Adapted from a recent online discussion.
He wants his time; she wants a baby. Do they want each other?
Va.: Last week on our fourth anniversary, my girlfriend (we're both 36) told me she can no longer wait for me to propose and that if I'm not ready to get married she will have to break up with me. Silly me, I had no idea she WAS waiting. I would like a year or two more to remain single, but I don't think she will wait that long. I understand she has bio-clock considerations (she had trouble conceiving when she was married before, and is afraid it will get worse in her late 30s), but I think it's unfair that I should be subjected to this ultimatum without any fair warning. What do you think we should do?
Carolyn: Maybe you weren't given fair warning; maybe you were given plenty and missed it. Assigning blame doesn't serve much purpose right now.
What would be useful are the reasons you want "a year or two more to remain single" after being with someone for four years and when you're not exactly new at this being-a-grownup thing. Can you be more specific?
Va. again: (1) I enjoy some measure of independence. We don't live together yet, and I like having occasional time to myself.
(2) I have enjoyed our relationship for what it is and resent that she needs it to change in order to be happy.
(3) The fact that her bio-clock is a consideration at all suggests to me that life after the wedding will instantly become about having a baby. That just stinks to me.
However, I love her very much and can't see marrying anyone else but her. I just needed a little extra time to pull my thoughts together.
Carolyn: Why do you resent her desire to have children? It's hardly exotic. Plus, you've apparently known this about her all along. Or am I misreading your letter, and did she just now talk about her desires and difficulty conceiving?
Oh, a note on that — she's not "afraid" her fertility problems will worsen over time; everyone (but, apparently, you) knows they will. Biological fact.
If she mentioned children well before her ultimatum, then she gave you all the fair warning you needed. She's 36, she wants kids. That's not even 2 + 2 — that's 1 + 1. That you failed to produce "2" on your own is not her fault. (Her hanging around waiting for you is her fault, but that's another column.)
In fact, I'm going back to my original answer, and saying, let's take blame out of it. Now that we have your goals, let's compare them to hers: She wants to get married and have children. You don't.
Before you object, please note: When you're in a relationship with a woman who is 36 and wants kids, saying "Yes, I do want kids, but I want to wait two years" is the same as saying "I can do without your kids."
So, you need to admit to her that you don't want what she wants — you want what you have, for the foreseeable future, and so that's all you can offer her. She can then take that truth, finally, and do with it whatever she needs to. You owe her that.