Ask Team Practical: Waiting for the Proposal

I’m a pre-engaged gal, and I know the issues of mortification, general indecisiveness, and of course ducks, have already been covered, but I’m still stuck. After around a year of being together, my partner and I started talking more seriously about getting married. He told me that he’d read that couples were more successful who waited until the eighteen-month mark to decide to get married, and he wanted to take that as a guideline. I was fine with that, in principle. But in practice… well, it drove me a little crazy. For months, I felt like he wasn’t sure about me (because when a man is sure about you, he does not sensibly decide to wait til a preordained time to confirm it), and like I couldn’t talk about it because that would make me one of those girls who pressures some guy into marrying her.

So we had a big talk, where I told him that I felt like I had to be absolutely perfect for him so that he would decide he wanted me—like I was on the longest job interview in the world. He said he hadn’t realized that I was as nervous as he was, and he didn’t want to make me feel like that, and I was hired.

A month later, we picked out my ring together, and he admitted he’d been saving for it since only four months into the relationship. Knowing that he was sure about me and planning for our future from that early on made me feel so warm and happy and comforted, knowing indisputably that he wanted our future together, without any nudging.

But now, wondering if every holiday and getaway is going to be THE day, I’m starting to feel excited, but also scared. Now that I’m not waiting to be “chosen,” not waiting for the validation that he loves me enough, now that I am truly an equal (if not more) partner in this decision, I’m wondering if I’m ready. He’s amazing, our relationship is amazing, and the life we talk about having together would be amazing. Every time I’ve been nervous about this relationship, I’ve leaned into the fear, and it’s been exactly what I needed to do.

So, my question is, at this most important decision, how do I know when to listen to my nerves and how do I know when they’re just stage fright? I need a gut-check from Team Practical on this one. Do doubts always mean something? Or does everyone have doubts?


Dear Copper,

I’m gonna be a little bit of a jerk and bypass the meat of your question down there. Like you mentioned, we’ve talked about wiley ducks, about cold feet and doubts, and about rushing things along for the sake of logistics at length. If you don’t read each of those posts (which obviously you should; I hear the author is awesome), what all of that comes down to in sum is 1) I don’t know if you’re ready or not, and 2) If you don’t know if you’re ready, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with waiting until you know for sure.

But the real reason I’m skipping that whole discussion is not only that we’ve already discussed it in so many forms. I just don’t think that’s your issue. I think your issue is “the waiting game” that you’ve got yourself in. You were thrilled, anxious, excited to get married just a few short months ago! You were so ready that you couldn’t understand why someone in love would wait for logistical reasons (an idea we’ll come back to in just a minute). But, now, every time he takes you out to dinner, bends down to tie his shoe, clears his throat before he speaks, you’re wondering, “Is this it?!” Holy crap, woman, no wonder you’re feeling nervous. That’s a whole lot of time spent dwelling on just one question and its fateful answer. I don’t know about you, but the more I dwell on something, the easier time I have of finding ways to freak out about it. I could be wrong (it’s happened), but I think you’re less nervous about marriage, and more just flat out nervous because you’re on edge and thinking about it so damn much.

You mention that you now feel that you’re an equal partner in this decision, but is that true? There’s a certain balance of power in the whole proposal and agreement process. The asker holds the power of deciding when to ask; the askee holds the power of saying “yes” or “no.” Both of you contribute to one whole decision of, “Yep, let’s do this.” As with anything else in weddings and marriage, if the conventional and traditional ways of handling stuff are driving you crazy, it’s okay to nix them in favor of sanity. You’re on the same page about moving toward marriage. Awesome. Important. But, waiting for him to choose a time to ask you seems to be causing a bit of unbalanced partnership there. And I’d say the same if he had already asked you and you were taking several weeks to respond. Being equal partners in the decision means one of you doesn’t have the chance to leave the other one hanging. It means having understanding and respect for one another’s sanity and nervous system.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a surprise proposal in and unto itself. They work out really well for some folks and don’t cause an imbalance of power at all. My own husband “surprised” me with a ring. But, you know. After we’d both discussed that we’d like to get married and when about that would happen. Surprise! So, just because it works for some, doesn’t mean it needs to work for all. And this right here? It doesn’t seem to be working.

Maybe you should talk to him. Actually, definitely you should talk to him (hint: this is often the answer). This poor guy seems completely in the dark about all of your complicated feelings toward the whole proposal, engagement, and marriage process. The two of you may be able to sit down together and mutually decide to be engaged. Because, guess what? There doesn’t need to be a “pop the question” moment. Sometimes two adults can just decide to get married together. Or, you can skip that whole thing and ask him to marry you, ending the waiting game and anxiety and nerves for you both.

One last aside on love versus logistics before I hand it off to Team Practical. You mention that at one time, you saw his concern for the articles he read and statistics he cited as being proof that he didn’t really love you. I’m so glad you moved past that and resolved the issue, but of course, I’ve got to throw in my two cents. In the same way that your creeping doubts don’t negate the possibility that you’re madly in love, having a mind for logistics and practicality doesn’t either. While I’ll be the first tell anyone, “Ignore the money/timing/whatever and just get married if you want to get married!” (and I have) the fact that some folks do consider those pieces doesn’t make them any less romantic than others. I think perhaps we should break down this notion that romance involves throwing cares to the wind, being reckless, chasing your dreams! Sometimes, true love is mild-mannered and considered. Sometimes it involves careful planning. Romance takes all sorts of shapes and forms, and in some of them, the girl does the asking.


Team Practical, how did you and your partner handle the tricky task of getting engaged already? Did the process make your more nervous, or reassure you?

Photo: Moodeous Photography.

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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  • I think Liz’s suggestion that “romance takes all forms” is huge here. It sounds like both people are basing their behavior off of expectations–when to get married, when to propose–that aren’t working for them. I have a couple of friends who got engaged last year by having a fun day together (including a hike and a picnic), having a deep conversation, and coming away engaged–no rings, but the mutual decision of “we’re going to plan a wedding now.” It might have been all planning and no surprise, but that totally worked for them. And at the end of the day, it isn’t different than waiting for the guy to pull out a ring–they’re engaged and that’s it.

  • Mallory

    I’m newly engaged, myself, and I completely understand the anxiety of the waiting game! We had gone to stores and picked out a few options (I wanted to sort of be surprised), and then nothing. My man said he “had something picked out” and he was “saving up,” but that had about as much context for me as you think – nada.

    He eventually did ask, after throwing some red herrings my way. Did I think he maybe might could possibly ask when we were on vacation? Yes. Did I really believe he would? No. Was I surprised and swept off my feet in the most romantic and perfect way I could have imagined? Absolutely.

    Of course, it’s worth noting that we have been together for nearly 4 years, we’ve talked extensively about us, getting married, what it means, etc. I can honestly say that neither of us had any reservations about asking/responding affirmatively. In that regard, I think knowing that it would happen “eventually” and being confident in my response made the waiting more “butterflies on my stomach” and less “evil stress monster trying to claw its way out.”

    • Congratulations Mallory!!

      • Mallory

        Thanks! After two weeks of basking, I’ve already downloaded and read Meg’s book (woot nook). I can’t wait for the amazing, nerdy, shiny lovefest that we want our wedding to be.

    • Mallory Susan

      Congratulations to another Mallory! I’m hoping to be in your shoes very soon!

  • My friend’s husband, when deciding whether to propose, made a spreadsheet to quantify the advantages and disadvantages of marrying her. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t love her or wasn’t ready – it means he’s an engineer and he’s far more comfortable with empirical data. Sure, it sounds really unromantic, but it gave him the confidence he needed that proposing was the right decision. My own fiance would have preferred that an angel chorus descend and sing SHE IS THE ONE so he could be absolutely certain, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way and he had to realize for himself that he wasn’t ever going to feel 100% certain and that didn’t mean it wasn’t the right thing for him/us. I was in the position of waiting (and waiting and waiting and waiting) for him to be ready (and also of ruining many special occasions by getting my hopes up that he’d propose which were then dashed when he didn’t) and I do feel quite certain that marrying him is the best possible thing I could do and still I have my moments of thinking, “forEVER?” So I think it’s perfectly normal to question yourself – it’s one of the biggest decisions most of us will ever make.

    • Class of 1980

      I once worked with a girl whose boyfriend asked her not to contact him for two weeks while he worked with his therapist to decide if he was going to marry her.

      She cried a lot in her office. She only made it a week and a half before she broke down and called him. He laughed about it and told her that, yes, he wanted to marry her. Then he set about having a ring made.

      She had a gay male friend who worked with us and he was very protective of her. He kept asking me … “Where is the passion? Where is the excitement?” He thought it meant they were wrong for each other.

      All I know is that they had a huge wedding and her friend danced his ass off. She told me later that her husband loved being married.

      Once the decision was made, he was all in.

    • Kess

      Ha! The spreadsheet decision matrix makes me laugh! That’s how I decided what college to go to, and honestly I’ve gone through them in my head a few times about my SO.

      Full-blooded engineer here!

      At least my SO understands – for one of my birthday gifts he wrote a computer program for me!

    • Amy

      Have you seen the list of pros and cons that Darwin made when deciding whether to marry or not? It is charmingly dorky, and (spoiler alert!) ends with “Marry, marry, QED”. It’s adorable.

    • Kara

      *Ahem* I sort of did similar. I realized that when the cons side of the chart had stuff like “‘can’t’ wear heels when we go out,” I was sunk. I love being married to my amazing (and somewhat short) husband.

  • Amanda L.

    Oh, letter-writer, I have been where you are! Once I knew my now-husband/then-boyfriend was working on designing my ring, I moved from ‘doesn’t he love me enough to put a ring on it?’ to ‘am I ready to do this??’

    I had dreams (nightmares, really) that I hated the ring he picked out (talk about control issues). I had dreams that i didn’t cry when he asked. Dreams that I couldnt get ‘yes’ to come out of my mouth.

    But in the everyday, when I wasn’t thinking of our impending engagement, or of ‘forever,’ when I was just in the moment, I was purely happy. I think many of us trend towards over-thinking. What does your gut say? Set a timer for a day and time two weeks from now that says ‘are you happy RIGHT NOW?’ I think that is your answer.

    And when DH proposed, I cried like a baby, loved my ring, and couldnt say ‘yes’ fast enough. That reaction told me everything I needed to know.

    • Kelly

      Oh god yes! I had the stress dreams too (in one, he bought me an engagement bracelet?). Like you, it was very, very hard for me to give up control of this huge decision, but it was very important to him that he get his sh*t together and make it happen on his own terms.

      As usual, the best thing we could do was talk about it. Just sit down and say “I am having a hard time waiting for you to propose.” In our case, he said “I am having a hard time keeping the whole process from you!” So we talked about his ring-buying experience, our feelings, and when it did finally happen, I was a little surprised but mostly satisfied that we’d made the decision together – which it seems like the reader already has!

