Waiting For A Marriage Proposal? Advice You Need

waiting for a marriage proposal propose
Love, Self

Cathy Torkelson, 34, had a good job as a legal consultant, a loving boyfriend and supportive friends and family. She was a good girlfriend in what appeared to be a solid year-and-a-half-long relationship. Yet, internally, Cathy was anxious, irritable, moody and unable to concentrate. The cause? A persistent question: why hasn't he proposed? Signs He's Serious

Torkelson's questioning became "all-consuming," and eventually turned a normally independent, rational woman into a nervous wreck.

"I got in a depressive state where all I wanted to do was crawl into a ball and cry," she explains. Her boyfriend was committed, attentive and she knew he loved her, but because he hadn't asked her to marry him, she doubted her self-worth. "It made me feel like there had to be something wrong with me."

Sounds crazy, right? But despite all the gender-role changes over the past decades, men asking women for their hand in marriage is a tradition that has remained strong. And for a woman who wants her man to get down on one knee, waiting for that one little question is stressful and nerve-wracking. But can waiting for a proposal actually drive you crazy?

"It creates feelings of helplessness and passivity, which we know are correlated with episodes of depression," explains psychiatrist Dr. Renée Bibeault, a specialist in women's mental health in Kirkland, WA. "Anything that inspires feelings of not being in control of your own life, particularly with something that has enormous impact on you such as marriage, takes an enormous toll emotionally." Marriage. It's Complicated. Is It Worth It?

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Statistics show that 2.2-2.4 million women get married each year, but there are no studies counting how many are waiting to be asked to the altar. With women marrying later in life (the average age is 27 for women; 29 for men), and more couples cohabitating before marriage, it's no wonder women are having a hard time knowing when—or if—a proposal is imminent.

How Long Should You Wait?
Torkelson thought her engagement was a sure thing. Three or four months into dating, Torkelson's boyfriend told her she was the woman he wanted to marry. Confident in the relationship, she moved in with him after a year, expecting that he would propose within six months. But each holiday came and went without a ring. Although she believed he was the one, given her age and desire to have children, she couldn't wait forever. How long should she wait?

The longer the better, according to a study on the correlation between courtship and marriage longevity.

The average time for a couple to date before they get engaged is just over 19 months, according to Dr. Ted Huston, a psychologist at the University of Texas in Austin (and corroborated by a poll on ProjectWedding.com). Over the course of 14 years, he studied the courtship and marriages of 168 couples and identified three patterns of dating: fast and passionate, slow and rocky, and in between. "The more boring and deliberate the courtship, the better the prospects for a long marriage," Dr. Huston said in an article in the Los Angeles Times. He Said He Was SURE—So Why Hasn't He Proposed?

But that timeline may not work for some women eyeing the clock. Torkelson didn't want to be almost 40 and trying to conceive. What's worse is that her boyfriend was seven years her junior. "He didn't see what the big rush was because he can have babies for the rest of his life."

"Men under 32 need a lot more time to propose," says April Beyer, CEO and Founder of the matchmaking firm Beyer & Co, which specializes in getting men ready for—and to—the altar. Earning power tends to be weaker in their 20s, Beyer points out, and men may wait to get engaged until they feel financially secure enough to be the provider for a family.

Nicolette Schumacher, 26, a successful software sales associate in San Francisco, began dating her boyfriend in 2007 and moved in with him in early 2009. She believed her guy had kept from popping the question because he was struggling to give up the single life. Though her boyfriend was 36, "it's hard to let go of the 'cool bachelor that lives in the city' persona," she said. Not wanting a timeline, he told Schumacher that he'd like to marry her and have children with the ultra-ambiguous "when we're ready." Should I Wait For Him Or Move On?

Beyer warns that "if you've been dating more than 12 months, and you think you're seeing all the right signs for six months and he hasn't proposed, your signals might be off." She advises women to discuss their desire to get married, but this is hardly a revelation. Both Torkelson and Schumacher had done so, as had 76 percent of ProjectWedding's survey respondents reporting they still did not know when their man would propose. Only 3 percent of respondents had never discussed the topic.

