Do’s and Don’ts for Friends of the Pre-Engaged

I’m not looking for a “solution” to my pre-engagement.

Do's and Don'ts for Pre-Engaged | A Practical Wedding

At a party the other night, I was standing around with a group of gals and a friend asked for advice. She had just started dating someone and she wanted to know the secret to my happy relationship. I’ve been dating my sweet boyfriend for three years and living together for one, and we’re about as happy as clams in saltwater.

I told her that it’s simple: we have fun together. He makes me laugh. I said our relationship works because we really, really like being together.

At this moment another friend said loudly to the group, “Well it’s not really working out for you guys. After all, you’re not engaged.

Ouch. It stung, but not that badly. After all, I get some version of this comment, this shame-on-you-for-being-unengaged, at least a few times a week. Friends, family, coworkers, even strangers ask, “When are you planning to get married?” all the time. While it’s sweet that people recognize that we’re in love, it’s a one-way conversation. As a pre-engaged girl, I’m expected to keep my mouth shut and smile. If I say anything, be it, “Oh eventually; we’re very happy,” or “We’re planning on it,” or (G-d forbid) “I’d like to get married,” then suddenly I’m pressuring him. The worst thing a pre-engaged girl can do is pressure him.

Frankly, I’m a little tired of all of it. And I know it’s not just me. So for all of us practical pre-engaged, and for my sanity, I write the following.

Dos and Dont’s For Friends of The Pre-Engaged

Don’t: Assume that I’m angry, bitter, jilted, lonely, sad or otherwise suffering. I count my blessings every single morning and night. I’ve found the love of my life and he loves me back. We’re planning our future together and spending as much as our present together as possible. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my whole life. Assuming that I’m upset because I’m not engaged is frustrating, because I can’t convince anyone otherwise. The more I insist that I’m happy, the more people tilt their head with a sad smile and, while rubbing my shoulder, sighing, “Oh don’t worry sweetie, the ring is coming.” It’s as if they think the longer it takes to get engaged, the less he loves me, and the more delusional I am. Be kind to the pre-engaged and use this line instead: “I’m so happy to see you like this! You’ve found the person you want to spend your life with. It only gets better from here.”

Do: Please encourage me to talk to my boyfriend about our future and delete the word “pressure” from your conversations about that. Call me new-fashioned, but I believe that as an educated woman in my late-twenties with my own assets, ideas, experience, and opinions, I shouldn’t be waiting on my partner to make one of the biggest decisions of our lives on his own. What if I have expectations about marriage based on my religion, values or traditions? Shouldn’t he know that before he proposes? What if I want to be the one to propose? What if I don’t want to get married? What if I have some debt that I want to pay off before we make it legal? What if he does? I fully believe that if this is someone that I legitimately want to spend the rest of my life with, I should be able to talk to him about anything. Talking about marriage is not “pressuring for a ring.” It is creating a sustainable relationship. I am not a coy, blushing girl waiting for my over-the-top surprise proposal. I’m ballsy and strong and independent. He loves me because I’m opinionated, so why would I hide my opinions about our future? I don’t. Honesty isn’t pressure.

Don’t: Please stop suggesting that I propose to him. Or that I make him a roast chicken. Or that I take him on vacation. Or that I should never have moved in with him. I’m not looking for a “solution” to my pre-engagement. Being pre-engaged is not a “problem.”

Do: If you’re engaged, please talk to me about your relationship, proposal, engagement ring, honeymoon, venue, traditions and veil, and let me ask questions without calling me pathetic or obsessed. Let me talk about whether or not to change my name. Let me ooh and ahh over your engagement ring and gush over your details. Let me ask you questions like, “Why did you/didn’t you do this/that?” Let me enjoy this blissful state where I can imagine that eloping to Paris is an option for us. Help me figure out what’s important to me before I have to actually make these decisions. Why not? If you want to talk about your wedding, chat away. I can listen to you talk about wedding details for hours, because I know that your experience will make my life easier down the road. But please, under no circumstances imply that I’m jealous. It’s not a competition.

Don’t: Please don’t apologize and look at me sympathetically when news of someone else’s engagement reaches me. There aren’t a finite amount of engagements and this girl hasn’t “stolen” mine from me. Seriously. Let me be happy for that couple without looking at me as if “thou protest too much.”

