Did I Just Destroy My Chance to Have a Surprise Engagement?

I'm afraid I'm dragging him to the altar (even if my head tells me that's an ugly myth)

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Q: My partner and I are moving in together, and we’ve been having some really serious and gratifying conversations about the future lately. We talked about saving up to buy a home in a neighborhood we love and before we do that, he said, we have to get married. Great! We’re on the same page! A week later, I stumbled across an absolutely gorgeous ring that was reasonably priced and exactly what I was looking for. I was obsessed with it, and my tribe of ladies (mom, sister, best friend) unanimously approved. It felt strange to keep something so happy and fun from my partner, so I excitedly whispered to him (okay, a couple beers deep) that my sister had a picture of an engagement ring that I really loved.

I’ve told my partner before that I don’t want to get married until after I finish grad school in 2017, but he interpreted my move to mean that I wanted to get engaged NOW NOW NOW. It led to a freak-out over the state of his finances because he can’t afford that investment right this second and actually has no savings at all. We made some resolutions to improve his financial situation going forward and our goals for the future remain strong, but one concern is really nagging at me: now when he does propose, is it just going to feel like a conciliatory gesture, like I basically forced his hand? Did I ruin the romantic, sincere engagement that I wanted by jumping the gun and rushing things? How do I stop feeling like the stereotypical nagging woman dragging her man to the altar? I feel so embarrassed and wish I could have kept my big mouth shut.

—Anonymous

 

A: Dear Anonymous,

You know, it happens. Sometimes one partner suddenly worries that the other has some unvoiced expectations and goes a little nuts with the assumptions. It sounds like your partner had that moment over the ring, and it sounds like you’re having it a bit now.

But you guys are forgetting what you know about each other. You’ve already discussed this stuff! This guy already said he wants to marry you, and to do it before you get a house—you didn’t pressure him into that. And you already told him you wanted to wait until you graduate. Those are things you actually said to one another! You’d both be better off if you took those statements at face value, rather than try to make assumptions about hidden motives based on outdated social narratives. Are you guys caricatures of pink and blue gender roles? No? Then ignore all that socially presumed stuff about the nagging, impatient girlfriend and the bumbling, commitment-phobe boyfriend.

In a vague sort of way, you’ve already agreed on a timeline. Sometime between 2017 and the purchase of a house, you’re getting married. Now that that’s settled, agree together that it’s not changing without some serious conversations. No more reading into things, wondering if it means that one person or the other is changing their expectations. And if it’d make you feel better, propose a more tangible timeline, something a little narrower than “between 2017 and some unknown house purchase date.” Right after you graduate? Five years after? If you’re both having trouble understanding where you stand, being more specific can’t hurt.

And hey. Let’s get one thing straight really quick, k? Talking about the future isn’t naggy, and it doesn’t ruin any sort of “romance.” If you guys are opting to go the surprise proposal route, that’s fine, but it doesn’t completely remove your ability to have input (say, suggesting rings, or agreeing upon an appropriate timeline). And more or less surprise doesn’t equate to more or less sincerity, or more or less romance. Knowledge and security, the comfort of knowing where you stand, the respect of a partner who treats you as a unique individual who deserves to know what her future holds? Mmm, romance.

Any time you’re feeling weird about it, bring it up again. Talk about the steps to marriage as much as you need. Don’t shy away out of fear that it’s going to make him suddenly, oddly afraid of marrying you, or that you’ll come across as overeager. This is your future, lady, and you’re allowed to discuss it.

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