Should We Be Waiting to Get Married?


Ask APW: Should we get married right NOW, right now?

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

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Q: Is our engagement legitimate if we postpone wedding planning? After more than a year of discussion, my partner and I are nearly ready, and very excited, to commit to marriage. We’d like to mark this step by getting engaged and announcing it. However, currently we cannot afford any wedding-related expenses. This year we’ll both finish graduate school and begin full-time jobs (fingers crossed). Only then can we set a realistic wedding budget and save.

We’re serious about marrying within the next few years. But we need to wait about a year, until our finances are more stable, to begin planning and paying for a wedding. Will our friends and family think our engagement is a sham because we aren’t actively planning? Do we need to postpone our engagement until we can afford the wedding? I hope not!

Ready and Waiting

A: Dear RAW,

Your friends probably won’t think it’s a sham. But even if they do, who cares? The two of you get to determine how long or short your engagement is, when you get married and when you don’t.

An engagement isn’t the marker of the beginning of wedding planning. It marks a new phase of commitment. It’s like a commitment to eventually committing to commitment. Or something. Less, “We’re starting to pick out napkins now!” and more, “We’ve agreed to get married sometime!” Which is a pretty exciting thing, no matter when “sometime” turns out to be. It only makes sense that you’d want to announce that to the world and have your friends share in the excitement with you. Brace yourself that they’ll ask for a date and colors (yeah, people are still asking for “wedding colors”), but those questions are easy enough to shrug off without dampening the thrill.

My solitary word of caution is to be prepared with a plan B just in case that awesome plan for finances doesn’t pan out as expected. “When we have money,” is one of those moving targets. You might wait years and years for “when we have money,” and never quite get those wily ducks in a row. Think worst-case scenario now. What if you haven’t secured fabulous jobs in one year? Three years? Six? And what happens if you do nail down awesome jobs, but other things pop up and gobble those funds that would normally be earmarked for wedding planning?

It’s completely fine to wait for a wedding for logistical reasons. That doesn’t negate the excitement of an engagement at all! But make sure those same logistics simply pave the way, rather than block it.

* * *

Q: My boyfriend and I have been together for three years now and we recently purchased a home. Marriage has been on my mind for the past year or so, and I have talked it over with my boyfriend many times. He always gives conflicting answers. He tells me he will marry me, but he doesn’t want a wedding; he wants to go the courthouse and “sign papers.” He doesn’t see the point, and I explain to him that I want to be married before we have children, but he says there is not point to marriage.

We have already accomplished so much, and we are practically married because we live together. I tried to say, well if we aren’t engaged by the end of this year, I not sure what I will do. Then he got offended and said, “I thought our relationship meant more to you then that.” I told him I could say the same thing. I am willing to have a small BBQ wedding with family and friends, but it has to be his way. He felt it was okay to give me the ultimatum that he doesn’t want to have kids past thirty-five. He is thirty-two and I am twenty-eight, and I feel this pressure because I am afraid that if we don’t get married soon, we won’t have children. So there are many things at play.

Every time I talk about getting married, he says it’s a waste of money, but at the same time, I know he bought an engagement ring almost nine months ago. We talked about it before we bought the home, and he said, “Well send me some rings.” I sent a very modest ring, from Etsy and it was purchased. I know he bought it because I am terrible and checked his Esty account. I just had to keep myself from driving myself crazy wondering if he ever will marry me. Now I also torture myself thinking, “Is he joking? Is this a lie? Is he planning to propose?” So now every event in my life, I keep thinking, is this it?

Please help, I just need advice so I don’t feel crazy anymore. Do I say, fine let’s go to courthouse?

Do I Settle?

A: Dear DIS,

You do not say, “Fine let’s go to a courthouse.” You instead say, “Hi, these things (a wedding with my family present, getting married before we have children, having children) are important to me and I need you to understand and respect their importance to me.”

You say, “You’re giving me contradictory answers regarding marriage, and I don’t know if we’re getting married, let alone when, which is unfair, as that is a pretty big detail in this little old life of mine.”

You say, “We need to have a conversation, please.”

It’s fine to wait to get married. It’s completely fine, and even normal, to be on different pages regarding how to get married and when. But it’s a totally different story when you don’t exactly know what page he’s on. There’s a serious lapse in communication here, and it’s the sort of lapse that would make anyone feel a little crazy. Right now your only pieces of information are conflicting reports (from “Marriage has no point!” to “Let’s go to a courthouse!”) and secretive snooping on his private Etsy purchases. This does not bode well.

Often in these situations, there’s this self-imposed pressure to avoid “ruining” the surprise engagement. But you know what I’m going to say, right? The engagement doesn’t have to be a surprise. And the details regarding the next phase of your life should not be a surprise. You may or may not “spoil” a surprise engagement, but you’re for sure ruining a lot of other important things (your nerves, sanity) by waiting around to see if it ever happens.

There’s a chance that you’ll ask to discuss this with him, and he’ll continue to hold fast to his ideas. Second to communication, you know what else is important in a marriage? Compromise. Not just the forced “let’s meet halfway” niceties, but choosing to value the other person’s perspective, and value it enough to try to appease it.

Whether the result of a courthouse wedding or a backyard barbecue, a marriage needs communication and compromise at its core. And you, dear DIS, need a little bit of information and respect. If you’re not getting those things, then you are truly “settling.”

If you would like to ask APW a question, please don’t be shy! You can email: 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! 

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • Mandi P

    Yes – I can’t believe how many people asked me about the date of the wedding and wedding colors about 2 seconds after we got engaged. So, Ready and Waiting – be ready for that!
    I have even been asked, “What’s your theme?” Theme? Weddings need themes? I was unprepared the first time someone asked me that and just mumbled something and changed the subject. The second time, I responded with, “Love and family – that’s our theme.” My friend was the one who didn’t know how to react that time! :)

    • Eh

      We picked colours because my MIL needed something she was familiar with (there were lots of things at our wedding that she didn’t get until she actually was at our wedding). If I didn’t give her colours she wouldn’t have been able to pick her dress.

      I drew a line at theme. We did decide on what we wanted the wedding to feel like (family oriented, not formal, authentic). When we made decisions we decided if they fit into the atmosphere we wanted for the wedding.

      We actually did pick a date right after we were engaged because we knew that our families would ask us. We told them it was tentative and based on if the date was available at the venues we picked. We hadn’t even finalized the contracts with the venues and my MIL announced on FB that we were getting married on Oct 5. Well at that point we had found out that neither venue was available on the 5th and that it looked like we were moving it to the 19th.

      • TeaforTwo

        My MIL needed colours, too. She baked (incredible) fruit cake, and when she asked me about colours for the ribbon to wrap the foil packets in, I told her it didn’t matter, but the bridesmaids were all wearing emerald green. (In styles and shades of their own choosing.)

        …she asked me for a fabric swatch!

        I couldn’t actually ask my friend to cut off a piece of her $35 modcloth dress in service of matching the ribbon, so I eventually convinced my MIL that she could just choose the shade of the ribbon herself, and it would be lovely. And it was! But I learned in that moment that there is a whole big wide spectrum of how much people care about wedding details, and that we were on very different ends of that spectrum.

        • TeaforTwo

          I should add: I hope I don’t sound ungrateful. 1. The cake was fantastic, and 2. (more importantly) I see and really appreciate that she was trying not to railroad things, and wanted to make sure I had input if I wanted it. I just couldn’t imagine caring enough about the ribbon colour on a favour to provide a swatch.

          • Eh

            The colours were blue and orange. I was asked to specify. It ended up being royal blue (my sister/MOH picked a royal blue dress) and any shade of orange (from yellowish-orange to reddish-orange) since we were getting married in the fall so the colours of the leaves. My MIL went with a navy dress (my step-mom wear burgundy so our wedding had nice rich colours). My husband’s grandmother lent us her cake cutting set (family tradition) and she put royal blue and yellow ribbons on the handle and was concerned I wouldn’t like it (especially the yellow but she couldn’t find orange) and told me I could change the if I wanted. I told her that they looked lovely and that we weren’t going for “matchy” colours (and I don’t mean that in a way that is disrespectful to her or anyone at all who like things to match).

            And you don’t sound ungrateful. She wanted to make sure you had in put/liked it and you did have in put and you did like it. (I did find that sometimes not caring about something that people think you should care about did cause some issues).

