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Ang And The Pre-Engaged State


A few weeks ago, we brought you Ang’s (she of Lowbrow Events, APW sponsor) hilarious tale of sex and insecurity, and getting your a*s stuck to the floor with chocolate. Then last week, we discussed the reality of non-fairytale proposals. So today, Ang is back to discuss A) Why romantic comedies ruin relationships (ok, I’m editorializing a bit) B) How it feels to be waiting for your partner to be ready to get hitched, and C) Why waiting can, in fact, be the best. Like Ang is the best. Let’s do this:

Ang And The Pre Engaged State | A Practical Wedding

{Ang says: ZOMG ask already!}

I have kind of an obsessive personality.  While this is great for stuff like wedding planning *cough* shameless plug*cough*, when it comes to day to day living it can be a pain.  When it comes to wanting to get married, it sucks ass.

I met my husband in high school.  As alluded to previously, we didn’t really run in the same crowds.  He was super hot bad boy, I was a nerdy socially inept hanger on.  Our “courtship” started when he offered to teach me to drive stick *pauses for innuendo giggles to subside*, worked on my car, then we just kind of stuck.  With the exception of a six month long bout of selective mutism on both our parts, we’ve never been apart for more than a few days.  I knew a few years in that I wanted to marry this man.  Hindsight being what it is, I’m glad I didn’t marry 22 year old Matt, as I’m sure he’s glad he didn’t marry 21 year old Ang.  She was a nut job.

However, we both have mothers.  Who wanted grandbabies, and since both our families are devout Christians, grandbabies wouldn’t count if they were born out of wedlock.  Thus the marriage pushing began.  This was exacerbated by the fact my mom got married at 17 and my grandmother at 15, so I was an old maid by their standards.  “By the time I was your age I had you AND your sister!”  or the kicker “You know, he probably doesn’t want to get married because of *insert somewhat questionable activity Ang loves that supposedly scares away wedding fairies*.  Maybe you could stop for awhile.”  This coupled with the mantra “you are now of marrying age, it is your job to be wedded” that had been drilled into my subconscious since it was discovered that I did, in fact, have a vagina, spurred me to instigate some “So…. marriage….” talks.

I don’t know how to define the success of such conversations.  Early versions fell flat.  The direct route, [SCENE: INT LIVING ROOM COUCH - NIGHT]  I nonchalantly said “I want to marry you you know…”  “Yeah, I know.”  A more subversive conversational approach, “Slug Bug White, no punch backs.  You know… wedding dresses are white… do you ever wonder about what I’ll look like in a wedding dress?”  “I’m sure you’ll look nice.”

The direct approach was a last resort. You think I would’ve learned that my man doesn’t do nuance.  So asking, “What are your thoughts on the two of us getting married?” should have been the first thing I’d done.  If I had, I would’ve known that he was very burned by his parents’ failed marriage.  That he was terrified of making a similar mistake of his own.  That he didn’t feel like he was a good person to be married to at that point in time (He wasn’t, but neither was I, in all honesty).  He knew that he loved me, and that we’d “probably get married,” but that marriage is a huge commitment, something he didn’t feel comfortable making decisions about at this stage of his life.

If current old lady Me had been told this, I would think, “Oh, those are completely rational and mature things to say.  Kudos to you, Beloved, for putting such care and thought into such a large life change.”  But I was more than slightly irrational early twenties Me, convinced that these were excuses that he had come up with because he didn’t want to marry me.  Books, movies and television shows were the extent of my romance knowledge, they were all adamant that if a man truly loved you, that he would chase down planes, interrupt funerals,  get arrested, quit his job and scream from building tops the immortal words “WILL YOU MARRY ME?”  If Matt wasn’t doing that, the only conclusion I could come to was that he didn’t love me, and was pacifying me until someone better came along.

I was morose about our relationship for awhile, but life happened, growing up happened.  Matt made some decisions that he wouldn’t have made if he didn’t love me.  Actions were performed, edicts were declared that, in very Matt ways, made it extremely clear how very important I was to him.  I finally took what he said at face value, stopped trying to find hidden meaning behind everything, stopped trying to decipher his “man code”, and just enjoy being with him.  We’d talk about getting married, like people in their forties talk about retiring.  “Yeah it’d be nice to be married/retired.  What do you think about a hobby farm/kids?”  “Having a hobby farm /kids is really important to me.  What kind of farm/where will we raise them?”  I had settled down into honestly and legitimately not caring if we ever got married.  While I still wanted to, I didn’t NEED a marriage to define my worth as a woman, I had grown confident in myself, no longer needing the title of wife to justify my existence.  Matt was a huge catalyst in that change, and as such, having him in my life, regardless of what I introduced him as, was the only part that mattered.

We were together for eight years before “the question” was officially queried.  Again on the couch, an overcast day in late October right before Halloween. He was watching TV, I was on my computer, when he poked me and asked “Are we doing anything November 14th?”  “Nothing, why?”  “I thought we could get married…”  “Yeah OK, whatever.”  *incredulous look on his part*  “OMG you’re serious?  SHUT UP!”  When we got around to announcing our engagement to those who had been actively pestering, chastising, and berating us over the past eight years, there was no, “I’m so happy for you!”, just a bunch of, “It’s about time!” “Are you pregnant?”, “Seriously?  We’d given up on you,” and, “Why even bother at this point?”  Ouch?

We didn’t do this for them.  If we were going to get married to make other people happy, it would’ve happened ages ago.  We made the decision to get married when we BOTH felt comfortable with it.  On our time line, not polite society’s, not our overly involved mothers, not our sympathetic friends.  It wouldn’t have been fair for me to rush him, just like it would’ve been unfair for him to force me.  I have no qualms in saying that if we had gotten married five or six years ago, we either wouldn’t be together today, or we would be insufferably miserable.  Neither of us were mentally or emotionally prepared for marriage, but Matt was the only one with the guts to admit it.

Pictures: Ang owns the rights, because she’s a bad-ass

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  • Rachel

    This could not have come at a better time. Because we’re all friends here, and because I’m also semi-anonymous on here, I’m going to share a little story from last weekend.

    My dear partner is not the planning type. In the entire duration of our relationship, I’m not sure if he’s ever really planned an outing for the two of us that goes beyond a suggestion that we head down to the pub for a drink. Planning some sort of date or outing multiple days in advance? Never happens. At least it didn’t until last week.

    Part way through the week, dear partner suddenly suggested that this coming Sunday, we should pack up a lovely picnic (picnics! my favourite thing!), and go hiking (hiking! my other favourite thing!), at the lovely B Rapids Park (B Rapids Park! my favourite place!). This had never happened before, I’m always the planner, and I very quickly got it into my head that he was planning this romantic outing with all my favourite things because he was planning to propose.

    After a lovely picnic by the water, we set off on the trails, and after some time, we came across this beautiful clearing at the edge of the woods, overlooking the rapids, perfect sunlight streaming through the forest canopy… dear partner took my hands, kissed me, smiled, and as I took a deep breath, he said “hey! look at that bumble bee over there, you should take a picture of it!”

    After the hike we headed home, and within approximately 30 seconds of walking through the door, I burst into tears and collapsed on the couch. Panicked and worried, dear partner tried to calm me down and figure out what was wrong, and through ugly sobs I admitted that I thought he was going to propose at the park.

    Ahem. Not a proud moment. I had mistakenly thought that as a modern, independent, confident woman, I was above this sort of thing. Apparently not.

    When I managed to calm down, we had a good conversation about the fact that we love eachother, marriage (to eachother) is something we both want, but also about the fact that he wants to be stable in other areas of his life (especially his job) before moving into the next phase of life. All things that frankly, I already knew, yet somehow, the meltdown managed to slip in anyway.

    Anyway, moral of the story, I feel a lot better knowing that I’m not the only one who’s experienced this. I’m a planner and not known for being patient about things that are beyond my control (like my partners readiness for marriage) so I’m glad to hear that other women have experienced (and survived!) the same emotional rollercoaster. Thanks for writing this, Ang!

    • Megan

      Oh, Rachel, I was there in late March!
      We’ve been together for 3 years now and are in our early 30’s. It was my birthday weekend, so we went to Cincinnati (one of my favorite places) and I kept getting texts from friends asking “has it happened?” I clearly wasn’t the only one that was thinking of this.

      I’d told FH that I would like him (when the time comes) to use my grandma’s ring that she’d left me (I see no reason to buy a new ring when this one has meaning behind it.) We got home from our trip and still no ring on my finger.

      So, I sat down and told him what I’d thought would happen (probably the most mature thing I’ve done to date.) He was surprised and said he hadn’t even thought to do it there (not the most romantic guy, but he has such a huge heart!)

      At a graduation open house last week, he looked at me and said “I’d marry you today, but I want you to have the ring and wedding you deserve.” Guess that whole “let’s just go to the courthouse and get hitched is out of the question.” : ^*

      Anyways, sorry for the rambling, but I know where you are coming from. And I’m SO glad to know I’m not the only gal in that situation. : )

      • JJ

        SO not alone. My bf has his grandmother’s ring, and has for the past nine months. So I know it’s coming, but it might be tomorrow or it might be a year from now. And ADD to that that I can’t tell anyone till it’s official! Needless to say, I have ruined every dinner out, every Sunday on the couch, every trip to the park, etc etc etc. BAD, I know, but I just can’t push it down and be cool.

    • Kaitlyn

      Yikes! But at least you were able to have such an important talk, and learned that your partner is able to plan something that includes not just one but THREE of your favorite things! All in all, even with the non-proposal, it sounds like you had a very good and productive weekend :)

      • Rachel

        It was :) I only wish I’d been able to enjoy it properly without obsessing and wondering “is it coming now? how about now?” Like I said, not a proud moment, but hopefully I’ve learned for future outings :)

    • Ashley

      Oh this is so something that would happen to us! In fact I have had more than one slightly different versions of this scenario. We’ll get through it, but it is so nice to know we’re not alone.

    • Hoppy Bunny

      When my little sister got engaged to her guy of 9 years I was so happy for her, but it did not stop me from drinking a bottle of wine by myself and sobbing on the shoulder of my guy of 10 years that we would never, ever get married. I’m sure he felt great about that.

      When we *did* get engaged (I asked him three weeks later because who the heck cares if we have the money for a wedding or not) I told my dad, and he snorted”Seriously?” at me. Not the greatest reaction either. But I think those of us in long-term committed relationships get just plain weird reactions from most people when we do finally make the decision to tie the knot. It makes me question if I am really a bride-to-be, or just someone throwing a party and signing a piece of paper :P

      (I am definitely a bride-to-be and can’t wait to get hitched).

      • Anatidae

        I’m sorry I just reported this comment by mistake while trying to say exactly! I’ve been with my partner since start of university (as 17 year old’s), agreed not to get married until we finished uni… I finished 2.5 years ago and he’s still there, I’m now supporting him and it’s been driving me NUTS that we’re not engaged yet! After 6.5 years, I’ve known for 2 that I’m ready to be engaged, and all the women at work my age with their 2 year or less relationships are getting married! Love them, but goddamn it people! We went through shit last year (I hurt myself, got sick and was off work for a month, then a diagnoses of anxiety for me and depression for him…) Nothing’s going to get worse, I feel we’ve both proven commitment, but something’s holding him back. Conclusion: hugs to all the other pre-engaged out there. Sometimes it just sucks. PS I promised him he could propose. I hate that I agreed to that, but I take comfort in the kudos from respecting his feelings.

    • FawMo

      Loves.

      Also, Meg, please leave my brain.

      Last night The BF said, “I have a few questions. Don’t freak out because I’m not planning anything but when I am planning things I don’t want to have to ask you these questions. What’s your ring size?” And proceeding to ask me detailed questions about what I want.

      So whatever bizarre grab bag of emotions I had before about being pre-engaged are now officially on steroids.

      • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

        My guy didn’t ask my ring size (I had no idea at the time and probably couldn’t tell you now either), but he did walk me through a mall jewelry shop while we were waiting for a movie one night and asked me what styles I liked.

        I love that you’ve described that feeling as a grab-bag of emotions on steroids, because that pretty much nails it.

        • http://lizziesayssparkysays.tumblr.com FawMo

          And…..yesterday afternoon I got a message from my BF’s best friend looking for jeweler suggestions as he is shopping for a ring for his girlfriend.

          The better part of me will be happy for them and content that my BF and I have an awesome, rock solid relationship that will progress at it’s own organic pace.

          The not-so-awesome part of me will potentially be jealous and stabby.

    • TJ

      I threw a major tantrum on my college boyfriend, after a romantic three year anniversary vacation at a bed-and-breakfast didn’t turn up the proposal I’d wrongly suspected would take place. Thank God he didn’t propose that weekend, because for the first time, I was forced to consider not only the previously impossible possibility of NOT marrying him, but also what marriage to him might really be like. Which sounded less and less appealing the more I thought about it, to the point that when I found out a few months later that he’d actually begun ring shopping, I booked it and never looked back.

