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Transcript: Monday, April 5 at 11 a.m. ET

On Love: Advice for couples in long-term relationships

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Hannah Seligson
Author, "A Little Bit Married"
Monday, April 5, 2010; 11:00 AM

Are you in a long-term relationship? Hannah Seligson, author of "A Little Bit Married" (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2010), offers advice on how to know when it's time to discuss walking down the aisle or just calling it quits.

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Seligson is a journalist who splits her time between New York City and Washington. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Forbes. For more information on Seligson, visit her Web site: www.hannahseligson.com.

For more tips, marital and relationship advice and to see how other couples have gotten to the altar, visit our OnLove section.

The transcript follows.

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Washington, D.C.: What a timely chat! My boyfriend and I just broke up after dating over a year. Basically, we couldn't seem to move forward because he is recently divorced and essentially pulled away once I brought up thinking about getting married in a few years. But we've been talking about how that is something that can change over time and about what can be done how and our fundamental relationship was really good. So, now we're more "on a break" than broken up. What is your prognosis on our potential for getting back together?

Hannah Seligson: I think the prognosis depends on what you both want. Is he wiling to put in the sweat equity to make the relationship work? I'd also try to dig a bit deeper with him. What are his fears about getting married? Also, are you sure you want to be with someone who pulled away when you brought up the idea of getting married? I'd also get clear about why it is that he pulled away -- that will give you the best sense of your prognosis.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm 25, employed, but still don't know what I want to do professionally for the rest of my life. I've been in a relationship for seven months with a girl who is dependable, grounded, and trustworthy, but there isn't a huge spark in me for her. I'm considering taking the summer to travel, job shadow and reconnect with old friends (I haven't made many in my twi years in D.C.). She says she'll wait for me, but I think it might be best to go separate ways, as I haven't had many relationships and am dealing with the desire to date more before settling down. How do I know if I should leave a good relationship, in hopes of finding a great one?

Hannah Seligson: It sounds like this is more about timing than finding the great relationship. Maybe this is the greatest relationship, but at the wrong time in your life. If you aren't ready to settle down, I'd be really honest with your girlfriend and where you are at, keeping in mind that there might not be a "better" relationship out there. Also, what does a great relationship look like to you? What, exactly, is that spark you are looking for?

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Florida: If you want marriage and kids, do not date someone more than two years after age 25. Saw many friends put in five-year stints with guys who "weren't ready" -- but then married the next girlfriend after a year. Your ovaries are not conflicted about this -- waiting until your mid-30s or later to start a family is risking heartache. Susan Sarandon's calendar was a fluke.

Hannah Seligson: Right, the different arcs men and women's lives take. But the reality is that even if it is harder to have children in your 30s, more women are doing it. Also, you can't marry a clock.

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Arlington, Va.: My S.O. and I have been together for four years. Love him, but maybe not in love -- not great chemistry, lots of little things that bother me. Not sure I want to spend the rest of my life with him, but I feel like I've invested so much time, and that bailing now would hurt us both tremendously. He is great, but I'm not happy and question why I've let it go on so long -- on some level it seems like I've made up my mind to end it, but I guess I don't know 100 percent for sure, or how to do it if I do. FWIW, we talk about marriage but wouldn't be engaged for at least another year for various reasons.

Hannah Seligson: Sounds like you are employing math of years invested + guilt = reason to stay together. To my ear, it sounds like you are unsure and that is a rickety foundation to start a marriage on. Think about it as a favor to your unborn children.

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Hannah Seligson: Hi everyone! Hannah here. Thanks for joining in the chat. The questions are great.

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Washington, D.C.: Isn't pressuring your man to walk down the aisle a slack of faith in him?

Hannah Seligson: It depends how you look at it. Is it fair that the guy gets to set the marriage timetable? I think of it more as a way for women to have a say in how the marriage timetable is set. Also, a lot of guys I interviewed for the book said they needed a little push. They were happy their girlfriends had moved it along.

