Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: 'My boyfriend won't marry me'


Dear Virginia, I’ve lived with my boyfriend for eight years, and two years ago he suddenly suggested we got engaged. I was delighted as I’d always longed to get married, but since then nothing has happened. Everyone keeps asking when we’re going to be married and he just says: ‘When I’m ready. There’s no hurry.’ I’ve told him how unhappy I am, and even threatened to leave. Marriage means a lot to me, and I can’t understand why he won’t do anything about it. Best wishes, Pam

The first thing I wonder about is why on earth he ever suggested you got engaged. What triggered this? Engagement, after all, is a commitment to marriage in the future, and if you're not going to get married then I should break off the engagement (sounds so wildly old-fashioned, doesn't it!) as soon as you can. Tell him that there is no point in living in this kind of limbo if there are no plans in the future to marry. I suspect that were you to do this, he might agree to putting a marriage date in the diary a couple of years ahead – though no doubt he'd try to wriggle out of it when it got nearer to the actual day.

But more effective, I think, would be to leave. You say you've threatened to leave, but threatening is useless. Until you start putting your name down at estate agents, and have the details of flats coming through the letter box, until you start actually packing your bags and asking him to help you divide the CDs and DVDs up fairly, he's going to know that it's highly unlikely you'll carry your threat through.

I did once give this advice to a woman in your position. She reported back that she'd packed her suitcases and ordered the taxi and was just walking down to the path to get in when her boyfriend suddenly came rushing out of the house saying: "Don't go! Let's get married!" I'm not saying this will necessarily happen to you, but I do think there's a chance. A good chance. While you do nothing, why should your boyfriend do anything? And I mean "do" something, not just talk about doing something.

Tell him it's not just about marriage. It's about the fact that he knows you're unhappy with the situation and he just doesn't care. He clearly doesn't talk about it with you, or put his arm round you and say he's so sorry, he knows he's hurting you, but he's terrified by the thought of it, or say that because his parents got divorced he's nervous of the same thing happening to you two... he doesn't bother to explain his feelings to you to help you understand his reluctance. No, he's prepared to let you suffer and doesn't try to do a thing about it. That's not kind or loving, and you don't want to be around someone who's not kind or loving for the rest of your life – unless, of course, you find total shits irresistibly attractive.

Leaving would mean taking a risk, I know. But I think it would pay off. And even if it didn't end up in marriage, it would surely make you feel better about yourself and, I know, make him admire you more. Instead of being someone who's happy to wait around like a pudding for some never-never wedding, you'd be taking matters into your own hands and standing up for yourself. It may well be that this act of asserting your own identity and putting a boundary between you both is exactly what he needs – and, secretly wants – to make the idea of marriage a lot more appealing.

He'll never marry you

Your boyfriend is probably being completely truthful. He's not ready, and he probably never will be – for you, anyway. For eight years he has had all the benefits of living with you in terms of sex, housework and everything else you provide. But he doesn't love you enough to commit permanently to you. He isn't ready to give up the idea that he might want to live with someone else, and he isn't ready to start a family with you. If he were ever going to be ready to do this with you, he would have done it by now.

If you're not going to get married, then you aren't engaged. Saying they are engaged is sometimes just a thing men do to keep women quiet. You have to decide if you think he may eventually decide to commit to you, and whether you are prepared to wait for that. While you are waiting, it's very possible he will meet someone else he does want to commit to. If you try to railroad him into marriage you may find he runs off with a bridesmaid, or leaves you shortly afterwards saying he feels trapped. Don't get pregnant whatever you do, as he isn't ready for fatherhood either.

It isn't his fault, as you must have been young when you started living together, but don't waste your life throwing good years after bad. Chalk it up to experience and move on while you are still young. You don't want to find you are 40 and still in the same position.

Helen Style, By email

It's time to let go

I am afraid you have to accept that your boyfriend believes the relationship is all about him and not about you both. He is happy as things are and will not change the arrangement just because you're not. You need to consider which is the more important to you, the man or the fact of marriage, and if it's the latter, go seek someone more in tune with your hopes.

Tam, By email

Decide what matters

The proper question from a man to his beloved is: "Will you marry me?" If the answer is yes, they become engaged, and engagement should imply marriage within some agreed time frame. The improper question is: "Shall we get engaged?" which speaks of an unwillingness to make a proper commitment, and is often used (alas!) by men who want to keep their options open.

You have to decide which matters more to you: your ongoing relationship or your goal to be married. You could try an ultimatum, but that isn't without its problems, especially if things go wrong. You say you've threatened to leave – maybe it's about time you did. Not that leaving would necessarily be the end of the story, though...

Don Manley, Oxford

Next week's dilemmas

Dear Virginia, My father is in his early seventies and quite frail. He lives alone in a very large house in a wealthy area of London, and is very frugal, always complaining about having no money. My sister proposes that we each give him £25 a week to help him out. But I know he pays £2,000 a year in storage costs for lots of unwanted furniture, and he could easily earn money by letting out a couple of his rooms. So I resent the idea of giving him money when he could just sell the furniture and get a lodger. I earn quite a bit, but I have a young family to support. Am I being unfair? Yours sincerely, Robert

What would you advise Robert to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas@independent.co.uk, or go to independent.co.uk/dilemmas. Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Naked Wines (Nakedwines.com)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

    £16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

    KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

    £100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

    IT Systems Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

    £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

    Day In a Page

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world