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Tracey Cox, sex expert and author of Love Bytes at iVillage.com, claimed, “There’s one thing you need to get married: a proposal.” In her latest column, Cox described a way in which a girl might gauge whether or not her guy is ready to talk about marriage. The question at hand was, “How do you bring up the subject of marriage without feeling a desperate twit?”
In the hypothetical situation, the curious girlfriend breezily brings up the idea of marriage as a purely intellectual topic of social debate:
Simply say ‘I was reading a story in the paper today and marriage seems to go in and out of fashion. What do you think about it? Can you see yourself doing it someday?’ See where the conversation takes you and if you feel comfortable, follow this up with ‘Have you ever thought about us getting married?’
Subsequent bullet points describe the partner being confused and then hesitant. In the face of indefinite stalling, Cox recommends setting up a clear deadline:
… let him know the maximum time you’re prepared to wait. Don’t issue it as an ultimatum, just state a fact.
Mark the date in your diary and let him know about a month or two weeks before D-day. If he comes up with a good reason not to commit then, you might want to reconsider. But if he doesn’t and being married is more important to you than having a relationship with him – and there’s something to think about! – move on. You’ve given it your best shot but it just isn’t going to happen.
I raise my eyebrow at this plan of action because it assumes that men are so much more likely to be wary of commitment; they may not have even thought of it! Ever! Is that realistic? Can the mention of marriage really be that so-putting as to elicit a reaction of “absolute horror,” as Cox suggests? I doubt it. Then again, I suppose that if I were to have a partner who had no concept of a long-term relationship, I might have to think in terms of deadlines, not-ultimatums and “D-Day.” Walking on eggshells to avoid looking like “a desperate twit” doesn’t seem worth it to me.
I cringe at the idea implied in this article that simply arriving at the point of the proposal is the final step. There Goes the Bride, a website for “women and men with cold feet or broken engagements,” has over 2,000 registered forum users who discuss their misgivings, reasons for calling off their big days, and how they’ve coped with the emotional fallout. It’s not very romantic, but matter how much it sparkles, that ring is not an insurance policy.
At the heart of it, I believe that the real insecurity lies in potential disparities between the levels of commitment for each partner. The critical question is not whether or not a person is ready to sign on the dotted line of a marriage license, but rather, “How committed are you to making us a working unit?” The measure, then, is not how close a couple is to the big question, but how intent each person is in putting in the time and energy to crafting a meaningful and mutually beneficial partnership.
Cox titled her column, “Does He Plan to Marry You?” For both partners, I would rather ask different questions, each with its inherent why or why not:
Does he want to marry you?
Does he have similar values to you?
Does he envision you in his future?
Does he encourage you to improve yourself?
Does he love you in a way that is visible and audible, especially when times are tough?
Does he love you when you are not lovable?
When a couple is turning the corner from dating to a life-term commitment, the questions leading up to the big question matter. There is simply more to ask than whether someone plans on marriage and there is so much more to gain than a proposal.
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