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Moving on: I broke up with my long-term boyfriend in January due to his telling me he did not see a future for us. I still love him. I probably always will. However, I do want to get married and have a life with someone. Any advice for moving on better than I am doing right now?

Hannah Seligson: Moving on is so tough. I feel your pain. First, I'd cut ties with his friends and family, for now. I'd also remind yourself that you weren't getting what you wanted from the relationship, so even if you loved him, he wasn't the right guy for you. Plus, you deserve to be in a relationship with someone who wants to give you a longer-term commitment. Getting back out there can also really help.

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Washington, D.C.: I am 41 and my boyfriend is 40. We have been dating for one year. He loves me and has incorporated me into his family and says he wants to get married and have kids one day. He wants to move in to my place. I said I am not a huge fan of "living together" and I would rather get engaged before we took such a step. I have had my share of break-ups and I think It would be really hard on me if things did not go well. I would like to get married! I would like to have a baby in a year or so. What do you think I should do?

Hannah Seligson: I think you should do exactly what you did. Communicate about moving-in and the paramaters you feel comfortable with when it comes to making such a big decision. Is he on the same page?

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Washington, D.C.: Can you talk about the decision to move in together or not? Then if you choose not to live together, isn't that saying something about the relationship?

Hannah Seligson: Cohabitation is now the norm. 70 to 90 percent of people do it before tying the knot. But there are pockets of religious communities and other people who buck this trend. Also, some women still believe "why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free." Although there is no proof that moving in together delays marriage. And men want to get married as much, if not more, than women do. I don't think not living together says anythign about your relationship. It's a highly personal decision. I found in the research for the book that it gives couples more confidence about getting married because they've give the relationship a "test drive."

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Washington, DC: My girlfriend and I have been discussing marriage this past week when we discovered a difference of opinion. I feel like my partner should bring out the feelings of desiring to get married versus me having the desire to be married on my own. My gf sees this as a huge barrier and said to me, she wants someone who is "gung ho" about "being married" regardless of the partner. I'm trying to tell her that she is the one for me and that I can only see me marrying her, although I'm not ready yet. She feels like b/c I'm not ready now, I'll never be b/c of the way I feel. What do you think? Is this a big enough deal to break-up?

Hannah Seligson: No. But I think you have to examine these big issues in the light of day. Why is it incumbent on her to make you feel the desire to marry her? Why not go for the partnership model where it's on both of you? And is not being ready something to do with your age? Do you have doubts about the relationship? I think you owe it to her to communicate why you don't feel ready and what would need to happen to get there. Bottom line: don't break up. Instead, open up the flood gates of communications.

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Washington, D.C.: After almost a decade of dating, I am now turning 31 and am engaged and in a wonderful relationship. From the beginning, this one felt different. We were both equally into each other and into the long term goal of marriage. We knew in a matter of months and got engaged within one year. I'm just writing to say that when I look back on my angst filled-20s and I read articles, I am reminded of the almost constant anxiety. It feels terrible to be in love with someone and to always feel like they hold all of the cards in terms of the timing. I just want to say, if you feel this way, please get out. You deserve someone who is as excited to marry you as you are to marry. And the wedding can't be the ultimate goal. Even if I had married any of the boyfriends I was in love with in my 20s, I would've missed out on what it felt like to be really wanted.

Hannah Seligson: This is fabulous advice! And I totally agree with you about not making the wedding the goal. Tune out the culture of matrimania!

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Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend and I have been dating for almost a year. We are not long distance, but it feels like we are. We go for a week without seeing each other but then we might take a vacation and be together for a week straight (or longer). We get along very well. My complaints are few except two major ones. He is a very selfish lover. Also, he is very attached to his family. He works for a family company, has breakfast with his family every day, and keeps most of his clothes at their house. His family is wonderful and very generous and I like them a lot, too. I spend many a night going out to dinner with the parents. I am just hoping that my boyfriend can make transition away from the parents and stop relying on them so much. I want to be his main headquarters, not his parents. He says he wants to get married and have children and that he loves me. Most recently, he said he wants to move in with me. I would be 100 percent or everything but feel we need to work out the sex issue and his attachment to his parents. How do you think I should proceed?

