By Esther Mann, LCSW
This week’s letter is being answered by Jennifer Mann, LMSW.
I have been in a committed relationship with a wonderful man for four years. I desperately want to get married. I was widowed as a young woman and I miss everything about being married. I want to share a home and a life together. We are both Orthodox and will not live together before we are married.
I am in my early forties and he is a few years older than I am. Why hasn’t he popped the question in four years? I ask him all the time and I am met with responses that make sense for a few months and then my doubt rears its ugly head and so the cycle continues.
For example, he will tell me that he has never been married and he worries he will not make a good husband. He likes his space and doesn’t want to make me feel like an intrusion. Another one of his concerns is that he does not get along with one of my teenagers and he doesn’t think living in the house together would be good for anyone.
I stay because the time we spend together is so wonderful and I love the guy. He treats me like a princess both emotionally and financially. We have amazing, stimulating conversation; he’s the funniest person I know. He buys me lavish gifts and has helped me with bills over the years. He is my dream man, my soul mate—except that he doesn’t want to get married.
Any advice you have or tips you can give me to convince him that marriage is wonderful? What can I try to change his mind?
Thanks for your response,
Dear Wanting More,
When I received your e‑mail, my attention was immediately focused on the relationship between your boyfriend and your teenage child. I e‑mailed you for more information and you shared that you felt it wasn’t relevant to the situation.
My first concern is always about the children. This applies to you and everyone: Children before intimate relationships. If there is something you know of, or something you suspect, or your child has told you anything suspicious, you act immediately. If this is the case, your question is moot because you need to toss this guy to the curb and address the issue right away. I am puzzled why you would not share with me what the issue is between your boyfriend and child. It is pertinent to the situation, and without knowing what that is, I am prevented from a complete response. The rest of my response applies only if the aforementioned is not an issue.
There are certain situations when doubt acts as an enemy. It prevents us from living authentically or enjoying something we should indeed appreciate. However, there are other times when we must listen to our doubt. Then it is not an enemy, but our best friend. You ask why he hasn’t popped the question in four years. But he has given you a plethora of answers. He worries he doesn’t have what it takes to be a husband, he likes his own space, and he does not want to be blended into your family.
As I see it, that is why he hasn’t asked you to marry him. The answer does not lie in any mysterious or philosophical nook or cranny. He has been completely straightforward with you. Why are you left wondering why he doesn’t want to marry you? He has been very clear: He wants to remain a bachelor. There is a part of you that already knows everything I can offer you in my column, and that is your doubt. As much as you try not to listen, it keeps trying to get your attention.
From one mother to another, I will ask you: Would you want to bring someone into your home who doesn’t get along with your child? You will forever be put in a game of tug-of-war, in the most incredibly uncomfortable position of choosing him or your child. No matter how badly your child behaves (even if your kid is, shall we say, bratty, disrespectful, or outright rebellious) your allegiance is always to your child (even though sometimes we’d prefer it not be). You would have to choose your child over your child’s stepfather. A man worthy of entering your family would have to rise to the occasion, constantly look the other way and accept where your allegiance lies.
And now for my second question, from one woman to another: Why do you want to marry someone who doesn’t want to be married? Sometimes we want what we want so badly that we ignore all the signs that are staring us right in the face. My intention is not to be harsh but to test reality with you. I am trying to hold up a mirror and show you what this looks like to this one outsider looking in. You ask me if I have any tips to “convince him that marriage is wonderful” or if there is anything you can do to change his mind. If you are in a relationship where you need to convince someone to marry you, you do not know your own worth. You are so much more valuable than that. You should not have to convince someone to marry you. You have taken on the job of getting your boyfriend to the chuppah. If you do one kind thing for yourself, quit that job!
He has set his boundaries for this relationship, and I commend him for being up-front with you. Now it’s time for you to get honest with yourself. In my opinion, if you stay in this relationship, you have to reset your expectations and accept him for who he is and what has to offer—you feel he is your soul mate, and there is wonderful conversation and time shared together. He is generous (and honest). On the flip side, he doesn’t want to get married or be a stepfather. That is the reality.
If you decide that you are ready to lose him completely, you can give him an ultimatum: marriage or nothing. However, can you be comfortable being married to someone who required you to give him an ultimatum? Only you know the answer to that. Whatever you decide, no one can judge you for it. Relationships come in all shapes and sizes. The one thing all healthy relationships have in common is honesty—honesty between partners and honesty with oneself. Good luck!
Jennifer Mann is presently working as a psychotherapist at Ohel. She also works as a relationship coach and can be reached at 718-908-0512.