      So I’m glad for being forced to bide my time and really contemplate what marriage meant to me, with him. Because if he’d asked and I’d accepted, I wouldn’t be married to my amazing, crazy-smart, brand-new husband, who I met six years ago- exactly one month after breaking up with Mr. College :)

    • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

      Rachel,
      It is so hard to not be that girl. So so hard. We’ve talked about getting married, a lot. And it is not infrequent that I ruin wonderful days for myself by waiting for such a thing. BUT I swear I’m getting better. I completely admire girls like Ang for being able to get to the point where they flat out are happy as things are and aren’t waiting for a proposal because I can’t even see myself being that patient.
      All I can do is try to enjoy every moment…

      • http://www.thebourbontower.com Melanie

        Beth: ditto. This site has saved my sanity thanks to posts and comments like these.

        • Lisa

          I feel better reading this! I just found this site. My boyfriend and I met in High School, didn’t see each other for 8 years and then we connected and have been inseparable ever since. That was 5 years ago. He was in the Navy for 6 years, so now he is in school and working full time. I knew he was the guy for me about 6 months in. The fact that I love wedding planning hasn’t helped. If I had time for a third job I would definitely be doing that! Now we have settled on a wedding next year, picked a date (two days after our 6 year anniversary!) and even gave a deposit to the hall. What’s the problem? No ring yet! Its coming, and I have to hold onto all patience that I have left, because I know its coming…but my parents are upset that we would book a hall before the “official” engagement. Its been 5 years, we know we are getting married, we are on the same page, but without an official ring, we can’t announce we are engaged, we can’t celebrate with friends and family…it kinda sucks. I’m going to sit tight and keep waiting, so he can hopefully surprise me. But over the last 5 years the emotional breakdowns and freak outs have been numerous, and I’m glad that he wasn’t easily pushed into making a decision that he wasn’t ready for. I’m looking forward to planning a wedding that celebrates both of us and spending the rest of our lives together. Happy to see I’m not alone here!

  • Kasi

    This was absolutely the highlight of my day. I am glad I am not the only women out there that has a similar situation!

    • Amy

      One of the things we shared at the bookclub is the commonality of the pre-engagement breakdown. Especially when both partners are on the same page about getting married so you know its going to happen but the proposal just hasn’t occurred yet.
      For my partner – I had input into the ring, I knew it was coming, but it was important to him that he propose the way he wanted to. And yeah, having to wait for that drove me a bit batty.
      I imagine it’d be like telling a kid that Santa got them all the presents they asked for for Christmas, Christmas is coming “soon”, but that you don’t know when exactly that will be, and they’ll just have to be patient and wait for it.

      • Rachel

        That analogy about Christmas and Santa pretty much sums it up perfectly for me. I know my partner and I plan to get married – in fact we’ve even discussed that we’d like to get married next fall. We’ve also already agreed that we’ll pick out a ring together AFTER the proposal. However my partner really wants to plan a proposal and surprise me with it, so now it’s just a matter of waiting for that to happen – and oh man, knowing it’s coming but not knowing when is driving me batty. The control-freak in me is a little anxious.

        • Cass

          Forgive me, but I just don’t “get” the big-to-do about a proposal that’s a big-to-do.
          I know there have been posts about it, but I still really don’t get it.
          My proposal was a spur of the moment I-can’t-live-without-you moment. Everytime I tell the story I get loads of “awwws”. Isn’t doing it that way easier than an orchestrated production?
          I’m sure I’m just not seeing it your way. But it baffles me.

          • Rachel

            Neither my partner and I are into big proposals – he’s definitely not planning a big orchestrated show, but I do know he’s sentimental and likely wants to have his thoughts collected in advance of proposing. Once he’s got that sorted out, he’ll propose when the moment feels right (and his desire to be free to propose ‘in the moment’ is the same reason he told me he’d rather pick out a ring together afterwards – so it’s not ‘burning a hole in his pocket’ so to speak).

          • Edelweiss

            I agree! And my partner is not the big gesture kind of guy – YET- he’s gotten it into his head that I “deserve” a big proposal and, despite my insistence that it’s not necessary or even “us”, he believes it has to happen. And that belief is crippling him.
            I get to read this blog to get my common-sense checked when I need it, but he has his own WIC and Disney-princess brainwashings to battle and I haven’t figured out how to help him through that yet.

          • AH

            I’m feeling the same way. “We’re on the same page, what’s the holdup?” And I did, in fact propose to him, thinking in my type-A-ness, that I could move things along. Instead, he chuckled, said “Of course,” (which was a bit of a letdown) and then “But I really want to ask.” At which point I mentally threw up my hands and said “fine.” But the more I thought about it, I’m sure that just as getting a proposal is one of life’s seminal events (at least so it goes) that asking someone to marry you is a pretty big deal. I don’t want to rob him of that. However, in no other area of my life do I let his laid-back lackadaisical attitude control my type-A neurotic timeframe for decisions. It’s quite painful, I’ve discovered, though he finds it quite amusing.

          • JEM

            Edelweiss- You help him by showing him articles on APW that talk about that exact topic!!! :)

          • http://theatreprojects.blogspot.com Jessamarie

            The big proposal was important to us because I knew it was important to him. He loves surprises more than anything, even little ones. He loves when I surprise him with little things, and even more he loves being able to surprise me. I wanted to plan things, talk about timing and set dates, but for this I was out of luck. This was going to be the biggest surprise he ever got to plan and there was just no way I was going to take that away from him.
            I was surprised, it was very sweet and fun and so many of our friends were there to help us celebrate, and now that the surprise is over, me and my planning side get to take over and he is thrilled to let me have my turn to do what I do best.

          • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

            Jessamarie – That’s it exactly. It was his thing that he got to do and he wanted to and I really appreciate what he did about it. Some guys might not have thought about the wedding, but they’ve thought about the proposal.

        • Steph & B

          I knew a proposal was coming becuase if he had done a spur of the moment proposal, I probably would have ran away. I needed to talk about marriage and how it would impact our goas and lives. Coming from a family of generations with a history of divorce, I was pretty nervous and didn’t want to jump into a proposal without careful discussion and time first.

          So I knew that it was coming. And like edelweiss’ poor beau, Ben felt like he had to do something special. I simply told him that as long as he didn’t throw the ring at me and say “here’s the ring” or toss it to me after sex, that anything he did would be sweet and meaningful. Just like marriage, engaements have a whole lot pressure to be “perfect” and extravagant. As if a perfect engaement will equal a perfect wedding and a perfect marriage. It’s just another wedding industry unicorn.

      • http://forcause.wordpress.com Sandy

        oh man, it makes me so happy to hear that this is common. i’m married now, but i still carry a deep regret about my pre-engagement breakdown a few years ago. i was about a year away from graduating from law school and in the midst of making big life-changing plans (where to move, what job to take) and even though there was never a time in our relationship that we didn’t talk in terms of forever, i wanted to know what our relationship would look like in the future while making those decisions. (especially because we planned not to live together or share finances before marriage, the fact of being engaged or married would affect my decisions.) so i broke down in the most unattractive way. i cried. i asked why he didn’t want to get married. i all but gave him an ultimatum. he said nothing and then surprise-proposed a few months later. i have no idea whether he had already been planning it or whether he started saving for a ring the day after my outburst. now, sometimes, when times are hard, i look back and wonder if i forced him into proposing before he was ready with that ill-considered freak out. i mean, i don’t really think so. but i regret not showing a little more patience and grace (easy to say now that i’m married, right?).

        • Allie

          “I regret not showing a little more patience and grace”

          Perfectly said. Wish I’d shown a little more grace first time round too. But then I realised about 9 months later that if I wanted to get engaged so badly I could just ask him. Which I did and it all turned out ok. But I still regret the massive breakdown I had in Paris.

          Word to the wise, if you’re pre-engaged and at all tetchy about waiting… DON’T go to Paris!!

      • Caroline

        For quite sometime, I was having weekly pre-engagement freakouts (on shabbat, no less. Not the point of shabbat, let me say.) not of the I thought you were going to propose sort (because a) I feel like the “proposal” happened when we decided to get married someday, many years ago, as fairly small teenage munchkins, and b) we’d talked a lot about how as much as we are emotionally ready to get married, we aren’t financially). They were of the “we’ll NEVER get
        married, it will be decades!!!!! *wail, fall apart*” sort. It doesn’t help that we’re almost certainly 4 years away at least because my parents are wry generously supporting me when I go back for my bachelors (I’m 21, so it’s not that weird) Sonwe’re probably nit able to get
        married for 4 years. I think right now about 6 months would be our prefered timeline.
        The freakouts are way fewer now, because a) he says he’s ready and wants to marry me, and wishes we could now so there’s no foddor for “you don’t want to marry me, you must not
        love me” freakouts, b) I’ve discovered the term partner for him, which has helped me relax into our relationship. I’m ok being “just” his partner for now. I’ll still be his partner when I’m also his wife, and c) I realized that weekly freakouts are
        not attractive, and he really hated it.
        But man, being pre-engaged is tough.

  • http://misallocationofresources.blogspot.com Jenn

    I love this series of posts. And as many other readers have said, it makes me so happy to know I am not the only crazy one at this party :)

  • http://jolynn.wordpress.com Jo

    a) The slug-Bug-white wedding dress situation had me ROLLING.
    b) OMG! Congratulations! I’m so excited for you! You guys will be/are SO HAPPY! (sometimes friends/family are d**ches).

    • meg

      She’s super married, silly ;) So, *is* happy? Not that she wasn’t before? Anyway….

      • http://jolynn.wordpress.com Jo

        I know, I was going for belated… :)

    • http://lowbrowevents.com Ang

      Thank you for fulfilling the the warm and fuzzy quotient for us! (I got where you were coming from :) )

  • http://somethingshavehappened.blogspot.com/ Siobhan

    I got engaged a month or so ago. He had told me he would propose this year.

    On Valentines day I threw a massive strop as he did not propose and did not get a card. I made out like it was the card but really it was the proposal I was so cross about.

    I was sad on my birthday too. The weekend before he proposed I’d had knowing winks and words and we had a row about the proposal.

    Then he proposed. I was not expecting it. He had the ring on Valentines Day, he had it on my birthday. He was waiting until the time was right. He said he wanted us to be able to afford the wedding and have money left over for our marriage to not start under financial strain. He is practical and I am so greatful for that.

    I am grateful for this too as now I know I am not the only person to have a ridiculous meltdown.

  • http://extragrunty.wordpress.com Extragrunty

    Mr. EG and I had been together for 7.5 years before he proposed. I believe one of his friends had something to do with it. (Basically they said that because I had moved 8 hours away to that city with him while he attended grad school, I would soon be moving with him to a city neither of us liked, and we’ll be moving who knew where a year later, he really did need to get on it and propose already.)

    During those 7.5 years I cycled through periods where I was (very) impatiently/ anxiously awaiting a proposal, and times where I was okay with waiting in the pre-engaged state. Some of my girlfriends got treated to the “why can’t we get engaged already” phone rants when I needed to vent during those anxious periods.

    He did finally propose, a few months before he completed his grad program, and it has made me feel so much more settled. We haven’t set a wedding date yet and it’s been almost a year since the proposal. I”m okay with waiting this time though because it’s definitely on the horizon. And we’ve figured out where we’re moving next. Santa Cruz here we come!

  • Erin

    Haha. The pre-engagement breakdown is so hilarious — in retrospect. Like, when you finally have the wedding ;)

    After hinting for A YEAR, my then-long-distance boyfriend and I went on a romantic Adirondacks camping trip right before my birthday. Obviously I expected something to happen. But then, when he gave me my birthday present, it was… an apron. Commence fierce attempts not to cry and still have a good time for the rest of the trip. Also commence not crying when he tells me that he won’t be able to see me on my birthday, or the following weekend. Um, WHAT?

    Turns out the ring he had ordered wasn’t ready for the romantic camping trip. So he secretly took off work on my real birthday, drove four hours and proposed to me as I left work that day. Awww :)

    But also? Ang nails it when she talks about timing. Someone’s always gotta be ready first, and a lot of good growing happens during the waiting.

    • http://meaghantothemax.wordpress.com Meaghan

      I think that the worst part of being in the pre-engaged state is trying not to let disappointment ruin everything. There have been many dinners, hikes, and conversations where I’ve thought, “this might be it!” only to be let down when the apron gets pulled out (or equivalent), but I’m learning to stop projecting my desires onto everything and enjoy our relationship for what it is.

      Great post, Ang!

  • http://silver-sandalled.blogspot.com Maggie

    “I had settled down into honestly and legitimately not caring if we ever got married. [...]
    having him in my life, regardless of what I introduced him as, was the only part that mattered.”

    Yes! I think my husband and I both needed to get to THIS feeling separately, before we could even consider getting engaged. I know this isn’t how everyone approaches it (we got a lot of “it’s about time!” too), but for two extremely-marriage-wary people, we did not assume that walking down the aisle was the logical next step of our relationship. Once we both arrived at (and enjoyed some years in) this place of I-want-you-forever, a wedding ceremony made way more sense… but it was an extra bonus*, not a destination we’d been trying to reach.

    Btw, I really enjoy your writing!!

    [*not to belittle how much it sucks that some people still can't enjoy this bonus of society/the government recognizing your private commitment....]

  • Karen

    Yes, yes, and even more YES.

