At a party the other night, I was standing around with a group of gals and a friend asked for advice. She had just started dating someone and she wanted to know the secret to my happy relationship. I’ve been dating my sweet boyfriend for three years and living together for one, and we’re about as happy as clams in saltwater.
I told her that it’s simple: we have fun together. He makes me laugh. I said our relationship works because we really, really like being together.
At this moment another friend said loudly to the group, “Well it’s not really working out for you guys. After all, you’re not engaged.”
Ouch. It stung, but not that badly. After all, I get some version of this comment, this shame-on-you-for-being-unengaged, at least a few times a week. Friends, family, coworkers, even strangers ask, “When are you planning to get married?” all the time. While it’s sweet that people recognize that we’re in love, it’s a one-way conversation. As a pre-engaged girl, I’m expected to keep my mouth shut and smile. If I say anything, be it, “Oh eventually; we’re very happy,” or “We’re planning on it,” or (G-d forbid) “I’d like to get married,” then suddenly I’m pressuring him. The worst thing a not-engaged girl can do is pressure him.
Frankly, I’m a little tired of all of it. And I know it’s not just me. So for all of us in long-term relationships, and for my sanity, I write the following.
Don’t: Assume that I’m angry, bitter, jilted, lonely, sad, or otherwise suffering. I count my blessings every single morning and night. I’ve found the love of my life, and he loves me back. We’re planning our future together and spending as much of our present together as possible. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my whole life. Assuming that I’m upset because I’m not engaged is frustrating, because I can’t convince anyone otherwise. The more I insist that I’m happy, the more people tilt their head with a sad smile and, while rubbing my shoulder, sighing, “Oh don’t worry sweetie, the ring is coming.” It’s as if they think the longer it takes to get engaged, the less he loves me, and the more delusional I am. Be kind to the pre-engaged and use this line instead: “I’m so happy to see you like this! You’ve found the person you want to spend your life with. It only gets better from here.”
Do: Please encourage me to talk to my boyfriend about our future and delete the word “pressure” from your conversations about that. Call me new-fashioned, but I believe that as an educated woman in my late-twenties with my own assets, ideas, experience, and opinions, I shouldn’t be waiting on my partner to make one of the biggest decisions of our lives on his own. What if I have expectations about marriage based on my religion, values, or traditions? Shouldn’t he know that before he proposes? What if I want to be the one to propose? What if I don’t want to get married? What if I have some debt that I want to pay off before we make it legal? What if he does? I fully believe that if this is someone that I legitimately want to spend the rest of my life with, I should be able to talk to him about anything. Talking about marriage is not “pressuring for a ring.” It is creating a sustainable relationship. I am not a coy, blushing girl waiting for my over-the-top surprise proposal. I’m ballsy and strong and independent. He loves me because I’m opinionated, so why would I hide my opinions about our future? I don’t. Honesty isn’t pressure.
Don’t: Please stop suggesting that I propose to him. Or that I make him a roast chicken. Or that I take him on vacation. Or that I should never have moved in with him. I’m not looking for a “solution” to my relationship. My relationship is not a “problem.”
Do: If you’re engaged, please talk to me about your relationship, proposal, engagement ring, honeymoon, venue, traditions, and veil, and let me ask questions without calling me pathetic or obsessed. Let me talk about whether or not to change my name. Let me ooh and ahh over your engagement ring and gush over your details. Let me ask you questions like, “Why did you/didn’t you do this/that?” Let me enjoy this blissful state where I can imagine that eloping to Paris is an option for us. Help me figure out what’s important to me before I have to actually make these decisions. Why not? If you want to talk about your wedding, chat away. I can listen to you talk about wedding details for hours, because I know that your experience will make my life easier down the road. But please, under no circumstances imply that I’m jealous. It’s not a competition.
Don’t: Please don’t apologize and look at me sympathetically when news of someone else’s engagement reaches me. There aren’t a finite amount of engagements and this girl hasn’t “stolen” mine from me. Seriously. Let me be happy for that couple without looking at me as if “thou protest too much.”
Do: Last of all, please be nice to my boyfriend. Tell my mom how well he treats me. Tell me how much you like him. Treat him like a grown-up. He doesn’t need or want you to make “excuses” for him. He hasn’t done anything wrong. He doesn’t need to hear that people think he has commitment issues, doesn’t love me, can’t afford a ring, isn’t mature enough, or “is just not that into” me. What he wants is for me to be happy. That’s why he’s the one for me.
Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “Freud said he didn’t know what women wanted, but I do. They want a whole lot of people to talk to. What do men want? They want a lot of pals, and they wish that people wouldn’t get so mad at them.” This pretty much sums it up. Talk to me and let me talk about my future. Encourage me to talk to my boyfriend. Be nice to him. And then relax and look forward to one big-ass hug on my wedding day.
This post originally ran on APW in November 2012.