Engagements And Proposals, Part I

Many of you have been asking me for months and months to start a conversation about getting engaged. Since we started wedding undergraduates yesterday, it seems fitting to move a step backwards: to the wedding sandbox, if you will.

First, let me say that I think there are two lines of cultural chatter about engagements, and if it is even possible, I think they are more screwed up than our cultural dialogue about weddings. The first is, in short, that a guy has to do something TOTALLY INSANE to wow you, and that the quality of your love and your manliness will be judged by that, and by the size of the rock. Your job in this scenario is to wait patiently (duh), and save your energy for how totally insane YOU will need to go while planning the wedding. Fabulous. The second line of chatter is, very simply, that if you get proposed to by a man, you are not a feminist (excuse me?) let alone practical (whatever that means).

So. Obviously I think both of those lines of thought are (as one of my acting teachers used to dryly put it) maybe-not-so-helpful. What would *my personal* alternative line of thought be? Well, first I’m going to quote recent wedding graduate Cara and say that the first rule of getting engaged should be, “Know thyself and be thyself.” The second rule of getting engaged should be open and clear communication with your partner.

What do I mean by that? Well, let me talk you through how we thought about our engagement. First of all, we had a proposal. By which I mean, David proposed to me. Why? Well, I wanted that to happen. Perhaps I read too many Victorian novels growing up, or perhaps it’s just that we’re both theatre people and we like big moments, but I wanted a proposal, so I told David that. And then we discussed it a little. He ruled out proposing in public (‘makes it look like you’re afraid you can’t close the deal’* he said). I ruled out him picking a ring for me (as if!) So, as discussed, we both got what we wanted. And he didn’t get down on one knee (‘too cliche,*’ he told me, when I offered my review of the performance afterward).

So then it was just timing. And timing is, in many ways, the real meat of the issue. I heard somewhere recently that, “Being pre-engaged sucks, because you’re just waiting on him, and you have no control over the timing.” And I swear to god, my head almost exploded. Because you’re getting married, it’s time to start getting on your-joint-timing, not his-timing or your-timing. And I mean that in a fairly complicated way. To be frank, I was ready to get married before David was ready to get married. I think we both knew from way way back that unless something unexpected happened (like the world exploding), we were probably going to get married. But knowing you want to get married to someone and feeling emotionally ready to get married to someone are two totally different beasts. So what did we do about our timing? Well we handled it the way we handle most of our problems, by which I mean we yelled at each other and then we calmed down and talked it through. During that process, I realized I need to re-adjust a few things in my head, because getting engaged to someone who isn’t ready to be engaged is unwise. So was I waiting? Yeah, sort of. But I wasn’t waiting because he was the guy and I am the girl, and I wasn’t this-is-out-of-my-hands waiting, I was couple waiting… you know, where you sometimes have to slow down a little to let your partner do things at their own speed.

So. What do I have to say to all you that are, achem, pre-engaged? Know thyself and be thyself. Maybe that means saying you want a proposal and knowing you can still be a feminist and want that. Maybe it means you get off your ass already and propose to him (all the best ladies have). Or maybe you say f*ck the proposal and go straight to the engagement (or f*ck the engagement and go straight to the wedding, for that matter.)

And if you haven’t had a heart to heart with your partner about this yet, put down the computer and go do it. Finally, I’d say, if you are feeling out of control of the situation, take a deep breath. Being married is like learning to dance with someone: it’s not about waiting, it’s about timing.

PS Yes, there is more to talk about. Like rings, for example. But I thought that was enough for now.
*I don’t think that, don’t get offended.

Picture: Knottedrush Ring by Bario Neal. They are a sponsor, but I used this picture because it’s one of my all time favorite engagement rings.

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  • This is perfect.

    I've been waiting in pre-engagement limbo for a while – not insane limbo, but patient, calm, stress-free limbo. The BF and I have been planning our wedding for 6 months anyway – photog, 2 venues, dresses, etc. Not kidding. I recently came to terms with the fact that I don't NEED a ring to accept myself as a future bride and oh! How the stress melted away! And the BF has much less stress on him to produce. We all (us and the families) know it's coming eventually, but nobody's in any hurry to do things in a preexisting chain of events and timelines. Screw it. This works for us. Our joint timeline is different than other people's.

    With the encouragement of some fellow like-minded bridal bloggers I even started my own wedding-and-life-planning blog. It's been exciting and scary and more fun than I could have asked for, but I probably wouldn't have done it if I hadn't have had the conversation with the BF and said, "I want the big surprise proposal, but I also practically need to start planning this wedding. Will you help me start, even though there's no ring? You cool with that?"

  • Waiting? Nope not for me – I asked him and he said yes. When I tell people that story they can't seem to comprehend a woman asking a man.

    It was a simple sweet occurrence that was very us.

  • Hoo boy can I relate to this one. Jim and I have a small age difference-I'm 5 years older. Most of the time it seems like nothing, but when it came to being ready to get married, those 5 little years were a very, very big deal.

    I started freaking out about my biological clock somewhere around my 34th birthday, and did a terrible job of keeping my insanity to myself. Oh, I tried, believe me. But some anxiety attacks are just too big to keep to yourself, and I nearly broke up with him over it. Lingering medical problems made the situation worse, with people constantly reminding me that I am destined to have a "high risk" pregnancy. All in all it was a bad time for me. I thought; he's not ready, I don't want to push him, I should go out and find some guy who actually wants children and move on. But! Cooler heads prevailed and I waited. And waited. And waited some more. And as I waited, I got calmer. Happier with my decision. Even more sure that this would work out, that I was with the right person and that anyway, our lives were damn good with or without marriage and kids. We were happy. We still are.

    He proposed this past Christmas morning. We were still in our pajamas, and I was taking a coffee cake out of the oven when I turned around and saw him standing there with a tiny box, holding the ring we had picked out together a few months before. He said a lot of really lovely things about our home being his favorite place, and it was perfect. I spent the rest of the day laughing. It was really, really nice.

    • Danielle

      My boyfriend is 7 years younger. I am 30.

      You can’t tell how the future will be, when he said he wanted to have kids in 8 years over the weekend, it caused me to react very strongly. It got things back on the table that we do have a different timeline and that we should make sure we sync them.

      We talked about our future together that night, and since then, have discussed saving money together for our future, and other things that make me realize we are on the right path.

      But, regardless, you can bet my “Ingognito page” on my browser is utilized all the time! I think he would freak out if he knew how much time I like read about weddings!

  • LPC

    Back in my day we didn't have "pre-engaged." You waited, because you really didn't know if you were going to get married until he asked. No one ever, ever, ever, would have started planning the wedding without being truly engaged. It seems now that the proposal isn't the engagement. It's the first ritualistic step in the wedding. Far be it from me to have an opinion. I would like, however, about the moments what all of you realized that you were, in fact, pre-engaged. What was that conversation like? That moment?

  • Oh, thank you for this post! Those two strands of cultural chatter? Terrible!

    I really like what you said about being emotionally ready to marry someone. The BF and I know we will marry each other, and talk about it openly and frequently, but neither of us wants to do it now. You explained exactly why that is!

    We both love doing somewhat dramatic gestures for each other, but I love love love surprises, and BF does not. He only half-jokingly told me once, "If you propose to me I will say no! Let me do it." And this feminist can get behind that.

    So we're waiting for each other to be ready. And in the meantime, I am reading this blog & we're talking about how rad it will be to have an iPod for the music at our wedding, etc. :)

  • We are in the "skip the proposal, go right to being engaged" camp. We had be talking about getting married for a while, and finally decided that the time was right to get engaged – but there was no actually asking.
    We just went to the jewelry store and got a ring. Perfect for us.

  • Emily

    Thank you for writing this and confirming that I'm not crazy!

    In a long-distance relationship, certain issues of timing necessarily become clear. We knew we would get married when I moved back home after grad school, and we knew it would take about a year to plan a wedding long-distance. I didn't see a lot of significance in "getting engaged" – what was it going to change? It just confirms what we had already decided.

    I knew, however, that a proposal was something he really wanted to do, a special way of expressing his love by surprising me. So I waited, because I wanted him to do it the way he wanted. At times it felt like anti-feminist, why-am-I-waiting-on-a-man waiting. But I finally realized that I can't turn everything into a feminist battle. It was important to him, and I knew that we would be getting married in the end, so why demand control over the process just for the sake of feeling in control?

    This is not to say that I think every girl should wait for a proposal, just that in my case it was best to come to terms with tradition.

  • So far this week of APW is being totally amazing and helpful and, well, practical. And it's only Wednesday! I really appreciate the effort you spend putting all of this together for us "out there in Brideland." Thanks again.

  • @Emily,

    I think it's interesting that waiting feels like a feminist struggle, and I think it's unfortunate that so many of us feel this way.

    I think talking about marriage, getting on the same page about your future together, and then waiting for this one moment that means a lot to one/both of you isn't anti-feminist.

    That's the difficulty with weddings–sometimes you want a tradition, even ones w/ shadowy backgrounds (name changing, walking down the aisle w/ fathers, wearing white). But you get to make them *yours* and positive and feminist. After all, feminism is all about having choices.

  • I remember the waiting process…ugh. We both wanted to be engaged, but he was a student at the time and it took him a while to scrape pennies together, tho I suggested more than once that a twist tie engagement ring would do! It was what I now realize is "couples waiting" (thanks for coining that term Meg – it will come in handy in our relationship I presume), but I am very bad at waiting. Very bad. I notoriously blow surprises (more on the engagement 'surprise' below) and am an overeager doer (it runs in my family). What can I say? I like to get a jump on things.

    In retrospect, (I say that like it's been years…it's only been 7 months!) I feel bad for the pressure I may have inadvertently put on my fiance. I can only imagine how intimidating it must be to want to propose (as soon as financially possible), while knowing that your bride-to-be is preemptively planning and organizing wedding related things while she waits "patiently" for you to propose. I should apologize for that. Add that to my to-do list!

    I did want a big surprise, but in typical form, we blew it: he left a note on the kitchen table mixed in with the mail which happened to say "rent car, buy tickets, bring RING, make dinner reservations." When I found the note, I decided not to let him know that I knew…he is such a romantic and he obviously put a lot of time into planning such a great proposal. Instead, I had time to mentally prepare during the week leading up to the proposal. I could try a few different outfits on to see what worked best for our 'just engaged' photos. And when things didn't go according to his plan, I didn't call him out on things (it wasn't supposed to be 70 degrees that day, but it was and yet he insisted on carrying a coat all day…to hide the ring). I didn't know exactly how he was going to do it, so I just went along for the ride and actually learned that following his lead (instead of leading the way) can be really fun.

    Thankfully, because we had talked about what we wanted for our wedding long before we got engaged, we could immediately articulate our vision for a "wedding that gives back" capped by a "big fun party" when family and friends started grilling us. It all works out. :)

  • I was the one that wasn't ready to get engaged or married. So he waited. And waited. For eight years!

    My lovely sweetie would say things like 'it's really hard for me not to propose right now" whenever we were out hiking or having a really nice time out. So when I finally said "okay, so why don't you?" he was completely surprised and unprepared.

    We like to say the engagement was a surprise to both of us. But really, we had been talking in broad terms about it for years and years.

  • My FH has been ready to get married since sometime between the first time we went out together with friends and the end of our first date, events which were less than 2 weeks apart. We were called pre-engaged a lot. Usually in a condescending manner. Sometimes finding the right time isn't just about both people being ready or wanting it, sometimes it's about waiting until after graduation or a promotion or because a sibling is getting married and asked you to wait. We were together over 3 years before he proposed (important to him) and in all honesty, I much preferred the pre-engaged time because we could take our time and talk about the wedding in ifs and maybes without having to worry about practicality. It gave us time to know what we wanted, really wanted, so that when we did have a time table (soon) and a budget (as little as possible), we already knew what was important, what wasn't important, and where we wanted to allocate our time. I guess our experience has been that dating/pre-engagement was fun and exciting, while engagement has been stress and pressure and not fun. I'm hoping marriage lets us get back to fun.

  • great timing, Meg! I suppose I am one of the pre-engaged. I almost called my boyfriend my husband the other day. Whoops!