    My guy and I had been together 10 years before we got engaged, and I was so sick of everyone asking and hinting and poking. The idea that we should get married because we were expected to was infuriating, as if we should be working on everyone else’s time table, and not our own. Getting married so everyone could come to a party, rather than because we were ready for the biggest decision in our lives.

    (Side note: his mother’s friend made a comment to me one time that made it clear she assumed we were not married because I had not nagged him enough — because, clearly, as the woman, I must be DYING to get married at 25. I wasn’t ready, but no one wants to hear that.)

    On the flip side, my brother met his wife and they were engaged within a year. For them, it just worked.

    The most important thing about a marriage, for me, is that you’re ready for it and you want it. Sometimes it’s quick, sometimes it’s not. But most importantly, it’s right for the couple making the commitment. After all, they’re the ones who will be living that commitment.

    • T.

      “The most important thing about a marriage, for me, is that you’re ready for it and you want it. Sometimes it’s quick, sometimes it’s not. But most importantly, it’s right for the couple making the commitment. After all, they’re the ones who will be living that commitment.”

      I really, really needed to hear that. Thank you. We’ve had the talks, I’ve had the ugly crying breakdowns, we’ve been ring shopping. Now it’s just the waiting and watching everyone and their mother announce their engagement on facebook and me fighting to be happy for them while feeling extremely resentful it isn’t me. But you’re right…sometimes it’s quick and sometimes it’s not and I just need to realize that it isn’t a reflection of how much love and commitment there is in the relationship. Thank you for that.

      • http://www.suncentered.com Jenny

        I feel the same way about Facebook. 3 of my BFA friends got engaged very shortly after graduation and I found out on Facebook. I may have been exceptionally grumpy towards my boyfriend after one of them, but did not tell him why. >_> We were going through a lot of marriage debate/arguing at that time, and all those engagements did not help.

  • mimi

    Congrats Ang! And thanks for this post, I needed it today. The bf and I have been together for almost a year and he’s moving in with me next month. We spent this weekend picking out paint colors and planning moving projects, and we spent the previous weekend at his brother’s wedding, with everyone asking whether we would be next (and a few even telling us that we should be). Even my 3 year old nephew, upon hearing that my bf was moving in to my house, asked “is he gonna marry you?”

    Being the sane, rational female that I am, I have been dropping hints the past few months (“baby, the best way to get a new food processor would be to register for one”). However, I know – and this post helped me remember – that nothing is going to happen until we are both ready. And I know that’s the right thing to do. Thanks again Ang!

    • SCHWINK

      Around tax time, when my boyfriend (of 3.5 years) was frustrated over filing his forms, I actually pulled out the “If we got married, we could file together” line. Sane, rational females unite!

  • Cass

    This really sounds familiar hmmm…
    I am definitely the OCD personality. The now-Hubby is a Thinker. He Thinks about everything, until every last thought about it has been thought. And while I was ready to marry him at 19, after dating for 6 months, it took him another 3 years to Think thoughts.
    And then, when I finally got around to telling people about our happy news, I got more than a few “Are you pregnant?”s. (Which, those who know my struggles would find laughable.)
    But waiting was a good thing – we spent time apart, we grew older, we figured out what we wanted to do in life, we became closer. By the time the wedding rolled around, we were in a great place in our relationship.

  • J9Funk

    First: Ang, thank you for writing!!! The partner and I have been together for over 3 years, have been friends for 8, and after attending one of his best friends’ wedding this past weekend…let’s just say that I’ve been successfully avoiding the Pre-engaged Nonexistent Proposal Meltdown for about 6 months now. BUT, I feel as though my breaking point is right around the corner.

    So. In an effort to avoid this seemingly inevitable blubbering breakdown, I am wondering if you ladies can help. My guy is pretty introverted when it comes to romance (read: I dropped the “Love” bomb first – after he mentioned that he would feel more confident in our relationship if he knew that I loved him). This, coupled with the fact that my parents went through an ugly separation/divorce 6 months after we started dating, has somewhat cramped our ability to openly discuss marriage.

    How the hell do I bring this up? I know I’m ready, but I have no idea if he is. When we first started dating (before my parents’ divorce) we talked about how we just felt right together, and that we’d want a solid foundation with our person before getting married. I feel like we’ve found our footing, and have worked really hard to create this new baby family together. Why can’t I just be an adult and bring this up over a glass of wine, damnit!? Any suggestions out there?

    I have definitely considered the idea of me proposing to him (this just seems to fit our style) – but, I am big into the idea of DISCUSSING marriage before popping the question (many thanks to APW in this area). I just don’t have any idea of how to get there. I want him to know that I’m ready to be engaged to the love of my life, I want to know where he stands, but I also don’t want to freak the poor guy out if he isn’t ready. Team Practical: how the heck do I initiate this discussion?

    Oi. Probably should have sent this one to Alyssa for Friday.

    • Edelweiss

      Rip the band-aid! Feeling anxious about having the conversation is just going to snowball until you can’t take it anymore. I’m also with an introverted man and I HATE bringing things up. My only way around it is to set a deadline for myself (a short one as in either dinner tonight or dinner tomorrow, depending on the day he’s had). Then I wait to the last possible second of that deadline and I just blurt it out.

      It’s gotten to the point that when I abruptly say “So…” and pause, my man knows we’re about to talk about something serious.

      It’s not elegant, it’s not graceful, but at the end of the day your partner wants to know the things you’re obsessing over because with or without you realizing it those obsessions are subtely infiltrating your reactions and behaviors in other things too.

      I’d start with a conversation about how you love him, that the idea of getting married was a struggle for you for the reasons you mentioned above, but lately you’ve realized that you could see the two of you married. Has he thought about it? If yes, what kind of timeline feels right, and there are some conversations you both should have before getting engaged, what questions/conversations does he have (and share some of yours). If no, that’s ok too, why don’t you share some of your journey to get where you are and why you think it’s the right step for the two of you and ask him to think about it/react to it.

    • H

      Can I exactly this question about a bajillion and a half times? It’s belittling to hear: “If you can’t talk about marriage, then clearly you shouldn’t be married.” Well… that’s not helpful. Clearly, she wouldn’t be asking the question if she didn’t want to talk about marriage with her partner.

      I think the problem of uncertainty and cluelessness of talking about marriage for real the first time comes from a place of… “I love my relationship. I’d be happy if marriage weren’t on the table. But I’m beginning to have thoughts that it might be. And I don’t want to freak you out with them.” Because society tells us that all guys will be freaked out when the topic of marriage is brought up. And even though that’s probably not true, it’s hard to overcome the unfounded fear that you might lose exactly what you love so much because you love it so much.

    • http://lowbrowevents.com Ang

      I think when well meaning (Those are the worst kind) people say “If you can’t talk about marriage, then you have no business getting married” they’re approaching it from an angle of “You already know what they’re going to say, you just don’t want to hear it out loud.” In reality there’s a whole other world attached to loaded questions like that. Media brainwashing (Can you tell how much I love the media?) says that if you have to ASK the guy, he’ll turn and run the other way. That men are like little Bambis on crack, and flee at the slightest provocation.

      Here’s my incredibly general, heterospecific, gender stereotyped thinking on that. You are a rational woman (Otherwise you wouldn’t be here). You are with a man who has chosen to be with you, and has supported you through a very nasty time in your life. The chances are microscopically miniscule that he will freak out if you talk about marriage.

      As for conversation starters, use the blog post as a starting point. “I was reading this post on APW today about getting up the guts to talk about marriage, and realized that we haven’t had that talk in awhile. Not since my parents split up.” This way you’re already bringing the big nasty dirtly laundry out in the open, you’ve brought it up once, there’s no need to go back to it, unless there IS a need.

    • AH

      I’ve also been constantly amazed at how often I’ll bring up something important, thinking that my boyfriend hasn’t thought about it, and then he’ll be completely nonplussed and say “Yea, I know. I’ve thought about that too.” And then I wonder why I spent days obsessing over whether I could talk to him. I think often our partners know us better than we give them credit for, and, in my case at least, he tends to take a lot of big issues just as a matter of course, so when I finally get the nerve to ask him about them, it’s never as hard as I think it will be. So, hopefully, when you sit your guy down, you’ll be pleasantly surprised, and he’ll be less surprised than you thought he would be.

      And also, even the hard ones, there’s never been a conversation that I later wished we hadn’t had. I’m always grateful that we both had the courage to talk to each other, and one of us had the courage to bring it up.

      • http://lizziesayssparkysays.tumblr.com FawMo

        YES. This.

    • Allie

      Propose!! OMG do it! You won’t regret it. And if you already know its your style it makes sense. Being engaged rocks.

      But maybe do discuss it first, but just be upfront about it, just ask him what his thoughts are. He’s probably wondering the exact same thing about you. Good luck x

      • J9Funk

        Thank you for the wise words!! Anyone out there ever plan a proposal? What worked/didn’t work? Not that I plan to do so right away (by any means), but I would really appreciate hearing from the proposer’s perspective. I feel like this has only been briefly mentioned in the APW world.

        • Allie

          I’m not really the best person to help you if you want advice on a big proposal. I just thought “todays the day”, we were having drinks in a nice bar before going to a concert and I just blurted out “do you want to get married”. I literally couldn’t believe it when he said yes. It worked for us as I’m def the do-er in the relationship whereas he thinks about stuff more and is more hesitant.

          But a word of warning, I was a bit upset and worried for a while because I didn’t have a “proper” engagement story and also I sort of thought that he didn’t really mean to say yes and he didn’t really want to marry me as he hadn’t asked. Crazy gender hang ups.

          But being engaged has brought us a million times closer even though I didn’t think it was possible. Can’t wait to get married in sept. Good luck with whatever you decide to do

        • NJ

          I haven’t planned a proposal by any means but I have let my partner know IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS that I will be the person to propose, not him. After years of stressing out that he was going to propose at anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, after friends weddings and engagements and so on. So I am in the complete opposite of most of you ladies in that I know he is ready (we have been together for five years) and I am … not ready. I can feel myself getting closer to being ready, I’ve asked his mom if there’s any family jewellery that I could reset (answer: no) but I am still not. Not totally sure when I will be. But at least I’m not stressy about it anymore!

  • http://www.part-timeadventurer.blogspot.com Megs

    This is such a wonderful post, thank-you Ang and APW. It really resonates with me, so much so that I’m de-blurking! My man and I have been together for over 4 years and i’ve been seriously considering/hinting/talking about marriage for the last 2, including tears of frustration and embarrassment at every significant date in between. We quickly established that it would have to be him doing the proposing as Uk society hasn’t caught up with the US in that respect I feel (i’d be fine but he feels he couldn’t tell his mates for looking not man enough!). So i’m waiting. I too, like Ang, went immediately to the ‘he can’t love me enough’ state of mind and sad tales over wine with all my engaged girls, but I realise that it’s actually been good for me this time – giving us both time to address what is important about weddings and marriage on the whole. When I do become his wife i’ll be a better version of the me I was 2 years ago, definitely. And when it does happen I know we’ll both be ready (after every argument on this I worried he’d propose as a direct result of tears, which would be awful.) Doesn’t necessarily make the waiting and ‘putting that part ofyour life in someone else’s hands’ any easier though!! The issue that causes me the most grief though is other people’s interest in this – the ‘poor you’ looks and the endless questions on when we’ll get engaged, mainly from our families, are directed to me privately and never him. Hate that. Haven’t come up with a good answer for his mum yet!

    • Allie

      I’m a UK girl and I asked the Q…

  • http://blametheweatherman.wordpress.com Melissa

    I love these :)

    I think a lot of guys (& girls) put a lot into THE PROPOSAL because it’s exciting. It’s the story you pass down to your kids, the story you share with friends, the one moment you file away in your head as THE PROPOSAL. But I don’t know a single person who is surprised by it aside from timing. Everyone these days discusses it – and they should. In the old days, the parents worked it out. These days, we do it ourselves. It’s important.

    If we are being totally honest, our “proposal” probably happened almost a year before the actual proposal – an intimate moment where I said “Don’t ever leave me.” and he said “I’m not ever going to.”

    End. That’s all we needed. We moved in together a few months later, we functioned as a unit. I needed time to work through my own issues, as did he – and then THE PROPOSAL happened, because it was something he looked forward to doing. And then came the wedding.

    But it all started with “I’m not ever going to leave you.”

  • http://bondingcarbonunits.wordpress.com/ the Sarah formerly known as Sarah K.

    Oh, man. Being pre-engaged and having issues with the proposal is my JAM.

    First: my blog post about our proposal and how I effed it up, BIG time, and the guilt I carried around about it. My husband and I were talking about it again last night– we were watching the Tony’s, and he suggested a romantic getaway to New York to see some shows, and I immediately suggested crashing on our friends couches instead. Oy vey; I manage to mess up all his romantic moments.

    Being pre-engaged is hard, but it teaches you a lot about who you are. My husband and I had dated since high school, as well. I would have been happy to get engaged during my senior year in college, but my partner wasn’t ready. He wanted to be in a specific stage in his life (emotionally, financially, etc) before we got engaged, so we waited. I brushed off people’s comments and just told them we were waiting until he finished his degree (which was true). I quickly learned to have a thick skin with people; the ones who didn’t know us well, it didn’t matter what they thought, and the ones who DID know us, knew why we were waiting (even if they made snide comments about it).

