This Is How It Feels When Your Friends Are All Engaged and You’re Not

When the waiting gets tough

set of wedding rings

Since Christmas, I’ve gotten five Facebook engagement notifications, at least three “When are you getting married?” nudges from relatives, two pregnancy announcements from people I knew when I was a kid, and one wedding invitation for the summer already. If I wanted to, I could rewrite the Twelve Days of Christmas with numbers reminding me of just how not engaged I am. What my true love did not give to me, if you will. I may be just a teensy bit frustrated.

I’ve been in the throes of pre-engagement for quite a while now. I’m not sure exactly when it started, but I would guess it’s been about a year and a half. Last fall, when it was the worst, I had just moved in with my boyfriend and discovered Pinterest, all within a month’s time—a combination I do not recommend. Hours were spent pinning, combing wedding blogs, fantasizing. In my head, I had a dress, venue, flower scheme. (All of which I’ve now mentally chucked, fortunately.) And Boyfriend knew about it. Maybe not all of it, but at least he knew, and luckily, he thought it was cute.

It’s definitely less all-consuming now, but it still comes in waves. I still wonder vaguely, on certain occasions, whether this will be It, but not with the burning, kid-on-Christmas-morning hope that I once did. And I do not miss it. I’m content knowing that I’m with the guy I’ll marry eventually, and our lives are so in flux at the moment—we’re both graduating from advanced degrees and trying to decide where to live and what to do with our careers for the foreseeable future—that a wedding would complicate things probably more than it would simplify. There are only a few frustrations left, the worst of which is having to call him my boyfriend, while people whose relationships have been much shorter or (seemingly) less serious get to call each other “fiancé.” “Boyfriend” and “girlfriend” fall so short of what we actually mean to each other. Middle schoolers can have boyfriends and girlfriends, but we’re planning our futures around each other, and that’s got to deserve something more. Really my frustration is with the English language, not with our relationship.

But to be honest, this interest in weddings has at least served to make me think about what marriage actually is. Yeah, we’d be living together forever and having babies and—as one of my favorite shows once put it—debating whether there’s enough in the dishwasher to justify running it. We’d collaborate, professionally and personally, because we’re good partners, both our careers would be enhanced by it, and we’d be in love and making music forever. In the abstract, that’s easy. Wonderful. But in practice, it takes some finessing. It means getting irritated that he took his shoes off and left them on your side of the bed where you tripped on them again and learning how to deal with it without chucking them at his head. It means plumbing the deepest, most unsavory parts of each other’s souls and learning to love each other anyway, or more because of it. It means looking at the opportunities—often good ones—for both partners and deciding which basket you’ll put your eggs into. We’re musicians, and I know too many couples like us who got married very young and now, because jobs are so scarce, are forced to live miles or states away from their spouses. I would never leave Boyfriend just because of a little distance, but that seems to me like a tragic kind of a marriage, especially when there’s no end in sight. And anyway, it’s good to practice in a low-stakes way, by living together and seeing where we get along easily and where we don’t.

Even more than that, it’s made me think about why I want a wedding. I want to participate in that rite of passage. Ritual is important, and I want to mark the importance of our partnership in our lives with one. I want to be bound to the person I love most in the world, in society’s eyes, not just my own. I want to go up in front of the hundred or so other people that I love most and tell them why I’ve chosen to love him for the rest of my life, and not anyone else. I want to feel all that love swirling around me, so much that it’s too overwhelming and the only answer to all that love is a nice glass of champagne and some really good food.

So. I know him and he knows me, and we know we’re going to be together, so why not tell the world now rather than later?

Judging by a conversation we had over New Year’s, it turns out his concerns are much like most men’s. (At least if you believe all those “Top 10 Reasons He Hasn’t Proposed Yet” articles floating around—yeah, I’ve read those.) He wants us to be out of school before we get engaged. That will be early May, and will coincide neatly with his thirtieth birthday. A small, wistful part of me squeaks, “Maybe?” when I think of that, but I’m not deluded. I know it probably won’t even be then. He also wants to have more money—read: any money—and some geographical stability before we make a permanent, legally bound life together.

My logical mind can understand it. Waiting is, without a doubt, the responsible thing to do. And what’s more, he’s not really ready, and the last thing I want to do is push it. He knows he wants to marry me—he’s known that since before we actually got together—but actually taking the step is another thing altogether. And that I can understand. It’s an aching, impatient understanding, but an understanding nonetheless.

We love each other fiercely and have for years. I have no reason to think that will change, so I’ll just have to content myself with looking forward to the other commitments and big steps I know we’re going to make soon. We’re graduating. He’s turning thirty, and I’m throwing him a kick-ass party. We’re moving somewhere fun—location still TBD. Hell, we’re deciding where to move, together, in my first move that won’t be dictated by school. We’re embarking on an incredibly risky and incredibly exciting career path together, because we love music and we want to approach it as a team. If he asked me to marry me tomorrow, I’m pretty sure I’d say yes, but it won’t happen tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. I might even end up asking him—probably not, but who knows? But I think I can be content knowing we’ll get to that particular milestone someday soon, in our own time, no matter how many sparkly rings and white dresses pop up on Facebook.

Here’s hoping that contentment lasts at least until Thanksgiving.

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  • Kelly

    This was like reading a letter from myself a year ago. And now that I’m on the other side, neatly out of pre-engaged land and firmly in engaged land, I’m impressed at how well you articulate the duality of really wishing and hoping for a proposal, but simultaneously being totally okay with waiting and knowing it’s the right thing for your relationship. Somedays I would walk up the stairs to our apartment and get so nervous thinking “is this the day? is he going to be waiting with the ring?” But when it finally came, I was totally unprepared and it wasn’t one of those desperate moments. Hang in there, you’re clearly doing things right for you, so enjoy the ride!

