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Waiting For Love: How Long is Too Long?

My friend Allie is waiting to see if her live-in love will pass his bar exams before she brings up the subject of caterers and flower arrangements. She has already lingered through his “Let’s Wait Till I Get Into Law School” phase, followed by the “My Sister Is Getting Married Let’s Not Compete” phase and that long weekend where he thought he had a terminal brain disease (after reading a medical text left by his cousin) and knew, just knew, that he was not a good marriage bet. Frankly, Allie has had it.

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“I want a package deal,” she says. “I want a two-level upgrade up from boyfriend to husband. I want to skip over fiancé.” She is clear about what she wants, but can’t bring herself to talk about time. Her boyfriend has secret goals that include bank account balances, law firm credentials and having everything in place. Allie isn’t sure the law exam will signal the start of the pre-wedding procession or just another delay. “I feel like I’m in a football game where that guy comes onto the field with a stick and a chain to see if the ball made it far enough for the second down,” she says. “I always fall short.”

Why is it that perfectly independent people, who think nothing of hiking the Andes, changing the oil filter and ordering dinner for six in the same month, cannot be direct when it comes to weddings and marriage?

Many men are also in Allie’s boat. “After three months of dating, she wants to wait and put things on hold for a while until she decides what she wants to do,” writes one reader. “What should I do to make her come back to me? I love her so much.”

Yeah. OK. So he loves her – and she is much more attractive because he hasn’t spent enough time with her for her flaws to surface. And predictably, she is not actually asking him to GO AWAY. No, no, he’s supposed to sit on the sidelines waiting to see if there’s an injury on the field so she can whistle him in as a substitute. And where’s the risk for her? After two months, she’s either there or gone. What is she expecting him to do during her time-out? Knit sweaters for penguins?

In this case I would advise him to be ferociously honest with himself and ask, “Why am I waiting for a woman who has evaporated?” He needs a friend to drag him out into the sunshine and show him where fresh, unattached females hang out.

Inevitably, readers ask me how long is too long to wait. Well, for some folks waiting is a full-time endeavor occupying the entire brain. Others juggle many tasks, so it’s not such a big deal. If the person you’re kissing is worth the relationship, perhaps it is acceptable to push the pause button. A friend of a friend, Laura, left her reticent main hug Anton after six years together when he said he still wasn’t ready for kids. Her biological clock was running out of batteries and she met a man who wanted the whole marriage and baby package. Alas, it turns out that her new Mr. Right is not able to have children. Laura is a wreck. Even if they adopt, there’s a long waiting list. Now instead of waiting for a man, she’s waiting for a baby.

What about those who wait only to find that the story changed? Manda and Bill had the perfect arrangement, according to their friends. They had firm plans, common goals and even a sense of humor. At least Manda still has hers. Bill is depressed and making the rounds of doctors to figure out what to do. She sees their life every day as a pile of rocks to climb. She misses her old life and the promise of a slick, comfortable ride that they shared for the three years before. Manda says she is waiting for the old Bill to surface and she knows it isn’t under his control. But she’s afraid she’s gone from being in love to feeling sorry for him. She’s glued in place, unable to call a time-out because she feels too guilty to leave him. She’s waiting for sunshine.

Evan has been treading water for five years, waiting for his lovely and illicit lover to leave her husband. She’s promised enough times that Evan says if he was a tree and had a ring for each pledge, he could be chopped down for furniture. Too bad he has such endurance. By the time his lover’s children are in college, her mother has passed away and her husband is back on his feet financially, he’ll be frozen by the phone awaiting her call. Or she’ll want to be single and toss him out. Or she’ll get in touch with her inner lesbian and ask him to stay friends. Hey, Evan: run while you can.

So life is one big deli – take a number and wait to be called. And even after they shout out yours, there’s no guarantee that they won’t be out of Tossed Romantic Man or a side of Hearts of Pam.

What’s the protocol? Try to figure out what you really want. If you put companionship at the top of your list, you will have a different piece of work than if it is children – or wild sex. If being with the person is more valuable than being in a state of matrimony, then the alliance will endure. If the trailing gown and the legalities are vital to you, then you will opt otherwise.

Whatever the decision, put an egg timer on it. Don’t hang around secretly resentful for years. Just think of life as one big green room, where you wait your turn on the stage. Shot of brandy, anyone?

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