Dear Dr. Chloe,
I am a 32-year-old woman who would like to marry and have children with the right man. I met someone special last spring, and after a careful period of dating for six months, we became exclusive with a plan to become engaged by Thanksgiving.
However, he never proposed and now becomes defensive whenever I ask about our future. As a woman, I don’t want to seem like I’m chasing him by constantly nagging him about a proposal, but I also want him to be accountable to the plans we made. I love him but I feel like we are stuck, and my biological clock is ticking. Any advice?
Thank you for your note. My heart goes out to you—falling in love and preparing for marriage is such a vulnerable stage emotionally—as well as a delicate time for women who have legitimate concerns about their biological clock.
Cheers to you for having dated in what seems to be an intentional manner with a clear focus on your goals of marriage and children. The fact that you were open about your goals and even had a mutual timeline for engagement is quite helpful here, since it becomes very easy to see that your boyfriend is straying from your mutual plan.
As a psychologist, I am actually less troubled by his potential need to adjust the timeline, and more concerned about his lack of willingness to discuss the change. His defensive posture makes it impossible for you to know if he just needs to adjust the timeline, or if his plans have changed completely.
His unreliable behavior and defensive attitude over such a fundamental issue could signal broader problems. He’s also demonstrating a lack of empathy by keeping you “in the dark,” especially when he’s aware of your biological clock.
You are correct to seek accountability in marital plans, and you’re also correct to realize that nagging isn’t the best way to do it. Since you’ve already tried talking, the best way to hold him accountable may be to set limits on the relationship. Many people struggle with how to set limits while also communicating a desire to be closer, so here’s one way to do it:
“John, I don’t want to say this, but I’m afraid we may need to stop seeing each other, or at least start seeing other people. As you know, I love you, and I was looking forward to a proposal like we had discussed, but it seems like something has changed on your side—and it seems that you don’t even want to discuss it. I love you too much to remain this focused on you without the type of commitment I thought we were making—it just leaves me constantly wondering if or when you’ll propose, which I know isn’t good for either of us.
“So, I think it is best for me to soften my focus on ‘us’ and start opening up to the fact that you and I are not in the same stage regarding commitment. Especially at my age, I need to be open to men who are truly ready for marriage and children—and I am a bit traditional—so pursuing you for those things feels awkward for me, and I’m sure it does for you too. So I’ll stop doing that, and you can let me know if or when things change back for you—but I won’t bring it up with you anymore.”
Your next step is to start dating other people as soon as you feel ready—and you may feel ready right away since you’ve realized for months that this relationship was not going the way you had thought. Make sure you are getting support from a trusted friend, clergy, or therapist as you potentially meet someone new and/or navigate your current situation.
John Gray wrote an amazing book called “Mars and Venus on a Date” that may be a good resource for you—and of course, I also wrote a book about dating for marriage that may be helpful.
Whatever you do, don’t be ashamed of the desire for a man who wants marriage and children. It’s a healthy and natural need. You just need to make sure to focus on men who are truly ready and willing to take that journey with you.
Wishing you all the best!
Dr. Chloe Carmichael is a clinical psychologist and USA Today bestselling author of “Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety” and “Dr. Chloe’s Ten Commandments of Dating.”
Send any questions where you’d like a psychologist’s perspective to email@example.com. Responses are not guaranteed and do not constitute medical advice.