I've told my boyfriend I'm ready. We're beginning the exhausting search for a house so we can move in together. It's taken over three months for me to decide this was the right decision for us, but I've come to the conclusion it is. I'm nervous and scared but very excited. I had planned on having a little talk when I told him yes because I wanted him to understand, that although this is fine for now (more than fine, great even), at some point it won't be enough. As in, eventually, I want to get married. And while living together is all I need now, at some point, resentment for not having more will begin to set in.
So I tried to tell him all this. But I fumbled every word and failed miserably. I didn't want to sound like I was giving him a finite time limit or that at some point I was planning on issuing an ultimatum so instead I beat around the bush and said something about how I see us on a path. I tried to use the word path as a metaphor so many times I wouldn't be surprised if he never wants to take a long walk with me again.
So I only have myself to blame when he responded by saying that although he really enjoyed holding our friend's baby the night before, he wasn't ready for kids yet. "Ay me" under my breath was all I could retort with. We're told as women we can have and do anything we want, and yet when it comes to marriage, we're not supposed to do anything but wait.
Despite the many advancements on women's issues, one thing that remains mostly unchanged is the fact that many women still wait for their boyfriends to ask the big question. Modern feminism has not obviated our taste for chivalry. Perhaps we're attracted to tradition in all things romantic; perhaps it's simply animal instinct as there are more and more biological studies suggesting that males have a primordial instinct to chase a mate and females have a primordial instinct to accept the mate that wins the chase. So putting aside the possibility that we women wait to be asked because we've been marginalized for years by a dominant male population that has chosen mates for us, and assuming we wait to be asked because of our simple acceptance of evolutionary truths, this biological reason for waiting to be asked still puts women in an impossible position. This is the one thing in our lives that we can't do anything about.
If we decide before we get asked that we want to marry the person we're with, we're seen as pushy, overbearing, and as pressuring a man to do something he doesn't want to do. Yet my guess is most men would prefer we think about it beforehand so we don't have to say, "Thanks for asking, but I haven't really thought about it yet. Let me take a few days." So when do we decide? Men get the whole duration of the relationship to consider this. Once they do decide, they ask. Are women really not supposed to make up their minds till that moment? The system we've accepted still seems to imply we should just be grateful someone asked us and be ready to say yes the moment they do.
As loathe as I am to accept this antiquated tradition, no self-respecting woman wants to trick a man who doesn't want to marry her into going through with it. And I meet so many couples where it's an open secret that the girl is pressuring the guy to buy the ring already. People are always maligning these girls behind their backs for issuing the ultimatum and saying, "We've been together for five years, move it or lose it." But I feel bad for them. Aren't women allowed to ask for marriage when they want it too? She's not forcing him to do anything and he always has the option of breaking up with her. And if he does buy the ring at that point all his friends are teasing him for being whipped. Why do we only respect the women who sit primly with their mouths closed, doing nothing, and waiting?
According to standard rules, once I choose to move in with my boyfriend, I'm also expected not to want anything more. But I'd be lying if I said I'm not asking myself if I want to make a more formal commitment -- as in marriage. And if I decide that it is what I want, can I do anything aside from sitting around hoping for it? Can I drop subtle hints without pressuring him? Should I have a conversation called "let's talk about marriage" to ensure I'm open and communicating? Should I tell him that he has a certain amount of time to make up his mind so he knows exactly what to expect from me?
More and more couples are opting out of marriage these days. They move in together, they buy houses, have and raise children, all without getting formally married. For many people, this seems to work fine. But I know I'm not one of these people. I've always wanted to get married. I want the opportunity to pledge my love and devotion to the person I choose to be with, while family and friends bear witness. And I want someone to make that commitment to me. That being said, I'm not in a rush. We've only been dating a little over a year. We're both in periods of transition with our careers. Most of my friends are still single and the few that aren't have just begun to get engaged so I don't feel much social pressure. So for now, in the words of my boyfriend "moving in together just feels like the logical next step." I just haven't figured out how to explain to him, that in my mind, we haven't reached the last step. We still have one more to go.
But what are the words I can use to explain all this without sounding like I'm giving an ultimatum? I just don't know and I'm tempted to leave it alone and not say anything more because I don't want him to make up his mind because of anything I say. I want him to ask me to marry him if and only if he actually wants to marry me, not because he got sick of me asking for it. But if living together goes well, I don't want complacency either.
At this point, I'm simply focused on the moving-in part. I'm excited about creating a new home, about making dinner together in a big kitchen, about coming home to the man I love, and about having my own washer/dryer. For now, this is enough. And I'm resolved not to ask, hint, or suggest in any way that I'm asking for more. Because I'm hoping the moving toward comes sua sponte, without any prompting. Down the road if I start needing more, I'm not sure what I'll do. Maybe that will be the time to start insisting he read my columns...