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My Engagement Is, In Fact, An Accomplishment


Thoughts from our resident (half) black feminist.

by Rachel W. Miller, Contributor

My Engagement Is, In Fact, An Accomplishment | A Practical Wedding

When I got engaged back in April, I felt a little awkward and embarrassed by the attention and congratulatory messages I received. I had heard enough snarky people criticizing other newly engaged or just-married people who had dared to share their news or any details about their wedding on Facebook or Twitter, and I had accepted the often-expressed sentiment that “getting engaged is not an accomplishment.”

I was really hoping people wouldn’t act like this was the most important and interesting thing I’d ever done, because I certainly didn’t think it was. I didn’t feel like I could take credit for getting engaged like I could for, say, getting a great internship in college or a landing a cool freelance gig as an adult. I mean, what work had I really done? So as soon I had a ring on my finger, I accepted the idea that “sharing” is the same as “bragging” (and that a woman who brags is the worst kind of woman), and I was very much like, “Oh, this old thing? Pssh… this is not an accomplishment! Ask me about my CAREER!” I kept nearly all the details of our engagement and wedding plans off of my Facebook and Twitter feeds and kept them to a minimum on my blog.

The ring itself? Yeah, that’s not really an accomplishment to me. But what it symbolizes? That actually was pretty hard—harder than many of my career milestones—and I don’t know why it’s not okay to be proud of that fact. Perhaps the people snarking on weddings believe that getting engaged isn’t an accomplishment because finding romantic partners and sustaining romantic relationships has always come easily to them. Or maybe it hasn’t, but they’ve bought into the cultural expectation that love is supposed to be something that just happens. But for those of us who actually had to work at it? Um, yeah, I’d say that makes me want to put on my fancy clothes and throw a party to celebrate.

For me, the work started with finding a partner. When I decided I wanted to meet someone and form a lasting partnership, I also committed to not wasting time on fun casual flings that didn’t have a future. You’re going to tell me that not drunk texting a seriously-hot-but-terrible-for-you person isn’t hard work? Walking away from people who are hurting you isn’t an accomplishment? Pshh… it takes a seriously steely resolve to overcome my brain—and phone, and sex drive—on tequila. You’re saying I can’t put that on my resumé?!

But then of course after Eric and I got together it wasn’t all, “Welp, my work here is done!” like it would be in a romantic comedy. Instead, after a month of dating, I moved across the country to Texas be closer to him. Which, after living in New York City and Chicago, was… an adjustment. Making peace with all of this state’s, um, quirks, didn’t just happen overnight. And trying to make friends there, where I had none, and had no family? Yeah, I’d call that working overtime.

So with each new step we took over the next two years, I learned. I learned to communicate. I learned to negotiate. I learned to handle setbacks and challenges. And I learned all of it the hard way. I rarely, if ever, got it right the first time. (And neither did he.) I felt as confused and overwhelmed as I did with my very first internship. We both learned we each had a lot of growing up to do if we really wanted to be together (or, honestly, in any kind of adult relationship). Luckily, each new thing was met with a hearty (or, okay, sometimes tearful) “Challenge accepted!” And once the challenge was accepted, we didn’t just cut to a bad-sports-movie montage of getting there. It took longer than two minutes and we didn’t have an inspirational soundtrack motivating us to deal with our emotional baggage. We did the work one conversation about finances or chores or expectations at a time.

While saying relationships aren’t an accomplishment might be done in an effort to remind women that, despite what rom-coms tell us, there is more to life than whether or not you can snag a husband, I think this sentiment unintentionally reinforces another rom-com trope: that relationships are equal parts magic, luck, and “meeting cute.” We’re told that if we just show up at the right place at the right time, everything will fall into place.

Relationships are more than just showing up, and I’m okay with calling anything that requires doing more than just showing up an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Photo by: Emily Takes Photos (APW Sponsor)

Rachel W. Miller

For most of her life, Rachel has loved the sound of her own voice. She loves reading, doing yoga (she still refuses to call it “practicing”), hanging out with her dogs, and talking Eric’s ear off. She lives in Houston, TX. You can read more from her on her blog.

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  • Poeticplatypus

    I think defining a relationship as an accomplishment is hard for some because if you don’t have one because you haven’t met the right fit for you could bring up feelings of failure. I know I’ve felt that way.

    Although relationships & engagements are more than just a met goal. Building a family that can work together is an accomplishment. We should all strive to support a couple being a unit and a team.

    • http://Www.lauGhterinthelou.com Emma

      I get that. Celebrating an engagement as an accomplishment can imply that is the “best” or “right” outcome of a relationship, and we all know that’s not helpful.

      BUT I also really like this post and the points it raises! I think perhaps what Rachel is trying to say is that the work should be celebrated (fair!), just as, in my opinion, the work of being single or an unmarried couple should also be celebrated. Perhaps semantically, there is a way to honor the effort without placing the emphasis on the status?

      • http://www.thehousealwayswinsblog.com Rachel Wilkerson

        I think that we should be more comfortable celebrating (and mourning for that matter) all relationships…family, friends, self, etc. (I have written elsewhere my frustration with the fact that we don’t get to mourn relationships that weren’t Facebook official.) I think some of the snark toward engagement/marriage comes from people who feel like they have done just as much work on other relationships and don’t get the “credit,” if that makes sense. So yeah, I think celebrating other types of relationships, and celebrating them equally and fairly, would be awesome!

