My Boyfriend Has Proposed 16 Times—Why I Have Yet to Say Yes

Love doesn't always have to equal marriage.

From the top deck of the Viking Sea cruise ship, we gaze out at the islands of Antigua and Barbuda shimmering in the sun. My boyfriend gets down on one knee, says “I love you,” and asks me to marry him. It’s my seventh proposal in the last seven days. I smile, tell him I love him too, and give him a big kiss. Then I ask if he wants to join me at the onboard spa or if he’s going to read his book on our veranda.

Not the least bit concerned that I haven’t responded to his question, he tells me he’ll be admiring the view from the ship’s lounge with a cocktail and his book. We meet up a few hours later to chat about our afternoons over a pre-dinner snack of tuna sashimi and crab legs. Something similar will likely happen again tomorrow.

A marriage proposal in every country

My boyfriend—let’s give him some anonymity and call him Mr. Negroni, after his cocktail of choice—is ever the romantic. He proposes marriage every time we go to a new country together. Over the course of our nearly five-year relationship, we’ve been to 16 countries so that’s at least 16 marriage proposals, not including the ones at home in Canada. While I don’t say no, neither do I say yes.

This can cause freakouts by anyone who happens to overhear the proposal (he tends to keep the bent knee ones for more secluded places, like his incredibly romantic proposal on a Montevideo, Uruguay rooftop as we watched the sun set into the Rio de la Plata). If you’re curious, this is why men get down on one knee to propose.

His frequent proposals and my lack of response suit us just fine. So why haven’t I said yes?

I’m commitment-shy

I’ve been married (and divorced) once before. Marriages can be wonderful but divorces, even the ones where everyone is on their best behavior, are not. You could say, I’m once bitten, twice shy.

Mr. Negroni is patient with me though. He didn’t mind that I dragged my feet at…ummm…”going steady” and that I didn’t say “I love you” until I was absolutely sure I meant it. I delayed agreeing to live together too. Perhaps the inconvenience of going back and forth to each other’s apartments was a test for us both to see if we were really ready? Regardless, Mr. Negroni doesn’t judge me for being commitment-phobic. And not judging your partner is one of these 15 signs that your relationship is solid as a rock.

Proposals keep the romance alive

iguaza falls Johanna ReadCourtesy Johanna Read

His proposals are romantic, sometimes serious, and sometimes silly. The one amongst the rainbows formed by immense Iguazu Falls, which border Brazil and Argentina, was straight out of a rom-com. Our 11-day sailing with Viking Ocean Cruises stopped in nine different countries, which meant not only almost-daily proposals but the need to remember to do them. That meant a last-minute proposal on a stairwell as we were pulling out of port in St. Lucia when Mr. Negroni blurted out “oh! I almost forgot, will you marry me?” I burst out laughing. The couple walking behind us exchanged hilarious glances but politely pretended they hadn’t heard us.

A little romance, especially when it’s not taken too seriously, is good for a relationship, regardless of its legal status. Here are another 28 little things you can do right now to make your marriage happier.

The proposals help us keep talking about what we want in our relationship

Our relationship isn’t stagnant and we have conversations about what we want and don’t want it to be. Sometimes they’re during a walk or dinner at home, and occasionally they’re on the deck of a Viking ship over a delicious meal with a stunning view (sometimes accompanied by a negroni too).

We trust each other to say what we really think, knowing that honesty ensures we can deal with any problems when they arise and not after they’ve festered. The frequent proposals remind us to keep thinking about the future and talking about what we want it to look like in no-pressure conversations.

I value my independence

buenos aires Johanna ReadCourtesy Johanna Read

I’m perhaps on the extreme edge of wanting to be self-reliant and independent. An example is our trip to Buenos Aires. Mr. Negroni was the one who’d figured out the map and the bus system, yet I couldn’t stop myself from walking ahead of him, needing to lead the way even when I had no idea where we were going. (Yes, he mentioned this during the proposal in Argentina.)

Mr. Negroni is more than fine with my independent streak, always encouraging me to live the life that I want. He understands my insatiable need to travel and loves that travel keeps changing me. He encourages me to go, even when it meant missing his birthday, Valentine’s Day, and needing to leave him in the hands of friends (yes, and a doctor’s too) for surgery. After all, travel helps me grow— I’ve been to 60 countries but these are the six that changed me forever.

Getting married is easy, getting divorced is not

While Mr. Negroni and I are planning a life together, we both know that life-long commitments don’t always work out that way. In many countries, people can get married almost at the drop of a couple of pieces of ID. Getting divorced involves expensive lawyers and months, if not years, of time.

I want to protect my finances

finances proposal marriage Johanna ReadCourtesy Johanna Read

I worked hard to earn my money and scrimped and sacrificed to have savings. I want to decide what happens to it, not a court. I don’t expect anyone to pay for my life, and I don’t want to be obligated to pay for anyone else’s.

Laws—initially created to support women who stayed at home to raise kids and manage the household—now seem to have the opposite effect for many women I know. Several of my friends feel trapped in their unhappy marriages because they can’t afford to lose half their salary and half their pension to husbands who chose jobs that were fun but not well-paying or chose not to work much at all.

I don’t think Mr. Negroni would ever do that. But I’ve seen firsthand how the end of a marriage can make people’s personalities change, insisting they receive every entitlement and forgetting past verbal agreements and typical definitions of fairness. I don’t want to ever be in that position again.

I don’t need to prove anything

There was a time when people were pretty judgy about whether a woman was married or not, making all sorts of assumptions about her. For example, some people consider marriage to be a status symbol thinking you are only “worthy” if you’re hitched and others still attach a stigma to being single. Thankfully, those days are (pretty much) over. Need inspiration? Here’s what these women love about being single.

I don’t care what other people think about my relationship with Mr. Negroni. I only care about what he and I think about it.

Will I ever say yes?

We’ll see! This is how long the average couple dates before getting married, so we’re not too far off the mark. Maybe I’ll surprise him one day by saying yes. Maybe we’ll go on another cruise and I’ll give him a daily proposal (but if he’s not ready to say yes—or no—that’ll be fine by me). It’s fun to dream about romantic weddings (a beach wedding in the Maldives has certainly crossed my mind). But what’s important to me is a happy relationship, not the label or legal status we put on it, nor an event that marks just one step in it. Besides, delaying marriage can make you a better partner.

Popular Videos

Johanna Read
Johanna Read, Canadian writer and photographer, writes about travel (including under COVID-19), wildlife, food, health and wellness, and responsible tourism. She aims to encourage travel that is culturally, economically, and environmentally sustainable. Johanna also writes occasionally about public policy, leadership, and management. She draws on her management consulting work (where she specializes in organizational culture and employee wellness) and on her background as a Government of Canada policy executive. Her BAH (psychology and sociology) and MPA (health policy) are from Queen's University. Johanna's bylines include Reader's Digest, Fodor's, Lonely Planet, USA Today, and Canadian Traveller. See her portfolio; follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.