Gamophobia is defined as the fear of commitment but can specifically be related to fear of marriage and weddings.
“If one more person asks me: ‘when will it be your turn?’ I’m going to cry.”
A friend said this to me at a wedding recently, a glass of champagne in her hand and a look of pure misery on her face.
I looked at her and thought, when will it be your turn?!
She has been with her boyfriend for over 10 years. They own an apartment together, have a cute little dog called Taco, discuss baby names and, crucially, they both say they want to get married.
And yet, here she is at another wedding with no ring on her finger.
She is not alone. I know countless women in the same boat. Women who feel as though their future is on hold because their partner won’t make it official.
So what is going on? Is he just not that into you? Is he saving up for a big rock? Or is he dealing with crippling confidence issues?
And why, in the 21st century, are men still expected to do the proposing?
A Modern Problem — Why Aren’t Millennials Getting Married?
It is a fact that marriage is on the decline. According to this article, one in six women remains unmarried in her early forties in the US.
And those that are marrying are doing it later in life.
In 1965, the average age for a woman to get married was 21. It was 23 for men. But today, the average age for a woman to walk down the aisle is 29 and 30 for men.
Why is this?
There are four main theories that I’ll touch on in this article, including financial independence, having children, unrealistic expectations for a partner and a long list of “life goals” that we think we need to achieve before settling down.
Women Don’t Need To Be Financially Supported By Men Anymore
The first theory is that the very purpose of marriage has changed.
Fifty years ago, the height of a woman’s achievements in life was to “marry well”. In other words, find a husband who could financially support her and their children.
In the 1950s a successful marriage was compared to a job.
Dr. Emily Mudd, one of the first “marriage counselors” advised 1950s housewives that: “To be a successful wife is a career in itself, requiring among other things, the qualities of a diplomat, a businesswoman, a cook, a trained nurse, a schoolteacher, a politician and a glamour girl.”
No mean feat! My husband would attest that I possess very few of those qualities.
In 2019 however, women have closed the gap on employment rates compared to men. Almost 47% of the US workforce is female.
And according to this article, 31% of women earn the same or higher income than their husbands.
Women don’t need a husband to support them financially anymore.
Claire, an account manager for a beauty company in Philadelphia, has been with her boyfriend for five years. She told me: “I earn more money than him. He doesn’t mind and I love it! We are equals.”
Women Don’t Need To Be Married To Have Children
Another theory is that women used to get married in order to have children. Having a baby out of wedlock was simply unacceptable fifty years ago.
But in 2019, 39.8% of all births were to unmarried women.
When I asked some of my unmarried friends if they would insist on being married before having kids, they all said that they wouldn’t.
Furthermore, women don’t necessarily even need to be in a sexual relationship with a man to have a child. You can order sperm over the internet and inseminate yourself — what a time to be alive!
Do We All Have Unrealistic Expectations Of Finding ‘The One’?
It could be that we’ve all watched a few too many romantic comedies. You know the one, where our heroine finds the perfect guy (who just so happened to be hiding right under her nose the whole time) and they live happily ever after.
We simply aren’t prepared to settle for a nice guy when we believe that “the one” is out there waiting for us. We are looking for our soulmate.
This is damaging our relationships. Why would we settle for “nice” when we could have, oh I don’t know, Mr. Darcy?
A psychologist at The University of Edinburgh, Dr. Bjarne Holmes, conducted extensive research into the effect that romantic comedies have on people’s expectations when it comes to relationships.
Dr. Holmes writes: “People tend to believe the Hollywood idea of a perfect relationship. We want to meet the special one. That is just unrealistic. People think if their relationship is not like a Hollywood film then it’s not any good.”
This has effectively brainwashed an entire generation of women. In days gone by, a woman was taught to take what she could get and count herself lucky that someone wanted to marry her!
But in 2019 we’re waiting for the perfect guy who ticks every single box. We could be waiting for a long time…
Millennials Have Things To Achieve Before Settling Down
This is a generation of high-achievers. No doubt about it.
There are certain #lifegoals, including travel, a certain level of success at work, financial independence and pursuing personal interests that all come ahead of settling down.
Because marriage is an option rather than a necessity for this generation, women are taking their time to get their ducks in a row before settling down to marital life.