    • http://katerees711.blogspot.com/ kate

      I think it’s as much of an accomplishment to be happy with yourself on your own and make that time a happy one for you. If you’re not happy, own that and work towards finding the one that is the right fit.

    • Granola

      What if we used the term “milestone” instead of “accomplishment?” For me, a milestone is a more neutral term in that it doesn’t imply a failure as its inverse, but it’s still a big deal that took a lot of work to reach.

      • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

        Whereas for me milestone sounds more like something that everyone is supposed to reach in the normal course of events. Language is fraught with complications.

    • Adi

      I get this. But most of us have relationships that ended. They’re not failures, they’re not mistakes–they were valid and hopefully they helped us grow. Society sucks at reminding us that all life experience matters, but it does. At the same time, getting engaged is a new experience, and I feel we should be allowed to celebrate that, just like I think you should be allowed to celebrate your growth, even if it doesn’t come with a society-approved party.

  • Kelly

    I think some of this might be lingering in old ideas about how marriage and courtship works. We certainly don’t hesitate to consider the 60-year marriages of our grandparents an “accomplishment.” But when they got married, getting married wasn’t really an accomplishment because everyone did it! It was less of a choice and more of a forgone conclusion. You were lucky if you married the perfect guy, but chances were that eventually you’d marry an okay guy anyway. As norms have shifted, getting engaged and finding and fostering relationships that lead to marriage is certainly an accomplishment, and one we should learn to recognize.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I mostly agree, but I think you’ve skipped a layer. Yesterday, I was helping my baby sister with a research paper on how womanhood has changed since the days of Jane Austin and Pride & Prejudice. We worked hard to avoid the simple route of, “The Becket sisters had to find rich husbands or they’d be destitute once their father died. Now women don’t need men.” Certainly Kitty Becket saw marrying first, to someone with a steady income, as a kind of accomplishment, even if her older, wiser sisters knew it was the wrong kind of accomplishment.

  • http://minnesota-chic.com PAW

    I think this raises a very interesting point. I know that I felt obscurely guilty about my relationship when talking to single friends, because meeting someone wonderful was so up to chance. (Even now, I get chills at how unlikely and random it was.) So, on the one hand, one half “don’t make the gods jealous” and one half “don’t make your friends sad.”

    On the other hand, though… Forging a relationship together and deciding to take the leap into marriage is, as Kelly says above, no longer a foregone conclusion. It’s worth celebrating both partners for sticking out the hard moments and working to create a long-term relationship. That really does not happen by accident!

    So, excellent and thought-provoking once again — thank you, Rachel!

    • Ceebee

      I would like to hear the story that makes gods jealous ;)

      • http://minnesota-chic.com PAW

        Haha, that was more general. But the story IS awesome. *settles down in a comfy chair* So, you see …

        • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

          I clicked over to your blog (sidebar, more Minnesota Love). Where do I find the story?

          • http://www.minnesota-chic.com PA

            Oooh, I will have to write it up. With wedding pictures! That (and a hot toddy recipe) will be on the docket for this week!

          • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

            Yay! Thanks Paw.

  • http://www.servicedriven.org Sharon T-B

    Completely agree with your sentiment! Speak the truth sister.

    I just got married last weekend after 9 years of dating my partner. We made it through 2 years of long distance, 2 cross country moves, 1 serious accident, deaths in both our families, and the general challenges of life.

    I think that developing and maintaining a strong partnership is worth celebrating. My only concern is that we ignore some of life’s other great accomplishments that are also worthy of celebration. My sister, who is single, has accomplished so much — she’s made it in New York on her own, she has successfully navigated employment, union membership, health insurance challenges to follow her passion and live where she wants to live. She also volunteers and has made a difference in the lives of kids with cancer. How can we better celebrate the smart and difficult choices that women make? We talk about feminism being about supporting choices, but society only celebrates the approved choice in the cultural narrative (weddings, babies, and home ownership). For example, we host baby showers when a woman gets pregnant (often regardless of whether or not she planned / wanted / was prepared to become pregnant), but not “thanks for remaining abstinent or effectively using birth control to not bring an unwanted child into the world” showers. I’m not suggesting less celebrations. I’m suggesting more celebrations. Taking time to recognize the other accomplishments that go unappreciated and rewarding them.

    • http://minnesota-chic.com PAW

      Maybe we could have a yearly celebration, such as, Thanks For Making Smart Choices Day, where we all get together and toast each other for the difficult-but-good decisions that have been made over the course of the year.

      Anyone have a suggestion of dates?

      • http://katerees711.blogspot.com/ kate

        Today! Send a friend a card celebrating something that isn’t traditionally recognized!

        • Ambi

          I just did it – by email – to my closest group of girlfriends. It felt great to congratulate them on some not-usually-celebrated but truly inspiring life decisions and accomplishments they’ve made in the past few years. From leaving an unsatisfying career and going back to school to managing a career and baby with a spouse deployed to fighting for and saving a marriage worth saving, my girlfriends deserved a big round of applause. I highly recommend that you all do the same.

          • http://minnesota-chic.com PAW

            I also just sent out a general shout-out, and am now sending out personalized emails :)

            Whee!

          • Hannah

            Teared up at this. Way to follow through.

