Indecisiveness in Pre-Engaged Land

That in-between place before the next in-between place

I’ve been thinking a lot about weddings this weekend. Because you see, this weekend was the weekend my little brother was supposed to get married. His wedding was called off, and I am semi-secretly thankful they didn’t go through with it, but it still threw me for a loop. For a good while actually, both of my brothers were engaged. As the only girl and the middle child, this was pretty weird for me. It spurred a lot of comments from friends (“Doesn’t that bother you?”) and relatives (“So when is it your turn? Wouldn’t it be great if you got engaged and then your mother had all of her children getting married at the same exact time!”). But then my older brother’s wedding went off without a hitch, and it was a beautiful sweet ceremony. And two months before their wedding, my younger brother’s fiancé dropped the bomb that she was leaving my brother for another man. On the one hand, it was a relief. I had privately seen how poorly she treated my brother and always thought he deserved a partner that was much more caring, respectful, and good to him. On the other hand, my heart ached for him. They had been together for ten years. It seemed like a surefire thing that they were going to get hitched, problems aside, and most people saw them as a model couple. And then everything came spectacularly crashing down. It made me realize how delicate these things are. No matter how sure a thing seems, you never quite know one hundred percent.

And then there’s me. I’ve been with my dude for five years. There’s been lots of talk about what makes a marriage, what our hypothetical wedding might look like, and couple’s counseling to work on the harder things. And yet we are still very firmly “pre-engaged”—that time when you are pretty much heading towards getting engaged, but are not actually there yet. When people ask me questions about my hypothetical future wedding, I am quick to point out my answers are only possibilities and fleeting thoughts. There’s no real planning going on, and we are definitely not engaged yet. As the new year turned though, I found myself making my yearly goal list and I wondered, should I put “get engaged” on there? That seemed strange to me. It’s not as if I could will it into existence. But then, I remembered I’m turning thirty this year. And my thoughts bounced back and forth between, “It’d be nice to get married at thirty,” and “Age is arbitrary! Don’t let this influence your thought-process!”

So what’s the hold up? Well… me, mostly. And him too, a little, as his ducks are a bit more wily than he’d like, instead of all lined up neat in a row. But it’s mostly me. And that is something that is strange to most people, and I haven’t encountered a lot of people who can relate to it. I feel for those women who are in pre-engaged land because they feel ready, but their partner does not yet. But what about when it’s you who is not ready yet? You see, I’m a Virgo. And I stress anxiously over life decisions for as long as I possibly can get away with. “Should I have crackers with cheese or jam for breakfast?” is a question that gives me more anguish than it should. Deciding on an outfit to wear can make me freak out for a good forty-five minutes if the stress levels are right. And bigger life decisions? They are so difficult for me I’ve been known to drive people crazy with spreadsheets listing various pros and cons that have numerical values assigned to them and tallied.

As somewhat of a self-identified hopeless romantic who has always been giddy about the prospect of sharing my life with a partner whom I truly love, for some strange reason I thought the act of getting married and choosing that partner would be different. That it would be immune to the anxious rules that govern my decision-making skills, even though they especially govern huge decisions that will affect me for the rest of my life. I was a little disappointed when I realized that as we started to seriously consider getting engaged, my thoughts were overrun with the same overanalyzing and anxiety I’ve always experienced. Eventually I had to come to grips with the reality that this wasn’t going to be some magical “you-just-know” moment for me. I don’t work that way. I had a great talk recently with a newly wed friend who is similarly indecisive like me and she wisely told me that for people like us, we can’t hold on to a romanticized hope that our brain will just function differently for this one big decision. And it’s okay to analyze it, try to make sense of it in our minds, and that analyzing does not in any way indicate that you shouldn’t be marrying him. That was a relief to hear because not only had I been thinking about the stress of making such a huge decision, I had been worried that because of the fact I thought about how difficult this decision was, it somehow meant that we shouldn’t actually be getting married. The analyzing only indicates that’s how you work, that’s how you make big decisions, according to my friend. And in the end you should trust yourself and know that you’ve never in your life made a big decision that was flawlessly easy, that you were 100% at rest with. This wasn’t going to be that way either. And that is okay.

Despite my vacillating between being okay with being the “one that’s not ready yet” and freaking out about it, when people find out, they generally seem to treat me like a freak of nature. When they ask if we’re getting hitched soon, and I reply, “Well, I’m not really ready yet.” They will say, “Aw, don’t worry! He’ll come around soon!” To which I reply, “No… I’m the one that’s not ready yet. Me.” And they either get the deer in headlights look, or get flabbergasted and feel the need to point out I’m almost thirty (I know) and that we’ve been together for over five years (I also know). This kind of reaction makes me feel like there’s something wrong with being honest enough with myself that I know I’m still not quite there yet. I know myself and that I need a lot of time to think over the decision and make sure I feel solid about it. I want to head into engagement-land feeling like it was a serious and thoughtful decision on my part (because it is!). Why does that fit so poorly into the normal rhetoric of getting engaged? I wish it was more okay to talk about being the woman in a hetero relationship and not being ready when you’re partner pretty much is. Because I want to talk about it.

In the end, I ended up putting on my goal list for this year “Come to a place where you feel like you can trust yourself to make a good and solid decision about marrying.” And it’s just a goal. It’s okay if it doesn’t happen. And it’s great if it does. Because that is a goal worth working towards.

Photo: Self-portrait from K.’s personal collection

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  • One More Sara

    Such a great post. And I also really really love whenever wily ducks make a surprise appearance.

  • Stephanie

    I totally can relate; you’re not the only female in a hetero relationship to be more analytical than romantic about this decision. I took the leap two weeks ago, and only then did the up-to-the-last-minute internal debate subside.

    As far as people’s comments/questions about your decisions, that will never end. Since saying “I do,” I’ve fielded questions such as, “Where will you two live now?” (pretty normal question) to “Whose bed will you sleep in?” (really?) to “How will you merge finances?” (kinda personal, doncha-think?).

    Your goal of coming to a place where you trust yourself to make this decision is a great one. I think a lot of my angst came from the Ghosts of Bad Decisions Past, and it took a lot of self-talk to accept that I’m a much more well-adjusted human now and really *can* trust myself to make big decisions.

    Best of luck to you!

    • I think the answer to the bed question is “well, yours of course, but ours is more comfy!”