    For LPC: my boyfriend and I live together. It was sort of a choice and sort of forced upon us by circumstances (as in, we wanted to live together, but we moved in together a bit earlier than perhaps we would have had circumstances not intervened). It's worked out charmingly well, for the most part. The strange thing is that we live at a boarding school — a religious boarding school — in a dorm. A month ago or so, his school had a talk with him about his "living situation." He came home, and we had serious talks about our relationship. I think it's then that I realized we're truly on the marriage route. Before that, I wasn't 100% sure.

    I am now (sort of) patiently waiting. He's expressed a desire to be the one who does the proposing. This is hard for me, since I am impatient and a bit impulsive. He is super patient. We'll see how long this takes :-) In the meantime, we have been taking time to discuss money, how to raise kids (we always knew we both wanted them), and all sorts of various important topics.

    Mostly it's hard for me because I keep half-designing weddings in my head and playing them out for him, and he just laughs and tells me to be patient.

  • I feel relieved after reading this. Thank you!

  • Meg

    I love this post and all the comments. "Pre-engaged" is exactly where my guy and I are. We talk about everything and I am a planner. I love poring over details of exciting things that I can see on the horizon – vacations, our future together, raising children. We know we are going to get married. Our families know. Our close friends know. We just haven't done the proposal thing yet. Pete is struggling financially and isn't the best at saving money, but an engagement ring is very important to him. I've been very open about my lack of concern for a ring – it just doesn't matter very much to me. But it's an important symbol for Pete and I can get on board with that. So we're waiting while he gets the money together to get me his dream ring. And in the meantime I get to daydream about bare feet and multiple homemade cakes and sunshine and laughter and joy. Prolonging the pre-engagement timeline just gives us more time to figure out what we want from our wedding.

    I'm cool with "couples waiting" cause we're doing it together.

  • Meg

    Ohhhh… when we moved across the country together so he could go to law school ;) Y'all didn't do that without being engaged or married either, so that's a big part of the difference.

  • That state of "pre-engagment" was the story of my life. I knew that I was emotionally ready to be married to my fiancee before he knew it, but I am a child of divorce and would under no circumstances ask him before I knew that he was ready too, so I waited for him to ask me. And I'm so glad I did, it was the right thing for us.

    On the ring, I never wanted a huge "rock" or a big showy thing. I always said the man I wanted to marry would know my tastes enough to get the perfect ring. He took the diamond from his grandmother's ring and got a new white gold setting, which was perfect. It is probably .25 carats – not too showy, but above all else it has sentimental value and that means way more to me than what it would fetch in a pawn shop any day. I love my ring!

  • Thank you Meg. I'm in pre-engagement mode, which is usually exciting although occasionally annoying. My BF lives in Minnesota and I live in Mississippi. I'm moving up there after I finish grad school (summer)…I think we'll be engaged by then…or something, I don't know. Anyway. THANK YOU SO MUCH. You're blog rocks my world. I had a wedding blog overdose about 2 months ago and I deleted almost all of them from my reader – but yours isn't going anywhere. You've really let me know that I can do my own thing and that there are hordes of others who have traversed those waters successfully. Being from the south, from a rather snooty area, I've been fearing my wedding for years; I'm not a big ado kind of girl, but this is a much ado kind of town. It's going to be really difficult, and, honestly, it'd be so much easier to just let my mom have free reign and invite 450 people (350 of whom I don't know) and have food I don't like and sterile decorations that make me kind of nauseous. (granted, these aren't the most important things in life or in weddings, but they're still unnerving) Anyway, thanks for your blog and your sane/sage advice. I really appreciate it.

  • MWK

    "Well we handled it the way we handle most of our problems, by which I mean we yelled at each other and then we calmed down and talked it through."
    YES! I'm not the only one who does this! (For us it was also around the time when I realized, "Hey, WTF, I moved back to this city to be with you!? Let's talk about what this means, yes?"

    This may be catty and too simple, but my guideline is: if you are surprised when you get engaged (like REALLY surprised) than you probably shouldn't be engaged. Also, I had the best-ever proposal back-up plan waiting in the wings to propose to D$, but he beat me to the punch.

  • Seriously, if you are a woman who wants to get married to a man, I highly recommend at least considering proposing to him. Don't just assume that option is off the table.

    Also, don't assume that he isn't ready to get married just because he hasn't proposed yet. If you've talked about marriage and planning a life together, and you both like the idea — the time is probably right.

    My now-fiancĂŠ and I had talked it over multiple times, and agreed that women should feel free to do the asking. Eventually I decided to put my money where my mouth was and ask him.

    I'd felt like I was ready to be proposed to, for a few years. But when I started planning to propose to him, suddenly it didn't feel so easy. I was scared. What if, despite our conversations on the subject, he wasn't really okay with me proposing? What if, despite other conversations, he didn't really want to get married? What if he just didn't really want to marry me? There was no rational basis to think that — but it's a very vulnerable moment. All these fears pop up.

    (See? I knew I wanted to marry him. I was 99.9% sure he wanted to marry me. But I waited and delayed on actually proposing, because I was nervous. I bet lots of guys are in that same boat. Again, him proposing isn't the only way you'll know he really wants to get married.)

    I bought him a ring almost six months before proposing, and spent that whole time agonizing. Finally decided to ask him on Christmas Eve, at home, just the two of us. And people, I came this close to chickening out then. But I didn't.

    And in case you worry about missing out on the excitement and romance of a surprise proposal: trust me, it's just as exciting, dramatic, and overwhelming when you're on the asking end. Maybe more so.

    For the record, he said yes. Actually he said "Of course I will!" And he was as giddy and excited as I've ever seen him.

  • Meg

    I'm so glad we're discussing this here.
    I'm 24 and my boyfriend is turning 30 next month. I guess you could call us pre-engaged. We talk about getting married all the time. We're on the same page about it – and neither of us is quite ready. I think we realized we'd probably get married between our first six months and year of dating. We complement each other, have similar interests and are constantly making each other laugh. It's hard to describe how we knew, but we did.
    In the swirl of other people getting married and friends and family members mentioning marriage to us, I've become fascinated by the cultural expectations surrounding marriage. I'm younger and come from a family that thinks, "Take your time, because not marrying the right person could have dire consequences." My parents, grandma and sister really haven't pushed marriage on me, although my parents say they'd respect my choice if we decided to marry soon.
    My boyfriend, on the other hand, gets a lot more pressure. We met through his church, and so some of the people he knows there have started asking, "Are you two ever getting married?" His parents love to throw parties, and I know they'd be thrilled if we got engaged tomorrow. (And don't get me wrong, I'm thinking about what kind of wedding we'll plan when we decide to have one. I read wedding blogs. It's fun to ponder.)
    But we're just not there. He'd like to finish school and get a better job. I want to luxuriate in living by myself while I can, and I refuse to think of that as selfish. When we decide to marry, I want to be wholly and utterly prepared for our life together. After all, I've seen former classmates marry and divorce. I've seen how an unhappy marriage can affect men and women and their families. I maintain that it doesn't take any special talent to get married, but it requires a lifelong commitment to have a healthy, happy marriage. Rushing into it just doesn't seem like a good way to start.

  • Meg

    YES YES YES. That's a lot of what this post is about. Not about waiting. In fact, specifically not about waiting, but about figuring out your options (and that you have them).


  • YES. YES. YES!

    i know exactly how this goes because i am currently in a "weird" situation too. i am currently planning a wedding with a set date and do not have an engagement ring. you want to know why? it's because i know my permanent roommate and i are ready and we have discussed this multiple times. lately though, it has bothered me how much people bring up the fact that i don't have a ring yet and frankly, that's because i am waiting for my permanent roommate to propose. i know he will because he knows how much it will mean to me (maybe i read too many victorian novels too). anyway, last time i checked, at this point in a relationship, i'm supposed to trust my permanent roommate. apparently none of my so-called friends do except my bridesmaids.


  • @LPC — We discussed it. I got stuck on a month-long business trip from Hell, which crystallized a lot of feelings for both of us. When I finally got home we laid on the floor and talked and decided that we wanted to keep each other permanently. Neither of us was sure that that meant marriage (he's a radical atheist and I'm a radical feminist, so pledging something before God and Man seems a little… unnecessary), but moving into the state of "yes we're staying together forever" has allowed us both to think about that more clearly. I'm still kind of hesitant, but having that conversation has allowed me to think about why that is and discuss it with him.

    I'll be honest that I do feel torn between some vague desire to participate in the cultural ritual of The Proposal (and wedding, and all of it, but that's another post) — but on the other hand I strongly believe that the cultural narrative of "he decides when we get engaged" is a horrible way to start a lifetime together. That's a major life decision, there should be some discussion!

  • Great post! I have a lot of friends who are in the waiting position right now. And for the most part, they're all waiting until they and their partners have more money. Which I can understand. But at the same time, I think, like you said, skip the proposal, skip the engagement, go straight to a wedding. For me, waiting for money has never been a good idea to put off marriage. Waiting for the right time seems dumb. If you're in love, go for it. There's way too much focus in our society about the ring, the proposal, the planning, the gigantic wedding. It's love that you need, plain and simple. Having said that though, the Mr. was so traditional and drug out my waiting process for-e-ver. I hate him a little for that, haha.

  • Right on, Meg! I never knew how to explain what we were going through before getting engaged. But you described it so perfectly. Ginger was definitely in the mindset of we will probably get married one day, but not in the emotionally ready place I was. And, I had to do some "couple waiting." Then, once we were both ready, we talked about proposals and getting engaged. We realized neither of us wanted an engagement ring, so one day we just asked each other. It wasn't a big planned surprise type thing. We just came home from work one day and neither of us could wait another second (after 4 yrs together) to be engaged. Later that night, we bought a bottle of champagne and toasted while we called our parents and friends together. I think it's really important to talk about what you want together. I had this idea that I would surprise Ginger with a ring while we were skiing/snowboarding. She says she would of loved the jewelry I picked out, but a surprise proposal with a ring wouldn't have been what she really wanted. Soooo glad I asked! I also think people shouldn't worry about coming to the emotionally ready to get married place at the exact same time as their partner. I really wish someone that told me this, because I felt like something was wrong with us. I felt like other couples were ready at the exact same time. But in reality, I don't think people really talk about the "couple waiting." That part seems to be omitted from the cultural chatter. Great post!

  • @LPC
    I passed him a note on a napkin at a pizza joint that said "I'm gonna marry you someday." He read it, grinned and nodded. Eventually, over a few years, discussions followed, a question was asked, a marriage began.

  • I'd be really interested to hear from some men about this. I wonder what the social pressures feel like from that side. Is there anxiety about creating the ultimate romantic experience while still maintaining the requisite amount of masculinity? And how to practical grooms-to-be handle the size-of-the-diamond-equals-amount-of-love situation? I'd love to offer my husband as a guest blogger on this one but, alas, grad school consumes his life/time.

  • I am so thankful for the beginning of this engagemnets and proposals dialogue…

    "knowing you want to get married to someone and feeling emotionally ready to get married to someone are two totally different beasts" – this speaks volumes to me, as I am the one who is not yet emotionally ready to marry the man I know I want to marry, and have been made to feel completely insane for it. Not to mention, NO one belives him when he tells all the people who are up in our sh*t to get married that I'M the one who's holding it up.

    Thank you!

  • Amy

    Thank you so much for this post. I feel as though I've been in pre-engagement limbo for almost 2 years, and I'm certain it's going to last at least another year and a half. Most of the time, I can be pretty zen about it, but sometimes it makes me anxious and sad. I've known that I wanted to be married to my boyfriend pretty much since year one, which stunned and shocked me because a) I'd never had thoughts like that before with other guys (It was more like "I could see myself married to this guy someday"), b) I'd always thought of myself as being too young before then (I was 24 when I started realizing what I wanted), and c) It was way, way too early in the relationship and I knew it. Thankfully, because he's an awesome guy, we were able to have a rational conversation about it, and we've had a few more since then as well. Unfortunately, now we're on year 3 and we're both 26, and a lot of our friends are starting to get engaged (some of whom are younger than us or have been dating for less time). I still know I'm ready, and he still isn't. Mainly he still isn't for practical reasons: he's still in school and will be until the end of 2011, and he doesn't have any sort of stable financial situation yet, and wants to get both of those things resolved before proposing. But there is part of it that is emotional too. His parents are divorced and it was kind of an ugly situation, and I know he doesn't want to repeat those mistakes.

