Why Being Pre-Engaged is Actually Awesome

Every time we talk about being pre-engaged, I feel like I have to write a little disclaimer. We use the word pre-engaged on APW in a tongue-in-cheek way. Once upon a time, I was sent a marketing email aiming at selling useless crap to the “pre-engaged.” I vomited a little in my mouth, and then promptly reclaimed the word to describe that very of-the-moment phase many of us go through: when you’re pretty sure you’re going to marry your partner, but one or both of you isn’t quite there yet. It’s the time when you’re sneak reading wedding blogs (hi there y’all) trying to figure out what you think about weddings and marriages. It’s when people are pressuring you to get hitched (back off people!), and when you’re continuing to learn about your relationship. So today, we have Erica talking about why taking your time is actually awesome (because it is).

The other day I was watching a morning news show and the hosts started talking about a horrifically awkward YouTube video making the rounds. In it, a girl is proposed to on the Jumbotron at a basketball game. The camera finds her and her boyfriend in the audience, he goes down on one knee with a ring box, and then… nothing. She gets a pained look on her face, covers her mouth with her hands, and then gets up and walks off screen. This was a proposal that was clearly not only unexpected, but evidently unwelcome.

And it got me to thinking about the hype surrounding engagements. If you want to see how over the top this has gotten, look no further than a recent New York Times article about “proposal planners.” It seems that, in the case of the couple at the basketball game at least, the guy was so focused on planning an unforgettable proposal that he forgot to figure out the important things, like whether or not his girlfriend actually wanted to be married to him and was ready to say so.

I had a long time to think about being pre-engaged, in fact, I had six months longer than I would have liked actually being pre-engaged to think. But now, from the other side I can tell you that pre-engagement is maybe the best thing you have/will ever done/do for your relationship.

My partner and I moved our relationship at light-speed for the first six months or so. Two days after we met I got fired from my job, which meant that I had a very short time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. It also meant that I had an inordinate amount of free time, which I spent mostly mooning over him. A week and a half after we met we went on a three-day backpacking trip in the desert, and a week after that he dropped the L-bomb. Four months after our first date we had moved in together and had a dog. A year after that he picked up everything and followed me to graduate school 500 miles away.

But after awhile the more typical relationship timeline kind of caught up with us. Two years in, we were still living together, with the dog, spending weekends puttering around the house and watching Netflix. I started to feel like something had stalled, that we were no longer moving forward. And, more importantly, while I had always wanted to get married, I suddenly found that with my partner I was more excited about being married. To him. So I went a little nuts. Like many a sane, rational, reasonable woman before me, I kind of lost it.

Over the next few months, I dragged him to a jewelry store to look at rings, and then spent weeks worrying that we’d never be able to get married because there was no way we could ever afford anything. In an effort to soothe my anxiety, he confessed that he actually had a ring, from his family. You’d think this would make me feel relieved, but instead it threw all sorts of doubts into my head. Then why weren’t we engaged yet? What was holding him back?

And so we talked. A lot. About all of the normal things, money, kids, careers, our families, and what we imagined our lives together would look like. At some point, while I never actually stopped thinking about it, I resigned myself to the fact that it probably wasn’t going to happen for a while.

Which, of course, is when it did. It couldn’t have been more perfect. And now that I’m in the thick of wedding planning, with all of the attendant insanity, I’ve never been more glad that by the time we finally did get engaged I felt like we knew each other incredibly well. And I know that we are, and always will be, a team.

So pre-engaged ladies, take heart. And be glad that you’ll never have the entire audience of a basketball game, and the internet, watch you run away from an unexpected proposal. I mean, I hope.

Photo by: Moodeous Photography from the APW Flickr Pool

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  • I want to EXACTLY this whole post.

    Our relationship moved at warp speed for the first year, and then I (stubbornly at first) settled into 2 years of being pre-engaged. Simply put, my partner just didn’t have the money or the time to put into how he wanted to propose, so he wasn’t going to rush it. Which paved the way for just about every discussion you want to have before you marry someone, plus some. Plus, his proposal was awesome. Every bit worth waiting for.

    It’s really, really amazing to have had that time together as a base for our relationship. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

    • Tracy

      So, so, totally agree on the last sentences. The extra time together pre-engagement can be so rewarding even if it’s hard to recognize in the present. I just got engaged two days ago *happy dance!!* after oh about 3 solid years of feeling “pre-engaged”. There was anxiety, stress, insecurity, conversations about why it was so important to me and why it was so frightening to him, anger, crying, etc etc etc. This went on for more than a year, but then an interesting thing happened. More time passed, and our relationship (which has always been incredibly wonderful as long as we weren’t talking about marriage!) grew into a much stronger bond. As more time passed and we settled into our life together, I felt him getting closer to losing his fear and he felt me losing my insecurity that “Omg he doesn’t really want to marry me and someday he’s going to realize it and move on” — aaah! 2 years ago I was dying to get engaged but it wouldn’t have had the same meaning as it does today.

      So while I can’t say I thought being pre-engaged was “awesome” (it actually felt much like hell at times), I, too, wouldn’t trade it for anything now.

    • Nyn

      Our relationship seems to be very strange when it comes to timing; we dated for MONTHS before we settled into a relationship, then it only took another few months before we loved each other, lived together, and had agreed to spend our whole lives together.

