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updated 12/17/2008 3:24:18 PM ET 2008-12-17T20:24:18

Q: What do you do if you find a fantastic relationship with a compatible and good person, but the timing is off? My boyfriend and I are in our mid-20s and have been dating for nearly four years. For about a year I have been ready to think about taking our relationship further and getting married. My boyfriend isn’t quite ready now and might not feel ready until after business school, four years from now.

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While I want to be able to support him and enjoy our relationship until he IS ready, I don't know if I can wait to get married until my early 30s after eight or so years of dating.

How do couples handle this kind of give-and-take compromise over such an important issue as when they want to get married? If the timing were off by a year or two, I think we could handle it well. We have great communication. But how do you deal with reality when it could end up being so many years between when I am ready and when he will be?

A. The decision to marry involves the right person as well as the right timing.

If you wait for your boyfriend to be ready, you certainly do run the risk that it will never happen, or that your growing annoyance and impatience will plant doubt about his commitment to you. Eight years is a long time to be dating. Your desire to get married isn’t unreasonable.

On the other hand, it isn’t wise to get married if you aren’t able to support yourselves financially. This can create problems of its own — you don’t want to marry now, only to find yourselves broke, resentful and divorced by the time he graduates.

It is not irresponsible for your boyfriend to want to be done with school and even ensconced in a solid job before he embarks on marriage.

At your age, as you well know, this is a murky situation. You are both young, so it’s not as though you have time pressure or urgency to get married or start a family.

Still, your feelings are valid, and marriage is about feelings.

So, is he the right person at the wrong time? Only you can decide that.

But here’s what you really need to find out: Are your boyfriend’s reasons for waiting, excellent though they be, masking uncertainty about committing to you for the long term? You don’t need a ring or a marriage certificate to know whether you both wish to spend the rest of your lives together.

If your boyfriend is clear about wanting to marry you after he graduates, it is fine for you to wait. But you should consider moving on if he is hedging and isn’t sure about marrying you, or if he suggests reassessing the situation after finishing school, or if the solidity of marriage matters most to you and you believe you could find someone else who would be good to marry.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: It makes sense for a couple to be financially independent when they marry, but only you can decide if you are willing to take the risk of waiting until some unknown future time when your boyfriend is ready.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.

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