Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m a girl and I just got into this relationship with this girl I’ve known for years. We dated once before but I was scared and left. We recently got back together and got engaged right away and now she wants to get married, right away. I’m not ready for that.
I love her and I’m not leaving her, but she keeps nagging me about it. She’s scared I’m going to leave again and I tell her I’m not. Every time she brings up marriage, it turns into a fight. She gets mad and upset and I end up feeling hopeless. I’m not even financially stable. I’m currently living with my grandfather and she’s living with her ex. I’m just trying to get through life. I work a lot and I’m in school trying to get my bachelors degree in English.
I tell her that I want to wait two years to get married and she thinks it’s because she’s a girl that I want to wait and that if she were a guy, things would be different. I tell her that nothing would change and that I would still make her wait. I love her to pieces, but she’s driving me batty about this.
Batty and Hopeless
Marriage should be entered into happily, joyously, with both participants running toward their wedding day at an equal pace. Marriage shouldn’t be a bargaining chip, and it shouldn’t be used to assuage someone’s insecurities.
Think about your wedding day: What do you want to feel on that day? Excited, amazed, humbled, adored? Or, pushed, manipulated, passive, resigned?
I once tried to convince a man to marry me through a combination of asking, crying, drunk yelling, and gazing wistfully out of windows when no one was watching. It, of course, didn’t work because it shouldn’t work. My failure to convince him to marry me allowed me to realize that while I had been asking for marriage, I had really been requesting something else. I was looking to this man to pick me, anoint me, lift me up, grant me access into a new, married life. I equated marriage with adulthood, triumph, finally having my shit together.
But marriage is not any of those things.
Why did you get engaged right away when you got back together? Was it a spontaneous, romantic moment? Or were you trying to prove something to your girlfriend? Did you get engaged in an attempt to reassure her and/or end a fight?
New mantra for our time: Getting married doesn’t solve anything. Getting married doesn’t solve anything. Getting married doesn’t solve anything.
No one should get married just to end a fight. There is not a single relationship problem that getting married will fix. When you get married you step through a doorway into a new world, and this world is full of a whole new set of problems, plus old problems who followed you in through the open door and brought luggage because they plan on staying for the rest of your life. It gets real crowded.
I don’t know why you left before, what made you scared, but I have an idea. You say that your girlfriend is convinced that you’d be eager to marry her if she were a guy. Did you leave because you were scared of being with her because she’s a woman? When you came back, did you get engaged to her right away as a way of showing her that you intended to stay? If so, it did not work.
You don’t want to get married right now for really good reasons—you need money, you need to move out on your own, you need to finish school. You also 100% have the right to not get married if you don’t want to. You don’t owe it to your girlfriend to marry her.
In your relationship, marriage has become a contest with a clear winner and loser. As long as you aren’t planning the wedding, she’s losing. Once you plan the wedding, she’s won. I want you two to stop talking marriage, and start talking about what you’re really fighting about.
Your girlfriend doesn’t trust that you won’t hurt her again. She is insecure, upset, worried. She is desperate to get married because she believes that once you get married her insecurity will disappear. Your girlfriend was devastated by your leaving her, is overjoyed at your return, but lives in fear of being devastated once again. She wants to know that you love her, only her, because of, not in spite of, the fact that she is female. She wants to know that you will not hurt her again. And she has equated the feeling of security that she is desperate to acquire with marriage. So when she says she wants to get married, and you respond, “I think we should wait two years,” what she hears is, “I am going to make you feel this terrible insecurity for two more years.” And she does not like that.
What can you do right now, today, to show your girlfriend that you really do love her? How can you make her feel special? How can you help to assuage her fears? Coming up with answers to those questions will benefit your relationship much more than setting a wedding date. Your girlfriend also has to, on her end, adjust her thinking. She needs to stop searching your actions for evidence that you’re going to leave and instead look for signs that you plan to stay. Give your girlfriend good, solid evidence that this time is different. Then, ask her to see your actions, understand what they mean, and believe them.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.