      But I’m still in grad school, and my sister is getting married in 12 months (first in the family), and he’s just started a new job, so we’re holding off on the engagement for at least another two years. That gives us time to settle into our lives together, for me to finish school, to save a bit for a ring and a wedding, and for my sister’s wedding to be uninterrupted- I’d hate for her to feel I’m stealing her thunder.

      This time is tough for me, because I see my sister picking out dresses and flowers and I want to do it too, but it’s amazing for our relationship. We know we’re in this together forever, so we find ourselves acting like a married couple; planning everything way into the future. For instance, he got a company car, and I have a licence but no car- I have no need to drive as I walk everywhere. But he made the point of insuring me on the company car anyway, and insisting that I drive a little to make sure I don’t get rusty, as the insurance is paid for by the company, and in a few years when we pay our own insurance, it will be lower because I haven’t let my experience lapse.

      I feel like if we were actually engaged that we would be too caught up in the wedding to even think about stuff like that, but knowing we’ll be together forever, and not having any wedding distractions, is perfect. It means we focus on the more important stuff, and when we do finally get engaged, it will be far more meaningful, and our relationship will be stronger because we took this time to stay pre-engaged.

  • Michelle

    Proposals make me feel very sorry for most guys (not saying only the guy can propose or that there has to be a guy at all – but im using that as a generic term here). My husband and I didn’t struggle with timing because of great communication (which you have to have when you spend your first 18 months together 6000 miles apart – ugh), and luck of both being in the same place at the same time etc. But OMG some of our friends and their engagements and the relationships that damn near ended over timing and unanswered questions and pressure from families etc – holy crap!

    I’m a firm believer in communication being the key to it all. Understanding where you both are in the relationship, each other’s background and thoughts and feelings about marriage, what each other wants out of life, and (this is probably an unpopular thing to say) what each other wants in a proposal.

  • Jenni

    “What was holding him back?”

    I think this is the key phrase that those of us pre-engaged ladies focus on (and go a little crazy over, speaking from personal experience!). We’re ready for marriage–and maybe our partner is too! So what’s stopping them? “Why wait?” And what I’ve realized is that my boyfriend’s viewpoint is, “Why rush?” Circumstances don’t allow us to even be on the same coast (although that’s coming to an end soon–squee!). So “why rush” to be engaged, is his thinking. Like the previous post on pre-engagement, understanding his viewpoint has helped me to ‘calm down’ significantly–and enjoy this pre-engaged state.

    And knowing that long-distance will end in five months helps, too.

    • I spent a lot of time in the pre-engaged state as well and spent many months wondering “what was holding him back”. But then I realized I had been excited about the pretty fun happy parts of being engaged and married and had not fully put myself in the mindset of making this serious commitment. Once I tried to visualize myself both engaged and married and imagine going through the hard times as well as the good times, I cooled my jets and was more understanding of why my partner was stalling.

    • Jen

      My ex always said “Why rush?” But it turned out he was just stalling because he was afraid of commitment, and then decided he didn’t want any. I tried so hard to be patient, but maybe I should have pushed him more. It’s a hard balance.

  • Class of 1980

    OMG. I saw a show on TV last year about those “proposal planners”. I watched in disbelief at men spending thousands on planning “the perfect proposal”. I thought they should just burn money in a bonfire and propose over the flames. ;)

  • Cassandra

    Ahh! Yes. This is quite similar to us. We were pretty much pre-engaged from 6 months onward, and it was really frustrating to think that mentally we were on similar paths, but we hadn’t reached the place on the journey where either of us felt comfortable saying “Okay, let’s go!” We had been talking regularly for months (almost a year, I guess) about getting married, what the future held, what we wanted separately and together. We knew we were in it together, but he wasn’t quite yet interested in officially asking and officially planning. With our long-distance relationship, the discussions became more frequent, but I was pretty resigned to the next few years of living separately (and unmarried). I had finally stopped being frustrated and decided to just go with the flow of our pretty happy, overall makes-me-grin relationship… But we recently jumped from pre-engaged to mostly engaged – planning our (hopeful) May elopement without a ring, because we’re long-distance and proposing over skype isn’t our thing ;)

  • Julia

    I know I’m not the only one wanting to call bs on this “best time of your relationship” thing. Am I? I appreciate the writer’s perspective, but I feel like I spent about a year in the pre-engaged state (the year that my future husband & I agreed would be a good year to get engaged… and then I waited… and waited… and waited…) and it was at times very tense for us. I have a lot of conflicting reactions to this piece, none of them concise.

    From the “other side” of the pre-engaged, I wonder why I was so anxious during that time. It got to the point where I would feel uncontrollable jealousy when someone else got engaged, leading my boyfriend to remind me that someone else’s relationship isn’t a reflection on ours. Anyway. I could write essays on this topic but I just wanted to throw this comment out and see if anyone else found the pre-engaged state frustrating and tense. And I’m not talking about the day-to-day. Day-to-day, happy as ever, wonderful adventures and we bought a house together, etc. And we did have long conversations about what we both wanted out of a marriage. But more often than I’d like to admit my anxiousness reared its head in a way that left us feeling like we were at an impasse.

    • Amy

      This is EXACTLY how I feel right now. Thank you for posting this.

    • Nina

      Yeah, pre-engagement kind of sucked. Tense, anxiety, self-doubt. If the author’s point is that it’s great because it pushes you to have all these deep conversations… well… um… some of us have those deep conversations before, during, and after the pre-engaged state. The only difference was that, during the pre-engaged state, there was panic and stress laced throughout.