    I think the thing that keeps me from going crazy all the time is having this feeling, deep down, that he will get there and it will happen. He even admitted to me once that he thinks about all of those silly details, like what our wedding will be like. We talk easily about things we want to do someday, how we'd want to raise kids if we have them, what we want our wedding to be like if we have one. Yet, some part of me is sad that he's not emotionally in the same place that I am. It can definitely be a struggle, but it's one worth having because we make each other so very happy and care about each other so very much.

    • Josephine

      Amy, I feel you. I am in such a similar sitch with my bf of almost 3 years. I am emotionally ready (I think) and he is still in school (and will be for another year) and is still getting his yayas out (wow, I hate that expression) to some extent. I feel like a psycho for secretly pining over engagement rings and feeling envious of other couples who are getting engaged, even when I know rationally that just because they are engaged doesn’t mean their relationship is in any way superior to mine, or any good at all, for that matter. Also, since when did I care about this stuff? I used to not feel sad about it but now it bothers me because I always thought we’d be engaged sooner. Oh well… can’t rush these things!

  • Yes indeed. I was "pre-engaged" for a year, but only because we'd already had that conversation and I was waiting for him to be really ready. I'm older, and was ready first. He knew, but needed time to process what it all meant to get MARRIED. FOREVER. And we were both okay with that. We picked out the ring together, we talked timetable, and I waited. Securely, but also sometimes frustratingly. Except for this corner of the internet, no one seems to believe me about our process – I was perceived as some crazy wedding obsessed shrew and he was getting harranged into marriage and he was making the wrong choice for a ring (really? his friends didn't think that I knew what sort of non-diamond ring I wanted for myself?)

    In conclusion, yay for this article and corner of the internet. There's so much more between a him-on-one-knee-mega-surprise and a woman-ask-him-or-you[re-not-feminist proposal. Just talk and be true to yourselves, for goodness sake.

  • @Meg: Absolutely! Waiting because one person really isn't quite there yet =/= waiting because you feel you can't ask.

    I just wanted to expand a little more on the woman-proposing-to-man option, because it's one that a lot of people tend to overlook or dismiss out of hand, or assume is only for the super-edgy, stick-it-to-the-man types. (And trust me — we're not super-edgy. We're quiet, nerdy types who don't like a ton of confrontation. Our wedding is going to be pretty darn traditional in a lot of ways. Being a woman who proposes to a man doesn't mean you're obligated to have the Edgy Wedding of the Century — unless of course you want to!)

    Choosing that option — even just considering that option, even if you don't choose it — also highlights a ton of the cultural assumptions and expectations about engagement and marriage. For example, I worried for a long time that if I proposed, people would think I had pressured and nagged him into getting married — that my proposing meant I was fed up and desperate, and he just gave in to shut me up. I hated the idea of people thinking that.

    No one's actually said that, at least not in my hearing, which is a relief. Actually, a lot of people seem to think it's neat that I asked.

    Lots of women I've talked to seem to feel like they have to wait for him to ask, because "he'll ask when he's ready" — i.e. you have to assume he doesn't want to get married unless and until he makes a big surprise proposal. As lots of us here know, that isn't true.

    Obviously, "woman proposing to man" is just one of the alternate options to that assumption. You can decide as a couple and not bother with a formal proposal at all; you can decide you really like the traditional proposal ritual and do that to seal an informal engagement decision; you could both plan surprise proposals for each other! (I saw one couple who did this, and thought it was the most freaking adorable idea ever.) And many more.

    The other ones are perfectly valid — do what's right for you and your relationship. Being the woman who proposes just happens to be the one I chose, and therefore I like to talk about it :)

  • My fiance just decided we were going to get married and that was it. No proposal. No on bended knee. He sent me a text message saying we should get married. He had already given me a promise ring so he got me a wedding band. Do I feel a bit cheated? Sometimes. But I wanted the man and that's what I got so I am happy.

  • I've been waiting for this post as well. We finally had a discussion about marriage recently, and I know now that I am ready "whenever" and he will be ready "soon." However, it was clear to me that he considers it a monumental decision– there is a lot of divorce in his family and while he doesn't think that will happen to us, he does recognize that it is a massive, lifelong commitment that shouldn't be taken lightly. Nevertheless, he did tell me that he would do it when he was ready, and that I wouldn't have to wait another 3 years for it. He is very traditional and wants it to be a surprise– I hate surprises, but it's important to him. I did, however, encourage him to talk to my best friend when he is picking out the ring, since I have entrusted her with a document that lists all the types of rings I like. I will not, for any reason, return the ring that he proposes with because it will be special. But it would be nice if I had a little say in it! So, I am sort of waiting, but like you said Meg, it is the "couples" waiting, not the "waiting because I'm the girl and he needs to propose." It is important to my boyfriend that he does the proposing and that he surprises me with it…probably because he thinks it's funny that I don't like surprises. And now that we've had that discussion, I don't feel like I'm really waiting anymore because I know it's going to happen.

  • "But knowing you want to get married to someone and feeling emotionally ready to get married to someone are two totally different beasts."

    i think this may become the answer i've been searching for when everyone around us gets exasperated looks on their faces and asks when my boyfriend and i who talk openly about our forever future (but are not and have no desire to become engaged yet) are getting engaged. it seems like a much better conversation starter that "whenever we damn well want to!" and i think more people need to be having conversations about what marriage means to them instead of just swallowing the terms and definitions society gives us.

    thank you!

  • My fiance and I definitely did the pre-engaged thing, and as Meg said it was very much about each of us getting ready to be married, period. We were in love and we lived together and we knew we wanted to get married one day, but there's a difference between that and married and we wanted to give ourselves time to grow up.

    And I was happy to wait for him to propose because, well, I'm a bit of a type-A planner and wanted to let him have the space to do his thing. He ended up totally surprising me (even the fact that I was surprised surprised me) and it was lovely.

    Now that we're in heavy wedding planning mode, we are making all of the decisions together but I'm the one with the binder, I'm the one with the spreadsheets. This works for us, not because I'm the woman but because that's what I like to do and that is decidedly NOT what he likes to do. We're just being ourselves and it's working. I'm happy that we're both making our individual contributions to bringing this marriage into being.

    In short, I'm digging the engagement content!

  • ahhh! thanks Meg, I'm glad this conversation got started officially. I could seriously have used this kind of talk about 18 months ago, so glad to see there are all these pre-engaged couples out there already ensconced in this practical community (as well as those who are not even close to being engaged! it's never too early to hear "know thyself and be thyself").

  • This is a great post! I brought up getting married so many times in our kitchen in our tiny little apartment. "Honey let's just go down to the justice of the peace, wouldn't that be awesome?", was all I would say, and he'd laugh and give me this "you're so silly" look. It never worked. I found out later, that he'd wanted to do this very traditionally all along. He designed the ring (which is perfect for me) himself, he snuck it onto the plane for vacation, and he waited for the perfect spot in San Francisco (on Municipal Pier outside of Ghirardelli Square) to get down on one knee. It is one of my all time fondest memories of us. So yeah, I didn't get to do the proposing, but I'm still getting to marry the man I love. And eff cultural chatter. My instinct is to do the opposite of what's "supposed" to be done. Different strokes for different folks. If we're all unique individuals, how is it so hard for societies to understand that one way of doing things doesn't necessarily work for all of us?

  • My sweetheart and I proposed to each other! We talked about what we each wanted: rings for both of us, an awesome day filled with our favorite activities, and a mutual proposal (with him going first, just for the heck of it). Then we made it happen together! It was perfect for our egalitarian relationship, and I can say with certainty that the lack of surprise takes nothing away from the emotional impact of the moment!

  • Aaah, being "pre-engaged." Cue neurotic tendencies.

    As soon as I realized that I wanted to be with my guy, not just until our apartment lease was up, or until I graduated college, but FOREVER, I began to wait. And wait.

    And then I just didn't want to wait anymore, so we talked about getting married. We talked about it so often over a span of months, in fact, that we realized that both of us considered ourselves ready.

    One day, we were having lunch at our favorite local authentic Mexican restaurant, and we decided to stop in at a shop down the street and see what this "bridal jewelry sale" stuff was all about.

    We walked away with a ring. A ring that we bought, TOGETHER. Like, he paid for half, I paid for half. Pretty mature, I thought.

    While I waited (for more than one month!), I lurked on wedding blogs, I fell in love with all things vintage, and I became a crazy pre-engaged force to be reckoned with. And I hated it. I hated every single part of pre-engagement, mostly because I knew that somewhere in the home we shared together was a ring that I was waiting for him to give me, a ring that we purchased together.

    I felt like I shouldn't have to wait for something that we both agreed that we wanted, but I think I've come to realize that A) he wanted the proposal moment just as much as I did, which is why he took a full month to plan it (and it was perfect!), and B) he was probably nervous as hell, because despite the multitude of conversations we'd had about marriage, the actual act of asking someone to share your life can be down right scary.

    Thank you for this post!

  • Thanks for this post. I have to say, my fiance and I did things in a strange sort of way, but I wouldn't change a thing.

    We've been together since high school- I was 14 and he was 17 when we met, and we're now 23 and 25 respectively. We're the only partners the other has ever had, and while that can be strange sometimes, it makes for a very strong relationship that is defined solely by our needs and desires, rather than past expectations and histories.

    We knew we wanted to spend our lives together maybe six months into our relationship. Being young and in love makes you sort of stupid, but we were smart enough to know that there were other things we wanted to accomplish first (hello college!). Well, years passed and we moved in together with a bunch of friends after my scholastic career came plummeting tragically down and I moved back home. I was 19 at that point, and really happy for the most part. We were finally living together like we had always talked about, and just waking up next to each other every day was amazing. He started thinking more seriously about marriage, but as a 19 year old feminist college drop out, I couldn't wrap my mind around that. I needed to sort myself out first.

    That May I went up to visit friends still at my old school. It was fun at first, but being there, knowing I could never go to school there again (it was the first time in my life that I realized I wasn't ever going to have a certain very dear dream come true), the night turned very bad. I ended up getting extremely drunk and injuring my shoulder really badly. Around 2 in the morning I was sitting outside in the rain and drunkenly called my boyfriend, crying, messy and miserable.

    The next morning I woke up in my friend's dorm, to the sound of her phone ringing. I answered it, and it was the security office, saying that someone asking for me (not my friend) was at the security gate, and that I had to sign them in. Wtf. I drag my sorry self down to the security office, and there is my boyfriend. He's been there for several hours, waiting for a reasonable hour to call me to to let him in. He left our house immediately after I called, drove four hours through a mountain storm because he knew I was sad and in trouble. He proposed then and there, and I saw that this was someone who would be there for me when I was suffering, someone who would be there when my dreams fell through, and someone who would support me in finding and fulfilling new ones. I mean really, could you ask for anything more?

    I said yes, and we waited three years to set a date. I was still a very young woman, trying to wrap my mind around the concept of being a wife. I found a job I loved, and started making my own plans and rethinking my own future, and our future together. But about a year ago, after helping our friends who were our own age move into a house they had purchased together, I realized that it was time, and I didn't want to wait any longer.

    That was about a year ago. We're getting married in June, and our relationship (which has always been amazing and very strong) is better than ever. The moral of this (very) long story is that you just have to do everything (not just weddings and engagements) at your own pace and in your own way. If you have a partner who understands that (or if you have a partner like me, and you personally understand that) then you're doing something right.

  • This is EXACTLY what I needed, and frankly, what the larger community/society needed, too. Please don't stop with this topic – and keep up the honesty. It's my FAVORITE thing about your blog – the honesty. What's that? You and your husband yelled about getting married and hurt feelings were discussed and resolved? How far away is that statement from napkins that match the shade of peach in the carpet that match the laterns, etc. How refreshingly REAL. :-)

    Thanks for all that you do. <3


    Another "pre-us" chica

  • SO perfect. We're exactly in "pre-engagement", and kind of enjoying it, really. I know it's coming – he's already talked with my parents and my best friend, and the ring has been purchased and is being made (in Ireland…*squee*). He wanted me to pick out the ring design, and I wanted to be surprised by the proposal. So that has all worked out just fine. I don't feel that we are being anything other than "us" with the decisions we are making.