  • Parsley

    Yes, I so recognize this from my pre-engagement days. Very well said. In my relationship, when it became clear to us that we were in this for the long haul and had moved in together and were planning our lives around each other – but weren’t ready to get married yet (or at least she wasn’t!), we started calling each other our “partner” instead of “girlfriend.” It’s not for everyone, and it may make some folks assume your significant other is of the same sex as you, but we liked it because it implied a level of commitment greater than “girlfriend” did. So, I offer that as an alternative in the English language. Good luck with your career choices!

    • One More Sara

      When I was pre-engaged I would also get frustrated about calling my partner my boyfriend. I wish someone had told me that I could use the word partner even though I was straight (I thought that it was reserved or something for gay people who were committed, but weren’t legally allowed to be married. Silly 2-years-ago-not-APW-reading me. I could use partner, and the not legally married gay people could use husband or wife regardless what the government thought. Share All The Words!!!)

      • LMN

        My mom has referred to my man friend as my “partner” for a few years now, which I’ve appreciated because I felt like it was a nice acknowledgement of the fact that we were beyond boyfriend/girlfriend without putting any pressure on us. I liked the word and started using it myself, too. When we got engaged last year and my mom was sharing the news with family and friends back home (where I haven’t lived for several years now), she had a few confusing conversations. Some folks had assumed that I was a lesbian because of my mom’s careful word choice, so they were all like, “What? She’s marrying a man? What’s going on?” :)

        So, while “partner” may occasionally lead to confusion, I think it’s the sort of confusion that makes us question the things we automatically assume–which is always a good thing in my book. I continue to call my fiancé my partner because it sounds a little less frilly and more like what he actually is: my partner for all the adventures that come our way. Very occasionally I use “affianced.” If I’m using fancy words, I’m going all in.

        • One More Sara

          Yes to the constructive confusion!!! It would be great if partner could turn into a synonym for “significant other” (bc I just hate that term, it sounds so … sterile). Then people could talk about their romantic interest without revealing 1)their sexuality and 2) their official relationship status.

    • For us, ‘partner’ has been consciously in circulation since 2010. It kinda had to step up to the plate, since ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ didn’t really describe our relationship since we’d been bf and gf for years with break-ups a-plenty, then were engaged (and the relevant Frenchy terms that go along with that), then we separated (and were exes), then we were friends, then we were taking it REALLY slowly but with clear hopeful intentions for the future. Nope, ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ didn’t quite cut it. Partner it was.

      Interestingly, we are engaged once more, but ‘partner’ has stuck. It feels much more natural to me than ‘fiance’ does.

    • Alexandra

      I had the same issues with girlfriend/boyfriend. Eventually, we ended up filing common law out of a burst of convenience, and then if I really got pissed at the word, I’d default to spouse. I couldn’t truly say we were married, given the circumstances, but it spouse and partner seemed far more descriptive than stupid “Girlfriend/boyfriend”.

    • MP

      “ManFriend” and “LadyFriend” are two of my favorite alternatives to boyfriend and girlfriend.

      Partner is up there as well, but like others have expressed – can cause some confusion in some social circles.

      • Liz

        My late Grandmother used the term “Great Good Friend” to refer to anyone who her grandchildren was involved with for more than a year, and though it led to some confusion (once relatives actually knew the names of the players involved), it remains a favorite of mine.

  • Kristen

    I still believe that not getting married is a totally valid and right choice for some people. I also think its great if couples are able to continue to commit and grow together in new ways before engagement is even on the table. For me though, engagement and eventually marriage allowed me to be braver and trust more – things I just couldn’t do until I felt like he had confirmed and committed to not only stick around, but to try and make me happy and I him. I am both impressed with and jealous of your mindset in that you’re totally ok with the status quo and content with knowing someday you’ll be married to your love. I wish I could have felt the same way, or at the very least handled my pre-engaged state with more dignity and class. But I saw a distinct difference in both of us after we got engaged and even more so after we got married. That’s why I can’t regret what it took to get us engaged (except maybe my own suffering) because getting to the engaged part was integral to my growth and his growth in this relationship. I wonder if anyone else has felt the same things. In fact I’ve never before expressed it like this because I worry others will judge.

    Here at APW there is a lot of great writing regarding the actual foundations of relationships, how to grow and become new people together and how to support and cherish our partners. Maybe because of my insecurities I feel like the message is, “You’d better be sure, dude! Don’t get married if you aren’t sure!” Except I wasn’t “sure”. I was pretty damn sure, but not 100%. And I don’t think at this point in my life I’m capable of being 100% sure about anything. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to that point. When I read beautiful stories like this, I can’t help but feel a little bewildered – am I the only one who found this kind of attitude impossible during their pre-engaged state?

    • Your comment made me think of this post by the lovely Anna from Any Other Woman, talking exactly about how she had trouble reconciling the fact that people can change and make mistakes and at the same time promising being with someone forever, because in the end, you can’t be 100 % sure about anything. She concludes:

      “Married people don’t know better. They’re still groping through the dark, trying to figure out how to navigate a tiny two-person boat through the stormy waters of life, same as anyone else.

      The difference is, they are willing to jump, both feet in. The difference is, they believe in their capacity, and that of the person they married, to overcome , to bat back whatever hardballs life throws at them, to handle it when the perfection becomes imperfection, and when the magic turns sour. They have said I want, I can, I will put this marriage first, even when it’s the last thing I want to do, and even when I’m sure I can’t.

      And to me, that’s what marriage is. It’s not a happily ever after, it’s not a fairytale, and it’s not a pre-defined script. It’s one huge jump, in which you grab the hand of someone who is worth the risk, and you do not let go.”
      And I, too, felt like you, engagement and marriage was like liberation, because of the trust and bravery involved, because much of it is also going into the unknown, Forrest Gump said… ‘Life is like a box of chocolates’….

      • Kristen

        Thank you, that quote was lovely. I think my point (in regards to this brave post) was supposed to be more about how important engagement and marriage were for my relationship moving to the next level whereas the OP seems to have figured out how to do this stuff without the more formalization of the relationship. Frankly I don’t believe anyone really knows, but I think it would be nice to talk about how unsure you can be and still be confident that marrying this person is totally and completely the right choice for you, even if it doesn’t turn out to last forever. And part of the bravery I have found comes from knowing that I can leave and I will survive if my marriage doesn’t work out. Instead of preventing me from committing, its actually allowed me to commit more fully. Because I know I’ll be ok regardless and conquering fears is the fastest way to movement forward.

