Dear Dr. Gail: I am 35 and have been dating a 35-year-old man for a year. We are both smart, attractive, accomplished individuals with graduate degrees and professional careers. We love and respect each other very much, and have an incredible amount in common.My question is about the timing of marriage proposals. There has been little talk of marriage other than an occasional casual comment. I recognize my boyfriend is very cautious (as I am, on occasion) and I am trying to be patient, but after spending several years in a relationship that did not lead to marriage, I am aware of not wanting to waste my time or his. I hope at some point to be married and have children. What are your thoughts about this? — Commitment Seeker
Dear Seeker: I think it is time for you to seek clarity. If neither of you has broached the subject of your future, you have no idea what’s ahead. You have given me no clues about why this topic hasn’t come up, though you seem to be waiting for him to mention it in more than a casual way.
So, given your wish to get married and have biological children, how long should you wait for this guy? My answer: Don’t wait more than a few weeks.
Like it or not, your age is a significant component of your question, and you have little time to spare. If you were 25, or if you were a man, you would have plenty of time. But you aren’t. Instead, you are in a situation where the window of opportunity is narrowing. While he dithers, you don’t have many more years to figure out if this guy wants to marry you. If he decides he doesn’t want to marry you, you need time to find someone else.If marriage and children are life goals for you, you should make achieving them a priority. If this man isn’t helping you toward those goals, he could turn into an obstacle. It’s your choice whether to let him prevent you from achieving them.Many women believe there is no rush to have children. They hear amazing stories of 60-year-olds having twins. But those stories are amazing precisely because they are so rare. They involve massive, expensive medical intervention, with no guarantees. At age 35, your fertility starts declining.
There is no imperative to hurry if you aren’t interested in having biological children, or if you are satisfied with the relationship as it is. That, however, is not what I am hearing.You have been dating for a year, which is enough time to determine whether this man is someone you are compatible with and could be happily partnered with for the long term. You seem to think so. Now, it’s up to you to find out if he agrees.
Though I understand the romantic ideal that the man will propel the courtship along to its happy culmination, in your case, for whatever reason, this isn’t happening.
Generally, people remain in situations of avoidance because they fear an answer they don’t want to hear. This is understandable. It’s possible both of you are playing this game. Objectively, however, you know that brushing important topics under the rug is not a wise course of action.
So you need to bring this up in order to break the stalemate and allow yourself to move forward. Tell him that marriage and children matter to you in your life, and you can see him being the person you have a future and a family with. Gauge how he feels by how he reacts.
Your boyfriend might be nervous about risking rejection, just as you are. He might be unclear about how you feel, and relieved to know you want to commit to him.
Or, like some men, he might have requirements he wants to meet first. Some men want to become more established, make more money or land a new job before they marry. Such things are relatively easy to negotiate.
Or he might be clear that he does not want a future with you, in which case you are then free to find someone who does. If your boyfriend says he will never marry you, it is better to find out now than in several years, when the fertility issue will be even more urgent.
There is also the possibility he will want to continue as is — in other words, he will remain unclear about committing to you. It’s possible he merely hasn’t been thinking of the future and you caught him like a deer in the headlights. So give him a few weeks to get used to the idea. But, after several weeks, if his attitude remains murky and conflicted, then I advise you to move on from a man who will never give you what you want so very much.
What’s more, if you wait it out to the point that you are unable to have children, your resentment toward him will undermine your relationship in the long run.
You needn’t give him an ultimatum, but you should have a deadline in your own mind. Make it clear that you are ready to move ahead, and if, after thorough consideration, he is unwilling or unable to join with you in your life goals, you will need to end the relationship, so you are free to find someone who is.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: If marriage and biological children are important life goals for you, and you are dating a man who will not commit, you must be the one to take action. If you aren’t satisfied with a relationship that remains ambiguous, there’s every reason to move on.
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,” by Dr. Gail Saltz. 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, .