    • Kess

      If you look at some other pre-engagement posts here, there are some that talk about how difficult it can be.

    • Kellyh

      I’m with Julia. Our relationship is going on 7 years. For the last 2 I’ve been seriously thinking about marriage and it has definitely been tense (awful!) at times. Tears, intense discussions, more tears, thinking about bailing, panic, frustration.. yeah. And yet… here we are. Still together through all that plus long distance and grad school and extra external stress on both sides. I am hoping this craziness will come to an end soon. I may look back on this time in my life and think, “character building” or “necessary” but “awesome” is pretty unlikely.

    • Jennie

      Ohhh, the stories I could tell about our pre-engaged state! We have been together more than ten years (10.5 in March!), and we talked about getting married two months in. Moved across the country, bought a house, two cars, and a dog. Everything is blissful and perfect EXCEPT he feels like we’re married and I feel like we clearly are NOT totally married yet. I need that extra little assurance. So I screamed and cried and threatened and moaned and shut up and thought about moving on. We are still IN the pre-engaged state, but he has his grandmother’s ring that he’s having remade. We talk about marriage and weddings often, so just waiting for that official question! I hate myself for the way I get sometimes – jealous of the friend who got engaged on my birthday, jealous of the friend who announced her engagement at a barbecue we had, jealous of everybody everywhere who’s getting married when I’m not. It’s proven impossible to stop my craziness, and I’m glad I’ve at least been able to tone it down. But my heart seizes every time I think “This might be the moment!” I feel like if it’s much further out than Valentine’s Day the suspense might just kill me. :)

  • Amy

    I’m glad that being pre-engaged has worked out really well for you and been a positive thing for you overall.

    For me, it is not working out quite as well. My boyfriend and I have been together for almost 5 years now (and known each other for another 6 years or so before that), and I’ve known he was the guy I wanted to marry for at least 3 years. The last year or so has been PAINFUL. I have gone through several cycles of “OMG WANT IT SO BAD CAN’T STOP OBSESSING” to zen-ish and back again. He and I have had countless talks about what we want and when, and although he is open to those discussions and more than willing to comfort me when I’m upset about not being engaged (even for the millionth time), he is regardless holding VERY firm on the fact that he will not even consider proposing until he has a real job with a steady income.

    And since that fact is, to some degree, outside the realm of control for both of us (he has been searching full time since the end of November), it is driving me quietly nuts. To the point where I am seriously worried that a proposal will come with a sense of mixed resentment and relief rather than a sense of joy. To the point where, as my friends all get engaged, one by one, I am feeling something like a second-class citizen. To the point where I am secretly terrified that it will never happen.

    I don’t know if there is any way that I will look back on this time later and see it as a positive.

    • Carol

      “I am seriously worried that a proposal will come with a sense of mixed resentment and relief rather than a sense of Joy.” THIS.

      • Amy

        I think for me it will honestly depend on whether or not the proposal comes during one of my zen periods (joy) or one of my anxious periods (the other thing). Which means it is to my benefit, of course, to try to be zen as much as possible. But the idea that I will have to be zen about this indefinitely is anxiety-producing in and of itself. And the idea that I won’t be joyful about getting engaged ALSO produces anxiety. It’s this big anxiety ball that I don’t quite know how to escape.

      • Julia

        This is exactly my experience When the proposal happened, it happened in a way that filled me with sadness and a feeling that I had pushed him to basically wordlessly give me a ring. It was terrible and I’m still working on moving past it/figuring out a graceful answer that doesn’t sound bitter when people ask how he proposed.

        Basically, my future husband and I think about marriage differently. I think it is a Big Deal, he thinks we are already quite committed and if we need to be married for me to stick around, he’ll do it. I admit I get jealous reading about men who want to be married and I hold on to this fantasy that he will someday want to be married in the way that I want to be married, but honestly it only causes us grief as I make him feel guilty. This is really the only thing we ever get tense about, but it’s something that hovered during the pre-engaged time and still lingers as we plan our wedding.

        • Anon

          Hey Julia,

          I just have to respond because our situations sound similar, but in reverse. My partner wanted to get married for a long time, and I, fully committed to him and our relationship, didn’t see why we had to go through the performance of a wedding when we were, to me, married already. It was the source of many, many difficult times. We are engaged now, and our engagement story… isn’t the prettiest. My advice to you is this: (a) let yourselves off the hook for your engagement. I seriously want to start my own blog where people tell the truth about their proposal stories, so we squash this stigma that everyone was glorious. Some of them were downright painful, and that’s okay, because big moments aren’t scripted. (B) tell him what, exactly, marriage means to you. It was hard for me to hear that my partner didn’t feel as committed to me as I felt to him because we weren’t married. I could deal with other people not valuing my relationship outside of marriage, but not him. When I realized that, I agreed to get married. (C) This may seem harsh but I don’t mean it to be: you will stop sounding bitter when you aren’t bitter anymore, and you will stop making him feel guilty when you forgive him for not being exactly what you want. It sounds like you’re bitter, and that’s okay, but you need to talk about it, and deal with the fact that you’re marrying someone different than you. If you don’t like his views on what marriage is, you need to address this, because it’s going to come up again, throughout the marriage. Talking about what this marriage meant to each of us was very hard, but in the end we’ve reached a place where we’re both happy… and now, all the tears and arguments surrounding our engagement is a wry look between us. I wish you all the best.