      • We have “colors” I guess, but really, in my family, that just means what color do you want all the decorative bows and ribbons to be. (My family loves making bows for weddings. We still have some from my uncle’s wedding 12 years ago at my house being used as Christmas decorations–they were very conveniently somewhat Christmassy colors.) I’m not really sure what my mom is making or doing with all these bows, but I like bows and also don’t really care that much what it looks like, so it’s all good.

    • Jen

      There are so many comments on other posts about themes- they have made me laugh a lot while reading them. My best friend responded to that question with, “Wedding. The theme is wedding.” Luckily I don’t think I ever received the theme question- because I also don’t know what I would have said to it…

      • kcaudad

        vendors asked me the theme question the most. my answer: ‘we’re getting married!!!’ that’s the ‘theme!’ (translation – ‘we don’t have a theme’)

      • I love that. “Wedding. The theme is wedding.”

      • Bket

        My response was similar: “Marriage. The theme is marriage.” Similar to my answer for “colors”: “whichever ones people wear”.

      • K.

        I want to go full April Ludgate sometime and be like, “Our theme is THE FIRES OF HELL AND BLEEDING EYE SOCKETS…and Paris in Spring!!”

        • Angela

          Reminds me of this Portlandia skit: http://www.hulu.com/watch/322191

          • K.

            (…Honestly, no one has ever actually asked me that question, but I kind of wish they would because I think I’m too clever for my own good. But I also recognize it’s one of those things that’s funny on TV or the internet, but in real life they’d just be like, “Wow, I was just asking, you don’t have to be such a dick about it.”)

      • KimBee

        We told vendors our theme was “David Bowie meets the Fleet Foxes in Middle Earth as painted by Chagall.”

        • Cleo

          there are not enough upvotes for this comment. Can I please attend your wedding?

          • KimBee

            Sadly, you’ve missed it. I keep meaning to write a wedding graduate post/love letter to my APW vendors…

    • justme

      I still don;t understand what a theme is suppossed to be? Like Star Wars or Unicorns? I don’t think I have ever been to a wedding with a theme? So why do so many places ask about it?

      • justme

        Not that a star wars or unicorns wedding couldn’t be awesome. . . I totally want to go to those weddings, but I just don’t understand what theme even means

      • ACW

        Someone did do a star wars theme recently:
        http://greenweddingshoes.com/star-wars-inspired-wedding-jennifer-joshua/

        (I hope its ok that I am posting from another wedding blog, I didn’t see anything about that in the comment policy)

    • I usually cut people a little slack on the “theme” question, because the question either came from people I didn’t know well, so were just making conversation, or from people who were curious about what kind of wedding it was– formal ball/ tiny elopement/ backyard BBQ, etc– and it’s just kind of a polite way of asking. At first this question kind of threw me, especially when vendors asked it, and then I realized, “oh, they just want to know what we want, so they can help make it happen.” Even if you haven’t thought about it in those terms, you probably have an idea of what you want your wedding to be like. I eventually started calling it a “garden party” theme. :)

      • Lauren from NH

        Thank you! I think an unnecessary amount of energy is sometimes wasted beleaguering annoying questions when people are just trying to make small talk. Yes, they suck at it! It’s a silly question! But at least they are not asking about more personal or loaded areas of wedding planning.

      • SoontobeNatalieN

        Yeah, I’m with you on this one… I’ve started looking at “what is your theme” as “What do you want your wedding to be/feel like”? Because while I don’t have any way of a “theme” (I’ve joked my theme is “things Natalie’s seen and likes and wants to try replicating”), I do know what I want my wedding to feel like – Not fussy, graceful, romantic, fun…

        • TeaforTwo

          Yes! I always told people that the theme was “my great-grandmother’s wedding.”

          It wasn’t a theme in the sense of a decor scheme/favour tie-in, but it was definitely the guiding principle behind a lot of our decisions: traditional church ceremony, simple afternoon reception, lots of family, not a lot of fuss. Definitely no focus on it being “my day,” the happiest day of anyone’s life, or even being particularly personalized.

    • Nell

      As soon as I got engaged, a very dear friend started sending me links to things that she had considered for her wedding (we don’t live in the same state, we have totally different taste and budget, and we have totally different sizes of wedding). I had to politely tell her, “We love your enthusiasm, but we’re just enjoying being engaged right now.”

      “We’re just enjoying being engaged right now” became my mantra when people asked about wedding planning or any specifics I was sick of talking about.

    • For two glorious weeks I told anyone who asked that our theme was “hipster hobo.” They left me alone after that. Which is a shame because our real theme was “That one christmas episode of newhart + neon green”

    • laurasmash

      I wonder if when people ask for a theme, they are actually asking what the vibe of the wedding will be? Like, casual backyard bbq, big formal church wedding, downtown art gallery wedding, etc? Those aren’t exactly themes, but it gives people an idea of what the wedding will be like, and that might be what they are asking for.

    • I have to admit that I’m that super annoying person lol. I just love weddings and love talking about them and usually am just excited for the person getting married. I should probably reel it in a bit.

  • Eh

    I really feel for the second letter writer. I was in an over five year relationship. We had lived together for over half of it. We were common-law spouses (we live in Canada) and benefited from each other’s health insurance. We lived as a married couple – our friends and coworkers would refer to my partner as my husband and me as his wife. Before we moved in together we had a fight because I considered living together a huge commitment and equivalent to marriage while he considered it as a trial. He flat out told me that there was no set timeline (six months, a year) before we would get engaged but if that we didn’t live together first then it wasn’t going to happen. After that, every time I brought up marriage he accused me of wanting “a day”. At the time, I worked in health care with vulnerable populations (e.g., seniors and adults with physical disabilities) and I understand the protections marriage provides if one partner got sick or died. When the couple isn’t married those things aren’t always guaranteed. My position was that it was protecting both of us and ensuring that we didn’t need to fight for what we were entitled to if something bad did happen. I didn’t want a wedding; I wanted to be married (since we were already living as if we were married) and I was willing to go to the court house to do it. His response back to me was that he was with me now and that’s what mattered. In another fight over the subject he said that a piece of paper wouldn’t make him anymore committed to me (more or less that he could leave me as easily if we were married as if we were common-law). In the end it turned out that his protest again marriage/a wedding was actually because he had doubts about our relationship. After our relationship ended my counselor said that I was right to demand to know where the relationship was headed and that I should have pressed even more (much like Liz’s advice). (On the flip side, his counselor told him that people should date ten people a year and shouldn’t consider marriage until they are at least 30 years old.)

    As for the first letter writer, long engagements aren’t that uncommon. My sister was engaged about a month before me and was married two years later (we were married a year after we were engaged). I have known people who have been engaged for four or five years some because they needed to save money and others because they didn’t know what they wanted. One thing I would suggest is to look at weddings on APW and try to figure out what you really want and figure out what that might cost and what you are willing and not willing to compromise (there are lots of examples of weddings of all sizes and price ranges on here). When I was first planning my wedding and getting very stressed about how much it could cost I read response on an advice column to the comment that the couple couldn’t get married because it cost too much. The response was more or less that getting a marriage license and eloping wasn’t all that expensive (it costs about $350 where I live, so that’s still nothing to sneeze at), so getting married wasn’t the problem; having a wedding is the problem. And if you want to be married maybe you should reconsider the wedding. I agree that if money is an issue that the couple needs to decide what is important to them. If your heart is set on something I don’t think you should compromise on that but you might want to think about why you want it (e.g., is it important to you or is it WIC driven or is it cultural expectations and are those important to you).

    • TravelerK

      I was in a relationship like Letter One for four years. We lived together, talked about getting married or engaged, and he always had a reason it wasn’t quite the right time. He didn’t like being the center of attention. Or that we needed to pass the bar exam before we got engaged. I didn’t want to face up to the fact that he really wasn’t sure about marrying me. That was the truth. At one point, four years in, I finally had the courage to ask WHEN we were getting married. He said, with kindness, “I’m not sure I’m ever going to want to marry you.” I moved out the next month. He started dating someone else. They had two children, bought a house, and five years later, eloped.

      I hate to say it, but the conversation in letter 1 may mean that someone much better is out there for her. I married an absolutely fabulous man approximately four years after my breakup. My husband proposed after eight months together (a year and a half after meeting me we were married). Someone who isn’t committing may not ever commit, in my experience. Very best of luck to you!!!!

