Dear Prudence: I have been dating a wonderful, handsome, caring man for almost three years. The first two years we enjoyed a wonderful life, but lived separately. About three months ago we decided to move in with each other, and two weeks after we moved in together, his son's mother fell into a near coma due to drinking. My boyfriend's son (who is 8) is now with us permanently and will probably be for a long time.

My issue here is that I am now a mom and wife without the badge. My boyfriend has said he's "just not there yet" when it comes to marriage and that he would only marry me at this point to make me happy. I feel kinda duped and stuck now that I am living with him and his child and he doesn't see us getting married.

Meanwhile, I am very successful professionally, still quite young (30), and a complete catch! How can he not want to marry me!? What should I do?

Prudence says: Your situation raises general and (heartbreakingly) specific issues. On the general front, I know that living together has become an almost standard precursor for marriage, but my concern about it is reflected in the many letters I get such as yours. That is, women (yes, it's almost always a woman) write in that it just seemed like the right time to move in together — living apart was time consuming and expensive — but then the years go by and the young woman is wondering when the question will be popped and the ring proffered. She reluctantly brings up questions of the future, which get deflected with an "I'm not ready." "Stop pressuring me." "You'll ruin the surprise." It's discouraging to see young women who are world-beaters finding their personal lives stuck in some 1950s dynamic where all the power goes to the guy. Situations such as yours are why I advise that couples have very clear, agreed-upon mutual goals and timelines before moving in. That way neither person feels that they are in some kind of permanent probation.

As for your specific situation, you are in love with a man with a young child, and it couldn't have been a secret that this boy's mother had a serious drinking problem. So you two needed to have some serious talks about your expectations for your involvement in this child's life. I can understand that your boyfriend feels burned by marriage, but his reluctance has huge implications for your future.

I would hate to see more disruption in a vulnerable child's life. But you are only a few months into the role of sort of stepmother in his life. You sound ambivalent about it. Additionally, if you want marriage and children of your own, and your boyfriend just doesn't see that, better to get out now than years down the road as your fertility becomes an ever bigger issue.

This child needs love, security, consistency and special handling. He doesn't need a resentful, pseudo-mother in his life. You don't necessarily have to break up with your boyfriend, but get some distance on the situation by re-establishing your own domicile.

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