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Dating Advice: #7 - No Ring? No Way!

May 8, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

She told her boyfriend no way when he wanted to "try" living together, but now she misses him. Did she do the right thing?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

How does one get over a relationship of three-and-a-half years? I thought he was "the one" for me, until he went far away to medical school because that was the only one that accepted him. Things were left "up in the air."

Then, when we got together over winter break, he suggested that we have a "trial period" this summer by moving into an apartment together. No ring, no proposal, no commitment. I said, "No."

My problem is that now I miss him, but I don't think I would take him back at this point. How do I know that I've made the right decision?

Joelle in Rockland County

Dear Joelle,

Three-plus years is a long time to be dating without moving to a higher level. This is as true for a couple that starts dating in early adulthood as it is for an older couple. It was natural for you to expect that by the time your friend left for school, the two of you would have discussed where your friendship was going. It seems that you didn't, perhaps because you each had very different expectations about your future together. Rather than risk a break-up, you kept quiet. But you've only postponed addressing this issue.

First, clarify what you want. Do you want to get married while he is in medical school? Are you willing to maintain a long-distance friendship the next four years and hope that it stays together so you can get married at that point?

It seems you have been waiting for your friend to bring up the "C" word, but really you are the one who will have to initiate it. If you decide that you would like a firm commitment from him to marry within a specific period, find an opportune time to discuss this. If he doesn't want to commit to marriage, you will have to move forward on your own. If he needs a little time to think, give him a reasonable deadline.

However, be careful not to pressure him. You don't want him agreeing to marry simply because he's afraid to lose you. He should want to marry because you are the woman he'd like to build a life with. If he doesn't feel this way, why would you want to stay together?

We commend your response to your friend's suggestion of moving in together for a "trial period." Trial periods don't work. From the outset, a married or engaged couple acts according to the credo, "We're going to meet challenges, share joys and build a life together." A man and a woman who are "experimenting" both understand that they can leave at any moment if things don't work out. They approach day-to-day issues as individuals, and often avoid confronting problems. This prevents them from developing shared problem-solving skills and growing as a couple.

"Experimenting" couples know they can exit whenever they want.

Moreover, one partner is often taken advantage of when a couple lives together. The partner who wants marriage (usually the woman) may go to great lengths to please the man in order to "convince" him to go for the ring. However, he's usually content with the way things are and has little incentive to make a commitment. After a number of months (or years!) with no promise of marriage, the woman often leaves the relationship, feeling betrayed and used.

Also, most couples who live together first don’t have so much long-term success if they do decide to marry. They often divorce because it is too difficult for them to change from a me-oriented relationship to a we-oriented one.

Finally, Jewish tradition precludes such a live-in arrangement.

Good luck on gaining clarity, and please let us know what happens.

Rosie & Sherry

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