Miss Information,

How do I bring up marriage without sounding like a crazy person?

By Cait Robinson

Have a question? Email missinfo@nerve.com. Letters may be edited for length, content, and clarity.

I've been with my partner for two years, and they've truly been fabulous. It's been long-distance for the last year, though I'm hoping to move back to his area in about another six-to-nine months. We're compatible in all of the big areas of a relationship: the way we handle money, our thoughts on having kids, our social/political/environmental views, our tastes, our adventurous personalities, our feelings on monogamy, our occasional desires for an intensely sexy homebody weekend in which all we do is eat and sex and sleep and sex. It's really good. I love him deeply and know I want to be with him for the rest of my life. By the way, I'm thirty and my partner is fifty. Yeah! Twenty-year gap ain't shit!

So I'd really like to know how to bring up the opposite of that conversation — the "I want this legal and social contract, the one that lets me be your caregiver when you are sick and you for me, the one that recognizes we are partners for life, the one that will announce to the country and the world that we trust one another with big decisions, allow the other to speak and act for us in our absence, and promise to continue going on sexy travel adventures and having sexy stay-at-home weekends — forever" conversation. It's a little loaded, you know? We've talked about long-term plans, in the sense of saving for trips five years out, getting ready for my move, adjusting life for pets, etc. But neither of us have brought up marriage yet.

How do I do that in a not-crazy-sounding way? How can I smoothly introduce the idea that I'm considering proposing to him in the next year or two? Why am I nervous about coming off as crazy-sounding? What's up with all the stereotypes of women being harpies and wanting rings? I don't want an engagement ring to feel secure in my relationship; I just want to have a normal conversation about being together in a permanent way.

Ahhhhhhh!

— I Need a Script for My State of the Union Address

Dear I Need a Script,

If it doesn't work out with him, want to be my roommate? You sound like the fun kind of neurotic. I wish I could give you a paint-by-numbers proposal, but if you were to put your letter into a sieve and shake real hard, I think you'd find you wrote one yourself.

First-off: I love that you view the issue as "I will propose to him in a few years," not "I need to cajole and con him into proposing to me, argh femininity is so hard!" So you get an automatic standing ovation for that one. That said, pro tip: if you don't want to have a crazy-escalating conversation, don't end it with "Ahhhhhhh!"

The best way to keep a conversation like this casual is to make it casual. Lounging, watching TV, and turning to ask, "What do you think about marriage?" will be a very different conversation than meeting him at the door in a power suit and saying, "Sit down. We need to talk." Starting in the abstract is always helpful, too. If you start discussing marriage as a concept, you will naturally funnel down to marriage in the specific. You can also broach the topic by discussing a friend who is getting married, or a conversation you just had with a friend, or this really adorable ring you just saw in a store and please please please because ladies be wantin' rings! (The latter option must be accompanied by a dog-whistle-pitched shriek.)

Though you may be mulling this over intensely, he won't necessarily read that on you. Just make sure you're not obsessing to the point of hopes he may not be able to fill (which I doubt you are). If you need validation that your desires are legitimate, here it is: it sounds like your expectations are spot-on, and you are allowed to want marriage without buying into some glassy-eyed, anti-feminist agenda. Just take a few deep breaths and I predict you'll do just fine.

Dear Miss Information,

My on-again off-again significant other of three years was recently approached by — and proceeded to do some heavy flirting with — a woman I have known for some time. (We live in a small town.) I've always considered her one of the most beautiful women I know, with long, black, curly hair, milky skin, and a big smile.

They've gone out a few times, and I'm involuntarily being kept in the loop by our group of friends and Facebook. He started calling less and less and finally dropped off all together after he asked to be "just friends" and I said, "No, thank you."

I have never felt so insecure in my life — except maybe for grade nine, when I could have been awarded "worst case of acne in school" — and I'm about to hit forty. I know objectively that I'm pretty, I have a great body, I'm sexually open and fun to be around. I have enough single male friends to prove it. But I'm about to run into these lovebirds everywhere, and it's going to impossible to forget how much of a better option she appeared to be. How do I keep myself sane?