      If you aren’t comfortable (even if you’re happy, because these are two different things), just talk to your partner. Find what works for you, and decide what you need to breathe easy.

      • Amanda L.

        Ha, in one of my dreams, it was an engagement necklace! And in all of them, they were ugly… Oh, subconscious.

        • Jessica

          I had one where the ring could transform back and forth from one look to another, both awful. So silly! But I woke up, recognized that it was silly, and yet told him immediately as, like, a guard against him actually buying something like that!

        • Sarah

          I’m glad I’m not the only one who had those crazy pre-engagement dreams! I, too, had several dreams of ugly rings (yes, control issues), plus one dream about an engagement surfboard (what?!). Worth noting that we live nowhere near the ocean.

    • Ashley

      …”when I wasn’t thinking of our impending engagement, or of ‘forever,’ when I was just in the moment, I was purely happy” THIS. I really believe this is key. I’m also in the waiting to get engaged camp and am often loosing my mind trying to figure out WHAT he is up to. I am a bit of a control freak by nature and giving up the control on this one, is HARD. (especially when two of your close friends get engaged on the same day! yes, for real. *insert crazy crying lady here*) but it’s important to him and to me, to do the proposal the traditional way so I’m waiting and he’s planning on his own and that’s how we want it. But honestly we’ve never been so happy with each other. We’re just so peaceful and content all (95%) the time and I need to remember that in those moments when I’m just dying of anticipation. I don’t think I really commented on the writers doubts about forever but honestly, I just think remembering to be happy really helps. That’s what its all about. Over thinking honestly just makes you miserable – remember to be in love. It sounds from your letter like you truly are, just remember to enjoy it!

    • Jashshea

      Yes to your whole last paragraph.

      When we first moved in together (post-engagement, 10 months before the wedding) I had so many moments where I’d be like, really? Forever-ever? Can I really live with someone who throws dirty socks on the floor? Puts used glasses in the sink rather than the DW? XYZ thing that he says/does must mean ABC about him as a person and that’s bad and OMG FOREVER?

      Then we had this truly awful travel experience (spent about 18 hours on tarmacs/in lines at the airport in one day) and he spent the entire day trying to make me laugh.

      I get that forever, too.

      • I can’t begin to tell you how much your comment means to me today. I’ve really been stuck in the “I’ll have to deal with this for the rest of my life?? Really??” (socks, and the dishes, and the trash). But, “I’ll have to deal with this for the rest of my life!! Really!!” (the laughter, the hugs, the consideration and honesty). The good comes with the bad, just like he’ll have those things with me. I’m not perfect either. And I need to remind myself right now that the good far outweighs the bad.

    • Copper

      I guess I wasn’t seeing the “am I ready to do this??” as a result of the waiting game. I was seeing it more as… now that I’m confident in his decision, I have the space to think about MY decision. It’s going to take a little turning that theory over in my mind to see if it feels like it fits or not.

      I totally used to have the awful ring nightmares though—in one, his mother had picked out the ring, and it was hideous, but I couldn’t say anything without offending her, plus I was convinced that he wouldn’t have proposed if she hadn’t pressured him. Yikes am I glad I haven’t had one of those in a while.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        I have an heirloom ring from his mother that’s the opposite of what I asked for. Luckily (?) 40 years of wear would ruin it, and a matching wedding band would have had to be custom-designed, so I have good excuses not to wear it after the wedding.

        I know you see your ring all the time, but any ring is tiny, and any engagement between sane people is limited in duration. I like my ring only on a sentimental level. [I love my ring but don’t like it, maybe?] But it’s one part of getting married that isn’t forever.

        My point is that even “awful” rings chosen by future mothers-in-law are not the end of the world.

        • Copper

          oh, it’s not something I was actually worried about. I think that dream was more about wondering if his mom was pushing him to propose than about actual rings.

    • JC

      Yes to the Ugly Ring Dreams! I know my ring is in the works (I have been begrudgingly consulted on a few elements so that poor FH could start sleeping again at night) and I have been having those dreams All. The. Time. Control freak definitely applies here! I’m also still in the waiting game and have to consciously remind myself to enjoy this time and not try to rush ahead. It will happen, and it will be great, but I can never go back to where I am now after it happens. And where we are now is really great!

    • I had completely forgotten that back when my husband and I were dating, I had had a dream where the engagement ring he gave me had a GIANT brightly colored parrot on it that bobbed back and forth with any movement of my hand. Hahahaha.

      • Class of 1980

        And this is a bad thing? ;)

  • Qcaz

    I proposed to my man. I bought him a set of ring spanners & booked us in for a romantic weekend away when he picked me up from a 6 week trip away. It was amazing and wonderful and romantic… Except he said no as well as yes!
    He said of course he wanted to marry me, it was something he felt quite strongly about. But he also wanted to be the one to do the popping of questions & he wanted to have that chance to ask me… And until then we wouldn’t be ‘officially’ engaged. That was fine by me.

    Fast forward 2 years, we had a courthouse marriage 2 days ago as I am due to birth our first child any day now & I’m quite old fashioned about those things. But I still don’t even have an engagement ring. We have never been engaged. We have never called each other fiancé to anyone. I went straight from girlfriend to wife.

    But those 2 years of waiting for his ‘big moment’ caused more stress and anxiety to me than any other aspect of our relationship. I questioned everything & we had MANY heart to heart talks regarding weather or not he actually did want to married. Weather I was pushing him into something. Weather it would actually happen. Weather… EVERYTHING !! It was SO hard.

    But we got through it, now I’m happily married. My engagement ring is in the post & we have a wedding planned for early next year..

    The point is, waiting and thinking and stressing out about it will only drive you crazy. TRUST me on this! But it helps to know that the decision has already been made. The love & commitment is already there. It’s just the societal trappings that are missing. And sometimes they feel like the biggest most important part of it.. But they aren’t really. The biggest most important part is you & your man & your relationship. Keep having those discussions for as long as you need to, but also keep in mind – you already have made the commitment to each other, does the ring & the question make that much of a difference?

    • One More Sara

      Your story sounds like an excellent post…. write one please?

  • A.

    I couldn’t take the waiting game anymore, so I asked him. It’s true that I never got a big on bended knee moment of ring presentation (we took my grandmother’s ring to be fixed up a couple of weeks later), but I got something better – a yes, and the understanding that we were truly equal partners in our decision to get engaged.

    So, if you’re cool with the idea of asking him yourself, and think he would be cool with it, I say go for it and end the suspense. When to get engaged is as much your decision as it is his. You can still have the moment of him asking you (once I asked my guy, he asked me right back), but it’s okay to take some control here and break the tension.

  • Allie

    We were never engaged and I have no engagement ring. (And actually, he had absolutely nada to do with my wedding ring- it was designed and purchased by moi). We had numerous talks about marriage and our plans for the future and on one weekend away we put a timeframe to it. (I refer to it as the contract-renewal-negotiation, which he hates, but it was a bit of an ultimatum on my part as his “when we should get married date” had mysteriously slipped by about 6 months and I was having none of this continually moving deadline business!)

    I was cool as a cucumber up until the instant my mom drove the car into the park our ceremony was held at. We had already had the party the day before (150ish people) and brunch that morning and I was happy and joyful up to that moment. Perhaps it was the fact that the entrance is “one-way” only… All I know is suddenly my chest was tight and I was hyperventilating and my mind was stuck on a repeat loop of “what are you doing? you’re too young (29! ha!) for this! this is for grown-ups!” while simultaneously knowing that as soon as I saw him I was going to be ok and everything would be fine.

    In retrospect, had *I* not felt like “I’ve moved, changed jobs, etc, etc – I need a commitment” I would have probably been the one to champion the continually back-sliding date. When it came to actually getting what I had demanded, I suddenly wasn’t so sure (even though I definitely was sure about him being who and what I wanted).

    My point is- deep down you know whether your insides are saying “Danger Will Robinson- this is NOT who I want to be with” and “Ahhhh! Marriage is big and scary and now that I know where you stand I don’t know where *I* stand!” — from what you’ve said it sounds like it’s more of a question of when/if you want marriage rather than if he’s the right person. And perhaps that’s the conversation you need to have- telling him the security in his commitment that the ring buying has brought and moving on to a mutual discussion and decision of when is the right time for both of you. Chances are, he may be feeling the same way!

    Good luck!

    • KB

      I ditto this so hard – only you can know in your gut which reaction you’re having, even though they’re super confusing and have the same “symptoms” (i.e., freaking out, hyperventilating, possible crying). I personally think it is totally normal to make this decision and then think, “Wait, am I right? Am I overlooking something?” It’s a sign that you are an intelligent, thorough person and you take this commitment very seriously. It’s totally natural to be worried that you will regret SOMETHING – regret that you made such a big decision hastily, regret that it didn’t go a certain way, regret that you said yes because you really shouldn’t have.

      But the key thing to remember is that you can’t control the future, you can only control the present. Say he pops the question tomorrow and you say yes and you STILL feel weird and iffy about it – there is NOTHING that says that you can’t call it off, prolong your engagement to figure out any issues you have, or just put it on the back burner and let it roll around in your mind until you feel excited about it (or even just cool about saying, “I’m engaged!”). Yeah, it would suck and feelings would be hurt – but you’d live with it and would probably be better (i.e., saner) for it. And there’s nothing written in stone that says that when you say “yes” to a proposal that you must be ready to slap on a white dress and say, “I do” right there and then. Just do what comes naturally to you when the question comes up – remember how you feel about him, listen to each other, and keep the lines of communication open. I get the feeling you’ll be great either way.

      • bessalita

        I think what KB has written is so important. I was one of those women who said yes and freaked out. I was sweaty and scared and so . . . uncomfortable when my partner proposed. And I spent two days crying and talking to friends and trying to find an answer to what my panic *meant*. Then I talked to my fiancee. And I admitted that I didn’t feel ok when he proposed, that I felt really, really scared. So, we waited a bit. I took off my ring, went and ran a marathon (I’m a runner, so that wasn’t a response to events but planned) and we decided to propose to each other. It was beautiful. But, even when we did this, I was scared.

        As I write this, I realize that some people reading it might think “whoa. why is she marrying this guy if she feels scared!??” And sometimes I feel the anxiety I felt creeping back, and those questions coming up. BUT, for me, any big decision like this causes lots of questions. And worry. And this, for me, is the biggest decision. I’m choosing the person with whom I’ll spend the rest of my life. That’s BIG! But, I’ve also realized that the fear about this decision is not fear about my partner. It’s about the question and decision itself (which my analytical brain has a field day with). In the end, though, my partner is the person, the only person, I can imagine spending the rest of my life with.

        I guess my point is that for some of us, we’ll always have fear and anxiety about marriage. I had to come to accept that my fiancee and my “engagement story” (blech!) was not and will not be the story others tell (you know, the one where she felt more amazing than ever and was crying tears of joy, not anxiety!) But, the panic I felt (and may feel again) is so much more about who I am than about my partner and me. And after the panic faded, I could see clearly how much I love my fiancee and how much I want to share the rest of my life with him. Panicked or not.

