Depending on what you’re talking about, eight years isn’t really a big, long stretch of time. Eight years at a job won’t qualify you for any real perks besides more vacay time and a fully vested retirement plan. Eight years in a home barely puts a nick in the 30-year mortgage used to purchase it, and even an eight-year jail bid isn’t the end of the world — to a person not serving the time, of course. But eight years in a relationship where your man has never popped the question? Now that’s a whole other story.
For the better part of a decade, I was expecting the same thing on every gift-giving holiday: an engagement ring from my then-wonderful but slow-to-commit boyfriend of eight years. Eight long years. Eight long, proposal-free years. Homeboy made presents of a gorgeous leather jacket, some electronics, and several pairs of fabulous shoes, but that elusive velvet box never crossed my palm. So I waited. And waited. And waited a lil' more.
Even though he was an excellent father figure to my daughter and my family adored him, the frustration of being habitually unengaged started to wear on my self-esteem. What about me was so unmarry-able? How could I manage to let so much time fly by without demanding that this man make a decision about our relationship? One day I looked up, and I was hanging on to my 20s by a spindly little thread. In fact, 30 was pulling into my driveway and getting ready to knock on the front door. Eight years was a lot of emotion and experiences gone down the tubes if we never took that walk down the aisle, but being encouraged by episodes of I Propose was borderline pitiful.
Back in that day, I fell in love with a man who seemed like he was handpicked for me by God. After being given so much time to think, I wondered if this couple was going to live happily ever after or if the noble heroine was destined to die an old maiden. (I couldn’t qualify as a cat lady because I don’t like cats. Maybe, in my spinster-dom, I could be a world-class sweater knitter instead.)
That marathon relationship ended about three years ago, and what I learned from it has informed the decisions in my new dating life. Love is great but I had to start being strategic if my ultimate goal is to get married. Sometimes women — especially Black women — are so caught up in the being smitten part that we give everything of value away before a dude is forced to seal the ultimate commitment we’re looking for. We give up sex before he pops the question. Heck, sometimes depending on what our hormones are telling us, we give it up before we’re even sure he’s hubby material. We move in together and split bills and open joint bank accounts. All the accoutrements of married life are splayed out in front of him, ready and available to play house without him actually being forced to get married.
That adage about buying the cow might be old, but age doesn’t make it any less applicable in 2011 than it was when the great mind who thought it up coined it way back when.
When I finally decided to break ties with the marathon man, it was like the good Lord put me in a chokehold and made me take a realistic look at the situation I was banking my future on. The possibility of marriage, like my faith in the relationship, was fading fast. Between my frustrated outbursts, I realized that I needed to evaluate my good qualities as a reason to leave instead of using his as a reason to stay.
That wave of self-empowerment obviously didn’t come quickly. And I have to admit, when I saw what was waiting for me on the other side of singledom after an eight-year hiatus — guys with bad teeth, dumpster breath, and no manners along with upwardly mobile playboys with too many girls to choose from — I found myself somewhere between discouragement and sheer fright, depending on who hit on me that particular day.
When I met my current boyfriend I let him know, early and upfront, my expectations about marriage so no one would be wasting their time. I have to believe that God wants better for me than to be someone’s Guinness Book girlfriend, and I have to want that for myself, too. After investing so much hope into a previously hopeless relationship, I can finally say those two magical words I’ve been waiting so long to say: I do.
So, how long is too long to be in a relationship without a proposal if you’re looking to get married?
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