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damage control

The question

My boyfriend and I have been together for 17 years. We never talked about marriage and I was okay with that. A week ago, about 15 minutes before he left for work, he tells me out of the blue that he has been thinking about this and thinks we should get married. He says he loves me, but to be practical it's so we can speak up for each other medically (neither of us is sick), and for tax purposes. How romantic! He now considers us engaged because he mentioned it to me one time. By the way, there was no ring. He told me to pick something out because he knows I like to pick out my own gifts. He didn't get down on one knee either. I would love to marry him. I told him that to be engaged, you must actually propose, not just mention it one time out of the blue. He is a great guy. I know he is not romantic but I was hoping for more. I picked out a ring online. Not sure if, when it comes, I'll get a real proposal. It has really been bothering me and makes me question our relationship altogether. I feel like I deserve better. Any advice to salvage this relationship?

The answer

Well, I've got news for you, first of all.

You don't quite say whether you've been living together all the years you've been together, but if you have, and it sounds like you might have, then in the eyes of most individuals, entities and organizations, you are already married.

Having said that, I know what you mean about a romantic proposal.

Sometimes I wish mine had been just a shade more romantic. Lo these 25 years ago now, having dispersed the competition (punks: they were easily dispersed), I, within a month of our first date, moved in with the babe-a-licious goddess who would later become my wife and the mother of my children – and began proposing almost immediately.

Every few weeks or so. I knew she was The One.

She brushed off my proposals like so many flies. "Produce a ring, then maybe I'll take you seriously, Dave."

Finally I borrowed some money from my mother and got her a ring I knew she'd like (how'd I know? Because she took me to the store and pointed it out and said "I like that ring") complete with microscopic diamond.

So I had it in my pocket, made her her favourite dinner (steak, cooked to perfection), accompanied by the finest wine I could afford (Chateau Timberlay, if memory serves) – and we got into a fight! Over what, I don't remember. But the ring was burning a hole in my pocket like I'm Gollum and I finally thought "It could end this fight. I mean, it's something you can only use once – but still."

I produced the ring, proposed, she said "yes" from between clenched teeth. And the beauty of going about it like that is if someone can say yes to a proposal while furious at you – i.e. have an overview: "I hate him right now but I do love him in general" – bodes well for handling the ups and downs of marriage (and if I had to sum up mine in one word I'd say "fun").

But yes, I do think you should hold out for the whole ring-presentation thing, even if you buy it yourself. I don't know about the down-on-one-knee business. I don't know how much that's done anymore.

I do think you are within your rights to expect more than: "Hey, babe I'm off to work and by the way I've finally decided we should get hitched."

With respect to "save the relationship" I have one caveat, and it may be an odd one, but I've seen couples who have been together a long time get officially/formally hitched and then suddenly break up.

Why? Go ask it on the mountain. Maybe the stress of the ceremony, the relatives and all the rest of it (and you've thought about all that, right?).

Bottom line: You say you love the guy, that he's a great guy and you've been together a not-insignificant amount of time. You're getting a ring, you're getting married. Maybe there's an "if it ain't broke don't fix it" aspect to the whole situation.

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