        • Adi

          YES. Love this idea!

      • Marisa

        Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation does Galentines Day on Feb 13th to celebrate the women in her life: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEjN1pgJbXM

    • http://www.thehousealwayswinsblog.com Rachel Wilkerson

      Oh! Oh! I love this!

      Serious question: do you think that one should throw her own party to celebrate these milestones, or should her friends do it for her? I mean, we sort of throw our own weddings (even if we don’t pay for them, we plan them and it’s not a surprise party by any means) but others usually throw baby and wedding showers and engagement parties for us. So whose responsibility is it to start throwing said celebrations? Because I am ALL FOR THIS.

      • http://www.devabydefinition.com deva by definition

        Ditto that! Celebrate the day you decided to buy your house. the day you realized that when the dishwasher dies you are on your own.

        I’d totally throw that surprise party.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        I take the attitude that it’s always better to err on the side of “Come celebrate with me!” than “But maybe this invitation will be viewed as an imposition.”

        In wedding planning, I did this despite snarky comments about being gift-grabby, and I’ve received several “Thank you for inviting everyone” comments and haven’t heard any rumors of offense. It’d be rather silly to be offended at being invited to a celebration, I think. That’d be on the person offended.

        I throw a few just-because or minor-holiday parties each year. I find that the worst reaction is no response. But a lot of people are so flattered to be invited to any kind of party. In my circle, they’re very rare. So, send out the invitations that say, “I just feel like my life has really improved recently, and I want to celebrate!”

        Aside: I think the fact that people throw so few non-wedding parties explains a lot of the angst with wedding planning. First, couples have never thrown a party of any size before, so they just have no idea where to begin. Second, they see it as their one chance in a lifetime, so it becomes almost too important.

    • http://www.mollyeverafter.com/ Molly

      This reminds me of the episode of Sex and the City where Samantha threw an “I’m not having a baby” shower.

      I think it’s important to celebrate ALL of the milestones of our friends and family members. Even if it’s just going out for drinks, I try to make a point of celebrating my friends’ professional accomplishments. Passed the bar exam? Got a new job? Got that promotion you’ve been eyeing? Congratulations! Let’s celebrate!

      • Pippa

        Yah, and Carrie registers at Manolo Blahnik after getting married ‘to herself’.

      • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

        And it’s tricky because people will reach out to the less close friends for birthdays (thanks, FB), weddings, and babies more than other life events. I e-mailed my friend’s younger sister today in excitement about her baby. I doubt I’d even be told if, say, she had a new job unless I asked after her.

        I think ElisabethJoanne is right on. It’s important to celebrate multiple life events, but even more important that we make an effort to say, “Hey, this cool thing happened. Come enjoy the glow with me.”

    • Liz

      I thought this is what birthdays are for? Though would be nice to highlight specific accomplishments instead of just managing to exist with a vague ‘happy birthday’.

      • http://www.thehousealwayswinsblog.com Rachel Wilkerson

        I think that we get bonus parties for weddings and babies, so it’s worth it to do more than just celebrate a birthday…but maybe making a birthday celebration more specific/special would be a start? Instead of “hey it’s your birthday, I’ll take you out to dinner” it could be “hey you accomplished SO MUCH this year, let’s plan a get-together with some toasts from friends that specifically celebrate those amazing things!”

    • http://happierheather.com Happier Heather

      “thanks for remaining abstinent or effectively using birth control to not bring an unwanted child into the world”

      Personally, I love this comment! As someone who has chosen NOT to have children, I’m constantly asked about it and looked down at for that choice by women who either have children or want children. People continually try to talk me INTO having kids.

      Do I like kids? Absolutely! Do I want my own? No. If I had kids, would I be a good mother? One of the best!

      But, I agree that we need to celebrate the lesser celebrated accomplishments in everyone’s lives. Society as a whole needs to realize that everyone has very different life tracks, whether chosen or not, and if we didn’t life for everyone would be much more dull and we’d have nothing to talk about and certainly less to celebrate!

  • LMS

    “We both learned we each had a lot of growing up to do if we really wanted to be together (or, honestly, in any kind of adult relationship). Luckily, each new thing was met with a hearty (or, okay, sometimes tearful) “Challenge accepted!” And once the challenge was accepted, we didn’t just cut to a bad-sports-movie montage of getting there. It took longer than two minutes and we didn’t have an inspirational soundtrack motivating us to deal with our emotional baggage. We did the work one conversation about finances or chores or expectations at a time.”

    THIS. I needed to read this today – thank you.

  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.com/ Sheryl

    I’m feeling a little conflicted here. While I don’t know that I personally think that my relationship is an accomplishment, I’m wondering if that’s just semantics. While there have been some things that we’ve had to work our way through in our relationship, the relationship itself never felt like work, much less hard work. It’s mostly just felt like life, and part of that for me has included my marriage. Sometimes life sucks. There have been very few times in my relationship where I’ve felt like it was one of the hard parts of my life.

    On the other hand, my husband and I both actively go out of our way to make choices that strengthen our relationship, and to be loving and understanding of each other. Do we have issues? Sure, but we talk about them and go about fixing them. Maybe that’s the work and the accomplishment …. but honestly for me it doesn’t feel like accomplishment.

    • Class of 1980

      For some people, even getting to the place where they have the maturity to foster a relationship is an accomplishment. A real accomplishment.

      • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.com/ Sheryl

        Oh I definitely agree. I was speaking there very specifically about my own situation and how I feel about my own marriage. It’s wonderful, and one of the best things in my life and we put work into nurturing it and we are proud of our relationship, but I don’t feel particularly like it’s an accomplishment. That’s just me though and I was not in any way trying to diminish the milestones that others may have to pass to get to a similar place.

        • anon

          see, I think that’s the important part to remember tho. we need to value and validate other people’s accomplishments, even if the same act doesn’t particularly feel like an accomplishment in your own life.

          for one person, marriage might not feel like hard work. for another person, like myself, a lack of positive role models and an abusive dysfunctional family means that just getting to the point where committing to a healthy relationship IS a giant giant accomplishment. one that had serious hard work and sweat and years behind it

      • http://byjacki.com Jacki

        Well said, Class of 1980. For Matt and me, getting to a point of being ready to foster a relationship with one another was a huge process, and an achievement, and absolutely worth celebrating!

    • Jaya

      I agree with the idea of semantics, because to me, “accomplishment” connotes that something that is finished. And an engagement, while a wonderful and impressive step in any relationship, is not the end of anything. Many people see it as a beginning, and many more see it as one milestone in a relationship that will really never end. So yeah, I’m not sure if “accomplishment” is the word I’d choose, though it’s certainly something to be proud of!

      • Caroline

        On the other hand, it is the end of one thing (your dating or cohabiting life) and the begining of another (your marriage).

        • http://www.thehousealwayswinsblog.com Rachel Wilkerson

          True! Also, I think beginnings can be accomplishments — getting into college is an accomplishment, as is getting a new job!

    • Adi

      I see what you’re saying. I’m a newlywed (one month woo!) so I’m still riding high on the accomplishment of getting us both ready for marriage. Now that we’re married, I doubt every week I’ll be thinking, “Hell yeah made it another week I WIN!” I assume it will be more of an overall feeling akin to job satisfaction–consistently working to maintain and grow, rather than working towards an end. Maybe this is what anniversaries are for? Congratulating yourself for another year? I don’t know. I think it sounds good though!

  • Kristen

    I think Rachel is my soul sister. I thought yesterdays post made me feel so much better about me but this one? This is the kind of stuff its hard to articulate and you’ve done a wonderful job. Because I agree that it IS an accomplishment. Every argument where you stick up for yourself AND for the relationship you want with your partner, every time you don’t walk away because you don’t like what your partner has to say or every time you – you get the picture. These are absolutely accomplishments in my mind. Every growing up step you take with eyes wide open to better yourself and your life, is an accomplishment. So thank you Rachel, for saying so concisely what it would have taken me paragraphs to convey – relationships are work, just like careers and babies and family – but the rewards you reap – that’s the real accomplishment. The joy.

  • KB

    Word. I totally think that the engagement-as-accomplishment is reflected in how we view other people’s celebrations of milestones. As in, people need to stop looking at one person’s accomplishments as a reflection on their own lives and tend to their own business – an engagement may be an accomplishment to me, it doesn’t say anything about you or your timeline or your values or WHATEVER. In fact, it has everything to do with me and nothing to do with you (unless the “you” is your partner). I think that deep breath might be the key to getting people to chill the eff out on the judging thing.

    • Class of 1980

      “As in, people need to stop looking at one person’s accomplishments as a reflection on their own lives and tend to their own business – an engagement may be an accomplishment to me, it doesn’t say anything about you or your timeline or your values or WHATEVER.”

      AMEN.

      Plus, there is value in feeling twinges of jealousy – it wakes you up to what you really want in life. If you don’t know, you won’t seek it.

      And if you look at the person and heave a sigh of relief that you aren’t in their position, that is valuable knowledge about what you don’t want. ;)

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

        “Plus, there is value in feeling twinges of jealousy – it wakes you up to what you really want in life. If you don’t know, you won’t seek it.

        And if you look at the person and heave a sigh of relief that you aren’t in their position, that is valuable knowledge about what you don’t want. ;)”

        This is really good. Thanks. (And yes, I am totally behind and am catching up on my reading…)

    • http://www.thehousealwayswinsblog.com Rachel Wilkerson

      “People need to stop looking at one person’s accomplishments as a reflection on their own lives and tend to their own business – an engagement may be an accomplishment to me, it doesn’t say anything about you or your timeline or your values or WHATEVER.”

      This might be the most important advice to surviving life in your 20s and 30s that I have ever read.

  • Daynya

    I love this. It IS an accomplishment to have a relationship that you have nurtured, and protected, and worked your ass off to build up, blossom into something more. I know that we spent lots of time in counseling, and digging into really deep issues, and working on communication, and it’s harder than I’ve ever worked (or been willing to work) at a relationship before. It was hard work, but we were committed, so we rolled up our sleeves, and worked towards a goal (NOT of getting engaged/married, but of making our relationship a happier and healthier home). I think the notion of it being an accomplishment can, in some contexts, come across as antiquated, and as women sitting around just waiting for a ring. But that’s not the kind of accomplishment I see it as. It’s one that I’m proud of, and that I want to share with everyone in my life, because it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever worked towards creating.

