is ready to move forward to engagement and marriage while the other is “not yet ready.” Each person is different, and people become emotionally invested in their relationships at different rates. Sometimes, the one who wants to more forward becomes concerned over what appears to be the other’s lack of commitment. However, they don’t realize how normal this is, and it does not reflect upon either the quality of the relationship, whether the partners are right for each other, or even if the other person will feel ready to become engaged in the future.

What’s usually needed is a bit more time.

Unfortunately, many times the one who wants to move forward can begin to pressure the other to make a decision. Family and friends may also begin to "strongly suggest" engagement, and simply cannot understand what they’re waiting for! (You are only in your 20s, but for those in their 30s and above, this “time pressure” is much more pronounced.) They may feel that the couple is right for each other, and their own internal timetable tells them that after this certain period of time, the couple "must" be ready to get married.

They don’t understand that often, all that's needed is a bit more time to feel ready to make such an important decision.

Occasionally, a dater wants more time because she’s trying to resolve an issue in the relationship (such as different goals) or come to terms with something that's really bothering her about the person she’s dating (such as something in his background or a personality trait or behavior). Experience has shown that these issues usually get resolved within the first few months of dating, or not at all. In fact, some couples struggle for many months without coming to terms with a serious issue, and belatedly realize that they're not right for each other. In situations like these, more time is not helpful.

Speak It Out

This doesn't seem to be your situation. It sounds to us that you simply need more time to focus on your relationship, delve into certain issues, and see each other in different circumstances and surroundings. And you simply need more time to process what you are experiencing, and feel ready to switch from being a single woman to a married one. These are good reasons for dating longer and waiting to make a decision.

Many times, once a person knows that she can take this time, she relaxes and everything proceeds more quickly. If she continues to feel pressure from other people, however, she'll have a harder time reaching that point of decision.

We've seen what can happen when someone succumbs to pressure and says "Yes" before she feels ready. True, often the person they've agreed to marry really is right for them, and the marriage turns out to be a good one. However, the engagement period is tortuous. She can repeatedly agonize over whether she's made the right decision and vacillate between going forward with the wedding and calling off the engagement. She may have bouts of anguished crying and run to therapists or rabbis for advice about what to do. The guy winds up suffering, too, because instead of spending the engagement period harmoniously planning the wedding and their lives together, he winds up worrying over the fact that his bride is emotionally drained and stressed.

A pressured decision often leads to a broken engagement.

Sometimes, following a “pressured decision,” the engagement ends. This is tragic in two ways. In some instances, they were truly right for each other, but the undo pressure caused one (or both) of them to make an irrational decision to break it off. Alternatively, they were indeed not right for each other, and they could have been spared a lot of agony if they would have broken up before this pressured decision to get engaged.

We suggest that you talk to the man you are dating, and explain your feelings in a way he can accept. You could say, "I enjoy going out with you and I really think our relationship is moving forward. I believe we have a lot of potential. But up until a few weeks ago, I had so much going on, on the outside, that I couldn't devote enough energy to building our relationship. I feel that I need a little more time to go through the process, and I hope that you will be patient enough to let me do that.”

How much time will you need? You will need to gauge how much time the man you are dating can go without losing confidence in the future. It can take a number of weeks, or less, but we don't recommend stretching this out much longer when your dating partner feels so ready. One of the dangers of taking longer is that your relationship can deteriorate due to the build-up of frustration.

At the very least, the conversation you have with him will tell you a lot about his ability to be sensitive to your needs. And it will serve as a good test case for how well you can problem-solve together which, after all, is a foundation of any good marriage.

We wish you success in navigating the dating maze.

Rosie & Sherry