Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: How do I get past the feeling that I’m WAITING for my boyfriend to propose? I feel ready for and excited about marrying him, but I recognize and respect that he needs more time. While I am about 90 percent sure an engagement will happen eventually, and am trying to be patient, I can’t get past this antsy feeling. I’m sure this is all too common, especially among people in their late 20s.
— Anywhere, USA
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DEAR ANYWHERE, USA: This will sound darker and grumpier than I mean it to, but I think it’s important to poke as many holes as you can in this happy-antsy-anticipation. It’s just so natural for people, when they envision a specific life outcome off on the horizon somewhere, to train their attention on that — and to filter incoming information in favor of things that support their rosy view. That’s when people are most likely to miss what’s happening right under their feet.
To the extent that you’re able, please regard the moment you’re in now as the rest of your life, instead of imagining a better something awaiting you somewhere. Let yourself absorb how today feels exactly as it is. This is what you’re hoping to have forever, if it does result in marriage.
In fact, if most people’s trajectories are any measure of what yours will be, then what you’re hoping for will actually be the same thing you have now, only much, much harder because …
Familiarity, illness, losses, aging, career and financial ups and downs, hard decisions that come with every tandem life (where to live, how to deal with extended family, etc.), and children, if you go that route, will all test your ability to work with, grow with and love each other.
Are you and he strong enough for that? Do you not just agree on most things, but also disagree respectfully and work well together on solutions? Are you supportive of each other, even when your interests conflict?
Comedies end with a marriage, and dramas start with them, remember — so let yourself both enjoy the comedy and be realistic about the drama.
That, in turn, will put you in a great position to see whether you want to marry him. That’s the most important thing, even (especially?) when you think you’ve already figured that out. This is bonus time to wear your choice before it’s legally binding.
One idea that might help keep the anticipation in check is that, often, we as humans are not good at all at predicting what types of things will make us happy. I remember my happy anticipation about owning and decorating my own home, but when it happened it didn’t make me nearly as happy as I had expected. I think there is a study out there about this phenomenon.
So if you are truly happy in this moment with your boyfriend, then enjoy it for what it is. Marriage won’t be eternal bliss, and you are likely overestimating the amount of happiness it will bring.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Good point, thanks. This piece discusses research into optimism bias: http://wapo.st/TCqB2D. It, plus our natural impulse to defend and rationalize our choices, can really mess with our decisions if we’re not careful.