          • Julia

            Thanks for that, I mean it.

  • Madeline

    These “calm down, pre-engagers, everything WILL be okay” articles always come at the best time. I am in this state now, and have been for a year or so now. I think the biggest thing I struggle with now is that I don’t even care about the wedding or being engaged now, I just want to be MARRIED to the man. And I’m a control freak and giving up this huge part of our life is driving. me. crazy.

  • panina

    When I first saw this site I was so excited to see a section for the “pre-engaged”, because I didn’t even think there was a term for this life phase my partner and I are in now. I think there is total validity on both sides of the coin here, that of being frustrated that things aren’t moving at the pace you’d like- and of enjoying this time, where there is some certainty of the future, it’s just not on paper yet.

    In my situation, we have been together for about 2 and a half years, and I feel happy to say we are in mutual agreement (and have been since starting the marriage discussion about 6 months ago) that yes we want to get married, but now can’t be that time. He is finishing his doctorate, I am setting out a new career path- we live in an effing basement apartment.

    But what quells the anxiety of not knowing when, or how, or what it will all look like- our whole future that is, not just the proposal etc, has been talking. With brutal honesty. I finally told him yeah, I’ve been looking at wedding sites, and could tell him exactly which cliff in Bodega Bay, in my home of California (which made some big steps towards joining the equality club today!) I want the wedding to take place in. But it really has helped to acknowledge the practicalities of what is making us wait- and to honor those anxieties, and know that when it is right, it will be. Even when I see age 30 creeping up too quickly, and every other person getting married around me.

    So I think I just wanted to share my story really, and also say I have found my relationship has become so strong by feeling empowered to always talk about the things that make me squirm, and that neither of us is in control of our future’s alone, but we are together.

  • Zoo

    I consider myself “pre-engaged,” so a lot of the sentiments here sound really familiar. I think the boyfriend and I are handling it pretty well, though, and I think there are three things that contribute to that:

    1) We talk. All the time. About our relationship. Where is it going? What is it doing? What will it look like tomorrow? In a year? In ten years? This means we almost always know where we both stand on most issues.

    2) We have a “no bullshit” policy that’s been around since early in our relationship. The “no bullshit” policy boils down to 2 main tenets. A) Never assume you know what the other person is thinking/feeling. Ask instead. And B) If you are unhappy about something, or want something to change, it is up to you to state your desires in plain English and directly to the other person. This communication strategy saves us from a lot of passive-aggressiveness and emotional guesswork.

    3) We present a united front. We talk about how to field questions about when we’re getting married, and make sure everyone knows this is *our* decision, not just his or mine. This means we often get treated as a mature couple, which helps squash the desire to get married just to legitimize our relationship in the eyes of our families and communities.

    All of that doesn’t mean we don’t get frustrated, or disagree, or have awkward conversations about how a proposal might someday happen, hypothetically. But it means we routinely acknowledge that we’re in this together, and that someday we’ll say some important words, sign some important papers, and eat some important cake. So for any other pre-engaged folks out there, I wish you the best of relationships and years of wedded (or unwedded!) bliss.

    • Elise

      Thank you for this comment! Especially this: We “make sure everyone knows this is *our* decision, not just his or mine.”

  • Meg

    My now husband and I also did the warpspeed relationship (exchanging “I love you”s after about 6 weeks, moving in together a week or so later) and then slowed waaaaaaaaaaaaaay down a year and a half later, when he moved for a job and I stayed behind for grad school. Three years later we were back living together and a year after that we married. It was occasionally (often) frustrating, but looking back I wouldn’t change a thing. We learned a lot in those 5.5 years.

    P.S. That book, “I Married Adventure” by Osa Johnson, is AWESOME!

  • Maggie P.

    Hi y’all… been lurking for a month or so, but I’ve never commented, so here goes-

    I think maybe pre-engaged is one of those times that’s good for the relationship, because it’s so bad for the relationship. I figure everyone’s experience is different, and I’m definitely still in the middle of it now, so I can’t speak with too much ‘wisdom from hindsight.’ But last week, for example, the fella and I had a pretty huge fight. Like, scary big. And it’s largely because I’m turning into a crazy person from not being in the same city (it’s drivable, and I should be able to move soon) and from the pre-engaged thing (I’m ready, he’s been waiting for a big promotion for a long time [set to happen next month!]).
    But the big problem isn’t the situation. It’s how we handle it differently. He’s the one-thing-at-a-time, laissez-faire, see-what-happens guy. I am Miss Multitask, have-multiple-color-coded-five-year-plans girl. My mind says “Why can’t you be working on a ring and proposal WHILE prepping for the biggest promotion of your life?” (because that’s what I would do; I wouldn’t be able to help myself!) But really, I think I gotta realize that, that’s just his way. It doesn’t negate the fact that I am to him the most marriageable thing on legs. It’s just that I picked the one-thing-at-a-time, laissez-faire, see-what-happens guy. Probably because I need a little more one-thing-at-a-time, laissez-faire, see-what-happens in my life.
    I guess what I mean is yes, this waiting period sucks for my relationship. I freak at not being able to control every aspect of my life. He feels like he’s doing something wrong. I worry. He bristles. But in the end, the basic difference in how we do things was going to have to be dealt with sooner or later. I’d wager that years after we’re married, we’ll still be doing this dance. But hopefully, we’ll be better at it.
    That’s what I took from the post. And it’s a good thing to remember when your not so in love with your pre-engaged state.