      • I personally think it is totally normal to make this decision and then think, “Wait, am I right? Am I overlooking something?” It’s a sign that you are an intelligent, thorough person and you take this commitment very seriously. It’s totally natural to be worried that you will regret SOMETHING – regret that you made such a big decision hastily, regret that it didn’t go a certain way, regret that you said yes because you really shouldn’t have.

        THIS. So much. I knew I wanted to marry my husband within six months of dating, managed not to shout this out to him at every encounter thereafter and scare him away, but was absolutely certain, throughout dating and right through when we started talking about marriage and planning for it. Then he proposed, I said yes and…panicked. Spent the day in a weird daze, worrying and feeling uneasy that I’d stopped thinking once I knew I wanted him and jumped in without serious consideration. It was just nerves, but it felt terrifying and was a great kickstart to being engaged, because it pushed me to spend the engagement with introspection and analysis and made me really really think about every decision and possibility and make myself truly ready for marriage. Embrace the terror, it can help you.

    • Copper

      I just wanted to say “thank you” for that. Thank you. It helps to know that other people do that scary head-swivel in their mind, from wanting something so badly to ahhhhhhhhhhhhh really foreverever, what am I doooooooing??

      • Ambi

        Only you can know if your feelings are serious enough to cause real doubts, but we have talked on APW several times about how, once you are engaged or very close to it, all the little annoying things and fights suddenly seem bigger. Like, a small fight about him not doing the dishes becomes a bigger concern that he is going to expect you to do all the housework and isn’t as feminist as you thought and oh my god am I going to end up in an unhappy marriage with someone who doesn’t think I’m an equal . . . ?! When really all it was was a standard argument over the dishes. We are just more likely, in the early engagement stage, to look at things through the lens of “what am I signing up for?!” which can create unnecessary stress.

        • Allie

          We are approaching our one year anniversary and I have to admit that it’s been a rough year in some ways (internally) as I struggle to redefine my life and figure out what this ‘wife’ business really means. The choices we make are inevitably coupled with loss- loss of some possibilities/options while gaining others.

          I adore my other half and can say with confidence that I made the right decision for me, that my hyperventilation was nothing to do with whether I was making the correct choice, but I would also like to point out that this marriage thing *is* a big deal and it might take some time to wrap your head around it! I’m not sure I would ever qualify as ‘normal’ in any sense, but I would like to think that in this one respect (taking a year+ into our marriage to transition from single me to married me and being comfortable with it) that I’m not so abnormal…!

          So Copper- talk to him and give yourself the breathing room to know that marriage might keep being big and scary, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it! ;o)

  • Ruby

    Oh Copper I understand all too well how you feel. I too am in the ‘pre-engaged’ stage – I really hate that term. My partner and I have been together 4 years, and for the last two years we’ve known we are going to get married. There is a ton of sources (including Liz) who tell us that if we want to be married to just go ahead and do it. However, that doesn’t work for me. I want a moderately sized wedding (90 guests, I’ve got a very large family) and I can’t justify it to ourselves to do it until my partner’s debt is paid off.
    So for two year’s I’ve waited. We live together and are officially common-law. The end is in sight now with the final payment being made this month. We are proud that we’ve been able to set financial objectives together, stick to a plan and see results which I know will only help us in our marriage.
    However there have been so many occasions where I wish I had my ring, or he was my husband. It’s been hard for me to see other friends get engaged and married while I wait.
    This whole waiting to get engaged has reassured me that our marriage will be successful and that there’s no ‘right’ way to go through this process. You have to do what’s right for you and the only ‘rule’ should be to be honest with yourself and your partner about what you need and expect.
    Good luck and I hope your waiting game ends soon!

    • Ren

      I have the same question as Class below, and I’m curious for another perspective on it. If you’re both planning to get married, why do you not consider yourself engaged?

      • ElisabethJoanne

        There’s lots of talk about this on APW, so I’ll just restate my experience.

        We actually chose our wedding date before we were “officially” or publicly engaged. There are good arguments that you can’t have agreed to get married on a certain date without being engaged, but we didn’t use that language.

        First, I could not be engaged and not be planning the wedding, but we chose the wedding date too early to start planning. I like planning. Telling me, “There’s this crazy-fun thing you get to do, and everyone’s asking you about it, but don’t do it yet” would have been torture. It’d be like taking a little kid to Disneyland 3 hours before opening.

        Second, it was the easiest way to deal with outside pressures. Again, I didn’t want to have to say, “We’re not really making plans yet” for months. Even our 15-month engagement is long in my circles. I didn’t want to field questions about an even longer engagement.

        Maybe I didn’t count as “pre-engaged.” Maybe we were just “privately” engaged. I don’t have a dog in that semantic fight.

        • Peaceofmind

          I like “privately” engaged. We’re at that stage. I’m getting my engagement ring custom designed, but it won’t be here for about a month. After that, who knows when he’ll actually propose – and that’s cool, I want him to go with whatever he’s comfortable with timing/gesture-wise (within reason, we’ll need to give long-distance people head’s up for travel purposes).

          We’ve picked a wedding date (pending family conflicts/objections) and I’ve begun scouting options. I can’t/won’t really broadcast it (call up vendors, talk to parents, etc) until we’re “publicly” engaged. We’ve got about 10 months to plan, and I’m a procrastinator so I’d rather jump in NOW and get stuff started so that I (hopefully) avoid leaving anything to the last minute.

    • Remy

      Congratulations on paying off the debt! That’s a great milestone.

  • Class of 1980

    “So we had a big talk, where I told him that I felt like I had to be absolutely perfect for him so that he would decide he wanted me—like I was on the longest job interview in the world. He said he hadn’t realized that I was as nervous as he was, and he didn’t want to make me feel like that, and I WAS HIRED.”

    Considering that you’re hired, would it help to think of yourself as already engaged?

    • Ashley

      I find this really hard. In so many ways we’re already engaged, we actively talk about what we want our wedding to be like. We’re legally common-law, live together. For all intents and purposes we are married and in my partners eyes we are but for me, the ring matters. I really hate that it does and I wish I could just let it go but for some reason I just can’t. I need that moment (the proposal) and that symbol (the ring) to feel like I’m being truthful that we’re actually “engaged” I wish I didn’t struggle with those needs so much, but I really do. I’ve gotten to a place in our relationship that I fully trust my partner, I believe that we will get married, I believe that he already considers that we are and that he is completely committed to me but for me to tell other people, I need the event. I’m not exactly sure where it comes from but it doesn’t seem to go away.

      • Kelly

        I felt the same way. My mother asked me a couple months before I was engaged what was up, because I kept talking about “when we get married.” I told her we had decided we were going to get married, we were just waiting for an official proposal to start planning the wedding. It is much easier to go through the process when you can point to a moment and a ring and say “see, totally normal!” Hang in there!

        • R

          We had already blown past “when we get married” to “this is where we think we might live in the next five years, because we want xyz characteristics in the place we decide to raise our kids.” Needless to say, my parents were not surprised when I called to tell them the news.

          For us, an official announcement put us on the hook to actually plan a d*mn wedding- we had know for months (possibly more than a year?) that we were planning on getting married “sometime in the future.” And then our ducks decided to line themselves up and we figured we really had to go ahead and do this thing. (In case you couldn’t tell, while we’re both in favor of the being married part, we’re not really into the “throwing a wedding” part).

          I am still threatening to elope.

      • Amy March

        “legally common law”. Could we get a post about this? Sort of a “global team practical” effort? I tend to think posters referencing this are likely Canadian, since common law marriage is so rare in the US, and I’m both confused and interested. But maybe that’s just the lawyer in me :)

        • Jo

          Common Law exists in the states too, my partner and I qualify here in Colorado. It has nothing to do with length of cohabitation here, like many believe. Actually, the biggest part is that you have to present yourselves as married — ie, we refer to each other as “husband” and “wife”.

          More info:
          Regarding Colorado:

          Regarding the other states that have Common Law:

          From the above website (the Alternatives to Marriage Project):


          Alabama: The requirements for a common-law marriage are: (1) capacity; (2) an agreement to be husband and wife; and (3) consummation of the marital relationship.

          Colorado: A common-law marriage may be established by proving cohabitation and a reputation of being married.

          Iowa: The requirements for a common-law marriage are: (1) intent and agreement to be married; (2) continuous cohabitation; and (3) public declarations that the parties are husband and wife.

          Kansas: For a man and woman to form a common-law marriage, they must: (1) have the mental capacity to marry; (2) agree to be married at the present time; and (3) represent to the public that they are married.

          Montana: The requirements for a common-law marriage are: (1) capacity to consent to the marriage; (2) an agreement to be married; (3) cohabitation; and (4) a reputation of being married.

          Oklahoma: To establish a common-law marriage, a man and woman must (1) be competent; (2) agree to enter into a marriage relationship; and (3) cohabit.

          Pennsylvania: A common-law marriage was established if, before 1/1/2005, a man and woman exchanged words that indicated that they intended to be married at the present time and they also held themselves out to the community as married (introducing eachother as husband and wife, filing joint taxes, etc.).

          Rhode Island: The requirements for a common-law marriage are: (1) serious intent to be married and (2) conduct that leads to a reasonable belief in the community that the man and woman are married.

          South Carolina: A common-law marriage is established if a man and woman intend for others to believe they are married.

          Texas: A man and woman who want to establish a common-law marriage must sign a form provided by the county clerk. In addition, they must (1) agree to be married, (2) cohabit, and (3) represent to others that they are married.

          Utah: For a common-law marriage, a man and woman must (1) be capable of giving consent and getting married; (2) cohabit; and (3) have a reputation of being husband and wife.

          Washington, D.C.: The requirements for a common-law marriage are: (1) an express, present intent to D.C. be married and (2) cohabitation.

        • Alexandra

          Hehe, I know I’ve said the same thing, and I’m Canadian. But basically, you can declare that you and your partner are a common law couple just for living together for 3 years and signing a couple papers. But it’s a reasonably informal form of marriage. For instance, me and my fiance declared it one morning before work with my parents. They wanted to gift him their old van (He was using it to get to work, they were buying a new one, and you’re only suppose to gift a car to someone you’re related to). We all woke up a bit earlier, stood around a little office for 15 minutes, he and I signed a paper and then my parents signed a paper to give him the van. Then we all left for work. So yeah, we’re married, but it doesn’t really feel like anything except a convenient way to say we were in a long term relationship and to get the taxes to work out how you’d expect them to. But I’m not lawyer, so my understanding of the laws involved are pretty vague. The precise laws seem to vary by province.

          • It varies province to province, then, because in Ontario it’s one year.

          • For tax purposes in Canada, it’s 12 months and then you are legally required to joint file your taxes as common law.

            This is one of the only things I remember from a finance class I took in university.

          • Alexandra

            Weirdly, I looked it up twice and found two different answers for Ontario.

