Life & Culture

Ask Hilary: Why won’t my dream man agree to marry?

Our agony aunt advises a woman who thinks it's time for her boyfriend to make a commitment.


QI have a lovely boyfriend. He’s kind, funny and gets on with my family and all my friends. We are both 28, have been together for a year, and I really think it is time for us to get engaged. But when I have (tactfully) brought up the subject, he says he thinks we are much too young. His own parents were in their mid-thirties when they married, and I think that’s why he feels this way. But I don’t want to wait seven years — and I really don’t want to miss the boat. Should I set an ultimatum?


AOnce upon a time, there was a Jewish princess who was lucky enough to meet a handsome prince. She couldn’t wait to enjoy their happily ever after. But when he kissed her, the prince said: “Sorry dear, but I don’t want to get married for years and years. Let’s just see how it goes.” The princess was so upset that she said: “If you won’t get engaged by this time next year I’m going to turn you back into a frog.”

Life, as you are no doubt realising, is not a fairy tale, even when you have secured the altogether eligible prince. It has a habit of throwing up irritating impediments to the future you’ve envisaged for yourself. What you need to decide is whether your boyfriend is worth waiting for. Does his resistance to settling down mean he’s not quite as perfect for you as you believe, or are you simply in too much of a rush?

You say that your boyfriend’s own parents didn’t marry until their mid-thirties. And, indeed, we are all inevitably influenced — whether consciously or unconsciously, for better or for worse — by the example of those closest to us. Presumably, they have a happy marriage, something he believes their delay in marrying is at least partially responsible for. And what of the other influences in his life, like his peers? If they’re anything like the average person today, they are not in any hurry to marry. According to the Office for National Statistics, the mean age for men marrying is 36.5 years, and 34.0 for women. (Jews settle down slightly earlier, with the average age of Jewish marriage now 33 for men and 31 for women — a statistic skewed by the strictly Orthodox, who often mary in their late teens.) In other words, he is entirely typical.

Why are you so keen to get a ring on your finger? In the past, people often didn’t live beyond their 40s, so there was a real incentive to get married very young. It was also the only way they could be together. But now, given that marriage might mean 60 years together, it might even be wise not to rush into it.

When you say you’re “worried about missing the boat”, it does suggest that you are feeling insecure. Are you worried that he’s fobbing you off, might never marry you and, therefore, if you wait, you’ll end up single? If that is the case you need reassurance from him that, despite his reticence to get engaged, he is deeply committed to you.

Or is it the biological clock that is on your mind? If so, calm down, there’s plenty of time left. It’s increasingly common to put off parenthood until your thirties or even forties.

Your idea of setting an ultimatum worries me. Do you think that you might want the security of marriage more than you want him? And could he on some level be aware of this? Fixating on the status of your relationship could destroy what’s good about it. Surely what’s important is to enjoy each other’s company. Getting married is certainly no guarantee of having a good, lasting relationship, as the divorce statistics reveal. Today, 42 per cent of marriages end in divorce, with around half expected to occur in the first ten years of marriage.

In my view, an ultimatum is a terrible idea. Holding a gun to someone’s head — emotional blackmail — certainly won’t make them keen to marry you. The other problem with ultimatums is that they are binding. Say you tell him that you have to get engaged by X date, and X date comes and he still hasn’t proposed? You’ll have no choice but to walk away. But if you love him, is that really what you want?

Think carefully about why this is so important to you. If you’re sure he is the one, then try to be patient. Despite what he says now, he may not want to wait seven years; it could be one, or three. But if you keep putting pressure on him, he might just walk away.


Do you agree with Hilary? What advice would you give? We’re keen to hear what readers think.

Contact Hilary with your thoughts or dilemmas at Or write to her at 28 St Albans Lane, London NW11 7QF

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