Ultimatums: Yay or Nay?

Over at Salon, there’s a great piece by writer Sharon Hewitt about waiting for her fiancé to decide between her and another woman.

Sounds crazy, yes? But to read Hewitt describe the reasons behind her decision to wait is to read something that is daring enough to explore the gray areas of relationships in a society that is hell-bent on black and white. (See: “He’s Just Not That Into You,” and any reality TV show on Bravo.)

She explains, cheesiness aside, that her decision to wait it out (for seven months and counting) is an act of love; giving someone she cares about the time and space they need to figure out what they want. Hewitt also describes why she decided not to give him an ultimatum:

If the man I love does come back, it will not be because I have threatened or manipulated him. His return will not be mere capitulation to the all-or-nothing terms I have set. It will come from a place of deep self-knowledge that he has found in his own time.

It’s a pretty ballsy stance to take; many of us, I think, would probably have caved to outside pressure to deliver an ultimatum or leave.

All of which makes me wonder: how do you feel about ultimatums?

Sorry! This poll is now closed.

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    • Carolyn

      I really believe the ideas behind ‘he’s just not that into you’ – actions are louder than words. This is not a new concept. A situation that warrants an ultimatum is probably one that should be walked away from… the guy has already made his decision if he’s not treating you right. That being said, I also think people should do whatever feels right to them, but I hope this girl waiting around for 7 months wouldn’t pass up a better opportunity if it arose for this potential opportunity that might never happen…

      • Hannah Beth

        You’re right– and the latter half of your comment makes most sense (“I also think people should do whatever feels right to them, but I hope this girl waiting around for 7 months wouldn’t pass up a better opportunity if it arose for this potential opportunity that might never happen…”). Unfortunately, this girl can’t use logic. It’s great that she’s so in love, but when it takes away rational thought to the detriment of her happiness, then it’s not so great.

    • Odbery

      This is a tough one. I’ve been cheated on this way before and it hurts, more than when he sleeps with someone else. There’s such a sting of betrayal and disrespect, and for me this was with a boyfriend I just liked so I can only imagine how this woman feels. That said, I think her decision is incredibility mature and brave. While I appreciate his honesty, I can’t say the same for her boy. Obviously I don’t know the situation intimately but to me it sounds more like a case of holy-fuck-this-is-forever cold feet mixed with remember-when-life-was-simple nostalgia than anything else.

      If this were to happen with my boyfriend, whom I love very deeply, I think I would be able to not have an ultimatum on time (assuming of course that I could carry on outside romantic endeavors if I felt so inclined). If I marry someone I want us to be as sure as humanly possible that it’s what we want to do, if not we can just carry on as eternal bf/gf, and I understand that takes time, lots and lots of time. After he made his choice though I would have to give him the ultimatum of never speaking to the girl he did not choose again. Maybe that’s a sign of weakness, or not taking control of your own happiness or whatever, but honestly I don’t think I could bear it.

    • Patricia

      Ultimatums are pointless and usually given by someone who somehow knows doesn’t have any more reasonable choices of getting what she/he wants. I abhor ultimatums and people who use them. It’s a way of controlling those around you, and I detest it. I never give them and when they are given to me, I react very very very VERY badly.

      • http://bigapplepants.com sarahnoid

        Amen, sista.

    • matbo

      I think ultimatums are more given for the giver than for the ultimatum-receiver. “I need you to figure this out and I cannot wait forever for something uncertain.” If I gave my boyfriend an ultimatum “I will wait 7 months for you to figure out who you want/where to live etc” it it because I will not sit around waiting indefinetly, but I will also have given whatever it is a chance.
      I have never given an ultimatum, but I view it as a way to free yourself (granted it’s not something like chose between me and your sister right now or lose me forever).

    • Hannah Beth

      I don’t think I’d give him an ultimatum, but I do think that my feelings would be hurt enough that I wouldn’t want him anymore. I wouldn’t feel special, and I’d rather know he was sure about me, if possible.