    Being pre-engaged really taught us to have strength and faith in our own relationship, and not in the status conferred by anyone else. He was my boyfriend, and that was enough.

  • http://chilingwang.com chilingwang

    Ang, fantastic antidotes. Thank you for sharing.

    I was 24 when I broke up with my first love. Breaking up was painful, but the realization that I wasn’t a decade away from divorce made me giddily happy.

  • Meg

    About a month before my now husband and I got engaged, we were driving home from my parents’ house, and started talking about marriage (and not for the first time, I assure you). We had been together for nearly 5 years and I asked him if/when he felt “ready” to get married. He replied that he didn’t think he’d ever feel ready. What?!?!? We had been talking about this for like 4.5 years! I let it go but was definitely confused.

    That was September. He proposed in late October. That day I asked him about what he said and he replied that he felt that marriage wasn’t something you could ever be “ready” for. You just waited until you felt the time was right and then jumped in. There was too much to figure out that you couldn’t know until you were actually in it.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t let differences of opinion frustrate you too much. Everyone has their own way of looking at marriage and relationships (duh).

  • http://boredzilla.blogspot.com Linsey

    Great post, I never really understood what people meant by pre-engaged but this makes it a bit clearer. I was the opposite, people had asked me if we’d get engaged on holiday and I said, no chance – we came back engaged! Apparently my boyfriend had been planning it for about 6 months but other people kept getting engaged and stealing his thunder :) We picked the ring together after but I was so surprised by the proposal.

  • Manya

    I loved this post so much, and why wasn’t I onto APW when I was enduring pre-engagement myself?!

    I was certainly engaged in other illicit wedding planing activities MONTHS before my fiance was ready. I had secret files and scrapbooks. Journal entries. Etc… The grown-up equivalent of signing my name and his together…

    For us, it was a trip home for Christmas. My FH had told me that he would ask my parents for their blessing IN PERSON, and I just KNEW it would be happening over Christmas (I have mentioned before that we live in Kenya, and so seeing my parents in person is a rare event). I knew so hard that I sneaked to David’s Bridal and tried on dresses. I knew so hard I bought ALL of the bridal magazines, then stashed them under the bed. I KNEW and HOPED and LONGED and YEARNED… all the time keeping my inner tumult a secret because “you don’t want to nag him and make him feel pressured.”

    And then David’s Bridal called my house. And he answered the phone:

    DB Rep: “Hi, this is David’s Bridal, may we please speak to Manya? We are following up on her customer service experience.” (his mouth drops open… uh, honey? It’s for you, it’s DB….)

    DB Rep: “Oh, you must be XXXX! Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials!” (uh, honey… are you getting married?)

    Me: These DAMN TELEMARKETERS! What will they do next?

    Oy.

    Fast Forward three days. He hasn’t asked. I’m bitterly disappointed. While packing up, ‘in search of a sock, he finds a stack of (many) magazines carefully hidden under the bed. He gleefully pulled it out, crowing: “I found SOMEBODY’S STASH!…..” I freeze, deer in the headlights while he flips through the stack in stunned silence. I understand why it is the word mortification is based on the latin word for DEATH. I cry, we talk. It is IMPORTANT and GOOD. I grow up a little more. Our relationship deepens, ages.

    I worry I have messed up everything. That I will never know if he really wanted to get married, or if I PRESSURED HIM INTO IT. He worries I don’t feel his deep commitment to me.

    Ten months later he pops the most romantic surprise proposal of all time, in Egypt, overlooking the pyramids, when I daren’t hope. As he dropped to one knee I said (mildly panicked) WHAT ARE YOU DOING? What can I say? I’m a traditional girl, who got it all wrong the first time around, and it meant a lot to me to do it like this. I was ready in December, he was ready in March. We laugh about it now.

    I needed this post and the discussion thread THEN! You pre-engaged ladies ARE SO NOT ALONE!

    • Kelsey

      Oh my god! Your story is so funny and sweet (haha- your stash).

      I have a wedding dress hidden under the bed…. (it was a fantastic deal), and I’m just waiting… but you know how that goes. Thanks for your story, it makes me feel slightly less crazy.

      • Ris

        Oh my gosh, a dress under your bed! You are one brave, brave girl. I love it.

      • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

        I bought the material I ended up using for my wedding dress three years before we got married, before we were even dating seriously. I worked at a fabric store and got it with my employee discount on top of a sale. And it sat in my closet for three years.

        • Ris

          So I have to confess: I’ve registered a blog name (ok, ok. two.) to use as a future wedding-planning outlet. I plan to tell my boyfriend about it, you know, after we’re actually engaged.

          • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

            I sort of tried that. But then one of the more exciting, and long, decision/discussions we had during our engagement was what our family domain name would be. He agreed my original idea was a good one, but we settled on something even better. It was seriously a two day conversation, first deciding what it would be and then deciding how we would punctuate it. We went with a hyphen for the punctuation.

  • Jen W

    Thanks for sharing, Ang! I think many of us go through this–especially APW ladies, who seem to be a little older and more educated than the average bride, and possibly have been with their partners longer and are more likely to have had (many) discussions with them about getting hitched. And, let’s be frank–I think we tend to be more type-A personalities, too. I’d rather know the plan (ideally I’d be the one to make the plan), but I know that the J-man was adamant that the proposal and the ring be a surprise.

    So yes, the pre-engaged crazy. To quote the former Sarah K., that is also my jam. The J-man and I met when we were 18. For the first 5 years of our relationship, I was not interested in getting married. Or rather, I was interested in marrying him, just at some distant point in the future.
    Once we had both graduated college, broken up for 6+months, gotten back together and gone on to grad school, though, it was a different story. Grad school was really difficult for me, and I think now that the idea of getting married was so appealing for me because I wanted stability. But J-man was nowhere near ready, and now I know that I wasn’t, either. I struggled like ExtraGrunty. I was hyper-aware of our pre engaged state when other things in my life felt beyond my control and much more complacent about it when things were going well. This past September, I lost my great job and the health insurance that went with it and our 7th anniversary came and went without a proposal (though he did buy me two lovely rings. Oh, the irony.) “Engagement season” came and went without a proposal. My birthday came and went without a proposal. A few of my friends had heard my “why aren’t we engaged yet!?!” rant a few more times than I’d like to admit.
    And then, sometime in March, even though I was still looking for a new job and neither of us had health insurance and we were both doing some really crappy work to scrape by and taxes were coming due, I realized that I was just really, stupidly happy with him. And I still am. I let go of a lot of anxiety. And then he proposed in May. I can honestly say that he waited until the exactly right time for both of us. And then I landed a new job five days later–with health insurance for both of us.

  • Rebecca

    While I haven’t had a meltdown yet, at least not about not being engaged, my partner and I have been together for 6 years now. We have our entire wedding planned, from where it will be, to who’s standing with us, to what kinda party we’ll have afterwards, but no date! I’m okay with this stage, but it often seems like I’m the only one. My mom and several friends, ask every time they see us together, if I’ve gotten my ring yet. I know they think they are helping me out by nudging him to ask me. But I don’t want the ring like that. My partner and I have a plan (sorta) for when we’ll get engaged. Or at least we know when we won’t get engaged.
    What this rambling is say though, is that it’s nice to hear that others have gone through about the same thing and have survived and are happily married and I will be too….when we’re ready, not when others are ready for us.

  • http://hannamatter.blogspot.com/ Hanna Rae

    This post came at the perfect time in my life– thank you for sharing your story. My boyfriend and I have been dating almost four years, and we’ve been talking about marriage seriously for about a year now, when we decided to move in together. I got a new job halfway across the state, and didn’t want to go without him, but I’d come from a background of “get married, THEN live together.” Enter: guilt.

    A few days after he moved up with me (at the end of October), he got hit by a car while riding his bike. I was terrified. I got to the hospital as soon as I could, and came in to find him sitting on a bed, doped up with a dislocated ankle. After I was filled in on what happened and we had some time together, he told me that he had planned to propose to me that night. Geeze. What a sign, huh? My visitor name tag had his last name on it, and he kept asking me for a pen, so he could write “Mrs.” After that, I kept waiting for the question. It still hasn’t.

    We’ve talked about it since, and he is always telling me how lucky he is to spend the rest of his life with me. That keeps me wondering WHY I’m still calling him “boyfriend” and not “fiancé.”

    After a few rough days last week at work, I ended up in just an awful mood Saturday morning. It led to me flat out asking what was happening in his head regarding this whole thing. It was tough, and there were a lot of tears (on my end– he’s like a rock, that one). He admitted that he was scared, due to what he had seen marriage look like growing up, and wants to get that situated. He told me there were plenty of times between his accident and now that he had wanted to, but wants to work through his family issues and fear.

    I have tried to keep that in mind, and not to think that this has anything to do with me not being the one he wants. I know that he does. I want to marry him, but I also want him to have a healthy view of what that looks like.

    Your story encouraged me, and let me know that I’m not the only one that has ever had these feelings. It helped me to remember to calm down, and enjoy my time with him. Thank you.

  • Class of 1980

    The thing is, no matter how career-driven many women are, most guys still feel that they may end up being responsible for the lions share of financial support for a family. Or they feel that they should be able to carry most of the load if it becomes necessary. I mean what happens if you are pregnant and your doctor orders bed rest for months?

    Finances and job stability weigh heavily on their mind and prevent them from impulsive actions. Most men have a list of requirements for feeling secure enough to propose marriage. They want to make sure they are with the right woman and they want to have their ducks in a row.

    Even if they are madly in love with a woman, they usually will not venture into marriage unprepared. Some men have even let women they loved get away simply because their careers were not where they felt they should be and they didn’t know when that would happen.

    They also want to have some idea of what kind of lifestyle you are expecting, so they know if they’re comfortable with it.

    Most of you are still at the stage of life where your boyfriends are trying to get established in the world, so it is no surprise that these guys are waiting for the right moment.

    Young women tend to downplay their boyfriend’s financial concerns when it comes to timing marriage, but once married, women statistically initiate most divorces. Men are extremely concerned about timing, but once they make their choice, they tend to stay put … perhaps because they’ve already been so cautious beforehand.

    • http://forcause.wordpress.com Sandy

      I think this is really important to acknowledge. Certainly not all men are like this, but I know mine was. I knew I’d be the breadwinner in our family for the first couple of years no matter what, so I downplayed my husband’s fiancial/career instability before and during our engagement. My thoughts: We could figure that out together! It’s silly to wait for things to be perfect before making big life decisions, because they never will be! We love each other and we’re emotionally ready; let’s just get married! And now, here we are married, and it turns out that dealing with unemployment and financial insecurity is really hard for newlyweds (or at least us) and I stress about whether I’ll have to be the breadwinner forever. I’m still glad we got married when we did, but I also (finally) see that my husband’s desire to be more financially secure before getting married was totally valid, and not, as I thought, an an old-fashioned idea with no place in a world where *I* am perfectly capable of supporting the two of us.

      • Class of 1980

        Exactly.

        And there is this … some “old-fashioned” ideas existed for a reason.

        Sure, either of you could become disabled, which means either of you might have to become the primary breadwinner.

        However, if you have children, there is added risk that as the childbearing one, you might have health issues that prevent you from working for a while.

        Between possible pregnancy and childbirth complications, not to mention the unbelievable time commitment of breastfeeding, there are higher odds that the woman will need more work flexibility in her life.

        (This is why so many women go into their own business – flexibility.)

        Men don’t know in advance how this is all going to play out in their lives, but they are keenly aware of their own responsibility in marriage and they just want to know they can do it. They don’t want to feel they are failing you or their children because it would kill their soul.

        • http://forcause.wordpress.com Sandy

          Absolutely. Unfortunately, in the midst of my pre-engaged crazy, all of that seemed less important than getting married. right. now.

    • http://bondingcarbonunits.wordpress.com/ the Sarah formerly known as Sarah K.

      I can’t exactly this one enough. My husband and I have been dating since high school, and he took a meandering path to figure out his professional direction. He took a couple years off after high school before going to college. He was paying his way through college and taking out loans, and he wanted to be financially solvent before we considered getting married. We knew we’d take that step one day, but he needed to be ready. After he finished undergrad and was accepted to a PhD program with a stipend, he decided he was ready. It was important to him to be financially solvent before making a big commitment; he wanted to consider himself an independent adult making an independent decision about his life. I’m glad we waited, and our relationship certainly is stronger for it.

  • Moz

    I think this story is pretty familiar for people who’ve been together a long time and especially for those who’ve been together since high school. One of my best friends went through a period of several years thinking at any moment they were about to get engaged and had terrible problems admitting how disappointed she was that it hadn’t happened. She even sat in the car with me and said she didn’t *want* to be engaged or get married yet, after I had casually asked how they were doing since she moved in with him.

    Her guy proposed the next evening and she was calling me a few days later to tell me she was getting married. Neither of us has ever mentioned that conversation again.

    They’ve been happily married for about 18 months.

