DEAR AMY: I am 22 years old, and I have known my boyfriend for almost nine years. We've been dating for almost two years. Lately I have really been wanting to move forward in the relationship. I want to be married and have a family in the next few years. My boyfriend does not see eye-to-eye with me when it comes to our beliefs. I told him I want to be married (or at least engaged) before we think about having kids. He completely disagrees. He tells me he doesn't want to get married, although he does want kids (and soon). I am very against having children before marriage. It's all I can think about every day. I have even been looking at places to elope (since I don't want a big wedding) and at engagement rings. Am I wrong for wanting to be married before having kids? Am I crazy for wanting him to propose? -- Eager
DEAR EAGER: I wish I could offer you 20/20 clarity about what pushing someone into marriage tends to lead to, or point you toward a crystal ball that would show you the reality of joining lives when two partners don't have the same goals or values.
The one thing I know for sure is that you cannot form a solid future with someone when you don't respect his clearly stated choice not to get married.
Looking at rings and wedding venues will not make a marriage happen. Having children is challenging (wonderful, too) when you have every single thing going for you -- having babies before then makes this lifelong choice so much harder.
I hope you have pursued your education and have a job and outside interests. Talk with peers and family members who are married with kids -- or unmarried with kids -- to see what their lives are like. Enter this phase of life with your guy by your side, not pushing him from behind. Premarital couples counseling could help you two to frame this important conversation.