      • Laura C

        I think it’s the squirreliness that’s a warning flag. My now-husband had some milestones he wanted to hit before getting engaged, and I may have thought they were sort of artificial things in his mind about how marriage meant adulthood meant the suburbs, but he was fairly straightforward about them. His story didn’t change and he was willing to talk about how the milestone fit into his bigger vision.

        • Sarah E

          Very true. And it doesn’t even mean he’s being squirrelly in a malicious way. Like Eh’s ex, maybe he’s lying to himself too. Or, as I’ve often experienced it, he could be overly afraid of hurting her by saying “It’s not marriage, it’s you” and ending things. Heaven knows I’ve been that person who thought it was nicer to dance around rather than say, “Actually, I don’t like you as much as I/you thought.”

        • Eh

          Yes it’s the “squirreliness” – My friend’s husband sounds like your husband. Having milestones is fine. But as you said they can’t be moving targets. They have to give you a straight answer not “I see us together” or “I see us getting married sometime in the future”, especially after they have met the milestones they set out for (in my ex’s case finishing his PhD and both of us getting jobs).

        • Greta

          I was the same way. I knew I was going to marry my husband from a very early stage, but first I wanted us to live together, to finish grad school, and then have a real job for at least a year. I actually did all of those things before we got engaged, but my husband was ready much earlier than I was. More so than any of my “milestones” that I wanted to reach though, it took going to ***8*** weddings in one summer of close friends and family before I became comfortable with the idea of me getting married. For a long time it seemed like something faraway that grown-ups do, and I did not feel I was there yet. But after seeing a lot of my friends go through it and begin their “grown-up lives” I began to feel a lot more comfortable with the idea. HOWEVER – I was straightforward with my husband from the very beginning, and we both had a lot of conversations about what the right timing was for us. Communication is KEY!

        • TeaforTwo

          Yep. I was ready way before my now-husband, and it was terrrrible. He kept telling me that he couldn’t even think about getting married until he was done law school and the bar exam. I found it terrifying: couldn’t even THINK about it?! What if I waited until he graduated and then he thought about it and realized it was ten years off or never?! They also seemed like artificial milestones to me, for the same reason: what did an established career possibly have to do with getting married?

          He wrote the bar about 6 weeks after finishing law schools, and proposed to me 36 hours after finishing the bar exam. When he told me to trust him, he meant it.

          • Anna Wagner

            Exactly. My fiance and I also struggled when I wanted to get engaged right after graduating from college when I already had a steady job and he wanted to wait to know what he was doing with his life because well, he didn’t yet and I did.

            He got into grad school but then wasn’t in the PhD program and wanted to know if he’d get in the program before getting engaged. His reasoning was that he wanted me to know what I was committing to (him being in academia vs him having a higher paying industry job) and he wanted to feel stable first. He also said he couldn’t even think about it until he knew what he was doing. It was also terrifying, difficult and worrisome at time.

            Much as I didn’t like waiting to get engaged still, his reasons for waiting were actually thought out and never changed and he never wavered in saying that he did, in fact, want to marry me eventually. He started getting my ring made as soon as he got into the PhD program and proposed as soon as it was ready (3 months later).

      • Eh

        My ex was lying to me and lying to himself. He was so comfortable in our relationship and so scared for what would happen if it ended that he kept saying that he saw marriage in our future. In the five years he had tons of excuses. The first being that we needed to finish school (he finished his PhD and I finished my master’s degree when we were together for four years). As we were finishing up school he said that we needed to find study jobs (he got one right after he graduated and I got one a month after we moved for his job). After that I patiently waited a few more months (not wanting to ruin the surprise). We went on a vacation to Europe and there was no ring at this point we had been together for five years and he had no more excuses. Days before we broke up he still was saying that he wanted to be with me. The day we broke up he went to his counselor and he decided he needed to stop lying to himself and end the relationship. He got home from the appointment and he was in a happy mood (something he had not been in for a month). He didn’t even break up with me. I saw his mood and I said “So I guess it’s over”. He still didn’t want to talk about it and told me we would after I saw my counselor the next day.

        I totally agree that it could be a sign that there is someone much better out there for her. Shortly after we broke up he started dating his coworker that he was constantly enthralled with since he met her (actually she said no first, and then a few months later they started dating). They moved in together after less than a year, were engaged a few months later and got married the next year. I dated for about a year and then my friend set me up with her husband’s cousin. And then our timelines were very similar to my ex’s and his wife’s just a year later.

    • beeethanyj

      I have been in the scenario described in Letter #2 as well. Unsurprisingly we finally broke up after 8 years and I felt like I had been strung along for way too long.

      • Eh

        I had moments in our relationship and after we broke up where I felt like I was strung along way too long (though 8 years is a long time). Then I realized all the great things that being in that relationship provided me. It provided me years of security (sharing costs and having health benefits). My ex was very supportive of my career, at least to a point – I probably wouldn’t have done a Master’s degree if he hadn’t exposed me to the academic world (though he was not supportive of me doing a PhD even though he had one). We travelled to interesting places and I met lots of interesting people (some I am still friends with even though they were first friends with him). About a year before we broke up he got a job and we moved to the city where I met my husband. If we broke up sooner I may not have moved here. I know that that may have opened up different possibilities but I know that I am the person I am today because I was with my ex for that long, and I like the person I am today.

      • vegankitchendiaries

        Dude, we’ve all been there and bought the t-shirt. Ducks may be wily, but exes are WILIER.

    • Kayla

      “On the flip side, his counselor told him that people should date ten
      people a year and shouldn’t consider marriage until they are at least 30
      years old.”

      ….what the hell?

      • Eh

        Her and I didn’t see eye to eye in our one couples counseling session. Without talking to me (based on solely what he told her) she assumed that I was needy and that I needed a man because I was insecure and as a result of my poor relationship with my father (apparently this was the “type” of women my ex dated and she was telling him that it was bad for him). When I met my ex I was depressed due to a number of personal issues including my mother passing away and my relationship with my father was strained (because as a rebellious teen I made choices he didn’t approve of). By the end of the relationship I had a Master’s degree, had a great job (with great benefits) and was very close to my father and rest of my family (to the point that my ex said that my family wasn’t part of the deal he thought he was getting into when he started dating me). So over the five years I had grown a lot and was no longer the person he first started dating. Also the couples counseling session was also not couples counseling (it was like two people getting individual counseling in the same room by the same counselor). (Note: My ex didn’t even follow her advice – he was 28 when we broke up and he went on a couple of dates after we broke up but then quickly got in a relationship with his now-wife.)

        The first counselor I saw when we broke up also made assumptions about me (I spent the session crying in his office the day after we broke up). He said that I needed a roommate (I was excited to live on my own, something I had only done for one year before that) because he felt I needed to be around people, and that I should start dating right away since I hadn’t gone in a date in five years so I would just get in a rut of not dating if I waited. I had previously been in counseling so I knew that you need to have a good relationship with your counselor so I dropped him and got a new one that I got along with (one that agreed that I should take the time to reflect and figure out what I wanted).

    • laurasmash

      “On the flip side, his counselor told him that people should date ten people a year and shouldn’t consider marriage until they are at least 30 years old.”
      Uh, this is weirdly specific and kinda bizarre advice to get from a counselor. I’m sure there are people who date ten people a year, but I can’t imagine that being the right thing for everyone to do.

      • Eh

        When I asked about this statement the first thing I was told was “You aren’t having sex with all ten”. (That’s not what I was thinking at all, but good to know.) Then I was told that some people you would only go out with once and other people more than that and you could have a relationship that was three or four months. She also said that all of the married couples under thirty that she had counseled all rushed into marriage and regretted it and got (or were getting) divorced (hence why they are in counseling). She also told me if I wanted to get married young I should move to a small town since people in small towns get married young. (I also questioned when all of these people who weren’t expected to think about marriage until they were at least thirty were going to have children.) I didn’t date anyone for six months after we broke up but when I started dating I probably did go on dates with ten guys in that year.

  • LW#1: It can be helpful to have an extremely tentative date to give people when they inevitably ask when you’ll be married. Like “summer 2017” or an even more vague “late 2017.” And then you can kind of cut convos off with “We’re not even going to start looking at venues or anything until early next year.” If it changes to 2018 at some point, that’s cool. We had a two-year engagement and it was NBD.