  • http://misshappnstance.wordpress.com Miss Happ

    It is funny – the phrase “Marriage is work” is so bandied about, but an engagement is not an accomplishment? What, the entire relationship leading up to marriage is just play? I guess that goes hand in hand with the societal notion that pre-marital relationships are not “real” relationships, which is really (as has been discussed here), such crap. I love that this site takes the time to explore and think about these ideas and turn them on their heads.

    • Pippa

      This is slightly tangential, but your comment makes me think of anniversaries, and the problem I have with their definition.
      Wedding anniversaries are celebrated (as they should be due to the inherent accomplishment that’s involved in working to continue the relationship), and the value of the relationship is in a way proprotional to its length. But I am not okay with the fact that society dictates that relationships are classified according to the length of the *marriage*.
      My FH and I will be getting married after having been together for seven years, and will instantly end up back at year dot. On face value, a couple that has been married for three years (even if only together for 4) will be worthy of higher praise than our fledgling ‘newly-wed’ status, despite the fact that the last seven years of our relationship is built on our own sweat and tears and toil and will be worth just as much as the years following the wedding day.
      We are getting married on our anniversary though and I’m seriously considering maintaining our entire relationship length as our legitimate Nth anniversary, and quietly and privately acknowledging the X years we’ve been married. Screw ‘em.

      • Corrie

        I can definitely relate to this. My boyfriend and I have been together nearly 9 years (not yet engaged), which is longer than any/all of our friends have been with their partners, including those who have already been married a few years. The only thing that rubs me the wrong way is that people who are married and talk about celebrating their anniversary are received with congratulations, while if I make mention of celebrating our dating anniversary, I’m met with awkward reactions and sometimes weird looks. I’m not trying to one-up anybody just because we have the longest relationship out of any freinds we know, but it would be nice to at least have some validation about our commitment to each other.

      • Hannah

        Go for it, sister.

      • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

        I love this plan. Please do it. Pretty please?

      • Copper

        I just want to add to the chorus, because that sounds like a great plan. Plus with the way you’ve lined up the dates, it’s very clean math, which is always very satisfying.

        • Pippa

          Wow definitely feeling the love ladies! You’ve just cemented it for me!

          And yes, clean maths is a must :)

      • http://happierheather.com Happier Heather

        Great point. My FH and I have been together four years and will be getting married, most likely, in January. So we’re supposed to reset the counter to 0 once it’s legal? Kind of silly considering we all know people whose entire relationships, including marriage, lasted less than a year!

        Thanks for bringing this up!

  • Chalk

    Your post from yesterday and today are so articulate. Both were great, thought provoking reads! Hope to hear more from you.

    • http://www.thehousealwayswinsblog.com Rachel Wilkerson

      Thank you! I really appreciate that. :)

  • Moe

    For the longest time I used to say that two people making the leap into marriage was a miracle. How amazing is it that two very different people who communicate and think so differently would find the inspiration to make such a profound commitment to one another?

    Yes! It does require a lot of work. I spent a lot of years goofing around, dating around, never really committing or becoming too invested in a relationship. That was play. But meeting my now husband, letting him into my life, my family and allowing myself to become vulnerable, that is not easy at all. It took me a long time just to get to the point where I wanted to allow someone into my darkest moments and my crazy family dysfunction. It required some time in therapy. It demanded that I make room for someone in my life. All these things before I even met him, there was no guarantee he would come along! It was a big risk!

    If all these things are not worthy of celebration and/or acknowledgement I don’t know what is!

    I would suggest that those who dismiss the signifcance of an engagement are those who are not willing or ready to invest the work that is required in relationship.

  • Laura

    Hm. I kind of see both sides here. Because, upon reflection, I feel the same chagrin (if you will) when I see a Facebook post about someone’s engagment or their brand new shiny fancy well-compensated illustrious job (or, really, just any job where you aren’t financially undervalued). So, you know, green monsters and whatnot. It’s all accomplishments/milestones/whateveryouwanttocallit that I haven’t yet attained.

    Meanwhile, are there people who truly believe that others’ relationships are fairytales? Like, in real life? I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a close-up of someone’s sparkling left hand and thought, well, that must have been easy. Usually it’s more like, whoa, best of luck with that.

    Cynical? Perhaps.

    But, on the other hand, I totally agree that humans do lots of other stuff (see enviable job above) that merits more acknowledgement/celebration/Facebook statuses (stati?) than it probably gets. Getting engaged shouldn’t be expected to be the pinnacle of your life accomplishments (although, if it in fact is, that’s fine too). Isn’t it, after all, just a means to an end (I mean marriage, not jewelry or parties)?

  • Copper

    I think the instinct to diminish the accomplishment of it (because I agree, it is an accomplishment! A lot of work goes into relationships), is a reaction against people who make us feel like getting married is the only accomplishment that matters. Suddenly when you’re engaged, everyone acts like this is THE most important thing you’ve ever done. And it is super important, but there are other things that are equally important. I mean, my dad didn’t even come to my college graduation. Nobody’s celebrating the fact that I’m going to therapy to get past all the crap I grew up with (and honestly, if I were to rank accomplishments, I’d put that one at the top of the list, no joke). Nobody celebrates when a project I worked on wins an award. So for me at least, feeling uncomfortable accepting congratulations for a relationship status is a result of a feeling of emphasis placed on that above my professional accomplishments, and even above my mental health. So I agree with many of the ladies above when they say that other things need to be celebrated as well, and then maybe we’d feel a bit more comfortable celebrating our relationships.