Do: Last of all, please be nice to my boyfriend. Tell my mom how well he treats me. Tell me how much you like him. Treat him like a grown-up. He doesn’t need or want you to make “excuses” for him. He hasn’t done anything wrong. He doesn’t need to hear that people think he has commitment issues, doesn’t love me, can’t afford a ring, isn’t mature enough, or “is just not that into” me. What he wants is for me to be happy. That’s why he’s the one for me.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “Freud said he didn’t know what women wanted, but I do. They want a whole lot of people to talk to. What do men want? They want a lot of pals, and they wish that people wouldn’t get so mad at them.” This pretty much sums it up. Talk to me and let me talk about my future. Encourage me to talk to my boyfriend. Be nice to him. And then relax and look forward to one big-ass hug on my wedding day.

Photo of Sarah, from her personal collection


Staff Picks

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • Corrie

    THIS is one of my favorite posts! And one of the ones that got me officially hooked on APW. Thanks for re-running it! It brightened my day. – Pre-engaged Person.

  • Meagan

    Wow, I just clicked the link to that chicken article and read the comments on it as well. I could barely keep my eyes from rolling into the back of my head. Pretty comical stuff.

    • Corrie

      Not to mention it’s not even that great of a chicken recipe…

      • Anna

        You use most of the herbs as a garnish! What the heck.

        • Hahahahaha- Love it. Criticism of the ‘engagement chicken’ both as an entity, and as a recipe!

      • Right?! It’s a roast chicken. Have these guys never had chicken before? Dear lord, if someone makes them a turkey or tenderloin they’re going to buy out Tiffany’s.

  • Kaitlin

    Is it possible that part of the reason that we’ve created the “problem” of being “pre-engaged” is because we’ve labelled that time in a couple’s life, thus allowing it to be fraught with societal expectations? Or am I alone in thinking that?

    • AS

      I think in this case we are simply giving a name to something that already existed. I’m sure people from ten or twenty years ago before the term “pre-engaged” was being used widely/at all still felt the pressure to be married, already. Maybe even more than they do now.

    • Caroline

      I don’t think so. I know for me, as a person who isn’t engaged, but we’re talking about it A LOT, and wants to be (what we call pre-engaged here), it’s not the label that’s the problem. The real problem (for me) is that people don’t take our relationship seriously, and it doesn’t seem they will until they are engaged. (Um, and worrying that everyone will respond poorly when we get engaged, because the average age for marriage in our social circles and my family of origin is late twenties/early thirties, and we’re definitely early twenties). Which has nothing to do with being “pre-engaged” and labeling it that, since I never use that term outside of internet land, and don’t know anyone who does.

      • Copper

        yeah, I would never use that term publicly to describe my relationship. But when I found it on here, I went, “omg, there’s a name for this! This is a thing, there are a whole bunch of other people like me out there! Oh thank goodness.”

        The label isn’t the problem; the label accurately describes a state of relationship that can be pretty freaking awkward.

    • Maddie

      I really like Meg’s take on it from when we originally ran this post. She said, “I have a complicated history with this term. I think it’s bogus when people try to market to this mostly intangible demographic, but awfully empowering to realize that in this modern world, most of us go through a long period of time when we know a wedding is coming, but we can’t quite be bothered to get engaged yet.”

      For me, I think it’s less about pre-engagement being fraught with societal expectations as it is that the societal expectation is to *get married,* so any prolonged period of time during which that doesn’t happen usually comes under scrutiny. So I see “pre-engaged” as a way to say, “We’re not doing NOTHING, guys. We’re just owning our own timeline.”

      • meg

        AKA, it’s not a real term, you guys. It’s something we use on APW verrrryyyy tongue in cheek, to describe a very real life phase that a large segment of our readership is going through and doesn’t really have words for (and is often shamed for).

        The history of the word on the site is that I stole it from a disgusting marketing email that I was mocking publicly, and sort of re-purposed it in a somewhat ironic way, to try to lessen the shame of that time period.

        So no. It’s not a thing. It’s just a somewhat ironic sendup that APW ended up kind of re-appropriating.

    • Alexandra

      I never even heard of this term until I was already past the point. And truly, I wish I had heard it sooner, I feel like it would have made me feel better to have a definition of my relationship that wasn’t “boyfriend” (Which just brings to mind high school relationships and people you’ve been seeing for only a couple weeks) and wasn’t “married” or “common-law” (Which felt like I was trying to use a term I hadn’t rightly earned yet). Pre-engaged just feels like it was the right label, and half my stress was caused just because I felt we’d evolved past the label we were using.

