I've been waiting for my boyfriend to propose for five months. We've been dating longer than that, of course, but five months ago, we went ring shopping. I know that he bought the ring I tried on, because he told me. At the time, I didn't want to know, but now I'm relieved that I at least know he has the ring.
The awful thing is that was five months ago, and he shows no signs of planning anything special for a proposal. My birthday passed, our one-year anniversary passed, and still no proposal. I'm beginning to wonder if he wants to get engaged at all in the near future. He says he does but has been making excuses. He's in a job he hates and wants to find a better one before he proposes. He needs to get his life in order, including buying a new car and furnishing his apartment. And his non-Christian family won't understand us getting engaged so soon (we've been dating for a little over a year now).
I've tried to be patient through it all. He has never been one to act swiftly. But there are many times I have broken down, wondering if he does indeed want to marry me. I feel hurt by his inaction. Not because I want a pretty ring on my finger, but because I want to be able to tell the world that we're committed and to begin planning for a wedding. Mainly, I just want to start planning for a life with him.
I know he wants to marry me. We talk about it all the time, but that's all it is: talk. And I'm beginning to feel like that is all it will ever be. What can I do to encourage him to act? How can I pray for him? How do I let go of the hurt and resentment that builds inside me every time he brings it up? Please help. I've been in prayer and tears about this.
Thank you for writing and for the openness of your question. Obviously, all I know about your relationship and your boyfriend's actions and attitudes are what you've included in your question. I'm also going to assume, for purposes of our discussion, that you and your boyfriend are both believers (as your question suggests) and that you belong to a solid biblical church(es). Based on all that, let me offer a couple of broad principles and then some specific suggestions for you.
First, as to the principles — and apart from your feelings of hurt and frustration and the simple desire to move things along — you are right to prioritize marriage over circumstances and logistics and to be wary of a drawn-out dating relationship.
God calls marriage a good thing, and it's clear from both Scripture and experience that it is an encouraging and sanctifying gift from God. It is also one of the most important life/ministry decisions one can make, fundamentally affecting other aspects of life (like career, lifestyle choices, ministry) over several decades — Lord willing. Because of those truths, and as I have written in multiple columns here, when a man and a woman are in the position of wanting to marry one another, and assuming that it is appropriate biblically for the two of them to be married, I normally advise that they err on the side of getting married sooner rather than later and that they prioritize a godly relationship and marriage over "logistics" and other life circumstances rather than waiting to marry until the logistics are perfect or life circumstances are more accommodating from a worldly standpoint.
Another reason I give that advice is that when two people know they want to marry but put it off, it normally puts them in the position of being in a very long dating relationship. Long dating relationships (more than a year or so) are very difficult to pull off without sinning in the form of engaging prematurely in physical and emotional intimacy meant only for the context of marriage. Other than the comment that you have been dating for a little over a year, your question didn't mention the level of emotional or physical intimacy in your relationship, but if your relationship is typical, it's probably beyond what Scripture contemplates for people who are not married to each other. My articles "Growing in Intimacy," "Principles for Drawing Boundaries" and "I don't want to marry, so why should I?" might be helpful for you and your boyfriend to read on these issues. A year is normally plenty of time to discern if marriage is the right thing, and the preferences of his non-Christian family should not trump the call to avoid temptation and sin and to proceed in a wise, biblical way toward marriage.
So, assuming your boyfriend is not making wise choices on these issues — or at the very least is taking a course of action that is causing you hurt and anxiety — what can you do?
1. Keep praying.
Pray that the Lord would give your boyfriend wisdom in acting on his feelings for you, on prioritizing marriage over worldly circumstances and logistics, and in leading the relationship in a way that will be good for you (and for him) spiritually. Pray also that the Lord would give you wisdom in assessing the health of the relationship and his feelings for you.
2. Seek counsel from mature believers who know both of you (or at least you) well.
Hopefully, you and your boyfriend are active in your church community(ies) so that there are mature, hopefully married, believers you can go to for counsel about your situation. Even more ideally, as a couple, you will have already sought counsel in your relationship on an ongoing basis from a married couple or other believers in your church that you can now turn to specifically for advice — and whom you can encourage your boyfriend to speak with as well.
Counsel from believers who know and love you and who have already been down the road you are traveling can provide great wisdom and perspective that perhaps you (and your boyfriend!) have not thought about. If it's just you seeking the counsel, express the same feelings and ask some of the same questions you've written here. You might get some great insight as to how to speak to your boyfriend about this. In fact, depending on your/his relationships with pastors/others in your church, it might even be appropriate to request that a brother who knows him (or you) well have a conversation with your boyfriend about the feelings and issues you raise.
3. You need to have a deliberate, clear, big-picture conversation with your boyfriend.
It sounds like you've talked about engagement and marriage a lot but that perhaps you have not expressed to him your true feelings about his inaction. Once you've been clear about that (and perhaps reasoned with him about the principles above), his response will tell you a lot about (1) where he is spiritually and (2) his feelings and intentions toward you. Even if you end up not liking the answers to those questions, you will have some clarity and can proceed as you see fit from there.
4. If you have been "acting married" to your boyfriend, stop.
You should do this for two reasons. Most important, as I suggested above, conducting a dating relationship in a way that includes levels of physical or emotional intimacy reserved for marriage is sin (see 1 Thessalonians 4:1-6; 1 Corinthians 6; 1 Timothy 5:2; Song of Songs 8:4). Second, if you are giving your boyfriend many of the benefits of marriage without the commitment or responsibility that comes with it, you are not encouraging him to commit to marriage. Don't do this on the sly to try and manipulate your boyfriend; make it a part of your big-picture conversation that until the two of you are married, you are convicted that certain things need to change. Then stick to your guns. You will be doing the right thing biblically and clarifying things for your boyfriend.
5. Consider whether you should marry this guy.
I'm not saying break up with him, but give it some additional thought as you seek counsel from mature believers. Your question raises a number of potential issues as to his spiritual maturity and desire to put your spiritual good before his own desires (Ephesians 5:25-27). Especially if he responds poorly to the next steps you take, you may have a difficult decision to think through.
Speaking of which, I know I've already given you a lot to think about. I will pray that the Lord would give you wisdom and peace as you think about how to proceed and that your boyfriend will respond in godly wisdom and care.
Copyright 2015 Scott Croft. All rights reserved.