    I completely agree with @technicolorwedding, when she said that "we all know it's coming eventually, but nobody's in any hurry to do things in a preexisting chain of events and timelines" – so what if he hasn't proposed yet, and my friend is sketching dress designs? Luckily, both our families are highly supportive of how we're doing things.

    Mostly, I'm excited. Constantly, filled-to-the-brim, my cup-runneth-over with love excited. We both are, and it is such a wonderful feeling.

  • Am I the only one who feels that if you're planning a wedding to gether you are then in fact "engaged"? I don't think it's about the proposal…if you decided to get married you're "engaged to be married".


    While I understand the pre-engaged state because this rings super true to my relationship: "knowing you want to get married to someone and feeling emotionally ready to get married to someone are two totally different beasts".

    I do feel that if marriage is more than a "we'll do it…someday soonish, just not quite yet and I think I'd like peonies". If you're booking a hall and actively planning, then you. are. engaged.

    I don't get why some people need the proposal to validate the decision to get married. I like the way you put it, Meg, about skipping that or the engagement.

  • J

    When we tell people that my partner (who happens to be the more masculine looking male-identified one of us) didn’t propose, I get a very specific look of pity and MJ gets the hairy eyeball. Then I get all self-conscious and start making excuses for my partner because I feel like people think he’s a slacker. Even though we are completely happy with the way things happened, those looks are very powerful.

    You see, for most of our adult lives (separate and then together), we didn’t think we were the marrying kind of people. Feminism, queerness, not having a lot of money, and a punk anti-establishment ethic didn’t seem very compatible with getting married. And, then, things changed. We went through a lot of really great and really terrible things together and started to feel like we wanted to do something more permanent and grounding for our relationship. From the moment that we started talking in earnest about marriage, I made two things clear: a) I didn’t want a fancy, schmancy proposal, and b) I didn’t want a ring.

    So, we sat down over some mediocre pizza and weighed out the benefits and drawbacks (and, yes, there were both) to a wedding and a marriage. We talked about whether we were ready (I was, he almost was), the best timing for getting married, and how to break the news to people. We both ramped up our individual therapy sessions to make sure that we were ready marriage and to help with any drama/pushback we received from others. (And, wow, was that ever a great decision!) And then we dove in – head first! While I enjoy hearing about other people’s fancy engagements, I am also really happy that we sat down and made a mutual decision to move forward with getting married. A traditional proposal just wouldn’t have been the right thing for us.

    I did eventually get a ring (despite my protesting!), but that’s another story about compromise and peer pressure.

    @ Cara – YES! I’ve talked to my partner a lot about the social pressure he felt around engagement and rings, and there is A LOT of pressure. Maybe some guest-blogging guys are in order?

  • this has nothing to do with anything but weeeeee!


  • Thank you so much for this post. My boyfriend and I are pre-engaged… both of us are finishing up grad school and long distance, too. I've been feeling a little frustrated because while we're both planning to marry, his timeline is a little behind mine, and I hate feeling like I'm that cliche'd female just dying to get hitched while the guy drags his heels.

    It's really helped to have frank discussions about why we're feeling how we're feeling, and about our slightly different understandings of what "being engaged" means.

    As a compromise, we've already commissioned a custom engagement ring from a seller on etsy, so I get to know that he is committed to the relationship, and in return I'm doing better about waiting until he's ready to make it official.

  • 2 years ago
    me: Wanna get married soon?
    him: Not right now, I don't think.
    me: But someday, right?
    him: For sure!

    8 months ago
    him: Wanna get married soon?
    me: Yeah. That'd be fun!
    him: Next summer?
    me: That's probably good, yeah.
    him: Good.

    The proposal was perfect; we're both ready. Life is good. We picked out the ring together. We're getting married in 5 months! And I'm still me and he's still him. Eight years of life partnership is already a marriage, just under a different name and with different terms (in my lovely country anyways). I think no one should have to lose anything of themselves to gain a marriage. Just be happy on your own terms!

  • I was told for years before we got engaged that we were "pre-engaged." We got pinned in college the same week the school paper ran a full page article about fraternity pinning equating to pre-engagement. We talked about getting engaged before and after that. I was waiting incredibly impatiently. (Side note: I'm totally glad I did, (waited I mean) because it took him proposing for me to really evaluate just how ready I actually was to get married.)

    Funny thing though, I never considered myself pre-engaged. Yes, our relationship was changing, evolving, but not as a result of our marriage conversations per se, but because we were staying together and growing together.

    I guess to me, talking about it is all well and good, but I wasn't about to use the word engaged when we hadn't had some form of verbal agreement (aka proposal). I think it's because I never aspired to be engaged, simply married.

  • I'm not sure what pre-engagement means…isn't everything before you get engaged "officially" (as in you're telling everyone you're getting married and you're planning whatever kind of wedding you're going to have) a "pre engagement"?

    I was in the same boat as you meg…I was ready…and I had made a few snarky sarcastic comments just to be sure I got the point across….but he wasn't quite there yet. So I waited….not because I couldn't propose to him (although I loved the idea of him proposing…call me old fashioned, whatevs!) , but because I would absolutely hate hate hate to be engaged to someone who wasn't completely ready.

    When he did propose it was perfect. It was quiet, just the two of us and he said some amazing things (most of which I can't remember because of all the thoughts running through my own head). He proposed with a ring, but it was so dark I couldn't see it…and didn't need to….it was perfect.

  • I have two proposal stories – I think I can use them as proof that all *relationships* are different, not just that all people are different.

    I was with a guy for almost 7 years. We talked marriage really early on in the relationship, eventually bought a house together, shared a bank account. Very much pre-engaged. We talked about what we wanted at our wedding, how we wanted our life to be, so on. I was the one dragging my feet the whole time. He proposed after we'd been together for 6 years, and it still managed to be a surprise. I realized in short order (panic attacks) that I could not marry him and eventually got the nerve to end the relationship. It was hard, but so clearly the right decision.

    I had been distant friends with my now-fiance for 6 years before I asked him out on a date. Due to circumstances, and being head over heels in love, I moved in with him 4 months later. I was ready to marry him before our first year anniversary. However, I didn't want to be that girl. The five month wait for him to propose (he is traditional that way) was surprisingly hard. Not on a day to day basis, but on every vacation we took, because I was pretty sure we would propose on holiday. I spent 10 days in Washington practically holding my breath! It was made harder because I didn't really want to talk about it – I wasn't entirely sure that he felt the same way, and I couldn't bear to find out if he didn't. In fact, the day before he proposed, we were still talking about plans for our individual future hypothetical children. At this point, I'd accidentally found the ring box in the suitcase, so knew it was coming, and we still danced around the subject. (He proposed at a Neolithic portal tomb in Ireland and it was perfect.) I have to say, the relationship did change after the proposal. It deepened, felt safer, became even better.

    I see nothing wrong with either of these. I will say that it would have been weird if we had dated for years and NOT talked about things. Dating for only a year and change, and not talking about OUR future hypothetical wedding, only about how we each wanted to live our lives, raise any kids and such? Felt surprisingly natural. We had all the big discussions early, so we were both on the same page about life. The only thing we didn't talk about was explicitly asking if that life would be with each other.

  • I think this is a great conversation. My partner and I just decided to get married. There was no real official asking. No big proposal. No ring. We're practical and it was us. I don't think every marriage needs to start with some big proposal.

  • DJ

    @LPC- we were pre-engaged when he started asking me about rings (sizes, styles, etc.). He flat out refused to take me ring shopping but I knew it was coming once he started with the interrogating.

    There's a lot of pressure on men to come up with an extraordinary proposal. My proposal wasn't extraordinary but it was very sweet. He proposed while watching Pardon the Interruption on ESPN on the couch. Then I texted and called everyone and we got drunk. It was wonderful.

  • Great post. I've been struggling with the engagement expectations myself. My fiance managed to pull off an unplanned popping of the question. We were sitting in a crowded bar eatting tater tots and drinking beer having a deep conversation about life and relationships and he casually said, "do you want to get married". to which I responded, "is that a proposal, or a general question?". He thought about it for a few seconds. Took a deep breath. And said, "A proposal. Will you marry me?". Of course I replied yes. In the car ride home we discussed the importance of a more traditional proposal. Should this be more of a pre-engagement discussion or an actual engagement? Out of an inability to keep my mouth shut we decided to call that the official engagement. Screw tradition, rings, down on one knee, etc.

    I should note at this point that it wasn't entirely unplanned. We have been dating for eight years. We almost got married this fall for health insurance purposes, but managed to find an alternative solution. That situation got us talking more seriously about marriage and we both had discussed how we (finally) knew we wanted to get married and knew we wanted it to be sometime soon.

    Until I read your article I had mixed feelings about my engagement. It was so in-the-moment and so very quirky that I couldn't help but feel great about it. However, people started asking how he proposed and seemed a little disappointed at our story. And disappointed I didn't have a ring to show off. Thanks for the post. It reminded me that proposals (like everything else about wedding planning and marriage) are about identifying traditions that speak to us and incorporating those, while leaving behind ones that we don't feel a particular connection to.

  • Meg

    I don't think "pre-engagement" is a real thing (I've sort of made fun of it before, in fact), and I didn't ever consider ourselves to be pre-engaged (I don't think most people do, except in retrospect). But it's the best term I could figure out to discribe that time otherwise-known-as-waiting-for-a-ring (which obviously I think is BS). I think most relationships have it.

  • This post is the reason I love APW. That, and the comments. I feel like instead of being labelled "pre-engaged" whenever I told anybody about something sweet my boyfriend had done or something fun we had done together, I would get an eyeroll and a "man you guys are SO gonna get married." Like it was a bad thing, it was such a weird reaction. But at the same time, yeah, we were. Duh. It's always been obvious to us, and we finally talked about it while on vacation last spring. Over dinner we were talking about general relationshippy things and one of us was just like "well, we're probably going to get married soon." and the other one said "yep." and that was about it.

    I waited for him to propose, but it didn't feel like waiting, because I knew we were more or less on the same page about it. We're not "traditional" per se, but I know him, and I knew he would want to be the one who did the popping of questions, and I wanted to be proposed to. We didn't go ring shopping, but he knows my style and I LOVE my ring.

    The part that's been hard for me is when people ask for "the story" of our proposal and I know they're expecting a huge long circus tale, and all I say is we went for a walk in the woods, and he proposed next to a pine tree. It was perfect for me and for us, but it's so weird to see disappointment when my "story" is over in a couple of sentences. The thing that is actually paining me is that a month or so into our engagement he apologized that my ring isn't as big as my friends' rings. Oh, it absolutely gutted me. I couldn't believe he felt bad about it! It's ridiculous! I love my ring, but I would have said yes if he gave me a bottlecap on a pipe cleaner. It really bummed me out that some of the crazy I've been trying to avoid in general got to him, too.

  • Maybe "pre engagement" is that period of time when your mother drinks too much wine and starts grilling you and your boyfriend about marriage at the dinner table and your father says "that's a nice necklace he gave you, but it's not a ring" and your boyfriend, who was adorably going to ask your father for permission to marry you that same weekend, decides to hold off so as not to seem like he's just "giving into the pressure". Yea…I think that's when we were "pre engaged".

  • Personally, I was relaxed and chill in my 'pre-engagment' point. All of my family and friends on the other hand? They were all freaking out since they were ready for us to get engaged. "You two are supposed to be married." they'd say. Which made me feel great that we had that support, but also kept me from freaking out. I figured he got enough of it from his mom and my mom, so I could leave well enough alone.