    LW#2: YES to everything Liz said.

    • Lindsay Rae

      I give the “Season / Year” advice to everyone who gets engaged or is planning on getting engaged but doesn’t have a date set right away. It gives people an answer they’re looking for without getting into all the details of why you can’t say a specific date at that time. And of course it’s not binding!

      • up_at_Dawn

        That is what we did as well. We have now set a date, but it was good to have some idea of what to tell people. It was literally the first question everyone asked.

  • Sara

    For the first letter writer – one of my good friends had an indefinite timeline of an engagement. Our group of friends did not find it to be a sham or silly to have such a long engagement. We understood they had a lot of things on their plate – school, new jobs, sick family members. A wedding just wasn’t their highest priority, but they did want to show that they prioritize their relationship. That being said, they probably got a lot more questions about “so wait, when are you getting married?” than a couple with a shorter engagement. But they’re getting married this year! And I know for her, having a long engagement helped her take the time to think about what was important to her instead of feeling rushed.

  • Krissy

    #1 – I had a two and a half year engagement, and I absolutely loved it. It was the MOST fun, for a few reasons. The first was that I had time to explore what having a wedding, getting married, and being married really meant to me (thanks APDubs ;). This applied to ALL of the aspects – religious, spiritual, socio-economical, cultural, etc. And I loved exploring it and giving myself time to really actually think about all of it, and not just accept WIC (and yeah, it comes from EVERYONE. Guard your heart to it, and know that those you love have been majorly influenced by icky aspects of our societal narrative, and say NO if you wanna say no!). It was so awesome. I learned so many things, and my guy was like, “Yeah, this is cool,” and listened and reflected with me. It just felt great. I feel like because I spent that time with myself and with him, I know more about who I am, and knew much more about what I wanted going into marriage.
    Second, it allowed me – for the most part – to be able to keep up with my life and also start planning in baby steps. We were pretty rigid about what we wanted to spend, and it gave me time to exhaustively research all of the possibilities (well… almost all) without completely putting my life on hold to do wedding. Which I know was definitely what I needed, because a few weeks before the wedding, I would get frustrated when I would have to skip out out on minor career-related things because I needed to do last minute wedding things. I am a musician, so I am almost always working in some way, but that is what I want to be doing every day, so it was hard to say no to things that would pop up towards the last stretch before the wedding. But having a longer engagement really helped with that right up until the home stretch.
    And in regards to other people’s questions? It’s whatever. You get married when you want to get married. I reached a point of caring very little for what most other people thought about it very early on, and I know this was a gift. Sure, people can be excited for you, but if that excitement diminishes because you’re not getting married quickly enough for them, then they need to figure that out all on their own, not your problem. :)
    #2 – Yeah, everything Liz said. Sometimes, even when we don’t realize it, we are teaching people how to treat us by what we allow and what we don’t allow. And the levels of complication in that increase exponentially when it’s with someone we love. But if you take a step back and realize that, 1) you need and deserve a clear answer about what he wants, 2) you need and deserve to have what is important to you heard by your partner, it will get easier to lay everything down on the table and say “Here’s where I am, please tell me where you are now.” Don’t take a wishy-washy answer. If he has conflicting feelings, he needs to find the clarity to come out and say, “I feel A because this, but I also feel B because of this…” It’s so much harder when you’re not on the same page. Even if you don’t get on the same page, sometimes laying out all of the possible scenarios can help you come up with a compromise that suits everyone.

  • raccooncity

    RE: spoiling the engagement…I was almost maniacally concerned about that in my own life. However, one day we talked about where our lives were going and just through a discussion realized that we should get married this year.

    There’s no ‘story’, and I bought the ring myself, actually alone myself part of the time, and I’m surprised at how few regrets I have about it. (Wedding planning helps). But mostly I wanted him to be excited about getting married and I think the anxiety about proposing and surprising me was too much for him to move forward on.

    Guys get nervous, y’all.

    • Eh

      I knew we were going to get engaged but my husband is very impulsive so it was a total surprise (we got engaged in October and I thought he would propose closer to Christmas). He decided to go look at rings (to get an idea of what he could afford) because he was in the mall with no intention of buying and then decided to buy one. He then was going to propose that night but it didn’t work out. Then he was going to propose the next day and that didn’t work out. I ruined two of this three proposal attempts so he aborted them. He decided to propose on the third day because he couldn’t wait any longer (as I said he’d impulsive – he was on the verge of exploding). He saw a moment – we were having a lazy morning hanging out in bed – and he took it. When I asked him why he picked that moment he said “it was us being us”.

      My friend and her boyfriend have a timeline to get engaged and she’s worried that it will ruin the surprise but I am pretty sure her boyfriend will find a way to surprise her.

      • Rhie

        So as someone whose boyfriend also gave her an engagement timeline, I’m
        of two minds on the whole thing. At first I was thrilled because it
        really took the pressure of is-he-ever-really-going-to-propose??? off
        the table, and that was really messing with my head. But as time has
        passed and the deadline (so to speak) has grown closer, it’s really
        starting to irk me. He’s clearly indicated to me that being able to
        surprise me with a ring and proposal is very important to him, and I
        respect that, but it also means I’m waiting on him to be able to propose
        to him with his engagement present (a watch), which I’m really excited
        about and have been since I bought the damn thing six months ago. I
        don’t want to suck all the wind out of his sails by proposing first
        because that would ruin it for him, but I feel like my proposal is being
        held hostage to his. It’s also made me feel like I’m in an engagement
        vacuum–like there’s nothing I can do but sit here and wait for him so
        that he can surprise me and I can say yes, whereas if we hadn’t done the
        timeline thing, I could have proposed to him or he could have actually
        surprised me. I don’t know. Part of me thinks that the peace of mind I
        gained by knowing the proposal was coming is worth these (relatively
        minor in the grand scheme of getting married to the man I love)
        irritations. And the other part of me wishes we had done what I wanted,
        which was essentially to pick a date to get engaged when we could sit
        down and exchange ring/watch and drink a bottle of champagne and not
        leave the house and then call our families the next day. He felt like
        that would put too much pressure on that particular day, which is fair,
        but given that he’s leaving his proposal down to the wire (he actually
        emailed me about rings today, because the last set I picked out on Etsy
        have all been sold…), he’s put himself in the exact same position. As
        the ever-wise Lauren from NH said, the whole thing is eternally fraught
        and between the pressure we put on ourselves and the pressure we are
        subjected to from other people, WIC or family or otherwise, it’s a
        miracle we ever get engaged and married and stay sane at all.

      • I definitely asked my boyfriend if he was going to propose to me the day before (really, though, we were on a trip back to our undergrad “just because” and he kept singing “I’m getting married in the morning” so maybeeeee he should have done a better job of hiding it if he wanted it to be a surprise). So he had to do a lot of fancy rearranging of words to mislead me without actually lying, but even then, guessing the day before didn’t make it any less awesome.

        (Although I definitely knew we were probably getting engaged that year, but I was more ready to get engaged than he was, so we were waiting for that reason.)

        So yeah, surprises are cool and fun, but not everything, and also can totally happen on a timeline if its important to one or both of you.

        (I think I meandered around the point I was trying to make a little though).

      • Anna Wagner

        We also had an engagement timeline. It was both comforting in that I was (mostly) assured that it would, in fact, happen, and nerve-wrecking in that as it got closer I got more and more concerned. Turns out the fiance really didn’t expect to get as close to the end of the timeline as he did. Though I knew he was likely to be proposing soon when he did propose, I was still totally surprised when he did. Even if I hadn’t, it wouldn’t have been any less special and actually my reaction may have better. My “surprise reaction” really kind of sucks.

  • z

    Long engagement is fine. Although a moving target will start to raise eyebrows, if you keep announcing dates and then pushing it back.

    When I ask when the wedding is, all I really care about is knowing whether I have to budget and plan to travel somewhere within a year. It’s hard for me to afford weddings on short notice! If people are fishing for date info, that may be why.

    • notquitecece

      I had a friend call me at one point and ask about dates, and finally she was like, “yo if it’s gonna be this summer I gotta ask for the vacation now.” So that made it easy to set her mind at ease and let her know she had time!

