Q: “My girlfriend has made it clear that she wants to get married soon. I definitely don’t… yet. Is it fair to keep dating her and not tell her my doubts?”

A: If your girlfriend talks about marriage to you, don’t kid yourself. She wants to get hitched. And if you sound open to the idea but know you’re not considering it yet, she is going to hope on every holiday, birthday and major event that you will produce a ring. She might downplay it, but she’d likely be over the moon if you walked through the door today and handed her a diamond.

So don’t string her along, dating her with vague promises about “soon,” “when it’s the right time” or “after I have X, Y and Z in place.” This might satiate your girlfriend’s appetite for a while—but since my mind is not clouded by feelings of love for you, can I just be real with you for a second?

See also: How to Propose to Your Girlfriend>>>

Here’s what I know: “soon” means there’s a nonexistent deadline, “when it feels right” means it will always feel a little wrong, and “after you have X, Y and Z” means there will always be a reason to avoid sealing the deal.

I’m not saying you should get engaged, but it’s time to up the ante or fold. If you’ve been in this relationship for a significant time, like a year or more, you should explain where, when and under what circumstances you will propose to her—for both her sake and yours.

“What you want matters just as much as what she wants, so sit down and have The Talk,” says dating and relationship expert Christie Hartman, author of Changing Your Game: A Man’s Guide to Success with Women. “Tell her you care about her but aren't ready yet.”

If she knows you’re serious about her, she'll probably give you the time you need, says Hartman—but she needs to get where you’re coming from. Give details. If marriage is not in the picture for you yet, but you could see yourself standing at the end of the aisle one day, tell her when that day might be: after the next promotion at work, when you have a certain amount of money in the bank, after you rehab from your surgery. If she gets that there is a delay, but still sees an end goal on the horizon, then she’ll be more likely to wait for you.

One last thing: reach back into that imagination for a sec. If you’re standing at the end of the aisle and your girlfriend isn’t the one walking toward you, you have to be honest about that. If she wants marriage, and you don’t want to marry her, then she can’t be your placeholder. Man up and speak up—then she’ll have to decide whether she wants to break up.

ABOUT THE HOT GIRL: Claire Austen is a 20-something freelance writer, sports enthusiast, and polka-dot-lovin’ everygirl trying to bridge the gap between what men know about women and what women wish men knew. She gives smart, super-honest advice about your biggest dating and relationship conundrums.