        • LIZ (SINCE 1982)

          Write that post, lady!

    • Liz

      I wonder if maybe the comments on this post over here might be a good read.

    • Adi

      I was never 100% sure. Not even when I was pre-engaged and dying to be engaged. I knew I wanted him, and I knew I wanted to try, and I knew how solid our relationship was. I can’t imagine being 100% sure because even though he’s the best man I’ve ever known, there is still a niggling wondering part of me. After we were married it was such a relief. I no longer had to worry about making the decision because it was done–now I just had to work hard to keep it good. I have never for a moment wondered if I made a mistake, which seems odd, but there you are.

      I hated being pre-engaged, by the way. Every moment. I never felt like it was good for me–I felt unloved and unwanted and silly. My previous relationship was basically four years of feeling pre-engaged when my ex really had no intention of marrying me, so my now-husband unfortunately bore the brunt of my lack of trust in words and promises without concrete actions. Every time I tried patience and personal growth I felt like a fool–like I was a laughingstock once again for believing anyone would want to marry me.

      After we were finally engaged I felt like we changed, too. He was more sure of himself and more sure of us, and I was more trusting of him and calm. This post? It’s so beyond me it may as well be a tutorial on growing a second head. I’m afraid, like you, I was a bit lacking in the “dignity” department.

      • Kristen

        “This post? It’s so beyond me it may as well be a tutorial on growing a second head.”

        WORD. Thank you for making me feel like less of a freak!

      • Staria

        Thank you! I hate being pre-engaged! And part of it is my insecurity from too many previous relationships where I thought it was going somewhere and then it wasn’t… including the boyfriend who said we couldn’t get married until :I: believed he wouldn’t break up with me! (He broke up with me.) I so relate to feeling like an idiot that anyone would want to marry me. :(

        I just feel like, I have found the most wonderful person to be with – why would we not want to get married? It’s easy.

        • Adi

          My husband is a child of the ugliest marriage I’ve ever witnessed. It only made sense he’d be wary, and I tried so hard to understand that. But I also felt that I’d been jerked around before and he needed to understand THAT. He just felt pressured, though, no matter how many times I told him I didn’t want to force him to marry me, I just wanted a decision. I wish I had some advice to give but I really still don’t understand what helped him. He said me bringing it up often kept him thinking about it, but really what kind of advice is that? I guess keep talking, try talking in a way that makes it clear you are willing to wait, but not forever, but also reminds him that you want him to be ready, not just submit to your desires? Ughhh this is the worst. Honestly it remains the worst part of our relationship. It only got better from there.

          • Kristen

            I think the first thing you need to decide when in this kind of fraught pre-engaged state is who you want to help – him or you? No wrong answer as far as I’m concerned. If he needs you to be patient and you can do it, great. But if you’re like I was and incapable of it, maybe help yourself instead. That’s what I did and so I gave him an ultimatum. Which ended up helping him too because he admitted he needed the push. And now we’re married and I feel like I fall in love with him more every day, just like I suspected I would when filled with anxiety about when we were going to freaking commit to each other. I guess this is my happily ever after story. I’m Cinderella after all!

  • I feel like I’m reading something akin to my sister’s story. She, however, is engaged, but for reasons that are similar to yours, she and her guy are waiting to get married. And, holy cow, has she caught a lot of flack for it. Pastors, friends, family all encouraged, badgered and (yeah) shamed them when they said they were waiting for more money, for graduation & for distance to not be a problem – all legitimate reasons. And then, she’s dealing with the influx of people getting married and engaged and moving on with their lives – so much similar to yours. … Weird how I’m relating to your story through my sister’s… anyway, I think she will appreciate what you wrote, because feeling in limbo, no matter WHERE in limbo you are, is frustrating but it’s good to know that you aren’t alone in your (well-expressed, valid) feelings.

    • I am the future version of your sister! By this, I mean, I am emerging out the other side (very slowly) of my own limbo in a very similar, if not identical situation. I have three close friends slash family members who have gotten engaged and then married all within the timespan of our engagement and our wedding is still 14 months away. But we are finally planning at least!

      Tell your sister to hang on, be strong. She’s doing a good thing here and her day will come :)

  • Rachel

    I really loved this, it’s comforting to see someone else articulate your feelings and frustrations in a public forum! Thank you especially for this gem: “Really my frustration is with the English language, not with our relationship.” Finally someone elloquently put into words what I have been grappling with!

    • The language is definitely deficient, but so are society’s pressures. Even when you tack on descriptors like “live in” boyfriend or “long term, committed” girlfriend or whatever there’s still a perception that a lot of those relationships aren’t as serious as they are. New words would help a lot though they require broader society to actually accept and embrace these type of relationships for what they are.

      • “Partner” solves this. To me, a partner is more than a live in boy-/girl-friend. Partner means you’re committed, serious and not (yet) married. We have the word, let’s start using it.

        • dawn

          This thought may be unpopular, and I mean no disrespect to previous posters or people who use / like / value the terms involved. That said, this is how I think about it, and it helped me have some great conversations with my boyfriend/significant other / pre-engaged man before he became my fiance.

          Here is a partial list to think through, in order:

          1. Couple: Boyfriend. Girlfriend.

          2. Couple: (in no particular order) Significant other. Partner. Manfriend. Ladyfriend. Pre-engaged.

          3. Engaged couple: Fiance. Fiancee, FH, FW

          4. Married couple: Husband. Wife.

          Loosely speaking, the problems occur at #2. You might quibble with this list and say the terms shouldn’t even be grouped together. #2 is an intermediary stage for those planning for #3 and #4, but not for those not planning #3 and #4.