  • Lauren from NH

    These two letter writers remind me of exactly why pre engagement is so fraught. You have two mammoth obstacles to overcome: traditional gender roles and the Almighty WIC and in my personal experience it SUCKS! The air gets heavy with the endless stereotypes flapping around and suddenly your partner, who you get on great with (duh! you want to marry the person) is driving you bananas! (And for some goddamn reason EVERYONE (TM) won’t get out of your conversations.) The script becomes this garbled mess. He’s following the old one, you’re following the new one, and then other times you are following the old one and he is following the new and you are both pretty darn sensitive that the other person is not on your same page at a moment like this. I don’t know why figuring out what you want and how communicate about it has to be so damn hard but it was in my experience.

    LW #1 – I would caution you like Liz, that if having the money for a wedding becomes a moving target or you realize along the way that your ready-to-plan milestone is different from your partner’s, you may be plagued by pre engagement suckage all over again, engaged or no.

    LW #2 – Like Liz said you get to demand some answers (or a deadline for some answers) on things of most basic importance to you. It’s one kind of frustration to not be ready at the same time or for precisely the same thing, but persistent failure to communicate about a shared future means it’s not really shared.

  • I’ve been engaged for 7 months, and we have just set a date that is a year and a half away. We aren’t going to start booking things until this summer. We were definitely ready for that next commitment (there’s just a certain validity that I feel referring to him as my FH than my boyfriend), but we weren’t ready financially or emotionally to start planning the wedding yet.

    And that’s fine! Most people accept my response of “Fall 2016”. If they ask why we are waiting so long, I just smile and say “That’s when we want to get married.” That tends to shut them up.

    I find the biggest benefit to having a long engagement is the amount of time I have. Because my engagement was a surprise (a happy one!), I had a lot of adjusting to do in my head. I’m only now wrapping my head around getting married and what it means for my life.

    I also have lots of time to figure out what I want the wedding to feel like, and lots of time to convince my family that hell and brimstone won’t rain down because I want to get married outside in a secular ceremony. (But that’s a different post for a different day..)

  • Mere

    LW1: We were in the same boat when we got engaged, about to graduate, study for the bar, move cities, find jobs. It was so lovely to be engaged during all of those changes because of the stability of our partnership (despite having been together for 7 years before our engagement, it still felt extra special to have a fiance). We will have been engaged for 2.5 years before we get married this summer. It has actually been nice to focus on a party that will bring together friends and family as we adjusted to a lot of changes in a city where we were far away from some of our favorite people. As for friends, family, random people asking you about wedding planning, that sort of calms down after a while. And if you can look at it from the perspective that it is just people who want to share in your excitement that helps. Also, if you wait as long as we did after a few months people go back to their own lives and you can quietly plan your wedding under the radar.

  • honeycomehome

    “An engagement isn’t the marker of the beginning of wedding planning. It marks a new phase of commitment.”

    I disagree. I think that is true for some couples, but definitely not all. I would be the friend/cousin/co-worker who wondered why someone would be engaged if they weren’t actively planning a wedding. I have seen people want to be engaged just to treat their relationship like it’s better or more serious than others’ relationships and I think it’s a bit immature and

    BUT, I AM A STRANGER ON THE INTERNET. And you shouldn’t live your life to please me. Or to please your judgemental friends/cousins/co-workers. Not everyone is going to be on board, sure. But there’s not room on board for everyone, anyway, so do what makes you happy.

    • honeycomehome

      (a bit immature and silly, I meant to say!)

    • K.

      This is also where it’s a double-edged sword though because we needed our two year engagement to save up for the specific kind of wedding we both decided we want (saving is still in progress for June), even if we didn’t actively begin planning until the 18 month mark…but if we weren’t engaged and the judgmental friend/cousin/co-worker found out, the response would be, “Why are you saving for a WEDDING when you aren’t even ENGAGED? Jumping ahead a bit there, kiddos!”

      So in short, agreed not to do anything for the sake of the external response!

    • Eh

      I think this reminds me bit of Anna’s engagement in Frozen (people thought it was ridiculous that she was engaged to a guy she just met – not the typical fairy tale response to an engagement but a more realistic response). I have had friends who got engaged purely to justify their relationship because people weren’t taking their commitment seriously, and usually it didn’t change how other’s saw their relationship (which frustrated them). I actually know someone who thought that getting married would make people respect her relationship with her husband and it didn’t (it wasn’t until she and her husband started setting boundaries and respecting other people relationships and demanding respect of their relationship that people actually respected them as a couple and didn’t see her as someone who trapped her husband by getting pregnant).

      • A.

        Maybe I just happen to know more mature and generally stable people, but I feel like couples like this are outliers and that most people’s reasons for having a long engagement have nothing to do with this. Usually, it’s financial or due to some other kind of external circumstance (grad school, family issue, etc.)…or just wanting to take their time and not stress about planning.

        • Eh

          Oh I totally agree. They are outliers. The vast majority of my friends who got engaged were way more mature than this. And justifying your relationship/commitment by getting engaged doesn’t meant a long engagement (the woman I was talking about at the end was only engaged for a year and a half and had a baby in that time). Another couple though was engaged for over five years.

    • Sarah E

      “there’s not room on board for everyone, anyway”

      Great thought for any kind of life (or even sartorial) decision.

    • In talks with people in my grad program, I’ve noticed that my friends seem to fall into two categories with engagement. The first category is that it means you are ready to spend the rest of your life together, even if you aren’t going to get around to it for a couple years because you have a bunch of grad school stuff to accomplish and also it takes a while to save money on a grad school stipend. But it will happen after quals and prelims and such. The second category is people for whom getting engaged means you are getting married that year (or so) and are going to start planning a wedding. I think either of them are perfectly valid as long as both halves of the couple decide on what being engaged is for them.

    • Nell

      “But, I am a stranger on the internet” is the best advice line ever.

      Srsly, people are going to gossip about your life choices no matter WHAT you do. Short engagement? You get “what’s the rush?” from people. Long engagement? “Just get married already!” Saving up for a big wedding? People will say “oh just go to city hall!” Dash off for a cheap elopement? People will say “Oh but you missed out on having your big day!”

      honeycomehome is right. Don’t listen to us, listen to yourself.

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      I give serious side eye to folks who get engaged with NO plans to marry in the somewhat near future. I don’t mean, we’re taking a long time bc we are saving for a wedding. I mean, we’re engaged for the sake of being engaged.

      I think engagements are basically promises to marry. So if there’s no plan to marry, why get engaged?

    • Mezza

      This comment just made me realize that I think I got married without ever getting engaged. My partner and I had been together for 10 years and living together for 6, and at some point one of us was like “hey, let’s get married this year.” And then we told our families we wanted to do that, and then we got married. I don’t think there was ever a point when I would have called myself “engaged” as a relationship status. Oops?

      • Liz

        My parents did the same!

      • Em

        SAME SAME SAME

        Also a couple times people referred to me as “engaged” and I was like, wait, what? No, I’m just getting married.

    • Daisy6465

      I know many, many people who (mostly judgemental parents/co-workers/etc.) who do view engagement as the start to wedding planning. Getting engaged without having a clear idea of when you are getting married can seem like there is not serious intention behind that declaration.

      Unfortunately, I also know couples that have announced engagements only to languish in the engaged state for years and never get married. I think there is fear behind all that judginess. Fear that one person is going to have their heart broken because the other has promised to get married “someday” but doesn’t really mean it. The idea being that once you decide you want to marry someone you would not want to wait if you really meant it. (I also fear that is the situation letter writer #2 has landed herself in.)

      I know that there are legitimate reasons to wait to get married. I also think that in our generation far too many people wait for reasons of money. If you want to be married, get married. It costs very little. I think my marriage license was around $35. If you want a wedding, can’t afford one now, and want it bad enough to wait to marry, think about why you want to announce your engagement. Are you getting engaged to make a promise to each other? If so, chances are you have already made that promise. You could formalize it privately (maybe with a ring) and tell a small group of supportive friends that you intend to marry someday if they ask.

      If you want to announce your engagement now on a larger scale with more fanfare, be prepared for every aunty, grandma, coworker, and mom who has dreamed of your wedding since you were a baby to jump all over your plans to wait to marry. Why do you want to tell all those people? Is it important to them yet? Does it affect them yet? Is there a chance that maybe you want to get engaged to lend legitimacy to your relationship in their eyes? If that is even a little bit the case then I promise you it will backfire.