Hannah Seligson: Have you brought up these issues with him? I think you should proceed by telling him how you feel and seeing if you two can discuss your concerns and anxities about the relationship. Do not swallow this. From your question, it seems that, perhaps, you are a bit tepid about talking to him, but this is the moment do it, before you move in. That's the biggest sin of people who move in togehter, they don't talk about the red flags they see before they entangled their lives.

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New York: Since we got engaged, my fiance has stopped making any sort of effort in our relationship (to do any chores, to spend quality time together, to go out and see friends together, etc.). We've talked about it -- and he says that I'm right and he'll do better -- but doesn't. We dated for seven years before we got engaged (met young), and I didn't pressure him to propose at all. It's a behavior shift that he's stopped doing it altogether, but it's consistently been something that I've had to be proactive about asking for. Do you find that many people stop making the effort to do their part to keep things going once they're committed, or is this unusual and worrisome?

Hannah Seligson: Have you been able to gain any insight into why he's acting this way? Is is because he is freaked out about getting married? Or is he having a hard time adjusting to the new stage your relationship has entered. I've definitel heard of people starting to act weird in the period leading up to a wedding -- it can be really stressful. But to get a grasp on whether this is worrisome, you need more information about why he is pulling away. Just saying he'll do better doesn't address the underlying issues. Maybe you need a third party here?

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Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend just moved out after more than four years together. He said I had helped him eliminate all of the excuses he had in the beginning of our relationship for not getting married and having kids, and now he wants those things . . . just not with me. I hadn't been putting pressure on him to do so, at least not in the immediate future, but a lot of other people had been asking both of us "when." He's told me he still cares greatly about me.

He wants the opportunity to meet someone and start a family with them. I'm probably an idiot, but I want to wait and see if maybe this is just something he needs to confirm for himself . . . seeing what else is out there. I've asked if we can remain friends, as he has been my best friend for the past several years, and it's too much to lose both my boyfriend and best friend at the same time. He said he needed some time, but he would consider it. Maybe I've seen too many movies, but I truly believe that if it's meant to be, it will work out. And if it isn't, something better will come along for both of us.

Hannah Seligson: I'm sorry you are going through such a tough time. But I would listen to what this guy is saying. Hope is not want you need right now. Plus, you deserve to be with someone who wants to marry you and have kids. Your time is valuable. Stop wasting it on this guy. Why would you want to be with someone who can't see a good thing after four years? And I have to be honest, I think you have to let go on the fantasy that you want him to come back to you after he's seen what's out there.

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Burke, Va.: "Also, some women still believe 'why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free.'"

Ick, ick, ick. Can we get rid of this phrase once and for all? Not only does it equate a woman with livestock, it suggests that the only thing a man values or gets out of a long-term relationship with a woman is sex. Bleah.

Hannah Seligson: I completley agree. I wasn't advocating that phrase, but it's amazing how much it's still in the zeitgeist. Plus, many women still believe it.

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Washington, D.C.: I've been dating my boyfriend for three years and we've lived together for one. I'm so ready to get married, but he has negative views of marriage (he's a child of divorce and grew up in a messed-up family). Is there any way to help him get past the negative perception of marriage? We're starting to get to a point of intertia in living together and I think he might need a little encouragement.

Hannah Seligson: I think you might need some professional intervention. A dicey divorce can be really scarring (I interviewed many young people who were spooked by marriage because they saw many marraige go up in flames), but I don't kno if it's something you can do on your own. Would he be open to seeing someone? I think the only way he'll get past the negative perception of marriage is if he works through his demons.

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Moving in vs moving forward: I'm always a little concerned when women/couples think that "moving in" together is "moving forward" in the relationship. Cohabitation is a commitment, but not the commitment of marriage. What are the significant questions one should ask before signing a lease and living with the (currently) beloved?

