Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: Tonight’s the night I tell my girlfriend of three years that I’m not ready to get married (she is), even though that means we will be spending the next year or so in a long-distance situation without the level of commitment she is looking for.
I want to stay together, but she has told me very clearly that she’s ready to go to the next level. Do you have any suggestions for me?
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DEAR PHOENIX: Sure. I suggest you compose a paragraph or two to explain to me (us) why you like her enough not to want to break up but not enough to marry her. Starting with how old you both are. Go.
DEAR CAROLYN: Thanks for taking my question. I’m 31, she’s 29. She is a wonderful girlfriend. Attractive, supportive, a good complement to my personality. I have never questioned that she would make a great wife someday.
The problem is the timing. As I indicated originally, we will be long-distance starting on Sunday. I left my consulting job to start business school in Phoenix this year. We are both from Seattle, and she will return there this weekend. In addition to worrying about the stresses of being long-distance, I don’t like the idea of trying to focus on marriage and school at the same time. Finances and time will both be tight. If we were to get engaged, she would have to plan our wedding more or less by herself.
She plans to try to find a job in Phoenix next year so that we can be together, but now says she worries about doing that without taking the next step (engagement and marriage).
I was hoping to have her continued support to help me with school, and that is what I plan to ask for at dinner tonight, but I already know from the many conversations we have had about this that it won’t go over well. Does that help?
— Phoenix again
DEAR PHOENIX AGAIN: Ugh. Yes, it helps.
You don’t trust each other. That’s what it sounds like to me. If you trusted each other, and really saw your lives as happening together because you’d want it no other way, then you’d be at the courthouse this afternoon instead of typing to me. The problem is never timing, not for fully adult people who have had three years to get to know each other.
Good marriages have a feeling of inevitability to them. They don’t feel like the thing that will hurt your grades in B-school. And “a great wife someday,” well, wow. Kind of like that sleek couch that makes your room look comfortable but never messy.
You want her support but not her company, not her presence!? You don’t love her. I hope she has the presence of mind to recognize and say out loud what you won’t.
Another thing — if you already know that your truth-telling “won’t go over well,” then either your relationship is bad or your truth is self-serving. Seriously. Would you feel comfortable building a future on the quality and quantity of information you’re planning to give her tonight? Anything short of that standard is just jerking her around.