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Boyfriend balks at marriage talk

Question: I'm 24, and my boyfriend is 26. We were on/off for two years while I was in college, and we've been together (formally) the past two years (since my graduation).

Lately, the issue of marriage has come up. I'm convinced that at this point, he should know if he wants to get married. We've talked about it the past year, and he says he still doesn't know and needs more time.

I'm not sure what to think. Is this normal? Should I stick around or realize that it's not really working out?

Answer: Give me one good reason you have to be married NOW.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Ha! Silence.

The he-should-know-by-now movement has monopolized the issue of partners who balk at marriage (especially, unfairly, when those partners are men), but I believe it's too simplistic a way to think. You say that four years is ample time for the boyfriend to know his feelings for you. As far as that goes, I agree.

But it's maybe half, at best, of a complex equation. He also needs to know himself well enough to trust how he feels about you and to invest his life in that trust. Self-awareness isn't something to be taken for granted, in ourselves or in partners.

If you were both 40, true, we'd be having this conversation over drinks to celebrate your renewed singlehood. But you guys are mid 20s, which is the tail end, if not the belly, of internal world-view flux. For every one of you who knows what he wants, there's another who doesn't recognize the guy in the mirror quite yet _ and still another who's seeking marriage only as a way to avoid his reflection. And there's always the classic free-milk connoisseur.

Before anybody marries anyone here, know him well enough to know which of these people he is; it'll answer your question. It couldn't hurt, either, at 24 with a mission, to ask yourself which one you are.

Love and war

Question: I have a fairly serious boyfriend in the military reserves. The word is that should we go to war, he will probably get called up. I think there's someone I could talk to who could prevent him from going, and he would never know I spoke to them. My boyfriend is an incredibly moral and patriotic person, and it would enrage and embarrass him if he found out I talked to this person, yadda yadda.

And it would be immoral, and unpatriotic, and sneaking, and making decisions for someone when I have no right to. He's an adult; he knew what he was committing to. But I keep thinking, what if he goes overseas and dies? Would I be guilty of not having done anything to prevent that?

Answer: It would be immoral, yes; unpatriotic, yes; sneaky, yes; presumptuous, yes. And you forgot selfish, for blithely allowing someone else's boyfriend to go get killed in his stead.

I don't question your anguish. But how could you be guilty of not preventing his deployment when it's a legal, informed choice that, by your admission, it's not your place to prevent? What's next, confiscating his car keys? In your hands, those "yaddas" are eloquent stuff. Love and respect who he is, or end it.

Tell me about it! E-mail tellmewashpost.com; fax (202) 334-5669; write "Tell Me About It," c/o the Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Chat online with Carolyn Hax each Friday at noon at www.washingtonpost.com.

Washington Post Writers Group

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