  • Katelyn

    This is SO timely for me. At 6 years and counting, I’ve been going through periods of confidence that things will all turn out great eventually… and being desperate to just get engaged already (family pressure may or may not have some influence on my engagement feelings bipolarism).

    My logical, sane, pragmatic beau patiently waits out times where I plan out every detail of our pretend future wedding and then launch into a fit of rage when he won’t give in to my demands to spend money we don’t have to plan an event that he is simply not ready for.

    Other times I totally understand that we have so many other things that we need to figure out about our lives before we decide to conduct the three ring circus that will be joining our families in the same geographic space.

    Admittedly, I’ve worked out some of my wedding-related neuroses – Ang said it best with ” If Matt wasn’t doing that, the only conclusion I could come to was that he didn’t love me, and was pacifying me until someone better came along.” Maybe that’s what we’re really waiting for – me/us being comfortable enough with our current state before moving on to the next step. Maybe that’s what pre-engaged really means.

    • http://lowbrowevents.com Ang

      LOVE your definition of pre-engaged. I think that pre-engaged means you’re with someone you have given a lot of thought about spending the rest of your life with, but one or both of you have stuff to work out before you’re ready to make the marriage step. In America at least, we’re so very impatient, we want to rush through everything. Not to mention, that damn media promoting whirlwind romances and spur of the moment engagements made in a moment of passion.

      There is NOTHING wrong with being pre-engaged, and if anything, people can pat themselves on the back for being responsible and working through any hurdles before the wedding.

      • http://www.bridesanstulle.com Sharon

        Exactly to this. My husband and I consciously put off getting engaged for quite a few months after we were both ready because of some external stuff that was happening with my family. We both knew we wanted to marry each other, but it was one of those situations where I knew I wasn’t in a great place emotionally because of the family situation and that I didn’t want to cloud our time of engagement with that baggage. Looking back, I’m so glad we waited, since our relationship really grew in that time and when the engagement finally came, my family was in a place to celebrate with us rather than detracting from the joy. But yeah, it was hard at the time to hang onto those practical reasons of waiting when a lot of the people we knew were asking us when we were going to get engaged.

  • Mia Culpa

    My pre-engaged status was made extremely complicated by a very significant factor: my FH was not yet divorced.

    Oh, he had been separated from his ex-wife for 5 years by the time we started dating, but it became a major weight on me. A few months after we started dating he told me “I don’t think I want to be married anymore.” After we’d been dating a year, I asked him about his divorce since I hadn’t seen him move on it at all. “That’s my business, not yours.” And that was that. I wasn’t allowed to push for it or ask about it, because it apparently was none of my business. Even after his daughter moved in with us I kept my mouth shut, because I couldn’t take the emotional rejection of not hearing what I wanted. I just kept telling myself over and over, “We’re obviously in it for the long haul, we’ve talked about having kids, he’s told me he wants to grow old with me, it’s going to be okay.” I finally reached a point where I legitimately no longer cared with intensity – I’d accepted the status quo and patiently had to explain it over and over again to my friends and family.

    He finally filed for divorce last year, and since his daughter was 18, there was no legal disputes over it. The divorce was finalized a week before our 5 year anniversary, and during our anniversary dinner I spent nearly half an hour talking about how happy I was that he was finally divorced, how hurt I felt about how long it took, and how I had accepted the status quo and didn’t feel the pressure of needing to get married anymore. It was a really good discussion, despite having it in a fancy restaurant. And right before we ordered dessert, he said, “Well, I’ve been single for a week now, and that’s really long enough. So I have a very important question to ask you…” Cue tears and laughter.

    We’re getting married next year. And honestly, as long as the process to getting engaged took, in some ways it was a good thing. It gave me a chance to really evaluate what I was willing to put up with and what I needed to do for myself. The last five years were hard because of the uncertainty, but I’m feeling pretty good about the next 50.

  • Shannon

    Wonderful, honest post – thanks Ang! Your reasons for having a long “pre-engagement” are very similar to some of my reasons for having a long engagement. It’s funny how you can know that you want to get married to this person, but also know that you’re not quite ready yet…

  • Trying not to hold my breath

    Reading this post and the comments make me feel a little better.

    My bf and I are in our late twenties, together for 4.5 years, lived together before he bought his home over 2 years ago, we own dogs together, we share friends and a happy common lifestyle that just works for us very well. We are both educated, financially stable, with good jobs.

    I first started to discuss engagement and marriage seriously about 2.5 years ago when I knew we were soon to move into his newly bought home. Disaster. I understood that he was not ready and I was. Fast forward many more ups and downs, Serious Discussions that often involve tears, waiting, hoping, optimism.. holidays, events, birthdays, opportune trips and outtings. I felt my heart go through an endless rollercoaster ride.

    I think the last two “meltdowns” have been a little bit productive. My friend who I am maid of honor for called me, to tell me about their booked venue and all the things their wedding package included. They didn’t get the month they wanted but a month later. They started looking at venues a year before the wedding and still couldn’t get the desired month. I had originally wanted our wedding THIS spring/summer after a 2 year engagement. I gave up hopes of a longer engagement but I realized that even if he proposed soon we’d have to really hustle to get things done by next year’s time. I felt mad at the bf for still not even discussing with me on a at least a fair compromise even though he knew my desired timeline. Not being ready and not knowing when he would be, was what I believed was the truth but I wanted more than just go with the flow and ignore the uncertainty. I wanted him to give a little bit.

    So the next day I went to a bridal shower for a different friend, and of course the main topic at our table was weddings and everyone’s upcoming wedding plans since most of them are engaged. I got home and needed to have a Serious Discussion. He still could not tell me if he was GOING to marry me even though I explained this is vital information that I needed to know to make important decisions on how I should live my life (possible break-up?),he said only that I should look around me at our nice home and our little family, this is the life we built. If he didn’t want it we wouldn’t have it. He told me to have patience. He admitted 4 years is very patient but for him he needs a bit more. He told me “things may happen sooner than you think”. That calmed me down a lot, I loved our life and being with him, so why get so upset? I decided to not “pressure” him at all and enjoy life together.

    Last night, 3 weeks later, we were both talking a lot about the bachelorette party I attended and the bachelor party he attended that weekend. Then we talked about how we’ve been really happy for the past many months, that we feel more in love than ever. I ask if he thinks we’ve made any progress towards marriage or is it just time passing? In my heart, I believed he had reached readiness. I wanted to hear it. He told me he felt time is just passing. I told him that may be a bad sign right? Does it mean we should end things since we both want to be married someday. He told me what he really needs is time to decide for himself without my input/influence/nagging. He takes this issue seriously so he wants to come to his own conclusion and be certain it is his own decision. I said I did not mention marriage at all for 3 weeks! For me a long time, for him he was like That’s a long time? He said he wished he had a full month. He could not say if he would reach a conclusion in a month but he just wanted the time to think to himself. I said I thought he would not have a conclusion in a month. I suggested that we try to go for 2 months, No marriage talk, off limits, against the law. He said it would be ok if I needed to check-in with him before then. He would not count checking in as breaking the rules. We agreed. Today it begins.. I can no longer have these Serious Discussions with him for 2 months if I can help it.

    I am ok with this. Hopefully it will be easy. Except many people I talk to about this, they think he is stringing me along or that I deserve better etc. It’s hard. In a way I believe I deserve someone who wants to marry me badly and it doesn’t take them 4+ years to decide that. But we are in love and happy, so whaddayagonnado? Right?

    • http://contradictorylife.wordpress.com Barbra

      Wow, I am so right there with you, even down to the moving in to a home that he bought. When we started talking about doing that, I thought we were totally on the same page about heading towards marriage. Now, it doesn’t seem that we are.

      We’ve had exactly the same discussions where I try to explain that I need to hear that he is going to marry me and he can’t say it, just points to our home and family (including our pets) and our life. but it’s not enough for me. And it’s hard, so hard, not to keep asking all the time. We’ve been going to counseling together and while it seems to have helped us understand the issues, it’s not helping us move forward.

      So, what to do? I just keep waiting…at least I’m not alone in this. It definitely helps to hear your story!

    • anonagain

      Hello Trying … and Barbra,

      I won’t offer “advice” because everyone’s story and relationship is different, and this is such a tough zone. But I will say that I watched my sister spend the better part of a decade with someone who had an unusual amount of hesitance to commitments like marriage. They did eventually get engaged, but they never got married–she found out he was cheating on her. They broke up for good just before her 35th birthday. She more or less expects at this juncture that she will not have a biological child because it is not reasonable to expect that she would meet someone new, get to know them well enough to marry, and then have children, before conceiving would become quite difficult for her. She also missed the perfect moment in her career to have a child while she argued with him about committing, marrying, setting a date, etc. In retrospect, she grieves that she spent so much time fighting and struggling to gain the love and commitment of someone who really didn’t have it in his heart to give. As far as we know, he’s still single. It’s taken her a long time to love herself enough to realize it isn’t that she wasn’t “good enough,” or that she wasn’t “the one,” but that he just didn’t have the capacity to give himself in that way. I also had my own spectacularly bad similar experience — though I ended up storming out, and having my now-fiance come back a few months later (after I’d started dating someone else) and admit that he’d been terribly wrong. I broke up with the other guy and we got back together, went to couples’ counseling, and got engaged. I feel very confident of his commitment to me and love for me now, but those months (about 9 months, to be precise) of struggle, plus the few months of being broken up, did some serious damage to us as a couple. I’m still darned angry that he didn’t know a good thing when he saw it and am sometimes overcome with profound distrust, for reasons I won’t get into here. And he has ended up deeply ashamed of the way he acted, to the point that when people ask for the proposal story, he simply says it’s none of their business, and encourages them to look at the ring, instead. Some of this is related to age, of course — I have been married before and have two children, and am nearly 40. My fiance was already 40 when we broke up, and one of the things I ended up yelling at him at the end was that by this age, he ought to be able to appreciate the right person when he found her. I probably wouldn’t have been standing on such solid ground if we were 15 years younger when that had happened.

      I guess all I would say is that you shouldn’t feel obligated to be a good girl and wait patiently forever, because HE has to be ready, too, blah blah blah. (Not to discount Ang’s beautifully detailed experience — it is hers and it worked for her.) Of course your guy has to be ready. But you also have a right to know — perhaps by exploring it in couples’ counseling or otherwise — whether his unreadiness is something that he can overcome in a timeframe that works for you. Otherwise why on earth should you keep putting your love and commitment into a bank that won’t promise you that you can draw on that balance when YOU need it? BTW, there’s a reason people like to get married and have kids when their peers and siblings are doing it–your kids get cousins and playmates, for one thing. Thanks to my sister’s ex’s antics, my kids (from a prior marriage) will have no cousins close to their age, and maybe no cousins on my side of the family, ever.

      • http://contradictorylife.wordpress.com Barbra

        Sigh….I know. It’s just so hard to figure out when it’s worth it to keep going, and when enough is enough, you know?

        • anonagain

          Of course, Barbra–it’s different for everyone, and only you can decide when you can no longer press on. You can probably guess that my sister thinks she should have cut her losses and given up when she was closer to 30, so she might have had a better chance of meeting someone else, getting married, and having a baby before 35. Other people here have mentioned that one might set some limits or deadlines when another major life decision–where to live, what to do for a living, whether to go back to school, etc. is contingent on knowing that you will soon marry your partner, or not. My own circumstances were rather unusual and were driven by my children’s needs, and the fact that my now-fiance had had a fairly advanced cancer (and he may now have recurrence, but that’s another post — sob). I would think that the fact that your sweetie is even willing to go to counseling with you and talk about it is a great sign that he does want your relationship to last, actually. Mine would not do so until after we’d broken up and indeed until I insisted on it as a condition of getting back together.

  • http://www.twitter.com/leahruthie Leah

    Ang, thank heavens for you and for this post. I am going to bookmark it and pull it up whenever I need to check my head. :)

    The Fella and I have been dating for almost six years (anniversary is coming up–July 24! whee!), and your story sounds so, so much like ours! He was very damaged by his parents’ split (mine are split, too, but remain very good friends and therefore did not completely kill my faith in marriage, hehe), and he struggles with the idea of marriage and whether it can ever really work, given statistics out there today and his own parents’ experience.

    I consider it a victory (and very encouraging) that he says that he does want to marry me and that we will marry someday, but in the meantime, it’s been painful watching all of my friends get married (I literally have two or three unmarried/unengaged girlfriends)–and be their bridesmaid/MOH/attendant/whatever, therefore having a front-row seat to all the magic–without feeling a little jaded and wondering about the state of my relationship… and without hearing all the “when’s it your turn? what’s the holdup?” questions. Sometimes I want to scream and tear my hair out–both at the inquirers and at my Fella, if I’m being honest.

