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In Dating Limbo

May 9, 2009 | by Lauren Freedman

She wanted to make it official. He was hemming and hawing. And a promising relationship became overcooked.

El Boyfriend and I had been discussing marriage for months. All around us, our friends and family were expectantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. I had been going along, being a dutiful girlfriend, keeping in touch with his parents and trying to fend off the pressure I was getting from every corner, defending him -- "Don't rush him, we'll get engaged when the time is right..." -- a shining pillar of felicity and faith in between mood swings.

Because after the second month of this, those mood swings came. Oh did those mood swings come.

While certainly not unemotional (I am female, after all), I am fairly even-keeled. But not then. In what felt like a sudden shift, I was snappish and clingy where I am normally understanding and independent. I was hypersensitive and touchy. I barely recognized myself.

All around us, people were waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And over the course of time, I recognized him less. Like the exaggerated teenage self-perception in a zit cream commercial that makes a pimple look like a grapefruit, his flaws loomed ever larger, seeming to grow with each day. Things I had barely noticed now seemed insurmountable; foibles that I had looked on affectionately now grated beyond words.

It took me a while to understand what was happening. My nature is romantic, but I am practical enough to know that marriages and marriage partners aren't perfect. I wasn't looking for perfection; I was looking for someone I loved, someone I could "work with." I'd been aware of his blemishes and limitations all along, and I had decided I could live with them, as I expected him to live with mine.

I had never anticipated that I couldn't live with being put on hold.


I felt like a VCR on indefinite pause. Most machines have safety features that auto-stop. Those that don't end up with distorted images and wrecked tapes.

Why? Relationships are dynamic. They grow and change constantly. A healthy relationship evolves from infatuation to a more mellow and long-lasting connection. It moves through the stages of puppy love to mature love, from dating to commitment to marriage to children... and so on.

Mature adults need to move through these stages. Staying at one level for too long feels stagnant and moribund or, conversely, too intense for comfort. In either case, it's not healthy for the relationship or the partners in it.

I felt like a VCR on indefinite pause.

My beau and I had reached a level of emotional intensity I simply couldn't sustain. I could fend off the noise I was getting externally (my mother calling, wanting to know whether a June vacation would interfere with "um, plans..."), but my insides were becoming a pressure cooker.

I wasn't worried about my love's intent. He had, after all, reassured me repeatedly of his intentions. He bookended statements with "when we get engaged..." and we discussed our future jointly. "He's not afraid of commitment," I naively reassured the ever-prying friends and relatives. "He's just waiting for the right moment..."


And so every time we were together, I couldn't relax: would this be the day, the night, the whatever? He'd utter some magical combination of words and I'd murmur a reply and would be able to get on with the rest of my life already.

It was enough to melt one's nerves.

He didn't understand. So not surprisingly, he was put off by the changes in me. How could I blame him? He was ring-shopping (slowly, ever so slowly) for a woman he didn't recognize. It seemed nonsensical to insist, as I did, that things would be different "when we got engaged." Why should they? What was wrong with me?

Months before, a friend had cautioned me about taking our relationship too casually. "Stay on the fence too long and your tush will start to hurt," she said. "You'll start looking for ways to get off, one way or the other."

There had already been a million "right moments."

Relationships, like anything else, involve timing. If you're cooking something, you watch to see when it bubbles and take it off the stove at just the right time. If you wait too long, the pot boils over and the consistency is forever changed. It's the difference between yummy pasta al dente and a big, mushy mess.


My boyfriend said that he wanted the time to be right, to be magical. How could I explain? The time had gone. There had already been a million "right moments," and each one had passed, each one taking with it a tiny piece of me and my faith in the rightness of our relationship.

The right moment is when both people are ready. If he wasn't ready, he needed to have told me a long time before. And if he was, why was I still waiting? I looked at this man I loved and saw indecision and weakness. Here he was, trying to ensure that the ring, the setting, the moment were all perfect. It was romantic and loving... but that dreamy intention didn't do much to change the reality of what was happening. I was on hold, reassured repeatedly that something was coming, but it wasn't arriving.

The magic was gone. The time had passed and my pot had boiled over. The consistency and taste were changed irrevocably and now things looked different to me. Was his hesitation cold feet, or the right thing? If he had proposed at the right time, would things have spun blissfully forward? I'll never know.

The disjunction we'd faced -- my needing to move forward or end it and his indecision -- poisoned our relationship. Looking back, I wonder if I could have controlled my reactions more, or if he could have bit the bullet and jumped.

We all walk a tightrope in relationships, monitoring when it's time to move forward, trying to know if we're ready to do so. I never understood what people meant when they spoke wistfully of a "relationship gone by," that they'd lost someone they loved because their "timing wasn't right."

Now I know.


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