      Though, my opinion might be impacted because I’d never heard it before coming here. Is this actually a phrase in use outside of APW?

      • Corrie

        The couple times I’ve used the word in face-to-face conversations, the other people have had no idea what I was talking about and I had to explain it to them. I don’t think it’s commonly used outside of APW (or at least wedding related sites).

      • I agree with you. As much as I hate labels in general, it would be nice to have a well-fitting term for a committed adult relationship aside from “boyfriend/girlfriend.” I feel like if a teenager can use the term for serial two-month relationships, then I need something to differentiate the terms. I usually swap between “boyfriend” and “partner.” But when I use partner, I don’t want to detract from same-sex couples who have reached the highest level of commitment and prefer “partner” to “husband” or “wife.”

        This is why labels are frustrating, and my favorite way to refer to my SO is either just that “significant other” or simply, my man.

        • I really struggled with “fiance” because it sounded so fussy to me. I liked and like “partner,” but also felt I might be detracting from lgbt couples using the term. And “boyfriend” didn’t make him happy, because he felt like he was being demoted. I usually resorted to “my dude.”

          • Caroline

            I’m not lgbt, but I actually like the gender-neutrality of “partner.” I think it does away a little bit with the societal straight until proven otherwise thing. People don’t know what gender my partner is until I use a gender pronoun to describe him, and I like that. I think it’s great to have it be a little less given what gender my partner is, and have people not 100% sure. Also, opens up so many questions and conversations and I love deep conversation starters.

          • Claire

            TOTALLY with you Caroline! We’re engaged now but after calling him my partner for the past eight years, I still prefer it over fiancé. We chose ‘partner’ because it’s genderless and not to detract from LGBTI relationships but because we want to support them! (That, and he’s twelve years my senior so he’s never been a ‘boyfriend’ to me). I love using ‘partner’ for it’s genderless connotations and I have had people confused before thinking I was in a lesbian relationship because of the term. I like that because I don’t think people should presume other people’s sexuality! Rant over, I’ll quietly exit now…

  • Anna

    I wish I had come across this post before we got engaged. I know I pressured him but we’ve talked about it and he understands that I was under a lot of pressure in turn from kind of everywhere at once (mutual friends, his mom, my mom – the list goes on). I caved to the pressure and we went through with the whole thing BUT our baby marriage is so far shaping up to be exactly like our relationship before – except now my mother won’t have anything to gripe about at Christmas. :D

  • KTH

    This is a great post, and I always stick with these questions when talking to close friends: “Have you guys talked about getting married?” and “How do you feel? Do YOU feel like you’re ready to get married?”

    I was with my husband for 10 years before we got engaged, so we heard a fair amount of this. I spent a lot of time saying “People get married when they’re ready, there’s no expiration date…”

  • Alexandra

    I’m just in awe that someone, a friend even, would say that line. “Well it’s not really working out for you guys. After all, you’re not engaged.” I’d be speechless. I can’t even think of a good response to that.

    Also, having had a couple of conversations with un-engaged friends in very happy relationships, I’m glad that I haven’t slipped into any of the “Don’ts” on this list. XD Talking about relationships without making people think you’re judging them is harder than I ever anticipated. XD

    • Moe

      I was dumbfounded when I read that too! That’s not a friend. That’s a frenemy.

    • I can’t believe a good friend would say that either! Then again people tend to dumbfound me quite often anymore…

  • Newtie

    Does anyone have any advice for dos and don’ts concerning friends who are not “pre-engaged” but really want to be? I have some friends who know they really want to be married, and ideally they’d like that to happen while they’re young enough to have kids, but they’re not even in relationships, let alone “pre-engaged.” I never know how best to support them — I want to recognize the validity of their desires and I also don’t want to make them feel like “typical silly women” for wanting to be married. It’s tricky, too, because I *am* married, so I worry anything I say or do might actually make them feel worse.

    Any suggestions?

    • From my experience on both sides of this (being the friend in that position and supporting other friends in it), I’d say try to let them do the talking at first! And if they are talking about it, you can always say “How can I support you right now?” Some people want advice or an opinion, while some people want to just vent, and it can be so hurtful if you give advice or even an opinion to someone who wasn’t seeking it. Second, it helped me SO MUCH to explore the motivation behind my timeline and the friends who encouraged me to think about why I wanted the things I wanted and explore the deeper meaning behind stuff were awesome. It also helped that they always emphasized that even if my reasons seemed arbitrary to others, they were still my reasons and that was “good” enough for them to be heard and considered. That kind of support helped me SO much.

