You’re best friends. You’ve been dating for years. You live together. You know each other very well….in fact, you know him well enough to know that you don’t want to marry him. Not now and maybe not ever. The problem is, he wants to marry you and he may be proposing any time now. There’s no virtue in marrying someone who you don’t want to marry. And just because someone asks for your hand doesn’t mean you have to extend it.
So what should you expect if you turn a ring down? Can a relationship survive a rejected (or rescinded) proposal?
Jessica Bennett who wrote the New York Times article “Missing the Boat: The Case For Marriage” talks about her experience after turning down her boyfriend’s proposal because she didn’t want to get married:
I loved him desperately. I knew, as much as I would ever know, that he was the one I wanted to be with. We balanced each other. I wanted to frame his dimples.
And yet the moment I saw that ring, I was terrified. I saw dirty dishes and suburbia, not lace-covered wedding gowns. Rather than thinking about the family we’d someday have, I saw the career I had hardly started as suddenly out of reach. The independence I had barely gained felt stifled. I couldn’t breathe.
I begged him to forgive me. I cried and pleaded. I promised I’d never leave him, and I meant it.
He was devastated, but he loved me too much to let go. So we came back to New York, to our tiny apartment, and tried to move on. We held each other — that night, and every night after. I cried and stroked his hair. I said I was sorry. I told him I loved him. We slowly moved forward.
There were plenty of times over the next six years that I wished I had said yes. We could have had a long engagement, I told myself. In a few years, I would have been ready.
But as time went on, as our couple friends broke up, as those who were the first to marry became the first to get divorced, I was glad we hadn’t done it.
THEN one day, in the most tired of clichés, I, too, started daydreaming about a wedding….I brought the issue up tepidly, to feel him out. Lying in bed one night, I asked: “Do you still want to do it? Do you really not believe in it?”
“I’d marry you at City Hall,” he replied, then dropped it.
Another time, he threw my argument back at me: “Why do we need marriage? It’s only a piece of paper.”
And then I brought it up again as we were planning a summer vacation with his family…“Why don’t we get married there, on the love boat?” I asked.
He laughed. “We’d have to talk about it seriously.”
We never did.
A month later the couple broke up. He told her he had never forgiven her for turning him down six years ago.
If you’re interested in staying together after refusing a proposal, you definitely want to try to preserve the relationship from the moment he proposes. If he does it in private, then it’s best to respectfully decline right away. If he is in front of friends and family then you may want to say yes in the moment to save him from the public humiliation of rejection and then have the talk as soon as you’re in private. From there, reiterate that you want to stay in the relationship and that declining the proposal doesn’t mean you want to break up, but be prepared for the reality that he might.
The man is in an extremely vulnerable position at this point and his ego will undoubtedly be bruised. No one wants to hear “no” if they’re genuinely expecting “a thousand times yes!” Be clear about whether your no is a “not now,”a “not you,” or a “not ever”. If you think you need more time to be ready, then that’s different than never wanting to get married to anyone. Ever. In that case, it may be hard to salvage the relationship if he is looking for a commitment and you’d rather not do the whole marriage license and wedding vows, thing. If you don’t see yourself ever being a Mrs. and he wants nothing more than to call you his wife then breaking up might be the best thing for you both since you clearly want two different things.
If you just need more time, that should be okay, especially considering that marriage is for life so whether you get married tomorrow or next year, you’ll still be married for the decades to come. Theoretically, a man who loves you and truly wants to be your husband would probably be understanding and willing to wait – at least a little while. But you shouldn’t expect him to wait 10 years, just as if the tables were turned no one would tell a woman to wait 10 years for her boyfriend to be “ready”.
There are some men who say if a woman turns them down, they will never propose again. It doesn’t mean they don’t still want to marry her, but not many men (or women) would set themselves up for rejection twice. In that case, the girlfriend might need to propose to the boyfriend if/when she changes her mind about marriage.
The best thing to do is just to make sure your lines of communication are open to prevent the whole get-down-on-one-knee thing from happening in the first place. Communication is important to any relationship and when you notice him dropping hints, make like a sniper and shoot the idea down while it’s still forming. Either that, or encourage him to keep his receipts.
What do you think? Have you ever turned down a marriage proposal?