  • Amanda

    LW#2 — If I were you, I would also be legitimately concerned about whether or not you are going to get this same kind of run around with every big life decision/choice — particularly in the children department (which it kind of seems like is already starting to happen but is maybe hidden a bit beneath the getting married piece). When you have this conversation, I think it would also be beneficial to discuss openly and honestly whether or not he actually wants to have children.

    • z

      +1. What is up with the arbitrary deadline of 35 anyway? If he truly doesn’t want kids after 35 (and I hope he means he doesn’t want his FIRST kid after 35) then there is not that much time. It can take a while to get pregnant, and being younger is no guarantee that you won’t have fertility problems or a miscarriage. He needs to get real about this. A man who truly wanted kids by 35 would not be dawdling at 32.

      You guys are overdue for some Real Talk. Stand up for yourself, your equality in the relationship, and your future children!

      • Sara

        The 35 deadline was my dad’s deadline (he ended up having 3 kids between 30 – 35) and his explanation was that he wanted to stop having kids by 35 so he could make sure he had time to save for retirement after the last one had potentially graduated from college.

        I don’t know if that’s the reason for the deadline in the letter, but in my parents’ case it was a thought out reason.

        • z

          But was it a real deadline? Like if he was 34 and 3 months, and that cycle didn’t work out, then no more trying?

          What I’m saying is, why does he have this “deadline” and how firm is it? LW#1, what if you get pregnant and have a miscarriage when you are 34– does that mean that you and this man give up on parenthood forever? He seems like he’s making engagement, marriage, and childbearing decisions on his own, without much input from you, and they aren’t decisions that you like.

          • Sara

            For my dad, it was a hard stop at 35 of trying to get pregnant. My youngest brother was born after he turned 35, so it worked out. My mom had no preference, she just wanted kids in general.

          • Amanda

            Sara, I think what you’re referencing is a pretty different situation. It seems like your parents were married and had a joint discussion/decision on this for a reason. He seems to be throwing out a relatively arbitrary date that, at this point, seems hard to meet. I think having an agreed upon timeline is understandable and probably something a lot of people do….it’s the other details of this situation which seem concerning.

          • Greta

            I agree! It sounds to me like the boyfriend is using an end-date of 35 as a means of avoiding commitment. When you set an arbitrary deadline like that, and then make no effort towards moving towards something before that deadline arises, then that says that the end goal (children in this case) is not very important to you. I am concerned for LW2 that she wants children and her boyfriend doesn’t, or at best, is indifferent. This is a fundamental relationship issue that needs to be addressed before you commit to marriage.

          • Manda9339

            Yes, this is disturbing. I hope she knows SHE can certainly have kids after HE turns 35…

          • Sara

            Actually, they had the convo before they got married. And then got pregnant with me before getting married.
            But I was actually just trying to say that an end date could have reasoning, its not completely off the wall. But I agree, the timeline should be agreed upon. And both parties should have a say.

        • Violet

          Very well thought out.

          Although, for the many of us who will likely receive no Social Security do not have pensions, can I just say that saving for retirement should begin As Soon As You Begin Working, and not after something else?

          • z

            There will still be enough tax revenue coming in to Social Security to pay about 75% of benefits going forward indefinitely. I don’t know why that misperception constantly seems to come up on this site.

          • Violet

            Ehhhh, my company’s TIAA CREF advisor specifically said “don’t count on it.” Basically, calculate your income replacement as if SS will be $0, then if its ends up being something, you’ll just be that much better off.

          • z

            Sure, nothing is ever truly certain, but this “likely receive $0” thing is just a gross overstatement of the financial projections AND the political support for Social Security. Raising taxes polls waaaaay better than cutting benefits.

            And the private sector has an incentive to get people to invest more in the retirement products they offer. So take it with a grain of salt.

          • Violet

            I always take advice with a grain of salt. But I’d rather be more conservative in my retirement projections than in trouble later.
            And regardless of what you think Social Security will pay out, someone shouldn’t hold off on saving for retirement, which was my overall point. I made the distinction about SS because Sara’s father is likely older than most readers of this site, and the landscape has changed. 70% isn’t 100%, cost of living is higher (particularly housing and medical expenses), and people are living longer.

          • Sarah

            You mean the rep from an annuity fund is in all likelihood encouraging you to invest more with their funds? Shocking. Not saying it’s bad idea, I am putting in what I need to get my company’s most generous max from TIAA-CREF and Fidelity, but always consider your sources.

          • Violet

            I do.

          • Audrey

            A good point – I’m pretty sure our independent advisor had us use a % (I think maybe it was 60% to be pessimistic?) but definitely didn’t have us plan for 0.

          • Sara

            He also taught me to start investing in my 401k immediately, no reason to wait. He’s big on investing and money management :)

          • emilyg25

            And that saving for retirement should take precedence over paying for college. There are loans for college. Not so for retirement.

          • Sara

            Oh for sure! By his own admission, it was more a contingency plan. But he was able to help a lot for college.

      • Jess

        I know some people who have 35 as a deadline because they don’t want to be 60 and trying to pay for college and save for retirement or be too old to really enjoy their grandkids. It’s not necessarily a “hard stop” but it is a general goal

        On the other hand, they’re all like 26-30, so they can say that and realistically make it happen (and are actively looking/heading for marriage). So…

        In this particular case, I’d say they both need to be up front about what they really want.

      • KestrelLowing

        I have an arbitrary deadline of age 30. If we’re going to have kids, we’re going to start trying or at least have a definitive plan by the time I’m 30 (I just turned 25, we got married about 6 months ago). Why? Because I don’t want to be an old parent. Also, I want any possible kids to know their grandparents, and frankly, my family isn’t long lived and my husband’s dad is already 68.

        To throw another wrench into the works, I have PCOS and it’s very possible that I may not even be able to have children. Also, the earlier the better is generally the rule of thumb for conceiving when you’ve got PCOS.

        My mom had me (I’m the youngest) when she was 31, and honestly I don’t want to be much older than her when my kids get married/move out/become adults. I love that my parents are both still quite active and able to keep up with us as we start finding things in our adulthood that we enjoy. We really have to consider when asking my husband’s parents to do things if they’re going to be capable.

        If we don’t know in 5 years if we want kids, then at that point, barring other discussions, we won’t be having them.

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      A runaround about whether and when to get married is a signal that someone doesn’t want marriage or marriage to her. I don’t feel like this is all that complicated. They’ve been together long enough and have a life together that he should be able to give her reasonable answers. He isn’t. I would be concerned about staying with this person.

    • Nell

      Word. There’s a great book called “10 Conversations You Must Have Before You Get Married.” The conversations are put in order of, basically, how much of a dealbreaker they are. The conversation about kids comes first. You can’t have half a kid. You can’t put off having a kid until your 80’s. You can’t do all the parenting alone while the other takes up a new hobby. So I would say that getting on the same page about your future plans would lead to some conclusions about whether marriage is a good idea for you guys.

      • Eh

        I will second that book. It is a good book.

  • z

    I do think the trend of using the term “fiance/e” to indicate a long-term relationship with no plans to get married muddies the waters a bit. Claiming to be engaged no longer communicates a plan to get married as clearly as it once did. But, LW1, I think if you’re on a 3-year timetable, that’s still within social norms and people will not think it’s weird.

    However, if you’re postponing the wedding based on unrealistic financial and personal milestones that will clearly not be reached within 3-5 years, that would lead me to question whether the desire to get married is real.

  • pajamafishadventures

    LW #1, we were planning to get married last year [I originally wrote “this year” and then remembered, nope it 2015!), had the framework all set, and were just waiting on my man to get a job so we could have a reasonable idea of finances when I lost both my grandparents. So we went from “Fall 2014” to “I dunno, maybe never?” and that “maybe never” is not a reflection on our relationship but on how my views on marriage, commitment, and weddings have changed now that I’ve lost two of the most important people in my life.

    Some people will be confused if you say that you are engaged and not planning but most won’t press for details, and still more won’t care. “It’ll happen when it happens” is a frustrating answer for people but just reassure them that you’ll keep them in the loop as soon as something changes and you should be all set.