Claire, the account manager, said: “Our careers are really important to both of us. We want to achieve things at work before we get married.”
These four theories go some way in explaining why marriage isn’t necessarily a major aspiration for millennials as it was for previous generations.
However, it doesn’t explain why many men in long-term relationships are hesitating to make it official.
That can be explained by a shift in our understanding of masculinity and gender roles.
Why Are Millennial Men Struggling With Commitment?
So what about those women who believe they have found the one? The one who ticks all their boxes, their very own William Thacker — or whoever your dream boat may be.
They’re all ready to live happily ever after but there’s just one small problem…
He won’t ask her to marry him.
This is not how it’s supposed to go! This is not what happens in the movies.
I’m not talking about whirlwind romances here. I’m talking about couples who are committed to each other, who love and respect each other and want to spend their lives together.
And crucially, I’m talking about women who actually want to get married. Because not all women in long term relationships want that.
This isn’t an article on ten ways to spot if he’s into you or not. But if that’s what you need, here’s a great article on that!
For the purposes of this article, I’m hoping that the women in this situation already know that he’s into her and if they don’t, have the acumen to find out!
Let’s take my friend at the wedding. Her boyfriend (OF 10 YEARS) has told her, explicitly, that he wants to marry her. She’s not delusional.
And when I reached out on Facebook for examples of women in the same boat, I was inundated with responses.
Entrepreneur Prachi, 39, told me that she has been with her partner for nearly 11 years.
“We had a lot of marriage talks in the beginning. Both of us wanted to get married. But lately, it’s only been me who brings it up. When I do, he says he feels marriage does not define us. He thinks we don’t need to get married to prove anything to anyone and marriage won’t change anything between us or add value to the relationship.”
I asked Prachi if she has resigned herself to the fact that she won’t get married.
“I guess I have. But I’m not happy about it. I know that it could be a deal-breaker for me sometime. I’m hoping it won’t come to that.”
Katie, 35, from Florida, who has been with her boyfriend for seven years, is in the same absurd situation.
“We sometimes refer to each other as “my fiancé” or “my fiancée” because we both feel like, as middle-aged-ish people that have been together for this long, “boyfriend” and girlfriend” seems childish. We’ve looked at rings a few times, and he even made a thing of measuring my finger last year.”
I’m sorry to be crude, but WTF?!
And then there is Sarah in Chicago who has been with her boyfriend for six years:
“I don’t think he feels ready, but I’m unsure why exactly. We live together and are basically married. I think he has a tendency to try to eschew tradition. I think he just wants to take his time and make sure that he’s totally ready.
I put a bit of pressure on him. He definitely knows that I want to get married. And he said he does too. I want him to propose because he wants to, not because he feels like he has to.”
What I don’t understand is that if you are a man in a long-term relationship and you know that your partner wants to get married, what is it that you are so afraid of?
If marriage doesn’t change anything, what is the big deal?
Author and Psychologist Dr. Andrew Smiler is an expert on the masculine self and wrote a book called ‘Is Masculinity Toxic’?
He has several theories about why millennial men are delaying popping the question.
The first is basically the opposite of the rom-com phenomenon.
While women in their 20’s and 30’s grew up watching Drew Barrymore being seduced fifty times over by Adam Sandler, men of the same generation were given a very different message.
Dr. Smiler told me: “This generation of men grew up being told that they should be players. Charlie from ‘Two And A Half Men’ was the model of how guys should behave. And their example of a married man with children was Homer Simpson…”
I’ve never heard anything so depressing.
He added: “They were fed a message that marriage is the end of freedom. Why do you need marriage? You don’t need to formalize a relationship through marriage. Why would you voluntarily give up your freedom?”
Freedom and freedom of choice, it turns out, has a lot to do with why this generation of millennial males are reluctant to tie the knot.
They have learned to keep their options open — in all aspects of their life.
Professionally, men are expected to rise quickly and if that means leaving a job after 10 months and moving to a new town, so be it.
Keeping your options open emotionally has never been easier thanks to the extraordinary rise in internet dating and dating apps. According to a 2019 study, 39% of heterosexual couples that got together in 2017 met online.
It has become normal to date several women at once: to swipe through reams of women in minutes. To pick just one seems counterproductive!