    However, with the help of posts like this and some very wonderful level-headed girlfriends (hi, Whitney!), I am able to be pretty zen about the whole thing most of the time. Because here’s the thing: Fella and I may not have the rings or the certificate or the ceremony just yet, but we have a life together that has included a lot of hardships, a lot of laughter, a lot of love, a lot of passion, and a lot of day-to-day random and sundry, and I feel like no matter how long it takes him to decide that he is in the marriage place, in my heart of hearts, we are married. Sometimes I lose sight of how wonderful our relationship is when I get blinded by looking at dresses for an engaged friend or helping another one choose decorations or floral arrangements and get to thinking “man, why can’t I have this? When’s it my turn? If he knows we’re going to get married eventually, what on earth is he waiting for?” But then I think to myself: What on earth is my hurry? He knows that I want to get married, and I know that he wants to marry me. We’re on the same page, future-wise, and that is good enough for me. I’m willing to wait for him to sort through his own stuff, and I don’t feel for a second that he’s just biding time with me until someone better comes along. We have built our lives together, and together we will remain.

    Anyway, I feel like I’m rambling now. I wish I could condense this all into one or two succinct sentences that I could recite to people when they ask about why we’re not married yet. If anyone can help with that, I’m all ears. :) And thanks again for this post.

  • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

    As others have said before me, pre-engagement freakouts are totally my jam!

    My guy and I have been together for nearly fours years. We met while living in New York City, but two years ago he needed to move back to Minnesota due to a family emergency. After many hard, heartfelt conversations, I resigned from my job and left my friends and family behind to move here with him. We discussed a lot of the Big Things (including marriage) before the decision was made, and we continue to check in and have “State of the Union” talks every six months or so. We know absolutely that we’re in it for the long haul and that marriage is in our future. But the waiting, oh, the agony of waiting.

    The worst, as some of you have mentioned, are the proposal fake-outs. About a year ago, my guy woke me up at the crack of dawn with kisses, and presented me with a huge, gorgeous bouquet of origami flowers that he’d spent weeks folding in secret. He had taken the day off work without telling me, and planned all sorts of romantic things for us to do together. From the moment I woke up until the moment we fell back into bed that night, I was SURE he was going to propose. He didn’t. It was a wonderful, surprise-filled day and I didn’t enjoy a single minute of it. I was too busy being miserable because the question wasn’t popped and my expectations were. Similar things happened at the cozy, coastal bed and breakfast in which we spent out anniversary, at the romantic, candlelit dinner my guy prepared for my birthday, over and over again these moments happened when I was sure, so completely sure that this was it, it was now, finally, finally it was happening. A couple of times I almost said “YES!” before he could finish whatever little romantic speech he was giving. A good thing I didn’t, because those speeches never ended in the question I want so desperately to answer.

    I started to resent him for any and all romantic gestures, because they didn’t include a proposal, goddamnit. I felt like I was being tricked everytime he did something sweet and unexpected, and that’s crazy. I do not want to be this girl. I wish knowing that it is going to happen would be enough for me; I WANT that to be enough for me, but it isn’t.

    There was a really scary period of time where I completely lost all perspective. It’s been a rough transition for me, moving to the Midwest. I am homesick for my friends and family. My career has completely stalled out on me. I began to hunger after the proposal to justify my decision to leave everything behind and move halfway across the country. I felt like I DESERVED to be engaged, because I gave up everything to be with this person. That was a really dangerous, ugly line to walk. I was depressed. I felt vulnerable and rejected. I lashed out at my guy constantly. I was sullen and sad and became so utterly fixated on this one event. In my mind, getting engaged would solve all my career problems. It would help me make friends. It would make me instantaneously and magically comfortable in a social culture significantly different than I’m used to. Getting engaged was going to be the cure-all for my life, and for my guy to refuse to offer me that was selfish and mean.

    In reality, my perspective was comepletely shot. I was on another planet, and it was not a nice one. I’m happy to say I’ve since returned to earth. No one held me at gun point and forced me to leave my old life to come here. I did that of my own free will. Because I love this man. Because we talked long and hard about what our future would look like. Because I knew that this was the right decision for me. At the worst moments, it’s hard to remember that. But it’s the truth. I made this decision myself, because this is what I want. And my reward for that isn’t a proposal; it’s living the life I CHOSE. Waking up everyday next to the man I love. Focusing on my career in new and challenging ways. Expanding my horizons. Embracing letter-writing as a beautiful way to stay in touch with my friends and family.

    A proposal is important to me. Marriage is important to me. And we’re taking a trip home to Boston to visit my family for my birthday in July, and I can’t help but think how completely wonderful it would be if he would ask me to marry him while we’re there.

    And if he doesn’t, it will still be my birthday, and I will still see my family, and I will still be totally and completely head over heels in love with my guy, and we’ll still have our “State of the Union” talks. And I’ll still keep waiting.

    • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

      “I made this decision myself, because this is what I want. And my reward for that isn’t a proposal; it’s living the life I CHOSE. Waking up everyday next to the man I love. Focusing on my career in new and challenging ways. Expanding my horizons. Embracing letter-writing as a beautiful way to stay in touch with my friends and family.”

      Moving to be with the person you love is hard. I mean, it’s great because you get to spend your life with the person you love, but there are so many challenges that come when you try to build a life in a new place. I moved to live in my husband’s country and I think your perspective is great for those of us dealing with these same things.

    • Ashley

      I think I’m kind of where you are. I feel like I’ve been to the other planet and I’ve made my way back to earth. I too came back on my own.

      “it’s living the life I CHOSE. Waking up everyday next to the man I love. Focusing on my career in new and challenging ways. Expanding my horizons.”

      For me, It was the moment I decided to just love him. To stop with all the pressure and the worrying and the tryingtocontroleverything because that was what was making everything worse. I realized I want to marry him because I want to get to love him forever and I could start that right now, ring or no ring. And I kid you not, since that very moment, things have been so just different with us, easier, happier, much more peaceful. It’s been like some kind of magical zen like state took over my crazy freaking out pre-engaged mind. And believe you me – I freaked out with the best of them.

      It’s been nearly two months, and I know that’s not long, but when you’ve been talking about it weekly for a long time, it is a long time. Things are just good now with us, we have a life I could comfortably live in forever, so I’m going to do that.

      Getting married is important to me, I’m definitely not giving up on it but for now, I need to give not only him but myself a break from the worrying about it, we need some time to just love each other and thankfully that we’re awfully good at.

  • Elle Marie

    I am so glad I am not alone. I actually linked my partner to this page as proof that other people have done this too, goshdarnit!

    So, uh, how DOES one get back to planet sane from planet pre-engagement freakout? Because I feel like I took a one-way ticket and can’t find my way back. I want to be content and zen and happy, but all I can think about is that we really aren’t going to get married, he’s not ready because I’m not “the one”, and everyone else around us is getting engaged and constantly talking about their plans. And then I either sob or leave the room and get angry. And sob. There’s been a lot of sobbing.

    • http://lowbrowevents.com Ang

      Pretend you have never heard of this thing called marriage. That there is just you and your partner and the world at large. Are you happy with your relationship? What would you work on? What do you love to do together? (Do more of that stuff)

      So many of the previous commenters talked about the wonderful moments that they could’ve had, that were spoiled because of the engagement obsession. Live in the moment and enjoy what you have. It can also help to look at the big steps your relationship has taken from the beginning and take comfort in them.

      For me, when Matt tweaked out on his dad for disrespecting me, that was a big deal and showed I was sticking around. When I became the ICE contact at his work, that was a big deal. When this man who never ever cries burst into tears at the thought of losing me (which I found out through a third party so shhhh), that was a big deal. When he let me drive his car, play his prized drum set (poorly), these are all things that are intensely personal to him, and by sharing them with me, showed that I was a very important part of his life. When he made personal sacrifices for my own comfort, when he put my needs ahead of his own, that showed that I mattered to him.

      Enjoy those moments, they prove how special you are and how much you mean to someone that they’re adjusting their life so that they can share it with you.

    • Katelyn

      Might be obvious, but have you talked to your partner about how you feel? Sometimes just airing out the thoughts spinning through my head really helps.

      We even have a good laugh every once in awhile over how I literally made a mountain from a molehill (not interested in making Christmas cards in October => doesn’t want to get married. True story). Sometimes I sob sob sob and he just takes it.

      Either way, I usually feel at least a bit better and we can talk about what’s *really* the source of the stress (it’s usually NOT our relationship).

  • Anonymous

    Ha, this post came about three weeks too late for me. After a state-of-the-union-type conversation in a pub during which we decided that we were pretty much going to be together forever, I abruptly got down on one knee and asked him to marry me. He said yes immediately, then looked like he’d been hit by lightning and said “what??” and I said, “really??” and then we hugged and cried and spent a while gasping in amazement. And all of a sudden, the conversation had happened. It didn’t take long to get used to the new state of affairs–no wedding planning yet, no going public with the news, and we won’t be for a while. On the surface, nothing has changed. But it makes a huge emotional difference to have made that promise to each other.

    Before then, whenever we’d have a discussion about the future, I’d eventually bring marriage into the conversation as just one of many ways we could be together–which of course it is. Over the course of a year of such talks, I could tell that he mentally adjusted to marriage as a possibility in his own life. During that time, I also adjusted to talking about it, and I became less secretive/ashamed about thinking about it. He had ideas about it (positive and negative) that hadn’t occurred to me and made me think more deeply about our relationship and how it relates, and doesn’t, to society’s ideas about marriage. It made me, too, question whether this would be the best choice for us. It made both of us examine our fears about relationships and this one in particular, and start to resolve them. This process was so, so important. The first time I mentioned marriage was scary, but it got easier every time, and I’d encourage everyone to, as someone else said, “rip off the bandaid!!” Get talking!

    Having had those conversations made it possible for me to propose. I’m so glad I didn’t wait for him to ask me, because he probably wouldn’t have at that moment, or for a long while after. But when I made myself as vulnerable as I ever have been in our relationship–a girl on one knee in a pub, bucking tradition, as sincere as I’ve ever been, and asking for an official, lifelong promise–he was completely ready to make the promise. It was crazy hard and scary, even though I knew what the outcome would be! I see why people wait so long, and I’m really glad that one of us was brave enough to ask. :)

  • http://scientistcarrie.blogspot.com Carrie

    I went through this too, as I wrote about in a guest post here last year: http://apracticalwedding.com/2010/04/women-proposing-tomen/

    It’s like there are two totally separate things going on at the same time. First, there’s the genuine decision happening between two people about taking the step of marriage. And second, there’s the entire world projecting all kinds of expectations and judgments on that genuine decision-making process.

    So if, in a hetero relationship, the woman is ready to get married but the man isn’t quite there yet, it can’t just be a discussion that happens between them. The entire rest of the world has to butt in and tell the woman she must have done something wrong, he doesn’t really love her, she’s not good enough, everyone pities her, she’s a total loser and should be humiliated that he doesn’t love or respect her enough to propose.

    Meanwhile, the guy is getting messages that he has to be well-off, have a good job, have everything in his life figured out, before he can ask a woman to marry him. He has to be able to impress her with a big expensive diamond, he has to be able to support her, he has to be able to sweep her off her feet and make her life perfect.

    Without all those messages, there would be still be some tension if one person was ready to make the commitment and the other wasn’t. But with all those messages, it goes beyond tension into feeling like you’re going crazy.

    • Moz

      Carrie, that remains my fave post ever on APW. Totally brilliant.

  • Roadrunner

    Can I disagree with some of the calls for patience here? Not that patience isn’t a good thing and all, but…

    (I’ll also note first that I was never in the position talked about here–engaged after being together for 7 years, but only two and a half months after our first serious conversation about getting married.)

    I’ve watched too many friends sit and wait for an engagement that sometimes never came. And even when it did, they’d gone through years of uncertainty that truly weakened their relationships. But their boyfriends never had the courage to tell them why they couldn’t get engaged now. Finances? Long distance? Career trajectories? All of these are good reasons to wait to make major life decisions. And if that’s what’s holding someone back, then that should be articulated. But when one half of a couple just says, *for years*, that they just need more time, unspecified time, to think unspecified things, but really, I want to spend my life with you…….

    I watched one friend’s boyfriend do the Hamlet routine for SIX YEARS. They were together for all of college (4 years), and for six years after they graduated, he promised he wanted to get married, but just not yet. Not yet, not yet, not yet. On their tenth anniversary, she got tired of waiting and broke up with him. He had bought a ring, a few months before, but just couldn’t quite go through with it. But he could never say why, or what he was waiting for.

    It’s just unfair. People in a relationship need to communicate, even about something that’s supposed to be as “mysterious” as an engagement. If you’re not ready to get engaged, tell your significant other *why*. Tell them when you think you might be ready–a month, a year, a decade. Or what would need to happen before you’re ready–a job, a new city, more money. And if you’re not sure, explain what you’re doing to make up your mind–what you’re considering, what you’re worrying about, what would help you decide, what information you need before you make up your mind.

    To leave someone you love hanging, to drive them LITERALLY crazy (read some of the stories above!), to refuse to provide any information about what you are thinking, is just cruel. I understand indecision. I don’t understand stringing someone along, and even though we don’t have a right to dictate our partners’ decisions, we all have a right to honest communication.

    • Trying not to hold my breath

      Well sometimes men are really uncooperative with this topic.

      I’ve asked my partner why a billion times. His answer is always he doesn’t know, he just doesn’t feel ready. I ask if its me, if its age, if its money, if its stress, if its this and that. Always the same answer.. not ready. (My comment a few above gives more details of the relationship).