    We had a talk about it, and I said the usual-no jumbotrons, no airplanes, or other big crazy things. I told him I trusted him to do something that was very us (which he did, YAY!) We also had a talk about who was going to be doing the asking, and I felt pretty strongly it should be him. Feminist I may be, but I feel like asking a woman to marry you is a ultimate moment for a man. That being said we also had to plan around school, work, family stuff, and other life events. Since we were a couple, and about joining our lives-we had to have a talk about when/where/etc, and it wasn't just about when he decided to ask me. Plus if we as a couple are going to spend $ on a ring I'm going to wear for the rest of my life, I want to pick it out. Which we also had to talk about, since he wanted to just ask my friends, and they don't really have the same taste as me.

  • Oh YES!
    My DF and I discussed for several months the fact that we could both see us heading towards a marriage.

    I told him that he was not to propose until he was emotionally ready to make that committment and start planning the wedding and the rest of our lives.

    The six weeks between that discussion and the proposal were SO hard and long!!! Then, when the proposal came, it was a little cliched, but so sweet and simple, with a ring almost identical to the one I had seen and loved when we went looking together.

    I made my decision that I wanted to be with him forever. Then I left him to make his choice public. Myself and a friend who got engaged three weeks before us both followed this rule – we went with the theory that both our men knew they wanted to settle, we were just waiting for things to happen on their schedule so they didnt feel pressured.
    For both of us it has worked, and we have fiances (for her a husband in 9 days!) who are deeply involved in the wedding planning and are very excited about being married.

    Whatever works for you. I think nowadays most women are not surprised when they are proposed to, as many couples have already decided that this is what they want to do, and are just waiting for their timing to be right.

  • I'd be interested to know more girls responses to proposals.

    My fiance & I gradually began talking about getting married in January and he proposed in November. But what was funny is that even with those months of talking about marriage, weddings, negotiating religious & familial landmines, when he did propose I was actually kind of scared sh*tless.

    He did it in a big way, on a bluff overlooking the ocean at sunset, etc etc., the way those twits on the knot would swoon over. And instead of crying or jumping up and down or something, I started laughing and said such loving things as "Are you for real?" and "Stop making fun of me" repeatedly. The poor guy had to get on one knee before I could take him seriously.

    I've been carrying around a sort of guilt about my reaction for the last several months. Why had I reacted that way, and why did I nervous and anxious? I was afraid that if I told people how I actually felt during the whole proposal, they'd think there was something fundamentally wrong with our relationship or something. But after a time, I started thinking about it differently: I mean, I always approach big life decisions with fear and anxiety that I cover up with bravado – it's a trademark quality I'm not proud of. And, of course, getting married is a big life change – one of the hugest you can make. So cue my nervousness. Thinking about it this way has helped me feel a bit better about it. We're still full steam ahead, and I'm very very excited about it.

    But I'd love to hear about other people's reactions to a partner's grand proposal. Maybe I'm not the only one who had an adverse reaction?

  • Preach sister! You always articulate exactly what I'm thinking.

    Can I share my kind of unorthodox idea about rings with you?

    I like the symbolism of the engagement ring. To *me* the symbolism is the asker showing the s/he's responsible and committed by putting aside a little moola (assuming you're a lucky type of person who is doing ok financially).

    But expensive rings just aren't my thing. Great for others, don't do much for me.

    Do you know what I'd like for an engagement gift? A 50 year government savings bond. It has all that symbolism of putting down the cash as a financial committment and I like the government savings bond b/c it's the most stable locked in investment you can make (while I invest in stocks I don't want them to be the symbol of my marriage, thankyouvermuch!). Then the bond becomes your 50th wedding anniversary party fund and it's for both of you! Eee, fun!

    Maybe I'm nieve, but I figure if you make it to 50 years your pretty much home free. Alternatively your marriage could be for a term of for 50 years with the option to renew ;-)

    One problem with this plan is that 50 year government savings bonds do not exist, at least at the federal level. I'll have to see what there is at the municipal level.

    Anyway, this is how my strange mind works. Thought you might find it interesting.

  • YEA!! And along with "know thyself" we need to add "know thy partner." Know what they like, what they don't like, what their dreams are, what matters to them. Proposing in public to someone who doesn't like big crowds – bad idea.

    Our proposal story was the most perfect story ever because it was so completely and utterly us. It showed how well we knew each other. And it still makes me smile to think about it.

  • Adrienne – my fiance said the same thing to me about my ring! and I picked the darn thing out! when we went ring shopping together, he suggested a maximum budget that almost made me faint. I refused to spend that much! I ended up picking out a ring at about half the price he suggested, with a small-ish but well-cut (canadian) diamond on a (recycled) white gold setting. I loved it, it was exactly what I wanted, and still a few weeks after we got engaged, he asked me if the diamond was too small and should he get me a better one? I'm not sure where it came from, whether it occurred to him on his own or if someone made a comment to him about it.. But I felt guilty for picking out a diamond that made him feel bad, or possibly embarrassed him! and that's just crazy that either of us felt bad over a beautiful ring.

    and it's true that when I show people my ring, their socks remain firmly on their feet and if they're really nice, they comment on how pretty the setting is, or how nicely the diamond was cut. most people just say "oh!" as if they're preparing themselves to oooh and ahhh and then they're so underwhelmed they don't know what to say. ack!

    I like what WilderMiss said, I agree the symbolism is great. I mean that's why I agreed to the price I agreed to, it's enough that he had to save up a bit, but not so much that it would feel ridiculous that we didn't put that toward either the wedding itself or our future home.

    ..can't wait till we get to the 'size of the rock' post on here..

  • Meg

    Um. I went into some sort of shock. Knowing it was coming, and really not expecting it because it was the worst day ever (quoth David, "That's what made it surprising!")… shock. Knowing something intellectually and knowing something emotionally HAS happened are two totally different things.

    And then two days later I spent the whole day crying, because I was confused that I felt like crying. Shouldn't I be blissfully happy? Probably yes, must cry more.

    Emotions are weird like that. Stop feeling guilty. I order you ;)

  • Meg

    On the other hand David suggested a max price (we knew we were getting a diamond ring), and I was like, "Honey? Do you know what Diamonds cost?"

    Of course I don't wear the ring now, so…

  • oh hey! i just blogged about someone judging my ring!

  • Meg, you read my mind on a daily basis and this is so refreshing. Sometimes I read these blogs and think, "Why can't I be more like Meg. I bet she and David are always on the same page and my relationship is broken. I mean, LOOK at those wedding pictures!" Which I know is not the point, etc.
    Yelling and crying and ruining an attempted proposal or two and waiting and being surprised was right for me. As is my non-diamond (not that they're not gorgeous) ring and all the other good stuff. Thanks as usual for your wonderful posts.

  • p.s. it's also great to see that i am not the only person who used to come to this site while i was "pre-engaged". it's hard to be a feminist waiting for a ring and looking at wedding pictures, but it's easier when you're not alone :)

  • @benny – I felt exactly the same way.

    Our proposal was very much a non-event. We had gone out to a nice dinner and whatnot earlier that night, got home and into our sweats, were cuddled on our couch under a blanket and he asked…

    I said,(after a pause) "I…could do that??" Mostly I was confused as to what was going on. I knew I wanted to spend my life with him, but my heart was in my throat and I felt like vomiting for hours.

    This is a MAJOR decision, and no matter how sure you are, it should be a bit scary. This is how I feel when making any huge decision or purchase. If you can do this stuff with ease, then that's fine too. It makes sense that people like us react this way though.

    I am SO, SO thankful to have some amazing girlfriends who are real and I can tell these sort of things to where they GET it, they don't judge. So I was able to talk about the complete non-fairytale aspect to it, and the fears and ALL the emotions (good and bad) that come with it.

    One even brought up that usually women go through a bit of a period like this after engagement because we work out all this stuff in our minds, but guys work it all out before they propose…

  • I've been with the same person for most of my adult life. We are not engaged. The first time he mentioned marriage, I had a massive panic attack. We moved in together instead and I had serious anxiety over the transition. I guess commitment makes me nervous, which is weird because I've never doubted that I want to be with him.

    So he's wisely avoided the topic of marriage for years and I spent a while feeling like we were getting close to the time where he should ask, because everyone else was getting married. And then that time passed.

    And the other week we were driving in the car and I just felt something and I told him that I don't care about the engagement or the wedding, but I'm ready to be married to him. Then we held hands and grinned a bit.

    So we're not engaged, but we're ready to be. I don't think that we'll have a big engagement story, but we'll probably sit down and decide when we want to get the process started. Unromantic to some maybe, but perfect for me.

  • Once a guy-friend of mine told me that his future imaginary fiance will get a big diamond whether she likes it or not. It was a reflection of him and how he could provide so he wouldn't want to look bad. (crazy, I know!)

    I asked a couple other guys, and they also somewhat agreed that the ring is something they feel they are judged on. They are pressured by society to provide a huge rock. I guess I hadn't thought of it from a guy's perspective too much prior to that.

    Funny the pressure men get to show their material worth…

  • Meg


  • It's interesting that even within our little feminist/conscious/self-aware wedding circle there's still quite an overwhelming majority of people (who identify as female) who felt ready before their partners (who they identify as male).

    I can't help but think about something that halfpenny said – about feeling embarrassed or worried about your reaction to the proposal and does it "mean" something about you.

    Over a year ago my guy and I had "proposal phase 1" as we now call it. We'd talked about wedding stuff before, but even though on some level I was excited about the idea I was also totally freaked out. I love him to pieces and am solidly of a marrying age (30) and yet struggled with feeling way too young/not ready/generally quite scared. He'd interpreted us talking about it as feeling ready, when really I just liked talking about it.

    On a very snowy day we were taking a walk and suddenly he got this misty look in his eyes and I knew it was coming. At that moment when I wanted to feel totally present and connected I just couldn't get there. I feel terrible saying this but partly it was because it was so spontaneous and he didn't have a ring. It wasn't about the ring per se, but one of the major issues in our relationship has been his, um, lack of financial acumen (he's in lots of debt, I am not). I wanted to feel like he had planned and saved and been quite responsible about it, whereas he likes the romantic gesture.

    This part of the story ends badly. Even though I wanted to say yes, I just didn't feel wholly there. And so I said "not yet." At first it was okay, he got it, he said let's check back in later. But then it was sort of awful, why hadn't I been able to say yes then? what was wrong with me/us that I couldn't just spontaneously enjoy it and worry about the rest later? We had lots of tough talks.

    That was january. By august I had done tons of thinking and talking with friends and things had also just changed and moved on with us – he was doing really well at work, I'd had lots of time to process and appreciate and work stuff through. We were on a hike and he was helping me cross a small river which required the kind of hopping from stone to stone that I'm very very bad at. And somehow at that moment I did just know, and I asked him. We were really giddy for a bit and enjoyed the world's most wonderful cheese sandwiches. I didn't want to tell anyone for a few days because I was still getting used to the idea but finally when we started telling people and talking about it it started to feel really really great. And it still does (we're getting married in june… so excited).

    I talked with a friend later about proposal mythology – how you're just supposed to *know* that its right at that second. But nothing else in my life is like that, it takes me ages to order in a restaurant, so I don't know why/how I expected myself to so fully cede control over this incredibly intimate and fundamentally important thing.

    I'm so glad that we did it this way, even though it makes for quite a cringey story when people ask. Friends who've said yes before they were entirely ready have ended up having a lot of these feelings while being engaged, whereas I'm glad that I took the time and worked it through beforehand. And I'm very lucky he was patient. And yes, I now have a lovely vintage ring that he saved for and could afford, even if no one has ever said "wow look at that diamond."

    This feels odd to put out there (and so sorry for the long post!) but since this all happened I've had so many great conversations with friends about proposals being real, human things. and so are doubts. and you can feel ridiculously happy and totally terrified at the same time. really, would it be worthy of a lifetime commitment if you didn't?

  • @Hennypenny: He dropped to one knee and proposed. I said something like, "yes, yes, of course yes." Then, in bed that night, I asked if he meant like, marriage and forever and babies and stuff, because I guess I was having trouble wrapping my head around it. I was happy, sure, but more than a little confused and not sure if he meant it really seriously. My reaction may have been clear but my emotions were not.

  • @Alicia: my father proposed to my mother three times, and she kept saying 'not yet'. After the third time, he told her it was her turn, and he was done with proposing. They eventually got engaged at McDonalds.