    • You should comment all the time! ::muah::

    • “But in the end, the basic difference in how we do things was going to have to be dealt with sooner or later. I’d wager that years after we’re married, we’ll still be doing this dance. But hopefully, we’ll be better at it.”

      I totally agree with this. We’ve been married over 2 years now, and we still sometimes have fights that basically come down to our basic personality differences (which we were aware of from the beginning stage of dating and worked through from the beginning). For us a lot of misunderstandings begin because of differences in our communication styles (abstract vs concrete), but over time we have gotten better about dealing with it and now we get upset about way fewer things than in the early years. I dunno, I guess we know the other person sees things (or communicates things) differently and we try to remember that as best we can (and not get too mad about it.)

      And I agree with Shotgun Shirley, I would enjoy reading your comments more often! :)

      • Maggie P.

        aw, shucks y’all. ;) Also, strangest thing ever, but I sort of just clicked on Wedding Grads for no particular reason and then I was looking at all the pretty pictures and I thought “I will pick one to read this evening” and I picked the one with the chick with a cool veil and a husband with a foreign sounding name (my fella loves when I tell the story about my dad calling him an “immigrant” our first Christmas). Shotgun Shirley, that lady was you. … I think it’s a sign.
        Also, gah! Your wedding was awesome!

  • Nina

    Um, I hate to be totally dense, but I think I missed the point of this post. Being pre-engaged is totally awesome, because… you end up engaged at the end?

    • Zoo

      I can’t speak for the poster, obviously, but what I got out of the post is that being pre-engaged can be awesome because it can strengthen your relationship. Many pre-engaged couples experience a funky cocktail of intense emotions and societal pressure, but dealing with that can help prepare you for engaged and married life, or just life in general.

    • My take on it was “yes being pre-engaged is hard, but at least that means you’re talking about it.”

      The woman who never went through the pre-engaged state is sometimes the woman who didn’t see it coming, wasn’t prepared for the question, and may have just had the most awkward moment of her life in front of hundreds of people where she broke the heart of a guy she probably really liked but wasn’t ready to commit to yet (and then the video goes viral!).

      I am no longer in the pre-engaged state, but I would like to think this post would have offered me a healthy dose of perspective when I was.

  • M.

    From what I recall, *being* pre-engaged was terrible. *Having gone through* that mess is great, though; it was a useful time. Miserable, but retrospectively really, really useful. (and it might have been slightly less miserable if I’d known how useful it would be and had relaxed into it; but only slightly)

    So, I get the “it’s awesome” thing; but it really was awesome in the “chemotherapy is awesome because it treats cancer which would otherwise kill you” way, not in the “it was all so much fun!” way.

    Note: I think being pre-engaged was technically more fun than chemotherapy would be – but that’s a pretty low bar!

  • A A

    I think the hardest part in my experience is the “surprise” factor. I always felt like my desire to move forward and make sure that our relationship was in the right place was stalled because my fiance wanted to have a surprise proposal–you know like “traditional” ahem. In my culture it is the families which gather and discuss marriage. But it was very important to him so I let it be that way but I made sure to always make my feelings about marriage clear to him. My feelings being that getting married is a discussion and something to work towards rather than a yes or no question. Kudos to Erica for making sure that there is a lot of discussion in the pre-engagement.

  • HolidayJ

    Same here, this post was perfect timing!

    I’m a somewhat new reader/lurker and I was just thinking about the good ol’ pre-engaged days today, while spending 4 hours formatting address labels (just the effing labels!) for our DIY save-the-dates while also listening to my mother fuss that I’m “terribly inappropriate” for thinking that I could crash the night before the wedding in a 2 bedroom hotel suite with my male (gay) honor attendant/best friend.

    (( silent scream ))

    But I digress…how great it was when we were pre-engaged. I actually knew when he put down the first payment on a ring (we were getting pre-approved for a mortgage so he had to fess up). I knew it was coming, but didn’t know when. It was 8 months later when he proposed. And those 8 months were pretty great. We had all of the excitement that comes with knowing *it’s happening* and time to really talk/argue/cry about the important stuff, without the pressure of an impending wedding and all of the insanity that comes with it.

    • Meghan

      My now-fiance and I actually formalized our pre-engagement. After four months of dating, we couldn’t envision our lives without each other, but we also did not want to become engaged immediately. So, he proposed. (As in, it sounded exactly like a marriage proposal, up until he said “enter into a period of consideration with me, lasting no less than x amount of time and potentially leading to an engagement of no shorter than one year.) After said x amount of time, we were having a serious conversation relating to our respective futures, and I said that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, and he said “Did you just propose?” Well, yes. And so we went ring shopping a few days later. The point I would like to raise, however, is that a “formal” (as in discussed) pre-engagement allows for a very frank discussion of a potential marriage and life together without any feelings of awkwardness that one party may not be on the same page. If you are of the same variety of crazy over-thinkers as my fiance and me, perhaps a similar arrangement could work for you.

  • Elaine

    Not to get too off-topic, but y’all, please consider saving yourself some stress by going without the official proposal thing. A few years back, I knew that my now-husband was planning on proposing in the next year, but couldn’t get any more details. After months of my frantically wondering when it was going to happen to the extent where I was taking it out on my relationship with my now-husband, my oldest friend got engaged to her brand-new boyfriend. It totally pushed me over the edge. It also led me to have a conversation with my husband about why it felt totally disempowering for all of the control over the engagement to be in his hands. He understood, and we decided shortly thereafter to tell people we were getting married and start the planning process. The lack of a romantic story to tell is well worth it for the amount of sanity saved, seriously.