    • Ashley

      I am not sure if I believe in ultimatums in the majority of situations – and not the typical “marry me or I’m breaking up with you” type of thing. However, I recently was in a situation in which I had to decide if I wanted to continue to be with someone and move across the country (which meant quitting my job, leaving my friends and family) with the person or else staying put but breaking up. It came down to the inevitable “I cannot leave my entire life behind unless we decide to begin a new life together” (which for me meant getting engaged and living together). We’d been together two years so perhaps it was a question that we should have been considering anyway. Ultimately, we decided to end our relationship. It was really tough but I think when you are considering a monumental life change for someone it is only natural to want a commitment from them (for some people that means marriage, for other people that means combined bank accounts, for others it might just mean buying a couch together) that you are making that huge change in order to step forward together into a new life.

    • Dove

      I definitely agree with the sentiment here – ultimatums are a last resort, and they are for the giver. I would simply not be happy in the situation the author describes. And not in a “if he doesn’t know NOW then he doesn’t love me!” kind of way, just in a “my sanity cannot withstand indefinitely waiting for someone else to decide about my future.” Because just as it is not fair to push someone into chosing a future together, it is not fair to make someone pause their life for months on end.

      Also, while this guy might genuinely be considering their future, many people (men and women) when given the chance to have their cake and eat it too, so to speak, would be in no hurry to end that convenient set up.

    • http://bigapplepants.com sarahnoid

      When people give me ultimatums, I always choose the option they do not want me to pick.

    • lo

      I don’t really believe in ultimatums, but I don’t think I’d want to stick around while this guy figured out who he wanted to marry. I was in a similar situation, where a male friend really wanted to date me, but was engaged to another girl. The engagement was something he kinda jumped into and wasn’t totally happy with, but I refused to be the one to say “it’s either her or me,” even though I liked him. I really respect her for not jumping to issue an ultimatum, because even as his friend, I was tempted to scream “MAKE UP YOUR FREAKING MIND.” Granted, a day after we had a real heart-to-heart about the direction of his relationship (and him deciding he wanted to break it off), he ran off and married her at city hall. So obviously his fiance was not one to shun an ultimatum, and he’s too spineless to make his own decision. I’d like him to be happy, but somehow I’m skeptical… relationships (and marriages) based on snap decisions and ultimatums never work out.

    • lo

      Clarification of “I really respect her for not jumping to issue an ultimatum, because even as his friend, I was tempted to scream “MAKE UP YOUR FREAKING MIND.””

      The “her” I’m referring to is the author of the article. My friend’s fiance is, by most accounts, kind of a controlling young woman.

    • macalny

      I do not understand those who issue ultimatums. How is it possible to ever be happy with a person who chooses you when you’ve given them an ultimatum?? Don’t you want someone to choose you on their own rather than because you forced their hand? But, I guess these are the same people who just need to be with “someone” rather than with a person they care deeply about, a person they respect, and a person who cares deeply about and respects them back. Sadness all around.

      • Dove

        Not that I’ve had to deal with this, but I don’t understand what you’re supposed to do other than issue an ultimatum in a situation like the one described… How is waiting around for half a year a reasonable choice?

        “Oh, yeah, just keep banging that girl for as long as you need… I’ll be here if you decide to stop… ever…”

        This is not meant to be argumentative, I just feel like I must be missing something because waiting and ultimatum and leaving him seem like the only choices to me.

      • Dana

        I agree. Ultimatums suck. The fact that you have to even give one means there’s something wrong. Why would you waste time on someone who is investing their time in somebody else other than you? It is really sad. Like, I totally believe in the idea that if you two were meant for each other, then it will happen no matter what!, but it should come on its own rather than feeling pressured and eventually ‘stuck’ in a relationship they don’t really wanna be in..

        Yes, give him the space. But you should give this space and this time to focus on yourself to be stronger so that if the next time he can’t decide(i hope this doesn’t happen– you decide for him and leave!

    • Somnilee

      Last time I tried it (are we/aren’t we?) I ended up with “aren’t we” and crying for about 6 hours solid. I wish I hadn’t have said it and that things could have resolved themselves, but I know (knowing me) that they wouldn’t have, so at least I’ve had the space to work things out for myself and try the whole shebang again. I guess this makes me anti/pro-ultimatums, I don’t know.

