Question: What is the best way to ask your boyfriend if he is ready for marriage, or an idea of when it will happen? I have been dating my boyfriend for eight years, ever since we met in college, and I want him to be my husband. When we have spoken about this topic (periodically, most recently six months to a year ago), I leave the conversation feeling like I am not getting the direct answers I need.
It seems like engagement and marriage are not a high priority for him right now, but they are for me, and this leaves me feeling insecure. I am uncertain of what to do if he does not reciprocate the feeling to be engaged soon.
Answer: The best way to ask is to ask. You've been together eight years. If you can't initiate and sustain a frank conversation at this point, you're not ready for marriage yourself, either to him or at all.
Sometimes, the best way to get your answer isn't to ask, but to listen to the answer you've been given. "It seems like engagement and marriage are not a high priority for him right now": Why is the answer you've deduced not good enough?
Because you don't like it and want a different one? Because you're afraid to act on it in case something has changed since your last conversation?
Suspense in movies is entertaining; suspense in life is low-grade torture. Of course you feel insecure. The relationship you're counting on is poorly defined, and its future is under someone else's control.
There's a plain and direct way available to you, though, for regaining control of your future:
"It seems like engagement and marriage are not a high priority for you right now. Am I right about that?"
Any response short of his taking concrete steps toward marriage means, yes, you're right about his not wanting to marry you. As painful as that would be, it would free you to end a relationship that doesn't serve your needs, which is the first step toward building a new life that does.
Question: My sister-in-law and I had a huge fight this week. In the last three months, she has dropped off at least 15 trash bags filled with used children's clothes for my one baby. The ratio of nice-quality items to torn junk is about 1:4.
Two weeks ago, I spent five hours sorting through everything, washing everything (it had clearly all been in a musty basement), donating some things, trashing others, organizing by size. Then she unexpectedly dropped off another huge bunch of trash bags.
I suppose my face betrayed me, because she said, "You know, I put a lot of effort into this, and you just don't seem grateful. I could just send it all to the Sal." I said, "I am, but it's all just too much. I'm overwhelmed." She said, "Well, it's all or nothing." I said, "OK, I guess I'll have to go with nothing."
She stomped off and is now telling the family I am "too good" for her children's nice clothes. Can one ever look a gift horse in the mouth? I like the idea of my child wearing his cousins' things, but are gifts supposed to be so burdensome?
Answer: Your sister-in-law jumped the shark, easy call. Smearing you to the whole family because you made the wrong face - wow.
Would it have been better for you to have worn your grateful face? Sure. And does "torn junk" expose a whiff of your contempt that she caught? Perhaps.
But when you said you were overwhelmed, that was a reasonable way of explaining why you looked stricken, one that a reasonable person would have accepted by offering you a choice: "I understand, it's a lot to sort through. Would you like me to donate these bags then, or would you rather just hang on to them till you're ready?"
Had you put up any further resistance at that point, she would have had a legitimate complaint about the way you handled her gifts; although I see your point about the hassle, she's under no obligation to assume the hassle for you. She's giving as-is gifts, and you either want them or you don't. Fair enough.
Even in that case, though, she wouldn't have had any standing to complain about your being " 'too good' for her children's nice clothes" to anybody but you. That's where her behavior becomes egregious - in the backstabbing.
Unfortunately, there's little you can do about that except trust that others recognize for themselves that badmouthers always indict themselves more than they do their victims. Don't even defend yourself against the charges except to say, if anyone mentions it to you, "I'm sorry she sees it that way. I'm grateful for the clothes I've received." High road all the way.
Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.