    • Pippa

      Congratulations to you on being brave enough to talk to a professional, for being wise enough to acknowledge that you need help and for being hardworking enough to get something out of your therapy! It’s not easy so good on you :)

      • Copper

        Thank you.

      • Hannah

        I like you, Pippa.

        • Pippa

          :)

    • Adi

      I was in a partial hospitalization program for a few months four years ago. It remains the HARDEST and MOST IMPORTANT work I’ve ever done. Not a single person outside the program congratulated me when I “graduated”, mostly (I think) because they believed it was an embarrassing thing, to be in a mental health program and didn’t want to call attention to it. Me? I tell everyone. I am so incredibly proud of myself for getting better, and I credit it with saving my life. If ever I deserved a party, it was then. But I think, unless you’ve been through it, it’s hard to see that. So this is me, throwing you a little comment party. GOOD FOR YOU.

      • Copper

        Thank you. And good on YOU, for getting through your own stuff. Mental health is a hard thing for a lot of people to talk about. Either they don’t understand, or it frankly causes them to think about their own stuff that they’d rather keep buried.

        • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

          I want to give everyone in this mini-thread a hug. *Yay you*

      • http://happierheather.com Happier Heather

        Congratulations! That IS an accomplishment worthy of celebration!

  • Amy March

    This raises in me all sorts of thoughts on meg’s comment (sorry if I’m mis-remembering you) that she doesn’t like to thank luck for professional success, because it suggests to other people that they need luck to succede and that’s not as easy to do for yourself as hard work. Because I feel like I am working hard to find someone I want to marry, and to be personally in a state where I’m ready for that commitment, and it isn’t working. So I’d like to believe there’s a bit of luck out there for me!

    • Adi

      My best friend is in the same boat. She’s amazing and willing to work hard, but she hasn’t met anyone worth working with. I’m lucky to have met my husband, but the meeting (online, at a dating site) is as far as the luck goes. Beyond him spotting my profile I don’t consider there to be any more luck. It’s all work from there. But you’re right–you need a spot of luck to meet him, even if your heart and brain take over to recognize he’s what you want right from there.

    • http://www.thehousealwayswinsblog.com Rachel Wilkerson

      On the flip side, I thank luck for a lot of my professional achievements, and for meeting my fiance. I feel like if we don’t give luck credit, it can be easy to beat ourselves up for our perceived failures. (“I’m working SO HARD…why aren’t things working out for me?”) I don’t know what the magic ratio of luck and work is, but I definitely don’t think it’s a good idea to completely disregard either of those things.

  • http://sweetandwildchild.blogspot.com jackie

    Hell YEAH, girl.

    I’ve been kind of down lately because I haven’t been able to get any job in my field because I just graduated in May. I feel a little bit like I’m not doing anything with my life and have nothing to show for all of my hard work in college.

    But! I just got married in July. And even though culture (and so many people in my life) talk about marriage as a “good for you, you decided to get married!” kind of thing, it is an accomplishment. Those 3 years that we were together before the wedding happened were full of deployments and arguments and just day to day shit that we had to wade through and work through to get to the point that we both felt like we were able to marry each other. Getting married took work [the marriage part, not just the wedding part. Though Lord knows that that was work], and I’m going to celebrate the fact that we did it. We CHOSE to put each other first officially, starting on July 13, and that has been and will be work every day. That’s why I have a drink every night :)

  • Adi

    My friend and I who are both happily married to wonderful partners were JUST talking about how we hate when people tell us how “lucky” we are. Um, no. This kickass marriage? I WORKED for this. I scoured dating sites, I sat through awful first dates, I did hard pre-engaged time, I made the choice to make my spouse a priority and give this relationship the nurturing it needed to succeed. He’s not a lucky charm. Nor am I. But we’re hard workers, we’re honest, and we know how to communicate. I consider us lucky to have met on that dating site, but the luck ends there. The relationship is on us.

  • Whitney

    I think the uncomfortableness of celebrating the engagement is while I am celebrating, “Holy crap. I have worked really hard from almost 9 years on this awesome and fulfilling relationship and we are now inviting everyone else to come celebrate with us,” I feel like everyone else is like, “Yay! You finally caught him!” which make me feel icky and unhappy. It taints everything. So I remain curmudgeonly and keep my wedding stuff to myself to keep people from projecting their misogynistic nonsense onto what I’m doing. If we could actually celebrate all the things that the author points out, then I could get behind it.

    • Copper

      ooh, that’s a really good point. When we don’t feel like what we’re celebrating about it and what other people are celebrating about it lines up, that can be really uncomfortable.

  • http://ladybrettashley.wordpress.com lady brett

    i like this, though i don’t quite identify with it, i think it is very true.

    i also think it’s easy to think of getting engaged as no big deal because, obviously, the wedding is the big deal. that’s the story we hear (we might hear in particularly smart places that, actually, the marriage is the big deal, but it’s still not the engagement).

    the engagement was totally a bigger milestone for me. i didn’t realize that until after the wedding. i was grappling with “why don’t i feel any different? why don’t i feel *married*?” i finally realized that, for me, getting engaged was the turning point where i decided, publicly (though more quietly so) and personally, where i wanted this relationship to go. the wedding was just follow-through; lovely, amazing, but not a transformation because i had already done that. only, i didn’t even know to be excited about it at the time.