    • rys

      I just want to concur with Rachel W. — ask how you can be supportive. It can be listening to venting or giving advice or creating opportunities to meet people or just including them in events/activities. Likewise, a willingness to explore the sense of timelines and a) push on but accept reasons and b) find ways to respond to articulated needs can help. (I think feeling left behind as others (seemingly) march forward is often a challenge, so finding ways to avoid that — which will differ from person to person — is key.) One thing I recommend against is saying that their person is out there but there’s no way to know when they’ll meet. It’s a well-meaning sentiment that, at least to me, is very painful because it emphasizes an unknown waiting period which just feels cruel. And if they want advice, thinking about what specifically could be useful (be it a way of thinking about the situation, a (realistic) means of meeting new people, a habit to cultivate or curb, etc) demonstrates that you’re thinking about them as specific individuals, not a generic issue faced by a bunch of people.

      • LC

        Thank you for this, RYS and Rachel! I’ve been struggling to figure this out, since my older sister is single but would love to be married and having a family. I got engaged earlier this year and I’ve been having a hard time figuring out how to be supportive and sensitive without resorting to generic and unhelpful stuff.

  • Kate

    ‘Being pre-engaged is not a “problem.”’
    LOVE this.

  • KC

    Note: if you actually *know* (not guess/assume/etc., but have had verbal confirmation from previous teary conversations) that a good friend is really deeply frustrated by wanting to be engaged, private sympathetic hugs and tact can be okay upon other peoples’ engagement announcements. (although good luck with the words, yeesh)

    Even though there are not a finite number of engagements to go around, and it really isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be!) a contest, it can still be rough when you want something a lot and it feels like everyone except you is getting it. Friends with infertility have attested to a I’m-really-happy-for-them-and-even-more-sad-for-me-than-I-was-before sort of response to other peoples’ baby announcements, which is possibly similar.

    Kind of like anything, each person will respond to things differently and giving people space to have their emotions, and then supporting them in that, is good?

    (but otherwise, this list is gorgeous and spot-on. and honestly, that bit probably is, too, since 99% of people would be assuming rather than actually being correct and that is just plain maddening.)

    • Taylor B

      You nailed it in that first line. I have never felt so lonely as when my now-fiance’s friends were starting to get to engaged to girls they’d been dating for a year or two, when we had been together three, four, five, years. I can see now, and could kinda see then, that I was partly sad because I was ready to be married, and also oddly worried about what people would think of our relationship since we were taking “so long” to get engaged, when we were the couple who’d been together the longest in this group of friends. (And I knew my partner’s reasons, and they were good reasons. And I did not/do not believe in pushing him into something he truly wasn’t ready for). The trickiest part is that, while I was friendly with these girlfriends/fiancees/now wives, we weren’t close enough for them to really know me and understand the impact their transitions was having on me.

      The first two local married couples have now announced their pregnancies, and we just shipped gifts off to two other college-friend couples expecting babies in the next few weeks. I can feel the same bittersweet cycle starting. I feel good about where my partner and I are, we are stronger and happier than we’ve ever been. But I wish we were getting ready to have children, and knowing that’s still a few years away is tough. And lonely among all these announcements.

      • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

        This is oddly reassuring. I was hanging out with boyfriend’s peeps for the second time this weekend. Apparently one of their friends got engaged the day before. “It’s too mean for us to gossip about who’s next, right?” Because that leads to who’d be last and the single guy who brought it all up doesn’t want to be doomed.

        After getting that explanation, I opted not to volunteer boyfriend for last married. But kinda wanted to. He’s got his reasons. We’ll find a compromise. Or not. Does make me suspect he’ll run into a, “They’ve been dating long enough,” vibe from his friends before I acknowledge one from mine. (Currently I’m firmly ignoring people asking about bells or future plans. Two months out is plenty far for now.)