      • Stephanie

        Haha! ;)

  • This could have been written by me, really great to know that there are others like me.We are engaged now but when ever I have said to people that getting married is a big, scary decision they look at me like there is something wrong with me or our relationship.

    APW and the posts on “how do you know” and an older one on Anxiety have been great in helping me normalise my thoughts and discuss them more openly with my now fiance.

    I am so excited to be getting married but I am still anxious and analytical, and it’s nice to hear that thats ok. Thank you xox

  • CarbonGirl

    This was a great post and very relevant. I am already married, but am currently making a BIG life decision. I too agonize and analyze. My mom always says listen to my gut but my gut tells me different things on different days. Ugh! If only it were that easy.

    • Jo

      May I propose a new APW phrase: “guts can be wily too”?
      Because, seriously!

  • carrie

    Thanks for writing this. I don’t relate on the marriage part, but I relate in other life decisions. I hope all of us do. You are not a freak of nature. You are awesome.

  • CAB

    I feel like I can “exactly” entire piece. I was the one who wasn’t emotionally ready – he was the the one getting his ducks in a row. Then one day I was ready and waiting for his ducks to line up and then it happened. And a couple weeks into it, that “readiness” came to a screeching halt and I started worrying/analyinzing/questioning everything!

    That period was one of the hardest in my life but through it all, my fiancee was such a huge support. We dug deep and had hard discussions, and I ended up seeing a therapist for the first time in my life. Do I wish that I hadn’t freaked out? Yes of course, but at the end of it we are so much stronger because of that time.

    I can’t say that since then, I’ve been 100% certain or ready, but I know deep down that he is the man for me. So in 10 days – 10 DAYS! I’m going to walk down that aisle and marry him. I absolutely cannot wait!!!

    • PA

      This. “You just know,” and, “Oh god, what am I doing?” can both be present as you lead up to a huge, huge decision!

      Congrats on your wedding coming up! I hope we get to see pictures!

    • elorrie

      I am also getting married in 10 days! And also freaked out and made my very first visit to a therapist during our engagement, although for different reasons. More along the lines of I can’t handle the pressure of wedding planning + stressful job + family + friends + life in general. We were in the “you just know” camp, but still I think my freaking out brought us closer as well.

      • CAB

        YAY wedding day twins! Congratulations and good luck on your wedding day!!!!

  • This is great! Personally, my partner and I were in the “you just know” camp, and we got married after only being together two years, but I always think it is fantastic how APW explores (and normalizes!) that this is not the ONLY path. Also, wily ducks!!

    Best of luck. :)

  • Kelsey

    “It’d be nice to get married at thirty,” and “Age is arbitrary! Don’t let this influence your thought-process!”
    This. Oy. I feel very similarly. Yes, I KNOW these are weird, arbitrary, social norms making me start thinking “Hmmm, 29 next birthday. Perhaps we should move this pre-engaged thing along a bit.” But.
    I’m a planner by nature and I have these moments where I’m idly calculating, well, if we got engaged at this time, we could be engaged for this long, and that would be nice, because my brain’s still whispering ’30, 30, 30′ And then I try to stop. This is where we are right now. This is where I am right now. Freaking out won’t change it. And if 30 is a good time to get married, I bet 31 could be even better.

    • Taylor B

      I’m banking on 31-only-three-weeks-from-32 being a perfect age to get married! :) We are in the middle of a long engagement, which has included my 31st birthday and I have to say all my worry about age has crystallized: turns out it’s all been about my biology, and my desire to be a biological parent to at least some of my children. My fiance wasn’t ready to become engaged as early as I was, and we got through that (as 29 and most of 30 ticked away before the proposal) and we are happier than ever as our wedding approaches next summer. I’m proud of us for doing this on a schedule that works for both of us. I have had to make peace with the pregnancy worries though, and it turns out, this guy I’m planning to marry is pretty reassuring about that too.

  • LMS

    Yet another APW post that feels like it was written for me. We are in a very similar place – I think we’ve both been feeling “almost there” for about a year, but he’s still trying to wrangle those wily ducks and I am still in over-analysis mode, feeling like I can’t rest until I’ve thought about this decision from every possible angle.

    “As somewhat of a self-identified hopeless romantic who has always been giddy about the prospect of sharing my life with a partner whom I truly love, for some strange reason I thought the act of getting married and choosing that partner would be different. That it would be immune to the anxious rules that govern my decision-making skills, even though they especially govern huge decisions that will affect me for the rest of my life.” — I wish I could exactly this whole paragraph! I don’t know why I thought I would feel less anxious about making what’s probably the biggest decision of my life than I have about making all the smaller decisions that came before, but I did!

    I’ve also had a hard time handling other people’s assumptions that he is the one holding things up. I’m sorry to say I often don’t challenge those assumptions, partly out of sheer cowardice, but also because it feels like people who assume that I must be ready to be engaged would also assume that our relationship is fatally flawed if I admit I’m not quite there yet. I totally agree that we need to normalize the idea that it can take time for women to feel ready too!

  • Keakealani

    I can relate as well. In many ways, I actually feel that we jumped the gun on our engagement – we had this bizarre belief that either our relationship “wasn’t serious” or we had to agree that we were “definitely going to get married”. But, we held off on the planning until both of us normalized the idea.

    But I can definitely agree and empathize with being the female in a hetero relationship who took longer to “be ready for it”. FH was pretty much set in the fact that he wouldn’t date anyone he didn’t see himself marrying; I’m his first and last girlfriend. But I was scared ****less by the idea that we would be making that level of commitment at such a young age (I was 21 when we started dating seriously). But even at 30 or 65 I don’t think it makes sense to pressure one side into loving the idea of marriage, when it really is such a two way street.

    But ultimately, I am glad that there are people out there who take it slow and make a decision after careful analysis. I’m like that, and I know I’ll be able to get there eventually… just not until I’ve finished my lists and spreadsheets!

  • While my husband and I definitely fall into the category of “we just knew”, I really relate to the idea of being frightened into thinking something is wrong with your relationship because you aren’t floating on a cloud of bliss through all of these huge decisions. Every time I experienced doubt, fear, frustration or indecisiveness with C after we got engaged, I was scared to tell anyone because I thought something was wrong with me, or that it meant that C and I weren’t really meant for each other and that the wedding was a mistake.
    I guess I had thought that being engaged would take all of that away, and when it didn’t, i was really confused. But then we got married, and while I didn’t expect anything to change then, it totally did. It just felt like this big affirmation of our decision to be a team, and suddenly I was allowed to be scared and indecisive again, without it being a threat to our relationship.
    I’m not saying that anyone who is experiencing doubt or fear should just get married, but I am saying that if you are working through those things, you might get the big charge of joy and affirmation that you wanted to accompany your engagement as you begin your marriage instead.