    • Julia

      I wish we had done this. I knew he had a ring because we chose it together and it was one-of-a-kind, on sale, buy it now or lose it kind of thing. I spent months wondering what was wrong that he hadn’t proposed yet, trying to put it out of my mind so that I could be surprised when it did happen. It drove me in. sane. to not know when it was going to happen and I don’t know how many times I cried/he felt bad. I told him I didn’t expect a big thing and I would be fine if we just started telling people we were planning to get married, but he insisted that he wanted to be the one to propose.

      And I realize all my comments on this post make me sound unhappy, bitter, ungrateful, etc. I’m not far enough away from the pre-engaged state to reflect more zen-ly, I think.

  • Gemma

    I keep starting to write a comment and then deleting it as my comment expands into my story. The short version is this. My partner and I have been together for 14 years (since we were 18) and it is absolutely forever but I need to be married and he doesn’t think it is important at all. Last Summer when we were on holiday we finally managed to have a conversation that went somewhere after he offered to buy me a ring I liked ‘as a birthday present’ (definitely not as an engagement ring) and I responded with heaving sobs. He admitted that he had been thinking about asking me to marry him for ‘a few years’, I responded with a ‘WTF’, he said it killed him to think he was upsetting me so much, I sobbed some more. Eventually we got to a point where I could speak and we unearthed this. We both want to be married (even if he only wants it because of what it means to me) so we’re in the process of figuring it out. No proposal, no engagement (although I guess there kind of is as we know we’re getting married now), just us. I’m glad we are finally at a point where this can happen but it definitely wasn’t awesome getting here.

  • Anon

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this post, and here’s the conclusion I’ve come to:

    I think the term pre-engaged can be harmful.

    I’ll preface this by saying that I think labels, in general, are harmful, because they encourage us to classify our relationship by dissecting and comparing it. “I love my partner *more* than *just* a *boyfriend/girlfriend* and I’d maybe like to marry them, so I’m ‘pre-engaged’ – that way, people know how serious we are”? Is it that we just don’t feel like there’s a good enough word to capture our varying levels of committment?

    Perhaps it’s because, to me “engaged” means “I have an engagement on Tuesday, June 4th, and that engagement is my wedding”. While I usually wouldn’t care what terms people want to use to describe themselves (yay for self-determination), reading the above posts makes me really sad. Here are so many people who feel/felt powerless and resentful and angry, all because one person had expectations (was ‘pre-engaged’) to someone with other ideas. In fact, it sounds to me like many people who are pre-engaged are pre-engaged to someone who isn’t pre-engaged to them… if they were both feeling pre-engaged, wouldn’t they be… engaged? By calling ourselves pre-engaged, we are putting ourselves in the position as ‘someone in waiting’. We may be waiting with another person (perhaps you both want a particular style of wedding and need to save up financially for that, or whatever), but we’re “on pause”, and yet filled with expectations. And if we’re pre-engaged to someone who isn’t where we are, then we’re just reminding ourselves that we want something that our partner doesnt (yet), and while that happens in many/most relationships, I don’t see how the label is helping the discussion.

    I’m honestly not much of a fan of being ‘engaged’ when you aren’t planning a wedding for the same reason; not because I judge people who aren’t planning weddings, but because I think it often leads to feelings of doubt and inadequacy. If you want to marry someone who doesn’t (yet) want to marry you, that sucks. And I know, because I’ve been there. And there’s a lot to work through there, and none of it is helped by labels, IMO.

    • Amy

      I don’t think the problem is with the label. I think of myself as pre-engaged to some degree, but it’s not something I go around telling everyone that I am. If I eliminated that term from my vocabulary, it wouldn’t make this period of time any less miserable.

      The problem isn’t the label, it’s the fact that two people are in different places with different ideas and understandings about if and/or when things should take place. I am waiting because I am waiting, not because I call or don’t call it pre-engagement.

      My boyfriend has expressed very clearly to me that he wants to marry me, that in fact he feels as committed as if we were already married, but that there are clear and firm prerequisites for him popping the question. He does not like the idea of a long engagement. I, on the other hand, feel that there’s an extra commitment level to getting married (and am chomping at the bit to make that commitment), that his prerequisites are self-imposed, and have no issues with a long engagement. In my mind, the fact that he has expressed to me that he wants to marry me means that we are in many ways engaged already and simply waiting to formalize it with a proposal and a ring and an announcement, and the lack of formalization – combined with a lack of a real solid timeline – is extremely frustrating for me on a number of levels.

      So the term pre-engaged is actually helpful for me in a way, because it helps to a) legitimize, to some degree, that we are very close to being engaged even if I don’t have a ring and we haven’t formally agreed to get married, and b) remind me that this extremely frustrating and upsetting time is one that is common among many people other than me.

      • tirzahrene

        I am going to pre-apologize if this comes out offensively, because I DO NOT mean it that way at all, I’m genuinely curious.

        Why don’t you propose to him?

        • Long time lurker, and first time poster, I felt like I had to respond to this post.

          My name is Sonarisa, and I am pre-engaged. We’ve been dating for 2 years, 3 if you count the time we dated before I studied abroad in China. We’re happy, and have both decided that we want to spend the rest of our lives together, and have decided that marriage is what we want. We are going to get married, and we have known that for over a year now.

