So this is my question: Is my disappointment unreasonable? I definitely feel the pull of marriage while I am still young enough to have children. I also know that I love my boyfriend and am dedicated to making our relationship work long-term. Am I disappointed because he hasn’t picked me yet, or because I have real fears about the longevity of our relationship?
Any advice or thoughts would be greatly appreciated!
Often patients in therapy will come in and tell me something that happened, then follow the story with, “Is it okay to be mad about this, or am I overreacting?” or “I know I shouldn’t be sad, but …” And what I always tell them is this: Your feelings are your feelings. You can pretend that they don’t exist, but they’ll still be there anyway. Listen to them—they’ll give you useful information.
This is true of your disappointment. Instead of questioning it or hiding it from your boyfriend, use it to guide you. Think of your disappointment as a sign that says pay attention. Let your disappointment highlight what needs clarity—in this case, how you’re both feeling about your future together.
It seems that there are two conversations you need to have to get this clarity: one with your boyfriend and one with yourself. It sounds like you and your boyfriend have had some conversations about your future together, with you expressing your desire to get married and him explaining that he feels you two have some things to work on first. You don’t say what they are, but are you clear about the issues that need to be worked out between you? Do you share his concerns? And if so, what are you doing to work on them together?
I ask these questions because you’ve told your boyfriend that you’re “willing to give him the time he needs,” but it’s important that you two talk about what this time is being used for. I wonder how these conversations have gone so far. An unproductive way to have this conversation goes something like, “I feel like we have things to work on, so I’m not ready yet”—but there are no specifics about what’s not working or what steps you two might take (say, couples therapy) to move forward. Another unproductive way to have this conversation goes something like, “It’s not the relationship that needs work, it’s such-and-such about you.” In that conversation, there’s no consideration of what he might need to do to improve things between you. If you haven’t talked about what his concerns are and what you’re both doing to work them out, now is the time to deepen that conversation with as much specificity as possible.
You may also want to learn more about what associations you both have with marriage. For you it may signify safety, trust, and commitment, and for him it might signify something entirely different. If you get curious about what it’s like for him to contemplate marriage, you may learn that his hesitancy is less about his not “picking you” and more about his own struggle. For instance, although he says he wants marriage, perhaps it also terrifies him. Maybe he feels he can’t live up to whatever idea he has in his head about the role of “husband.” Maybe he worries that he’d be the one to disappoint you. Maybe he didn’t see a loving marriage in his own home growing up, and now he worries about making a mistake or the marriage not lasting. You may want to understand more about his fear of “ruining” a holiday or birthday if the marriage goes south. I can understand not tying an anniversary to another holiday in order to make the anniversary distinct and special, but in your boyfriend’s mind, he’s already preparing for the possibility that the marriage won’t work out. There’s more to learn about each other here: for you, what else might be going on with him; and for him, what it’s like for you to love him and live with him and get a ring from him—but not know whether you’ll be spending your future together.