I’m at the point in my 3-year relationship where people seem to be waiting for the news with bated breath after every anniversary, getaway or holiday.
I even tell loved ones, well before one of these moments, “No, we’re not getting engaged.” And all the same, like clockwork, the messages trickle in afterwards. My own mother got excited when I called to say hi after a mini-weekend anniversary trip — and we talk regularly. And yes, I told her I wasn’t going to get engaged.
I don’t mind, I even find it amusing, but all the same puzzling.
Why are people so concerned about my relationship trajectory? Why is there so much emphasis on engagement?
A not-so-Innocent history of engagement
The history of wedding engagements gets its start in 1198 AD, when cardinals elected Pope Innocent III to lead the Catholic Church. In addition to expanding the extreme violence and oppression of the Crusades, he also proclaimed that Western marriages needed a facelift. Pope Innocent III declared that a bride-to-be must receive a ring and that there must be time between the proposal and the wedding itself.
The influence of the Catholic Church is clearly strong, because we’re pretty much still taking his declaration to be standard wedding procedure. It’s strange how there’s even stigma when a couple gets married quickly after getting engaged.
No one needs to tie the knot to this practice
There are so many things that we do, every single day, just because we accept it as the norm or because everyone else is doing it. I get it — it can be very hard to think outside the box if you’ve never seen what else is out there.
All the same, there’s no one way to have a relationship. Family friends of mine have celebrated more than three decades of marriage — and they knew each other a month before tying the knot. Another family friend is single, retired, and loving life. My college roomie got married after knowing someone for 3 months and is still with her husband. An ex of mine is seemingly very happily married to his wife, who popped the question to him after several months of dating. Old coworkers of mine thrived in their open relationships.
In fact, we can probably all think of “conventional” relationships that struggle or falter more than “unconventional” ones. Who doesn’t know of at least one couple that should have broken up or gotten divorced years ago, despite seeming to follow all the rules?
The problem shouldn’t be my lack of engagement (or lack of wanting).
The problem should be enforcing convention for the sake of convention.
The problem is thinking there’s only one linear and identical path to happiness.
And I say this only with love, because I know so many of my loved ones want marriage for me out of love. They’ve loved their married life and want that for those that they care about.
I am not engaged, and I don’t plan on it anytime soon. For all I know, it might never happen! I don’t care enough about it presently to give much thought on the matter. All I know is I love my boyfriend, I love living with him, and I love our life together. We have dreams of the future, and I don’t think either of us sees engagement or marriage as the thing that bonds us together.
For some, engagement and marriage is the commitment. For me, commitment is coming home to a clean house after a long hike, to a man who said “I know you mentioned yesterday that things were looking a little messy.” It’s long conversations and lots of laughter and working through disagreements and snuggling on the couch. It’s always seeing each other as who we are, and loving what we see.