Forget what you’ve seen on the big screen. “90 percent of the time, the topic of marriage is first brought up by the woman,” says Violet Lim, CEO & Co-Founder of dating company Lunch Actually Group.

Thinking of asking your boyfriend about whether he sees you in his future? Here are some things to note about when you should have that conversation, and what you can do if you don’t get the answer you’re hoping for.

When to have the talk

According to Violet, Lunch Actually has seen their matchmade couples get engaged anywhere between three to 24 months of dating, though understandably, those still in school or at the beginning of their career usually take a longer time. If you’re in your late 20s or 30s, Violet suggests that the marriage talk take place no later than 12 to 18 months after the beginning of the relationship.

If you’re dating with the intention of settling down, you should let your partner know from the start. If he decides to continue with the relationship, you’ll know he’s on the same page as you and that “the talk” can happen as soon as the both of you are ready.

How to tell if you’re ready

“Before having the talk with your boyfriend, it’s critical that you understand your own beliefs, values and feelings about marriage,” advises Swanie Khoo, a marriage and family therapist at Relationship Matters. After reflecting on what you want, start a conversation with your partner about your collective views on marriage and discuss what it means to spend the rest of your lives together.

If you want to bring up marriage but aren’t sure if you or your partner are ready to talk about it, Swanie says to look out for these signs to see if you should even consider taking the next step: you have complete trust in your partner, you’re able to be vulnerable around him and you feel safe and secure in the relationship.

Honesty is the best policy

You don’t want your partner to feel as if he’s being forced to propose, so opening with, “My BFF just got engaged, how come you haven’t proposed yet?” or “Let’s go BTO!” probably aren’t the best ways to kick-off the conversation. Honesty is usually the best policy and it’s no exception in this instance.

“Telling the person you love that you want to marry them opens up a new level of commitment,” says Swanie. To keep things light-hearted, the therapist adds that you can “state your desire and qualify it by saying that you’re not asking for an immediate answer, but opening a conversation about what you would like the future to hold.”

If things don’t go your way…

Didn’t get the answer you were hoping for? It isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In her line of work, Violet has encountered people she refers to as “time wasters”—people who promise to marry their partner without genuine intentions. So while your partner’s honesty may hurt, he isn’t wasting your time and you’re free to decide what you wish to do with the relationship.

If your partner’s answer is noncommittal, it’s important to set clear expectations about when you’re looking to get married. “If the person is serious about you… he [will] respect the timeline and work towards it,” says Violet.

Bringing up marriage isn’t about pressuring your partner into popping the question before he’s ready. It’s about looking at what you both want and need as individuals, and as a unit. If getting married is something you want, you owe it to yourself to get clarity on where the relationship is headed.

Text: Claire Soong