          The “problem” is not really the fault of the English language in and of itself but with word use and cultural expectations. This is important because coming up with new and appropriate words is not itself the issue. The difficulty is establishing these words in a way that is sufficiently meaningful for enough people that communication actually happens when the words are used. It is hard because the real issue is changing behavioral norms and the desire of many that their understanding of said terms be universal (or at least widely accepted).

          For instance, in this conversation, all sorts of people have various ways of talking about a long-term, live-in non-engaged/married relationship. People choosing to live together in a committed relationship prior to marriage seem to want their relationship to be understood in a very particular way (though not necessarily quite the same way). It is more serious/committed/long-term than bf/gf (#1) but not as ____as the engagement terms already available and widely understood. Not as what, exactly? Not as formal, or committed, or not as heading-toward-something legal? Not as French and awkward sounding? And for some, said living-together-in-a-committed relationship is not a pre-engagement / marriage choice but a longer-term choice, part of a specific decision NOT to get engaged or married.

          The search is for a way to define something that our society has not yet developed a shared vocabulary about, and there are so many possible conflicting ideas involved. No wonder this is tough.

          In the context of this conversation, it is tough for those who see #2 as an intermediate stage and want to move to #3 but their (partners) like #2. I think those who see #2 as intermediate and want to stay there rather than move to #3 often are apprehensive of the “jumping in with both feet” commitment, while their (partners) do not like the intermediate limbo-state of #2.

          Yikes — this is long. Sorry. No more elaboration and good luck!

  • Paranoid Libra

    I feel like my pre-engaged self could have written this too asides the whole musician thing. And God the people in a relationship less than a year that got engaged just made me so stabby during that time.

    I know its hard and I know it comes in surges the well why the efff aren’t we at least engaged!???!!! It can suck and even the well meaning oh it will be your turn soon enoughs still suck to here. It’s all a matter of figuring out how you personally will cope with it. My husband was afraid. He felt crazy pressure from society. A few days after he proposed he was telling his friend about it and said it wasn’t that difficult I just couldn’t get the courage to do it.

    It can repeat again after marriage with babies depending on your age. The biological clock is ticking at me and I keep seeing all these people pregnant and I just want to be like why isn’t it my turn yet?!?!?! uuhhhh cuz you guys really are just barely paying all of your bills as it is and waiting another year actually would put you in a better place financially even better if you wait 2 more years unless hubby gets a better job then it would still be at least a year anyways.

    I don’t even want to imagine what the couples who struggle with infertility go through other than I am sure some of it is the same as being pre-engaged but I imagine even more emotional(and good luck to anyone in the infertility closet).

    But when times are hard sometimes it can be good to talk to the one you love about how you are feeling and they might help you to remember to calm the effff down.

    • Oh the stabby feelings. I had convinced myself that my SO would propose to me this past summer, on our anniversary. We had decided to get married in January, but he wanted to wait to make it official. When he planned a trip for us for our 2 year anniversary, I was sure it would happen then. 4 days before we went on the trip, his brother proposed to his girlfriend of 6 months. I was crushed. They got married this past December, and I am so happy for them. They really are the sweetest people, it was just so frustrating!

      Still in pre-engaged land. I think he was trying to plan it to bits until I talked to him. Now we’re talking about asking each other, together, in the next couple months. Not exactly what I envisioned initially, but I feel like it will work out.

      • Courtney

        If I had a nickel for every time that I was absolutely sure he was going to propose, our August wedding would be completely paid for.

  • I remember being in the pre-engaged stage (feeling exactly as you do) and it was HARD. My now husband also wanted all his ducks in a row before proposing. I started calling him my partner. It felt like the more accurate portrayal of our relationship.

    Honestly, it was when I told him I wouldn’t move with him again (I had already followed him across the continent) that he realized maybe he should speed up his timeline. It wasn’t an ultimatum (or maybe it was) but a fact – I had already put my career in low gear to follow a boyfriend and I wasn’t going to do it again. Not for a boyfriend. During that conversation, he asked being married would make a difference and I said I would consider moving then because we’d be a family. That was the moment when we realized we were coming at things from different perspectives. He already thought we were a family and I needed the rite of passage/societal validation. He proposed shortly after. We didn’t end up moving.

    We’re now in the pre-baby stage. I want to get started but he wants to wait for more ducks to line up (effing ducks!). I feel like once we decided to have a baby we should go for it (biology is a fact too) but he’s not ready. I don’t think I can pull the ultimatum in this situation – not when another life is in the equation (I need him to be all in).

    I don’t really have any advice other than to say when you do move into the officially engaged/married stage – this time will feel really brief. Once it is over it’s over, you know? And then you’ll be engaged and married (hopefully forever).

    Good luck!

    • Thanks for posting this Rowan. I did the not-ultimatum too, and I’m kind of having trouble getting over it. Mine was about not moving though. I only looked for jobs in the area we lived this past year, so I wouldn’t have to move. My contract with my current job ends in a few months, and I told him I can’t limit myself to jobs in our area again without more commitment. We talked about it and came to the conclusion that, for us, more commitment meant a proposal. We’re talking about asking each other in a few months.

      I think society and WIC are guilt tripping me over the whole ultimatum thing. Part of me is freaked out that he’s only asking because I made him. We’ve been talking about getting married for over a year, so I know it isn’t true, but I keep feeling like I’m being cast as the stereotypical female who is trying to trap a guy into marriage (a role I never wanted to play). Did you have any weird feelings after realizing that you couldn’t move without being a family? How did you get over them?

      • Good question. I haven’t felt weird about it because I felt like I was speaking the truth vs. trying to manipulate him. I was giving him information upfront: I wasn’t going to follow him again unless we were more serious (and to me more serious meant married). You are allowed to put limits on things and put yourself first when you are not in a lifetime commitment. You should let your partner know your boundaries. Those were mine. Yours are limiting yourself to your current geographic area. Ultimatums are not always bad (if they are done truthfully without the intent to manipulate).

        I felt huge relief when we got engaged because I left a pretty amazing career track and followed my boyfriend across the country jobless. I felt like that made me flaky/a bad feminist/worried constantly that he didn’t want to get married and we were going to break up and I’d be stuck in a place I didn’t like very much at first. It would have been better if we were engaged before I moved. Things have worked out, we did get married, I found a new career path (not as prestigous but suits me really well) and have come to love this place.