Hannah Seligson: Right, that's an important distinction. And many couples just tumble into living arrangments without any discussion of what it means. I give cohabition commandments in the book. Here are a few of them.

Be on the same page

Discuss finances

Know what it means

Don't move in together to save money

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On living together: I don't think it's a good idea and not for religious reasons.

I think that once you hit a stage of life when you're ready for marriage -- in general, meaning you know yourself, your values, what you want, you know how to have good relationships, not just dysfunctional ones -- then living together only complicates things.

My husband and I moved in together three months before the wedding. Nothing was a surprise, we didn't learn anything new about each other that we hadn't learned in the two years we dated and the six months or so since then being engaged.

We knew how we'd handle housework. We knew how we'd handle money. We knew how we'd handle sex. We knew how we'd handle his greater need for alone time. We talked about all of this. We spent all of our weekends at his place or mine. We knew each other.

I think when you live together just for its own sake, it just muddies the waters. You're not fully committed to each other yet you are so entwined in each others lives, breaking up would be so difficult some people stay together out of inertia. Or you don't get married out of inertia.

If you have doubts, address them. If you aren't sure, don't move in just as a step.

Now, if you just want to live together as a end in itself, that's different. It's just as some stepping stone to marriage, I don't really see the point.

Hannah Seligson: That is definitely one school of thought. But a lot of people see it very differently. And many couples say they gain valuable insights from living together. Also, now that is marriagut is usually delayed into your late twenties or thirties, there are many in-between years (the A Little Bit Married years) when couples want to have some version of marriage lite. And what about the fact that living together can be fun?

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"Buy the Cow": I think there's some truth to it with some men. I have a friend who says she wished she hadn't bought a house with her boyfriend (now fiance) because it gave him no incentive to propose marriage on a timetable she agreed with. It took him six years to finally do it, and she spent four of them waiting for a proposal.

I personally wouldn't want to be with someone who wouldn't want to marry me in that amount of time or who would need a push, but that's a whole different ball of wax.

Hannah Seligson: Right, so this brings up the issue of whether men need an incentive to propose. It sounds like even if your friend hasn't bought the house, the guy would have still been dragging his feet. In other words, the real-estate was not the hold up.

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North Carolina: How do you know when and how to end it? Especially, when there is a child involved? We are an unmarried couple living together with a one year old. I don't know that we can make it in the long run, I think I could make it work for a few years to benefit my son, but what about me? I'm 32 so I think to myself I still have time to move on and possible meet, marry, have more kids with someone I'm more compatible with.But if I end up single forever that would be fine also. The past year with the baby (who was a surprise) has been better than I thought it would be, but outside forces (would-be-in-laws, finances) still cause stress, finances can become better, but maybe not the family! I'm just looking for an objective opinion. Thanks.

Hannah Seligson: Are these issues you have tried to resolve? have you sought counseling? If you haven't, I would suggest doing that before you think about separating, particulalry since ther eis a child involved.

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Cow/milk: It can be relevant for a woman, too, you know! If you're living with a guy, you're getting the benefits of being married without being legally or morally bound to him. It's not just a guy thing!

Hannah Seligson: Exactly, and that is a point that isn't brought up enough. The benefits of cohabitaiton for women, like having their boyfriend do their laundry and cook for them.

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New York, N.Y.: Where to begin? I've been in a rocky relationship for almost three years, but every time I'm hell bent on ending it, I balk. I love him a lot and want it to work. My family and friends aren't the biggest fans. Advice?

Hannah Seligson: Why do you balk? And love isn't enough. Do you want to have a rocky marriage? I know it's really tough, but it's time to summon the courage.