  • Copper

    oh, an addition to the do’s and don’ts:

    DON’T pressure me for information. If you ask when we’re moving in together, or whether we’ve talked about the next step, or whatever, and I reply “I’m not really ready to talk about that yet.” then let that reply stand. Don’t berate me until you’ve dragged information out of me that I am not ready to go public with yet. At this state there are a lot of conversations and hopes and dreams that are becoming little embryos of plans. But they’re still embryos, and they might not be ready for the world yet.

  • I love this post! Glad to see it brought out again!

    Also, I’m going to start using the phrase “call me new-fashioned” whenever possible.

  • It’s funny all the misconceptions people have about others and their relationships. We got the “didn’t you engaged a little too fast” comments from quite a few people. What works for some may not work for others and vice versa. When it comes to relationships, there are no rules as to how they work.

    My general rule of thumb is follow the other person’s lead. If they are excited about their relationship, I will be excited with them (single, engaged, long term relationship, married, etc). If they are having a hard time, I will listen and offer a shoulder to cry on, etc or if they ask for advise I will try to give them friendly/honest advise. Because really it is their life and not mine to decide how they should feel!

  • Jessica

    Dear Lord, Thank You! This list is amazing. I was just complaining to friends about relatives doing this to me–not even relatives, divorced former relatives who happen to share a relation with me. The very fact that someone I hadn’t seen in 6 years was saying “don’t worry, I’ll talk to him and make sure he asks soon!” after asking when I was getting that ring–that blasted, most meaningful but meaningless symbol–made my head want to explode.

    Why do people set them selves up for putting young not-engaged folks in awkward situations? What good can come of pressuring two people to get engaged and enter a stressful and potentially expensive time in their lives? Marriage doesn’t solve any problem in a relationship, not even getting those people off your back, because then it will be “when are you having kids?” Also, in an age with high divorce rates, why put more pressure on young people to get married? Do you really want to buy me a blender that badly?

    I would also like to air my grievances with the idea of asking a woman in a heterosexual relationship about when the engagement is going to happen. As if, for one moment in life (for the people I’ve talked to) gender roles have magically been switched and I can tell you all about my romantic plan to ask my boyfriend to marry me and you won’t be awkward about it.

    In all, I’ve talked with my partner about marriage, I’ve looked at the type of wedding we would want to have, and it’s just not in the cards right now. Can’t the relations just let me be young, broke, and in love without having to explain why I’m not changing my last name on top of it all?

  • And in the end it is about chemistry between two in a couple and desire in both parts for a relationship in the future- I mean seriousness for that from both of you.

  • E3

    Love it! I am engaged, but we took a lot of flack during our pre-engaged post – to the point where pressures from his family had us on the rocks. Luckily, we had the discussion about how although he was feeling a lot of pressure, it wasn’t coming from me! I was completely happy as-is, and we waited until we were both financially and practically ready.

    Being pre-engaged is not a “problem.” – words to live by, and also applicable to “Not having babies yet (or at all) is not necessarily a problem.”

    • Jenny

      Yes! to your last line –

      I know this is *not* a site about pregnancy/families, but having just struggled through a long “pre-enganged” state (my decision, 100%) and all the engaged madness that ensues when you do decide to get married, I now find that I could write EXACTLY the same post about the do’s and don’ts for your friends who don’t yet have kids. Not kidding, I think we got the kids question almost as soon as we’d walked down the aisle, before our wedding was even over! Argh. In fact, I was sitting and writing through that very set of emotions when I decided to come to APW to get some clarity and remember that we make our own rules.

      Thanks for posting, Maddie. Great to read this post again from a new point of view!

  • Sarah

    I LOVE THIS POST!!! My thoughts exactly as a pre engaged girl herself! Thank you so much for writing this!

  • Marie Laurent

    My response was usually “Iunno, when we feel like it?” And staring at them like they’re crazy if they continue (which expressed my genuine feelings, not “lol make them uncomfortable for asking me”).

    Because really, who cares? It’s just a wedding. We have been living together for two years, together for five, legally there is no difference between right now and when we’re married (as we’re sensible people living in a sensible place, stuff like “what about wills?! or hospital visits!?” is dealt with). We’re engaged now, getting married because whatever, we’re informally married, might as well have a formal wedding since it’s an excuse to celebrate liking each other and spend some time with friends.

    And even if we weren’t so set out, it’s still just a wedding.

    When I told my family we were ‘engaged’ they were happy for me but at the same time said “well yeah.”

    Thankfully I’m young for having a long-term, stable, healthy relationship though. If I were 30 I’d probably get a lot more shit.