      • Chalk

        It’s completely understandable that the ring matters. It’s easy to dismiss the significance of it by saying, “it’s just a material thing,” but it makes a big statement to the world. Today, I forgot to put my engagement ring on after getting ready for work, and I’m missing it.

        My fiancee’s wedding band came in a couple of weeks ago, and he’s been wearing it around the house, “to get used to the feel of it.” But I can tell that wearing the ring brings him a comfort that he really likes and quickly took to.

        • Ren

          I got engaged without a ring, because it was the natural outcome of a long discussion one night. I got my great grandmother’s ring a few weeks later. I like wearing my ring and the symbol and reminder, but it didn’t make me less engaged than earlier when I didnt have it yet. I know some people want the traditional surprise, but alternatives are something to think about. When we mutually realized we both wanted to and were ready to get married, we were way to excited to wait for something else before telling people :)

      • Class of 1980

        “I believe that he already considers that we are and that he is completely committed to me but for me to tell other people, I need the event. I’m not exactly sure where it comes from but it doesn’t seem to go away.”

        It comes from our society, where the concept of what constitutes an engagement has morphed into something very complicated. ;)

      • I felt this way too. We both agreed to get married and concretely started planning our wedding (which we decided would be about 4 months later). He was going to propose at some point, and he bought a ring. I did not consider myself engaged, even though we were planning the whole wedding: dress, sending invitations…all of it. To be fair, he is from a country that doesn’t really do the marriage thing, so he didn’t really get the cultural significance of the proposal tradition for me. And we lived in two different countries, so logistics were also a challenge.

        At some point, someone told me that you can be engaged without a ring. I think I probably nodded or gave an indication of agreement and changed the subject. But I couldn’t accept that *FOR ME*. (Sure, it was fine for others if they wanted to do it, but I wanted the tradition proposal). I never even used the word “fiancé.”

        Well, he finally proposed the Wednesday before our Saturday wedding. And it was fun and a great proposal experience. BUT I really regret not letting myself experience the joy of engagement just because I didn’t have a proposal experience and couldn’t separate the proposal from the engagement in my schema of Being Engaged.

        If I had it to do over again, I would own my engagement. And I would definitely tell that guy I worked with (who was engaged to get married after us) who told me that I shouldn’t be planning a wedding without a ring that an engagement is a decision to marry someone and that’s all. Rings and proposals, those are great when people want them, but not essential to what engagement actually is.

    • Copper

      Class of 1980, I do sometimes look at it this way actually, like we’re secretly engaged and waiting for the ring-pop moment to go public. He’s very traditional, and the formal proposal is important to him. Actually it’s somewhat important to me too, since an ex proposed to me once and I flat-out just assumed he was kidding (there was no ring, no romantic moment, I just wasn’t expecting it)… I like the clarity of the traditional proposal. The meaning is unmistakable, and there’s value in that.

      Anyway, that’s why my freak-out surprised me so much. I thought we were good. I spent a good month and a half totally happy, floating on a cloud, just feeling like I knew it was settled. And then suddenly I fell into this cold-feet place that I’m trying to figure out.

      • Class of 1980

        Well then, the only thing I can say now is … This too shall pass. ;)

      • jlseldon7

        If it sort of makes you feel better my fiance, who last week became my husband totally messed up the proposal. It took me a while to get over how badly he mangled it up. So while yes there is clarity in the traditional it can also be heart wrenching if it goes wrong.

        That being said a year and a half later we’ve been happily married for one week today! And even though he messed up the proposal I’d rather he mess up that, then get to the wedding and mess up on that part. And even after we got engaged I spent a whole lot of time asking myself “are you sure?” and “is this who you really want?” I was upset with myself at this at first, but eventually I realized that is just the way I process things. I over think so that when the moment comes I’m ready

  • My guy and I have booked our venue, our photographer, told most family members that we’ll be getting married next October. Yet I still feel like I’m waiting for a ring, a proposal, an engagement. I feel as if I have to qualify our planning because it wasn’t my choice to not be sporting an engagement ring. I know we’re getting married, but somehow I still don’t feel engaged.

    • Christina

      I feel like the problem you’re having is that no one else considers you engaged till you have the damn ring. So to the world at large whatever arrangement you have “doesn’t count” until he puts a ring on it, and those expectations alter our own thinking. Sad, but true.

      • Class of 1980

        Exactly. And the world is oppressive and WRONG.

      • Claire

        I think there’s some truth to that. My husband and I simply had a conversation one night and at the end of it, we were in agreement that we were getting married and it was going to happen within the next few months. The next night we had dinner plans with a bunch of friends and I happily shared that we had decided to get married. The reaction, or lack thereof, was kinda disappointing. It didn’t seem to register as an engagement without a ring. People were like, “oh that’s nice” and generally looked not entirely convinced. I wasn’t expecting the squealing and giddy exclamations that usually accompany demands to “show me the ring”, but I still thought the reaction we did get was very muted and didn’t really take us seriously.

        • Class of 1980

          This make me sad.

        • This makes me sad too. But it’s because I did get the enthusiastic reception to our news, yet I still don’t have a ring. I don’t understand why people can’t be happy for others, no matter how their choices look from the outside. While I understand the ring is important for many people, because trust me I’m still waiting for mine, it isn’t the ring that makes us engaged, it’s the intention and the agreement. I’m so glad I have friends who realize this.

      • Ren

        I have a ring now but didn’t when we first got engaged. For me, this turned out I be fantastic. I have mixed theoretical thoughts on rings, women as property, men have to do the asking, etc. I got to avoid people grabbing my hand to look at the ring when I just wanted to talk about being excited to get married.

    • Kate, I totally understand and went through this! I just commented above in fact, in more detail. Hang in there…..

  • mimi

    “So we had a big talk, where I told him that I felt like I had to be absolutely perfect for him so that he would decide he wanted me—like I was on the longest job interview in the world.”

    This. This is exactly how I feel right now. We’ve talked about getting engaged, talked about getting married next year and where we would have the wedding and the bridal party and all that. Recently though, we’ve gone through a rough patch with money and health issues, and now it seems like engagement and getting married has gone back to a “maybe…someday” thing. Like Copper, I feel like I’m on the longest interview ever (I actually mentioned the other night that I feel like this is the longest audition ever). It’s making me stressed and I’m probably acting weirdly, which is of course only exacerbating the problem. I know I need to keep talking to him about it, but sometimes it’s hard to even bring up without turning into a complete mess…

    Anyway, thanks for the perfect timing on this post and the great advice from everyone, as usual!

    • Breck

      Oh, Mimi, I was totally in your shoes a few months ago. The dude and I had our first few conversations about getting married/engaged sometime in the future, and I was on cloud 9 daydreaming about sparkly rings and white dresses. Then (I’m still not sure why) I started to have mini freak outs questioning his love (literally asking “do you love me?”) and, before you know it, we were in a rough patch. The only advice I can give is just to try and keep yourself busy and focused on other things, and it will pass. It was a very difficult month or so, but it forced us to have a lot of tough conversations, and I know we both came away from it with improved conflict resolution skills.

  • Morgan

    My boyfriend and I have been together three years (we are both in our late 30s); we sat down and talked about marriage and when we wanted it. We decided to wait until I finished grad school (two more years), and aren’t going to become officially engaged until about a year out (we both feel that too long an engagement takes the excitement away. Totally cool about other people doing otherwise, but happy we are in agreement about this). As far as proposing goes, we are going to propose to each other. So, the whole thing has been very easy and stress free (relatively speaking). Knowing we have a general timeline takes the stress off of both of us about “when will it happen, ZOMG!!!1!), and each of us getting to think of a way to propose spreads out the fun between us. It helps we know the other person is going to say yes, ha! So for us, setting a general wedding date first, then letting each of us decide when to to the proposing, worked really well and took the anxiety out of it.

    • Ana

      We did this. The decision to eventually get married happened when we were about to move long distance and scared I was going to be unemployed. Once I got a job and we fell in love with our new home, we decided we wanted to get married in our new town, taking a year to get settled and a year to plan. We moved in June 2011 and planned our engagement for May 2012. We picked a weekend, then surprised each other with the actual proposals. Even though we picked the date out, it was really fun to share the secret (only my sister knew we were ring shopping) until we were actually, officially engaged. We set our wedding date for July 2013, just over a year from getting engaged and two year from the actual “yes, we’re going to be married” conversation. I agree that it wasn’t stressful because we both knew the timeline – that’s what worked for us.

      • Morgan

        I loved your story, thank you for sharing! I appreciate hearing others experience with doing it this way – in our circle of friends we are thought a little odd for not doing it the more traditional way. That’s okay, it truly worked for us, but I enjoy hearing that it worked for other people too! Congratulations, and a happy wedding to you!

  • Anona

    I’m afraid I don’t really understand this. If you have the ring and have decided to get married, why the wait to put it on your finger?

    We didn’t have a proposal. Ok, our situation was a little unusual in that we were best friends for 3 years before getting together, but pretty much as soon as we did become a couple, it was clear to us both that we would get married. Fast forward 2 years, we’re living together and he has finished studying alongside working and so has time to be involved in the wedding planning (which he wanted) so we decide the time is right. We picked out a ring together but we were engaged (in my mind, at least!) from the moment we decided – together – to start planning our wedding. I would have felt silly if he’d asked “will you marry me?” because I’d already said yes in so many ways.

    • Shiri

      My husband and I had this wait – we had the ring for many months before it got put on my finger, and while that particular wait made me crazy, in retrospect I understand what it was. He needed that wait – not in order to know it was right, but because how he asked and how I accepted mattered to him. He had a certain way he wanted to do it that had nothing to do with cultural expectations, but to do with how he wanted it to feel for both of us. So we waited until he could do it the way he wanted to (it turned out, strangely, that he didn’t want to propose in New York City, which is where we live, and he waited until we could be someplace green, outdoors, and quiet).

      I think what Copper is dealing with the ramifications of, and what seems to sometimes get lost in the cultural narratives around engagements and weddings, is that men can have needs, desires, and images in their heads, not just fears.

    • Caroline

      We’ve had the ring for 2.5 years now and agree we want to get married but are stop waiting. The ring is a family heirloom he brought home 2.5 years ago when we started to talk about maybe getting married soonish rather than later. However, we are young, and our ducks are still more scattered to the winds than we would like. I think also, it takes an extra amount of surety that your ducks are lined up enough for you when you suspect that a lot of people will tell you to wait, that your ducks aren’t lined up enough.

    • Copper

      To clarify, we picked the ring. We shopped online because I have particular tastes and all the designers I liked seemed to be New Yorkers (we’re on the other coast). So we agreed we’d found the perfect one, he emailed the link to himself, and… the rest is a mystery to me. Does he have it yet? Has he even ordered it yet? Complete unknown.

      • Jashshea

        I would have major ants in my pants, too, Cooper, if that were my situation. He had to keep everything ring-related secret from me or I would have cracked under the pressure.

        Give yourself a break – it’s certainly no small thing to be waiting on something like this when you know it’s coming.

