The Rules Redux: How To Be Engaged By Christmas

The Rules Redux: How To Be Engaged By Christmas
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What does the girl who’s been happily dating her boyfriend
for several months really want for Christmas this year?

An engagement ring.

Christmas music and movies have helped stoke seasonal-hopes
for happy endings. Think of the lovers
who “face unafraid, the plans that [they] made, while walking in a Winter
Wonderland.” Or Miracle on 34 Street, in which Santa helps shepherd a
couple to marriage plans over the holidays.

That isn’t to suggest that such aspirations for a Christmas
or Hanukkah or New Year’s engagement are culturally contrived. To the contrary, NOTHING could be more
natural than for a woman in love with hopes for marriage and possibly children
to wish to see her dreams reciprocated during a season centering around family,
tradition, and reflections on the year behind and that ahead.

I’m not talking about a movie timeline, like the one
referenced above, where Maureen O’Hara meets her handsome neighbor on
Thanksgiving and he pops the question on Christmas Day. I’m talking about the couple that’s been
happily dating for at least nine months, that is in an exclusive relationship,
in which the man has unambiguously declared his love, and at least hinted at
his intentions for the future.

The weeks and months leading up to engagement may sound like
an ideal, shining time for a woman – and in many ways it is: you’ve moved
beyond the awkwardness of early dating to greater intimacy, security and trust. But as I can attest from my coaching practice, it can
also be an incredibly nerve-wracking time as well! You’re doing your darnedest to practice
patience, keep things light and focus on the present, and yet all these
feelings of doubt, ambivalence and even resentment keep bubbling up –
particularly if you’ve been dating for over a year, or even years, plural!

Why? Well, because
something is awry in the balance of your relationship. Your boyfriend – whom you dearly love –
appears to be getting most, if not all, of his needs met. He’s got a lover, a committed girlfriend, and
possibly even a faux-wife if you’ve fallen into the error of acting like you
were married – e.g. cooking for him, spending too much time with him, letting
him see you whenever he wants, keeping clothes at his place, etc. In fact, he might be happy with this arrangement
for years. I mean, why not?

But what about you?
Are you getting all of your needs yet?
My hunch is “no,” otherwise you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog. Maybe you’d like to have children one day –
and if he’s not going to end up being the father, you might want to make other
plans. Maybe you’re thinking of a career
switch or geographic move, and don’t want to keep putting your life on hold
while he makes up his mind. Or maybe
you’re just tired of seeing all your friends getting engaged and married around
you – and wondering why your boyfriend seems assiduously dedicated to not
noticing the trend.

So what can you do?
Here are few pointers:

1) Check
your timing. When it comes to fumbling
your part of the engagement process, the
mistakes women make
fall into one of two categories. They either bring up marriage too early (in
the first few months of dating) – scaring men away -- or let the issue slide
for years as their frustration and despair grows. In a recent seminar in
, The Rules authors
Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider told their audience that it’s okay to ask
where things are going about seven months into the relationship. In the “ideal” Rules timeline, he proposes after nine months. Certainly by a year you should know whether
he plans to marry you or not.

2) Inventory
the relationship. Who initiated the
relationship? If
you met on-line, did you respond to his ad – or vice versa?
Who’s done most of the contacting? Has he said he loved you, and asked for
exclusivity? Obviously not all
relationships are headed toward marriage – however long they may have
lasted. But if he was the pursuer, and
you’ve done him the honor of letting him retain that role throughout the
courtship, then your odds of engagement are vastly better than if you picked
him up, called him, asked him out, etc.

3) Stop
making excuses for him – as in “he’s still scarred by his first marriage,” or
“he’s under too much pressure at work,” or he can’t commit because of childhood
trauma, and other such mind
. Also, don’t let him snooker
you into pretending that marriage isn’t important or doesn’t matter IF it IS
important to YOU and DOES matter to YOU.
In He’s Just Not That Into You,
Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo argue that “Love cures commitment-phobia”:

“Every man you have ever dated who has said he doesn’t want
to get married or doesn’t believe in marriage or has ‘issues’ with marriage,
will, rest assured, someday be married.
It will just never be with you.
Because he’s not really saying he doesn’t want to get married. He’s saying he doesn’t want to get married to

Harsh – but liberating truth – which, the sooner you accept,
the sooner you’ll be able to move out from under the deadweight of a
potentially going-nowhere relationship so that your real future husband can
find you!

4) Scale
back on togetherness. Of course you want
to be with him day in and day out – that’s why you want to get married! But if you’re with him all or even most of
the time, you’ve robbed him of any incentive to move things forward. Ellen and Sherrie say it best in The Rules II:

“In general, the way to get a man to ask you to marry him in
a reasonable amount of time is not to live with him before you’re engaged or
married and to continue to see him only three times a week, even though by this
time you want to be inseparable. If that doesn’t work, you may have to shake
things up a little bit – go away for a weekend with a girlfriend, cancel a
Saturday night date, get very busy at work, mention that you are renewing your
apartment lease, and be mysterious about your activities. All of the above should make him anxious to

5) Set some internal deadlines. How long do you want to date your boyfriend
without being engaged? While I mention
that he should know where this is going after a year, maybe you’re not
marriage-minded yet – or are still reeling from a divorce. Once you HAVE decided that you want to marry
him, set in mind a month when you’d like to aim for resolution. At that point it’s perfectly okay for you to
ask him his intentions. He doesn’t need
to respond with a proposal – but if you don’t get a clear sense that he’s
either planning something or seriously thinking in that direction, you need to
be prepared to walk.

Even if you’re in the somewhat
early stages of dating – nowhere near where you should be talking about
marriage – the holidays DO provide an ideal time to look for signs of whether
the man you’re seeing is serious about you.
Does he give you a romantic – or practical gift? The man who gives you inexpensive lingerie
from T.J. Maxx is more likely to end up proposing than the one who gives you an
expensive cashmere scarf from Loro Piana.
Does make plans in advance for New Year’s Eve? Does he include you in family
gatherings? Does he talk about what
you’ll be doing “next year”? Does he
want to be with you, even when you’ve come down with the seasonal flu? If he’s making you feel warm and cozy this
winter – then there could yet be time to plan a June wedding. But if you’re feeling a bit drafty, then
maybe multi-dating should be on your list of New Year’s Resolutions.

Still wondering about whether
current boyfriend will end up as future husband? Then try a free ten minute consultation by

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