      I think we’ve been ready. We have good jobs and make good money, we are approaching 30, we live together and are happy together. We are ready for marriage and I think about to be ready for children in a few years. So what you’ve said, is exactly true and exactly f’ing frustrating as all hell. But we love each other and are happy, that’s why I don’t want to give everything up and start a new life. So what is someone in my position to do really? I’d love to forward your comment to my partner but I think that’s not even an option for us now since I agreed to let him have some time of no marriage talk at all.

      • anonagain

        Trying …

        Read my post to you above, seriously. I don’t want to be hurtful; my heart aches for you. If his answer is “I don’t know, I don’t feel ready,” and he cannot sensibly say, “I want to get this promotion at work,” “I am fearful because of my parents’ divorce,” “I don’t know how we’ll raise children in my religion when you haven’t converted,” whatever … stand by your two months word, but be ready to make some hard choices if you need to to take care of yourself. And be grateful you aren’t dragging children through this (as I did).

      • Roadrunner

        I really don’t have any advice, and I’m so sorry for the pain this is causing you. I just wanted to push back against the idea that stalling boyfriends should just be given space to stall indefinitely. Being required to be passive until someone else decides your future, without any communication or give and take, just isn’t fair.

      • Class of 1980

        Trying,

        You are asking specific questions and he isn’t answering them. Red flag. He is not entitled to have you put your life on hold for a man whose head and heart are a mystery.

        In spite of my post above about how important finances and jobs are to men, once that is secure, the only question is whether he wants to be married AT ALL, and whether he specifically wants to be married to YOU.

        I am not against living together – I have done it more than once. But the ambiguity of living together prior to a solid marriage commitment is too temptingly comfortable for some men who really truly don’t want to commit. They are comfortable with companionship with no expectations, but they don’t want to say it out loud.

        I’ll just say this … you have asked very good questions that deserve an answer. See that you get them.

        • Trying not to hold my breath

          Thank you so much for all the advice, especially to ANONAGAIN and Class of 1980.

          I have given a lot of consideration, and we have discussed extensively about breaking up/marrying. To the point of knowing who gets which one of the dogs. And to the point of having all the major details of our would-be wedding already planned. Basically we’ve loaded the gun and its in his hand, he just needs to pull the trigger and all the marriage stuff we’ve agreed on will fall into place. If that’s what we should do. He is well aware of wasting my time, of not being able to fulfill me, he is terrified of not bringing me happiness. But we are both happy with the way things are, I guess I just want it.. enhanced, official, more fair.

          I feel as if I cannot decide what to really do. I think it is unfair to me because I help by paying rent but if we break up I have to start from scratch and he has built much equity, the way we have raised the dogs it’s basically like children to us but they legally belong to him, not to mention I’m probably in my childbearing prime now and that will go downhill with age, the waiting feels like a sacrifice to me. A big one, that keeps growing with time. I feel pressure too from friends/family. Mostly I am disgusted and offended, that after knowing what my timeline was, and what he thought his was.. that he has made no effort to compromise or to prove to me we are on some sort of track. And one of my friends, he met someone and things moved really fast, after only a couple of months they are looking for a place to live together, and he is so happy. Only a couple of months and his whole life has changed, that could happen to me. If I was single I could meet someone and my life would be different so quickly and easily.

          But on the other hand when I try to be practical and logical… I think about how great he is, how wonderful our relationship is. What I help with rent.. I cannot possibly get close to anywhere as nice. There is no way I could live somewhere for this price. If I wanted to live in a studio apartment with no bedrooms I would have to pay double what I pay. And not to mention I would want to take one of the dogs.. which he pays for the vet bills and fees now. And it would be hard to be a single dog owner, we juggle our time and responsibilities so well right now. Basically he is a provider, he is fortunate enough to earn a good living and not have any debt, and he is generous to share some of his good fortune with me to make life more comfortable.

          He is very good to live with and domestic, we love going out grocery shopping and he is great at cooking. He does all the laundry, even before I moved in with him he did my laundry. We are both pretty neat and clean. We are active. We are financially responsible. He is a hottie and excels at bedroom activities :) He is super handy, he renovates and works on our home. Our lifestyle preferences and hobbies and personalities just mesh well. We are each others BEST FRIENDS. I know most couples say that, but we are for sure.

          He does not have close friends or family, but he fits in perfectly with my group of friends who I love as if they are my own blood and my family has embraced him as well. He’s not very romantic, and he admits to being very selfish and arrogant, and he is super super stubborn. But I love him all the same and he has shown some effort in being romantic just because I wanted it. I also realized lately, its not that because he can fill a list of Good Qualities in a Boyfriend, or that he cannot, but it just comes down to the essence of his being that attracts me to him very much and that is something that can’t even be explained. And I think if it really comes down to choosing to stay with him or leave.. well I think everyday so far I have chosen to stay with him. And it makes sense for me to continue doing so, because the thought of leaving is sad and the thought of getting to be with him makes me feel so lucky.

          Will I regret it when I reach my 30s? Is he just stringing me along? I really don’t know. But I do ask myself a lot.. *shrug*

          • Trying not to hold my breath

            oh and also thank you to roadrunner, you have articulated a lot of how I feel so when my 2 months of quiet time is over, and we’ll need to touch base on the marriage topic again, I want to use some of what you said.

            I’ve done a lot of waiting, negotiating, hoping, with great emotional difficulty so far. So letting him have time without discussion of marriage so he can think about it with a cleared head, I am more than willing to give it a try. It makes sense he doesn’t want to and doesn’t want it to feel like he is giving in to my demands. He wants to reach his own conclusion, and make sure I know its from his heart. Not from my naggings. But I don’t think of these 2 months as an ultimatum because I don’t think I want to choose to leave. But I guess I will see what comes of it.

          • Class of 1980

            Trying,

            What does it mean when he says he is terrified of not bringing you happiness?

        • Trying not to hold my breath

          We’ve explored that question of why he says he’s afraid he won’t make me happy. And there is a lot to say, I don’t even know where to begin. He says he is insecure that he is not making me happy and so scared that he never will. After what he had been putting me through, at times I was miserable and we both were.. but lately he’s been working hard on not being a jerk, on respecting me, on compromising. We are much happier. But its also that in his mind I am always wanting more.. like I got you the dogs, and you are STILL not satisfied, you want marriage, and then you will want kids.. jeez! I told him that’s not fair, that shouldn’t be a complaint of his since we both knew from the beginning that we BOTH wanted to be dog owners, that we wanted marriage and kids, that’s a part of what attracted us to each other.

          Would the people helping me like to continue through email? I don’t want to lose touch because the comments are getting so buried now and I could really use some non-biased people to talk to.

          • http://www.suncentered.com Jenny

            Everyone’s already given great advice so far. But have you pointed out to him that he definitely won’t ever make you happy by not marrying you? And that by marrying you he would definitely be making you happy?

            Sorry for your situation. :( I told my bf no dogs before marriage because I’m afraid of something like your situation happening. I had reservations about moving in with him before engagement, too, but we compromised and now we’re living together. I hope it works out for both you and me, heh.

    • Rowany

      More important than just communication, I think, is NEGOTIATION. I was just thinking about asking to write a guest post about this sometime. Yes, your significant other should tell you about the barriers to asking you, but how will he know to tell you if you don’t ask? If you’re unsatisfied with the status quo, you should say so, describe your expectations and ask him his, and then negotiate changes to meet BOTH of them. Just because he has a valid reason to wait doesn’t mean your reason to get engaged sooner isn’t valid, too. I think too often women vacillate between stereotypes of being so grateful for what they have they are ashamed to ask for what they want/need, to then feeling resentful and angry when their needs aren’t met (and then feeling ashamed for being angry and push away their needs again, etc etc). I have certainly fallen victim to this pattern of thinking, in several areas of my life- my relationship, at work, with friends and family–but such interactions aren’t fair to my relationships and they aren’t fair to me. So, fellow pre-engaged, if you’re starting to get anxious–answer these questions yourselves and then ask your partner what they think. Do you think we’re ready to get engaged? What do you think being ready means to you, and if you aren’t ready what steps can we take together that will help? When do you see ourselves getting engaged? 6 months? 1 year? 5 years? (I gave a fairly large window to not ruin the surprise) If you want a certain type of proposal or ring, ask for it! He doesn’t have to say yes, but what do you lose by letting him know what you want? I think these sorts of questions underline the difference between communication and negotiation. We’ve talked about the vague notion of getting married for almost 3 years, mainly that we agreed it would be with each other. Only this past year did we actually discuss where our expectations differed, and what we would each do to bring our ideas of “being ready” closer together.

      • Roadrunner

        Cosign. This is exactly what I should have written. Waiting isn’t nearly as bad when you feel like an active participant in the process, rather than a kid being made to wait just because an adult said so.

      • Jeannine

        I would like to exactly this to infinity (and beyond!) And I look forward to reading your guest post on negotiation. =-)

    • anonagain

      I wish I could just “exactly” this post a million times. I saw my sister’s mental health destroyed by years of living with someone who behaved this way, and have been on the receiving end of it myself to some degree as well. And I would only add that it’s not just that these men refuse to provide information, it’s often that they refuse to do the emotional work of looking inside themselves (with or without the help of a therapist) and asking what is holding them back.

      • Roadrunner

        Bingo on the “emotional work” comment. Being aware of your own emotional needs, or willing to do the work to figure them out, is part of being a functioning adult and an absolute bedrock requirement for a successful relationship.

    • Jeannine

      I completely agree.

      Particularly if you are at a juncture where you are making big life decisions around each other, or not making them, which in the case of desired children can become a real issue, it seems like being patient can be a euphemism for putting your life on hold while you wait for your partner and the power dynamics of that can get really ugly.

      I think Ang is very wise in saying that the only way to deal with this stage such that disappointment and unfulfilled expectations does not come to dominate your life is to pretend like marriage or wedding is not on the horizon. I don’t know if that is possible when you do have a particular image or timeline for yourself though. I do know that for me, marriage was not on the table and even then! as Carrie says, I would have freakouts about whether or not I should want to get married and why that wasn’t happening.

      I realize I don’t have a fully fleshed out argument here, but it struck me that the situation that Ang describes in which she entered a kind of zone in which she didn’t feel the need to get married and was happy with her relationship as it was is a little bit different than waiting for a proposal.

      Trying, you mentioned earlier I think that you have given him two months to think about it without any pressure from you. If he agreed to that, then at the end of those two months, he should understand that putting you off without giving you a reasonable explanation and working with you is not fair to you any more.

      A friend of mine had a similar situation–she wanted to get married, have kids, knew her partner also wanted those things in his life–so, when they talked about it and he said he wasn’t ready, she said that since they were planning on moving abroad in a year together, she would be unwilling to make that big step without being engaged. So, he had a year to get himself ready and he did. The point is, they both found of way of giving each other what they needed and being responsive to one another in a way that didn’t make either of them uncomfortable or unhappy.

      • Roadrunner

        I think that if you’re able to come to a place where you are truly happy with the status quo, even if that doesn’t include marriage, then “waiting” there is absolutely fine. But that means that you can’t be holding your breath at every romantic dinner or weekend getaway or visit to your parents house. It means truly accepting that the status quo is here for perhaps forever, and being able to live a happy and full life with that understanding.

        If it isn’t possible for you to get to that place, that’s what you need to tell the SO: the status quo is unsustainable, I need X (a timeline, an honest conversation, a set of pre-engagement goals (new job, etc.), a resolution of some outstanding issue (religion, kids) or whatever).

        If you can’t both agree to an “X” that gives you peace in the interim and him space and information to make his decision, then it’s time for some hard decisions to be made.

        • Jeannine

          that’s exactly what i think roadrunner.
          but i also feel hesitant to give that advice because it can so easily become part of the “dump the guy if he won’t put a ring on it!” narrative that is also very one-dimensional and ultimately unhelpful. everyone has to know their own limits or determine what they can–better yet, want to–live with for themselves. and sometimes that means cutting the cord on something that makes you happy in the moment because it just doesn’t align with your long-term goals. it’s hard, it really is and it’s even harder to hear yourself think and feel as you live within the crazy cultural noise that carrie identifies so well in her post.

          • Roadrunner

            True dat. Especially on the cultural noise part. It can be hard to figure out why *you, personally* want to get married, rather than why *everyone says* you should get married.

            For me? Honestly, we’d been talking about buying a house, a couple years in the future, for a while, and it was clear to me that doing so is much harder if you’re not married. Marriage didn’t matter so much to me until then, but once we started down the property ownership path, it suddenly became very important, and with a timeline attached.

            For many other people, I think that issue is kids (we’re not planning on having any), but it can be anything–moving to a new city or country, combining finances, whatever. But identifying why marriage is important to you specifically, and not because all your cousins are already married, or because your best friend is engaged, or because you’re turning 30, or whatever–it can be really hard to dig past all that and get to what really matters to you.

            But when you figure it out? That’s the time to have the serious conversation about marriage.

        • http://lowbrowevents.com Ang

          I totally want to bold, underline, italicize, etc this part especially. “But that means that you can’t be holding your breath at every romantic dinner or weekend getaway or visit to your parents house. It means truly accepting that the status quo is here for perhaps forever, and being able to live a happy and full life with that understanding.”

