Do I stay with a wonderful man, even though he is unsure about marriage and a family?

Dear Neil: My partner (29) and I (28) have finally learned how to communicate and resolve our differences effectively. However, he has recently said that he isn’t sure if he ever wants to get married. He said that he’s concerned that if he doesn’t change his mind about marriage in the next few years, that I’ll be getting the short end of the stick, because my childbearing years will be shorter. He also said that financially, emotionally and maturity-wise, he’s not sure that he’s ready for the commitment and responsibilities that come with marriage, and that he’s used to putting himself and his own needs first.

Based on that, I know I should leave. But his words and his actions don’t say the same thing. He says he puts himself first, but when I have needed him, he puts aside whatever he’s doing to come to me—even for small, everyday things. We fit the description of a happy couple, and he says he’s happy with our relationship, at least until he starts saying that perhaps he’s unable to be in a long-term relationship or that maybe he just can’t commit to one person.

Most days I believe in our relationship. But when he tells me about how he sees the future, I get confused, scared and hurt. What would you advise I do?

To Stay or Not to Stay

Dear To Stay or Not: On the surface, it sounds like your boyfriend still has an interest in sowing his wild oats, and may indeed be telling the truth when he says he isn’t ready to consider marriage. It sounds like he is saying that he is content staying in the relationship—perhaps indefinitely—as long as you aren’t expecting him to propose.

But you could confront the difference between what he says and what he does. You could say to him: “You tell me you’re used to putting yourself and your own needs first, but that’s not how you actually behave. You drop whatever you’re doing when I need you or ask for your help. Are you aware of that?” It might be that he isn’t using authentic arguments with you, but is still saying he’s not ready yet.

Sometimes, when a woman breaks up with a man, he realizes after a while that he’s been a fool, that you offer him everything he’s wanting and looking for, and then comes crawling back to you. But it would be terrible advice to offer you, because he indeed may not be ready to marry, and therefore would decide that he had no other choice except to let you go. Because this strategy can backfire, I am not fond of suggesting it.

Does this relationship feel promising enough that you might be willing to wait him out, hoping he will mature enough in order to realize that you are the right one for him, even if it took years? If so, put a timeline on the whole thing—say 2 or 3 years, so you don’t grow too angry or resentful. And every so often, revisit the dream of marriage and a family together. He might need to marinate on that idea for a while before it grows on him.

Just be aware that he may not hold the same dream as you do.

Dear Neil: For 18 months in my late teens, I dated a wonderful girl. We had an amazing relationship, and I thought we’d always be together. But she broke up with me when she went away to college. I hadn’t spoken to her in 5 years when I found out that she is now married. Even though it’s been almost 9 years since we broke up, I always thought we would bump into each other and recapture that old chemistry. Although she has moved on, I haven’t. I’m still alone and single, struggling to find a job and living at home.

Despondent in Vail, Colorado

Dear Vail: Never again let yourself labor under the illusion that you can passively wait for someone you want until the two of you bump into each other. Although such spontaneous connections do occur, nobody can afford the luxury of waiting for that to happen. Left to fate, you may never bump into the woman of your dreams, or if you do the timing may be all wrong.

Lick your wounds from this lost hope, and then go out there and find someone you can call yours. And learn this lesson: if there’s someone you want, find the courage and invite her to get together. Don’t wait for fate. If she turns you down, you will know that at least you tried your best, and your self-esteem will not take the same hit that it will take if you don’t try at all. Seize the moment and take advantage of all opportunities, even if it scares you to death. Life favors the bold.

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