          And he still hasn’t asked.

          And I’ve been driving myself insane with questions about his hesitation, my (self imposed) inadequacies, and the never ending waiting. We’ve talked, and I finally reached a zen-state about our relationship- and then his brother got engaged after dating a girl for 6 months. So the crazy is happening again.

          I’ve vented about this to my close girl friends, and a lot of times 1 question keeps coming up:

          “Why don’t you propose to him?”

          It’s just not that simple. Every situation is different, and what works for one person doesn’t work for another. I’m not going to propose because he’s been very passive in our relationship. He’s welcomed opportunities to grow closer as a couple, but he’s not so good at initiating. So perhaps it’s childish, but for me, it comes down to one thing: I want him to propose to me because he wants to marry me.

          I’m not trying to say that this is how everyone feels, and I don’t take any offense to TIRZAHRENE’s post, but sometimes life is more complicated than going out and getting what you want. Sometimes you need other people to want it too.

        • Leila

          As much as I would be excited to propose to my guy of six years, he has made it very clear (after a million late night conversations on the topic) that he has every intention of marrying me, but is not ready to do it yet. I feel like if I were to propose to him, I wouldn’t be respecting the fact that he’s not in that place yet or listening to his honest request for me to be patient until he’s ready to ask. I would worry that he would take it as a form of pressuring him into making a decision I know he doesn’t want to face yet, and though this issue is enough to make me scream into my pillow until I pass out, I think I just have to wait for him to come to it on his own.

  • MDBethann

    Just to add my “engaged for a year” 2 cents: I find it perplexing that if a couple has had the discussion and agree that they want to get married but need to put it off for job, education, or other very valid reasons (especially if a wedding with some sort of trimmings and a party are important to you), the engagement itself has to be put off. Is it the societal pressure of “the ring”? I can see wanting to be financially sound before buying jewelry. But why can’t you get engaged with a ring you have or a piece of costume jewelry (a friend did) and publicly acknowledge your commitment, even if you aren’t going to get married for a few years? One of my friends is nearing the end of a 2 year engagement because they wanted to save up. But they’d made the commitment to each other and were public about it.

    If a couple isn’t on the same page about wanting to marry one another, then I see the point of “pre-engaged.” Frankly, isn’t the whole concept of dating really “pre-engagement”???

    • Amy

      I’m in this situation and I’d be perfectly happy with a $10 cubic zirconium ring today (to be later replaced by a still-afforable-but-more-permanent ring).

      My boyfriend’s reasoning is this: a) he doesn’t see the point of long engagements, and b) while he is unemployed, his anxieties about being unemployed are overwhelming and when he proposes he wants to be able to actually devote thoughtfulness and attention to it.

      He’s a “one thing at a time” kind of guy.

  • Jan

    It will all work out in the end…

  • Sharon

    I have been waiting 3.5 years now – to the day, it turns out. We were best friends for some 15 or so years before that (wondering why our relationships with other people never quite worked out, duh!) We have lived together for over 2.5 years in a house he owns. Everything perfect except that I am not married yet. This summer I will be 38, he’ll be 42.

    I’m usually pretty cool about the “pre-engaged” status, but last year I went to three weddings, and everyone kept looking at us like “you next!”. Heck, my 32 year old brother just got engaged last week (they fight like cats almost daily) and it just twists my mind that I am not even engaged to my soulmate yet (I could count the number of disagreements we ‘ve had in the past 18 years on one hand).

    I said something the other night, and he said “Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere,” and I know that, but I still want to be able to call him husband, not boyfriend. It just sounds much more permanent to me. I guess he just doesn’t quite get that.

  • Jill

    My relationship also moved at warp speed, within 4 months of meeting each other, my significant other and I were talking engagement, marriage and children. I knew we were moving fast, but I figured, “When you know, you just know.” Just shy of our 6 month anniversary, we were fighting over stupid things and I was doubting everything, (A big issue for me, because in all of my past relationships, as soon as there was trouble, I became doubtful and dumped the poor guys and ran away instead of dealing with the issues at hand.)

    I was talking to my mom and telling her my feelings and that I didn’t think things were going to work out, when my mom dropped the bomb that my guy had called her and wanted to meet with her and my father that night. I knew what that meeting meant. He knew I’m old fashioned and having my parents’ approval was important to me. I didn’t talk to him at all that day and my fears were confirmed when I spoke to my mom the next day. He loved me and wanted to marry me and planned on proposing that night.

    I FREAKED OUT!!!! I loved him, but I wasn’t ready to be engaged yet. I was terrified. I cried and cried, getting engaged wasn’t supposed to feel this way. I wasn’t excited, I wanted to hide, I didn’t want to be engaged, let alone married to him in that moment. Even though we had been discussing marriage and getting engaged, I just wasn’t there yet, we still had issues to work through before we could even think about taking that next step. I just regret that I didn’t know that I felt that way and that strongly until I knew he was planning on proposing. So I called him and asked him if he was going to propose, he was so excited and so happy he couldn’t keep it to himself and proposed over the phone. I turned him down, shattered his dream and hurt him deeply. He didn’t understand, he thought we were ready, thought I was ready, because I had been saying I was for the past few months. I got caught up in the idea of getting engaged and the idea of a wedding, versus the meaning behind the engagement and that the wedding is just one day and is the start of a marriage.