    • Adi

      That is really interesting! I’d been pseudo-engaged before so the stuff that went along with being engaged (my partner did not propose with a ring either time, both were conversations) I’d been-there-done-that and it ended badly. I think I held my breath for most of our engagement because I felt like it was so tenuous. Once we got married it was such a huge relief that we’d ” walked the walk” instead of just “talking the talk” like I had before. But I definitely see how for you, your decision was the moment, rather than the public display of that decision. And that’s kind of awesome :)

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Of course, different people celebrate in different ways. With 5 days until my wedding, I wish we could celebrate getting married by sleeping in, then scrubbing the bathtub, then baking brownies, rather than with dinner and dancing with 100 people. We’re bookish, quiet people, but we see our wedding as a gift to our communities – perhaps a celebration of what others have done for us, rather than the “accomplishment” of growing our relationship.

    Another harmful cultural narrative we need to counter is that the extroverted way is always the better way.

    • Kess

      Can I just agree with you there on the introvert thing? Because YES.

    • Winny the Elephant

      I agree in that I constantly get teased for enjoying my saturday night by cleaning my apartment, baking, watching movies and snuggling the dog while the extroverts are praised for their nights out ‘having fun’. As if their fun is more fun than my own…

  • Kess

    For me, I don’t feel like my relationship is an achievement. But I’ve always had issues with thinking anything’s an achievement.

    Honestly, I got really, really lucky. I’m so lucky my SO decided to come up and talk to me and then ask me out. I’m so lucky that despite the fact I was terrified about actually revealing myself and my thoughts to anyone, my SO stuck around. I’m so lucky that despite long distance, we’ve stuck together.

    None of it feels like I had to make those hard choices. It was just a given about a week into when we started dating that I was just going to be committed to him. I’m just like that. I rarely find people I truly like, but when I do, I freaking love them and would do anything for them. I guess it was as natural as wanting to eat a peanut butter chocolate pie. It’s a given!

    Of course, it’s probably important to note that I am the queen of ‘external locus of control’. I don’t feel like I personally have done much of anything. I’ve just been in the right place at the right time.

  • Hannah

    Oh, THANK you. This post simultaneously celebrates both the importance I’ve placed upon my relationship and the fact that the relationship did not come about magically. (Both things I’ve struggled with a LOT.) Bless you.

  • http://www.superfantastic.blogs.com Superfantastic

    I’d never really thought of it this way before. Yes, I did work hard to find someone (I HATED being on match.com and all the work it entailed) and we’ve both worked hard on our relationship. We’ve had to learn how to communicate and how to include and even prioritize someone else in our life decisions. We met in our 30s and were very accustomed to not having to consider anyone else’s needs or wants. A big focus of our wedding (next month) is celebrating the love of our family and friends that made us who we are, namely the person the other one wants to marry. But we’ve also had to do some work on our own over the past few years to make the people who met into the people who are now ready to be full partners.

    On the other hand, this also has me thinking of my many years of singleness as an accomplishment. I took care of myself all of those years, while living alone for a lot of them. I took out my own trash, killed the bugs, and paid all the bills for eleven years before we moved in together. And I somehow got through all of that time without becoming too jaded and bitter to be hopeful enough to keep looking. And I never smacked a single person who asked Single Me when she was going to get married already!

    • Kelly

      Thank you for this comment!! Ireally enjoyed this post, so I was surprised by all the disagreement. I read the same as you : that a romantic relationship is one of many many things that takes hard work and is worth celebrating. Just like having a job I love, a degree I worked hard for, those many days of single-ness where I learned to do ME, or having positive relationships with my siblings. I don’t think she was saying one bit that engagement is the only or best accomplishment. Why do we have to stop celebrating just because accomplishments aren’t one-size-fits-all?

      With that said, there is something to be said on marriage as a middle-upper-class beast.

  • Rossana

    I’m so glad this was written here. I guess any woman living in this society that has been in touch with feminist ideas would agree that it is a hard thing to see a relationship as an accomplishment. I guess for me, a child of divorced parents that has had a pretty nomad romantic life getting engaged, embracing commitment and looking at the future with a plan made with someone else is a hell of an accomplishment, and I am grateful for this post because it is something that i haven’t really ask myself before and although I am still pre engaged (but we already set the date for the wedding so I am not sure what this state is called) I feel like i want to be proud of the hard work that i have done to make this relationship work. And it might not be the right thing for many to be in a committed monogamous relationship, but it feels right for me and i want to celebrate that and share it.
    Thanks for this post!

  • http://www.twitter.com/melkrak Mel

    I’ve been thinking about this post all day and I agree that an engagement deserves acknowledgement for all the conversations, milestones and compromises that went into the decision.

    However, after just getting out of a relationship that I put so much work into and brought up so many tough conversations, took a lot of compromises and constantly challenged myself, only to realize that my partner wasn’t willing to put in the same amount of work, or understand what work really means in a relationship – I honestly think my accomplishment will be more in meeting a person the next time around and identifying that they are willing to put in the work than actually putting in the work, which I think I do more naturally.

    • http://charisscottholm.wordpress.com/ Charis

      I think you’re being a little hard on yourself there Mel, it is very hard to identify if someone is going to put in the work, all you can do is try your best given the circumstances and try and make it all work out.

