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How to Date When You Don’t Want to Get Married

By Jessica Goodman

While marriage was once the expected outcome of dating, now the desire to have a happily ever after that includes a walk down the aisle isn’t a given. Reasons for not feeling strongly about official nuptials vary: “I’m not against being in a long-term committed relationship, but I just don’t feel the need to be married,” says Helen, 32. “I feel like if you really love someone you don’t need that [marriage] contract.”

Or, as Cherokee, 38, says, sometimes the act of getting married becomes more about society and the folks around you than your actual relationship: “I have no urge to get married [again]. I’ve done it, and it’s really easy to get caught up in the feeling that you need something that you don’t actually need.” 

But even if you know that you don’t want to get married, it can be tricky to manage dating others who might want marriage or who aren’t sure how they feel about the tradition. Whether you’re looking for something casual or a committed relationship, here are some ways to approach dating when you know you don’t want to get married.

State your preferences on your Bumble profile

If you know you don’t want to get married, make it clear on your Bumble profile. That way, potential partners who do want marriage can decide for themselves if they want to see someone who doesn’t have the same vision for their future. “Being upfront is generally appreciated so time isn’t wasted,” says marriage and family therapist Emily Simonian. If you know marriage isn’t for you, you can write in your bio that you’re only interested in short-term relationships, or that you don’t see marriage in your future.

Reiterate your marriage preferences, especially before becoming exclusive

During your first few dates, make a point to mention that you’re not interested in marriage to make sure they saw that line on your profile and know that you actually mean it. If it doesn’t feel natural to bring it up in the first few dates, it’s a good idea to have this conversation before defining the relationship or getting serious in order to avoid potential heartbreak and confusion. If you’re not sure that you’re seeing eye to eye, you can say something like, “I think we have different goals for this relationship and I want to make sure we’re on the same page,” says psychotherapist Whitney Goodman

Yes, you can date people who want to get married—but with a few caveats

It’s possible to date someone who wants different things, says Simonian, but that means making sure you’re both comfortable with each other’s long-term and short-term relationship goals. For example, if you say that you don’t want to get married but they say that they do, you can still have a fulfilling, fun casual relationship as long as you both understand that your partnership is likely not a permanent situation. 

When having this initial conversation, you can say something like, “I love spending time with you and even though we don’t have the same plans for our romantic lives down the road, I want to keep seeing you for the time being.” Make sure to be honest about your intentions and plans, and make it a point to check in every few weeks or months to make sure you’re both still on the same page. A simple “are you still comfortable with our situation?” works.

Don’t stop communicating 

“The key is to continue to communicate,” says Simonian. If you enter into a long-term relationship, it might be easy for someone to think that you’ve changed your mind about not wanting to get married, says Simonian. “Especially if your behavior indicates that you’re really into them, like if you spend a lot of time together, say I love you, or meet their parents.” Because those are the traditional markers of a relationship that may lead to marriage, restating your desire not to marry is necessary in order to make sure your actions aren’t misinterpreted. 

And if you’re in a long-term, committed relationship with someone who has different views on marriage, be open to having intimate, vulnerable conversations about what marriage means to you and your partner. Having conversations about your views on marriage and why it is or isn’t important can help you understand what you both need from your relationship. You might find that one of you will change your mind as you grow with each other, or you might be able to uncover unexpected common ground. You might also find room to compromise, whether or not that looks like marriage.

But be wary of daters who want to change your mind 

It’s common for people to think they can sway you into marriage, says dating and relationship coach Michelle Manley, especially if you’ve been in a long-term relationship. If someone starts pressuring you into changing your mind, it may show that they don’t respect your boundaries or that they don’t take your feelings seriously. If you feel that your partner is trying to convince you that marriage is in your future when you feel strongly otherwise, be direct about your feelings. You can say something like, “I appreciate that this can happen for some people. For me, I’m certain I don’t want to marry. Do you envision ever changing your mind about wanting to get married?” If they keep pushing you toward a future that involves altering your perspective, then you might not want to further invest in the relationship.

And if they say they want to get married, listen to them. 

Just like you wouldn’t want a partner to try and change your mind about a big life decision, you shouldn’t do the same to them. Thinking you can change what they want will only lead to an emotional letdown or resentment. If you decide that you want to keep dating someone with different views on marriage, Goodman says, you need to move forward knowing that your goals are ultimately not aligned.

No matter what your partner’s views on marriage are, communication on all fronts is key. Being honest about your needs and respecting theirs will set you both up to have the relationships you want.