Here in Salem, Massachusetts we have had fun all October as we head towards this year's Halloween celebrations. So for this month's Mannersmith monthly I decided to take on the scary "M" word. Not magic, not mayhem, not murder… but marriage.
A little while back I received an e-mail from a divorcée who was dating a lovely divorced man. They had been together for over a year. He had included her and her children in his family gatherings and life cycle celebrations, and seemed completely content with the relationship as it was. She, however, did not want to date forever. She was ready for a life-partner again, but did not want to issue any ultimatums. Her question to me was how to politely bring up the topic of marriage. Obviously, not an easy -- and occasionally a very scary -- question. Here are some guidelines for approaching the topic of marriage appropriately.
Know Your Demographic ~ The timelines for dating and marriage can vary drastically depending on the ages and situations of the participants. The general rule of thumb is that under the age of 25, a minimum of two years of dating is appropriate. As the daters get older, less dating is necessary. This is because as we age we are more in touch and more comfortable with who we are and what we want out of life. We are (or rather, should be) able to ascertain in a shorter amount of time if this person fits within our expectations for our lives or not.
Start General ~ Sitting down to a romantic dinner and grilling one's partner about where the relationship is headed is bound to result in a startled expression and may end up in a fight. It is better if you plan ahead. During the initial conversation, bring up someone else's impending marriage. Elicit responses about their thoughts and feelings about marriage in general. Remember, joking is a defense mechanism. Try to work past the joke. ("No, really, what do you think...")
Dig Deeper ~ In a subsequent conversation, ask specifically what they think about marriage. You can start with their remembrances of what they thought about getting married when they were younger. If they have been married before, ask about what made them decide to get married the first time. Then ask what they want now.
Strategic Self ~ Before any other conversations with your significant other, you must be completely and totally honest with yourself. Some people are completely comfortable with dating forever. They like having their own place and a steady date for Saturday night. When both people are happy with the relationship, there is no need to delve any further. However, when one person is ready to take the relationship to the next step, they must be prepared. There is a chance that their paramour is not interested in anything more, which would mean the end of the relationship.
Love The One You're With ~ Sure, when you are dating, it is easy, it is comfortable and you remember the horrors of the dating scene. It may seem easier, even safer, just to keep dating, even when in your heart you long to be married again. But you are not doing anyone any favors. Once you know what you want, it is time to take action. If you really want to be married, but the other person is happy dating until death, resentment will begin to build. Mature adults do not just keep dating someone to avoid having to be single again.
Initial Ultimatums ~ Etiquette rarely finds ultimatums to be the best course of action. You, of course, know your significant other best. Some people actually do respond well to deadlines. If you believe this will work for you, by all means, go ahead and try. However, for most individuals, softer conversations will result in better outcomes.
Set The Stage ~ Again, romantic dinners are not the best time to dissect the destiny of your relationship. Better situations are ones where both people are engaged in a join activity where they are side by side instead of face to face. So, long car rides, or even an afternoon hike can work well. These situations allow for conversation, silence and renewed conversation as a natural part of the interaction.
Prepared Statement ~ Have your talking points developed in advance. Something along the lines of: 1. I really care for you, 2. I hope you care for me, 3. I want someone to share my life with, someone who is ready to fully commit to me, 4. If you are not interested in a full commitment, or not interested in a full commitment with me, I need to know, 5. I realize I am just bringing this up with you now, please take some time to consider what I said, 6. If you are not interested in something more with me, I am asking you to let me know and let me go...
Segue The Conversation ~ The advantage of being in a car ride and/or on a hike, the situation will allow for some quiet time after you have said your piece. It also allows you to then start talking about other things. Topics such as the scenery, or your destination, are good, easy topics to switch to after the heavy conversation.
Revisit Reasonable ~ Depending on your personality type, patience level and how often you see your significant other, you will need to revisit the relationship conversation at some point to be sure the conversation has come to resolution. Most likely, you will need to initiate the follow-up discussion. Once you know where the other person stands, you can decide how you would like to proceed.
Boomerang Beau ~ No burning bridges here, no need for screaming fits or breaking personal property. It is not uncommon for one person to want to get married and the other to say they do not want to be married. They break up…and then a few months later, a proposal is forthcoming.
Stand Up for Yourself ~ If this person does not want to be married, and you do, you need to stand up for your feelings and move on. Yes, you should end your current relationship before looking for love. The reason? To allow yourself the emotional space to clear out the current relationship and to open yourself up for the next person.
Scary? Yes. Impossible? No. And now is the time to consider what you truly want. After all, it is only 3 ½ months until Valentine's Day! No need to delay your future happiness.