Should You Use An Ultimatum?
So if a woman has broached the subject, but the guy isn't making any fast moves, is it ever appropriate to give a guy a take-it-or-leave-it? "It is appropriate if the ultimatum is coming from an authentic place," says Beyer. "Because if you're not really ready to leave him, it's going to come across as a threat."

That's how Robert (who didn't want to be identified by his full name) felt. The 40-year-old photographer had been dating his girlfriend for two years when she sprang an ultimatum on him. "She said, 'I'm going to have kids in the next two years whether it's with you or not.'" The Lure of the Engagement Ring

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That conversation marked the beginning of the end for the otherwise-happy Bay Area couple, with Robert feeling like his girlfriend was more interested in being a mom than being with him. "I felt like she was being pushy, and I don't take well to being told what to do."

Beyer's seen similar moves by other women also lead to breakups, when in reality a lot of times, the girlfriends are just looking for validation: "It's not about the ring—it's about wanting someone to say 'you're the best I have.'" In Robert's girlfriend's case, however, it might not have been how she asked; it might just have been her. Robert eventually admitted to me, if not to his ex, that their relationship, ultimately, "wasn't the right fit."

Schumacher, meanwhile, has given an ultimatum—to herself. "I'm going to live with him for a year. If, after two years of dating and one year of living together, he still doesn't know if he wants to marry me, then I'm going to move on. It's not something I'm threatening him with—it's my own timeline."

Beyer cautions women not to move too quickly or make rash decisions because he may just be taking his time to do it right. "I've seen girls go nuts to the point of breakup; all the while he's shopping for a ring or saving up for a ring."

Proposing To The Guy
The other option, of course, is that the woman can take matters into her own hands.

Larissa Eisenstein, a writer and self-described commitment-phobe, was in an on-again/off-again relationship for 10 years before she finally felt ready to settle down and make an honest man of her boyfriend. "I felt like I scared him off of it," she said of the subject of marriage, "so I felt that I should be the one to propose the ultimate commitment."

She discussed her unconventional plans with her friends (one of whom tried to talk her out of it), planned an elaborate proposal, and went shopping for the perfect ring—for him.

But that wasn't an option for Torkelson, who believed her boyfriend was the type of person who would propose when he felt ready. Plus, she wasn't even sure he would say yes. Schumacher, meanwhile, considered herself old-fashioned and wasn't interested in the role-reversal. And of 200 respondents on the ProjectWedding.com survey on courtships, only one woman said she did the proposing herself.
 
Beyer advises women never to propose to men because "if you want a long-term relationship with a strong partner, you want it to be his idea, too."

Dr. Bibeault, on the other hand, says that "there's no reason that a woman couldn't propose to a man unless each party felt that traditional gender roles were very important to them. But if her goal is only to feel valued and loved, you have to ask if there is another way she can achieve that without a proposal." That option might be to wait it out.

"Talk to your friends, talk to your mother, talk to everybody but him," advises Beyer.

Don't Let the Waiting Game Bring You Down
Of course, anyone experiencing serious symptoms of depression while playing the waiting game should seek medical assistance. "Medications will help even if she isn't overtly depressed," Dr. Biebeault says, "because they can address isolated symptoms—such as having trouble sleeping—so she can be better rested and better able to cope."

Eventually, waiting and talking worked for Torkelson, who got the commitment and validation she was looking for last August—sans medication. But it only happened after her boyfriend's best friend intervened, making him realize that he was about to lose the woman he wanted to marry if he didn't step up to the plate. Their upcoming wedding is scheduled for July 2010.

And Larissa Eisenstein's boyfriend beat her to the punch by asking her to marry him on the same day she was going to propose to him. She's grateful for one advantage the traditional method offers her: "In the end, even though I felt comfortable asking him, there is a stigma associated with asking a guy, and he took that burden off of me." 5 Steps To Take If Your Man Hasn't Proposed