Isn’t it time he proposed?

‘A-little-bit-married’ women may be wasting valuable time

Isn’t it time he proposed?“Women are breaking all types of glass ceilings. Yet there is still a relationship ceiling where women hit their heads,” writes Hannah Seligson in a new book for young women called A Little Bit Married: How to Know When It’s Time to Walk Down the Aisle or Out the Door. It’s now the norm, Seligson writes, to date for three, five, even 10 years with no promise of a proposal, and “in the vast majority of cases, it’s still the man who sets the marriage timeline.” There’s even a poster girl for the phenomenon: Prince William and Kate Middleton, Seligson notes, “have been dating for over six years. The snarky British tabloids have dubbed her ‘Waitie Katie.’ ”

Sara, 25, tells Seligson she is in a stalemate with her boyfriend Adam, 27. “He says he is waiting for some sign that it’s right,” but “shouldn’t we be moving toward marriage? Do I just wait around for him to be ready? My time is valuable,” says Sara. “When is the breaking point for those of us who are ‘a little bit married’?” writes Seligson. “Is it after six months? A year? Three years?”

The now-single Seligson describes how she was “deeply embedded” with her college boyfriend Daniel, whom she hoped to marry. “The vacations we took together, the enormous amount of time we spent with each other’s families, and the daily emotional binding and sacrifice we made for each other read—for me—as a tacit agreement we’d do this for a few years and then get married. In my mind, there was no other interpretation. Daniel, however, ultimately did have a different interpretation.” Seligson regrets she wasn’t more direct in stating her desire to marry. “Pushing for clarity is critical for couples who are a little bit married.” Women, she writes, “should be having the DTR—Define the Relationship—talk sooner rather than later.”

For women stuck in a stalemate, Seligson advocates the “Female Proposal.” “Conventional dating wisdom says that applying even the smallest amount of pressure to a man is a relationship faux pas commensurate with jumping into bed with him on the first date. Yet many men interviewed for this book said that a little proposal push is often what they needed.” Seligson cites the example of a man who’s now engaged to his girlfriend of seven years; he says he would have continued to stall if he hadn’t been pushed. “I was comfortable with letting things be.” Women should “pop the question when it will soon be biologically challenging for you to have children,” Seligson advises. However, “if you give an ultimatum, be prepared to follow through.”

Following through and ending the relationship will be easier if you aren’t cohabiting, says Pamela Smock, one of the experts interviewed in the book. Smock advises women to avoid the “tumble effect” of moving in together with no clear plan. “Some women interviewed said they hoped moving in would fast-track the proposal. But the research on that is inconclusive,” writes Seligson. Smock says, “We are finding men talking about cohabitation as a test drive while women talk about it as a step toward marriage.”

In the chapter, “What Women Need to Know About Cohabitation That No One Tells Them,” Seligson writes, “It’s astounding that every man in America doesn’t want his girlfriend to move in with him, since the benefits are so bountiful. He gets a housekeeper (cohabiting women mirror married women in that they end up doing the bulk of the housework), a nutritionist (cohabiting women chide men about staying away from the fries and closer to the treadmill), and a social secretary who keeps them scheduled and reminds them to call Aunt Phyllis on her birthday. Then there’s what women get: a second shift of cleaning house when they arrive home from work, and love handles—women tend to gain weight once they move in with their partners.”

Seligson’s top sign “that it’s time to break it off”? “When the equation three years invested + fear of being single = trying to stay together is your rationale for staying together, it’s probably time to walk out the door.”