This “hook-up” culture (so revered in Two And A Half Men) encourages men not to commit.
But what about those men that are in committed relationships? What is their excuse?!
Dr. Smiler has an interesting theory.
He told me that because heterosexual men are more likely to identify their girlfriend as their primary source of emotional support, they don’t necessarily have anyone else in their lives who they can talk to about her!
Which actually makes a lot of sense.
My friend openly discusses her frustration with her boyfriend with me and most likely her mom, her sister, her hairdresser, her colleagues, her doctor and strangers on the bus.
But who does her boyfriend talk to if he has concerns about their relationship?
Dr. Smiler says:
“Most guys don’t call their friends and ask for advice. If she has given him an ultimatum ‘marry me or get out’, who does he work through that with? Especially if his friends and parents like her.
He would most likely just be told to get on and marry her. Men are expected to be action-oriented doers rather than emotion-oriented thinkers.”
So if he was given an ultimatum and felt as though he had to act but wasn’t ready to marry, he might be more likely to panic and pull the plug on the relationship because he had no one to discuss his options with.
Is He Intimidated By You?
Another explanation for his reluctance to get down on one knee, that we touched on earlier, is that women in 2019 don’t need a husband.
And that is giving men pause for thought.
Jenna Birch author of ‘The Love Gap’ and strategic advisor to Plum Dating — a dating app — believes this is the real reason why men are struggling to put a ring on it.
She told me: “Men are dealing with increased pressure in the workforce by a flood of achieving women. Society has put the value of a man in his ability to provide. A lot of men feel this pressure, which some recall dating back to their own childhood.”
I asked her if she thinks men are intimidated by these high achieving women.
“Yes! Plenty of men told me they feel intimidated by some women, even those they really care for or could see themselves with long-term. A lot of masculinity centers around financial success. Having a high-achieving, well-paid woman in their life can cause men to reflect upon how much they’ve really accomplished.”
Women’s Health Interactive’s Chris Fernadez admits that women who appear to have everything ‘together’ in their lives to such an extent that there is no room for anyone else are quite off-putting.
“I know that when I am in a relationship and don’t feel as if I add anything to their life, then I often feel like ‘why am I even here’? Men want to feel needed and wanted beyond our capability for resource allocation.”
Ben, 36 from London, has been with his girlfriend for eight years. He said: “I love her. I want to be with her. But she has it all figured out and I still feel a bit lost. I feel as though I should be the one who has my shit together if I am the one asking her to spend her life with me.”
For some women, this is quite hard to take.
All these years that females have spent rebalancing the scales, giving themselves more options and opportunities, has actually resulted in putting men off being with them for the long term.
If men who are struggling with these shifting gender roles could be more open-minded, they might find that it benefits their relationship.
Gone are the “hunter-gatherer” days when husbands were expected to chop wood and shoot rabbits. Metaphorically speaking, in the 21st century, women can build a fire that is just as good as their male counterparts.
Interestingly, according to this article on millennials’ attitude towards marriage, men are having to adapt and take on more of an emotionally supportive role rather than a financial one. A more “feminine” role.
This ties in with Life Coach Tony Robbins’ theories about the vital parts that masculinity and femininity play in successful relationships.
He writes: “If two people have a similar polarity, that is, both are more “masculine” or more “feminine,” then the attraction between them will be diminished. But if there is a strong difference, where one is extremely “feminine” and the other partner is “masculine,” then the physical attraction will be maximized.”
Perhaps these strong, financially successful women are taking on more traditionally “masculine” attributes and therefore making themselves less attractive to “manly” men.
Conversely, if men were to adopt more “feminine” attributes, at least occasionally, women might find them more supportive and understanding.
According to research by The Gottman Institute, men with higher emotional intelligence (in other words being more understanding and empathetic towards their partner — traditionally more feminine qualities) will have more successful and satisfying marriages.
Is There Too Much Pressure On The Perfect Proposal And Wedding Day?
There is something, a rather large, expensive, diamond-shaped something, that could be holding many men back from proposing.
The Instagramification of proposals goes hand-in-hand with the expectation of a large rock. According to a study by WeddingWire, the average engagement ring costs $5,000.
Some men I spoke to said they felt like they wanted to propose but were saving up for a ring.