    • M

      I think I can understand the author’s mindset a lot. I am not, by nature, particularly jealous or possessive, which I know is uncommon. My boyfriend and I have been together almost two years but it’s long-distance a lot of the time; he goes to school in another state so we’re frequently separated, but when he’s in town he lives with me. It’s strange yo-yo-ing between having this ‘grown-up’ domestic life together and then being apart again. I have told him many times that if he wants to have his fun while he’s at school, he should [so long as he doesn't make an babies or catch anything that can't be cured]. The last thing I want is for us to be together in the long haul but for him to be dissatisfied, thinking ‘Oh man if only I slutted it up back when I was in college at a party school, WHY DID I TIE MYSELF DOWN’.

      We’ve also discussed the fact that I’m aware that if he DOES try to have his fun, he might find someone else. In the end, I would rather have that happen too than for him to always look back with regret on some unseized opportunity. Like the author, I want him to want to be with me because he has explored all of his options and KNOWS we’re right together, not because I tied him down and now he’s stuck. I’m even fine with the idea of an open relationship when he’s home; if he wants to have his fun [safely] I’m okay with that, so long as he still wants to be coming home to me. And if he were to find someone that he really liked and was unable to choose between us, so long as she was okay with it too I think I would be okay with being one of his girlfriends [or even us making a threeple, if she also swings that way and I find her as compelling as he does]. I love him and I want him to be happy, and different people need different things to be happy. If I can be even a part of what makes him feel like he has a complete and fulfilling life, I think that’s enough. He brings me happiness too [more than I would have imagined when we met], but seeing as we’re often separated I know that I DO have a good life apart from him as well, and while he improves my quality of life my happiness doesn’t solely rely on him.

      However, he is a pretty strict-monogamy kind of guy. He understands I’m not trying to push him away when I tell him these things, but he [at least so far] has had no inclination to follow up on it with the exception of one drunk makeout session at a party that he instantly regretted [as more of a reflection on the other person than our relationship] and told me about right away [I thought the story was hilarious]. He does bring up the [entirely valid] fact that he got most of the bed-hopping out of his system in high school, and now that he’s been-there-done-that he’s over it. But I still feel better knowing that HE knows he has the option.

      I guess this got sort of off-track regarding the nature of ultimatums, but I don’t see myself ever being in the situation where I’d need to make one. If I do somehow end up in a [something else]-or-me scenario I would probably talk to him about how I feel and the possible things I see happening, watch how he responds [in action more than word], formulate my plan, and then tell him about why I’m staying or leaving and my thought process after it’s already in motion. It’s not just his life, it’s mine too. I can make my own decisions. But if there is some sort of Big Decisive Life-Changing Moment imminent, I would hope that we communicate well enough that neither of us will be blindsided when it arrives.

    • c

      I am in such a similar situation to her that it hurt to read about. I don’t issue an ultimatum because I might not and probably wouldn’t get what I wanted. I stick around as a fwb hoping he will decide that loving me is better than that ellusive single life, and that there is so much to experience together too. After 6 years of on again off again I wish I could be as comfortable with myself to know that I would be ok alone, and that would probably help my relationship, but deep down I know that this has the power to break me and that is why I could never issue the ultimatum that sometimes I wish I could.

    • Keith

      I have been put into an ultimatum from my girlfriend. We have been living together for 7 months. I have been looking for work, and have had several interviews. I have been offered positions, however they are all 100%commission. I have really been trying hard. I was told that if I did not have a job by the end of march, she would leave. She loves me, and it would make her sad she said. She has had a couple of bad relationships in the past, where she had to foot the bill. This is my house that we live in. She has paid for the utilities the last 3 months. I can understand her frustration and can see her position. I do not and have never put ultimatums on a relationship, business thats different. You don’t sleep with your customers! I can only think whats next. Is the job I get not good enough? What about my children, will she leave if my 11 year old daughter starts acting up? I didn’t appreciate it very much and in fact told her to start looking for a place. She also blames me for the $500.00 she no longer gets from her husband, because she moved in with me. I told her It will be hard for me to know where she stands in the future.I do love her and am crazy about her, however I never say anything about her children who have stole from me, or the fact that she is an alcoholic, or she is extremely messy. She has a good job that she hates WOW! I am a believer that if you keep on trying something good will happen. Who knows I might land that awesome job the day she leaves! Ultimatums are not for relationships period!