My guy and I are in our mid-forties, each divorced, and have been dating almost two years now. We moved in together three months ago. He is very caring, and I can say he is the best boyfriend I have had.
Recently I asked him if he wanted to get married one day. He told me a firm “NO”. His answer took me by surprise. He’s never said anything negative about marriage, and he never gave me any indication that he does not want to do it again: Since the first date, he always said that he loved being married. He is on good terms with his ex and had a very amicable divorce.
Last year he invited me to attend two weddings (his side of family) and he told me how much he wants to have a relationship based on trust and respect and always seemed like a family man.
His definite NO made me very angry and I asked him how come he is telling me this just now, almost two years into our relationship. He said his decision has nothing to do with me, he just doesn’t want to get married again. He says he is in love with me and is committed to me and he doesn’t need marriage to prove that. I told him I'm very traditional and marriage is one of my values. And I don’t feel safe in a relationship if we are not married. He wants to have a baby with me, and I understand that wanting a baby with someone is a bigger commitment than getting married, but I still feel like not being married is like leaving the door open in the relationship.
I feel angry that he withheld this important information from me. I didn't realize that not wanting to get married is a deal-breaker for me until this situation happened.
My boyfriend proudly shows me off and takes me to family events. I think I should tell him that I do not want to go to his family events anymore since I know I will never be a part of his family, I will never be his wife. I don’t want this to sound like an ultimatum, but I want to show him how hurtful this feels to me.
Now I am not sure what to do – break up with him or suck it up because I love him.
I have so many things to say! But before I give you all my opinions and respond on your guy’s behalf, let’s jump ahead and address the last part of your email first.
You said: “I didn’t realize that not wanting to get married is a deal-breaker for me, until this situation happened.”
Marriage is a deal-breaker for you. Got it. If this is the case (and you said it is in so many words), then you need to break up with him. If it’s impossible for you to be happy and have what you need without marriage, then you have your answer. That’s what “deal-breaker” means.
Not quite ready to go that far? Okay, we can work with that, too.
Let’s take this statement: “My boyfriend proudly shows me off and takes me to family events. I think I should tell him that I do not want to go to his family events anymore since I know I will never be a part of his family, I will never be his wife. I don’t want this to sound like an ultimatum, but I want to show him how hurtful this feels to me.”
Do you know why this sounds like an ultimatum? Because it is one—and it will come off as such. It will also come off petty, erratic, and retaliatory. This is not your best action plan, no matter how strongly you feel about the institution of marriage or how much his not wanting to get hitched again hurts.
Rolling up my sleeves and getting to work here, we’re going to cover a lot of ground, such as:
- Can “family guys” with “good values” exist if they don’t want to get married?
- Why marriage is off the table
- What happens when you reframe relationshipping
- Marriage and safety
- What to do about the anger and hurt
Can “Family Guys” with “Good Values” Exist if They Don’t Want to Get Married?
Do you believe there are good people out there in the world who do not belong to your religious affiliation? Just because someone doesn’t believe in the exact same deity as you doesn’t mean they don’t value what you value. Being good, kind, caring, and generous to our fellow humans is not just for a certain type of religious person—just as being a kind, loving, faithful, devoted partner is not just for married people.
In my extensive research during my years of doing what I do, I’ve found that post-forty, divorced men live in one of three camps:
A) Divorced and happy to (eventually) remarry the right person when they come along.
B) Will never marry again, but totally down to be the best version of himself and a good, loyal, loving life partner to the right person when they come along.
C) Will never marry again because they enjoy their freedom, autonomy, and single status, and they’re unwilling to give that up to accommodate a committed relationship (or they are unwilling to heal themselves of the pain of their past).
Men at this age and stage of life usually aren’t shy about sharing their truth. I’m sorry he wasn’t forthright in telling you marriage was off the table for him—that’s disappointing. He was likely terrified that you’d leave, and he was hoping you’d stick around long enough to see his sincerity in being a great guy for you, i.e. one who lives in Camp B up there.
Why Marriage is Off the Table
People take marriage off the table for all kinds of reasons, but the most common is because after they tried it and it failed, many see marriage as a racket. A system that is flawed, rigged, and a setup for failure. I mean, from a pragmatist’s point of view, would you put 100% of your faith into something with 50/50 odds?
When we marry, the dominant cultural expectation is that we stand in front of two hundred people, God, and the minister, say “I do” to sticking around through sickness and health, and that’s it—fade to black, credits roll. We all live happily ever after, and nothing ever changes. Obviously, anyone who’s ever been in a long-term partnership or marriage knows that this is not the case. Life is what happens after the last song plays and the caterers pack it in for the night.
Often, what we consider important is the form (being married) and the title (wife/husband), but we forget the most crucial part: the substance.
What part of the substance of marriage do you value and hold dear? Why? Can you challenge yourself to have a frank, loving conversation about these values with your partner? I’d put money on it that once you dig deeper into the why’s behind your desire for an official stamp on your relationship, you’ll discover that the formalities can’t hold a candle to what actually makes that relationship worth sustaining.
What Happens When You Reframe Relationshipping
Imagine what could be possible if you stopped paying attention to a title and looked instead at what you two want to create for your life together. What’s happening between you two today? What might be needed down the line? If you sign up for living a life together based on substance, walking hand-in-hand into the future with the expectation that both of you will continue to grow and change, you’ll be better equipped to ride the waves of life’s wacky weather.
Marriage and Safety
Your instincts are telling you, “I have to lock this down!” This “leaving the door open” business is part of that.
You are a divorced lady, so you already know: Marriage doesn’t guarantee that a relationship will last forever. It doesn’t spare you from cheating or lying or loneliness or any of that nasty stuff. It doesn’t even affect your ability to make the other happy and stay.
Do you know what does keep your relationship safe and sound? Solid communication. The agreements you both make to each other that you are excited to sign up for; the kind of accountability that comes from real discussions where you share what you’re dying to provide, what you’re hoping to provide, what you’re willing to provide, and what you never want to provide. These initial conversations will likely still be uncomfortable if you both make the conditions safe enough to share your truths, but once you’re through, you’ll have a solid shot at true intimacy—where you can see each other for who you are today, tomorrow, and all the tomorrows you’ll ever share.
If you’re truly interested in building a real, authentic foundation for a relationship and an understanding of each other, do my self-guided workshop called Happy in Love. It is literally the blueprint to get you there.
Safety comes from an authentic understanding of each other (not one based on wishful thinking). Where you can look each other in the eye and say, “yep, I’m signing up for this—even with (x, y, z).” It doesn’t come from a one-page document provided to you by your state.
So, my dear, what are you going to do about this anger and hurt? Hopefully, it’s dissipating on its own by now. You can shake the rest of it away by realizing that these emotions came on because you had an expectation of marriage, and that expectation wasn’t met. But he didn’t promise you that, and while he wasn’t upfront about it, he didn’t lie to you about it, either.
It’s time to own your part. You wanted to believe what you envisioned—that one day you’d be married. It’s reasonable that you envisioned this future, but he never promised you marriage, and he wasn’t even talking about it until you brought it up. You don’t have to feel bad about wanting what you want, but don’t put the blame on him. Sit with this, and then let it go.
Boiled down, the essence of the situation remaining is this: You want something that he’s not interested in providing. Now it’s up to you to determine if you can 1) live a life without that something and 2) be happy and get what you need in your relationship at the same time. If you can’t do both of those things, and not hold not getting married against him, it’s time to break the deal.
Good luck out there!