    • Kristy

      Yes! Right before I got married I had so much anxiety and fear. It was never that I thought I was doing the wrong thing, and I was totally sure about him, but the whole thing was freaking scary. Major life transitions, fear of failing, worrying that I would change or he would change or someday he might not like me anymore…

      My friend gave me the book “The Conscious Bride” which is awesome and should be required reading. It gives a voice to everyone who ever thought, “OMG this is scary!”

      Once you cross into engagement, the world only allows for super-happy-ecstatic, which I was – but there was a shadow side of it too, which included fear. Every time I said, “OMG this is such a big scary thing,” someone would respond with, “if you’re not sure, you don’t have to marry him.” That wasn’t the point, the point was, this is scary and a big deal! And those scary big deals should be thought through, even when, like us, we knew two months in that we’d get married. We “just knew,” but that didn’t make it less scary a year later when we were crossing into engaged.

      Good luck with all of it!

      • k.


        This is the K. from the post, by the way. In the months since I’ve written this I have come to a peaceful place where I feel ready, or at least as ready as I can feel knowing myself. The three things that helped me chug along to this point were:
        1. Communication with my partner. Obviously the most important. Honest communication, unfaltering support, and lots of nights of just listening to me say “I don’t know!”over & over were key. I know it hasn’t been easy for him, but talking about my doubts & anxiety was so crucial to the process.
        2. The couples counseling. Having a nuetral third party that wasn’t as invested in my relationship as anyone who knew me tell me that doubts are normal & helping me dissect them & their potential meanings really helped.
        3. Sheryl paul. Seriously. Both her book and her recent articles on huffpo were like a lightbulb for me. Just because I have anxiety doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get married! Phew! I highly recommend her writing.

        And ps – I just turned thirty and am still not engaged, and it’s surprisingly totally cool. We are almost there. We picked out a ring & are getting it custom made & I still have moments where the enormity of it all makes me kind of feel like barfing, but most of the time I am so so excited. And I’m really glad we waited until it felt RIGHT.

        • Congrats K! I’m so happy that you’re in a place where you feel comfortable and happy. I definitely support the couple’s counseling as a way to properly identify anxiety.Also, being involved in the engagement process (like doing it together instead of the big surprise thing) is a great way to combat anxiety – it helped me so much!

    • I felt so guilty when I had my moments of frustration with wedding planning, again like something was wrong with me. Turns out I just really hate wedding planning, even though I love other people’s planned weddings. But everytime someone would ask me a wedding related question and I’d get a nauseaus feeling the only conclusion I could reach at the time was “OMG what’s wrong with me? am I not sure?” Later on I figured out that how excited I’d get when people asked about how I was feeling about being married meant that no, it was just the wedding business that was the problem.


    I feel the same way as you. My now fiancé and I have been together for almost 6 1/2 years, and I felt like an absolute deer in the headlights when it came to making things official. It’s not that I don’t love him, don’t envision myself growing old with him, etc – I just wasn’t ready, and the pressure from EVERYONE around us made me want to throw my hands up in the air and cry. The fact that I, being the woman, wasn’t begging to walk down the aisle really made me feel inferior.

    We did decide that this year would be “the year” – and I agreed, since I knew in my heart of hearts I was just incredibly nervous and wanted to feel as prepared as possible. We got engaged in May, and it’s definitely brought us closer together. Making decisions on the wedding planning since then? I’m a wreck. It’s just how some of us work, I suppose…

    • Christina

      I am in this situation except I know I am ready and he is the one who isn’t sure. I know that is the more usual way of things working but it feels really awful. We have been together 5 years, I am 35 he is 30 and its getting to the point where if he doesn’t ask me soon it will be too late. I feel like there is a giant black cloud over the whole situation, and this is not how I thought it would be. I really liked the recent post on ultimatums and it was great to see so many people had used them , it helped me feel more normal, but I want to know: if you give an ultimatum how can you ever be sure he isn’t being forced into it? I’m all for giving people enough time to know what they want but how do I stop from taking that personally?

      • Christina

        Sorry Emily – this wasn’t meant to be a reply to your specific comments, but if you have any advice from the other side I’d love to hear it!

      • Alexandra

        More or less, you just have to trust him. Trust that he wouldn’t propose if he didn’t want to, and that he has the guts to reject the ultimatum if that’s not what he wants. And trust that when he does propose, he’s doing so because he thought it through and decided that’s what he wants. Or, you know, be insecurelike me, ask him if he felt forced into it after the fact, and accept his answer. Hopefully the answer is no.

        • Definitely it’s about trust. But you also have to be aware of yourself when giving ultimatums – I took mine back for the exact reason that you’re concerned about, because I felt like I was never going to be secure in the fact that he was marrying me because he wanted to if the proposal came on an ultimatum.

          It comes down to you and your relationship with him, and with yourself.

          • Copper

            also to communication. Go ahead and say, “This is not me trying to push you into marriage, it’s me pushing you into a decision. Which way that decision goes is still up to you.”

      • Sarah

        I basically just got to the point where I said, “You don’t want to get married, and I do. And that’s okay; we’re at an impasse. But someday I won’t be okay with it any more, and I will have to move on.”. It was nice because it wasn’t the yelling and screaming and crying I had done so far, and it was how i really felt. So it wasn’t really an ultimatum, but a statement that he would have to make a decision, like someone else said. His decision was up to him. We are getting married in October!

        • NAH NAH NAH

          I feel you on this, Christina! I’m in the same situation, and it doesn’t help that I have a much older SO and so everyone (including me, most of the time!) thinks that given his age and how long we’ve been dating, he should just know already! I knew 2 months in, and more than 2 years later he still doesn’t, despite deadlines passing and so forth. So even though mostly I think he should just know, this article is probably the first one to explain how he might be slow to know in a way that I can understand. And explain that right now, not knowing he wants me to be his forever person doesn’t mean that he will never feel that way. Understanding things this way might help me stop building resentment, which I’ve been steadily building for the last 6 months; ugh. So I just wanted to say, K., thank you for calming down my crazy, and putting things in a way that I can understand!

