The Engagement Ultimatum

Love should be fun!
Photo by Andrew Einhorn 

I write a lot about marriage, and relationships for that matter. I have railed about the difference between a marriage and a wedding, and I have talked about what makes a good spouse. But before you can really get to any of that, there is another issue that we ladies struggle with: the engagement ultimatum. It’s sort of the dirty little secret of women, if you will. Many of us want to throw down the ultimatum, but we don’t want to talk about it because, frankly, it’s embarrassing.

Let’s paint the picture, shall we? You’ve been with a guy for, say, about four years. You’ve lived together just as long. You have basically joined your lives together--maybe you even share a bank account--and yet, no ring. You have tried to ask him about it, he’s stonewalled you. You have gotten drunk and cried to him about it, and he carries you to bed, tucks you in and offers no explanation.

The picture I have painted? My own! I was with my husband for five years before he proposed to me, and I was desperate to get married to him. I knew that I wanted to be with him forever...and I was perplexed by the fact that he didn’t want to put a ring on my finger and make our love official for everyone to see. When I had nearly reached the height of my frustration on the issue, several people asked me, “Will you leave him if he doesn't marry you?”

That was my wake up call.

There are many women who throw down the marriage ultimatum of “if you don’t propose to me, I’m going to leave you.” But when the question was posed to me, as eager as I might have been for a marital commitment, the LAST thing I wanted was to be without the man I loved. When I began to look at the relationship with him in that context, I began to see that what I was looking for was permanence...but marriage, I realized, is no guarantee of that!  Marriages dissolve all the time. What I wanted was love, deep and real love, and after all those years, isn’t that what I already had?

So off I went to the one place experience had taught me could help me: therapy. No shame in my game. I knew I had a choice: either get over the marriage question and be happy with what I had, or ruin my relationship trying to wrap my head around why I wasn’t married. Instead of focusing on the lack of “engagement” in my life, I started to see that what I had with my then-boyfriend was perhaps a little unconventional, but nonetheless awesome.

If you are lucky enough to be in love, then you are lucky enough. Once I let go of the expectation of marriage, only then did our relationship really skyrocket--it became a different kind of love between us, and a new kind of happiness--one without the pressure of marriage looming over our heads. And that was when it happened--he proposed to me. Five years, three dogs, and two cats later, he proposed.

The best part of being engaged, for me, was knowing that it wasn’t coerced; I didn’t force him into something he wasn’t ready to do. I knew that he asked me to marry him because he wanted to and it came straight from the heart. Everyone gets to the places in their hearts at different times....

Some people are ready for big steps before others. In my case, I knew I was ready for marriage before he did, and that was okay, but I needed to give him space to make his own decision. A marriage is a partnership between two loving, consenting adults. Giving an ultimatum for marriage immediately takes away the joy of having your partner get down on one knee and ask for your hand. It diminishes the magic of the moment.

Life shouldn’t be a series of decisions based on a series of ultimatums. If you are thinking of taking of hike on your man if he doesn’t propose, then you should probably should pack your stuff and go; if you don’t love them enough to wait, then you certainly don’t love them enough to fill a lifetime. As for the unlucky partner who gets the ultimatum laid down on them? There is nothing cool about another person bullying you into something you aren’t ready for... plain and simple.

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