Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Wedding Engagement Angst

I love this soap-box tirade over at Jezebel about the whole engagement process (thanks, M.J., for sharing).

Hortense writes:
About a month or so ago, my boyfriend of 9 years decided to go all official on me and asked me to marry him. And thus began my weird life as an Officially Engaged Person...

...But perhaps the worst part of Wedding Mania is that the true meaning of getting married gets lost.

For example: as soon as I started telling people I was engaged, they had two reactions: 1. "Let me see the ring!" and 2. "Have you set a date yet?!" I understand that these are the standard responses, though my boyfriend, er, fiance, was greeted by "Oh hey, awesome. Congrats," by comparison. For being an Officially Engaged Person of female variety, apparently, means that you're suddenly a walking date book and advertisement for a jewelry store. No longer are you Hortense, girl on the go! No! You're "bride-to-be, who has a big party to plan!" To which I say this: Fuck. That. Noise.

You heard me! Fuck that noise! For one thing, my engagement ring was a Cherry Ring Pop, which, btw, was what I said I wanted nine years ago in a random conversation with my now fiance, who remembered. No, he didn't go to Jared, ok? He went to the candy store. And for that, he rules your face...

...All I'm saying is, world, for some Officially Engaged People, the world does not revolve around our upcoming nuptials. Yes, we're excited. And we're happy that you're excited too. But some of us just want to do things our way. We go to your weddings and enjoy the open bar and celebrate your love in the way you've planned it out, so just let us do our own thing, okay? I know that weddings are mass-marketed, and there are expectations placed upon us that society thinks we need to meet, and I am not dumping on people who are really in love and celebrate it in the traditional way, like my older sister did and my younger sister plans to do because that's your thing and it's awesome, and your weddings were and will be fun and beautiful, but for fuck's sake, universe, some of us just don't feel like picking out table settings or touring country clubs or meeting with florists. What is an exciting time of planning and sharing for some couples is a total drag for others, dig?

When Matt and I got engaged, I was honestly reluctant to start telling people because I didn't want them gushing over me. It's sad to me that a person can do all sorts of meaningful and important things with their lives and yet getting engaged seems to trump them all.

Case in point: I send out an e-mail Friends & Family Update once a month (that's the goal, anyway) to stay connected with my nearest and dearest across the world (I started it before Facebook made it much easier). Over the years, I've announced amazing job offers, my decision to go on a self-subsidized sabbatical and travel for a year, awards I've won, etc. When I announced that I was getting married, I received more responses than I ever had before.

It's not that getting engaged isn't important. Deciding to forge a joint life path with another person is a big deal. But that decision usually happens before the actual engagement. In many ways, a wedding is just an external and public manifestation of something very internal and intimate.

When people hear that you're engaged and they ask to see the ring or they ask about the date, it feels like they're more excited about the wedding part than the marriage part. Maybe that's what makes me a little sad. The wedding is not the piece de resistance. It's not the culmination or the end goal. It's just the beginning. It's like a bon voyage party on the dock. You bring all your friends and family together to celebrate the impending journey (a journey for which they will be fellow passengers).

I wonder what I should say to the next person who tells me s/he is engaged. How about: "Congratulations! I am so happy that you have found someone who inspires you to make a life-long commitment."

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Anonymous said...

Just as bad (sometimes worse?) are the pre-engagement naggings from those same folks. As soon as you've been dating for 3months+ it's constantly, "So, when's the big day?! Eh? Eh??" (wink, nudge)

In all fairness, though, I think sometimes people don't know what to say when they're excited for you. I think a much more revealing question is, "How did he ask?"
The answer always reveals so much about the relationship... and that's what it's about, right? The love?

Dyanne said...

Great post, thank you! My comment got too long, so I decided to post about it instead: http://amindfulbride.blogspot.com/2009/02/reason-1-why-i-am-bad-bride-i-just-dont.html

Unknown said...

Thank you for your thoughts!

I do like all the pretty details and fluff of going to visit sites BUT I AM TOTALLY with you on the marriage vs wedding issue. They really are two different things in this world the way media changes your focus.

How many dollars of your $30,000 (avg. wedding cost) budget actually are going to marriage counseling? Something to think about! :)

Kristy said...

YES! That is EXACTLY how I'm feeling right now. I've been engaged for just over a week, now, and seriously. The DAY we were telling people, everyone was asking when. Um, how about I don't know, because I just freaking got engaged a few hours ago?

I could go on, but I won't. =)

Ashley Whiteside said...

I think your reaction would be quite perfect. It reminds everyone of the REASON, and puts so much less focus on the fluff. Geez. I like this girl's rant.

Jessie Blum @ Eclectic Unions said...

Yeah - the initial reaction to the engagement is so over the top and huge - when really it's such a personal thing, but the way that our culture deals with it is just crazy. My boyfriend (yes, we're getting married) and I made the decision to set a date last summer.. and starting at the beginning of this year, we've been telling people, and when I tell them there was no proposal, and technically no ring (I have a ring he gave me for unrelated reasons that I wear on my left ring finger), people get confused. When I just mention it casually in conversation, but haven't formally announced it.. people get confused.