        Re: doubts – For me, it’s natural to have mini-doubts about any decision I’ve made. I make decisions very quickly and, while they’re decisive (I’m not a waffler generally), I still think about what-ifs, could-have-beens, etc. For me, it was about deciding that I couldn’t know everything about the future (duh) but that I wanted to figure that out WITH him.

      • Alexandra

        I was in that situation. And whenever I ended up in those situations thinking “Is this it?” I just figured that if he had the ring, he would have proposed, and just assumed it wasn’t there yet. And then tried to stop worrying about it. This lead to the silliest proposal story (“Guess you don’t have the ring yet.” “Will you marry me?”) but also kept me from ruining too many situations with anticipation.

    • Kara

      We did it the same way…but I do understand the “engaged or not engaged”, “when will he propose issue”.

      In my case, we had the job interview, you’re hired discussion (it’s funny that so many women feel this way) and he made it clear, I was the one, I was hired. So for a long time I was “waiting” for a proposal until I finally asked, “can we just do it already?!” So we decided we were engaged, but as we were letting it settle, we did not tell anyone. We picked out a ring, talked about what kind of wedding we wanted, but I was not “really engaged” in my mind because I had not told anyone yet. Finally it came time to tell people and that is the difference between a proposal and no proposal engagement. We had to pick a time that we would be “out” with our engagement.

      I think that is always the difference between pre-engaged and engaged. Once you get the proposal or decide to tell everyone you plan to get married, the engagement becomes “real” and until that moment arrives, it feels weird to talk about it or tell people you know you’re getting married. Waiting for the proposal can become anxiety inducing because you want to share what is going on in your life, but we are still conditioned by society to share it at the “correct” time.

      • Copper

        funny thing is, when I wrote my question I was worried that the response would be, “you feel like you’re on a job interview? yeah, that’s not how love feels. Don’t marry this dude.” It’s so easy to underestimate Team Practical, because you ladies are so great, and the attitudes that bring us all here are formed by such resonant common experiences, that you always rise above.

    • I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I was in this situation I probably would have just said I just really wanted to have the proposal experience. Now, looking back (over 3 years now), I realize that I have a high need for ritual and tradition in my life, and this was a tradition that had been important to me. Unfortunately, I didn’t fully understand how I felt and certainly didn’t convey it coherently to my now-husband. Since then, I have learned a lot about myself and about my need to communicate in the most straightforward way I can because my husband can’t read my mind and we see the world pretty differently sometimes. :)

  • KB

    I think it’s totally natural to be excited during those first discussions, when you actually hear the words come out of his mouth that boil down to, 1) “Yes, I’d like to get married,” 2) “to you”; and 3) “some time soon.” When you have those conversations, it’s like winning the best Crackerjack prize in the world – YES, I found the most WONDERFUL dude in the world who wants to marry ME! I WIN! You get caught up in that excitement…and then once you get used to the idea of “Woohoo! We’re gettin’ hitched!” you come back down to earth and start realizing the little things of what that means. Moving in together, combining finances, depending on each other, taking care of each other’s nasty colds, dealing with weird, stubborn ideas/habits – which you may have done already for years on end, but now it’s FOR LIFE.

    Honestly, I think these doubts would be creeping in even if he proposed to you with a ring at the “You’re hired!” moment. It’s not about a fear of answering a question, it’s a fear about making the commitment. I think the advice to talk to your fiance is spot on – although I wouldn’t phrase it as a “We need to talk (dumdumDUUUUUM!)” but more as a “I’m nervous – you nervous?” and talk about why. Who knows, he might be as scared as you are for the same reasons.

    • Copper

      This feels right. My letter was about coming through to the other side of one fear (not knowing if he wanted to marry me) to discover another fear waiting for me (now I’m nervous about marrying him!). I understand why Liz chose to go another direction with it, especially now that I’ve found the Cold Feet and Doubts post which I hadn’t seen before, but you’re more on the track of what my actual question was.

      • KB

        Haha, I totally get that – before, when you didn’t know if he wanted to marry you, you were probably more consumed with thinking about the reasons from his perspective and just assumed that you wanted to marry him. Now it’s like “Wait a minute, have I really thought this through?” I think it’s really another form of cold feet, even though it’s not exactly cold feet since it’s figuring out your concrete reasons for getting married at all and to this person. And I think that may be because you are the one who asked HIM to come up with HIS reasons and he did and is now like “Done and done!” – but he may not have done the same for you. Which is totally fine, but it sounds like you need a sounding board or someone neutral and solid to hear out the specifics of your doubts and concerns. They can then tell you whether or not you sound crazy, so that you can feel like you can get to the “Done and done!” point. Or at least some reassurance that you are not, in fact, the only person to go, “Oh, crap, why am I still scared???” even when you know the ring is coming.

        For me personally, I went through the same thing (am STILL going through it actually, even though we’re engaged), along the lines of one of the other awesome posters who was like, “What if I’m too young to get married! At 29! Gah!” But I haven’t had any stricken “Oh my God” moments where I feel physically affected by the notion of getting married in X days – for me personally, that’s when I know something is wrong. And it helps knowing that my fiance is the same way, that he has general feelings of anxiety, too. From talking to other married folk, I gather this is normal and it’s just part of the process of accepting that marriage is (and should be) a big deal. Although I totally defer to the married ladies on APW because I’d like to hear myself how people’s feelings of anxiety developed or changed through engagement and into marriage.

        • Liz

          For me, it was less doubting my own feelings and more of a chronic fear of change. I KNEW I wanted to marry this guy. But, once the actual proposal and engagement happened, I was sad. Not sad about the future, but sad about the happy little past I was leaving behind.

          I’m guessing the ups and downs and complicated mix of emotions is different for everyone. Anyone else have a different experience?

          • This is very similar to what I experienced, but I also felt like I had so much more to lose all of a sudden. Like this new level of commitment put me in such a riskier position – now I could have a “failed” engagment, or a divorce – how awful! That new vulnerability was very hard to wrap my head around, however unlikely those outcomes were. It takes time to get used to the higher level of commitment, at the same time you are saying goodbye to your life as a single person. That combination can spawn all kinds of doubts and fears.

          • Copper

            It’s the fear of change of getting married, but also the fear of how I’ll be able to handle changes in the future. It’s like I’m trading in my cute little nimble kayak for a big sailboat. They adapt to change in very different ways, and I don’t know how to steer a sailboat yet.

      • JC

        I have been in this place for a while. And I have had the “I’m nervous – you nervous?” talks with FH a few times. The first time I brought it up, I was so scared he would say “No I have no doubts, what do you mean you do?” But the reaction I got was actually “Oh, thank God! Yes, we are both allowed to have panic moments with no judgement. Deal.” And now I feel so much better about the whole thing! Somehow, knowing that he is also unsure at times takes the pressure off. It sounds weird, because you want him to be 100% sure if you’re going to commit to forever, but I feel like I am allowed to be imperfect because I know that we’re in this together.

    • Class of 1980

      KB, is right. Over time, so many other issues take center stage.

      It reminds me of that old saying … “Marry in haste; repent at leisure.”

      At least you have time to think.

  • I do think there’s something to the “man proposes” process that can make the “and now he HAS proposed” stage difficult. If you really did want the validation, which I understand completely, once you have it you’re in a different state of mind. You need to come to understand how you feel in this state – the one where you know he loves you as much as you love him. The one in which you see him as attainable. Which, really, we all ought to be in all along, but often aren’t.

    I’d pay attention to the feeling. Not freak out, but hey, marriage is a state in which often people become dependent on each other, and needy, from time to time. So it’s good to test that emotional model in your heart.

  • Daynya

    Boy, have I been there. My wedding is in 3 weeks now – eeee! – so I can say that I made it through, but it was tough. My guy is the same exact way, and approached the whole thing similarly. So I spent the last year or so of pre-engagement in this state. I was anxious, and excited, and waiting for engagement. We discussed it, and he was on board, but not yet, not until a certain point. I knew it would happen, but for some reason I really wanted it to just happen immediately, validation/security issues (for me, not you!)?? But then, we picked out a ring. Every holiday/weekend getaway/sweet moment/Tuesday evening dinner on the couch, I got my hopes up. It was a tough wait. I suddenly realized that what I’d been waiting for and hoping for was actually going to happen, and HOLY CRAP, was I really ready for that to happen?! When he finally did propose, I felt simultaneously excited, relieved and pukey. It took a while to step back and assess the situation, and realize how excited I am again. We’ve discussed my feelings about it, and it’s fascinating. He told me that he felt all the same concerns, but he felt them before actually even discussing marriage with me, and that was why he took his time. He already got all that stuff out of his system, and I never did until the ring was a reality. I don’t know why, but I find that whole dynamic interesting. I agree that you should discuss it with him. I did, and while I asked if we could do things differently, he didn’t want to, and I was looking forward to the surprise, so I patiently waited. But it never hurts to at least let him know where you are/what you are feeling. And do listen to your gut. I know that I had to really sit with my feelings and tune in to what I was feeling. I read all this stuff saying that if there was ANY doubt, then you should call it off, and that freaked me out more than anything else. I had to discern for myself if it was panic because this is a bad idea, or panic because, wow, this is a really big deal, and not just someone providing me with the sense of security that I’ve been waiting my whole life to find (and eventually realized I must provide for myself!). It’s big stuff, it’s okay to wait until you’re really, really sure!

    • Copper

      This. We talked the other night (the night before I got an email that this question was going to run, actually), and the impression I left with was that he had gone through all of this already, and for some reason I had needed that “you’re hired!” moment and the belief that he really did love me enough, to start going through that same journey myself. I suspect that discussion will delay the actual formal proposal a bit, but oh well, it’s better if it keeps me from doing something crazy like saying I’m not sure when it finally happens.

      And I’m with some of the ladies here that have said that 100% certainty just isn’t possible for their personality type. I overthink, I second-guess, I weigh options, I cannot recall a big decision that I’ve felt 100% certain about. That’s a bar I’ll never reach.

      • Daynya

        EXACTLY! Seriously. I also had so many times where I would think, if I bring this up, I might delay this actually happening. But sometimes you just gotta do it, because you’re right…I’d rather figure it out ahead of time.

        And yes, I’m that way too, but it’s taken me a long time to get there. I really thought I KNEW what I wanted, but that’s just it. It was what I ‘wanted’, and after 31 years of living on this planet, I’m starting to realize that what I want sometimes has been envisioned through some rose colored glasses. Not always a bad thing, but sometimes reality feels like a harsh slap in comparison. So, yeah, I’m always just about 100% certain when something is just in my head. When it becomes real, that certainty goes out the window, and that’s when I start to actually ponder the hugeness. I’m dreading the decision about if we’ll have kids. Sigh.

        • Copper

          omg, the kids question. I don’t even want to think about people asking us that… we’re totally ambivalent. I suspect he’ll want them in the end, but we’re also not necessarily the type of people to plan things 5 or 10 years out, we’re more likely to come to that decision when we’re financially a career-wise in a place to be able to support them. There will be some major freakouts there for sure.

