5 Possible Reasons You're Still Waiting for That Proposal

If you're in proposal purgatory, here's how to deal.

Person's hands holding hand with an engagement ring
Photo: Getty Images


I felt ready to get engaged to my boyfriend about six months after meeting him. Three years into our relationship, we're happy and both envision a future together, but I haven't gotten any indication of when that proposal is coming. I'm starting to become resentful and anxious. How can I help him feel ready or at least find some way to embrace uncertainty without sabotaging what I do have? —Ring Anxiety


You are in proposal purgatory, and this is a dangerous place to be. It sounds like your boyfriend has made it clear that he wants a future with you, but here you are, three years in, with a bare ring finger. What makes this a perilous position is the building resentment that tends to come with it. This animosity can be like poison to the relationship and can actually lessen the chance of the proposal — not to mention the happy, long-lasting marriage you're looking forward to. Nobody wants to propose to a partner who is seething with bitterness or as a reaction to being backed into a corner. You want to be honest about your desires, but you don’t want your boyfriend to feel like he is in a pressure cooker. That doesn't do much good for either of you.

The first thing you want to find out is what is holding him back. It sounds like he feels that you are The One but is resistant to taking that leap into matrimony. There are a few common reasons why partners are sometimes slow to pull the trigger in situations like this. Once you figure out which is the culprit, you'll have a better handle on how to move forward.

Keep reading for the five most common proposal holdups I see in my private practice and how to tackle each one.

Common Proposal Holdups

1. They are saving for a ring.

In the age of student loans and credit card debt, saving up the standard two-to-three months' salary is a tall order. If you believe this is what might be holding your partner back, let them off the hook by telling them that you would be happy with a smaller diamond or less expensive stone (emeralds and rubies are lovely), want to use a family ring, or believe in skipping the engagement ring altogether in favor of going straight to a wedding band.

2. They have not accomplished their career goals yet.

Many of us have a vision of where we would like to be professionally before we walk down the aisle. Your partner is unlikely to propose when they're in medical school, have just changed careers, were recently laid off, or didn’t get the promotion they were hoping for. Have a conversation about what they envision for their career and what steps they feel are necessary before getting engaged, and then find out how you can best support them in achieving their goals.

You may feel as though their professional life shouldn't dictate their personal life, while they may consider the two to be one linear path. If they express this, let them know that you want to stand by their side, in marriage, while they continue to kill it at work. Or ask them to define the career goal they want to tick off before popping the question so that both of you know what they're working toward, and that the goal doesn't continually shift as they climb the corporate ladder. Either way, knowing what they have their professional sights set on will keep you from questioning whether there's something bigger behind their hesitation.

3. They do not feel financially secure.

Many people want to feel like they are able to support both themselves and their partner before marrying, even if they will never actually have to take on that burden. If money is what's holding your S.O. back, sit down together and see where you can cut back expenses as a couple. Perhaps you can eat at home more often, go on fewer vacations, or find a less expensive apartment when your lease expires. Working together to achieve financial goals has dual benefits; not only does it save you both money, but having a common mission also brings couples closer together.

4. They're unsure about your future together.

Of course, there is also the possibility that they're undecided about whether they see marriage in their future with you. Is there an aspect of your relationship that gives them serious pause? If so, it's important to figure out whether it's something that can change, that they can learn to accept, or that will ultimately end the relationship. It sounds like this is not the case, but make sure that when you talk about your "future" together, your definitions of that word match.

Some people don't feel the need to plan ahead; they are comfortable with the notion that something can make them happy for now — even for a long time — without wanting to commit beyond that. Others are all about long-term commitment but take issue with the legal institution of marriage. You would probably know at this point if your partner were strongly opposed to marriage itself, sensing whether they've given the longevity of your relationship real thought is probably apparent too: Do they talk about growing old with you? Have you discussed the possibility of children? Are they comfortable when these topics naturally come up? If so, this is probably not your problem; however, if they start to flinch, it's time for a larger conversation.

5. They're resistant to the reality of marriage.

Sometimes people like the concept of marriage in theory but get cold feet about putting it into practice themselves. I see this most often among those who used to date a lot casually. They struggle with the idea of letting go of their youth for what they perceive as a more sedate lifestyle. It is also not uncommon for those who grew up around bad marriages, i.e. those whose parents probably should have gotten divorced because things were so volatile in the home or whose parents did divorce acrimoniously. If that sounds like your partner, the best thing you can do is help them get into therapy to work through the pain from their childhood that holds them back. They need to do that healing regardless of whether or not they ever get married.

Final Thoughts

In the meantime, don't forget to focus on yourself. Too often, in merging lives with our significant other, we lose our sense of self. In your quest for married status, don’t forget about your individuality. Continue to grow emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. Nurture your friendships. Pursue your own career goals and aspirations.

One of the most common questions I get in this situation is, “Should I issue an ultimatum?” I am not a fan of the ultimatum. You never want to feel like someone married you because you threatened to leave them. A proposal is a developmental step in a relationship. People need to grow into it, not be forced into it. Here’s the catch: You don’t want to wait so long that you become resentful and angry. If you reach a point where you feel obsessed and hostile, where you've explored the reasons holding your partner back but don't see a clear path forward, it is time to move on and say, “I love you and I thought we both wanted the same thing. I thought we were on a path toward marriage, but it has become clear to me that we are not. I really want to spend the rest of my life with you, but your resistance to taking that step makes me think that you don’t want that with me. Marriage is too important to me to give up, and I think it is time for me to move on.”

This is not a manipulation, a tactic, or an ultimatum — understand that. This is a real goodbye. You don’t do it to get a proposal; you do it to free yourself and move on. If they get down on one knee and propose right then and there (which is unlikely), then you can face that challenge and opportunity at that time. But that's jumping ahead. You and your person could be on the same page and some honest chit-chat about what is holding them back could make a big difference for the both of you.

Related Articles