  • Corrie

    That last paragraph!

    I am also a club member of the self-identified hopeless romantics who stress anxiously over life decisions for as long as I possibly can get away with, plus all those little insignificant indecisions in between. I have been with my boyfriend for 8.5 years, living together for 4, and have been ready to get married since shortly after we moved in together. Or maybe I should say, I was ready after moving in together and started hoping that he would be too, so I began thinking that an engagement might happen in the near future. Besides thinking that not just I, but our relationship, was ready for marriage, I also had the narrative of, “Omg I’m almost 25 which is mid-twenties, which means that we should get engaged now since we won’t be married until 27, which will give us a year before we start trying for babies so that I can be done having a couple kids by my early 30s, which is what I’ve always planned it might be….”. Whoa. Chill. The freak. Out. Since when has my life ever gone exactly how I’ve planned it to be, not to mention that two people’s life plans are involved here?

    Fast forward a few years – with a few bouts of anxiety that he would never be ready thrown in – to now. At 27 and still pre-engaged, I look back at my periods of anxiety and distress realizing that *I* might have been ready, but our relationship was not. In those couple years, at least one of us had an unstable job, my parents went through a two-year divorce, my dad got prostate cancer (and was cured of it), both my boyfriend’s siblings got married, and we bought a house. I’m secretly kind of glad that my boyfriend was never ready and didn’t propose during that time. Either our family circumstances were not ready to support our marriage, or ours wasn’t, and having to wait has given me time to do my ‘overanalyzing thing’ and come to level of contentedness with where our relationship is at. About 8 months ago, we finally reached a place of discussion where we think our relationship is ready for marriage and have agreed that our savings should be focused on a modest ring and debt-free wedding. My boyfriend still wanted to give a traditional proposal, so he has asked me to be patient, and I finally can be.

    Whether you are the one who thinks you are ready and are waiting on your partner, or whether it’s your partner who is ready first, the most important thing It comes down to is that you “Come to a place where you feel like you can trust yourself to make a good and solid decision about marrying.” Though pre-engagement hasn’t been an easy road for me, I’m glad I had those years to reach a place where I trust that we are making a solid decision and can be patient with where our relationship is headed (even in the face of constant ‘why don’t you get married already!?’ questions from friends and family.)

  • CW

    This was me in a nutshell. My husband and I had been together for 8 years before I was ready to be engaged/married. He was ready after about 6 years, but it took me longer for a few reasons (enter: poor example of what a spouse was from my father, a messed up prior relationship that had me second-guessing men for a long time, and just a general feeling of “not yet”). Of course, once I was ready I wanted to skip the engagement and just be married! The hardest part was the wait during the engagement.

  • p.

    It’s taken me a long time to understand that my decision-making process is very long, but if I wait it out, I will come to a decision. I’m not a “I’ll just know” kind of person. Learning this about myself has been really important because getting engaged wasn’t the only time it has come up. I also didn’t have the expected “this is it!” moment in picking out a wedding dress or our wedding venue, and I didn’t have the “this is it!” moment when buying our first home either. Lately, I’ve been grappling with whether or not to have a child and guess what? I haven’t “just known” about that either.

  • Emily

    At lunch recently, my coworkers were amicably speculating on who was next to be engaged (we’re a small company filled with people in long-term relationships.)

    When they set their sights on me, I smiled and said yes, we would probably get engaged soon. One guy said, “You’re a feminist–why don’t YOU propose?”

    To be honest, I don’t remember my response. I may have gone off into a blind fury about Caitlin Moran and the word “feminist”, but I think I just said, “I might!”

    To be honest, I have considered proposing. That’s why I know I’m not totally ready–imagining pulling the trigger doesn’t feel exactly right yet once I put myself in his shoes. There may be societal reasons to want the man to propose, but until I can actually imagine myself doing the deed, too, I’ve decided to give him some slack.

  • Laura


    There are so mny conflicting inputs into the “do I want to get married?” equation. Social pressures. The instinct to rebel against social pressures. Unbounded love for your partner. Financial instability/wily ducks. Family issues. Family pressure. The instinct to rebel against family pressure. Imaging a long-term future with your partner. Wanting to have kids at some point. Questioning the validity of the institution of marriage itself.

    So, as I said, aargh.

    • Corrie

      I think you summed this up way better than I tried to above. :o) Thanks!

      • Laura

        :) np. i completely empathize with your comment above, too.

  • Lauren

    Like many previous commenters, I fall somewhere in between. We both were sure within a year or so of dating that marriage was the eventual goal. Due partially to a conservative family that doesn’t want us living “in sin”, going to different colleges and his upcoming grad schooling, we wanted to get married soon after his graduation.

    So the wedding itself has always been a done deal. But the details – location, food, dress – have had me second-guessing everything else. For example, I just bought my dress and both my mom and the (wonderful) sales lady were elated; I almost cried with anxiety. That’s been the story of this whole journey: everyone else, including my fiancé, is super pumped and I am terrified. (For reference: I had panic attacks in Target trying to decorate my apartment. So I’m used to needless freakouts).

  • ginger

    I can really relate to this. I have always had difficulty making decisions, especially big ones, but I have found, at least in my own personal case, that when something really is right for you, you will begin to find peace about it. Yes you are going to have doubts and questions and ask “what if”, but that’s okay and good as long as you’re listening to your heart, or gut, or whatever organ usually speaks to you. I often find my brain in an argument with my gut instinct, but guess which one usually turns out to be right in the end? It’s in your brain that the self-doubt and anxiety lives. Try to find some time alone, really alone, where you can begin to sort it all out. Write it down if you have to, make a list or write out your arguments for and against. No one has to see this, by the way, but it really helps me. But most of all, find some time, as much time as you need to really listen to yourself and try to figure out where the conflict comes from. You will feel so much better when you can start to get a handle on it!

    Oh! And almost thirty? What’s the big deal?! I just got married for the first time at 39.

  • What about the anixety that comes after an engagement? While we took our sweet time making sure we were right for each other and in a place where we were both ready to be engaged what I didn’t expect was the sheer amount of stress and anixety that came after we were engaged wondering if I was ready and OMG what did I just do! I still loved him but I think it was my brain trying to process such a huge moment that my anixety self kicked in and went into overdrive. I didn’t sleep for two weeks. Anyone else experience this?