    Did this affect their relationship? No. My parents were married for 6 months shy of their 30th anniversary (plus 8 years of dating before that) when my father died. A less than ideal proposal story was nothing more than a funny anecdote for later years.

  • @ mere: I totally feel you. My now-fiancĂŠ and I were together, happily unmarried, for years before we began thinking about marriage. People were constantly all "When are you going to get married?" It got super old.

    @ Rachel: "I thought by saying out loud that I wanted that proposal I would ruin everything."

    I totally went through this for a year before I decided to propose to my fiancĂŠ. It's a really crazymaking thing, to know you want to get married but feel like you are NOT ALLOWED to bring it up, because he will totally freak out and run away, or he'll propose just to shut you up because you're a horrible nagging pressuring bitch — or else because you shouldn't even want to get married because it's not feminist or whatever.

    I swung back and forth wildly between being angry at him for not proposing, feeling guilty for being the stereotypical girl who's antsy to get married, doubting whether I was really ready after all, and being angry at myself for being so crazy.

    In retrospect, it was ultra-stupid of me to feel that way. We're adults, we know and trust each other. It's not nagging or pressuring to start an honest conversation about marriage and acknowledge that I kinda feel ready to go there, and genuinely ask how he feels about it. It doesn't preclude a traditional surprise proposal if he'd felt strongly about wanting to make one, so it's not like having that conversation would steal his thunder.

    And honestly — he may be ready to get married, but delaying because he's fearful that you might not want to marry him. It seems obvious to you that you'd say yes, so you wonder what he's waiting for. But my experience planning a proposal taught me that when you're planning to ask someone that question, you start to worry and question that maybe, somehow, you've got it all wrong and they'll say no.

    So communicating about getting engaged could solve a lot of the anxiety and miscommunications on both sides. LIke Anne Elliott and Frederick Wentworth in Persuasion — if either of them had said something, anything, they could have lived happily ever after together much sooner.

  • I've never really understood the anxiety of a "pre-engagement" period, but that might be because *I* was the one who took a while to come around to the idea. I was strongly anti-marriage when I met my guy; he's a bit more of a romantic than I am and comes from a more traditional background, so he was the first one to mention "forever," let alone making it legal.

    I was both alarmed and thrilled when he first hinted at wanting to marry me, but I knew deep down, as much as I loved him and wanted to be with him until I was 199 yrs old, I was NOT emotionally ready. Plus, I was in the midst of 3 hectic years of grad school.

    People had been asking us for years "when are you guys tying the knot?" And yes, many other couples had met and married in the time we'd been together, but *they are not us*. We happily shrugged and ignored the social pressure. I think we both figured that the most important thing was that we had already privately pledged ourselves 'til death… the rest was just gravy.

    Gradually I found myself warming to the idea of a legal marriage/public wedding… but I was worried I might've left him with the impression that I was still freaked out by the topic. So I did drop a few hints. And I told him that I was not looking for a big, splashy proposal (not my thing). In the end it happened very organically. We just discussed it one night in bed and he asked, "So, are we engaged?" and I replied, "Um, yeah, I guess we are!" And I love that it happened that way.

    He picked out my ring, but I requested no stones/less than $100. I know the cultural symbolism sometimes equates how much he makes + how much he loves = big-ass spendy ring, but to me, that is the antithesis of romance. *shrug*

    And yes, he got questioned if I was "just trying to be nice" by not asking for a diamond or if I "knew how much he makes/that he could afford something fancier?" (Really, people?! :P)

  • k.

    Ug yes. Am dealing with this now. FH is more traditional than me, and so even though we are actively planning our wedding for this fall we aren't "officially" engaged yet. I love that he wants to do the surprise proposal, it's very sweet. But I have been ready to shout it from the rooftops since we started planning while he insists on actually asking first. Couple waiting is definitely where I'm at.

  • Thank you for starting this conversation!

  • @Hennypenny

    After being together for 1 year, he gave me a little wrapped box for my birthday. I saw it and immediately thought, "HOLY SHIT is he proposing? Because I am not ready to deal with that!!" And then I felt sort of guilty that I'd felt that way, since I did love him. But still.

    In this case, it was thankfully just a necklace. But it made me laugh later, because so many of my girlfriends would've been disappointed it *wasn't* a ring, LOL.

  • Jessica

    THANK YOU for this. Makes me not feel like a looney for talking to my boyfriend (now fiance) about it. He was SO worried that without a giant ring & money for a giant wedding that we couldn't take the next step. We talked it through, knew we didn't need a HUGE wedding-show and knew that there was no time like the present to be engaged, for however long we needed to be. I felt like my talking to him ruined the 'magic' and surprise of the thing – this at least makes me seem practical and in control of the situation.

  • Kim

    WOW. I feel like this post was written just for me. But obviously (with the 87-odd comments already posted here) I am not alone! It's so wonderful to read that everything I'm feeling is completely normal. And Meg, I often feel like you express exactly what I'm thinking.

    @MWK: "This may be catty and too simple, but my guideline is: if you are surprised when you get engaged (like REALLY surprised) than you probably shouldn't be engaged."

    That is exactly what happened the first time I got engaged. We had been together for about two years. We had maybe mentioned marriage in passing, jokingly (I thought), a few times, but never had a serious talk about it. Things were not going so well, and I was starting to realize he wasn't the person I wanted to spend my life with. When he proposed, it was a COMPLETE surprise. He did it in front of both of our families, so I felt like the only correct answer was "yes". I'm pretty sure if it had been in private I would have said, um, can we talk about this?

    I'm happy to be able to say that, even if I did say yes under pressure, we didn't get married in the end. (Close call, but I'm really glad I called it off.) I met someone else and am SO much happier now.

    @Emily : "I knew, however, that a proposal was something he really wanted to do, a special way of expressing his love by surprising me. So I waited, because I wanted him to do it the way he wanted. At times it felt like anti-feminist, why-am-I-waiting-on-a-man waiting. But I finally realized that I can't turn everything into a feminist battle. It was important to him, and I knew that we would be getting married in the end, so why demand control over the process just for the sake of feeling in control?"

    This is how I'm feeling these days. I thought we should just be able to discuss it and decide, together, to get married. But my boyfriend has told me it is important to him to be the one proposing. I thought he wouldn't want to propose again, having been through it once (with someone else – he was engaged before too!). But he told me he really wanted to "do things right this time", that is do it because HE really wants to – not because he is under intense, not-even-subtle-hinting-anymore pressure from his (now ex-)girlfriend. (He ended up calling his wedding off too – I know, it's pretty crazy how we went through the exact same thing.)

    I told him I am fine with him wanting to express his love for me that way.

    @Meg: Like other readers, I think you were spot on when you said "But knowing you want to get married to someone and feeling emotionally ready to get married to someone are two totally different beasts." We are couple-waiting. Talking about our eventual wedding, but also about what marriage means to us. Where we are going. How we will get there. I wrote long blog posts on the reasons why I want to marry him. We both want to be sure this time. And even though I have finally come to the conclusion that I am ready (and told him so), I am much happier to be waiting, knowing that he's taking the huge emotional commitment that is marriage very seriously, than having him say he's ready before he is, just to please me. (I know he wants to feel like this time, it is coming 100% from him, and not from external pressures.)

    Thank you for a great post and for sparking this discussion.

  • Awesome conversations here. The idea of a drawn-out pre-engagement is horrifying to me – waiting? ack! – which is one of the many reasons why I popped the question myself. But there are as many ways to get engaged as there are to get married.

    Which brings me to my next question – Hey Meg, can you do a series, i.e. like the Wedding Graduates, that just shares tons of stories of engagements? When I was scheming my little plan, I searched the internet high and low for stories of women proposing, and they are few and far between… which made me all the more nervous, even though I was certain that I wanted to do the asking myself. I think that would be very empowering for all – whether people want to wait, want to ask, or want no proposal at all.

    I am happy to share my little story, and clearly there is some awesome material here judging by these comments!!

  • I am glad to hear there are others who also have stories that don't fall into the standard proposal/engagement narrative. My husband was ready to commit for life well before me; while my ENFJ personality just took a lot longer to feel ready. After we did "pre-engagement" counseling, I told him I was ready to go to the next level in our relationship. (Side note: he says this was when I proposed to him and he felt we were engaged at this point.) He didn't propose then (and I don't think I did either), but he did order a ring and we began concretely planning the wedding and set the date for a few months later. And anytime I mentioned getting married I could see people check out my hand and I always felt I had to explain the situation.

    He said once, "Am I the only one that considers us engaged?" And I realized how much the idea of the ring is linked in my head to "real commitment." And this was reinforced when someone told me point blank that I should not be planning a wedding without a ring. (By this point we had set a date, I had a dress, and I was making invitations.) Thankfully later someone else wisely told me that marriage is not a commitment held together only by a physical ring, so why should a ring be necessary for engagement? And so I began to separate The Proposal and The Engagement in my head, and went on planning our wedding sans ring.

    But my husband felt intimidated by the idea of a proposal and felt a need for some grand gesture, so he waited for months after getting the ring, and I tried to let go of the ring as a necessary indicator of engagement. He ended up proposing the Wednesday before our Saturday wedding. We were on a bridge overlooking a waterfall and suddenly there were 6 friends running towards us with balloons and bouquets of daisies. And he asked: "Will you marry me on Saturday?" FUN and very much his style. And I learned a lot about commitment in our chronologically-atypical journey to marriage. :)

    All this to say…I appreciate this conversation because while we were going through this I didn't know a single couple that had a non-standard engagement experience, so I am glad to know we were not alone.

  • Nina

    wow Meg, you're amazing, you really put the last couple years of my swirling thoughts on paper just like that!

    Even though I saw us together forever it took me a really long time to be able to see us getting married. And once I did I somehow thought he would have gotten there too, at the same time. Timing really is everything. So then I spent a long time waiting for a proposal and getting angrier that he didn't seem to get it. I thought by saying out loud that I wanted that proposal I would ruin everything. There were heated arguments and tears. I didn't think about how his head had to get there too. Eventually he did get there and I got my proposal, but after all that it was never going to be the surprise I had been trying to get all along. In the end, I do wish I'd just talked to him before it all built up and I became so emotional about it. I had always taken charge in many ways in our relationship so I just wanted him to take charge on this. Of course that is silly, in hindsight. For those of you still pre-engaged: be mature about it. Like Meg says, communicate clearly. Those are wise words!

  • I am so glad I didn't get to read this until later in the day. I've read through the first 77 comments, and now there are 91. Anyway.

    Awesome post, Meg. Spot on. I was mentally and emotionally ready way before DJ was (like, a year + before, including the 4-ish months we were broken up), and he was mentally ready long before he was emotionally ready. I didn't find this out until a month or so ago, but there was only about a month between when he realized he was emotionally ready and when he proposed. And then he couldn't wait to be married.

    @LPC, I don't think I can pinpoint when we started talking about marriage, but I do remember a specific conversation in July of '07. Maybe we had a long talk because my best friend had been married earlier that day; I don't know. But after that, we talked about it often for the next year and a half.

    @Rachel – Squee!!!

  • K&T

    Well written. For my fiance & I, reflecting on the engagement after it happened was important in moving our relationship towards readiness for marriage. While we had discussed it somewhat, and both knew it was coming, we did not communicate our expectations clearly to one another prior to him "popping the question." The reasons why matter less than what we've learned since. The truth is neither of us clearly understood what the other was looking for. (He wanted to impress me with a big rock, which he felt demonstrated an ability to provide for me. I wanted a special time for the two of us to reflect on who we are as a couple, where we've been & where we're going, for me the ring was as a tangible (hopefully pretty) symbol that understanding.)

    Clearly we were on very different pages about the engagement. But, we've discussed it and have become even better at communicating our expectations to one another. This skill has been used MANY times in wedding planning, and I'm sure it will continue to be useful after the wedding!

  • April

    I recall the Mister and I talking about marriage for years… we were both in our 30s and totally ready for it, and knew we'd get married…one day. And finally, in the middle of these, "So, when we're married…" chats, he turned to me and asked, "We're technically already engaged, right? Or do you want a proposal?"

