How to Deal with an 'Engagement Season' Let-Down
In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.
DEAR DR. JENN,
I was sure my boyfriend was going to propose when we had Thanksgiving dinner with my family. Nope! Then I thought it would happen Christmas morning opening gifts with his. Nothing! New Year’s Eve, I made sure to get an extra cute manicure, preparing for The Ring. No go! I am starting to lose it. I thought I was getting all the signs it was coming. I am starting to get really resentful. We have been together for six years now. If he doesn’t do it by Valentine’s Day, I think I am going to lose it. What should I do? —Not ‘Ringing’ in the New Year
DEAR NO RING,
While it can be difficult to see everyone else posting their blissful engagement photos to social media over the holidays (aka 'engagement season'), silently stewing and comparing your relationship isn't doing you — or your relationship — any favors.
It's important to know that there are many reasons why people don’t propose, many of which are not reflections of something wrong in the relationship. Perhaps he was worried about the proposal being too cliché or predictable on a holiday? Maybe he wanted to throw you off so you would be really surprised? Maybe as you sit here reading this very column about the engagement that didn’t happen, it has already happened! In case that is not your situation, here’s some advice that might help...
Have an Honest Conversation About Marriage
If you haven’t already had a conversation about the issue of getting married, you are long overdue and it is time. You need to get a sense of whether or not your boyfriend is on the same page regarding marriage in general — and whether he also feels ready to take that next step. Many couples are surprised by the answer to this question when they ultimately have the conversation. Perhaps there is a conflict between the two of you that is really holding your boyfriend back and needs to be resolved? Or perhaps he has some anxiety that needs to be worked through about marriage and commitment. Either way, you deserve to get all the information so that you can make an educated decision about if, and how, you want to proceed in this relationship.
... But Know That Giving Up On Marriage Isn't a Comprise You Should Make
As I've said before, I don't believe marriage should be up for negotiation; if you are someone that wants to get married and your partner does not, this is not something that you should have to give up on. In my clinical experience, missing out on such an important commitment and life milestone creates resentment that permeates the relationship in the longterm. (It's hard not to be passive aggressive as your resentment about not being on the road to wife-dom increases.)
Simply put, if one of you wants to get married and the other does not, that should be a deal breaker — as hard as that may be to swallow.
Be Prepared to Leave the Relationship
I’m not a fan of ultimatums or manipulating someone into marrying you. That said, I do believe in boundaries and limits. If you know that you have crossed the line into major resentments that are poisoning the relationship — and get the sense this proposal isn't happening anytime soon — it may be time to go.
At this point, it's important to be blunt. A script that can be helpful for this conversation? “I really want to spend the rest of my life with you but I get the feeling that you are not interested in getting married anytime soon. Marriage is something that is very important to me and I don’t want to miss out on. I don’t want to pressure you into marriage and therefore, I think it’s time for me to move on."
Of course, there is the possibility that your partner will turn around and say, “I don’t want to lose you. I did not realize how important this was to you and I would like to take that step.” But, more likely, he is going to let you walk out the door. If that happens, you'll know that you practiced good self care, showed enormous strength — and can walk away from the relationship with your head held high.
If that ends up being the case, give yourself some time to grieve. And when you start to date, make sure you get a sense early on whether or not your new potential mate has the same relationship goals that you do.