  • Lauren

    I think it’s important to also remember the guy or proposing partner’s* experience too. There’s such an incredibly strong cultural narrative – equally if not more strong than the passive proposee, if you will – that tells them how to go about this proposal business. Spending three month’s salary, diamond rings and the all-important SUPRISE proposal, I believe, are more essential to him feeling like he did it “right” than to us.

    I’m trying to think of how to phrase this well. I think the proposee has plenty of time to think and stew and decide she doesn’t need a diamond or even a ring, she just wants the symbolic commitment of the “fiancée” label. But the proposer, our fiancé, is rarely told by his feminist parents that the traditional way isn’t the only way. So unless we sit him down and explain our own expectations and attempt to combat decades of pop culture telling them what the correct thing to do is, he’s going to do the super by-the-books movie proposal that for (smart, in-control) women like us, is so hard to endure.

    *using gender/heteronormative pronouns from now on because that’s how the OP is operating.

    **edited for spelling, grammar (curse you, iPhone!)

    • Class of 1980

      We’re up to THREE MONTHS salary now? It used to be TWO months!

      (Not that it matters since the diamond industry wrote the “guidelines” anyway.)

      • Copper

        yeah, the great part about picking it out together was that I got to tell him 1) no diamonds, not even the little silly ones on the sides, and 2) less than MY one month after-taxes pay, which probably brings it down to like one paycheck worth for him

      • Lauren

        Yeah, I don’t know! All the information I got about the guy’s side came straight from the horse’s mouth, so three months is what he was told, I guess!

  • margo

    I think I fall somewhere between Maddie’s post yesterday and this one. I have been MOH/bridesmaid in three weddings and attended ten total in the last year. With the exception of one couple, my SO and I have been together longer (seven years) than the couples getting married. For a long time I didn’t worry about getting married. I was excited to help and celebrate with my friends (even reading wedding blogs they suggested! hi APW!). But now it has started to feel like my non-engaged non-married relationship is no longer valued the way theirs are. It has been an endless year of “When will you get married?” and friends introducing us and saying “They’ll get married, someday” like our relationship comes with an astrik. I have started to feel like I need to get engaged for everyone else. My SO and I know we’ll get married someday, but at this point it can’t be soon enough for our community. I expect I’ll get a lot of “Finally!” responses when we do decided to get married. That’s not how I want to feel, but I know I’ll feel that relief that comes from an end to the pre-engaged state.

    • Shiri

      That pressure is so unfortunate and so unfair. I hate how it can get in our heads and change the way things look and feel. You sound like you’re standing up to it really, really well.

      When I mentioned last year to a (married) male friend that my then-boyfriend of 5 years and I were thinking about marriage, he was shocked. He said he had assumed we were one of those couples that would be together forever, have a family, have a life together without being married. I wasn’t sure if that was the ultimate acceptance or if we had passed some line in his mind of when it’s reasonable to get married.

      I did find, though, that no one said “finally!” when we did eventually get engaged. Or at least not to my face. I hope they don’t to you, either.

      • Lauren

        A lot of my friends has assumed we were already engaged, so we got an “oh, really?” response. I prefer that than the “finally!”

        • Sarah

          My finance and I were together for four years before he proposed. We got a ton of “weren’t you already?” The worst response has to be from his mother, who, when told we were engaged, said “why?”

      • Kara

        My grandma said that!

        We’d only been dating a year and a half when we got engaged in May. She had apparently decided the previous Thanksgiving that she liked him, she liked us together, and that we needed to be married. Preferably ASAP. I figured that having to wait another 6 months (when one is already 91) is a very long time to wait.

    • Ruby

      Margo – this comment is exactly how I feel and almost the same situation of ours. My partner and I have had discussions about how I feel that our community doesn’t place the same value on our relationship as I do. He continually reassures me that what they think/how they perceive our relationship isn’t important because it isn’t theirs and that the two of us know how much we value our partnership. I really do wish that there wasn’t this feeling about wanting to get engaged for any reason other than for ourselves but I think that’s a reality we’re going to continue to face.

    • AnotherCourtney

      We were one of those couples, too, and I expected everyone to say “Finally!” when we did get engaged. But you know, I don’t remember a single person responding that way. Everyone was so full of joy that, “Finally!” might have been somewhere in their minds, but it was far from their first reaction.

      There’s hope!

      • We were also one of those couples– we just became officially engaged less than a month ago, and we have been together for seven years, living together for four. As couples we knew started getting married, almost all of whom had been together for a significantly shorter time than us (which is fine!), it felt like our relationship was maybe devalued. As though it wasn’t enough to be in a committed, stable, fun, satisfying, nurturing relationship without a ring on my finger! People asked if we ever even talked about marriage, which shocked me. Of course we did! Did they just think we had been casually meeting up for drinks for seven years? Did they think we were just acquaintances that enjoyed a nice date every once and awhile?

        I was worried about people’s reactions, that we would only hear a chorus of Finallys! and What Took You So Long?! We got a few of those, which we’ve brushed off, but mostly we’ve been completely embraced with happiness and support. It turns out that our community already felt so invested in our relationship and were so thrilled to hear of a decision that they could more easily wrap their minds around, the decision to make it “official” with marriage.

    • Jashshea

      Yup. I had two friends meet a guy, get married and, um, get divorced in between me and my guy starting to date and getting engaged (we were together 5+ pre-engagement and we’re in our 30s).

      The last year pre-engagement was rough – I felt like every time I made a phone call people were expecting it to be THE phone call. I knew we were solid, but I was so ready to just be freaking married already. And while it was annoying that people kept asking us when – People REALLY wanted us to be engaged already, too. And that’s a wonderful thing. Kinda. In retrospect.

      Because we’d been together so long (and had worked together for much of that time), I knew how his mind worked when making decisions – the phrase “boil the ocean” doesn’t even begin to cover how thoroughly he investigates potential options. I knew when he was ready to ask the question and THEN he had to apply the standard level of rigor on the ring purchase. Good news being – he doesn’t make decisions lightly or waffle once his mind is made up.

      So…I was relieved when he proposed, yes. But that was way down on the order of emotions – way after shock, thrill, shock (again), excitement, happiness, etc etc. And very few people said “Finally!” as their first reaction.

      • Jo

        There are those great advantages to the long, slow decision makers (oh yeah, I married one of those!) – that they reliably make good decisions and stand by them once they’ve gone through every hair on the dog’s back. Like, the hubs and I just decided to uproot from the town we LOVE where he is doing his Masters for a dream job for me that’s 3 hours away. And while I know it’s a really hard thing for him to agree to commute while he writes his thesis, I know that if he agreed to it, he meant it and he’ll stand by it. Which gives me peace.

        Also, a tidbit from one experience (mine) that I hope will apply to others who are getting married after a LONG “courtship”: getting engaged/married well after the initial honeymoon period is over (in my case, 5 years) gave us a second round of that googly eyed, the world is our oyster feeling that you may vaguely recall from the early days. It’s a little gift that can come from having traveled the path a ways together before jumping into the pond. Freshens things up a bit. It’ll be fun. Enjoy it.

    • Whitney

      I just wanna give you an amen, and a fist bump, and maybe a hug. I’m an 8 1/2 year-er here, and your comment resonates with me 100%. I mean, seriously. These 8.5 years (and in your case 7) have been HARD WORK. It has been success, LDR, heart break, secret keeping, and frustration. I don’t know what people think we have been doing all this time; like maybe we were as serious about being committed to each other because we didn’t let everyone else in on our personal promises and dedication to making it work?

      We are actually engaged now a few months and this very dynamic has made the process difficult for me. I got a few “finally!” s and “Took you long enough!”s that I’m pretty sure it took every bit of home training I ever possessed to not to end up on the 5pm news. I’m so pissed that only now we “count”. That is ridiculous. We have always counted. You and your significant other count married, unmarried, or otherwise. The process of is pushing and sheltering another human being is not to be dismissed, no matter what culture tells us.

  • AnotherCourtney

    Oh, honey, have I been there! I ended every vacation we took together (for probably a year) in tears because there hadn’t been a proposal involved. The worst was a Christmas trip to Philadelphia, where he bought bus tickets for a day trip to NYC, and I just KNEW that’s when he was going to propose. Except he didn’t. And I ruined a magical day of wandering around aimlessly in one of my favorite cities because I was so disappointed.

    Liz is right that you don’t have to have a “pop the question” moment, but maybe you want one (I did). That’s ok. We ended up “deciding to get married” together – at 4 am over a game of backgammon because I was distraught over the situation that I couldn’t sleep. We told our parents and best friends and booked a venue over the next couple days. He gave me a real proposal a month later, after he’d had a chance to talk to my dad in person, and that’s when we made it public. Sure, it was a little backward, but I got everything I wanted out of it: the traditional surprise proposal AND I got to be an equal partner in the decision. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

  • I know it’s hard to laugh now, but I really find a ton of humor when I look back on this stage of pre-engagement. I always thought “THIS WILL BE THE DAY!” and would spend extra time getting ready, and stress about my outfit and then he would say “meh, it’s raining, let’s just make some soup and watch a movie instead of going to that vineyard where we had our second date” and I would deflate like balloon. The thing is, when he finally did propose, I wasn’t expecting it at all because I had worn myself out with all the false alarms. I hope you are able to look back and laugh too.

    • Lauren

      My guy is so predictable and a true cheeseball that I expected it on Christmas. So when he did it two days before, I hadn’t showered and was in the middle of a handywoman project in ratty clothes. It was funny then and will keep being funny now!

  • I was exactly like this. My fiancé let it slip one night at dinner that he was going ring shopping the next day. I thought I would feel giddy, but instead, I got very nervous, uncertain butterflies. After 4 years together, I knew I loved him and I knew that he was an irreplaceable part of my life, but I FELT unsure.

    So how did I overcome my fear?

    I forced myself to think about future events. When I was pushing out our first child, was he there? What if I was really sick? Or he was really sick? Would I want to stick it out? I also asked myself if I would want to marry him if we were just going to city hall to make sure I wasn’t blinded by the desire of wanting a wedding. It took a lot of reflection, but by the time he proposed about a month later, I was ready.

    Good luck!

    • Copper

      I totally barraged him with hypotheticals the other night. What if I get the most amazing, make-or-break my career offer on the other side of the country, even though he owns a business here and we’ve basically agreed to stay where we are? What if one of us turns out to be infertile, how serious is he about the need for kids? What if we are plunged into WW3 and the whole country goes to hell? What if there is an actual zombie attack? (sorry for that one, but we love zombies and it helped lighten the mood).

      The specific answers aren’t important here, but they helped a bit.

      • Jo

        Ah yes, the one I asked was – what if I realize/decide that I MUST live on a commune and live with no possessions in a straw bale house?? Are you down with that?? Will we be able to make it work? And he was reluctant, and maybe even said he would live off site but come visit me or something hilarious like that. And then I had to figure out whether I could live with it and eventually, just get over the fact that I couldn’t contingency plan out my whole life.