— Green-Eyed Monster

Dear Green-Eyed Monster,

In a case like this, it's not that she's a "better" option, it's that she's a "newer" one. At the beginning, a relationship is entirely possibilities — there's no baggage, no "remember when you left me at the gas station on our road trip," no "how dare you call my mother that?" By cutting things off with you and starting something entirely new, he gets a fresh start. New relationships allow each of us to put our best foot forward, without having to deal with someone who has any dirt on us.

This is not to disparage the relationship you two had, but just to contextualize the breakup. It doesn't mean that she's in any way better than you, period. No matter how "over" someone you are, it still sucks when you realize they're with someone else.

If he's seeking new horizons, you get the chance to do the same. So start by reminding yourself that it's not "you vs. her." It's him moving on, and you having the freedom to do the same. And that's an opportunity dressed as a suckerpunch. Treat this as a case of "living well is the best revenge." You're only in her shadow if you put yourself there. 

If you run into them, hold your head high, be warm and gracious, then excuse yourself from the situation. Keep reminding yourself of your own strengths and the benefits you reap by being single. Take a walk around the block; take deep breaths and call a friend, if you need to. (We've all done it.) Act like it doesn't bother you, and eventually it won't. 

Commentarium (31 Comments)

Nov 28 11 - 3:43am
Russo

"I have a great body, I'm sexually open and fun to be around. I have enough single male friends to prove it."

You wha..? Eck.

Nov 28 11 - 9:38am
Bobby

#1: you've been dating two years. How bout just asking where he sees the relationship going?

#2: She's probably better looking you. There's lots of good looking people in the world. Deal.

This stuff's not difficult.

Nov 28 11 - 11:21am
MrZ

I'm with Russo. That was sort of gross.

Nov 28 11 - 8:54pm
UHHUH

What the hell is "gross" about someone having good self-esteem? I'm confused.

Nov 28 11 - 10:55pm
Betty

What was gross was that the sentence could be read as "I'm sexually open and I have enough single male friends to prove it" instead of what she probably meant which was "I'm fun to be around and I have enough single male friends to prove it."

Nov 28 11 - 10:58pm
Betty

I should clarify that I don't personally find polyamory to be gross.

Nov 28 11 - 11:25am
andrea

Um, if you're thirty and you've been dating a while, he's not going to be surprised when you bring it up. You aren't crazy. People get married, and without all the damn drama. Keep in mind, too, that he might be an idiot--my (then) boyfriend knew he wanted to get married to me, but he didn't understand that after 4.5 years and job offers in other parts of the country, I needed something more definite than "maybe later." It took my trying to break up with him and making out with someone else at a party (and his dad pointing out that if he wasn't giving me what I wanted, then I was within my rights to find someone who would) to get him to wake the fuck up. Good luck. Just know you aren't crazy to want to discuss marriage. But if he gets upset or blows you off, you've got your answer right there--don't waste your thirties on some dick who doesn't want to marry you.

Nov 29 11 - 12:35pm
thinkywritey

You sound like a barrel of fun.

Nov 30 11 - 11:19pm
andrea

Please. We'd been dating so long without moving our relationship forward that his friends were saying to me, "this is bullshit. If you dumped him, we really wouldn't blame you." I didn't care if we got married or we didn't-- I just needed a decision, because I had to decide where to find a job.

Dec 03 11 - 11:02pm
Ben

Sounds romantic!

Jan 03 12 - 10:03pm
NicoleK

... more romantic than being strung along by some guy and making life decisions around someone that doesn't really care about you.

Nov 28 11 - 12:26pm
Wrong

I know I'm irrational in thinking this, but I think using the term "Partner" is bunk.

Nov 28 11 - 12:41pm
TAL

Agreed. It's for sanctimonious liberals. And before you accuse me of being a conservatroll, I speak from the personal experience of being a sanctimonious liberal.

Nov 28 11 - 1:56pm
Etc

It sounds a little weird calling a 50 year old a boyfriend though, maybe

Nov 28 11 - 6:17pm
BrosephofArimathea

I'd go with 'boy/girlfriend' out of linguistic tradition, but my idea of a relationship-other is more of a 'partner' in concept. 'Mate' would be another option but that sounds icky.

Nov 28 11 - 6:35pm
S

Dunno why anybody cares enough to mention it.