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Washington, D.C. : I am 28 years old and have been in a relationship with my partner for five years and we've been living together for four. I can't say that we have much to complain about -- we have fun together, truly enjoy living together and spending time with one another - we are best friends. We talk about having children together and what our lives will look like as a family. One small problem -- for the past three years when I ask him when we will actually get married his answer has been "soon." I've stopped asking, but we still have a great relationship. Please shed some light on this.

Hannah Seligson: This is textbook A Little Bit Married. My questions are:

Do you want to get married? When?

Why is he putting it off?

Can you have a conversation where you say "I want to discuss our marriage timetable."

With so many couples, this can become a corrosive dynamic. You feel like he is putting you off, you want to get married, and then it spirals into a web of resentment. Stop the cycle before it starts. Tell him you don't want to get to that place, so how can you two proceed? It's been three years! Time to hammer this out.

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Virginia: My S.O. and I have been dating for -- mumblecoughcough -- years (a looong time). Over the years, neither of us has felt compelled to get married or have kids, but we're getting to that age where you think it might be time -- like Florida said above -- if it's ever going to happen. So how do you know if getting married to someone you've been dating forever is right? Like, why haven't I felt that thing other people feel early on: "This is absolutely the person I want to marry, and I want to get hitched right now!"

Hannah Seligson: Um, I know a lot of people who say that about the person they marry and then end up divorced. Not the litmus test. Today, it's my understanding, that most poeple get married when they want to have kids, so that's the real impetus. I'd spend less time cmparing yourself to other people's "fairytales" and think about whether you want to spend the rest of your life with your S.O. Have you two not gotten married because there is some doubt about the relationship? Or are you like many peole today who don't think about it until you think about having children?

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Northern Va.: I just turned 30, been with a wonderful guy I first met in high school for going on five years. We have been living together for the past few years. He is reluctant to get engaged, because he doesn't feel old enough (we are the same age), whereas I feel like it's overdue, and he should know what he wants by now after five years. I hate to give ultimatums in the form of a relationship expiration date, but I am ready to walk if he still isn't ready to move forward. I want a family soon (which we have talked about), but want to get married first. If he's not ready, then I guess we should break up sooner rather than later. What is the best way of bringing this sensitive issue up? Or do I wait and give him more time?

Hannah Seligson: After five years, I think this is not the time to keep waiting. And if he wants to marry you and have a family, shouldn't he be respectful or your time? But as for the sensitivity, I'd just be direct about it. Tell him you are in a bind because you want to marry him and having children, but you can't wait around forever. What does he think? In short, find a way to turn this into a conversation. No ultimatums are needed. If he says he needs more time, then you can reconsider your next move.

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Hannah Seligson: Hi folks. I'm told the time is up. Sorry I didn't get to some of your questions. Feel free to e-mail with them hannah.seligson@gmail.com, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks again for joining in.

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Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend and I are both in our mid/late-20s. We live together and have been dating more than five years. Is it weird that we've never talked about marriage or specifics of a future together? I would like to talk about those things (and sometimes i try to hint at them), but I don't want to be the pushy girlfriend forcing something on him that maybe he doesn't want. Should I take it as a red flag that he he's never brought these issues up himself?

Hannah Seligson: Don't take it as anything until you bring it up. You simply don't have enough information. It's been five years, time to uncork the conversation topic of what's happening. Better to do it now than after one too many glasses of wine. Also, maybe he is wondering the same thing. And when did asserting yourself and saying what you want become pushy?

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"Buying the Cow" phrase: Okay, lets not get too worked up about this one. No one's equating women to livestock. It's an analogy folks. Calm down. I read that phrase to mean more than sex (because lets face it, they're getting the sex even if there is no co-habitating). I think that phrase refers more to the benefits one gets from co-habitating. Like it or not, women end up doing more of the housework when we move in together. So why should a guy propose when he's already got a built-in housekeeper/social secretary? And besides the housework and party planning, I think the phrase also refers to the general intimacy and contentment one gets from sharing a home with someone.

Hannah Seligson: That assumes the only reason guys want to get married is for the housekeeper and social secretary. Don't men also want to get married because they've fallen in love?