    Thankfully, we forgave each other and were able to work through our issues, and didn’t speak about marriage or engagement for a few months while we just worked on being us, and getting to know each other more. I got sick and was hospitalized and he was there the whole time, taking care of me. I got upset and blurted out that “it wasn’t supposed to be like this! We’re not supposed to be in a hospital like this until there’s a baby!” Later that week, we started gradually discussing marriage again, and just after our 1 year anniversary, we started planning on getting engaged. He proposed, and I said yes. That time, I was ready. :)

  • Nancy Drew

    You forgot to add the disclaimer *NOT for those who have been in the pre-engaged state for YEARS* since NO ONE can feel “great” about years and years just wondering “what the heck?” :)

  • Kassandra

    I feel like I should read other comments first as a courtesy and so I don’t repeat other- but mostly I just want to say this!

    I thought I was ready for engagement after 6months (because I was silly/head over heals) and after 2years (because it seemed like the right thing based on others experiences) but I was really wrong in both of those cases. January 2013 marks five and a half years and I am now actually ready to be engaged. My boyfriend and I have discussed marriage, finances, and kids. We bought a house, and have even picked out our wedding site. BUT we are not engaged. And while I know for absolute certain that we are committed for life- I am aching to get engaged! I am happy but a little annoyed as all around us couples get engaged (of course none have been dating as long as us, because at this point only the married couples we know have been together as long as us) I feel uncomfortable referring to or introducing him as “my boyfriend.”it does not convey the weight of our relationship, and is often dismissed a secondary to those who are not close to us. I want to start planning our wedding without feeling like an over zealous wannabe bride (which maybe I am-why can’t I just wait until after the proposal- and yet my boyfriend and I have discussed even minute details like should we get willow branch lights for centerpieces?) I just want it to be official!

  • Malisa

    Reading this article and all the comments make me feel like I’m not crazy. I (and most women I know) am a control freak. After being together for over two years, we have known we want to get married for a while. And the best/worst part is…..I know he has the ring in his possession (thanks to my big mouth father). And he’s had it for at least six weeks. And still no proposal. Feeling helpless is SO frustrating.

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  • Kacie209

    I stumbled across this article with my google search: “when your boyfriend gets defensive when you talk about getting engaged”. I am crazy, I will admit that! I have loved reading everyone’s stories and hearing their input though.

    I have been with my guy for 2 years and 11 months (to the day)… so a month from now will be our 3-year dating anniversary. We’re both in our 30’s, and I recently moved in with him this summer. The talk of marriage has come up a lot, especially when I was debating making the move. I wanted a commitment (aka an engagement), because I was giving up some things to live with him. I owned my own home, and had a cat that he was allergic too that I knew I would have to find a new home for. I didn’t want to give that all up without knowing that he’d be there forever and ever. He also made the comment that someone said above about how I don’t need to worry, cos he isn’t going anywhere. Yes, it was comforting to hear… but I needed more.

    I eventually caved, found a new home for my beloved cat (I still miss the ‘lil guy), got my house ready to be put on the market and moved things over to his place (he also owns a home). He mentioned that moving in and living together would get us to the next step of our relationship, and of course I automatically think an engagement – cos I am ready for that step, and have been ready for a LONG time. Alright… let’s do that and get to that next step.

    After being on the market for 2 months, my house finally sold and we closed on it last Friday. It was great to finally have that stress lifted, and I knew that until my place sold… there would be no engagement. He’s not someone who really saves money, and does spend most of his income for living – and I applaud him for being able to afford the mortgage he pays and still have somewhat a social life to do other things with the money he makes. Now that my place is sold and we’re not paying more bills than necessary, he’ll have the extra cash to either pay off some debt – or (as most friend/family think he should do)… buy me a ring and propose.

    It’s been a week since my house closed, and I know he’s already sick of hearing the “I hope the next time we see you two, she’ll have a pretty ring on her left hand!”. Even last night when we were out with his parents/grandparents, his dad made a comment and the look my BF gave his dad was deadly. Then his mom made the comment that he’ll do it when he decides to do it… and that’s when it really got to me. When he decides to do it. Reality check kicked in. He keeps telling me that I can go buy my own ring now with the money I made from my house, but I don’t want that… I’ll continue to the the hopeless romantic and he’ll propose. Plus, how lame of a story would that be? “How did you get engaged?””Well, he told me to buy my own ring and that was sort of it?” Hmmm….

    I don’t know if it’s the money issue, or if he just really really really really wants to know that I’m the right one, but I guess he’ll do it when he decides it’s the right time. I just need to get my heart to accept that and know that it’ll happen… one day. Soon? Maybe, but I won’t hold my breath. I’m impatient! We do talk about future stuff all the time (kids, new homes, how my parents will be with grand kids, since his parents already have 4 grandkids, etc). Yes, it does get annoying having people ask me when he’s going to propose (am I really supposed to know this??)… and I understand how frustrating it must be for him. I just want to be married to him, to call him my husband and start the rest of our lives together – for however long that will be.

    • Elise

      I have no idea really, since I don’t know you guys, but just a thought – if he is planning on the engagement being special, then the more that everyone talks about it, the more pressure there is, and the harder it will be for him to make it surprising and special.
      He will want an excited reaction, not “FINALLY.”
      Given the conversations you seem to have had, it’s definitely in the works! So maybe just ask everyone else to cool it a little… ; )
      (Hope that wasn’t an unwelcome comment – I know I don’t know your situation.)