        • His response to your hypothetical question cracked me up. :)

        • This wasn’t part of a decision about whether to get married, but my fiancé the other day asked me, “If you suddenly woke up and you were 13 again and you knew what happened in the future, would you try to find me?”

          • Jen

            Did you meet at age 13? If not, would you finding him early have strange effects on the future?!

    • lp

      I am super late to this but just wanted to say Thanks Molly! This advice is just what I needed right now.

  • JESS

    I didn’t know what was happening during my pre-engagement stage until afterwards when I looked back and thought ‘wow, I was really freaking out.’ I had a very similar experience. I’ve been dating my fiance for 9 years and we always knew that we’d get married but were in no rush. We focused on our careers and other priorities before we decided the time was right. Anyway, a friend told me last October that my fiance would be proposing by the end of the year, so EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. we’d go out to dinner or take a walk or be hanging out in our apartment, I would have my guard up – “maybe it will happen now.” We went to a holiday party and as we were leaving someone said to him “Good luck tomorrow.” I was halfway out the door so I thought that I wasn’t meant to hear it. The entire next day I was freaking out (in a good, scared, nervous, excited way) that he would propose. Turns out the ‘good luck’ was directed toward fantasy football! Pretty funny looking back. My point is that your anxiety about the entire situation increases when you the know the proposal is impending. And this gives you time to over-analyze every thought about getting married – the good and the bad. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you understand that the reason for all of it is the anxiety leading up to that moment (I hope that makes sense). Good luck (and I don’t mean in fantasy football :).

  • Ambi

    I am admittedly biased because my guy and I have been together for over 7 years without getting engaged (we are very close to it now, though). But I bristle at the idea that, if a man is sure about you, he would propose as fast as possible and there is nothing that would make him wait. In my experience, that idea is a bit more romantic comedy than real life. There are lots of reasons that people (guys AND girls) choose not to get engaged yet, even if they love each other and know that they want to have each other in their lives forever. Every situation is different, but for my guy, it has been a combination of classic commitmentphobia (which manifests itself in all aspects of his life, like buying a house or accepting a job offer or getting a pet) and insecurity about whether he was financially stable enough to get married. Another element has been that, for the most part, we are pretty happy in our relationship as it is. We know we’d like to get married before having kids, but since neither of us is ready for kids right now, there hasn’t been that pressure. We already live together and our families basically treat us as if we were married, so there was not as much motivation to get married. Now, I’ll be honest, I’ve wanted it a lot more than him, especially in recent years, and I think my desire to get married has created that motivation for him. Since we are now moving towards marriage, I guess it all worked out naturally (well, with a little help from a couples therapist to help us discuss the fact that wanting marriage had now become a pretty big and urgent thing for me, and that his hesitation didn’t necessarily mean that he wasn’t sure about me or wasn’t in love). All of this is just to say that I think many people could be a lot happier if they could let go of the idea that, if your partner isn’t immediately proposing (or if he/she doesn’t immediately say yes when you propose), then there must be something wrong with your relationship or his feelings for you. Life is just much more complicated than that. We are human beings with baggage and issues and all kinds of quirks. So, if you know your partner loves you, and you are happy in your relationship, don’t let yourself start questioning that just becuase he hasn’t proposed yet. However, if like me you’ve reached the point that you are no longer happy in that kind of relationship and you need a commitment in order to continue on together, then it is time to talk to him and figure that stuff out. But not because of any preconcieved idea that, if he really loved me he would have proposed already.

    • Copper

      I think you’re right, it’s just hard for the partner who is more ready because the actions and words of the partner who is less ready for real good them reasons can appear identical to the words and actions of a partner who is less ready because he just doesn’t love the other person enough and will never be ready. It’s difficult to tell the difference sometimes—I’m sure it feels different to them, but because they say the same things, it’s hard to tell from the outside.

      • Liz

        I think the key, to me, would be if the justification was a sort of habitual thing. Say he sets that 18month mark (I set my own mark in my relationship- after grad school), and then 18 months comes and goes and suddenly he has a NEW reason for wanting to wait, and then that gets resolved, and there’s still an insurmountable number of rationales for putting off getting engaged. That’s when I would be concerned that I’m in the wrong relationship.

  • Shauna

    Dear Cooper,

    I highly suggest you check out I had many of the same thoughts you are having and Cheryl Paul helped me working through them.

    Many Blessings!

    • bessalita

      I second this! I commented above on this post, but also turned to Conscious Transitions when I was really panicking.

      • JESS

        I agree! This site helped me as well.

    • Catherine

      wow shauna!! Just seeing this, and weird, another commenter from APW reccomended me to this website last month!! I basically have been in a month long anxiety attack/feeling like a stranger/panic for no reason and am working with Sheryl. Most scary thing I have ever been through but I am so glad I found her site. I went from reading APW everyday sooooo excited to marry my girlfriend, everyday just got better and better and I was more sure and in love and BAM something sucked all my love out- seriously, thats what it felt like. Sorry this is a lot just have a lot bottled up inside right now! No proposal yet or anything- can’t figure out what the trigger was…

  • Marina

    I think waiting for a proposal is about two different things: 1) feeling validated that the person you love loves you back and wants to spend the rest of their life with you, and 2) both of you feeling ready to get married. Those are very, very, VERY different things. It sounds like a lot of your stress was about #1, and now that’s cleared up you’re faced with #2 in a way you simply weren’t before. I think you can USE the period of waiting for a proposal as a wonderful transition period, to really consider what marriage means to you, what you need to have happen in your life and your relationship before it happens, how you expect and want your life to change or not change. Without having to worry about #1. :)

  • Granola

    Late to the party here so I may be retreading old ground. But! Man did I suck at waiting for a proposal. We’d talked about it, we were ready. I’d even asked him! And he said “Yes but it’s really important to me to ask you.” I ended up buying my own ring and handed it to him for whenever he was ready, just so I could feel a part of the process.

    So I waited impatiently frustrated and nervous. And when it finally came, it was a comedy of errors. No, I didn’t cry. It was in the rain at the end of a great day of vacation, cold, and there wasn’t a lot of pomp or circumstance (His original plan got derailed – long story.) But my first thought when I felt him slow down was “Really? Right now? Of all the times?”

    I just want you to know that if your proposal is a let-down, that’s ok. If you’re frustrated and annoyed, that’s ok too. It was important to my fiance to ask me to marry him, so I let him. Didn’t make it any easier, and as has been discussed, more talking helps. But you definitely aren’t alone and your doubts seem normal to me. If you want some more reassurance, I found this very helpful:

  • The waiting is hard. The waiting sucks. Like Liz said, there is a balance of power — “The asker holds the power of deciding when to ask; the askee holds the power of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no'”– but the thing is, in this day and age, that’s rarely true. Most of the time, the askee isn’t going to say no; the couple has already discussed it at length, maybe even looked at rings, so that balance is lost. The asker starts to hold the power, as they already know the answer. And then the askee has to worry about being “crazy” or “pressuring” him. I just feel like the proposal system is set up so that women fail.

    This really, really bothered me about proposals, and that’s why I had to tell my boyfriend months in advance that I wasn’t OK with doing it that way. The exact doubt/anxiety you’re experiencing — which I think makes perfect sense, given that you are in limbo with lots of time to think about this relationship and where it’s coming — seems built into this process of waiting to be asked. So I skipped it. We decided together and then we went ring shopping, and then we set a date in the future (together) when we’d get engaged which meant putting our rings on (yes, I bought him one too) and telling our family/friends and going public with it. Having that date in the future gave us BOTH time to emotionally/mentally/logistically prepare for this big announcement/change (something I think that women are denied in the traditional narrative) and knowing when it was happening put us on the same team; it was us against the world with our secret surprise planning instead of us against each other.

    Copper, it sounds like your bf is traditional (mine was too so this was hard for him at first) but is the surprising you on a certain day part what matters to him? Or just the part that’s a planning a big romantic gesture that’s a surprise to you? Because perhaps you could compromise and set a date like we did for making it public and putting the bling on, but you could still let him plan how that day looks?

  • My engagement (just last weekend!) happened when I finally LET GO. We had been dating for 3 years and I had about 3 breakdowns very similar to the person asking the question. It happend when I started to focus on the direction of the relationship and truly being present. PS bought the e-book and really enjoying the practical advice. It truly helped in this first week of engagement (and we ARE enjoying it!) Cheers!

  • Ceka

    I have always thought of the decision to get married is the moment of engagement. It seemed artificial to me to say that I wasn’t engaged when my boyfriend and I had decided to get married. So when we got engaged, we just talked about it and decided.

    I honestly think there would be a lot less craziness if more people looked at it this way. Nothing wrong with a proposal, but it’s the decision that counts.

    So if you and your love have decided to get married, congratulations! You’re engaged!

    • Caroline

      That’s great for some people, but sometimes that doesn’t fly. We decided we were getting married (someday) when we were 16 and 19, living at home, thousands of miles apart (in cultures where 29 and 25 are normal marrying ages, respectively.) Announcing an engagement then CLEARly wasn’t appropriate for us then. (although everyone knew and knows our plans.)
      Since then, it had been a gradual dance of deciding when we announce an engagment and plan a wedding a do it. An engagement to us symbolizes our imminent marriage but we do a lot of discussing how imminent it is now and how imminent we want to announce something and how to do so. There hasn’t been and likely won’t be a sudden moment of “It was far away in the distance and now its close!” either, but a gradual growth into readiness until one day, we announce “we are getting married on x date, be there.”
      For some folks, the moment you decide to get married is the moment you get engaged works. But it isn’t that simple for everyone.

    • Kara

      I totally agree that the proposal as the beginning point in an engagement is a cultural narrative that is worth taking down. But there is a special time that occurs during the time that you have decided to get married and the moment that you are publicly engaged. I enjoyed this time as time to gather my thoughts, decide on what kind of wedding was important and what being engaged meant to us. In my case it was about 3 months of time and it was a weird limbo period, but I would not have told anyone during that time that I was engaged, until I was ready make it public. I wanted a nice quiet period without 100 questions every day about my impending wedding.

      So in my case, I felt like I was not engaged until I was publicly engaged. Although, I do not know what to call that interim period…”a private engagement”, “VIP engagement”?



    This guy is looking forward to surprising you with a proposal, and before you make the decision to thrust mutually-agreed-engagement upon him, you had better consider his feelings on the issue. My husband LIVED for the look on my face when he proposed. He planned it so carefully (and honey, it took him forever). All he wanted was that moment, that traditional moment of man-on-knee holding up the ring and asking.

    He would have been so sad if I had taken that away from him because I was feeling antsy! That would have been terrifically selfish of me! So please, please, consider your man’s feelings on the matter – you’ve been considering your own feelings, it’s his turn.