      That’s why I find it kind of problematic to call an engagement an accomplishment, because relationships involve two people and their success is not just down to you. If a relationship then doesn’t work out, have we failed?

      I think it’s an accomplishment to dare to love someone, an accomplishment to try and make it work, and an accomplishment to say you’ve learnt something if it doesn’t work, and an accomplishment to say you still believe in love and want to try and find it again.

      Sorry for kinda hijacking your post!

      • http://www.twitter.com Mel

        I love your third paragraph! I think initiating and handling this break up (which has included some angry phone calls from him) is actually one of my strongest moments / accomplishments. Your reasons are definitely why I identified withs some commenters above who were talking about 1) celebrating all sorts of accomplishments and 2) talking about how luck plays into the whole game. Thanks for your insight!

        • http://www.superfantastic.blogs.com Superfantastic

          Initiating a break up when it needs to happen is definitely an accomplishment. I couldn’t make myself do it in the relationship before this one and stayed far too long in a bad relationship until my ex finally broke it off. I wish I would have been strong enough to do it myself and sooner. You deserve a lot of credit.

  • Melissa

    I don’t think getting married is an accomplishment because what is a divorce? A failure? Like you got into marriage like you got into college or got a job and your divorce is like you dropped out or got fired?
    And what about gay people who can’t get married? Are they not accomplished because they aren’t married? These days, to me anyway, marriage is nothing but a title and a way to save on taxes and health insurance.

    • Melia

      I agree with this. I thought that APW would be above this whole idea of equating engagement/marriage with an accomplishment (and therefore implying that those who have one are the most super accomplished, deserving people of all, and that those who don’t haven’t worked hard enough). As someone who spent a lot of time on the single side of the fence, I felt very offended by this post because it reminded me the rhetoric I heard in my single years. “You aren’t working hard enough,” or “You need to put yourself out there more,” or “Haven’t you tried online dating?” It’s a destructive message to send to people who are single and trying not to be–that their single state is their fault and their inability to sustain a relationship is a result of some deep-seated character flaw. (Are married/engaged women automatically more emotionally healthy than single women? Do they not have their quirks and defects? Are they honestly more deserving of society’s praise?) This post implies that being engaged or married is another achievement a la a college degree or promotion.

      And no, to answer your question, you can’t put “marriage” on your resume as a list of accomplishments. This isn’t the 1950s anymore.

      • Melissa

        Nevermind the fact that nowadays marriage is a luxury that a lot of people can’t afford. It’s fact that wealthier people and those who have attended college are WAY more likely to get married these days than poorer people and those who haven’t, which is a product of a lot of injustices (the male-provider myth, women’s higher educational attainment, long prison sentences for drug possession, etc) and ends up reinforcing income/socioeconomic inequality in a lot of ways.

        • meg

          I’ve written about this, and I think it’s a hugely complicated and important issue to discuss (though APW isn’t necessarily representative of the communities most troubled by this, so discussion here is always going to be a bit more one sided than it probably should be). This is a huge issue in our household, both because of the community in which we grew up, and because of the work my husband does in criminal defense. I don’t know if that’s something we can fully wrap our arms around in comments on a post like this, but it’s certainly an important issue that should be seriously discussed and adressed. It, like all of these issues, is complex. I don’t know that I think suggesting marriage as the way out for people in difficult economic situations is ok either. Marriage is not a cure-all, or a universal good.

      • meg

        It’s a complicated issue, and this certainly is a post that falls into the category of ‘not everyone on staff totally agrees with every post or idea we discuss, but we think it’s important to look at issues in a lot of ways from a lot of angles.’ I wouldn’t have written a post like this, because this isn’t my personal perspective at all. But I do think it’s an interesting perspective, and worthy of calm and rational discussion.

  • CK

    I think it’s bizarre that we expect congratulations for something so personal as a relationship. I know we talk a lot about how marriages are about family, community, socio-political building blocks…but, at the end of the day, the “success” of the relationship comes down to the people in the relationship. I agree that relationships take a ton of work…but isn’t that work we’re ultimately putting in for ourselves, for our own benefit and the benefit of our families? I think there are lots of ways to convey that you’re happy for someone on their engagement — “I’m so excited for you!” or “We can’t wait to celebrate with you!”– without framing it as a major accomplishment in their life. And the fact that the “Congratulations” part is so typically followed with “Let me see the ring!” also means that there is a clear economic expectation with this accomplishment — like, Congratulations! You’re insured into the middle class! Which is probably one reason why the marriage rate is at an all-time low.

    • Dami

      I so agree with you CK. Someone I know told me “a relationship is not an accomplishment, it is a privilege”. PRIVILEGE. Finding someone you are lucky enough to think you want to spend your life with is a good thing. But not everyone gets the same. No matter how hard they try. Relationships are not granted on an even playing field such as education or careers (give or take certain deviations). Going about bandying an engagement as an accomplishment seems, to me, an insult to many people who are good people trying really hard to find a great guy or girl but end up with a-holes e.g. One of my closest friends. I am in a fulfilling rewarding relationship and I can only say what a privilege it is to be dating a feminist to whom I open about everything to. He is my rock but still at that, I do not believe our potential engagement is an accomplishment, it is a privilege that both of us have found each other and want to make that decision to spend our lives together.

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