The average length of an engagement in the US has been rapidly declining over the last five years according to the WeddingReport.com. In ’05-’06 the length was 18 months, in ’09-’10 it dropped to just 15 months. Pure speculation here, but I think much of this drop has to do with two things. First, more second marriages are taking place which doesn’t typically necessitate yearlong prep times to arrange for the perfect day. They’ve already been there and gotten the T-shirt. And second reason is more first time couples are paying for the wedding themselves; meaning they aren’t held up waiting for mom and dad’s pastor to become available and an opening in grandma’s hundred year old church sanctuary.
Quite normally the first question asked after a couple announces their engagement is “When’s the date?” I can recall having the date set, or close to it, the night I popped the question. As if pushing a lever, once the ring is put on her finger countless gears are set into motion to manufacture marital bliss.
A phenomenon has come about of late which appears to be gaining traction in our ‘shack up’ culture. It’s a development that leaves me wondering who exactly is getting the better end of the marital deal.
The Queen and I aren’t married – or engaged – it’s inevitable and we’ve talked about it. But the stars haven’t come into perfect alignment yet and neither of us seems overly worried that after three years we haven’t gotten on with it already. By our calculations we are several years away from making the next phase of our life a reality. And the only people bothered by it all is everybody other than those it impacts most – notably her and I and our kids.
So if her and I are both dancing to the same beat, each knows the other is totally for seeing this thing through the long haul, is there really any use her and I have in an engagement right now? Is there a need for me to plop down two months salary for a ring announcing a marriage that we couldn’t predict a date for if we had a crystal ball? Maybe I’m a bit old fashion but the purpose of an engagement is to get married, right?
So why is it I see so many in a perpetual engagement? Those couples who are engaged and when asked about the big day respond, “we don’t know yet”, or “we haven’t talked about it.” I want to ask them how exactly did the conversation go when he got on one knee, opened the little blue box, and said “will you marry me?” Did he follow it up with a disclaimer outlining the terms of this said engagement clarifying what he means by ‘marriage’?
I know numerous couples that have been engaged for years, in fact lots of years. When asked about the big day they, usually her, blow off the question with “we’re still talking about it”, or “we’ve got too much going on right now”. Frankly I leave those conversations wondering if they’re engaged or did he just shut her up? But then there are those few who don’t want to be married, just engaged treat their relationship like an offshore tax shelter protecting their ‘assets’ or think they think this way they get all the fun without any of the heavy lifting.
I’ve seen this played out several times like a bad date movie staring Ryan Reynolds. They are dating, maybe living together (usually living together), life is going great and suddenly she wakes up one morning and realizes she’s been giving away free milk for too long. She begins dropping innuendos and subtle remarks as they pass the mall jewelry store, she might bring home a Modern Bride magazine for the coffee table, or she asks him what would make a good honeymoon spot. And should she actually bring up the subject he’ll usually feign the stomach flu and rush off to bed, or talk about how he’s too busy right now and next week might be better to have this conversation. But inevitably the nice girl routine wears thin and being fired up after a girl’s night out motivational seminar and an hour conversation with mom the gloves come off. Now things get nasty. She begins making demands, talking about how she wants to be at this point by this age, questions about where this thing is going, and if she’s really desperate so come the ultimatums.
The guy, sensing things are about to get super ugly, begins weighing his options. On the one hand he can call her bluff and see if she folds or dumps him. Or he can throw in the towel and prepare to spend the next years of his life in showers of the bridal and baby kind. But suddenly like a sign from above he wonders what would happen if he gets engaged…then goes AWOL on setting the date. Simply avoids the conversation entirely holding her off for as long as he can? His logic is simple, she has the ring so she’s preoccupied for a good twelve months showing it off to her others and talking about weddings superficially but never hers specifically. He might even explain that he wants to have the ring paid off before they get married and she’ll love him even more for being so responsible.
Yet the big day never happens, jobs eventually change, holidays fall on top of each other, and life gets in the way. So she waits. Then one day she wakes up and it dawns on her she’s been engaged for five years and they are no closer to getting on with it than they were the night he asked. And in that moment she finally understands she was never really engaged, he just shut her up.