Dec 11 11 - 4:27am
LJ

Frankly, in my opinion, calling a 50-year-old your "boyfriend" sounds creepy. Partner is more grown up, and also sounds more stable.

Nov 28 11 - 12:32pm
GN212

Why is it crazy to want to talk about marriage for two compatible adults who have been together for a pretty significant amount of time? Don't buy into the stereotypical idea that wanting marriage = anti-feminism. That's just garbage and has nothing to do with real life -- your reasons for wanting permanence sound to me like the perfect balance of pragmatism and deep affection. Is there something in his own value set that you think will make you sound crazy? That's more relevant to the topic.

Nov 28 11 - 9:55pm
ggg

Feminism is a victim of its own success.

Nov 30 11 - 1:14am
nn

She didn't say that her distaste for the stereotype had anything to do with feminism. I know a lot more traditionally "masculine" men who bash marriage than feminists, personally.

Nov 28 11 - 1:19pm
Annie

It's quite refreshing to read how people are encouraging the big 'talk about marriage.' And I thought our society would frown on it and the negative statistics/ information it brings.

Nov 28 11 - 2:01pm
js

Most relevant to the first lw, I think, is the fact that they're long distance and she's about to move to be with him. THAT is a reason to bring up "where is this going" if I ever heard one, and that is likely also the reason why the question of "where is this going" is suddenly weighing very heavily on her mind. Lw, you would have a right to have this conversation regardless, but given the fact that you are about to uproot your life for him, this convo is not just your right, but it's a necessity. You gotta know where things stand before you move. So just bring it up. I find that with these kinds of "big talks", the best approach is to simply ask, "what do you think about xyz" and then listen to the answer, rather than to go into it with the objective of getting your way no matter what. Good luck.

Nov 29 11 - 3:10pm
Dea

Agreed. It's perfectly reasonable and makes sense to have the marriage/future talk since it's important to the LW to know if she and her bf want the same things, and two years is definitely a reasonable amount of time for both of them to figure out if they see themselves together permanently. However, as js said, the geographical factors definitely put a heightened importance on figuring that stuff out. Be honest with yourself -- if it turns out that you don't want the same things, and/or you end up breaking up, would you still want to move to his city? What effects would that have on your plans in terms of career, living situation, etc.? Obviously you hope things will work out, but it's worth considering these issues just in case.

Also, before you have this discussion, I would recommend that you think about how you might proceed in the case that your bf isn't interested in marriage either anytime soon or at all. Would you want to continue the relationship? As with moving, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Also, not sure what this guy's relationship history is like, but going out on a limb here, if he's 50 and unmarried -- especially if he's either never been married before, or was and had a bad marriage or nasty divorce -- it may not be something he's planning on doing, even if he enjoys and wants to continue your relationship. Some people just don't see themselves as "the marrying kind", and would rather keep things unofficial for a variety of reasons. I have no idea if your guy is one of these people, but I wouldn't be surprised given his age and involvement with someone 20 years his junior. I may be totally off the mark here, but just a thought.

Nov 28 11 - 6:40pm
BrosephofArimathea

I'm in a situation in the same general area as LW1, but at a very different stage. I'm at a distance from a person I like but I'm not sure how to approach the topic of starting a relationship. I did before in a casual manner when I was visiting her (it was brief and I lost), but since then I've become more convinced that a relationship would be a good direction to take. Following the response to LW1, should I casually toss the idea out there to her again?

Nov 28 11 - 7:08pm
LW2

what's gross? All I wanted to say that I have male friends , people inviting me to watch football or to go to an art show and who think I am nice looking and nice to be around.

Nov 29 11 - 9:38am
KingPellinore

We've all been there, LW2. The person we've been with is with someone new and we can't help but find reasons why they're "better" than us.

Unfortunately, that kind of thinking doesn't do anybody any favors, least of all you. Follow Cait's advice. It's pretty spot on. Concentrate on yourself and pretend it doesn't bother you long enough and eventually it won't.

Nov 29 11 - 9:40am
notfromaroundhere

Someone noted that the sentence could be read as "I am sexually open and have enough single male friends to prove it." Anyway, you do seem fun (as well as self-aware, which is nice) and I think the advice is pretty sound.