        If you’ve been talking about getting married over the past year I think he wants to marry you. Society and WIC say that women don’t get a say in the when/where but I call bull. You would get an opinion in every other decision you and he would make and get to make your voice/concerns heard (houses, babies, careers, etc), why is this any different?

        • Exactly! I guess I keep feeling like society is shaming me. I’ve grown up being told that I’m supposed to wait patiently, and that’s been reinforced by countless stories from friends of the “magical and romantic” ways that he proposed, and how they were “completely surprised.” Most days I’m proud of us for making this decision together, but sometimes it feels like I’m doing something wrong by not being passive. I can’t believe society is this much in my head…

          • Rowan

            You know people tell the stories in a way that sound magical and romantic and super surprising but are not always completely that way. We decided to get married in that conversation I mentioned above – he said something like, “should I ask right now?” I said, no wait until we go to Ireland next month, it will make a better “story.” And it did – when people asked how we got engaged I would say, oh he proposed in Ireland and they oohhed and aahhed and didn’t ask anything else. But in reality, I knew we were getting engaged and since he waited until the last possible moment to propose I spent the last two days thinking he wasn’t going to do it. It would have been a very long miserable transatlantic flight home if he hadn’t.

            Maybe I should start telling the true story and not add into the magical hype.

          • Rowan- Ok, that’s a good point. I feel rather ridiculous for not really thinking of that until you said it. I guess there are probably a lot of different stories out there- perhaps I’ll end up editing my story as well. Maybe we just say what is expected of us?

        • “You would get an opinion in every other decision you and he would make and get to make your voice heard (houses, babies, careers, etc), why is this any different?”

          YES YES YES. Getting engaged is kind of a big effing deal. And there are TWO people involved so TWO people should be deciding when the time is right. My boyfriend originally thought that we would have to wait until we could afford a wedding to get engaged. But you know what? There is no rule that says you’re only allowed to be engaged for 6 months or whatever. And I’m cool with being engaged for two years. So that’s what we are going to do. A decision we made as a couple.

          • Exactly! (pushing Exactly wasn’t enough). I don’t want to get married right away, we’re not stable enough financially for that right now, and we both realize that. At the same time, getting engaged is important to me- We’ve decided to spend the rest of our lives together. I want to shout it from the rooftops! :)

      • Rebecca

        There was a super great post about ultimatums during taboo week- I suspect it and the comments might be helpful.

        • Thanks for the link, Rebecca. This was actually one of the first posts on APW that I read, and the support of people in the comments, not to mention the discussion and acceptance of ultimatums- which are usually shamed in our society- are why I still read APW. There isn’t another place like this one on most of the internet.

  • Hintzy

    “Middle schoolers can have boyfriends and girlfriends, but we’re planning our futures around each other, and that’s got to deserve something more. Really my frustration is with the English language, not with our relationship.” Yes! This! I’ve said that many times before! ‘boyfriend’ was woefully inadequate for a very long time, and often other people would just revert to calling him my husband or I his wife, even though we weren’t even engaged. After a while I stopped correcting them, because neither of us minded and it was just easier.

    You have articulated so many of the thoughts, feelings, and even the cnversations that I’ve had as well over the past few years and I wish I could give you a hug for it. We finally got “there” and now we’re planning a wedding, and when I look back I can’t imagine having to attack wedding planning during or before everything else that we had to do to get to this point.

  • I’m a longtime reader delurking just to say “hell yes” about the words boyfriend and girlfriend. My boyfriend and I are firmly pre-engaged, but on my recent professional school interview circuit, I referred to him as my fiance with other interviewees and during interviews if he came up. When I discussed that with him beforehand, he confessed that he’s been referring to me as his fiancee in business situations for the past 6 months. It’s silly, but those words just don’t have the permanence associated with them that fiance(e) does.
    We’re probably getting officially engaged this summer when we move for (my) professional school, and while it will be nice to not lie when I say fiance, it will be awkward since we are in no hurry to get married, and our families are already starting to ask about “the wedding.” It’s like you can’t win.

    • For some reason I can never bring myself to tell anyone that my boyfriend is my fiance, even strangers! I even have a diamond promise ring he gave me that I wear on my left hand (pro-tip, totally reduces the number of unwanted advances from strange men at bars). I should try it out though. I’ve got my grad school interview soon :)

      • Several people asked where the ring was, and gave me strange looks when I said I didn’t have one. I didn’t think to wear a different ring, plus that just seems too … icky. That said, the ring I’ve picked out isn’t a diamond, so I don’t know how much of a signal it will send to strange men at bars.

        • Manda

          Another long time lurker here, delurking to tell you this: don’t worry too much about not having a “traditional” engagement ring. My ring is silver with a blue topaz stone. I still get some unwanted attention, but as long as you are wearing your ring on your left ring finger and flash it with purpose, guys usually get the idea.

      • Rebecca

        I referred to my guy as my boyfriend during our entire (quite brief) engagement. He’s just not a fiance sort of guy. Of course, that combined with the fact that I didn’t wear an engagement ring made the whole “by the way, I’m married now” thing a surprise for many of my acquaintances…

  • Amen. I’m in a similar place, Erin. I’ve lived with my boyfriend for going on two years now, and we’ve been together for more than three. Both of us agree we want to marry each other, but it’s not quite time yet.

    I share your frustration with the English language, but what really hit home was your mention of the time for reflection about why have a wedding at all. Thank God for APW and the wisdom and story-sharing that aids that reflection like no other. It’s been really eye-opening for me to read stories here and consider the whys and wherefores of marriage. Like you, I have a committed partner who I trust endlessly and who I have the utmost confidence in. Discerning what meaning I find in a wedding has been a path I didn’t even know I needed.