    Hmm… sure, why not? And so he asked me to marry him right then and there: on a Sunday, over toast and scrambled eggs. No ring. No bended knee. No fanfare. Just a simple question with a "yes" answer. Perfect.

    And we were happy and called ourselves engaged. Except everyone kept asking for the wedding date. We never actually thought about choosing one because hey! Engagement is fun! Now we have new titles – fiance/fiancee! WOOHOO! But tell anyone you're engaged and what follows is: when? and where's the ring? Which was maddening because we hadn't gotten that far into the engagement to even consider rings and wedding dates.

    2 years after that impromptu, engagement "agreement" as we jokingly call it, he DID formally propose (and the timing was a complete surprise), with the ring I'd chosen (also a surprise – I told him what I wanted but didn't think he'd remember it!), on New Years in our apartment – just the two us .

    Honestly, the in-between / waiting never felt stressfu because we were too busy living every day life to fret about the timing of when a proposal would happen and a marriage/wedding would follow. All of it just sort of evolved, and then when we felt like it, we said, "OK, let's make it happen!"

  • My beef with engagement is the common cultural assumption that it is all the man's responsibility. Before we got engaged, my hubby and I talked long and hard about it. We knew it was going to happen, we knew he wanted to propose and that I liked that idea. So, in order to make the responsibility a little more equal we did this: it was my job to say I was ready to go look for rings. I had to initiate this part of the process. After we picked out a ring, I handed it over and waited until he proposed. I loved pre-engagement. I'd get all excited b/c I thought maybe this was the moment he'd constructed…and then when it wasn't my anticipation just grew. I didn't feel like I was in limbo, b/c I knew it was coming…I loved the wait.

  • Sarah

    omg! our engagement sounds a lot like yours, meg! we knew that we would get married someday, but then as the time wore on, and i knew it was coming at some point, it became a lot to bear (and we dealt with it similarly). i picked out my own ring, and we did have a proposal, although it was simple and cute, not a whole big shebang. which i thought i wanted, but in the end it was still good, b/c that is how our relationship is anyway. at that point, i was just ready to stop being "pre-engaged" (we were for about 2 years!) and just be for-real engaged, and get on to the wedding planning already, for pete's sake! :P

  • I love this post. I don't feel so alone now that I've read it. I'm 24 and my long-term, long-distance boyfriend and I are "pre-engaged." We had to wait for a million things to fall into place: I finished college, he found a job, I started law school…finally, we're almost done waiting. I finish law school in May and his job is transferring him to a city nearby (where I will move after graduation). I am SO READY to get engaged but it hasn't really been an option (I didn't want to be engaged long-distance; I'm so over the long-distance thing).

    A lot of my friends are getting engaged (midwest, smaller towns), and none of his are (London). So I feel a lot more pressure, in addition to my own desire to get engaged. When I go home to visit, people at my mom's church always ask if we're engaged yet (or worse, excitedly grab my left hand and then act sympathetic when they see no ring). My experience of being pre-engaged is very different from his, and I don't think it's gender so much as culture/circle of friends.

    Even worse, I always feel like I'm somehow betraying the feminist cause when I explain where I am moving after graduation. It's to be with him, and I'm perfectly at peace with the decision and very excited for us to explore our new city together. But somehow saying "I'm moving to be with my husband/fiance" is perfectly legitimate and adult but saying "I'm moving to be with my boyfriend" makes you a silly little girl who doesn't give a thought to what's best for her career after law school. A silly girl who randomly follows boys across the country. "Boyfriend" is easy to dismiss, it sounds like this could be a temporary whim and it could go sour and then I'm in a strange city all alone (even though we've been together for ELEVEN YEARS, for heaven's sake).

    All of this rambling on is to say: yes. Pre-engaged. It is tricky sometimes and I love that you've put a name to it, because it is definitely my situation. And I'm not alone.

  • I sent this to a few of my friends today. I hope they appreciate it as much as I do.

  • Nina

    I love the honesty here… reading all these comments is truly making me feel better about our proposal story (the event and all that lead up to it). It wasn't a perfect road, there was no storybook proposal (in fact I was crying at the time, BEFORE he actually proposed I mean) and while I know it was really pretty perfect in many way, I still get pangs (of guilt and regret I guess) when people ask for the story. So thank you to everyone for their honesty that even when our reactions and words are not perfect, it's really ok.

  • Thank you, Meg. When you are a feet-first kind of girl like me, and your partner takes a year to shop for a car because he has to see everything, drive everything, and compare every price, it can get frustrating waiting for him to be ready to get married. I've had more than one meltdown. Especially when you see all your friends around you getting married, and they seem so perfect for each other and like they never had a doubt or a fight about it, it's easy to forget that they went through some of the same issues you're going through. Getting the timing right with two headstrong people who move at totally different paces has been such a challenge for us. But he's worth it! And I know that years from now, I'll look back on this time, before we were married with children, with nostalgia. :)

  • Hannah

    One. Love. Sometimes I feel super duper alone in this wedding shenanigan. Turns out I'm not. It's very nice to know. This plus the wedding undergraduate post really rock my world. Being engaged is scary. Thanks for making it better.

  • Hannah

    Even though I am happy and proud that my fiance and I have chosen to do things our own way, sometimes the outside world gets to me and I wonder if we're doing it all wrong and doomed to fail. So THANK YOU for this post, because you made me feel strong again in the face of the question everyone loves to ask us, "How did he propose?" (in the awwww-so-sweet sappy tone of voice).

    Usually I just say, "He didn't. We decided together." And he says, "I didn't. She proposed to me." But the longer version of the story is that he had wanted to get married for quite a few years and I just wasn't ready. I was sort of resigned to it happening someday, but I've seen so many horrible divorces that I just wasn't quite sure how I felt about things myself.

    Then, about a year ago, we got into a big fight when he brought up getting married which basically ended with him saying, "Well, someday I'm going to ask you and if you say no, that's it, I won't wait anymore." To which I replied, "Well why are we together then?" He stormed off and I stormed off and when we both cooled off he came back home and told me, "I changed my mind, I just want to be with you. That's it." And that's when I knew I was ready. Six months later the voice in my head got too loud and so, over a glass of cheap red wine after a long day of work I spilled the beans that it was time. He was so surprised he asked about five times if I was joking. We went and bought a ring together (I wanted to pick it out myself) and then called our parents and friends and told everyone the news. No romantic proposal, no big surprises, just us making the decisions together.

    Now that we are moving forward with everything, I am even more amazed and appreciative of his patience all these years. Being ready and excited about getting married is so wonderful and if it had been any sooner I don't think I could enjoy it the way I do now.

  • Holy crap. I think you found the topic your reader REALLY love, Meg…SO awesome.

  • LPC

    Thanks for the stories. I think the difference seems to be in the hearts of the waiters. If you both know where you are going, then you are just waiting for a moment of ritual on a known path. If the woman, or whoever is waiting, doesn't actually know if it's going to happen, that's not pre-engaged. That's' the old days. No matter what had happened, living together, discussions, most of us still felt the power to decide lay with the man. And that feeling is a durable one, with many repercussions.

  • i kind of cringe when i think of our pre/engagement. We are an egalitarian, "he's better at doing the dishes so does the cleaning" "she cares about food and cooks" kinda couple. the boy has been ready to be married since about month 3. It took me another year before I was in the same place.

    But then…

    We tried to think how we should get engaged. the boy said he wanted to do the proposing. i said i wanted him to buy the ring. looking back, this makes no sense for us as a couple. the boy has never managed to get a gift in wrapping paper before giving me, he gets too excited and just hands it to me. I am a planner, a romantic, and would have had a lot of fun planning a proposal.

    Long story short, everything went wrong in the proposal. We went hiking and I was grouchy, he couldn't find a scenic spot without people in it, so ended up giving the ring to me by the car, because i had foolishly said I didn't want to be part of the planning process the setting was way too big for my hand, and he forgot that he was supposed to ask me something. I love him to pieces, but he shows his love so much better on a daily basis than in a big dramatic gesture.

    I wish when we were preparing that instead of asking "what do I want" I had asked instead "what makes sense for us as a couple." I think it would have been less pressure for him, and more fun for me to propose.

    • Aussie Emily

      Omg, my proposal story is almost identical to yours! Couldn’t find a spot he liked so proposed back in the cabin on our bush holiday. Except he forgot to ask the question too – instead he presented me with an empty ring box. It was empty because he didn’t realise the ring would take 6 weeks to make so ordered it too late. When I finally got it 3 weeks later (after 3 long weeks of telling people I was engaged and then having them look at my naked hand suspiciously), it wasn’t what I would have picked. I know he spent a bundle on it but he didn’t go to the jeweller I recommended so I think he’s been been ripped off. Like someone else wrote, when people see my ring, the socks stay on. :( Now I’m going to curl up in a corner and think about what an evil,ungrateful person I am…

  • Cate Subrosa

    So true. I did some stupid waiting before I got around to the proper grown-up talking about it. The talking was so much better.

  • I was what you call pre-engaged for a long time. Blogs like this (and the fact that my friends were getting married) had me obsessed with the idea of planning a wedding. BF and I spoke regularly about our wedding – despite not being engaged (normally conversation initiated by me).
    I knew it was coming, but didnt know when. And I bugged him about it constantly. (Shame on me!!)

    My boyfriend is notoriously UNromantic and part of the thrill of waiting for the proposal was wondering how he was going to do it, where, when, etc.
    At the same time I told him he'd better not do it in public, he'd better not do anything cheesey and that it had to be "us". I really had built this thing up in my mind. It was going to be my one chance for romance.. the one time he would HAVE to be romantic for me!!

    He knew he wanted to propose but felt pressure around getting the proposal right (buying a ring and coming up with a way to ask that would be impressive, etc).

    In the end.. he got drunk at the pub one night and just blurted out "well we both know we want to get married, so lets just do it".
    We bought a ring 2 days later.

    I must admit.. I was (and still am to an extent) terribly disappointed. All that anticipation of "pre-engagement" for nothing. And having to tell that story repeatedly when people ask me how it happened… grrr. I still cringe when I flick through wedding magazines and read people's romantic stories (even though they are cheesy and not "us" and not what i would have wanted)

    I'm know I'm being ridiculous… I know I sound like an idiot. I know I'm lucky he wants to marry me anyway. And I guess in the end he did do it in a non-cheesey and "us" kind of way (must have ignored my part about doing it in public)
    … but what I probably should have stressed to him is that it was the "moment" I was looking for. And for once I wanted a little bit of romance that I just dont normally get to experience.

    So now I feel a little ripped off. And I feel guilty for not being overjoyed about my engagement. And for being slightly mad at him over the whole thing.

    I need to get over it.

    But my expectations in the first place – and my subsequent reaction are probably partly due to this "cultural dialogue" that you speak of. Shame on me again for getting caught up in it all!

    Wow – I think I really needed to get that out!

  • @ hennypenney:
    "I've been carrying around a sort of guilt about my reaction for the last several months. Why had I reacted that way, and why did I nervous and anxious? I was afraid that if I told people how I actually felt during the whole proposal, they'd think there was something fundamentally wrong with our relationship or something"

    This is exactly how I felt! My feelings were exaccerbated by the fact that I WAS THE ONE THAT WANTED THIS – so why wasnt I excited enough? Why was I focussing on the proposal not being perfect?

    I remember waking up the next day (hungover and not even really remembering what he SAID when he proposed) and I was thinking "i'll just tell him that didnt count. I'll tell him he has to do it again another time". Then I remembered that half of our friends WITNESSED the proposal. And then I rolled over and he was laying there grinning saying "we're engaged!!".. and I was like "oh.. i guess this really is the proposal then".
    But I felt confused and anxious. Nad when I told people I didnt feel or sound excited. And I felt (and still feel) so guilty that this was my reaction. My reaction to something I couldnt wait for!

