I'm in a wonderful relationship--or at least, I thought I was. My girlfriend and I (I'm 25, she's 23) have been together for 3 years, and she and I make each other laugh, share our deepest secrets, and are very much in love. But recently, she's started to talk about taking our relationship to the next level, even going so far as to drag me over to jewelry store windows to gaze at the rings on display. I'm so confused by my reaction--panic! I never thought of myself as a commitment-phobe, but I'm wondering if this is a good old-fashioned case of pre-engagement jitters, or if my cold feet are a sign of something I might be missing that's wrong with our relationship. Should I forge ahead into the jewelry store, or take a step back?
Hi, Cold Feet,
These are the regular jitters experienced by men who, in general, have a major problem with commitment. Men in general are deal-makers. They are driven and goal-oriented. It goes against the grain of their nature to enter into one "big deal" that precludes the possibility of any others. So, marriage being as all-encompassing as it is, the idea of it can make a lot of men feel pretty imprisoned. Added to that is the male linear nature, something that I have discussed in many of my books. The image is this: men are lines and women are circles.
This refers not just to the state of each gender's body, but to the state of their respective natures. Women are circles. They have no beginning and no end. They are much more means-oriented. They don't feel trapped by relationships. Indeed, like two circles that interconnect, they positively thrive on them. Likewise, women don't get bored in loving relationships. They have the capacity to renew themselves within the relationship framework without having to look for someone new. Not so for men, who respond poorly to a loss of novelty in a relationship, and who often resemble a line trapped in the middle of a great big circle.
A man's purpose should be to mature and develop through his exposure to the feminine. You're supposed to be more loving, more domestic, more compassionate, and more committed. That's why you prefer the company of your girlfriend to even your best buddies. She is different. She brings out your more gentle side. So it is not only natural that she should want to marry you, it's progress. It's the right thing. You yourself confess to how special your relationship is.
Your reluctance is based on the basic male desire to see, no matter how good the relationship is, whether down the line something better might come along. But this is a zero sum game. A woman is not a car that you can compare. And it's not "the best" that you should be looking for. In reality, when it comes to relationships "good enough" –someone who complements you, appreciates you, and caters to your most deep-seated needs – is actually the best. And your girlfriend seems more than just good enough.
Do yourself this favor. If you're really not sure if you want to get engaged, close your eyes and imagine seeing her years from now walking down the street with her new husband. See how you feel, after you've given her up because you weren't ready to commit, lost her to another man, and see her thrilled to be with someone else. If that thought is very painful, then make sure you don't lose her. Life has enough pain without you adding to it by simply succumbing to some of the most superficial aspects of male nature.
I wish you all the best,