Dear Doctor George...

Iím 34 years old and have been living with my 38 year-old boyfriend for two years. This was supposed to be a one year trial, before getting married, but things have dragged on even though we get along well. Now Iím getting more and more impatient because Iíd like to start a family while Iím still able. Iíve thought of giving him an ultimatum to either ask me to marry him or leave, but I donít know if thatís fair. I really love this guy and he says he loves me, so why wonít he commit?

... Impatient Girlfriend




Dear Impatient Girlfriend...

The topic of marriage is often difficult for couples, especially when they're not in sync. Also, since you're already living together, your boyfriend has the benefits of a relationship (such as sexual intimacy and companionship) without the responsibility of commitment.

To get a reading on whether your boyfriend is interested in (and capable of) a long-term commitment, you can start with some of your own observations. For instance, has he made and kept commitments in other areas of his life (such as in his friendships and career)? Is he not taking the relationship to the next level because that sort of avoidance is in his nature in other areas? Is he really interested in marriage and family at this point in is life? Even if he is, many men wait until a woman presses them because of fears of being tied down and losing freedom.

You could ask your boyfriend if he thinks about being married (not counting the times that you bring it up). If so, at what age has he always imagined himself married? Does he want kids? At what age can he imagine himself a father?

Notice whether you're the one who's always bringing up the discussion. For instance, was the condition of the living arrangement your idea and something he just went along with? Whenever you bring up the topic, how does he react? Does he have an excuse for not talking about it? Does he say heíll discuss it later but then never brings it up again?

Answers to all of these questions should give you a better picture of where your boyfriend really stands. If he doesnít really want to be married and have a family, then youíve got to ask yourself whether you are willing to stay in this relationship under those conditions. On the other hand, if he says he does want to get married and have a family, but not in the time frame that you feel you need, then an ultimatum might be your only alternative. A one-sided ultimatum might seem unfair, but look to see whether your boyfriend, by virtue of his passive behavior, is giving you an ultimatum of his own. His might be: ďDon't bring up marriage and I won't leave you.Ē

Not to scare you, but your concerns are well-founded. According to research by Professor Sharon Sassler of Cornell University, ďonly about 40 percent of cohabiting couples studied ended up marrying within four to seven years.Ē Believe it or not, men are just as likely as women to be the ones pushing for marriage.

Doctor George understands that it feels risky no matter what you do. If you donít speak up, you risk being too old to have children (and then you could become horribly resentful). If you do speak up, you risk your boyfriendís leaving (and youíd have to start over in your mid-thirties). Which risk should you take? That's a question that only you can answer.

Whatever course you choose to take, Doctor George wishes you the best.

   Doctor George