Carlos, 26, from New York, who has been with his girlfriend for eight years said he’s worried about the ring being too small.
He said: “I feel bad because I can’t afford to get her a nice engagement ring. I’ve been saving up. That’s why I haven’t proposed.”
Others said they were planning an extravagant proposal, with one guy saying he was even trying to get in touch with the agent of Chris Pratt (his girlfriend’s celebrity crush) to see if he would do it for him!
There’s even a popular Instagram group called @howtheyasked that highlights some of the most creative and swoon-worthy proposals across the globe.
And then there is the big day itself.
The modern wedding is an expensive business with many couples trying to out-do each other with more and more elaborate venues, outfits and catering (I’m blaming you, Pinterest).
According to a study by The Brides American Wedding, an average wedding cost $44,000 in 2018. Nearly $50,000 on one day!
And let’s be frank, not much of that day is centered towards the groom.
Dr. Smiler claims that for many men, a wedding day can be a bit of an ordeal.
“Most elements of a wedding, the ring, the dress, the speeches, the flowers are largely focused towards her. It’s her big day and she is the focus. Men are often an afterthought at a wedding. Many men actually dread their wedding day and find it quite an odd experience.”
One guy I spoke to, who has been with his girlfriend for eight years, said he is reluctant to get engaged because he doesn’t want a big wedding.
“I know she wants a big wedding. She talks about it all the time. But the thought of a huge wedding makes me feel sick. I would hate all the attention.”
And then there are the Bridezillas who become so obsessed with the very smallest details of the wedding day, down to the way that bows are tied on chairs, that they lose sight of what the day is really about.
I’m sure everyone has heard the story of the bride who wanted 100 live goldfish as centerpieces at the wedding, only to watch them go belly-up one-by-one throughout the course of the reception.
That’s enough to put any guy off proposing!
There’s A Word For That — Gamophobia
Could these men be suffering from gamophobia?
Aside from the fear of commitment, gamophobia can be caused by an intense negative experience which was so traumatizing that it leads the sufferer to dread anything to do with marriage.
Some symptoms of gamophobia include:
- Feelings of dread or terror at the thought of marriage
- The person goes to great lengths to avoid the topic
- They may experience uncontrollable anxiety that makes it difficult for the person to function normally
- The individual understands that the fear is irrational but is powerless to control it
Dr. Smiler believes that divorce has had a very real impact on this generation and could be contributing to a rise in gamophobia.
“Nearly 70% of American youth have lived with single parents at some point. This generation has seen a lot of marriages end and the negative effect that this has on friends and family. Why would they risk entering into something that can have such dire consequences if it doesn’t work out?”
Katie thinks the divorce of her boyfriend’s parents could be a contributing factor to why he hasn’t asked her to marry him.
She said: “I think he’s a little scared to get married because of his upbringing. His parents are divorced, and it was messy so he never really saw what a healthy marriage looked like. Neither of his parents remarried, so their family doesn’t really place a high value on it. Which, I guess, was passed down to him.”
So Why Can’t A Woman Propose If She Wants To Get Married?
In this age of equality and high-achieving professional women, why are so many of us sitting around, twiddling our thumbs, waiting for a diamond while scrolling through wedding hairstyles on Pinterest?
Damn you Pinterest!
Why, when we call the shots on every other aspect of our lives, can’t we have a say in one of the biggest decisions we’ll ever make?
Well, in short, we can! Take a look at this woman who was quite happy to propose to her man.
But most of us don’t and won’t.
In a 2014 survey conducted by the Associated Press, 29% of women said they would probably never propose to their partner. Another 23% of women think it is ‘unacceptable’ for a woman to do the asking.
Proposing is still viewed as “the man’s job”.
Check out the comments on this Instagram post where people overwhelmingly disagree with the woman proposing to her man!
According to a survey of 277 heterosexual students at The University of California, Santa Cruz, 0% of participants (male or female) thought a woman should definitely propose. Zero.
Interestingly, 41% of women and 57% of men explicitly referenced gender roles in their answers. Many men said they would feel “emasculated” if a woman proposed to them and one woman described female proposals are “awkward.”
A quarter of the women cited “romance” as the reason for the man to propose. And sadly 20% said they wouldn’t propose out of fear of rejection or coming across as “pushy.”
