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Jag Carrao


The Rules Redux: How To Be Engaged By Christmas

Posted: 11/16/2009 1:11 pm

What does the girl who’s been happily dating her boyfriend for several months really want for Christmas this year?


An engagement ring.


Christmas music and movies have helped stoke seasonal-hopes for happy endings.  Think of the lovers who “face unafraid, the plans that [they] made, while walking in a Winter Wonderland.”  Or Miracle on 34th Street, in which Santa helps shepherd a couple to marriage plans over the holidays.


That isn’t to suggest that such aspirations for a Christmas or Hanukkah or New Year’s engagement are culturally contrived.  To the contrary, NOTHING could be more natural than for a woman in love with hopes for marriage and possibly children to wish to see her dreams reciprocated during a season centering around family, tradition, and reflections on the year behind and that ahead.


I’m not talking about a movie timeline, like the one referenced above, where Maureen O’Hara meets her handsome neighbor on Thanksgiving and he pops the question on Christmas Day.  I’m talking about the couple that’s been happily dating for at least nine months, that is in an exclusive relationship, in which the man has unambiguously declared his love, and at least hinted at his intentions for the future.


The weeks and months leading up to engagement may sound like an ideal, shining time for a woman – and in many ways it is: you’ve moved beyond the awkwardness of early dating to greater intimacy, security and trust.  But as I can attest from my coaching practice, it can also be an incredibly nerve-wracking time as well!  You’re doing your darnedest to practice patience, keep things light and focus on the present, and yet all these feelings of doubt, ambivalence and even resentment keep bubbling up – particularly if you’ve been dating for over a year, or even years, plural!


Why?  Well, because something is awry in the balance of your relationship.  Your boyfriend – whom you dearly love – appears to be getting most, if not all, of his needs met.  He’s got a lover, a committed girlfriend, and possibly even a faux-wife if you’ve fallen into the error of acting like you were married – e.g. cooking for him, spending too much time with him, letting him see you whenever he wants, keeping clothes at his place, etc.  In fact, he might be happy with this arrangement for years.  I mean, why not?


But what about you?  Are you getting all of your needs yet?  My hunch is “no,” otherwise you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog.  Maybe you’d like to have children one day – and if he’s not going to end up being the father, you might want to make other plans.  Maybe you’re thinking of a career switch or geographic move, and don’t want to keep putting your life on hold while he makes up his mind.  Or maybe you’re just tired of seeing all your friends getting engaged and married around you – and wondering why your boyfriend seems assiduously dedicated to not noticing the trend.


So what can you do?  Here are few pointers:


1)      Check your timing.  When it comes to fumbling your part of the engagement process, the mistakes women make fall into one of two categories.  They either bring up marriage too early (in the first few months of dating) – scaring men away -- or let the issue slide for years as their frustration and despair grows.  In a recent seminar in London, The Rules authors Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider told their audience that it’s okay to ask where things are going about seven months into the relationship.  In the “ideal” Rules timeline, he proposes after nine months.  Certainly by a year you should know whether he plans to marry you or not.


2)      Inventory the relationship.  Who initiated the relationship?  If you met on-line, did you respond to his ad – or vice versa?  Who’s done most of the contacting?  Has he said he loved you, and asked for exclusivity?    Obviously not all relationships are headed toward marriage – however long they may have lasted.  But if he was the pursuer, and you’ve done him the honor of letting him retain that role throughout the courtship, then your odds of engagement are vastly better than if you picked him up, called him, asked him out, etc.


3)      Stop making excuses for him – as in “he’s still scarred by his first marriage,” or “he’s under too much pressure at work,” or he can’t commit because of childhood trauma, and other such mind games.   Also, don’t let him snooker you into pretending that marriage isn’t important or doesn’t matter IF it IS important to YOU and DOES matter to YOU.  In He’s Just Not That Into You, Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo argue that “Love cures commitment-phobia”:


“Every man you have ever dated who has said he doesn’t want to get married or doesn’t believe in marriage or has ‘issues’ with marriage, will, rest assured, someday be married.  It will just never be with you.  Because he’s not really saying he doesn’t want to get married.  He’s saying he doesn’t want to get married to you.”


Harsh – but liberating truth – which, the sooner you accept, the sooner you’ll be able to move out from under the deadweight of a potentially going-nowhere relationship so that your real future husband can find you!


4)      Scale back on togetherness.  Of course you want to be with him day in and day out – that’s why you want to get married!  But if you’re with him all or even most of the time, you’ve robbed him of any incentive to move things forward.  Ellen and Sherrie say it best in The Rules II:


“In general, the way to get a man to ask you to marry him in a reasonable amount of time is not to live with him before you’re engaged or married and to continue to see him only three times a week, even though by this time you want to be inseparable.  If that doesn’t work, you may have to shake things up a little bit – go away for a weekend with a girlfriend, cancel a Saturday night date, get very busy at work, mention that you are renewing your apartment lease, and be mysterious about your activities.  All of the above should make him anxious to propose.”


5) Set some internal deadlines.  How long do you want to date your boyfriend without being engaged?  While I mention that he should know where this is going after a year, maybe you’re not marriage-minded yet – or are still reeling from a divorce.  Once you HAVE decided that you want to marry him, set in mind a month when you’d like to aim for resolution.  At that point it’s perfectly okay for you to ask him his intentions.  He doesn’t need to respond with a proposal – but if you don’t get a clear sense that he’s either planning something or seriously thinking in that direction, you need to be prepared to walk.


Even if you’re in the somewhat early stages of dating – nowhere near where you should be talking about marriage – the holidays DO provide an ideal time to look for signs of whether the man you’re seeing is serious about you.  Does he give you a romantic – or practical gift?  The man who gives you inexpensive lingerie from T.J. Maxx is more likely to end up proposing than the one who gives you an expensive cashmere scarf from Loro Piana.  Does make plans in advance for New Year’s Eve?  Does he include you in family gatherings?  Does he talk about what you’ll be doing “next year”?  Does he want to be with you, even when you’ve come down with the seasonal flu?  If he’s making you feel warm and cozy this winter – then there could yet be time to plan a June wedding.  But if you’re feeling a bit drafty, then maybe multi-dating should be on your list of New Year’s Resolutions.


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