DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost 11 years. We’re best friends and very happy. I love him very much and know I plan on being with him for the long run. We get along with each other’s families and friends. We recently purchased our first home together, so I know there are no problems in regards to his commitment and dedication to me and our relationship.
I’ve known from very early on that he is not interested in marriage and this truly does not upset me. I know he also plans on sticking with me forever and that is all I need. He of course gets uncomfortable when family members pester him about “when are we getting married?” to which I try to intervene as quickly as I can by saying “It’s not for us, we’re happy with what we have now.” (I’m hoping by being the girlfriend saying this, it eliminates further pestering on his end due to gender norms).
We’ve had a few instances where friends or family members have gotten engaged, to which I appropriately reply how excited I am for them. I’ve been a bridesmaid/Maid of Honor in numerous weddings, so many times they want to show me their ideas or request advice. This causes my boyfriend to think I’m “catching the wedding bug”. I ensure to him every time I am not.
Here’s the catch though: there have been a few smaller, more intimate weddings that we have been guests of, to which my boyfriend will sometimes say to me when we’re alone or slow dancing: “We could do something like this.” To which I have no clue how to reply.
I am over the moon with what we have now and am perfectly content never getting married. However, I would get married if that is what he wanted. But I don’t KNOW what he wants.
Help. I am so confused. When I try to ask him about it he either brushes it off, says “I didn’t mean it”, or kind of shuts down. He doesn’t get mad or defensive, but his shutting down completely prevents us from having a proper discussion without him getting the wrong idea. Any idea how to approach this?
Waiting For an Explanation
DEAR WAITING FOR AN EXPLANATION: Usually in cases like these, I say that you and your boyfriend need to use your words. But the problem here is that your boyfriend seems to be using his in ways that don’t make a lick of goddamn sense… when he uses them at all.
So unfortunately, you’re going to have to call the question and sit him down to have an extended Awkward Conversation. In this case, you’re going to need to tell him: “Hey, I’m honestly confused about where your head is at regarding our relationship, and I think you’ve got the wrong idea about what I’m expecting. I want to carve out some time to talk with you about this and make sure that we both understand each other, and we’re on the same page about things.” And then schedule a day and time that you are going to dedicate exclusively to having this conversation.
On that day, you’re going to need to take charge and direct the conversation. Start with a simple declaration of intent: you want to clarify things because you’re pretty certain that you and he aren’t understanding each other, and that you need him to listen and let you speak without interruption until you’re finished. You want to make sure that you get through this and speak your peace, and so you need him to just hold any questions or things that he feels he needs to clarify or what-have-you until you give him the go-ahead.
Next: tell him that you’ve been worried about having this conversation because when you’ve brought it up before, he tends to shut the conversation down and that leaves you more confused than before and afraid that he he may not get how you feel. You’re also worried that he may not understand your feelings or what you want, or have ideas about what you want that simply aren’t true.
Now you start to get into the meat of things. Start with telling him that this is what you understand his position to be regarding your relationship, marriage and so on; make it clear that this is what you have gathered from what he’s told you and so on. Then tell him that you agree with this, that you’re happy with what you have and that you don’t need to get married. Explain that the fact that your being in so many wedding parties — to the point that other people are coming to you for advice — doesn’t mean that you’re “getting the wedding bug”; it just means that you’re celebrating the marriage of friends or family members, and that you’re happy for them. Being their bridesmaid or maid of honor doesn’t mean that you’re secretly dreaming of your own wedding.
Next: tell him that, with all that in mind, the way he behaves is confusing to you. That when he’s said things like “we could do something like this,” you don’t understand what he means. You don’t know if he means some form of a commitment ceremony, some elaborate party with friends and family or what. For that matter, you don’t know if he says that because it’s something that he wants, or that he’s saying it because he thinks that this is something that you want.
Now finish with letting him know how clarifying these issues will make your relationship better. That you’ll both know for sure how the other feels, that you’ll both be on the same page regarding your relationship and its future, and that there won’t be this confusion about how you feel or about how he feels. If you both clarify things, communicate your feelings clearly and make sure that you both understand one another, not only will you both have a stronger relationship over all, but there won’t be any confusion or conflict arising from these miscommunications.
Then give him space to ask questions, clarify things he may not understand and let him share his side of things. And, just as you asked it of him, let him speak uninterrupted until he’s done. It may be difficult to do this, especially if you feel like he’s misunderstanding you or is misstating how you feel. However, it’s important to let him get his side out and then go back and clarify things, just as it was for the two of you. If you both are allowed to speak your peace uninterrupted, then its’ much easier for both of you to get your points across. Interrupting to ask questions or try to correct one another just ruins the flow of the conversation and risks either sending it down unrelated tangents or creating even more confusion… and a lot more frustration.
Now one thing I will say is that the way you’re answering family members’ questions about when you two might be getting married might be causing some of the confusion. While I realize that you’re saying that you’re happy with your relationship in its current state, when you say “we’re happy with what we have now,” it can sound like you’re saying that this is a temporary state that may change in the future. That could be causing him — or various family members or both — to think that you’re saying “we’re not interested in getting married YET“, rather than “we’re not interested in getting married at all“. It might be helpful to phrase it as “we are happy with our relationship as it is”, or even “we’re happy with what we have,” with no conditional. That, at least, makes it less likely that someone — whether your boyfriend or others — will interpret this as saying “not yet but maybe some day…”
But for now: have that Awkward Conversation and make sure that you and your boyfriend both understand what the other wants. The more you two can communicate clearly about this, the easier it will be to put all this behind you and continue building a beautiful life together.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org