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Carolyn Hax: Boyfriend’s reluctance is maddening

Dear Carolyn: My boyfriend and I, turning 30 and 28 soon, have been together for almost five years and living together for four. We have talked about marriage and having a family several times, and it is something we both want. We have gone ring shopping, and he has even asked my mother for her blessing. He is onboard with starting a family once I reach my early 30s, and, for religious reasons, I want to be married before having children, so this marriage window is shrinking.

He has said several times that we will be engaged by such and such a date, and I’ve watched those dates come and go with no proposal (the first of those dates was almost two years ago). I love him dearly, trust him, know he’s committed to me, and I am so excited about our future, but what is causing him to go back on his word?

– With the Boy Who Cried Wolf (1)

A: Have you asked him that?

Dear Carolyn: I have. He doesn’t really have an answer. He has said he doesn’t like feeling pressure from others (family, friends), but that’s not something that either of us can really control. I have tried my best not to pressure him, either, because I know how much that bothers him.

– With the Boy Who Cried Wolf (2)

A: This is where a certain population looks at the ceiling and thinks why, why, why does any woman still wait around for someone to propose? Break down what you’re actually waiting for, and the outlook doesn’t improve. You’re waiting for a proposal you’ve been assured is imminent, and with it the ring/vows/children sequence you expect it to set into motion But when you include all the details you’ve shared here, though, here’s what’s really in the package you so patiently await:

• A man seriously lacking in emotional toughness.

• Or who makes empty promises.

• Or who shifts blame to other people when called to account.

• Or who doesn’t know his own mind.

• Or who does know but can’t or won’t articulate – and own – his choices.

• Or who could marry you tomorrow – but makes excuses instead.

• Or some combination of these.

Given your dedication to him, you presumably share a life that functions warmly from day to day.

But it’s not everything – not when you’re young and healthy and responsible for no one but yourselves and generally on the “before” side of any number of things hitting the fan.

On the “after” side, that’s when you’re going to want someone who is emotionally resilient, good for his promises, accountable, self-aware, able to speak a difficult truth and unflinchingly committed to you.

If you don’t have that, then don’t wait too much longer to switch to Plan B.