Study researcher Rachael Robnett said that: “A commonly cited explanation was a desire to adhere to gender-role traditions.”
I asked Dr. Smiler what he made of this.
“Being proposed to doesn’t show up in men’s culture. Men are taught how to do the asking. Heterosexual dating has clear roles for boys. Being proposed to is not something we prepare them for and they are therefore likely to be flabbergasted.”
And Jenna, the author and strategic advisor we spoke to earlier, agrees:
“For all the forward changes we’ve made in society, changes on a person-to-person or intimate level tend to be slow. In dating especially, the scripts we’ve always had are so gendered. Men ask for the number. Men ask for the first date. Men ask to be official, and men propose.”
I asked Katie, who’s boyfriend of seven years is yet to propose, if she would ever ask him.
She said: “I honestly don’t think I could ever propose. I know, I know, but it just feels like it’s something the guy should do. I’ve considered buying a ring and just being like, “Look what I have!” but that feels way too ballsy and forward for me.”
For some women I spoke to, they feel that because they have made it clear to their boyfriend that they want to get married, the ball is in their (the man’s) court.
Sarah, who has been with her boyfriend since she was 18 says:
“I’m certainly not opposed to the idea of proposing and really believe that the whole proposal/wedding/marriage ordeal should be less gendered. But I’m all in and ready to be engaged, and he knows this. Since he’s the uncertain party, I think it makes more sense for him to propose.”
Another response, when I reached out on Facebook, was: “It’s so accepted that men do the proposing. I wouldn’t propose because I would assume if he was ready to get married he would have already proposed to me. So, I’d just assume I’d get rejected.”
And then there’s the idea that if the man doesn’t propose, he has failed in some way.
Trent in New York wrote: “I’d find it really emasculating if my girlfriend proposed. Most people would assume that something is wrong with the guy if he didn’t do it.”
It’s no wonder that more women don’t propose. Why would you want to risk ‘emasculating’ your poor flabbergasted partner or being seen as a pushy, bridezilla desperate for a wedding?!
Why Is Getting Engaged Such A Big Deal For Women?
All of this sounds as though women are fundamentally more interested in marriage than men. And certainly, you don’t see many selfies of men holding up a diamond-clad finger captioned: “I said yes!”.
For women who don’t want to do the asking, waiting for a proposal from someone who you know is committed to you and wants to marry you (or so he says) must be incredibly frustrating.
Marie from Toronto said: “I didn’t propose. But I booked the wedding venue! I was tired of waiting so I told him he had 8 months to propose.”
And Katie, who has been with her boyfriend for seven years, said: “I’ve thought about telling him, ‘Okay, we’re getting engaged and that’s that.’ But it doesn’t really come with an ultimatum. I don’t know that it should.”
A friend who waited nearly eight years for a proposal from her boyfriend described it very eloquently.
“It’s like having a locked door in your house. You can picture what’s behind it and you’re desperate to go in but you have to wait for your boyfriend to give you the key.”
But why do they need the key? What’s in that room that they don’t have already?
For many women, getting engaged means being able to plan your life.
Friends have described wanting to buy a house with their boyfriend, wanting to secure their future together, but hold back out of fear that their boyfriend might up and leave.
No matter what your view on marriage is, being proposed to adds a level of security and longevity to a relationship. And it gives women a certain peace of mind.
You know a guy is serious about you when he gives you an engagement ring.
And then there is the legal aspect of marriage. A wedding is not all roses, rings and goldfish you know. Sometimes you need to think practically.
Being married to someone is legally binding and provides security if something were to happen to you or your partner.
And that’s why I feel for women in this situation.
Women’s Health Interactive’s very own Ashlee Tilford sums it up perfectly with this question:
“How does a woman know the difference between a man that just isn’t that into her and doesn’t value her enough to marry her, and a man that loves her to pieces but doesn’t place a high value on the legal aspect of marriage?”
This is the crux of it.
If you’re in a relationship with someone you want to marry but who doesn’t want to marry you because he doesn’t believe in marriage, then that’s one thing.
This is something you can discuss rationally as a couple to decide what your future holds in terms of legal recourse, incapacitation, shared property, etc.