Pichchenda Bao said...

Right. On. I love it.

Mrs. Andi said...

I'm in the same type of situation! We finally picked the date this weekend & I wanted to share with some nearest & dearest at work. Those people just happen to NOT be my immediate co-workers. I would love to tell them about it, but I'm 95% sure I won't be inviting them & I don't want them to start up about it. Every other time I've said something, like we've picked our venue, the questions start pouring out & I get way too overwhelmed & have to run away! I get mad that folks can appreciate your happiness without vying for an invite or asking really personal details.

Marina said...

On the one hand, I totally agree. On the other... I'm going to quote you here:

"But that decision usually happens before the actual engagement."

For me, what engagement means is not engaged to commit to each other for life, but engaged to throw a really awesome party. It makes sense to me to ask about the date of the party, because in most cases I assume the lifelong commitment has already been made.

"In many ways, a wedding is just an external and public manifestation of something very internal and intimate."

Yes--and I'm not inviting anybody else to the internal and intimate part of it. ;) So again... I guess I can understand people being more excited about the party than about the marriage--the marriage isn't something they can get involved in, and the party is.

Anonymous said...

haha. it's like when books end with: "and he got down on one knee and proposed. The End." no, it's not The End, it's the beginning. mainstream america forgets that when portraying it in movies and books. it's like the engagement is the end of the first movie, and the sequel is never written...you know, the sequel where the wedding happens and real life begins? kind of like marley and me...

i love wedding planning, but it's hard for me to be the center of attention. and telling everyone what to do when in regards to "my big day" is just not a skin i'm comfortable in. even talking about the wedding too much makes me nervous, because i don't want to comandeer a convo...other people have lives (much like i do) outside of my wedding.

Anonymous said...

I hear you!! This is exactly the reason we have yet to tell anyone about our engagement last July. We had a beautiful weekend camping and while on a bush-walk, my partner got down on one knee in front of a beautiful waterfall and presented me with a ring he had made. We were so happy but after a few days realized we were in no hurry to tell anyone. We thought about this a bit more and realized we just didn't want to start the whole wedding conversation and were unsure if we actually wanted a wedding (a marriage yes, a wedding maybe not). Anyway, we are now just waiting until the right time to organise something and then tell people the date (probably about 6wks from the announcement).

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you Sara and others, for articulating what I've been struggling with ever since getting engaged. I didn't even tell anyone for a few days... the my brothers via email... then my best friend. She was appalled that I had waited five days, but I just wanted to savor our delicious decision before being inundated with questions. So much more to say... the rest is on my blog.

Krista said...

I enjoyed your post.

I like to think that people get excited because it's an exciting time in which they can participate WITH YOU (not watching from the outside). These people can witness your vows, and with time, witness your marriage.

When you graduated, or took a sabbatical, or got a great job offer, they were happy for you (I think that most of them really were!), but they couldn't participate other than looking at pictures ... I mean, how do you invite 50-100 or more people to watch you graduate ... and how will all those people join you on sabbatical?! :) But a wedding, a marriage, they can truly participate and share your love.

That's how I prefer to look at it. I am sure some are just happy you're doing the wedding "thing" and they like weddings because they're good parties. But I think most people are excited for the right reasons. (Rose coloured glasses - maybe)

zoliepup said...

I experienced the same response from people, but I took it slightly differently. I thought that all the excitement and gushing was a manifestation that people now saw me as legitimate. Before I was just a 30 something spinster, but now that fiance and I were engaged, well... now I really *was* someone.

I resented that sentiment intensely. Yet it was a constant, at restaurants, any retail outlet, or with friends. Suddenly we were "serious people" whereas before we were, I don't know... just people?

It was definitely a weird phenomenon and though I think the origin is different, my reaction and approach are similar.

Anonymous said...

As someone who eloped, and whose elopement was met by radio silence from all but a few family members and other relatives, this hit me very close to home. Throughout our entire engagement, the only thing people could focus on was the fact they wanted to come to a huge party, and not the fact that we were starting down a really amazing trail for the rest of our lives. When word got out that I didn't want a white dress or didn't have the money for an open bar, man people said some crazy thing.

So, we did it our way. And despite the fact that I loved every single moment of our elopement and wouldn't change a thing, it has been heartbreaking to really see the lack of response from people when you do things in a non-tradition way. But I do really encourage people to remember that they have to do what works for them and feels best or them and honors the love they have created.

Spiffy said...

@Marit sorry to hear that happened for your elopement! Seriously- no matter how the wedding is carried out- the marriage should be a thing to be celebrated!

I was engaged for months before the "world" knew. Our parents, family and closest friends knew but as for casual acquaintances and coworkers- we didn't announce anything for nearly 4 months. We just didnt feel the need since we figured those people wouldn't be on our guest list.

As soon as we "came out" it was like we suddenly had all these new excitable best friends. When is it? where is it? And when do I get my invitation? -- thats the true crux of it- they want to get invited to the party! Then there are the other traditional questions: What are your colors? What's your theme? blah blah blah.