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Arlington, Va.: I'm wondering (as a woman) why more women don't simply propose to their boyfriends when they want to get married. If he says no, you have your answer and can either choose to stay or go based on that.

Hannah Seligson: Even with the all the gains women have made in the last 30 years, the proposal still remains a guy's job. And here's the thing -- most women stil want the guy to propose. There are some gender roles that people still like to enact. The thing is, however, they want to have more say in how and when its done. In other words, they want to sit idly by and wait for the guy to show up with a ring.

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Washington, D.C.: What do you do in a long-term relationship when the sex is not right? I have tried to communicate and tried to make my feelings known on the subject. I am giving and not getting in our sex life. My boyfriend cannot really talk about it, he shuts down. We are talking about living together and our future, but I am not sure I can stand going to bed every night with no sexual satisfaction. Can be this helped?

Hannah Seligson: I think it can be helped. But I'm not a sex therapist. Also, I think it's a bit of a red flag that your boyfriend shuts down when you want to talk about it. I know it's a sensitive issue, but that's something I would try and resolve before you move in together.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you see a long term relationship working without marriage? Is marriage really needed if you really love/trust the guy?

Hannah Seligson: It can work, but A Little Bit Married is really just a stop gap between dating and marriage. Most young people, whether it's because it's the highest form of commitment our society currently offers or for the tax breaks, do want to get married. So even if marriage isn't "needed", most people still want it.

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Anonymous: "If you want marriage and kids, do not date someone more than two years after age 25."

If I'd followed your advice, I would've missed out on my marvelous husband and adorable son.

Some men -- some people -- just take longer to make up their minds and make life changing decisions. On the other hand, once my husband makes up his mind, it's MADE UP. Which makes me a lot more confident in the success of our marriage.

The only hard-and-fast, unalterable rule a person should apply to relationships with other human beings is, "never apply hard-and-fast, unalterable rules to relationships with other human beings."

Hannah Seligson: It's a good point, but how do you square with women's biology? Should women just wait around for the dawdlers?

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Bethesda, Md.: Is it OK to set a deadline for your partner to propose to you?

Hannah Seligson: If you feel like you need a deadline, then yes. That said, I'd get clear about why you are setting a deadline? Does your partner know you are setting the deadline? Is it a threat? And are you potentially going to destroy the relationship in the process? Just make sure you've thought through the whole thing before you set the date.

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Baltimore, Md.: I have been with my "boyfriend" for seven years and we have lived together for six and a half of those seven years. I have moved to two different states with him so he can follow is career ambitions. We have recently bought a house together and have a dog, which we love and consider our kid. Recently, I have put the pressure on him to get married. We are best friends, but the talk of marriage, I feel, has started to "freak him out"! I have now started to question how much longer I can go on like this. I want to become settled and established in my career, but he is constantly looking to move up in his career, which means moving often. I'm not sure how long I can run around the country following his aspirations, while not being committed to marriage.

Hannah Seligson: I think you've reached your A Little Bit Married limit. You've got to tell him that. Do this thought experiment. How much longer would you stay in the relationship without a ring? Also, why is marriage freaking him out? Are you scarificing your own career for his?

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Trying to stay engaged while waiting to be engaged: My long-term and I have been together 10 years next month (we are both 32 years old) eight of those years have been long distance. We are now in the process of looking for a house, but I would prefer to at least be engaged first before we move in together. I guess after all this time my patience has worn a little thin waiting for him to propose. Does it even matter when he asks as long as he does? I don't want to issue an ultimatum but I don't want to be living together and another year goes by and he hasn't proposed.

Hannah Seligson: When did bringing up marraige become an ultimatum? You don't have to say marry me by this date or I'm out. But you can tell him you want to get married, it's been 10 years, what is he thinking. And that you are feeling yoruself come up against the clock. On a larger note, why are men not more sensitive to the biological clock? If they want to have kids, shoudln't they be concerened about it?

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