    For us, the hold-up is largely financial. I haven’t had a settled, well-paying job for most of our time living together, so I’m slowly building savings while he’s in grad school. We’ve spent much of the past two years pursuing individual professional paths, and I think once I feel settled in a chosen direction, we can refocus that energy on joint goals.

    Best of luck with your final semester, and thanks for writing!

  • Kess

    Ugh, the words “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” – they really just aren’t enough.

    About a year and a half ago, I was looking for a place to live and found someone who was renting out a room in their house. I asked them if it would be possible to have my boyfriend visit one weekend (we’re long distance). They said no. Ok, no problem, it’s their house.

    But I wondered…

    So I called back a day or two with a fake name and asked if my fiance would be able to “occasionally visit and stay over”. No problem, just let them know beforehand.

    That was particularly frustrating as at that point we were pretty firmly in the “well, we’re going to get engaged, it just hasn’t happened yet because we need to graduate”.

    • That’s so frustrating. When my boyfriend and I were talking about why marriage is important to us I told him that even though I consider him and his family my own and vice-versa, society doesn’t recognize that. Just the other day I was filling out references for my student loans and I couldn’t even use him as a reference because we live at the same address but he is not my legal next-of-kin. So I put down his mother. I didn’t want to lie and check the box for “in-law” but there was no box to check for “future in-laws,” or “people who are more family than your own.”
      And trying to get my mother to understand why “just a boyfriend” is so important and why I wanted to spend tho holidays with his family (even though my family wasn’t doing anything). Tough.

  • Melissa

    Preach, sister!

    I needed this reminder today. I am also firmly entrenched in the pre-engaged state, with a mix of anxious hope and loving understanding. This is all made worse, especially today, by the fact that we just got my future engagement ring back from the jewelers yesterday. When I tried it on, I was estatic because I was thrilled they’d been able to resize and reset my grandmother’s ring so perfectly. But I was also very scared to try it on, because I knew I was going to have to take it off (I was right).

    Today, when I go home hyped up on conversation hearts, I will do my best to remember that I’m ok waiting for him to be ready, because I know that he is the right choice.

  • Hi there! Are you my conscience? Are you the voice inside my head because holy crap it sure sounds like what’s been going on in my head. I’ve been firmly entrenched in pre-engaged land for about 6-8 months, and living with my awesome boyfriend for a while. And I have thrown many a temper tantrum about not being engaged. Especially because we have a date (October 2014) and a dress (in one night of weakness I was hysterical because I found the perfect dress for $200 but I knew it would be gone when dress shopping time came. He sent me off to buy it ASAP.) but no ring. Throughout these argument we found that it comes down to not having any control. He REALLY wants to be the one to propose and it left me feeling like I don’t get a voice and I don’t get to be a part of taking that next step. Like I just have to wait on him and my feelings and my timeline aren’t considered. And the not knowing! Not knowing if he’s thinking about it or planning, or what his timeline is, that’s just so brutal.

    What has really calmed me is open communication. Now I feel like I’m kind of included in the engagement process. He was given his grandmother’s ring and we sat down and decided as a couple to have the diamond re-set. He wanted to know if he should ask my parents, and we have been strategizing that conversation since it’s most likely going to involve an argument with my mother. It’s really put me at ease because I know he’s thinking about it just as much as I am and I feel like my thoughts matter, but he still gets to plan it and surprise me how he wants.

    • The control issues is what gets me too. I know it is going to happen, but (especially early on) pre-engaged has me so freaked out. It’s the one time in my life where I haven’t been able to do anything to change things- I just have to wait for him to be ready. Throughout our talks, it’s always been the main thing that comes up- that I feel so out of control, so left out of the process…

      • It seems a little bit one sided doesn’t it? Deciding to marry someone and planning a life together should really involve both people. How disgustingly patriarchal that only The Man gets to decide when it’s a good time. One of our arguments went like this:
        Me: It’s so frustrating that we are making this huge decision in our lives and I don’t get to know anything about it!
        Him: Yeah, well, you don’t get to know. That’s how it works.
        Me: You could at least talk with me about it! I don’t need to know your exact plan but I don’t even know what you’re thinking or if you’re thinking about it at all.

        The big turning point in my anxiety was us distinguishing between the growth and discussion that needed to happen prior to the proposal, fears, expectations, frustrations, etc., and the proposal itself. I think in trying to keep The Proposal a secret, he forgot that it’s really about The Engagement. And that part involves both of us, not just him.

    • Katy


      WOW! This is the EXACT comment I was going to make! Well, minus a few of the details.

      I was going completely crazy with being kept in the dark. I really wanted to just know what the plan was, so I could mentally adjust and accept whatever it was. My boyfriend (now fiance) really wanted to do everything traditionally, including asking my father for permission and keeping everything a secret from me. I didn’t really feel all that was necessary! Especially after reading all of the wonderfully rational posts on APW.

      The other struggle I had was that my fiance’s job has a weird schedule: he is gone for 4 months at a time, home for 4 months at a time. Since I am the only one home all the time, I handle all the money, all the bills, all the budgeting. He kept telling me he was really excited to propose “soon,” and yet was brushing off my questions of budgeting for a ring or a wedding. I was going soo crazy being kept in the dark! Eventually, we had a breakthrough conversation, in which he showed me that he had really been listening and understood my concerns and frustrations, but that it was still important to him to keep everything a surprise/secret from me. This open communication and transparency of intention (without disclosing any details) really helped me calm down and relax. Turns out the engagement came less than a month later. But that year-long period of just not knowing what the heck was going on drove me totally crazy!

  • Liz

    This all sounds too familiar and now that I am engaged I almost forgot how it felt until I read this. I think humans are able to erase painful emotions the quickest? I have only been engaged since November.

    During my path to engagement with my partner was a rocky road because it was something that he did not necessarily need and I did. So we knew that we were going to both have to compromise. Preparing him for engagement/marriage was a lot of figuring out why each of us did or did not want to do it. He called me out on societal pressures, I called him out on wanting to grow our relationship past its status quo state. We talked and talked and in that process grew A LOT as a couple. So he finally confirmed that he wanted to get married (he does not do things he does not want to). I was elated! That was it! We picked out a ring. We were totally going to be engaged but the end of the month….months later we were still not engaged.

