ADDICTED to You Do You (a dating podcast): In Defense of Ultimatums

“Ultimatum” is a four-syllable word, but when it comes to hetero relationships, society acts like it’s more of a “four-letter-word.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s effed up! Ultimatums are a valuable tool to keep in your relationship toolkit. Sure, ultimatums should be used sparingly – like eyebrow tweezers –  but that doesn’t mean you’ll never need them.

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash


There are times when a relationship is at a crossroads. Perhaps you’ve spent two years dating someone. You like them, envision a future with them, and you’ve decided it’s time to stop hemming and hawing over the topic of co-habitation. In such cases, an ultimatum forces a decision, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You are allowed to assert your own needs and limits. There’s no law that says you owe it to someone to wait as long as it takes for them to be willing to profess their love/meet your parents/get a dog/have a baby. You’re allowed to say, “Here’s what I want. If you don’t want that, let’s part ways.”

I’m convinced ultimatums get a bad rep in relationships because of sexism. We normally associate ultimatums with a woman trying to get a greater commitment out of a male partner. We never say a man who surprises his girlfriend with a proposal is  “issuing her an ultimatum.” And yet it kind of is one, because the clear subtext of that move says, “If our relationship is to continue, I want to marry you.” But apparently if you have a dick, an ultimatum is romantic…

 When men go after what they want, society praises them as bold and assertive. Whereas our misogynistic society derides women who assert their needs as nagging, desperate harpies, destined to waste away in our dusty houses, like Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. Yes, that Miss Havishman, who never changed out of her wedding dress in case her former fiance changed his mind about jilting her. By contrast, “Cool girls” never issue ultimatums. When they’re dating dudes, they let said men take their sweet time – even if it means wasting their own.

Well, I’m here to say enough is enough! The double standard about “ultimatums” that exists in straight dating has got to go! In recent years, five of my friends have issued ultimatums to long-term partners. A few were tired of their partners saying they “wanted to marry them some day” when that day never turned into today. In other situations, others were tired of waiting for their husbands to be “ready for parenthood.” In each case, my friends sat their partners down for a gentle but firm chat, wherein they explained what they wanted, why it was important to them, and exactly how long they were prepared to wait for it. In other words, they refused to be doormats.

In one memorable moment, an acquaintance we’ll call Noelle issued an ultimatum to her boyfriend of five years when he backed out of a proposal at the last minute. The couple owned a home together, had discussed marriage for years, and had even gone ring shopping. The expectations was Noelle’s partner would propose on the romantic trip to Argentina they scheduled to coincide with her 35th birthday. 

But when Noelle and her fella they arrived at a fancy Buenos Aires restaurant to celebrate the anniversary of her birth, things went wonky. Noelle’s partner looked her straight in the eye and said, “I know you think I’m going to propose tonight, but I’m not ready.” 

Noelle’s response to this announcement was basically, “The f-ck?” She was a strong, confident woman who was having none of this nonsense. Noelle told her boyfriend he had six months to make a decision. Marriage doesn’t matter to everyone, but it mattered to her. So if the dude had changed his mind, she was open to finding someone else. Five months later, they were engaged. When forced to put some real thought into it, he realized life was better with Noelle in it.

Of course, Noelle’s happy ending is not the inevitable outcome. In some cases, partners are swayed by the ultimatum. In others, the parties in question can’t agree on a path forward, so the relationship ends. Even so, I say ultimatums have a 100% success rate. Why is that true if their issuers sometimes end up single? Because you’’ll always get an answer, and that’s a good thing. If a significant other of six years isn’t ready to meet your needs after an ultimatum, chances are they never will be. Congratulations, you just aren’t compatible! Now move on to something better knowing you and your ex tried your best!

There’s no point staying in an unsatisfying relationship. Enough is enough! Sometimes you’ve got to issue an ultimatum…

Sarah Sahagian

Sarah Sahagian

Sarah Sahagian is a feminist writer based in Toronto. Her byline has appeared in such publications as Elle Canada, Flare, Bitch Media, The Toronto Star, and The National Post. She is also the co-host of You Do You: A Dating Podcast. Sarah holds a master’s degree in Gender Studies from The London School of Economics. You can find her on Twitter, where she posts about politics and live-tweets The Bachelor

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