Nov 29 11 - 10:01am
Heather

Green-eyed monster : it's not all about looks. You're just feeling insecure. Looks are just a form of status, if he's worth it, he won't care.

Nov 30 11 - 4:31pm
esh

i wouldnt do it broseph. it might ruin the 'friendship'. let her bring it up if she really wants to start a romance with you. OR bring it up that you like her/want to be bf/gf and leave it open for progress but dont push for it. she already said no once and i wouldnt want to be rejected twice by the same person. if you do decide to tell her again, best of luck and i hope it works out for you.
LW2- try forget them. besides, you might look at her and think 'perfect' but im sure she has a stretch mark or cellulite or one yellow tooth. no one is perfect. if you want to mess with the ex bf: date someone he always felt was not a threat- one of those many good looking male friends of yours-that will make him wonder if something was up before you two broke up. OR date someone younger- parade a hot 30 yr old guy your small town. tell everyone how the young buck is the best you've had in 5 years! you'll feel the balance return. the only way to stay sane in a situation like yours is to try to have fun and all of the fun will ease the heartache and jealousy bc you are too busy having fun to think about the sad stuff. Yoga, salsa dancing, binge drinking at the bar with responsible friends are all places to start. fuck it, be selfish.
LW1- sorry to say this but just grow up and ask him. he's freaking 50. Are you really going to be the first wife for him? and if he's scared of getting married again, he should sort it out for himself if he wants spend the rest of his life with you. You seem like a decent good woman and he shouldnt waste your time. he's dating someone 20 yrs younger- could he be expiration dating? dating you knowing it wont be forever and letting you assume it will be. (?) just wondering

Dec 01 11 - 12:36am
AlexT

LW1-

I ditto the previous poster. Hopefully a 50-year old won't have a heart attack from shock and run for the hills because you brought up the M word. However, by the time you move to his area, your relationship of 2.75 years of a relationship will have been long-distance for 1.75 of it...? How very Bronte sisters.

If I were you, I'd wait until I was in this guy's regular orbit before I cemented any plans for big life decisions. Of course you might seem really compatible NOW, you never even see each other. There's a monster difference between loving someone over the phone and watching them gob toothpaste all over the sink and hog the TV remote.

Take it step by step. Move to his town, and see if you can still get along. Then move in with him (or get to the point where your toothbrush and a couple bras have semi-permanent residence, at least) and see if you STILL get along. THEN talk marriage.

Just don't treat your time served as some sort of investment cost that HAS to be recouped by further commitment. You might find out the guy only likes to brush his teeth once a week. How dumb would it be to then think to yourself, "Well, it turns out he's horrifically unhygienic, but I HAVE to marry him because I moved all the way out here..." No, you don't have to marry him. He doesn't have to marry you.

And really...the guy's 50, still single, and fine with a long-distance relationship. Usually people who've gotten to 50 while single are pretty much perfectly content with making it to 60,70, and 80 while single. So, look forward to the future with this guy, but don't go so far as to bet the farm on it just yet.

LW2 - Okay, obviously you're insecure right now, hence the "I'm pretty and guys all like me and I have enough guy friends to prove it" comment. I think you deserve to get a pass on that, personally. I don't think anyone would savor being on the losing end of a blatant trade-up. Yeouch. I hope for your sake that it was during an "off" period.

But...either way, you two were already hot-and-cold before the intrusion of Victoria Secret, so even if your ex hadn't jumped ship, it still meant that you two weren't the most compatible match for each other. Sure, it would have been nice if shirtless Ryan Reynolds had shown up just then to be your rebound, but what can you do.

That still leaves the issue that the happy new couple won't be conveniently falling off the planet and you may be forced to interact. (Ergh.)

Do your best to mentally picture yourself three years from now, after the emotions have faded and this guy's just one more jerk in your past. Future You would be begging Present-day You NOT to make it worse by acting like a jealous, crazy fool. No confrontations, no revenge hook-ups with mutual guy friends or other acts of desperation, no accidentally-on-purpose drink dumps. Just put them in your rear view, find a new scene and find a way to enjoy yourself again, ASAP.

Dec 11 11 - 5:13pm
jparkes

Uhm....you don't. Crazy people get married. Embrace your crazy!! Fly your freak flag and be proud!!!