    • Jennie

      Yes, yes, yes! We took almost 8 years to get engaged, and for the first three months of the engagement, I was elated that we were finally there. This week, it feels like it is all crashing down as the over-analyzer in me comes roaring out. I love him and our relationship, but my self doubt is screaming at me: are you actually really ready for this monumental thing? The more I think about it, what I’m coming to see is that what I’m scared of is the idea that getting married will somehow lock our relationship into a static, socially defined arrangement that I’m not sure meshes with our relationship style that is more fluid and changing as we grow as individuals and as partners. But mainly right now, I’m just freaking out.

    • Whitney

      Hey! Me too! I’m an 8 year-er, also. We had talked about marriage and engagement in a general way. I have known for a LONG time if it wasn’t him it wasn’t going to be anyone else. Then he asked me and I had a breakdown. I’m talking crying, not wearing my super awesome ring, calling my mom and sobbing all during our great get away engagement weekend. The pressure was nothing like I have ever experienced and totally unexpected. Add into that that I’m a bit of a feminist with an independent streak… total freak out.

      The worst part is I totally freaked out my love, and it wasn’t even about him. It was about expectation of how you’re suppose to act and feel, suddenly becoming public space and property, what does the word “wife” mean, etc. But guess what. That fella of mine stepped up and met me at were I was AGAIN like he has done for the past 8 years. He listened to my fears and reassured me for the millionth time that this is about us and we decide what our relationship will look like and how we let people in.

      I would say it’s not the fears, it’s how the couple handles those fears together that lets you know if you’re doing the right thing. You can’t let anxiety rule you. Gotta use the data you’ve gather of the course of your relationship! Heck, we don’t even go to restaurants these days unless there are 15 good reviews on Yelp. :)

      Despite the fact that I have a really great partner who helps me work through my over-analysis, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who experienced this.

      • Corrie

        Can I just say how much I love all you 8+ year (or even 6+ year) dating people coming out of the woodwork? It’s giving me the warm-and-fuzzies. I thought I was the only one!

    • JenMcC

      Oh yes! I had a full on panic attack the day after we got engaged. And I had helped pick out the ring, so even though the moment of the engagement was a surprise, the fact that it happened wasn’t. But I just got so overwhelmed by what a huge decision it is and what a massive life-change it’s indicative of. I don’t do well with big changes – ever, even good ones, and my wonderful fiance was wise enough to point that out to me. He reminded me that going into serious anxiety mode and over-analyzing everything is my PROCESS. It’s just what I do. So I remind myself of that and feel better.

      I think I also worried/worry that being married will somehow turn our relationship into this static thing. So I also remind myself that our marriage is what we make it, and I don’t have to suddenly become a housewife or anything else I don’t want to be. That our marriage won’t be my parents’ marriage (which while it’s worked well for them, is not something I want to repeat) or his parents’ marriage or anyone else’s.

      It’s also helped me to remember that feelings are just feelings, and they change. And it’s okay to feel whatever I feel, and that it’s also important to acknowledge that, like a baby who cries one minute and then laughs the next, feelings are in a state of constant flux. And that’s okay, and everything I feel is okay. In fact, it’s all useful – because it all has something to teach me, if I’m open to it, instead of holding myself in judgment (which never helps anything).

      • I am so glad I am not alone. Thank you for making me feel it’s ok that I effing freaked out and broke down. I don’t know if it was the self-doubt or the over analyzer in me or the feeling that my independence is gone forever (which is totally untrue) but I felt the world was closing in on me and yet the most perfect partner was right in front of me and still loved me as I was freaking out. Thanks ladies, y’all rock.

  • “Eventually I had to come to grips with the reality that this wasn’t going to be some magical “you-just-know” moment for me.”

    Yup. This. Confession: I have only seen a shrink once in my lifetime, and it was during the 3 months prior to my official engagement.

    I totally felt lost, afraid I was making the wrong decision, no matter what decision I made. I wanted to “know”. I remember talking to said shrink and telling her about my parents’ “we just knew” revelation, and Ms. Shrink asked me an interesting question:

    “Well, how old were your mother and father when this happened?”
    “Uh, about 20.”
    “And how old are you?”
    “So, don’t you think that as a 30 year old woman, who’s lived on her own, made big life decisions on her own, and dated others that your brain might experience this decision DIFFERENTLY than someone who’s experiencing love at 20? Perhaps you have a greater sense of perspective, a tighter grip on your personal priorities, and/or your brain is simply moved out of its adolescent development and into adulthood?”


    Not to say that there aren’t 30-somethings who experience the “we just knew” moment. But that notion certainly was food for thought. I certainly did think about my relationships very differently at 20 than I do now. It was strange to feel ready and not ready all at the same time. Ultimately, my question was always: how can I be SURE this is gonna work out? And the answer that came back (and ultimately, was first vocalized to me by my own mother) was that I Didn’t Get To Know. Not for sure, anyhow. I had to choose to take a leap of faith. Faith in myself, my emotional intelligence and decision-making skills, in my partner, in our relationship. And that leap? Turns out that’s what makes my marriage special and wonderful and beautiful.

    • JenMcC

      Yes! To all of this! But particularly the part about not getting to know and it being a leap of faith, and that leap being part of what makes the marriage special and wonderful and beautiful.

  • Yes! I’m another indecisive one (and a Virgo) who took quite a bit longer to be ready than my partner did. (We have some wily ducks too.) And as someone with a generalized anxiety disorder and a panic disorder, I can say that I didn’t fall in to the “just knew” category. There was a lot of over-analyzing and panicking and crying that went into that process. The process of planning a wedding has been no walk in the park either. I’m not quite the spreadsheet type- more the scribble all over a notebook type (my FH has found quite a few of my elaborate pro-con lists). I hope that you achieve your goal this year and wish you all the best!

  • Katrina

    I can definitely relate to over-analyzing every move pertaining to marriage! As a Libra, I constantly weigh options and take forever on decisions. Oddly enough, when I was ready for my husband to propose, he was actually ready to do so, but was scared to because “the ring wasn’t sized.” He had the ring in December, when I accidentally found it during a trip to the airport, but I didn’t dare open it and just hoped and prayed he would pop the question at random romantic instances that kept on appearing, but nothing happened!