          If you tell yourself you’re OK, and you’re not, then you’re lying to yourself and your partner, and both of you are in a no win situation. If you say you’re OK to wait, but then are harboring resentment for exactly what you asked for, then you’re painting your partner into a corner, and they’ll be likely to distrust anything you say in the future as glossing over the situation to make them happy.

          • Roadrunner

            A thousand exactlys. Especially on the honesty front. Honesty builds trust, dishonesty sets up a lifetime of second-guessing.

  • Jesse

    This post resonates so clearly with me, and my experience. I, too, had a mother who would say “By the time I was your age, I was married–TWICE–and had X number of kids.” (X number of kids depended on what age I was. But my Mom was a three babies by the age of twenty-nine type of person).

    That hurt. That stung. It shaped a lot of my relationship anxiety. It made me feel that being not married by the age of twenty-four (first child) twenty-five, twenty-six (second child & having said child die of SIDS) I was somehow defective, broken. That I wasn’t strong enough to have a successful adult relationship.

    When I met my fiance, I knew. Maybe not so much of the “OMG, I want to get married RIGHTNOW” but I really wanted to see where this relationship headed. But I was also impatient. I couldn’t enjoy the ride. The first time I told him I was his girlfriend was before we headed over to his friend’s place for New Year’s Eve. I wasn’t quite relaxed or confident enough to say “I really like you and want to see where this relationship is headed. But I’m worried about those side comments friends give when they’re not sure of a couple’s relationship status.” Instead I said “Well, as my boyfriend, you blah blah blah…”

    The feeling was further entrenched when my Mom started asking (after two months) when he was going to purpose. I really felt that we needed to make it official because we were already heading that way. It caused some tension, and for the most part we worked it out. But about two weeks/three weeks before actually getting engaged, I had a breakdown. We had the rings, we had a date, and I thought we were getting ready for the next stage. But he wanted to look at rings again. I felt like he didn’t realize how badly I just wanted to be engaged, and be married. He thought I was hurrying things along too much. (Can I also mention that we had this discussion WHILE I was trying to finish the last two pages of a ten page paper that was due at midnight? And said conversation took place at 9pm, and then 10pm respectively).

    I have found, that while he while he was ready to say “I love you” long before I was ready, I am the one who was further along in terms of marriage readiness. He needed time to think, and mull over his feelings. Once I knew, I was ready.

    • ruth

      “I have found, that while he while he was ready to say “I love you” long before I was ready, I am the one who was further along in terms of marriage readiness. He needed time to think, and mull over his feelings. Once I knew, I was ready.”

      It really is comforting that someone else really is in the same situation as you!!!!

  • A A

    Yay for this great post!

  • Six years and counting

    Oh the angst of the pre-engaged state. I am delurking (does it count if you remain anon?) to say that this is ME. I have been with my partner for just over six years and the last year is the rockiest our relationship has ever been. This is, in no small part, due to other factors in our lives (an unavoidable long distance stint, stress in our work/study lives) but is also because I have been a total mental pretzel over this issue. On the one hand, I want to give him enough time because as someone described above I have a THINKER and it is his nature to be thorough when thinking through big life decisions (something I love about him usually!). On the other hand, I agree that sometimes it’s simply not fair to just be patient. We are in our late twenties and BOTH in the midst of shaping our careers which involves a lot of decisions about location etc. It has just been HARD for me to try to think about my future and possibly sacrificing pieces of my career in order for us to stay together when he isn’t really ready to be engaged/married. Also, I have found it nearly impossible to approach this issue with him in the same way I approach other things – I’m usually super straightforward with whatever my issue is and get straight to the point but this? This is just so loaded. No good answers here…

  • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

    We didn’t do this for them. If we were going to get married to make other people happy, it would’ve happened ages ago. We made the decision to get married when we BOTH felt comfortable with it. On our time line, not polite society’s, not our overly involved mothers, not our sympathetic friends.

    Amen. When we got engaged we got a lot of “it’s about time!” as well. Always directed at him. And always annoying to me and made me want to step up and defend him. Our marriage wasn’t something he decided. It was something we both decided. And it happened when we were both ready for it.

  • ANON

    First time posting- most posts have been from the “I’m ready” viewpoint and I’ve got the “not ready” side covered.

    My bf and I have been together for three years, and I just went with him to the wedding of one of his close family members. It was a lovely wedding and I had a great time, but the next day, I had this crazy meltdown where I couldn’t explain what was wrong. Upon reflection though, I realized that it was because we were being compared to the bride and groom, who had a similar relationship trajectory to us. I was NOT comfortable with this, because I was not ready to think about marriage at all and I didn’t like strangers thinking they knew everything about my future.

    If I could have talked out my feelings, everything would have been fine, but I felt like I was in a trap when I tried to talk to my boyfriend about it. On the one hand, if I mention marriage at all, it must mean I’m nagging, because all girls want to get married asap!!! On the other, if I mention how the thought of getting married makes me want to have a heart attack, it must mean there’s something wrong with our relationship, because why else would a girl not want to get married?! So instead I just cried a lot, and thankfully finally managed to spit out a few words that constituted the first time we’d ever talked about marriage.

    It still makes me a little anxious when i think about it, because I hate the idea of my future not being mine to decide… which is what I feel whenever relatives make comments about how they know we’ll get married soon. But, whenever I imagine myself somewhere in life without him, that makes me just as sad! So while the image of us as old people together makes me smile, the idea that it’s already SETTLED makes me cringe. It’s weird.

    I’m working on being comfortable with the conversation and I’m already so relieved that we’ve broken the ice, but MAN do those stereotypes about women and their secret wedding-hunger make things harder. Basically it’s just hard in a different way to be not-ready. And I’m not even dealing with pressure from him, just from the world, and it would be great to have the ability to talk to him about said pressure without it being a Big Deal.

    Finally, reading APW has helped me so much to figure some of this out, so thank you!

    • Roadrunner

      Just wanted to say that it’s OK! It took me about 6 years to really be ready to get married, and there was nothing wrong in our relationship. If you’re both happy with where you are, where you’re headed, and how fast you’re getting there, then nosy family members can just f*ck off.

      Eventually, when people wouldn’t stop asking when we were getting married, I started telling people, “Well, we’ve talked about it, but I really don’t want to plan a wedding…” Which was kind of true, and had the added benefit of putting the delay on *my* shoulders, not on his. Because everyone assumed I was ready to drag him to the alter but he was dragging his feet, which wasn’t the case at all.

      And surprisingly, no one ever tried to convince me that I’d love wedding planning :)

  • Leigh Ann

    Ditto. Except I met mine when we were almost 30, not in high school.

  • ruth

    Pre-engaged is awful! All my friends are engaged; my 5 year bf and I are still very much not. I too have got to the stage where every outing or occasion could mean RING! He wants to be financially able to ‘keep’ me (bless him) but that could be years away! As we are a Christian couple, living together is not an option without being married but we are so ready to begin our lives together. Sometimes his level-headedness is hard to bear…I wish he’d take a look through my rose-tinted glasses in the very near future…it’s much prettier from this angle!

  • Scooter

    Ang, I read your post with great interest and the rest of the comments that it inspired. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts on the pre-engagement blues. I think it’s very helpful to have this community for us to share our thoughts, frustrations and inspirations.

    Here is my take, for what it is worth:

    Similar to Rachel, I am the Type-A planner in my relationship. I take great joy in planning the vast majority of our dates, vacations and soirees. So when my boyfriend (I’ll refer to him as “Darcy”) asked me to give him some open dates on my calendar that I could set aside for a “surprise”, my first thought was that he was planning a proposal. At first I was happy. Then I quickly realized that I was not.

    I wondered if I was actually ready for a proposal. What did it mean to me? What did he imagine our lives would be like if we were married? Would I be able to maintain my independence? Were we the type of couple who could weather bad times? . . .

    At the same time, I started fantasizing what the surprise/engagement would look like. It was June, and he was asking about the fall. That would mean a whole summer of engagement planning. What crazy-amazing proposal could he be planning that would take so long? It must be something awesome with a dancing flash mob and elephants and fireworks. . .

    But then again, what if he caught me off-guard? What if I felt like crap that day, or looked like crap? What if I farted really loudly into a hidden microphone in front of all my friends and family and on live TV, etc? . . . And then came the klincher. . . What if this was just an ‘ordinary’ surprise, and he wasn’t planning to ask me after all? The image of that day in my mind quickly changed. I could picture him getting all gussied up and arranging a wonderful surprise just to have me burst into tears when the evening ended with no ring. That would be no fair to either of us.

    That’s when I started feeling that there has to be other ways to get engaged.

    Stuck in this no-ring-land, I suddenly realized that I couldn’t decide how I felt about marriage. I liked fantasizing about a proposal, but I hated feeling out of control and passive. It felt like if I was ‘good’ (and patient) and deserving of love, I would get the ‘prize’ of a ring/my boyfriend’s everlasting love. If, however, I was ‘bad’ and started asking and nagging, then I would be ‘spoiling’ it by pressuring him, which also isn’t fair to either of us.

    So, then, what to do?

    I held it in for a little while, and then we had a teary discussion while driving to the movies that is fairly blurry to me now, but I recall it going from scared and frustrated to smiling and hugging. And I remember this: He told me that no, he was not planning on proposing that fall, but he was thinking about doing it in a year. In June. That was a year ago. It is now June once more.

    I immediately got excited. I was pre-engaged! Hooray for me! In some ways I was happy because I had a year to let my Type-A personality go nuts. I started planning a wedding. But at the same time, I was still unhappy with the passive role of the woman waiting to be asked. It still made me feel confused and powerless. I hear in women’s comments a lot of talk of trying to come to an acceptance about this. I’m not convinced that this is what we should be doing. If it feels wrong, then maybe it is?

    And as it turned out, a lot happened in the last year that changed everything. The weekend of the ‘big surprise’, my parents invited us over for dinner to tell us that my mother had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, and that she is dying. If I had any doubts about my partner before, I have none now. Through all the sobbing, the emotional roller coasters, the seemingly unending family calamity, he has been a major support. I literally do not know what I would have done without him.

    My mother’s illness changed the way I had been thinking about my impending engagement. If anything, it made it even more confusing. With a terminal illness like ALS, there is a certain amount of helplessness that one feels. The engagement and wedding began to take on a new meaning for me. It became something that I could give my family that would be a cause for joy in a time of grief. And of course, I wanted very badly for my mother to be there to see me get married. Suddenly the June engagement date became that much more important.

    Part of being human is the realization that time keeps moving forward, but people move at their own speed. While I was busy compiling images of wedding dresses and decoration ideas in my spare time, there was still a lot of other things for both myself and my boyfriend to process. I decided to take a break from grad school so that I could be closer to my mother. I moved back to Boston and moved in with my boyfriend. And we were both dealing with the trauma of my mother’s illness.

    Sometimes I would share with ‘Darcy’ what I was brainstorming for the wedding. As much as I enjoy planning, I wanted him to be a part of it too. He would listen and give feedback, but as time went by it became clear that he was not as ready as he had expected to be at this time last year. There were tears– not dissimilar to many of the tears I heard about in everyone else’s posts. It is not easy to be at different places in a relationship. It is also not easy to be told (by society if not by your partner) that you have to wait and be patient. Even though we are good about talking to one another, I couldn’t help feeling like the ‘bad’ girlfriend every time I brought up anything wedding related. It felt scary, like I was breaking a rule that would result in my being unworthy.

    We had another discussion about this just a few weeks ago. I told Darcy about how I felt awful every time we talked about engagement or weddings. He reassured me that he was actually quite proud of the way we are handling it. Which makes me love him even more. We are going to try to do things differently. We are re-writing the script of how people get engaged. And we are doing it together.

    Our first step is to get into couples counseling. We are doing this not because anything is wrong, but because there is so much that is right, and we need someone to help us define what marriage and engagement would mean for us. What do we want to accomplish beforehand? What are our goals as a couple?

    I am so glad that we are doing this because with the trauma of my mother’s illness, the wedding that I had started planning last year was no longer about us, but about her. It would have been a mistake for us to hurry this process not because I need to learn to be an obedient and patient woman but because I can’t wrap my head around something as huge as marriage at the same time as I am losing a parent. Now that we are in this new phase of discussion instead of waiting, I am realizing that I was not as ready as I had previously thought, either.

    When we do get engaged, we have this much planned out: We will both know the date. We will both be asking one another. We will invite friends and family together and we will surprise THEM.

    This engagement may not be for a few years, but we will do it on our terms, because we both know we are ready. Taking away the ‘waiting to be asked’ aspect of the engagement has been key for me. When the topic is taboo, it becomes painful and frustrating. No wonder so many of us have had these ‘pre-engagement blues’.

    I will post again when we reach a new milestone or realization, but until then, my thought on the topic: If waiting for him to propose isn’t working for you, Screw Tradition. It works for some people, but clearly not everyone. Find a way to talk it out, even if it means finding a counselor. It’s one of the biggest decisions that a person can make. Why are we supposed to make it in silence?

    Love to you all,

    – Scooter.