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Make a mental adjustment

Dear Carolyn: My boyfriend and I have been together for five-plus years (we are in our 50s). We have both been married before, he multiple times, and I have two elementary-age children. I have wanted to get married for the last two years, but he is not ready. We have been together to counseling to see if we could identify issues or challenges that we might not have addressed -- his idea, because he is worried that he hasn't gone into his previous marriages with open eyes.

Nothing came up. He just doesn't think he's ready because he has been married most of his adult life, and is enjoying being single for now. He says he does see us married at some point.

After five years I am stressed trying to maintain this relationship, raise two young boys alone, maintain a household, work a demanding full-time job, nurture my female relationships, not to mention have some downtime for myself.

He is very supportive and will do anything to make things easier on me. However, I am starting to get resentful and find myself pulling away, and I told him recently I need more time for my own life. Am I doing the right thing? I am tired of being disappointed after every special occasion that we have when he doesn't pop the question.

-- Five-plus years and counting

A: Why why why are you still counting?

He has been married "multiple times" and wants to breathe before getting married again. There's clear, there's crystal clear, and there's the kind of clear you need to put stickers on so birds don't mistake it for sky.

Let's say you follow through on your plan to distance yourself from this man. Everything else on your list will remain the same: the boys, the household, the demanding job, the female friendships, the quest for downtime. It'll just be without your boyfriend's companionship.

If that's appealing to you, then please do break up; if you don't enjoy him just for the sake of his company, then he's the last person you want to marry.

If instead you'd miss his companionship, then why don't you just take him at his word, stop tap-tapping your foot while you wait for commitment, and accept that "boyfriend" is all he is?

It's even a viewpoint you can try on without committing to it yourself. Don't break up or press further for more. Instead, make one simple, albeit painful, mental adjustment: Walk into your next romantic occasion with the absolute certainty that he isn't going to propose to you. Not to take the pressure off him, but to take it off yourself.

His limited role has been your reality for some time, so the only change is that you'd be living it truthfully instead of padded with false expectations. If you find you don't want him as-is, then you can walk away.

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