    Just to clarify, I’m also one of those people who can’t keep things to myself. If something is bothering me, then I HAVE to speak up or else it will eat me alive! So one night in February, I was on the phone with my honey (he’s a soldier, and was stationed in Texas), and we had an argument, which involved me going into physical shock and overall freaking out. Finally I said it, “Were you going to propose to me in December?” Silence. “…Yes.” My mind was reeling. “Why didn’t you?” I asked. “I…I didn’t have the ring sized.” “Honey, you know I don’t care about those things.” I sighed, “….I wish you were here.” I heard him take a breath, “I know, I wish I was there, too, and sitting next to you but…Katrina, will you be my wife and stay with me for the rest of your life?” I didn’t even take a thought, “Of course I will!”

    Now let’s go forward in time to last week, when I was having a breakdown with my fresh-from-the-oven husband, when I tell him that I’m scared that I forced him into getting married. Regardless of the crap that went down DURING our engagement-which was only a three month period, one month where we were secretly engaged-I didn’t waver on my decision to marry him. He was the one. Sure, he messed up hardcore-he had a relationship with a woman he met in Texas-but we were going to fix it and when we were together nothing else mattered. (I’m certain at this point anyone reading this will say, “Wow, you are seriously dumb, girl. He pulled the wool over your eyes!” But I’m really telling the truth when I say it is all behind us, and I’m learning to trust him more and more each day.)

    It’s only now, now that we have been married for four months, now that we are settling into a life together, that I’m scared I will run HIM off and create insane reveries in my head about how he was never happy and was forced into something he wasn’t ready for. All it took was for me to talk to him about it, and to get reassurance from him that our relationship isn’t go south like I imagine in my mind. He understands how stressed I get over things, and we’re planning our “big wedding” right now, since all we had was a small civil ceremony with our closest family and friends, and he’s watching me pull all of my hair out over a tight budget, which then transfers into fears and trepidation that I’ve created in my head.

    I guess basically my main point to this novella is that communication with your spouse is all that matters when it comes to these fears. Everyone wants to give advice, but at the end of the day, you’re snuggling up to your honey, not all of those people who told you what to do all day. He/She is going to be the one who will help you clean up the mess of anxieties, and sometimes they seem to know you better than yourself. On top of that, it’s okay to be scared and anxious about huge life-changing decisions. If you weren’t scared, then you wouldn’t know how strong you truly are whenever you take those fears head on, knowing someone special has your back.

  • JenMcC

    THIS! Exactly this! Thank you so very much for writing this post because I am so much like you in this regard, and I was totally freaked out that I didn’t have a Moment of Knowing with my fiance. I too am an anxious, stress-filled decision maker, and I have always been that way. But I too thought that figuring out the right person to marry would somehow be different.

    And really? It’s partially because that’s what everything told me! I look around at the social and cultural narratives I’ve been brought up with and surrounded by, and it’s no surprise I felt there would be some magic moment of angel choruses or the firmament opening up and touching us with a god-finger-style ray of light. It’s what we’re shown over and over again in movies, on TV, through the stories people tell. So when none of that happened as my fiance and I got more serious and started talking about engagement, I kind of freaked out.

    Not about how much I love him or how great we are together, but I just worried… because it’s a big decision and a huge life change, and that’s what I do in the face of big, life-changing decisions: I worry. But I felt like it meant something was wrong. Because wasn’t I just supposed to *know*? And if I didn’t Just Know, then was it not right and I just couldn’t see yet where it was not right? It never occurred to me that, as your wise friend said, “The analyzing only indicates that’s how you work, that’s how you make big decisions.” In fact, it took a wise friend of my own pointing out to me that I had approached every single decision in my life in this fashion, and why should I expect this major decision to be any different? Of course I’d worry and analyze it to death! And no, that didn’t say anything about whether or not my fiance and I were meant to be together!

    And that was critical for me to hear. Which is why I’m so glad you’ve written this post and why I’m so grateful that Meg has created this space for all the different, totally valid narratives we experience. I felt alone and strange and wrong because I felt differently than how I thought I should feel, and how friends and family told me I should feel (which… was so not cool). I needed to hear that I wasn’t strange or wrong, that I was just me, and being me and experiencing this big life change in my own way was just as legitimate as anything else.

    Now that I am engaged, I’m very vocal about how the transition was challenging for me. How I kind of freaked out when my fiance proposed (my first response was “Oh fuck!”). Friends and family have asked me why I don’t just gloss over those things, which is infuriating – because it’s important to share the truth of our experiences, because I would have been a lot less freaked out if I’d known it was normal not to have some kind of rom-com reaction to everything.

    So I appreciate your honesty and the bravery it takes to speak your truth and to do things in your own way. You are making it more okay to talk about, and that’s awesome – because I want to talk about it too.

  • Moe

    “Come to a place where you feel like you can trust yourself to make a good and solid decision about marrying.”

    Trusting yourself is not always an easy thing to arrive at, for me it wasn’t anyways. I think it’s really common for women (and I’ve wondered if girls are conditioned to be this way) to not trust their gut/intuition whatever you want to call it.

    As far as being sure about marriage, I don’t know if there is such a place. Maybe some people are looking for a guarantee of longevity or success in their marriages before they are willing to take the leap. Most certainly there are factors that point towards compatibilty, but even these are not enough to hold two people together over the long haul.

    Great love requires great risk.

    This is how I’ve come to see things: I can say with absolute certainty that I will disappoint my husband in some way. I know beyond any shadow of doubt that at some point he will hurt me or let me down too. It will happen. There will be difficult times. I know this.

    Yet, I have come to the decision that despite any hurt or disappointment I will suffer I am “all in”. I am committed to ride this out to the end no matter what.

  • Kate

    “So what’s the hold up? Well… me, mostly. And him too, a little, as his ducks are a bit more wily than he’d like, instead of all lined up neat in a row.”

    THIS. Exactly. We are in a very similar place and he is ready to be engaged and I am…not. And every time he suggests ring shopping I get a little panicky because I want to want to…which is not the same thing as wanting to…

    Thank you for this.

    • Emma

      Can I just say how amazingly comforting these posts all are! I thought that I was the only one.

      Kate, what was the outcome of your situation? You sound just like me.

