Playing The Wedding Waiting Game

Katie Young
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Wednesday - January 21, 2009

My friends Jack and Jessica dated for nine years before they finally got married. Another friend, Ashley, waited 13 years before realizing her boyfriend was not likely to ever propose to her. And another friend, Sasha, gave her boyfriend an ultimatum after just a year of dating: “Marry me or I’m out of here!” (He didn’t marry her, and she broke up with him.)

So how long is too long to wait for someone to pop the marriage question? Waiting around for your significant other to take your relationship to the next level can seem like agony for someone who’s ready to take the plunge.

This is the situation I’ve seen many a friend in during the past 10 years. The woman is typically ready for marriage first and ends up waiting impatiently to see if the guy is ever going to take that next step.

Just the wait alone can cause a break-up, especially when the frustrated woman nags her man about getting engaged, wondering aloud if he’s ever going to “man up” or if she’s just wasting her time. The guy gets sick of being harassed about marriage every other day and, not wanting to be told what to do, wonders why he’d marry someone who won’t stop bugging him. Threats don’t work either.


We all know that men and women are fundamentally different because, in part, of the way we are raised. But what does this mean exactly when it comes to marriage?

“The expectations of what marriage means to an individual are considerably different for men and women,” explains Thomas Cummings, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in private practice in Kailua. “Men grow up being taught that marriage is a big responsibility, and it can be a burden for some men. For women, marriage is the goal.”

Typically, he says, when a woman gets engaged, her friends squeal with delight and want to know all the romantic details. Men, on the other hand, tease their friends with jokes like, “Oh, you finally gave in, huh?”

Cummings, a former president of the Hawaii Psychological Association, says that this difference is referred to as “gender socialization.” How a person views marriage depends on how intensely certain messages were presented to that person in his or her youth.

“The way you hear your father or your uncle talking about marriage heavily influences you,” he says. “If someone talks lovingly about his family and wife, it will influence you much differently than if that person makes a lot of negative comments about being married.”

Add to this a culture that believes men do not age as quickly as women so therefore men feel they have more time, Cummings says.

Women, on the other hand, feel more rushed, especially if they want to have children. It’s no wonder that women typically reach that “marriage ready” point faster than men.

Cummings says there is no exact number for how long you should wait for your significant other to propose. However, there are some important signs to look for to make certain your relationship is on the right path.

The first few months of a new relationship are for building trust and learning about the other person. But once you have been dating a few months, is the man making a step toward the exclusivity of your relationship?

Then, is he introducing you to his family and friends? This should happen within the first year of dating, says Cummings.

The next level to watch for is if the guy is consulting you on major decisions in his life, such as relocation, taking on additional debt or switching jobs.

The next step, says Cummings, is does the guy consult you about what he does with his free time? He should do this because being with you is important to him. So when he has free time, does he choose to spend it with you about 75 percent of the time instead of calling his buddies to do something?

“If he’s not doing these things, then waiting two years is too long,” says Cummings. “The more he’s not doing these things, the shorter the time you should be willing to wait.”

One of the most important steps, he adds, is watching to see if the guy is open to talking about your relationship and making sure it’s not always you who brings it up. If, after six months of dating, you still don’t know where you stand and you’re not moving forward, it’s a bad sign.

“The average guy who doesn’t have commitment phobia will talk about the relationship within a month or two,” says Cummings. “If he’s not avoiding talking about it and all those other signs of behavior line up about future commitment, he’s probably a good bet.”

Also watch to make sure your guy is able to problem-solve in a discussion with you. Is he willing to compromise? Is he engaged in the discussion and not tuning out all the time? Is he agreeing with whatever you say reluctantly or is he making sacrifices to show his commitment to you?

Finally, don’t make excuses for a man who won’t talk about the future of your relationship. I’ve seen far too many women make excuses for their men, hoping one day the guy will magically flip a switch and be ready to commit if they just wait around long enough.

“I don’t buy this ‘I can’t think about the relationship’ stuff,” says Cummings. “If he’s not willing to talk about your relationship and give some indication about his ability to commit, then it’s time to move on.”

No woman wants to look back and say, “I shouldn’t have wasted so many years of my life on a guy who would never commit to me.”

So be smart about it and watch for the signs. If your relationship keeps moving forward and you’re comfortable with the pace, then keep it going. But if marriage and children are what you really want from life and all your other relationship signs are pointing to “no,” then maybe it’s time to find someone who’s willing and able to go down that path with you because you’re worth it.

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