    It was not until one night that I could not sleep and had a total breakdown about his lack of dedication to this agreement we had together was directly impacting my feeling of self worth. We had agreed on something as a couple and he was holding things up. He also broke down and we had a major turning point. We talked more and more about why/how we wanted things and once the engagement came we were both so on board that it was the sweetest moment.

    SO the point of my story is that in my experience the discussions leading up to the actual engagement are invaluable in our relationship (getting out of the dream land in your head and into a space with your partner). And sometime a complete melt down can create a significant turning point.

  • This sentence: “Really my frustration is with the English language, not with our relationship.” Is so perfect. I hovered in pre-engaged for 4 years. Yes, you read that right. I found out after we got engaged last year that he knew I was the one for him after our 3rd year together. I knew after our second. I was patient, but it was hard at times. Now we are engaged and there are times I miss the anticipation of not knowing when it would be, when we’d be engaged, but I love knowing when we will be married and when we will move forward together, as we have been for almost seven years, but as husband and wife.

  • Jessica

    Yep, this could be me. This post really resonates. I am happy in my relationship and very happy with life having gone back to earn my MBA last fall (which means our nearly 3 year relationship has been long distance since last fall). My boyfriend is so thoughtful and we complement each other really well, love each other’s families & friends, and more. Incidentally we are also both highly independent, and I travelled in a lot for work while we were dating, so we’ve always had less time together but made sure it’s quality time.

    However, we’ve had the friends get married / have babies when they started dating around the same time as us, friends asked me if they should save vacation time this year for our wedding (um, no, we’re not engaged), and when we found out my boyfriend got into his first choice part-time MBA program, and told our closest friends we had an announcement, they were surprised the announcement was his MBA rather than our (yet-to-happen) engagement. It is tricky navigating the many opportunities available to me in terms of careers & internships without a commitment. I don’t want to turn down opportunities, and my boyfriend doesn’t want me to either, but if he didn’t move for me to go to school, in fact he’s never moved cities, so why would he move for my career in a year?

    And it also gets those self doubts at the back of my mind stirred up. I start to think why did / do we put our careers ahead of our relationship? Why don’t we just put a stake in the ground that we are committed to a life together? My boyfriend had two coworkers recently move and get teleommute approval to continue working at his employer. My rational side knows my boyfriend likes where he lives, being close to family, and is too risk averse to want to move to telecommuting. Buy my romantic side wants the Grand Romantic Gesture of him moving to be with me. That was a (painful) question several friends asked when we announced I was going back to school.

    Last point is that it’s so weird to me that the person I want to spend the rest of my life with, someone whose cues I can read even when we are on the phone briefly, whose reactions I can anticipate with nearly 100% accuracy, that I literally have NO IDEA when he is going to propose. Part of it is that I didn’t want to pick out rings or anything kike that; I trust his judgement and do want to be surprised. Will he propose this year? After I graduate next year? Completely unsure, and it’s weird to me that I can know him so well in lots of regards and not in this.

  • Tessa

    DId I write this four years ago?!?!? I could have. Every word. We’re musicians, had been dating for a long time (read:7 years), and the word “boyfriend” pissed me off. I eventually started referring to him as my “manfriend” in an effort to define how our relationship was more stable and committed than just “some guy I’m seeing.” Now we’re married and content with it all, but man, those pre-engaged years when I was waiting with bated breath (there were about 3 of those years) were really tough. I witnessed a close friend become a very negative person as a result of those pre-engaged jitters. I’m hoping now that she’s engaged she’ll become her happy self again, but take heed. Don’t let it mess up your view of how awesome your life is!

  • Katherine

    “Ritual is important, and I want to mark the importance of our partnership in our lives with one. I want to be bound to the person I love most in the world, in society’s eyes, not just my own. I want to go up in front of the hundred or so other people that I love most and tell them why I’ve chosen to love him for the rest of my life, and not anyone else. I want to feel all that love swirling around me, so much that it’s too overwhelming…”

    Exactly why FH & I are finally getting married (although it’ll probably be 40 people instead of 100, LOL). Being bound to that person forever, and having the other people who mean the world to us there to witness the whole thing too.

    :-) Happy Valentine’s Day!

  • Courtney

    OH, the roller coaster of emotions: the rage (he is so selfish!), sadness (he doesn’t love me enough to make me his wife?!), the girl power (I don’t need to be a wife, I rule!), the righteous (weddings are for conformists!) and the glass half full (we will be together forever, why rush?).

    Looking back now, he was just had no idea what I wanted and how much becoming his wife meant to me. I was so obsessed with wanting a completely surprise engagement that I never brought up rings, or venues or dared to ask him flat out what he felt. I mean, we knew we would get married.. but “when?” I never dared to ask because of my idea that if I wasn’t surprised it wouldn’t be amazeballs.

    Well, we ended up picking out a ring together and the engagement wasn’t a surprise, but it was still perfect. The wait was worth it. And the best part: Never having to hear “Do you guys ever, like, TALK about getting married?” or “9 years? Aren’t you technically common law married by now?” ever again!

    • One More Sara

      When we were pre-engaged, I was on that roller coaster for soooo long. When I moved to be with my partner, we made it clear to each other that we were in for the long haul, and an engagement was on the horizon as soon as we could afford the wedding we wanted. Well I moved, we bought an apartment, and we were still not engaged. I remember sitting in our new empty apartment alone and worked myself into a pre-engaged RAGE. By the time my partner got back from whatever errand he was running, I was sitting in the middle of an empty room ugly crying. He just told me “I had no idea you were feeling like this! You have to tell me or I’m never going to know!” We had a long talk about marriage and timelines, and I think that was when the lightbulb really went off for him about how important marriage/engagement were to me. I needed that concrete commitment to keep justifying moving so far from my friends and family. It also was a lightbulb moment for me to realize that just because he can’t read my mind doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me.