    • Copper

      Yeah, I hadn’t really responded to Liz’s suggestion to either propose to him, or suggest a non-proposal option… because I know it’s not going to happen. He’s super traditional—the first time he even mentioned wanting to marry me, he followed it up with, “well I guess I’ve ruined the surprise now,” and I had to tell him how utterly sexist the idea was that he should have as many months or years as he wants to decide and I should get seconds to make the same life-changing decision. I felt like I’d won a victory for feminists everywhere when he thought that through and got why I had issues with that. I don’t think the distance between complete-surprise-proposal and we-don’t-need-no-stinkin-proposal is feasible to cover with this one. I know that the proposal is for him, that’s the part for him to get excited about. I’ll be excited when that moment is done and I finally get to talk about the very serious changes going on in my life with my friends and family, and really start planning for our future.

      So, per other members of Team Practical above, I am going to regard the waiting period as time for me to wade through and quiet all the doubts, and try to accept those feelings instead of judging myself or my relationship for having them. Cause it sounds like a lot of you ladies did.

      • My man is really traditional too, and he had told me at one point that he wanted to propose to me (actually, even early in our relationship, we were talking about our views towards marriage, and he mentioned it then). But as you can see below, I just couldn’t wait. And it hasn’t ended up being a big deal.

    • KH_Tas

      But why isn’t me being forced to wait for a proposal as bad as me ‘taking his proposal away from him’? I mean, forcing me to wait in silence is taking my autonomy over my future away from me. Shouldn’t my feelings be just as important? And it’s not selfish for me to ‘take away his moment’ in the interest of protecting my basic mental health – my therapist was quite insistent that I be an equal part in the decision, because having no control over my future would break me, and he cares too much about my feelings to want that.

      • Copper

        I agree with this so much. As with many things in a partnership, it’s a balancing act. Sometimes one person doesn’t get their ideal way of doing things, because that way is too hard on their partner. Right now, I’m willing to wait and let him have that moment. If I’m still waiting in six months, I expect I’ll feel differently about that. Coming to the right solution to something as a couple does involve compromise, finding the sweet spot with optimal total results. If “taking away his proposal” is what someone needs to do to keep sane, then someone who loves you should understand that.

        • KEA1

          oh, you guys nailed it. Exactly wasn’t enough so I had to chime in officially. there are *many* ways that the propos-er can do it without undermining the feelings of the propos-ee, and the feelings of both parties need to be important.

  • Ann

    One evening, in the city where we met, over dinner at a restaurant where we had a lot of memories, my partner said nonchalantly “I think it makes sense to get married next summer.” That was a close to a proposal as we will ever have.

    We had talked a lot about marriage, but he wasn’t ready to get married until he was 100% certain that he would chose me above his career. I thought that process was going to take quite a long time, and so I was ready to wait about another two years before I sat down with him and had the “now or never” conversation.

    While I have always thought of an engagement as a more formal, public commitment, he views engagement as “We are actively planning a wedding.” In the end, he got what he wanted. In the span of two weeks, we went from deciding to get married to having a date and venue. We started calling ourselves engaged, even though we don’t have the ring yet (we’re getting a set custom made, so it takes about 6 weeks).

    While my old friends have been incredibly excited, my coworkers (who are largely in the 40s and 50s–I am 24) have gone so far is to say that it can’t be an engagement until I have a ring and my partner formally proposes. I am baffled by that. I have a venue, a dress, and a photographer. We have a guest list, and a hotel block. How are we not engaged?! It feels so odd that when you don’t follow the cultural script, people try to invalidate your experience.

    I also feel odd reading all of these stories where there seems to be SO. MUCH. PRESSURE. on women as they follow along in this cultural script. There was no stressful waiting period with my partner. And I think I like the way it worked out.

  • I asked my guy to marry me because I was done with waiting already. But we had already made a mutual decision to get married *someday* — we actually had multiple conversations where we talked about our future, and each time we affirmed that we did want to marry each other. But he just takes a lot of time to deliberate and think, and he’s slow to action. One day, the time just felt right to me (on a walk, where we had our first date, on a lovely, snowy day). So I turned around and said “Still want to marry me? okay, let’s set a date!”

    That said, it took him a month to come around. He said yes right away, but he didn’t tell his mom until a month later. That’s when I knew everything was really on. It was kind of maddening waiting that long (I did plenty of complaining to girlfriends). But I went home one day and said “look, I retract — you can just propose when you’re ready.” and he said “But I called my mom today to tell her!” And that was that. Looking back, I remember being frustrated at the time, but it’s all water under the bridge now.

    I guess what I’m saying is this — if you’re ready, then go for it! And he’ll let you know when he is ready. And even if you propose, he can still propose back to you.

  • We knew for a while that we would get married…..someday. But of course, being the girl I am, I dreamed about the fateful proposal constantly. I had no clue when it would come. Was it coming? Sure. When…. that was a whole different story.

    Luckily for me, my Fi didn’t like the waiting game either, and decided one day to go get a ring, and about a week later propose. I had no clue, and I liked it that way.

    After the excitement of the shiny new ring and tears wore off, I for a while was a little disappointed how he proposed – in our living room, on a normal afternoon, nonchalantly. But the more I thought about it, I realized that it was perfect. A proposal doesn’t have to be this big you-tube worthy hype. It just has to be right. I realized that ours was right for us, private and easy going. I would have been terrified if he proposed in public. Our living room was perfect, and the proposal was perfect, and better yet, I look forward so much to our marriage. Because, in the end, that’s what counts. :)

  • Denzi

    I proposed to T, by accident and spur of the moment, the day after Thanksgiving while making out in the backseat of a car. We then took a couple of months to ask our parents for advice about marriage, and to think and discuss and talk to our friends. T wanted a better proposal story and wanted to propose to me, so we decided that he could do an “official” proposal-with-ring, for his sake and so we would have an exciting thing about which to call people and notify them.

    About two months in to being secretly/”unofficially” engaged, waiting for T to corral his ducks started driving me crazy. Every time he did something nice, I would jump inside and think, “Is this it?” If we discussed joke ways for him to propose (like in the middle of an improv practice with our team), every time we were in that situation my brain would be racing like crazy. So I sat T down and said, “Look, you can take as long as you need, but jumping at every little thing and living perpetually between excitement and disappointment and nervousness is a huge strain. Please help.”

    So T told me, “I won’t propose until the third week of March. Stop worrying about it until then. Then you can have your week of jumping at everything, and if we need to change the timeline we’ll talk about it. But in the meantime we can just do our thing.”

    Oh my goodness, I am such an advocate of this method. As Liz said, the person doing the asking has the power, but the power over the timeline + keeping the timeline secret is just way too much emotional strain.

    Ask for what you need. Or lay out what the problem is and let your partner help you figure out how to keep both of you sane while doing the kind of engagement-starting experience you both want.

  • Nikki

    There is a quote from one of the pre engaged posts on APW that I bookedmarked and read almost weekly while waiting for the proposal. I brought the ring home from the jewler before the holodays in Dec….and didnt get it till Memorial Day. I knew he would make me wait for it, lol. Enjoy the fun of waiting, over thinkong, night mares and analyzing. Never in your life will you be pre engaged and have these thoughts! It wont be like this for long….so as odd of advice this is…enjoy it!

  • Rachel

    Liz, and anyone else with advice to share, I have a question about a similar situation that I would love getting some input on.

    My boyfriend of 3 really great years (long distance for year 2, and living together the past year) has given me conflicting messages that are driving me a little nutty. We are both 25.

    (I’m using caps below simply to emphasize – apologies if they bug you)

    We have talked about our future, and he says he WANTS a future with me, and he doesn’t have any problems about the idea of marriage. But he has also said that he was UNSURE about marrying ME… unsure about COMMITTING to the future (that he says he wants) with me. That feels like the ‘longest interview’ situation mentioned above – like I have to be better to be ENOUGH, since he is still undecided, and who I am now isn’t enough for him to make a decision. Or worse, it feels like he is waiting for a reason to back out of this relationship.

    He has said “I want a future with you, but I don’t want to say ‘I want to marry you someday’ because I think it puts too much pressure on the relationship.”

    I get the feeling he feels ‘too young’ and simply not ready to make such a grown up decision. He knows I’d like to get married in the next year or two – I am firm in wanting to be married before buying a house together and starting a family. Probably more so now that I know his hesitations.

    We’ve talked about the idea of compromise – me waiting perhaps a little longer than I’d like, and him ‘being ready’ sooner than he thinks he might.

    I absolutely want him to WANT to marry me – and not feel obligated, or pushed – but be excited about our life together. There is this lingering feeling of imbalance though, and whether we got married tomorrow or in another 3 years, how can I work through the feelings of not ‘being enough’? How else can I talk about this with him without him feeling like I am pushing him to propose?

    Thanks for your thoughts —

  • anonymous

    Hi guys, I know I am late to this post but I hope someone will still answer or see it! I have felt a lot of everything everyone has been saying, but all of the sudden I am in this new scary phase that is freaking me out. My partner and I have been talking about marriage ever since we met, and everyday I have loved her more and been more sure and excited for our future, It just seemed like everyday we got closer and closer and deeper and more solid (which we already were to begin with ) that I have pretty much been walking through life so grateful and ecstatic and ‘holy shit is this my life?! Im so lucky!” and had no problems or qualms about telling people we wanted to get married, that Shes the One, gushing about her in general. We had lived together for almost two years-ish and everything has been going in the right direction, feeling so right and amazing. We have really gotten good at knowing how to communicate with each other, learning each others’ triggers, etc and just basically feeling like the most solid thing ever. I just couldn’t wait to be married to her. And not even for the fun wedding planning stuff, which never freaked me out either, but I literally just wanted to married to her, to take that jump and become officially family. Almost two weeks ago, however, I out-of-nowhere got hit with this anxiety. Anxiety, and fear, and over-thinking, and doubts, and feeling out of it, and like I was having a panic attack or something. I have almost never been so scared. My chest was tight, my body, everything. It was terrifying to feel all of these crazy feelings over something that you have never had to think twice about. The thing that has been my rock, my home. The thing that I have always felt so lucky to have, no matter what happens in life, I’ll have her and I’ll be okay. I also am really good and going down downward spiral thought cycles and can easily work myself into some dark, crazy, places. I have a pretty dramatic brain and can easily take myself places that I don’t always want to go. ( For example, in 9th grade I was sure I had either breast cancer or in the middle of having a stroke and made my mom take me to get heart tests at the hospital- turns out it was a anxiety attack). This whole thing has been so frightening and bizarre to me, and I don’t know what is going on with me. How do you feel one way for two years and then one week have the planet shift?? I don’t know how to talk about it with her because I feel it would really scare her and hurt her since we have both been blissfully together on the same page this WHOLE time. After reading several posts on the site, I’m hoping it’s just the “wait, this is actually happening soon and it’s the biggest decision of my life so of course I’m gonna freak out a bit” thing people keep talking about. I’m just terrified, and in a panic, and scared, and want my home back.