My favorite reaction still has to be the one from my MIL-to-be... "Why so far away?" (engaged Oct 08 vs married Aug 09) ... "I have to wait until next year for grandchildren?" I love a woman who obviously does not consider the wedding to be the priority.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE this post. Thank you!! This is EXACTLY how I feel and exactly why my fiance and I just decided to elope! I cannot take 8 more months of wedding mania because my family or friends cannot find other ways to connect with me (i.e., I'm training for a half-marathon and NOBODY has asked me about that!).

Thao said...

I know what you mean. In many ways, I "buy" into much of the hype, but I would like to think that I pick only the things that are important to me. Recently, my boyfriend and I celebrated our engagement in Mexico. I decided to leave my engagement ring at home, because I'm the type of person that would lose it in the ocean on the first day. On the trip, people kept asking us if we were honeymooners. And every time I happily replied that we just got engaged, they searched for the ring on my finger. They always looked deflated when there wasn't one. It made me feel like I wasn't really engaged without my ring, which is ridiculous, since I've never felt more connected to my boyfriend and more excited about our future. I guess it just goes to show that, to many, an earnest commitment is not valid without some piece of bling. Sad.

Anonymous said...

This is so very, very true and a great way to keep in mind that the wedding isn't about menu cards or linens (which can be awesome) but about your relationship. It really does help keep things normal. When I got engaged, I didn't want a ring because it seemed like such a focal point for other people/ it almost seemed about comparing rings and not about love. On another note, for years I always noticed how we would only hear from alumna (including myself) when these REALLY accomplished got engaged....

Anonymous said...

I haven't experienced this part yet, but from watching other people I would guess that the announcement of pregnancy will produce a response that overwhelms the response to the engagement announcement. And I would guess that all of the nosiness (hello touching my stomach without permission!), unsolicited opinions (hello five million opinions of names, nursing, delivery methods, etc., etc.) and involvement (hello family members when I've had two hours of sleep) is a lot more intense when having a baby. Right now I'm learning how to deal with people getting involved in my business - most importantly how to assert myself effectively with my future in-laws - all of which is going to build a foundation for my fiance and I to deal with these folks (or other people in general) in the context of our relationship for the rest of our lives.

Miss B said...

I totally share your sentiments.
I've been engaged a while now, and everyone's stopped caring about it anymore because we haven't immediately set the date and hurled ourselves into elaborate wedding plans.

"Yes--and I'm not inviting anybody else to the internal and intimate part of it. ;) So again... I guess I can understand people being more excited about the party than about the marriage--the marriage isn't something they can get involved in, and the party is."

This really annoys me actually!
I got the same response out of nearly everybody when I announced we were getting married -
"Oh congratulations! Am I invited to the wedding? When? ..."
I don't see our celebration of spending our lives together as an excuse for my friends to have a big old free party!
Its such a SELFISH thing to think like that - close friends and family are involved in our ongoing and evolving lives. And they're the ones I want to celebrate with, not party-going freeloaders.

Lisa said...

My fiance bought me a ring at an antique store that I pointed out three years ago. It's an old, simply-cut emerald that cost less than $200. When he presented it to me, I felt that it was so much more meaningful than something expensive because I had picked it out so long ago, and he remembered!

As my friends started getting engaged and getting cookie-cutter expensive diamonds, I actually started to feel that my ring wasn't enough, like it wasn't as legitimate as theirs, which is ridiculous. It's so easy to get caught up in others' expectations and to forget the meaning in what you're doing.

I keep reminding myself that we're doing this our way, on our terms, and that this is about us and not what we're expected to do.

sera said...

I think that people just want to believe the "perfect" wedding day will be both the end and a symbol of what the marriage will be (without any changes to the people at all). It's a totally unrealistic expectation given that their own lives are not so "perfect."

Everyone asks to see my ring and realizes with disappointment that it's a plain silver $19 ring. They ask when the date is, and I usually don't tell them because these people (in my office) are not invited.

And then there's my mom, who recently told me that my cousin's that have been married for three-ish years and have a one-year old daughter are splitting up. While I think this is tragic, the words that came out of my mom's mouth were "but they have everything! a new house, a beautiful daughter, great jobs, they have it so easy and perfectly!" To which I frowned and said, "You don't know them, how do you know if they were so perfect?"

Because weddings are "perfect" and marriages are hard. I am so excited to marry my man, but I have no illusions that my wedding will be perfect, and I have no illusions that my marriage will be perfect. So there.

alexa said...

whew! man, I am so lucky to be part of an artists/freethinkers/freaks community! We told something like 20 or 25 people before anyone asked about the ring, and when the answer was [is], "we're still looking for the right one", that was met with great approval -- cuz, rest of your life, you're wearing this! ;p

For, when?, I came up with the response, "after we figure out how we want to celebrate, and whenever we want!" ;D

Good times! we're still just chilling and enjoying; it hasn't even been a month yet! ;)

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