    • Josie

      Thanks for this…now I don’t feel like I am the only one that got engaged after 7 years of dating and we are passed the 8 year line and I am just starting the wedding planning…starting meaning I got the book, I am in this site…so far we have 2K saved (little..I know)…and everyone keeps telling us isn’t that common marriage by now? blah blah blah

  • I’ve been waiting for this post for three years! I’d even tried writing it myself but never successfully. This piece is just perfectly reflective of the pre-engaged feeling. Thank you, thank you for posting it.

  • Louise

    “Really my frustration is with the English language, not with our relationship”

    Yes. I totally get this. After 8 years, and many babysteps, we were already ALL IN. Our labels just didn’t match other people’s definitions of them, which my intellect tells me shouldn’t matter and the rest of me knows really really does. You want the world to know how you feel about this most important person and that you’re a team.

    Taking the time to really consider what marriage is and why you want it is a super smart approach. I tried this too. i also worked on focusing on what was already great, reminding myself that we were on our own timeline, no one else’s. It worked ok. On the one hand, its so frustrating to want something he cant give you right now. On the other hand, you are WITH the person you’re going to MARRY and you know it!!! How Lucky are you?!

    This might help: in my experience, the baby step plan has made being a newly wed all the more sweet, I think. When you know eachother so well and you’ve already worked out the practicalities, surprises and annoyances of living together, you really get to focus on the emotional piece of marriage. for us at least, that was real and wonderful, and unexpected.

  • Josie

    This is so similar from my story..I was graduating, we were not in a position to have an engagement or wedding because I was in the process of graduating and we did not know where we would live…so he was waiting forever to ask..but he was waiting because he knew I wanted to wait. I am engaged now…and I keep making him wait to get married. We just got out of debt and are saving to have a wedding and I am completely overwhelmed about it. I am thankful I found this site and just got the book yesterday. I feel super guilty because I know he is getting impatient and after reading this post I am even more sure that I have to get things moving soon because he is understanding but I don’t want to have him wait forever again :(

  • kasaro

    YES YES YES YES YES! a million times yes with an ‘Exactly!’ added on for good measure. this is right where i am (minus the school aspect, plus our own baggage-y reason of career change). THANK YOU for this. it sums up everything i’ve been wrestling with so well and ties it with a lovely, articulate bow.

  • Lindsey

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one going through this… They don’t tell you about the pre-engagement (or as I call it – “marriage negotiations”) in the love stories.

  • Kristen

    I went through this exact same thing. I was obsessed with getting engaged. I made so many hints it started driving his friends crazy. I also was frustrated with the term “boyfriend.” As you so nicely put it, middle schoolers have “boyfriends.” Our friends have different boyfriends every week. How could we, who had been together since high school, be the same as them? We started to call each other fianfriends, it made me feel slightly better that we were going somewhere.

  • Victoria

    Hi Erin,

    Wow, thanks for elegantly writing exactly about the situation I’m in (or certainly just about). I’ve been dating my guy for over seven years now, am finishing an advanced degree, going to be finally ::fingers crossed:: living with him as long as a job in the right place comes along.

    He mentioned that he had thought about how to propose a year or so ago and that’s when the wedding bug hit. Now I’m reading this site and finally for the first time in my life, thinking about what I would do for my wedding (when that darn wait is finally over).

    Luckily he’s managed expectations that a ring won’t be for another while, so I’m not freaking out at every significant date that comes along, which is helpful. He’s got similar reasons – need to have money, need to both be living in same place, etc. – for holding off proposing as your partner.

    Keep your chin up and enjoy the time you have at the moment. Nothing much else you can do without proposing yourself. I liked your use of this period to reflect on why getting married is important to you. Best of luck!

  • lauren

    Such a sane approach! I commend you. And honestly, everyone important in your life already knows what you two mean to each other and that you are a lifelong team – whether or not he is currently your “boyfriend” or your “fiance”. And the people to whom that makes a difference are the people who don’t matter anyway! (I had a “boyfriend” for 12 years before he became my “fiance”.)

  • Caitlin

    Thank you for writing this, you took the words right out of my mouth. This is something that I’ve been struggling with for awhile now, especially the part about the word “boyfriend” not being enough to describe the man I’m with. He didn’t really understand my pre-engagement frustrations until I had him read this article, and now I he’s much more understanding when I want to show him Pinterest boards or talk about wedding related things. Thank you!!!

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  • Mel

    So nice to read a intelligent article about this! I have been feeling so ‘silly’ for feeling like this! I am still young (23), I am finishing my thesis (hand in is two weeks away yipee), and he has just graduated and got his first job in a law firm in another city. I have also had to consider exactly WHY it is that I want so much to be engaged to him? I even questioned myself about whether it was just about planning a wedding? But, no. I do not think so. I also, feel frustration at the term, ‘boyfriend’. I think in a way, I want to mark him as someone MORE important than anyone else has ever been, I want to publicly proclaim our love. It was such a delight to read so many other people experiencing these same feelings! and I thought it was hilarious about the pinterest comment (my boyfriend too know I had a pinterest board with wedding things, and luckily he too thinks it cute)…but I had to delete it! I have been getting myself so worked up at times about it all I decided it was terribly unhealthy and I have to let it go for some time. I also work part time in a jewelry store! Which means I see loads of gorgeous couples coming in choosing rings together, or men selecting one as a surprise, or couples coming to get rings sized. This can make it hard for me to push it to the back of my mind and forget about it until the ‘time is right’, whenever that may be…sigh.
    Any advice on how others coped during this time of desperately wanting him to ask (and working up any day or event in your mind to perhaps be that special day?)

  • ThatBethGirl

    It feels great reading this because it’s almost like you are inside my head and I feel better knowing I’m not the only one. I want so badly to have the legal and social recognition that my relationship is as serious as it is, but logically I know waiting is probably for the best in terms of logistics. My partner and I have discussed getting married about a year and a half from now, though, so I’m all anxious and a flutter about whether he’ll propose in time for that to be a good timeline. I’m annoying myself by wondering if a proposal is coming at every little thing we do together.