Meanwhile, she is aware her biological clock is ticking and worries that if she confronts Mark, he will pack his bags and leave rather than take her down the aisle and give her the babies she dreams of.
For his part, Mark has dropped the odd encouraging hint – crumbs Jane has seized on as hope. He’s been sweet with friends’ children and referred, albeit vaguely, to “if we were married” – only to quickly back-pedal, refuse to commit to a time frame and even claim he never said it.
Jane is one of a growing number of young women being held to ransom by the prospect of engagement and, as a result, allowing their partners to enjoy a relationship on their own terms.
Stories are rife of men – usually involved with women in their 30s or even 40s – getting away with everything from ignoring birthdays to cheating and throwing their weight around over decisions such as where and with whom to holiday and have supper.
One woman, Alison, tells of her boyfriend coercing her into paying for a trip he had promised to take her on as a birthday present and insisting they spend Christmas with his family, not hers.
When she finally plucked up the courage to confront the inequality creeping into their relationship, he snapped back: “I wish you wouldn’t make such a fuss. I had been planning to propose to you.” Looking back, she can see she was being manipulated.
Only too often women like Jane and Alison put up with imbalance in a relationship because they don’t want to rock the boat at what they see as a critical juncture.
“I let Mark get away with far more because I know otherwise I might scare him off, and then what?” says Jane. “I’d be in my mid-30s and starting from scratch, trying to find someone to have a family with.”
Jane’s instincts are entirely understandable, of course. But if women want to find a husband, what they should be doing is just the opposite, according to author Sherry Argov, whose dating books have been translated into 30 languages.
In her best seller Why Men Marry Bitches: A Woman’s Guide To Winning Her Man’s Heart she argues that it is divas, not doormats, who inspire men to commit. Women need to be more demanding, not less, to make men see the value in being with them long term. “The Taj Mahal was built for a woman,” Argov points out.
The good news is that women have more control than they think they do and by resisting the manipulations of a man dangling a ring, they are actually, however counter intuitive it may seem, more likely to get it.
Andrew G Marshall, author of The Single Trap: The Two-Step Guide To Escaping It And Finding Lasting Love, who has counselled countless couples trying to decide whether or not to marry, emphasises that every woman needs to not allow herself to become so fixated on engagement that she loses sight of what it was that made her attractive to her boyfriend in the first place.
“Men rarely set out to be manipulative, but sometimes that is what ends up happening because the topic of engagement is so loaded. Men often see it as their responsibility to resolve a situation and so may say almost anything – even things that on reflection they don’t mean – to make it all right.
“They offer what she wants to hear – that they’ll do it tomorrow – and then they hope that tomorrow never comes.”
But Marshall points out that the question of whether or not to marry – or to have children with someone – is so momentous that the pressure on men to “step up” is somewhat unfair.
“Tying yourself to someone for the rest of your life is probably the most important decision you will make, but sadly I often see in counselling that it is one that cannot be discussed properly.
“Too often it becomes a hysterical conversation. The number-one reason why men don’t commit is that they have genuine doubts about the relationship, so it is imperative that couples find a way to talk about this. If a man feels he can’t speak openly with his partner he’ll be even more wary of marrying her.”
Another reason why a man might put off proposing is money. “Men want to feel financially secure before asking someone to marry them and these days so many people do second degrees and internships – and good jobs are tougher than ever to find – that it usually takes until at least the age of 30.”
There are, Marshall concedes, some men who will use the promise of engagement as a bribe to get what they want, “in which case, the woman needs to ask herself, ‘Do I want to be with this kind of person?’ and probably walk away”.
Other men may fall into the habit of being the dominant one in the relationship because time is on their side in terms of fertility.
Argov says: “The biggest attraction-killer is neediness and insecurity.”
Instead of “auditioning”, trying to be “best in show” and wondering, “Where’s my ring?” women should be asking themselves, “What’s in this for me?”
She uses the example of a woman whose boyfriend laid into her over how she dressed and the make-up she wore. Rather than throwing out the make-up and buying a new wardrobe, she said: “This outfit has always been fine and I haven’t had complaints about my make-up. But, if you like, I can warn you in advance when I’m going to be wearing this. That way, if you don’t want to see me in it, you don’t have to come over.”
Needless to say, the boyfriend in question later became a fiancé.
There you have it: any woman can be held to ransom, whether by a man’s manipulations or just the manipulations of her own mind – but the ultimate power play is to refuse to be.