As Dr. Christie Hartman, who sits on our medical review team, says: “There are different levels of commitment, ranging from being exclusive to living together to marriage, but in the end, it’s all the same in that the two people have to want the same level of commitment to be compatible.”
But being in a relationship with someone who does want to get married… but just doesn’t want to marry you. That’s wrong.
If you’re worried that this might describe your current situation, you might need a little help from this article.
Women Have A Biological Clock
Although women don’t need to be married to have a baby, many women still do want to wait for a husband before they have children.
According to a survey by the Pew Research center, 44% of unmarried participants questioned believed that having children was an important reason to get married.
And because there is a limited window in which women can have children, marriage is probably more on their radar than their male partner.
A woman I spoke to, who has been with her boyfriend for six years, said she is desperate to start a family with him but wants to be married first.
She said: “It is something I believe in. I know you don’t have to be married to have children, but I want my children to have that security. My parents got divorced when I was ten years old. It was awful to grow up in a broken home. I don’t want that for my kids.”
I asked Jenna, the author and strategic advisor we spoke to earlier, what she thought about this.
“I think if women want to have biological children, they are constantly assessing the relationship to make sure it’s ‘right.’ Sometimes, when they decide this is the person they can see as the father of their child, that’s when they want to marry — if marriage is a value for them.
Having a child with someone is a huge deal! You want to make sure you have the right partner for that, who supports your goals and wants the same kind of family dynamic you do. And a lot of people want that within the context of marriage.”
Sadly, for many women, there is still a fear of ending up as the old maid, the Bridget Jones of your social group who never married and never had children.
And being married, even if it’s not necessarily to the right guy, is more important than ending up alone.
I asked Dr. Christie Hartman why some women stay with a guy who they know won’t give her what she wants, in other words, marry her.
“It’s SO much easier to stay with the devil you know than to let him go and face new, unknown challenges. What if the new guy is just the same? What if all guys are this way? I don’t want to die alone! He really is a decent guy, after all. What other guy will want me, with my (insert perceived flaw)? Those are the things they tell themselves.”
I thought men idolizing Charlie Sheen was the most depressing thing I’d ever heard…
Psychologist Dr. Karin Arndt says she has many female patients who describe feeling anxious about spinster-hood.
She advises them to start enjoying their own company and embrace their inner spinster!
“Whether we’re single or partnered, younger or older, our inner spinster needs befriending. The price we pay for relegating her to enemy or alien status is to be cut off from a potential source of strength, vitality, and creativity. It’s a great price, one that far too many women end up paying.”
The phrase “it’s not you, it’s me” has never been more apt than describing this situation that many women find themselves in.
This generation of millennial men are dealing with issues that their fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers never experienced.
Mainly, a threat to their masculinity and the role they perform within a relationship.
I asked Jenna, the author and strategic dating advisor, what advice she would give to women like my friend who, after our conversation, drank several more glasses of champagne in quick succession.
She said that we need to forget everything we’ve learned from the movies. And remember that men aren’t mind-readers.
“If you want your partner to propose, clearly articulate it. I’ve met women who’ve been mum on the topic of marriage for almost 10 years before they told their partner they wanted a proposal: sometimes, the men don’t even know, even when women are expecting it. It just never comes. If marriage wasn’t a given for these guys, they may not know you want a proposal.”
She also advised women to abandon tradition.
“If you’ve been with your partner for a long time, don’t be afraid to take initiative. Honestly, a planned proposal is great if you want to blow it up and have it be super-memorable. But it can be just as beautiful, if less Instagram worthy, to have an intimate moment where you both just decide it’s time to get married. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Do it your way. Propose yourself. Do what feels right.”
This is a good point.
If marriage is important to you, you should be able to talk to your partner about it without him thinking that you’re pressuring him into it. Don’t be ashamed of what you want!
We need a more mature approach to marriage. It’s a huge life decision and shouldn’t be disguised under an elaborate proposal, an engagement selfie and an expensive wedding day.
And if you feel that strongly about the inequality of it all, just propose!!
You know what they say, if you want something done right, do it yourself.
Are you in a long term relationship and desperate to get engaged?
Does your boyfriend say that he wants to marry you but won’t get down on one knee? Would you ever consider proposing?
We want to hear from you!
Tell us about your experience by clicking on the “Discuss” link/button that appears at the end of this article.