      For a while now my partner has known he wants to marry me. My indecisive and anxious response is to say “I really want to want to marry you, but I am just not sure how I know that I want to marry you.” Of course, that is incredibly confusing I know, poor guy, but it is entirely true for me.

      Mind you, having read all these posts, I think I am going to give up the you “just know” idea. Perhaps my question “how do I just know” is caused by the world telling me that is what you need before you decide to marry someone. After all, that is the response my married friends give me. But maybe “just knowing” is not for us indecisive and over-analytical people.

  • Caroline

    Thank you so much for this!! We definitly “Just Know” we want to marry eachother but figuring out the when has been hard. We had one point when we announced to my dad we were getting engaged then I went all anxious and backed down and said I wasn’t ready. Although we don’t mind having waited, I’m realizing my freak out was more about that being how I handle making decisions in general, and not a lot or much about my readiness. For ooness sake, I had a huge freak out second guessing my decision to drop a physics class and add a comp science class before the semester started that wouldn’t affect my major. Talk about a low importance decision! No wonder I freake over such a big decision.
    We’re trying to figure out how much we need our wily ducks to be lined up for us to feel comfortable and ready. It is such a helpful reminder that since neither of us do well with change, it’s ok and doesn’t mean we aren’t ready if one or both of us has major anxiety about/after making the decision. Rearranging the furniture causes him severe anxiety, and I second guess every decision. It’s how we operate and we should expect that to be how we operate wrt engagement and marriage.
    Thank you do much for that insight.

  • Rachel

    Exactly. Exactly!

    ‘I stress anxiously over life decisions for as long as I possibly can get away with. “Should I have crackers with cheese or jam for breakfast?” is a question that gives me more anguish than it should. Deciding on an outfit to wear can make me freak out for a good forty-five minutes if the stress levels are right. And bigger life decisions? They are so difficult for me I’ve been known to drive people crazy with spreadsheets listing various pros and cons that have numerical values assigned to them and tallied.’

    I have been known to spend 30 min. in the garden aisle of Target picking out 2 flower pots.
    two. flower. pots. I have made spreadsheets for everything from choosing which college to go to, which apartment to rent, which job to take… to which photobook brand to purchase. I chalk it up to my logic based engineering brain. If I can quantify something, it seems much easier to make a decision based on it. However, at times I get very frustrated with how long it takes me to feel comfortable with a choice.

    Then, when it comes to love and marriage – how do you make a spreadsheet to decide if the man you are dating is the one you want to live, grow and change with for the rest of your life? He was ready to get married after 2 years of dating, it took me 3 more years to get there. Everywhere from 2-5 years into dating I got all sorts of comments suggesting that I was waiting desperately for him to propose. I oscillated between a quick comment suggesting my guy was in fact the one waiting, and just giving a non-committal smile.

    This is all to say that it is so very worth it to wait until you trust your decision. We got married 3 months ago and I was so full of happiness and a peace that comes from knowing you are doing it right. Several people commented after our wedding that the whole thing seemed so sincere. I would like to think that was because both my husband and I knew the gravity of the promises we made that day, and felt ready to make them.

    • Not Sarah

      I think I understand where you’re coming from as I sound quite similar.

      Quite a few years ago now, I made a spreadsheet trying to decide which job offer to take. But really, I ended up fudging the whole weighting and colour coding system to make it say the one my gut was telling me to take was the right one.

      I’m really worried that spreadsheets won’t work in trying to decide whether to marry someone and whether I’m ready to be married :( Buying a condo was at least somewhat easier I think since there were more specific requirements, but it still came down to gut.

      It takes me a long time to feel comfortable with a decision too and that’s often how I make them. Somehow though, I think that the guy I won’t want to make a spreadsheet over is the one that I should marry. But it is totally legit to make spreadsheets verifying whether the marriage tax penalty will affect us. (Not by much, surprisingly!) Maybe when I’m including someone in calculations I’m doing in my spreadsheets that’s a sign? :)

  • Moe

    Also….I forgot to mention in my previous comment:

    I’ve been married one month as of today. Instead of getting engaged I returned home from a weekend getaway in Las Vegas married. It was spontaneous as could be, I got married in my dress from the night before. Our rings were purchased at the souvenir shop on the way to the wedding chapel.

    We made the decision to marry on the spot because it had occured to us that there would never be a perfect time, we may never have enough money and if we were already sure we wanted to be together…why not begin now? He just graduated with his Masters and still hasn’t found full-time work, and I had my own issues with caring for an aging parent.

    It felt as though all of life’s circumstances were pushing us together at a faster rate than what we had anticipated. So now I get the very unusual situation of planning a small family wedding, while being a newlywed at the same time.

    I think there’s a distinction to be made between “worry” (focusing on things that are beyond your control or may never happen) versus giving serious thought (weighing out options, considering consequences)

  • Soraya

    Totally right on!! Loved this post!

    These are the exact feelings I’ve had pretty much forever. I’m engaged now but never actually thought I would get married until he asked me. Even after that I thought maybe we’d just be engaged for a (really long) while. But since we started planning and after reading some posts on this very website I’m actually pretty happy that we’re getting married and all the stuff that comes with it.

    I agonized over it while in the pre-engaged phase, but still had fun with the maybe’s and some of the questions people asked. I have to say though, I’ve never run into people or well meaning friends that really offend me with their questioning (thank goodness!). But this could be because I’m generally easy going about answering personal questions.

    We have been together for nearly 7 years and we’d be together whether married or not (this, me and the guy agree on). In the end I decided why not make it official? Plus the wedding is going to be awesome!

  • Elly

    Oh my goodness. Thank you K. (and APW) for this post…really resonates with me because that’s exactly where I am right now. Just passed the 8-year mark with my boyfriend…our wily ducks could be in a fairly nice row by now, as the last few ducks seem to have straightened themselves out in the last couple of years we’ve been living together, but I’m still scared stiff about making such a giant decision. He’s ready, probably more than ready, and is getting impatient that we have a great relationship and life together but I’m still dragging my feet on when/if I’ll be able to commit to actually marrying him.

    I do overthink things and make a big deal out of much smaller decisions, which is contributing to my giant indecision. Also, my parents’ divorce a few years ago after a nearly 30-year marriage completely threw off everything that I’d assumed about my own relationship and how easy it might be to decide to ever get married, much less to decide to marry a specific person. Do I even believe in the institution of marriage anymore? Do I think it’s even possible for a marriage to last “till death do us part”? Do I think I’m capable of having that kind of relationship? And even if so, how in the world would I know that the person I’m with is the right person, or at least one of the people in the world that I could have that sort of lasting relationship with? I’ve been coming to more terms with these questions over the last few years, but it’s still hard.

