I've been with my boyfriend for four years. We're happy together, and we constantly discuss our future, but talking about it is all we do. Well, I just got my master's, and I've started looking for jobs in other cities because I don't want to sit around waiting for him. He seems to take it for granted that I'll give him ample warning before leaving. I know him well enough to anticipate that when I tell him I'm moving, he'll either be very hurt or propose immediately. I don't want to break up out of spite, but I don't think I'll feel good if he proposes just to stop me from leaving. What should I do?
—Itchy Ring Finger
Contentment is not one of life's great motivators. Maybe that's why Milton sacrificed his eyesight to write Paradise Lost, not This Way To Disneyland, Dude! or A Paean to Gated Communities With Well-Maintained Lawns. And don't forget Victor Hugo, who wrote Les Miserables instead of Les Delirious With Joy, and who also understood that no love story is complete without a depressed hunchback-turned-revenge-slayer.
At the moment, you're so busy raging, "It's Graduation O'Clock, does anyone know where my marriage proposal is?!" that you're missing an important point: It's a rare man who storms around muttering to himself, "I'll do anything to alleviate this crushing happiness," or "I don't think I can go on living in this quagmire of joy." In other words, perhaps the problem is that there is no problem — at least, not for him.
Sadly, this man, like most men, is a failed mind reader. (Chances are, he's equally lame at using his brain to bend spoons.) Naturally, he leaves it to you to pick up after his psychic shortcomings, assuming you'll give him some sort of verbal warning before you hand him the human resources version of the Dear John letter — the fax confirming your employment at the Gobi Desert branch of the Gap. Yes, like many adults, your boyfriend appears to favor spoken word communication over being forced into a high-stakes game of charades. Unfortunately, at your current verbal disclosure rate, his first clue that you aren't happy with the all-talk/no aisle-walk status quo will probably be when the moving men ring your doorbell, shove him aside and march out with your couch. Showing a man what a cold, calculating sneak you can be, now there's a propose-o-disiac. Then again, it might just inspire him to elope — with his previous girlfriend, or maybe with the first woman who asks why he's weeping into his beer.
You resent feeling compelled to use international help-wanted ads as a weapon, but your boyfriend remains oblivious to his cue to stand under your bedroom window with a boom box, John Cusack-style, and pop the question. Maybe your real problem is your expectation that life should play out like a chick flick. That why, even if your boyfriend does propose, it's not good enough if he's only doing it to keep you from leaving. Um, excuse me, but wouldn't this be an indication that he loves you and wants to be with you? To find out whether that's the case, try a novel approach: plain English. Tell him your needs, and he just might meet them. Before you toss around any ultimatums, be sure you really do want to be married more than you want to be with him. Ultimately, what matters is whether he wants to marry you, not whether it occurs to him all by himself, or whether he manages to have Frank Sinatra reincarnated to sing his proposal to you tomorrow afternoon.
She's Having a Maybe
My ex-boyfriend and I have been broken up for a year, but it seems he's finally woken up and realized he loves me. The problem is, he's about to have a baby with the woman he started dating after me. He says his relationship with her is very unhealthy, and they don't get along at all. He tells me we can start working things out between us once the baby's born. Am I crazy to go along with this?
What a shame that his wake-up call didn't come before he got into bed with somebody else. Apparently, the guy does a little more than talk in his sleep. Unfortunately, he appears to be all talk in his waking life. He can't see you until the baby's born? Right. Life should be much less complicated then. Can't you hear the screeching brakes of bets being hedged? This woman and his kid are likely to be in his life for 18 years, maybe more. What's next? Asking you to wait until Baby's out of college? Or dropping by your nursing home to put you off until Baby's entered middle age? Maybe, before that happens, you'll get around to arranging a wake-up call of your own.