Every time I write about engagements, women who are in serious relationships, but who aren’t ready to be engaged, lament the fact that strangers cannot seem to get on board with the status of their relationships. It’s always a great discussion and I find myself cheering for these women who are bucking tradition. But every time, I wonder if someone—anyone—is going to come out and say, “You know what? I’m not engaged and I’m not okay with it.” No one ever does though, and I think it’s because nice women/loved women/smart women/modern women aren’t supposed to talk about that.
Luckily for all of us, I’ve finally gotten to a place where I’m both clear headed and pissed off enough to write what I want: some new rules governing our society’s conversations about women and engagement, weddings, and marriage.
1. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO A SAY IN YOUR FUTURE. It’s not just that I have a right to know where my relationship is heading; it’s that I get a to have a fucking say in where my relationship is heading. By accepting the “pop the question” or “put a ring on it” mentality, men are given all the power and it sends a clear message that what women want doesn’t matter. But it does matter.
2. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO A SAY IN YOUR FUTURE EVEN IF YOU WATCH “SAY YES TO THE DRESS.” If you’ve ever watched a wedding show, been a bridesmaid, or looked at a wedding album posted on Facebook, it’s assumed that you’re “obsessed with weddings” and therefore don’t get to have an adult, mature conversation about them. I’m so over watching women’s feelings get dismissed just because we live in a culture that glorifies weddings. Look, I eat yogurt. I like flowers, and I say pretty much everything the girls say in Sh*t Girls Say. And these things don’t make me more of a woman or less of a person. They don’t mean I’m incapable of knowing what I want in life. And neither does an interest in weddings.
3. WOMEN AND MEN’S FEELINGS ABOUT MARRIAGE SHOULD BE TREATED AS EQUALLY IMPORTANT. It’s assumed that women’s timelines are ridiculous. That we wake up one day, see a couple friends get engaged, and decide OMG WANT without giving it any serious thought. But men’s reasons are often treated as logical and smart. How is your worrying about your fertility worse than his worrying about his finances?
4. WOMEN AND MEN ARE BOTH PLAGUED BY CULTURAL NARRATIVES. I’ve seen so many discussions about how women are affected by fairy tales or other cultural influences. “Oh, she only wants to get married because [insert some sexist assumption here; be sure to reference Disney].” On the other hand, I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve heard say that they aren’t ready to get married because they are worried about money or job security, or because they want to be able to afford a bigger ring—things that all scream “male provider stereotype” to me. We need to consider the fact that men might be as influenced by fairy tales and gender expectations as women are. Let’s stop blaming Cinderella and take a look at what’s going on with Prince Charming, too.
5. WHEN YOU’RE IN A SERIOUS RELATIONSHIP, YOU HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO CREATE A NEW TIMELINE THAT REFLECTS BOTH OF YOUR NEEDS. It’s fine to have your own timeline for big life events, but we should all expect those timelines to change when we get into a serious relationship. It’s just unrealistic to expect that you and your partner will be on the exact same page about everything you want for the future. And I don’t think you’re doomed if you’re not on the same page. You simply have to compromise. (Something they recommend you learn to do before getting married.)
6. YOU HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO NOT LET THE IDEA OF HOW THINGS “SHOULD” BE GET IN THE WAY OF REALLY HEALTHY, NECESSARY CONVERSATIONS. Apparently, the acceptable window of time for both parties feeling ready is very small. If she’s ready too soon, she’s desperate. If he’s not ready soon enough, it’s never going to happen. If he’s ready before she is, there is something wrong with her. Yeah, I’d been fed that bullshit too and honestly, it really got to me.
The truth is, my boyfriend and I had a lot of long, emotional conversations as we negotiated and created a new timeline that both of us were comfortable with. While the conversations were incredibly productive, I felt so guilty every time we had them because this wasn’t how things were “supposed” to work. I was supposed to “let things happen” or “be patient.” He was supposed to be ready at the same time I was.
But once we stopped fighting the very idea of having these conversations and arguments, I felt like we took our relationship to a whole new level. And I’m pretty sure that learning to shut out others’ opinions and communicate about what we really want will help us immensely when we are married. (Oh and for the record, talking—and even fighting—about your future isn’t as unromantic as people might think. It’s not exactly fun, but there’s something deeply emotional about saying, “I’m willing to rearrange the plans I had for my life for you,” and having someone say the same thing back to you. That’s a hell of a lot more romantic to me than hiding my needs for a year so I can be surprised with some sort of hot air balloon spectacle.)
7. YOU HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO STOP SHAMING WOMEN WHO WANT TO GET MARRIED. I’m not sure the stereotype of the girl desperate to be married exists IRL. But if she does, I think we created her—by constantly reinforcing unrealistic romantic ideals and then judging any relationship that fails to live up to them. We praise women whose men “got it right,” while simultaneously shaming women for “sitting around waiting” and “nagging him to marry her.” And we don’t empower each other to challenge the social mores that strip us of our right to have a say.
So whether you’re cool with your relationship status or want it to change, you’re allowed to own your feelings without guilt and judgment from others. Because if we don’t owe that to each other (though let me be clear, we do) at the very least, we owe it to ourselves.
This post originally ran on APW in November 2012.