    “And it’s okay to analyze it, try to make sense of it in our minds, and that analyzing does not in any way indicate that you shouldn’t be marrying him. That was a relief to hear because not only had I been thinking about the stress of making such a huge decision, I had been worried that because of the fact I thought about how difficult this decision was, it somehow meant that we shouldn’t actually be getting married.” — THIS is so helpful to me. Removing how difficult the decision is to make from the mental tally on either side of the decision. Just because it isn’t easy doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t right…

    Thanks again, APW, for normalizing so many parts of how people go through their relationship journeys.

  • hope

    I was definitely the unsure, stalling one in the relationship. Say, about 2 years. I never really struck me as strange to be the woman who wasn’t ready, but it usually is the other way around I suppose! It took me breaking up with him 3 times, and the final one to feel like I had really ruined the relationship and lost him for me to be able to know, “YES. This is the person for me.” Also, traveling to a place where I felt very good (my old college town) and getting out of my everday scene helped me find enough clarity to hear that little voice (I am also a tedious decision-maker).

    Now that I have been married for a year, I look at my seriously-dating friends and think, “Just do it! It’s so easy!” except that it took me 4 years to be ready. I don’t understand the “readiness” dilemma, even though I lived it. Now I’m wrestling with the “readiness” dilemma about having children—it’s never fun waiting, but that’s a definite part of life!

  • Sarah

    This weekend was supposed to be my brother’s wedding as well. Instead, his ex moved out to her new place this weekend. I liked her for him, though they clearly had their issues. They met shortly before I met my now-husband of one year. It has been strange trying to console him and advise him when I fell so squarely in the “knew it in my bones” camp. I know that not having that certainty doesn’t mean that you aren’t in love, and it’s nice to see that reinforced by your story and the commenters. Hopefully both of our brothers will find someone special again.

  • Sarah T

    I was also the one who couldn’t decide if I was ready to get married. We were together for five years and living together for all of that time and I still couldn’t make up my mind. Our engagement was a complete surprise for me, not because my guy was particularly good at keeping secrets (he told me a month ahead of time to reserve a certain date for a “surprise activity”), but because I couldn’t wrap my mind around getting engaged. When the idea “is he planning on proposing?” came across my mind, I quickly dismissed it because I didn’t want to think about making that decision. Then he did propose (the surprise activity) and I knew my answer had to be yes. It was only then, already engaged, that I began seriously thinking about whether I was ready to get married and wanted to marry him. I’m not sure if there was ever a point when I was 100.00% sure, but now I am. Being married to my guy, the greatest guy in the world, is definitely the best decision I ever made. Even if I don’t know when I made it.

  • Thank you for this post. I feel the exact same way. I do think I am ready to get married now, but it was not just some magical falling into place like I always thought it would be. It is a serious decision and it needs some critical thought to make. :)

  • Ellen

    I feel exactly the same way and I’m so glad to see so many others who do too! I’m a planner, a analyzer, and a worrier. It is who I am and I really appreciate being reminded that the fact that I’m the same way about my relationship doesn’t mean it isn’t right.

  • Joanna

    I teared up reading this. Aside from the age/length of the relationship, I could’ve written this post myself. I’m a Virgo too, and over analyze EVERYTHING. A lot of people around me have thrown the “you just know” line at me, and it has been making me go insane. I DON’T “just know.” I have been choosing my boyfriend every day for the past almost 3 years, and I’m pretty sure I’ll continue to choose him for the next 50, but I have flip-flopped on deciding whether or not I’ve been ready, driving my poor guy insane. I’ve given him the final go ahead, and I know a proposal is coming after mid-December (waiting on a big decision on his part). Change and big life decisions makes me nervous as hell, but throughout it all I’m still with him, still happy with him, and I think that’s all the signs I need. It kinda sucks I won’t have my big “this is the one!!!” moment, but I never have that moment when it comes to anything else either. I just hate that the typical cultural narrative doesn’t acknowledge that, I did feel for a good while (still slightly do) that I was weird/wrong for not having that feeling.

    Basically, thank you so much for writing this. I can relate and it was so helpful reading about someone going through the same thing.






  • Liz

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

    It’s the jokes he gets about “when are you going to propose?” that are the most awkward, because he’s so good and he refuses to say “when my girlfriend’s not entirely freaked out by it”.

    He’s ready, I’m not. But I realised so that I didn’t muck him about or make a decision – either way – that I deeply regretted, I needed to come to a point where I could trust my decision (my gut also tells me different things on different days). There are days I just think, marry him you twit, he’s the best, but then there are others where a gnawing fear in my stomach eats away at me. So I’ve had counselling and I’ve started to work through some of my issues about my parents difficult marriage and late term divorce, my own fears about how young we are and how surely I should “just know” or he’s not “the one”.

    And I realise, that whilst deeply passionate and romantic, that “just knowing” is not me: I’m an academic, I obsessively analyze things and myself; I resent the pressure but have an overwhelming desire to people please, and somewhere in the midst of everybody else’s expectation and his hopes, I have to find the part of me that can make my decision, and then can make my decision the right decision.

    So here is to misbehaving ducks, and the bravery to face them.

  • abbeybecker

    Thank you for this: “I had been worried that because of the fact I thought about how difficult this decision was, it somehow meant that we shouldn’t actually be getting married.” Exactly what I need to hear.

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  • samehere

    I completely relate to this in every way. It is so hard to be the woman in a long-term relationship (about to turn thirty) who is the hesitant one. Everyone seems to think this spells trouble in the relationship, but when the man is unsure, that’s just normal jitters about hitching himself to one woman forever. It’s really a relief to hear about other women who feel the same way.

  • Deciding

    This is exactly the article I’ve been looking for. Thank you for this! I’m 34, my live-in boyfriend of 3 years asked me a year and a half ago and I wasn’t ready so I didn’t say yes (didn’t say no either). I felt like a freak of nature and have been in therapy ever since but I finally found someone who is in the same boat! I love the part about expecting to make this huge life decision in a split second if you’ve never made any other major decisions so quickly.