  • C

    LW1: You’ve presented two options: (a) get engaged when you commit to marrying one another (one day); or (b) get engaged when you’re officially preparing to have a wedding. Each of these items is a significant milestone in a relationship, but you can only get engaged once. So, which milestone do you want to mark with an engagement? If you pick (a), will you feel like you’re missing out by not announcing your engagement when (b) happens? Is there some other way you could celebrate (b)? There’s no right or wrong answer, just questions to ask yourself.
    LW2: I’m so sorry you’re in this position. I’m curious about the conversations you two have had about children. BF says he must have children within the next 3 years or not at all. Is he on board with having children in the next 3 years, or is he waiting out his deadline to get out of having children without ever actually making a decision? It seems very odd that someone who must have children (more than one??) within 3 years isn’t open to an engagement, like, yesterday. Along these lines, the “courthouse or bust” ultimatum seems like a bluff. He presents an option that he knows you won’t accept to get him out of saying, yeah I don’t actually want to do this. It might be illuminating to call his bluff and see how he reacts.

    • z

      +1 on the whole comment, but especially in regards to LW2’s BF. It seems like he’s trying to control the course of the relationship unilaterally through a strategy of stalling and passivity, rather than doing the real work of partnership and engaging in real discussion and compromise. Or else he’s stuck, he doesn’t want to marry but he doesn’t want to break up, but he can’t come up with a way to say it to LW2 because he fears it will end the relationship.

      LW2’s BF is coming in for a lot of criticism (from me!)– I would be interested in anyone who has a more positive take on it.

      • anon4this

        Hi — I don’t have a positive take on it, but perhaps a more positive one, colored by my experience.

        My boyfriend and I have been together for 5 and a half years. At the beginning of the relationship, he said he wanted a family with 2-4 kids, wanted to get married, the whole shebang.

        Then, about a year ago, he started throwing around conflicting statements. Saying things like, “When we have kids,” but also talking about how he doesn’t see the point in having children. He would say “when we get married,” but then talk about how he doesn’t understand why people get married and that he HATES weddings.

        After much delay on my part, I finally confronted him about his mixed signals. I told him that getting married and having kids (something I was mostly ambivalent about for the majority of my life) had become increasingly important to me and I needed to know where he was on that because he’d been sending mixed signals.

        He told me that as he’s gotten older, he’s become increasingly anxious about getting married and having kids — marriage seems so permanent and there’s so many ways to fuck your kids up and ways that other people can fuck your kids up. He said he’s been reflecting a lot on how his family situation (divorced parents, mom never in a stable relationship, dad in an unhappy re-marriage) could so easily happen and he’s nervous about moving forward. He said he had no doubts about us or our relationship, just that the next step of marriage felt arbitrary to him.

        I said it wasn’t arbitrary to me. And he said he heard me, he respected that, and he’d be ready to get married when it made more sense to him in practical terms (merging finances and readiness for children).

        And he made the excellent points that I had said I wanted to get out of debt before we got married, and as far as kids go, we’re not making enough money to get good child care and because my salary is less than his, I’d have to quit my job if we had a kid. In an ideal scenario, he would be the one to stay at home (because I love my work and he could give a rat’s ass about his). And without my salary, we probably couldn’t afford to eat every day in all seriousness, especially when we’d have to put money towards baby expenses.

        So we agreed to table the discussion until we felt more financially stable. And he also said that in service to this, he’d help me pay off my debt.

        So, LW 2, this straightforward discussion really helped me see the marriage equation from my boyfriend’s perspective and we came to an agreeable conclusion.

        Also, I will say, if you two bought a house together, he has to be in it for the long haul on some level.

        • Anna Wagner

          I get the mixed messages thing. While the fiance has always been clear that he wanted to marry me, he’s been mixed on kids. He ultimately says he wants them but throws out things like “wouldn’t it be awesome to be DINKs?” and “+ one for birth control!”. I think part of the mixed messages is conflicting feelings, which I get and feel myself. Ultimately, we both want children but there’s also the feeling of cherishing how awesome it is right now without them.

  • Jess

    LW1: I just wanted to tell a story of a very good friend of mine. He and his now-wife were dating for a few years. She was finishing pharmacy school and he was working. They were of the very-religious set, where (and I know this is a generalization) an engagement is usually fairly short.

    When they were engaged, he announced their excitement and happiness in deciding to commit the rest of their lives to each other. He also then said that they were going to wait a while to start planning until she finished school and they had time to adjust to what this step meant for their relationship.

    I did not hear of one person pushing them for information or talking about their decision with any levity.

    So, there’s total hope! And it’s also kind of what I’m planning on doing – letting an engagement sink in for a long while before I start reserving halls.

    Also, I know a lot of people have recommended giving the Season/Year target range below, and that seems like it would postpone anxious and over-excited questions.

  • KimBee

    LW#2: A lot of folks have addressed the partner, but I think it’s important for LW#2 to do some self-reflection, too. It sounds like they’re both issuing ultimatums (Him – about kids, Her – ‘if we don’t get married by the end of the year…’), and I wonder about keeping tabs on his etsy account. She says ‘it has to be his way,’ but then outlines all of the ways she wants it her way. He offers to get married (at the courthouse) but she wants a wedding. It’s totally possible that he is being flaky and is not able to be the partner she needs, but it is also possible that she is so caught up in her needs that she isn’t hearing his. When Liz points out that compromise and communication is needed, I think it’s important to see that as a two-way street.

  • La’Marisa-Andrea

    I don’t have much to say about the first letter but the second one gives me serious pause. I think it’s pretty clear that the boyfriend is either not ready to get married or doesn’t want to get married at all. No amount of pressure or talking will change that. I advise the second letter writer to decide if getting married in the near future is a dealbreaker. This is not about ultimatums..this is about being in a relationship in which you are not getitng something that is essential for you. It does not need to be presented as an ultimatum if ultimately, what she wants is to get married and soon-ish. State your desires to your partner and you decide privately how long you’re willing to wait. If he doesn’t step up, move on. There is no need saddling your happiness onto someone who may not want the same things. Be honest with yourself and listen to what he’s telling you. If you’re content to wait longer, then do so. If you aren’t, then you need to make some serious decisions about whether this is the relationship you want to remain in.

  • Bethany

    For the second letter writer, I’d agree that you need to get some answers — and also be open to the idea that if there are no answers, that’s an answer itself even if not the one you want. The changing answers and lack of communication seem like red flags and especially now that you have a shared mortgage, getting some other commitments worked out is important. He could have bought the rings, but then be planning to return them. I’m worried that he doesn’t seem to be listening to and communicating well with you. Waiting to get married is fine (my fiance and I were definitely not ready when we’d only been dating 3 years) but both partners need to be in communication and on the same page.

  • LW2: I’m sure you know this but living together, even owning a house together, is not the same as being married. I have heard several horror stories of women in this situation. One story is of a woman who was in a very bad car accident. She was going to have to move to a long term care facility. Immediately her family jumped into trying to get the house from the boyfriend and all of her belongings. They had been together for ten years. The boyfriend was not co-owner on the house so he had no rights, and even if he was he didn’t have a right to her belongings. Story number two which a dental hygienist just told me was of a woman who stayed in this situation for decades. When her husband died she had no rights to any of the property. He did not name her in his will. She had to start life over and leave her home. The reason why glbt people (myself included) desperately wanted the marriage license is because of the rights and privileges couples obtain by being legally recognized. Nothing else will give you social security benefits if your spouse dies, for example. Having the license is about protections for both members of the couple for the long term. The boyfriend refusing to understand this means he doesn’t see this as long term, him wanting to make sure that you are taken care of regardless of what happens in the future.

  • C_Gold

    LW2 sounds sort of familiar to me. When I was 31, I’d been with my boyfriend for four and a half years. We bought a house together. We assumed we’d get married. (I also wasn’t very happy, but I told myself this was common.) When I tried to talk about marriage, he made it clear he wanted to surprise me with a proposal, and that the more I asked about a proposal, the less it felt like a surprise, so I had to not ask him about it. It was a crappy situation. I didn’t know how to force his hand. Some days I wasn’t even sure I wanted to marry him, but at the same time, it seemed absurd that we weren’t engaged.

    And then, only three months after buying a house together, I broke up with him. And it was the best decision I ever made. And I met someone who’s crazy about me, who I’m crazy about. And I knew he was committed to me from the start, and he didn’t give me bullshit half-answers about getting engaged (he told me he wanted to ask me formally, and give me a ring, but it was understood that this was a formality–he wanted to wait to ask me till we were in Europe together on a vacation we’d planned. We reserved our reception venue two months before our official “engagement”.)

