Often people call me saying that they are stuck. They are dating something they really like and get along with excellently, but they are struggling with the idea of proposing because “some things bother me.”
Let us consider the predicament of Eli, a successful professional who has been dating for a good number of years. Obviously, things have not resulted in marriage, and he is confused as to why. He is now dating someone seriously for some time, but he keeps putting off proposing because aspects of her appearance are not to his preference and he wishes she had a more developed sense of humor. A few other things bother him, such as her somewhat odd family and the sound of her voice.
On the other hand, Eli has dated many other people and only one or two did he ever feel a connection with. He is very reluctant to give up on the person he is dating because he likes her a great deal and has a fantastic relationship with her. The net result is stalemate. He continues to date, but does not propose. She is being patient, but it is getting awkward. He understands that the situation is dysfunctional – for how long can one prolong this situation?
Getting Priorities Straight
Eli’s rationale seems iron-clad. How can he commit to marrying someone he still has real doubts about? If he were to get married and then have constant misgiving about the issues that bother him, that is going to make for a miserable situation. It is clear, it would seem, that the issues that are causing him concern are significant, for otherwise why would they keep getting in the way of his decision to propose marriage?
It is wrong, after all, that someone should feel pushed into marriage with someone just because they have been dating for a while. It is best that it takes however long it needs to, rather than rush into a decision that is later a source of regret or turns out to be a mistake. That is the logic anyhow. In many instances this would perhaps be true, but often it is far from correct. The relationship may have compelling attributes that are far outweighed by the much smaller reservations – but the person is unable to see that.
Upon brief investigation, it became apparent that Eli was drawn so strongly to the person he was dating because she fulfilled a very profound need that very few in his life had ever met. Eli has always been a bit different than others (more sensitive and philosophical), and was perpetually misunderstood. The overriding features he needed in a spouse were validation and acceptance.
Marrying someone who allowed he to feel affirmed and understood was not merely a preference for Eli, but a fundamental need. He had dated for years without success because he was not meeting people who put him at ease and gave him the ability to be himself. Now he has met something who does this, which is a game changer. That is why is so drawn to her, and why he feels to compelled to stay with her.
Put a little differently: Her ability to make Eli feel understood is not one quality out of many that he finds meaningful and attractive in a potential spouse; it is his first, second, and third priority. Feeling misunderstood and rejected have been a defining feature of Eli’s life, and is a gnawing pain that saps away his happiness. Marrying someone who will give him that emotional security will add so much to him. Under the looming shadow of this colossus, his minor hesitations are not significant.
Minor Issues Should Not Have Major Influence
Those things he is not keen on remain, but they now assume their appropriate dimensions. They are a few small things that he could easily live with versus a single major thing that is absolutely vital. Okay, there are women he finds more attractive, but he knows – from years of failed dating experiences – that focusing on physical aspects of attraction has not worked. True, he is not warm about her family, which bothers him, but this pales into insignificance given the central importance of being with someone who meets his core needs.
Bottom line: if you do not have unique requirements in a spouse that assume overriding importance, then you can afford the luxury of focusing on the lesser issues. But if you have other overwhelming priorities, then you need to reduce the other issues to their correct proportion. If you have been dating for a while, and have learned the hard way that it is not easy to find someone who truly works for you, then you need to be focused on what really matters. Perhaps all people would do well to be clear about their priorities and not allow relatively minor issues to dampen enthusiasm for a promising relationship.
It is understandable that people may be particular about who they choose as a life-long partner. But when people clearly find that many other dates have not worked for them, they need to appreciate its significance of finally finding someone who is a great fit. You have hit the jackpot. How smart would it be to quibble because the numbers could have been higher?
It may not feel easy to get over the things that bother you, but it is a whole world easier to achieve that than spending who know how many years trying to find someone as compatible. You can in the end learn to let go of certain minor sticking points, but you can never forego the truly central requirements you have in a spouse. In short: if you know that you do not find it easy to find dates that work for you, get your head straight when you do finally meet someone who fits well. If your own dating experience, or perhaps your own self-awareness, tells you that you have a hard-to-find, non-negotiable requirement, make that your top priority and let side issues go to the side.
While you are busy fretting over whether you can live with her curly hair, you are frittering away what could be an amazing marriage. You will find that this was the best decision of your life. You will realize the massive benefit of sharing a life with someone who is a great fit for you. The others things will fall to the wayside, because they were never even close to being as important as what really matters.