By many standards, I am That Girl Who Is Desperate to Get Married.
Personally, I think I’m just a young woman who is nearly ready to be engaged, but the world is telling me otherwise.
Right now, I feel like I’m getting a hit with an onslaught of wedding-related messages. On the one hand, there’s the barrage of “have a wedding be a bride have a wedding most important day of your life have a wedding get swept off your feet have a wedding!!!!!” advertising (fun fact: images of brides can help sell anything, even if the product isn’t related to weddings). On the other hand, there are the “let’s gossip about That Girl Waiting Around for Her Boyfriend to Propose” conversations I hear women having constantly.
And in the middle of this, there is me, a woman who feels a lot of guilt and stress about wanting to be married. Because I feel like even though I know in my gut that I want to be married for good reasons, as soon as I talk about engagement, people just assume I’m some anti-feminist nitwit who has bought into the hype. I hate that.
I’ve written about engagements and weddings a few times in the past year — how to deal if it feels like everyone in your life is getting engaged, questions to ask that aren’t “So when are you getting married?” and my feelings on that question, and what purpose proposals serve for modern couples. In the comments after each post, women who are in serious relationships but aren’t ready to be engaged lament the fact that strangers cannot seem to be OK with their statuses, even though they are. 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 OK with it.” No one ever does though.
Then I realized that maybe no one is saying that she isn’t OK with her status because nice women/loved women/smart women/modern women aren’t supposed to talk about that.
So…that’s why I’m going to talk about it today.
After spending the past few months watching friends get engaged, watching friends wait to get engaged, talking to married people, talking to divorced people, reading everything I could get my hands on about marriage/gender roles/societal expectations, and looking at my own relationship status, I’ve finally gotten to a place where I’m both clear-headed and pissed off at the world enough to write about what I want to be the new rules of our society’s conversations about women and engagement, weddings, and marriage.
Rule #40: You have a right to have a say in your future. I get so frustrated by the way everyone treats engagement and marriage like it’s only one person’s decision (usually the man’s). Um, 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, we give men all the power and send a clear message that what the woman wants doesn’t matter. But it does matter. And taking part in those conversations doesn’t make you desperate.
Rule #41: You have a right to have 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 basically assumed that you’re “obsessed with weddings” and therefore don’t get to have an adult, mature conversation about your future. I’m so over watching women’s feelings get dismissed just because we live in a culture that glorifies weddings everywhere you look. 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.
Rule #42: Women’s and men’s reasons for feeling ready or not ready need to be treated as equally important. Sometimes I feel like it’s automatically assumed that women’s timelines are completely 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 really logical and smart (making women dumb and illogical by default). But how is your worrying about your fertility any less of a reason than his worrying about his finances?
Rule #43: Women’s and men’s reasons for feeling ready or not ready need to be treated as equally arbitrary. I’ve seen so many discussions about how women are affected by fairy tales or other cultural influences. (People are usually saying women aren’t to blame, but in this backhanded way, they are still saying that all women are, in fact, under the control of these 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/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 at least consider that men might be as influenced by fairy tales and gender expectations as women are. We need to stop blaming Cinderella and take a look at Prince Charming.
Rule #44: When you’re in a serious relationship, you need to make a new timeline — one 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. And when I say “we” should all expect that, I mean women and men should expect that. 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. 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 you get married.
Rule #45: Our ideas of how things “should” be get in the way of really healthy, necessary conversations. Apparently, there is a very small window of time in which both partners must feel ready. 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 for a while too and honestly, it really got to me. The truth is, Eric 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 you might think. It’s not exactly fun, but there’s something deeply emotional about saying, “I’m willing to rearrange the plans I had about 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.)
Rule #46: We need to stop shaming women who want to get married. So. Back to That Girl Who Is So Desperate To Be Married. I’m not sure this girl exists. But if she does, I think we created her. We constantly reinforce unrealistic romantic ideals and then judge any woman and relationship that fails to meet them. We praise women whose men “got it right.” We shame women for “sitting around waiting” and “nagging him to marry her” but we never empower them to challenge the mores that strip them of their right to have a say. We force women to deny how they feel, avoid “pressuring” their significant others, and say they “don’t care when they get married.” (Oh and all of you women who are wonder why no one believes you when you say you’re fine not being married? This is why — because there are so many women who have decided to say that to save face, it ruins things for those of you who actually do mean it. It’s like we’re making other women cry wolf.)
Remember that whether you’re cool with your relationship status or want it to change, you’re allowed to own your feelings and feel them without guilt and judgment from others.