    I think it’s easy to see your own life in other people’s problems, so my situation may not really be that analogous. I just know that I am so, so, so glad I broke up with my ex. He’s happier too. We still share our dogs (we live near each other), and socialize sometimes. It’s good. It’s so good. I’m so so so glad I didn’t marry him.

    • BSM

      Totally inappropriate curiosity: how did you deal with owning the house together?

      • C_Gold

        I love inappropriately curious questions! :) Sorry in advance for my novel-length response.

        It was a pain. It sucked. I will say that it says something about our relationship that we had already discussed what would happen with the house if we broke up, so there was already sort of a framework in place…and then my ex changed his mind about it.

        He wanted the house. I did not. I was happy to get the heck out and move in with my sister and her husband, the awesomest people ever. So that part was straightforward.

        The original idea, discussed briefly when we first bought it, had been that, if we broke up, we’d refinance to get my name off the mortgage.

        The problem came because we’d bought at a really good time, gotten a fantastic interest rate. By the time we wanted to refinance, interest rates had gone up a whole percent. Which meant my ex’s monthly payment would be significantly higher. So he refused to refinance.

        This meant I was still on the mortgage even though I had nothing to do with the house (I wasn’t paying the mortgage or anything, but my name was on it). This made me nervous. My ex said he’d refinance if I’d agree to pay him enough to cover the increase in his monthly mortgage payment (indefinitely…like, till he decided to sell the house). I did not want to do this. I hated the idea of, like, five years later, still writing a monthly check to my ex.

        I talked to the bank, and I think one of the problems is that typically this sort of thing gets sorted out by the lawyers in a divorce. But we were never married. So it just kind of…was. I was stuck.

        It didn’t help that my ex makes very good money (to be fair, he has a ton of student loans, but he has a great, well-paying job) and I do not. I have a steady job that I love but I don’t make anywhere near what he does.

        I let time pass, I stayed on the mortgage, I moved out of my sister’s house and got my own apartment. Things had settled down from the initial high-drama of the break-up. I started calling the bank again, stressing that I’d barely actually live there, and my ex had plenty of money and was covering the mortgage on his own. I somehow got through to this amazing woman who did some research for me, and found a way for us to do an assumption, where my ex assumed the mortgage from me.

        It cost, like, two grand. I paid 2/3 of that and my ex paid 1/3. (I felt we should have split it, but he didn’t care if I was on the mortgage or not, so…) There was a TON of paperwork. The process started in February of 2014 and we didn’t actually get to finally sign off on it until August (and then my name wasn’t officially removed till last month). But it worked! We’d been broken up for over a year by August, when we signed the last documents, and we were both so happy when it was done.

        • BSM

          Thanks for being willing to share! I actually bought a house with my then-boyfriend last June, but with the clear understanding that we were getting engaged in 2014,which we did :). People definitely gave us the side-eye a bit (especially him, since he contributed almost the entire down payment), and I actually don’t blame them. What you went through sounds like a mess, and (as an Internet stranger) I’m so glad you’re done with it!

  • laddibugg

    LW #1: I personally don’t want a long engagement for myself, but I don’t think it’s less ‘real’ for others. Though if someone says they’ve been engaged for over 5 years or so an eyebrow is raised….especially if there are zero plans for anything. For us, the fact that he is proposing won’t be a surprise, just that time and method (and the ring–I gave him parameters, but I would like him to make the final decision).

    LW #2: My gut feeling is that you should not buy property with some who hasn’t given you a clear picture of their expectations (or lack of) regarding marriage–if marriage is something YOU want. If you don’t care, buy away (with the proper paperwork, of course). The wishy washy attitude combined with the hard lines he’s drawn seems like a sign of deeper issues. I know it’s just the internet and I don’t know you IRL, but I am getting bad vibes. I don’t think he’s a bad person, he may just be confused or unsure, but you can’t waste your time waiting for him to come around.

    • C_Gold

      If there’s one mission I have in life, it’s to stop people from buying property with people they aren’t sure about, or with people where you don’t know where things are headed. Be sure. (I teach at a university, so any chance I get to tell my students this, I do.) Cuz it SUCKS to get off a mortgage. :)

  • Julia

    #1 – You said it perfectly: “We’d like to mark this step by getting engaged and announcing it.” Then do that! It’s that simple – if you two feel ready to get engaged, and want to deal with the wedding planning at a later date, guess what? You can give yourself permission to do just that :) When my fiance and I got engaged, I had no desire to do ANY wedding planning for a while. I just wanted to be engaged. We had some international trips that I wanted to enjoy without the stress of any additional planning. I didn’t want to feel rushed. And I knew eventually we would make some decisions about when and where. And yes, for a while, people kept asking, “So when’s the wedding?!” and appeared to be let down when I said, “No clue, but someday!” I do agree with some of the others below that it seemed helpful to say, instead, “Sometime next year, we think!” Or say that after XYZ, you’ll start thinking about your wedding. For some reason people reallllllly like to have something in mind. And for family and friends, that’s understandable to a degree. But in terms of when to get engaged and when to announce it and when to start wedding planning – there’s no “perfect” time, but there is a time that will feel right in terms of moving forward.

    #2 – Girl. What’s important to you should be important to him – not in the sense that he always has to agree with you, but yeah, your life partner should always want to a) hear you, b) respond to you, c) resolve with you. Liz is spot on. It’s hard to ask for what you need in relationships, and it’s even harder when the person you love isn’t stepping up to the plate. You said you keep asking yourself, “Is this it?” regarding the proposal/wedding, but I encourage you to reflect on “this” = your partner. Is he “it”? Does this feel right to you? (not suggesting it is or isn’t) The bottom line is – you’re not crazy for wanting what you want and feeling how you feel. No one should feel pressured to get married or pressured to pretend like they don’t care how they get married. So ask yourself – do YOU want to marry this particular person, under these particular conditions? Because you don’t sound (via letter writing) very happy about it. Sending you love, as I know it isn’t always easy to figure out what you want and need, and relationships can certainly evolve.

  • guest

    a bit late to this but my fiance and I kinda did the same thing. We got engaged and couldn’t set a date, due to issues like finances and also immigration (one of us isn’t a citizen). And for 13 months of our engagement, every time anyone asked, I had to say that there was no date because we need to figure out other stuff. It was annoying at first but I wouldn’t do it differently. For us, our engagement was an event to mark our decision to get married, and while it would have been nice to plan right away, I don’t think they absolutely have to come together. We just started planning a month ago for a wedding that is now 2 months away.

  • Britta

    Similar age difference with a formerly-marriage-qualmed fiance here. It helped for us to pull apart what about ‘Marriage’ as a concept was such an issue for him. By talking all this through over the course of a couple months, we were able to defuse it as a big gnarly mental snowball for him, and move on as a couple in a way that made both of us feel safe, together, valued, and like we were honoring our relationship in the right way.

    It turned out that all the things that we both loved about our relationship, all the good things it’s brought, and what we wanted to do together were how I defined marriage. In his mind marriage was about what would be ‘taken away’ from him – fears which were unfounded and not even about our relationship in particular, but in this vague abstract concept of marriage.

    We were able to reconcile the differences and defuse the drama around the concept by committing to define for ourselves what our marriage would be about and all the things we’d do and be together. I hate thinking in abstract (sorry, just not me!) and it was a really frustrating series of conversations, but we got there.

    Instead of a proposal we had a sort of final culmination chat where we felt really good, said at the end “So we’re doing this? YES, we’re doing this!” and then opened some champagne. Fine by me, because it came from a place of total safety, equality, and love.

  • Samantha Roberts

    LW#1: We got engaged (no “surprise,” mutual agreement) in the summer of 2013. Family members (especially his side) immediately asked when the date was so they could book flights, but because of the financial situation we knew we wouldn’t be able to get married at least until this year (2015). Word spread through the family relatively quickly that the wedding wasn’t imminent and it really was *not* a big deal. We did not start actively planning anything until about a year and a half after becoming engaged, and when we *did* have a date, we let people know (through the grapevine, no WIC is going to make me spend money on unnecessary save-the-dates!), especially those who would need to travel. Do what feels right for you and don’t worry about what they say!