Tell Me About It: She wants marriage; he says never

Question: I broke up with my boyfriend eight months ago because he was too scared to tie the knot. We were together four years and are 28. He has said before he can't ever see himself getting married, to me or to anyone.

I am conflicted. I love him very much, was happy with him and know he'd still be with me if I had not broken up with him. But I would like to get married to have some security that he's going to be with me forever, even when I'm old and gray. (Yes, I know he still could divorce me.)

Any advice?

Answer: This could be irrelevant, but it bears mentioning that this line:

"He said he couldn't see himself getting married, to me or to anyone!" ... is often recalled in a smear of tears by those processing the news that he married someone he met six months ago.

Here's why it might be relevant, though. People who are committed to someone for life can feel that way while also not believing in marriage. It is not automatic that won't marry = won't commit.

If your boyfriend saw yours as a life partnership, though, then it's curious that didn't come out during the reckoning that led to your breakup. Wouldn't he have said, "I feel no less committed to you than I would to a wife"? Wouldn't you have asked, "Then why not just get married?" And wouldn't he have been willing either to say "I do" for you, or to explain his reluctance in a way that assured you it wasn't you, it was the institution?

That didn't happen. If it didn't because you closed your mind to any possibility but marriage, then, by all means, revisit your decision; be sure it was in your best interests. But breaking up was your only choice if the commitment just wasn't there.


E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.