  • Jessica! I feel you. 100%. I think the only way to get over this horribly guilty feeling is to talk to him about it!! I was just like you, hoping he would understand that the effort of creating a romantic moment for the proposal was really the most important part of it. for me at least, it was more important than the ring or anything else, it seemed symbolic of the care and effort he would put into our future marriage. I have no idea if that makes sense or not, but that's how I felt about it. of course I did not communicate that to him, I guess I thought it was just Obvious! so the night he got off the phone with my dad, having just gotten official permission, when he rolled over in our bed and asked me to marry him, I said what? of course! but I was still confused and disappointed and feeling ashamed to feel that way (and I couldn't help thinking about having to tell this story over and over). I couldn't get excited and he noticed and I had to explain. He understood and then felt like an ass and asked for a do-over. I felt ridiculous and almost refused, but then I let him. And he did it over a couple weeks later and it was no huge spectacle but it was perfect. And I feel a lot better. But still there's a part of me that feels ridiculous for needing that do-over.. Your story made me feel better! I don't know you or your relationship but maybe you could tell him what the proposal moment meant to you, and see if there's another opportunity for him to create that moment for you. if that makes sense. hug!

  • @LPC (and @all) Our "pre-engaged" time occurred like this: One day I realised I was no longer afraid of being with the same person forever, and thought that it might be nice to move in together and live with just him (an idea which had previously scared me). Before we did so, I said something like, "You know that moving in together is a big deal for me, right? And that I wouldn't be doing it if I weren't planning for this to be a forever thing, right?" And he was appropriately serious when he said, "Me too". And then almost 2 years later, I brought up the idea of actually getting married, which he took a while to get used to and then got very excited about. We both wanted a him-proposing-to-me proposal, and we both had pretty specific ideas about the ring (which I'll save for The Great APW Ring Conversation later!). And then he talked about it with my parents when we saw them in person (not as a transfer-of-property type transaction, but because they are such a very important part of my life), who were so excited they cried, which I thought was extremely cute. And then he apparently bought a ring and carried it around (on vacation and then home again) and occasionally opened the little box to gaze at it all shiny-like and be excited. During these months I was waiting, but not worried; I knew he'd do it in his own way whenever he thought the time and situation were right. So it ended up being something like 6 months after we had decided that we both wanted to get married (and 3 months after he had talked to my parents) when we got engaged.

    And the waiting was ok, and not anxious at all, conveniently. I learned that I don’t mind “couple timing�, because being on the same page is a good thing and is something that's worth waiting for, if need be.

  • Oh, man, this is a rough one for me.

    I basically had a two-day long anxiety attack about the proposal. It… sucked. A lot. I haven't really talked about it much, and reading these comments are already wigging me out. No, it wasn't cute. No, he didn't have cold feet and I had to wait for him. No, I didn't propose to him. And NO, that doesn't mean I'm not a feminist, it means that we're kinda traditional, is all.

    Of all the things that Team Practical talks about, this is one of those times where I lost my footing right away, and never got it back. I feel so NOT confident about the proposal, and that's just not fair. It's my fault, but it's still not fair.

    I wrote about his proposal over here, still feeling crazy about it, though.

    [Sidenote: the word verification feels purposeful: "bratic". Yes, I was a brat, stop rubbing it in…]

  • Kathleen

    To echo what everyone else has already said, thank you so much for this post (and keep the engagement posts coming!)

    Until this past year I never understood people who knew they were going to get married but weren't engaged yet. Now I'm in that situation, and I still don't really "get it" (after all, doesn't being engaged mean deciding to get married?), but I'm starting to realize all the other… well, stuff… involved in being engaged.

    My boyfriend and I have been talking about BEING married almost since we started dating. One day last fall when I was feeling a tad insecure I finally explained to him how talking about being married was different from talking about getting married – and in the process of trying to explain this I figured a few things out for myself as well.

    So like the sane couple we are, we talked about it! And we continue to talk about it whenever something new comes up or I'm feeling particularly wedding-y (I'm in grad school. I enjoy internet escapism). I showed him this post because I thought it was so freaking cool that you echoed a lot of what we'd been talking about.

    Anyway, glad to know there are other people in the same boat, thinking seriously through commitment, being honest with our partners, and celebrating our relationships for what they are and will be. I heart this blog. Thanks Meg!

  • So I know this post isn't about the waiting. But, could we have one that is? I got a call from a friend all a-wreck last night. She let her (very mexican catholic traditional) friends and family get her all worked up that her boyfriend (who was promising a night she wouldn't forget for their third anniversarry) was going to propose. And that if he didn't? It meant that he wasn't sure about being with her. Of course, rationally she knows this is bullshit, but sometimes it is hard to detangle your emotions from this. (oh, he didn't propose, obviously. And they talked about it, and he is not ready.)

    Could we talk about how you were able (after the yelling) to embrace healthy perspective during the time when you were ready to be married and he was not? I would like to give her the words of this diverse and wise community to help bolster a more sane view…. <3 Please?

  • karen

    I found this blog today and have spent the last three hours poring over it. Thank you. I’ve cried at least five times. The vulnerability and honesty in these pages embrace me.

    I’m in the pre-engaged boat as well and I’ve struggled quite a bit with my emotions on the issue. My boyfriend and I are both 24 and in a network of friends who aren’t wedding/marriage-crazy yet. There’s no pressure or expectation nagging at us from the outside. I’ve known for almost a year that I want to marry him. He’s known for almost as long. BUT like you mention above, the knowing can (and, I think, must) come before the enactment. I’m ready for it, but I was quite content waiting – or, not waiting, but savoring the process and watching it come as it would. Or that’s what I thought. BF and I traveled in South America together for four months earlier this year. One night a drunken conversation about marriage accidentally turned into a botched proposal from him that he began apologizing for and revoking immediately. He was not ready. He had a lot of confused emotions, as did I. I sucked everything into a black hole inside me for a week. I had insomnia for the first time in my life. It turned Buenos Aires into a nightmare. I kept inventing scenes in my head of how it might have gone and the romanticism of the would-be story.

    A week later, after spending valentines day with my heart in my throat, hating myself every single minute as I anticipated every look, action and plan as a prelude to a reprise of the question, which would be genuine and real and happy this time, I realized I couldn’t NOT talk about it anymore. BF and I have had many conversations over the intervening months, working out what “being engaged” means to us. Where we’re at now. Where we want to be, together. How we can be here for each other in the meantime. I’m still working at understanding all the emotions that cropped up in February, but this I do have figured out:

    I thought I was ready, just being content with his timing. Then, when he “proposed” it switched in my head and I knew that I desperately wanted it. I wanted to shout to everyone – call my parents, skype my friends, shop for a ring at one of the antique stalls in San Telmo’s amazing street markets, start delving into the wedding blogs. I wanted it, blissfully wanted it for 5 drunken minutes! But then when he voiced his hesitance, his need for more time, I felt affronted. I felt that my desires were suddenly wrong, unwarranted. And why? On the one hand, it’s my prerogative to feel how I feel, to want to marry the most amazing person I’ve met and my best friend. But, I felt a nagging feeling that there’s a difference between THEORETICALLY being ready to be engaged, which I am, and being PRACTICALLY ready to make the jump. When you’re both not on the same page, there’s no way either one of you are really practically ready, because you can’t be there without eachother. It’s about the two of us, saying to eachother unequivocally, “I want you to be my family.” And we have to say it at the same time. We have to experience that together. I can’t be engaged, or married for that matter, alone.

  • Rachel

    Meg, I just discovered your blog and came across this post. Thank you for this post and everyone for the wonderful comments and stories. I really felt the need to add mine. I’m also in that pre-engaged phase right now and I appreciate that you put a name on it.

    My boyfriend has known since about day one he wanted to marry me, I was pretty sure I wanted to marry him after a few months. We moved in together very quickly and life just seemed right together. That being said, we had a back-up plan if something didn’t work out and neither of us were emotionally or financially ready to get married, nor did we want to jump into things to quickly. We were happy where we were and loved falling in love with each other.

    Fast forward a year and a half. I suddenly found myself wasting time at work look at engagement rings. A number of the girls I worked with were getting engaged and married and I realized how badly I suddenly wanted to marry my guy and that I was really ready to take that step. I am not one to keep my feelings to myself, but I tried because I didn’t know how to bring it up. Also, at this time I made a lot more money than him and I knew he couldn’t afford to save money and help pay our living expenses. So, finally I decided to approach the engagement topic and suggested we use the joint savings account we had to open in order to save for an engagement ring together. And we did.

    Now, it’s been about 6 months. A LOT has changed since than. I’m unemployed and going to school full time while he is working two jobs in order to put a lot of money in savings and afford our living expenses once my severance runs out. I’m also looking at grad school programs half way across the country. But one thing hasn’t changed and thats that I love him more than ever and still can’t wait to be engaged/married to him. So…we saved over the amount we had planned for the ring and went out ring shopping last week. I think we are going to be designing one as I had some specific ideas about what I wanted. He knows once the ring in ready it’s his job to come up with a proposal. One of my friends asked me how I want him to do it, and I told her honestly I realized I don’t care. Public, private, grand, small, funny, romantic…it really doesn’t matter, but I know I want him to purpose. I don’t know why – but I know it matters to me.

    I’ve had my moments of freak outs because I brought up the idea of getting engaged and I told him when I thought it was time to go ring shopping. I was afraid he felt as though I was pushing him into this. I’ve asked him repeatedly if he’s sure he’s ready and he always says yes and that he would tell me if he wasn’t. And the truth is I believe him. He’s willing to support me while I go to school and move his life to be with, that says he’s committed to me already. I just want the proposal and ring to make official what I already know. And this is silly, but I also want that moment of announcing it to my friends and family and showing off the beautiful ring we are designing together. Everyone loves us together and while no one has pushed us, we know they all want us to get engaged/married. I daydream about telling my parents as they already love him and treat him like family and I know they will be so happy I picked such a wonderful guy who makes me so happy.

    Sorry for the long (and late) post on this. But it feels so good to know I’m not the only girl out there who has actually sat down and decided with her guy when it’s the right time to get engaged. I just couldn’t imagine him asking me out of the blue. I like to have a larger part in planning my own life.

  • K

    I wish I had read this post, well, anytime prior to a week ago and as far back as two years.

  • Erin

    Like so many others, THANK YOU for this. My best friend, who is truly like my sister, recently got married and she suggested this site knowing that I’m now starting on the path she just journeyed. I am eternally grateful to her for passing this along and also to Meg for creating this. How encouraging and calming it is to know there are so many others out there in this same “pre-engagement limbo land “fighting to stay sane and happy with what you have when bombarded by the media and cultural obsessions with the “traditional” route of proposal and engagement. Also like so many others, I know I don’t need a ring to quantify our relationship or where it is headed. Finding the right person is the (sometimes) hard and most important part…there’s no reason to get caught up in thinking that an overpriced piece of carbon is.
    Though should my boyfriend ever see this post, he should still know I’d like a shiny overpriced piece of carbon when the time is right ; )

  • Lauren

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.

    I have been saying for years that I don’t really ever want to get married… and then my BF came around, and he softened me a bit. Now I’m ready, and waiting… not so patiently… for him to be ready too.

    Part of my problem, I believe, is because recently my bf joined the military and was gone in training for 5 months while I waited (and worked) and I was instantly put in this group of people whose stereotype is not-so-femminist*. The lady-in-waiting type of stereotypical bullshit associated with military relationships where there is a lot of alone time and pining over each-other which frankly grosses me out a bit. For some reason if your significant other joins the military you are immediately on the marriage fast track and everyone around you… even the people you think would know better (mom, best friend…) start putting these ideas in your head that he is going to pop the question soon. This is really making me slightly coo-coo and I am starting to get mad at my sweet BF for not proposing to me when we are young (24) and I KNOW that even if he did I wouldn’t even start wedding planning for at least a year…. I kinda just want the rock… This makes me feel even WORSE because 1. I’m a massage therapist/ esthetician and I can’t even wear jewelry most of the time and when I’m not working I usually just forget… and 2. I care wholeheartedly about conflict- free.

    We’ve been together for 3 years, and we recently moved in together… thats definitely adding to my stress about this because it makes me nervous to have this big step without commitment… we’ve chatted about marriage… we know that it’ll happen… I’m almost positive he is waiting until he feels secure in his career.

    anyway.. my point? thank you for making me not feel crazy. I was having all these internal conversations with myself that usually were something like “who am I becoming? who is this girl who cares about table cloth colors?”

    *I don’t really feel this way.

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