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Not Quite Engaged

“‘Cause if you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it”

Beyonce’s anthem to the “Single Ladies” is probably looping like a broken record through the minds of some distressed young women—and their moms—because an engagement ring was not nestled among the season’s holiday gifts. 

The disappointment especially stings when a young woman has been sharing space with her boyfriend for awhile.  As we noted in “Living Together for Better or Worse,” men and women often have different expectations when they move in. Women anticipate marriage; men want to “gauge compatibility.”  So how long is long enough to test the mattress?  One year? Two years? Eight years?  That’s how long Prince William took to decide before proposing to Kate Middleton–dubbed “Waity Katie” by the British press.

So what happens when your daughter lingers in living-together limbo wondering when—if ever—that proposal will come.   You are faced with a dilemma:  Say nothing and just wait it out?  Commiserate when your daughter complains about the situation?  Help her pack?

 To help provide some insight, m21 sought out an expert and found Hannah Seligson, a 28-year-old journalist who knows the topic well from her own experiences and research.  Her book, “A Little Bit Married: How to Know When It’s Time to Walk Down the Aisle or Out the Door” is based on interviews with dozens of young couples.  We chatted with Ms Seligson last week.  

You wrote a piece for the Daily Beast about “the curse of marriage’s new timetable.”  What exactly is that?

That means–for both men and women–getting all your ducks in a row before marriage. You have this amorphous sense that you need a certain level of independence and experience under your belt before you can get married.  Have you traveled enough?  Gone far enough in your career?

This timetable is very much Gen Y.  But the biological clock is still ticking on its own schedule.  How does that impact young women? 

In their late 20s women start to think about their lives in different terms. While it’s great to be footloose and fancy free that becomes more problematic as they start pushing 30.  If women want to get married and have kids where do they squeeze that in with everything else?  There’s this sweet spot in their late 20s that seems like an ideal time to start thinking marriage.   And when their boyfriends can’t settle on a wedding date that sweet spot becomes a moving target.

Why are young men often so reluctant to commit?

Many guys say they want to become more successful in their careers before getting married.  As much as gender roles have evolved, many men want the ability to be the primary breadwinner before getting married.  Also research indicates getting married signifies more of a crossover into adulthood for men than women.

What should a mom do  if her daughter wants to get married but lives with a guy who won’t  set a date? Wait until he’s ready?  What happened to girl power?

First make certain how your daughter feels about the situation. And yes, girl power; women need to empower themselves.  The daughter needs to have this conversation with her boyfriend but it’s not so simple to give an ultimatum.  Parents can help with some creative thinking and listening.  You can ask questions of your daughter: Are you happy?  It’s not being overbearing if you see that your daughter is miserable. 

What about if it’s your son dragging his feet?

Obviously for both sons and daughters the conversation depends on the relationship with the parents. If you can have an honest discussion with your son, talk about his fears.  If you know he doesn’t want to marry the girl, you can ask if he really want to hurt her by stringing her along.  Ultimately you may be doing your son a favor by getting him to face those questions.

You recently got engaged to your boyfriend.  What would you advise a couple to think about before living together? 

Moving in is for people who see a future together so consider it in a thought-out, intentional way–not because your lease is up or you need to cut down on expenses. The key question to answer is “What does it mean that we are living together?”

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