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Ultimatum: ‘I’m leaving town if you don’t commit’

Sometimes, one partner is "sure," but the other is not. So how do you  know whether to walk away or hold out for more? Dr. Gail Saltz advises a woman who is at a crossroads.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Q. My boyfriend, age 35, and I, age 30, have been dating for five years. Recently, my parents announced they were moving out of state. They have given me and my siblings the option of moving with them.

I am torn. I am currently a full-time college student and live with my parents. I cannot afford to live on my own if I stay here.

My boyfriend has admitted that he has no plans to ask me to move in with him or to propose marriage. I feel our relationship should end now, due to my leaving within months. He feels we should continue the relationship until I leave, because he MIGHT change his mind about marriage. What should I do?

A. As you know, you are at a crossroads. It’s time for you to find out how this man really feels about a future together — assuming you want one with him — and to make a decision based on your best interest.

You are, due to circumstances, giving your boyfriend an ultimatum: “I will be leaving town if you don’t commit.”

Your boyfriend, by his own admission, is not comfortable making a commitment to you. Like you two, many couples spend years in a holding pattern before figuring out the next step, so it’s not a bad thing that this potential move is forcing the issue. After five years of dating, you know how well you fit together and whether you could have a fulfilling future together.

If, in his mid-30s, after five years, this man has no plans to marry a girlfriend who wants to marry him, he has some issue with commitment. Either he is not interested in ever committing to anyone (even if he tells himself otherwise, which is merely a defense mechanism and a veiled way of announcing he is a commitmentphobe) or he enjoys your company but is still waiting for someone better to come along.

So this is a blessing in disguise. You do not want to waste decades on a man who is unwilling or unable to provide what you want out of life. It is better to know this sooner rather than later.

As far as his changing his mind — there is a bit of truth in this. He must now confront the future in a way he never needed to before. For the first time, he is faced with a whole new choice — commit to you or lose you.

So, to be fair, there is nothing wrong with his view that he needs to think about this issue now that it has arisen. Because he has been given notice of your impending departure, the ground has shifted.

He might look around with increased urgency for a new girlfriend now that he has some time to find a replacement before you leave. You might not feel so great about that possibility. It’s also possible you could go with your parents, making him realize how bleak life is without you so that he comes chasing after you and begs you to marry him.

But you yourself said you would rather break up now than in a few months, so I wonder how interested you are. And do you really want to commit to a man who will do so only because you gave him an ultimatum?

At this point, along with examining your own desire to remain permanently with this man (or not), you need to find out why your boyfriend is not thinking of getting married. Is he unwilling to commit to anyone, ever? Is it because he is unsure this is the right relationship for him? Is he waiting for something to happen?

For example, it’s fine if he is waiting for you to graduate before you marry, because that’s a concrete event with a reasonable time limit. It’s not fine if he is waiting for an unspecified murky future event, like his getting a “better job.”

Then, once you find out his reasons, see how you feel about them and whether they make sense to you.

Think, too, about what you would do if your parents weren’t moving. Their relocation is not a good reason to marry this man. At age 30, it’s reasonable for you to consider supporting yourself, even while attending school, without the help of either your parents or a man.

Here’s another question for you: What will you do if he tells you he has indeed changed his mind and wants to move in together rather than break up? Will you move in with him without being engaged? Or only if you are engaged with a set wedding date? There is a big difference.

Cohabiting couples split up more easily than those who are engaged or married. They tend to be less committed to each other than couples who eagerly and joyfully solidify their commitment with marriage.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Think hard before moving in with someone or getting engaged as a result of an ultimatum.

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, .