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What’s a girl to do when she is ready for marriage and her guy needs some time to catch up? This is a common predicament for the modern woman, and unfortunately it’s one that we will never really get a straightforward answer to.

Deciding whether to wait around or bail is the kind of situation that is totally unique for each and every couple. It’s a decision that needs to be made with a full understanding of your personal situation, your relationship, your man, and—most importantly—your heart.

But that’s not to say I can’t give you some things to chew on as you mull things over.

First of all, let me just say that I get it. Being happy in love but also really wanting marriage is an odd position to be in. Contrary to popular belief, wanting marriage more than you want to be with your boyfriend is not a misalignment of priorities nor does it signify that you have any less love for your guy. For the majority of millennials, in fact, marriage is a life goal, something we aspire to for a fulfilling life. It’s not to say that any man will do, just so long as we can put a ring on it. It’s that we are dating in pursuit of someone we can love so that we can marry. It’s important to remember that there is nothing wrong with that mindset of dating.

That being said, whether your guy ever wants to marry is hopefully not the real question at this point. When we ask ourselves, “Should I wait for him?” the real question we’re asking is, “Is waiting worth the risk?”

The truth is, behind that difficult question is a whole host of fears. You fear that he doesn’t really want to marry you in the end, fear that you won’t have time to start a family together, or fear that you won’t ever find someone else you can love. The list of fears is, I’m sure, more expansive, but these are the most popular three.

As it is with most scary predicaments, it’s best to address your fears rather than letting them remain in the dark. Doing this will offer you some clarity about what you really want and help you make a thoughtful decision with eyes wide open.

What if I wait for him, but in the end he doesn’t really want to marry me?

There are three additional questions you should answer in order to determine whether your guy is simply stalling:

01. Have you had enough time?

How long you have spent dating should be considered when deciding whether you are ready for marriage. The truth is, there are some things that only time spent together can reveal—such as behavior patterns, for example. Obviously, this is not an absolute, but marriage expert and relationship researcher Dr. John Van Epp says that it takes only three months to identify behavior patterns in dating. That being said, going through seasons with one another also puts you both in circumstances that help reveal your true selves. The passing of loved ones, career struggles, vacations with friends—all of these can help you gain insight into who the other person really is. While experts point to one to two years as the minimum time we should take to make a healthy decision to marry, they all agree it has much more to do with the quality of time you have spent dating.

02. Have you dated intentionally?

You could date for five years and even live with a person and not really know if they’re right for you if you don’t date with intention. Dating with intention means openly discussing your desire for marriage as the end game, getting to know the other person as a potential life partner, and discussing what a happy marriage means to you. In his book How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk, Dr. Van Epp explains that asking the right questions to inspire meaningful, revealing conversations with your partner and judging character based on compatibility, relationship skills, friends, and patterns from familial and previous relationships should tell you what you need to know about a potential life partner.

If you haven’t been dating intentionally—or it’s only been a year or less—needing more time may very well be a legitimate request. If this is his rationale for wanting to continue dating, a little patience and a renewed effort to date with intention might be the best approach.

If, however, you have been dating with marriage on the horizon for several years, the question of whether your guy is stalling might not be a bad one. Rather than perseverating on this on your own, bring your concern to him. Ask him if he is sure you are the woman he wants to marry, and ask him to take some time to examine that.

03. Does he have good reason for asking you to wait?

If he is sure about waiting, what are the reasons that are keeping marriage on hold? Depending on the situation in life, marriage might not be what’s best for you as a couple. The important thing is that you both set and agree on a timeline. Take Verily contributor Regina Bethencourt’s advice, and allow your desire for marriage to be part of an ongoing conversation, but avoid pressuring your boyfriend. Bethencourt reminds readers that their desire for marriage is valid, and it’s important for that to be acknowledged and discussed. But, as Bethencourt learned from experience, pressuring your boyfriend with heavy hints and guilt can create bad blood in the relationship.

What if we wait too long and we’re unable to have children? 

For those women who desire children and know a thing or two about how female fertility works, this is a very real concern. But it’s important to keep two things in mind. For one, babies make marriage extra-hard—so it’s important that you are both truly ready. Marriage research has revealed that child-rearing significantly increases rates of marital dissatisfaction. For another thing, thirty is not the end of your fertility. Lots of women have children in their thirties and realize they didn’t need to sweat it.

If you do dream of having a big family, however, it is important that you and your guy are on the same page. Give your man the skinny about female fertility (believe it or not, lots of guys don’t really realize that fertility declines over time), and have a conversation about when you hope to start a family. If you are not on the same page, this is certainly a reason to hold off on walking down the aisle.

What if I can’t find someone else I can love?

For some of us, marriage is a safe harbor in a sea of uncertainty. Sometimes, we just figure this had better be it—because there is no way Im going back out there!

If you fear that there might not be someone better for you but aren’t 100 percent sure about who you’re with now, it’s important to remember that marriage never fixes your problems. No matter how scary starting over from square one is, it is far scarier to be in a marriage that you rushed into and now regret.

Take a moment to ask yourself why you want to get married and why you want to get married now—why not in six months to a year? If it’s for any reason other than I know I love this man, can have a fulfilling and happy life in marriage with him, and can’t wait to get started, then you should take a step back to reflect on this rather than moving the relationship to the next big step.

At the end of the day, readiness is an individual thing. Whether or not you should wait for your guy to be ready—whether it's worth the risk—is up to you to determine, and being honest about your fears, your desires, and what’s really at risk will help.

Use your head and follow your heart, and you will figure this out!

Photo Credit: Nirav Patel