Dear Captain –
I know that I shouldn’t really care too much what other people think, but I’m bothered anyway. I’ve had some good friends over the years. I’ve fallen out of contact with some of them, only nebulously connected through Facebook or through friends of friends. Nonetheless, I hear from them every once and a while and on three separate accounts this weekend different people reached out to me to tell me they cared about me and they were worried for me because they didn’t approve of my fiancee.
I have been living with my girlfriend for three years. I feel like I know her pretty well and I think we’re very compatible, so I threw a party this weekend and I proposed in front of a few really good friends. I told people about it before the event. Here was the response from some of my buddies:
Nebulous Mom: “You don’t have enough life experience yet. It’s STUPID [all caps] to get married before you’ve spent some time out on your own…”
Nebulous Friend 1: “You don’t have enough relationship experience. Move out and start over with her, taking it slow. You should have a traditional dating experience with her before you decide to get married…”
Nebulous Friend 2: “It’s clear that you love her. What isn’t clear is that she loves you back. I hate to say this, buddy, because I know it’s hurtful; but I hope you’ll think hard about what I say…”
Is this common? Are people’s engagements usually contested by nebulous people who think they know better? What’s going on here? I get that my friends care about me, but I feel like they don’t trust me and they’re saying hurtful things about someone I love very deeply. These people don’t spend as much time with my fiancee as I do. My fiancee and I are very good friends and I don’t expect to change their minds about her being an awesome human being. I really think that’s something that they need to come to on their own, just like you can’t force people to be friends. I mean, I don’t expect everybody to like everything I do, but I feel like this is kind of ridiculous.
I’m somewhat impressionable. I guess the reason that I’m writing is because I feel like they’ve put some doubt in my mind that I’m ready for marriage. I’m upset and I am hoping for some guidance.
Thanks for always being there,
I do not think this is common. While historically useful in the case of near-bigamy-due-to-mentally-ill-wife-held-prisoner-in-flammable-attic, nowadays the option to “speak now or forever hold your peace” is rhetorical. People do not usually say “Whoa, you got engaged? Better rethink that, buddy” to their friends.
There are exceptions. Your friends might be legitimately worried about you because they’ve seen signs of abuse or other serious issues. Speaking up is pretty much guaranteed to ruin the friendship, and usually the friend marries Darth Vader anyway, which is why people shut up about it. But it’s possible. OR it’s possible that you happen to know some jerks and busybodies with huge boundary issues who need to be told off.
Before we figure out what’s going on, you said you told people about the proposal before the event. Was your intended spouse one of those people? If not, forgive me. You’ve stumbled unwittingly upon one of my giant personal biases against surprise public marriage proposals.
If Isaac & Amy talked about marriage together and decided together that it was a logical next step and it was just a question of how/when and they are both really into stuff like this, then the video at the link is probably very sweet and cute. I hope that they will be very happy together, as I hope you and Mrs. T. will be.
But if it was a total ambush, as in “Do you want to marry me? You can see from the fact that all our friends are gathered here that you were literally the last to know that this would be happening today! No pressure or anything, though we are recording all of this for posterity/YouTube, and we did work really hard on it. Get ready for your close-up!”, then that video is not cool or romantic. I personally watched it the first time with growing dread and trepidation, thinking “Oh god, oh god, I hope she knew this was coming, otherwise it will be so very awkward, also, please no one ever do this to me ever.”
In Hollywood movies, marriage proposals come after great suspense as to outcome and are filled with drama and the potential for things to go wrong. They also all seem to reinforce the idea that it’s the man’s decision and that he must purchase expensive shiny things and put on some kind of weird show in front of everyone so that the camera will zoom in on that tearful closeup of love and gratitude as she says “Yes.” In real life, that can turn quickly into a manipulative, pressure-filled nightmare.
I’m sure you did it well and it was great and romantic and you know your fiancee well enough to know what she’d like! But, I just want to put it out there that maybe when your friends are saying that “It isn’t clear that she loves you back,” it’s because the party and the public nature of the proposal was uncomfortable and she felt put on the spot and they saw that in her reaction. If these are people who don’t know her well, that could be what they’re registering. Or they thought, whoa, dude, why put on a big show? Who is this show really for?
Three years sounds like enough time to know whether you want to marry somebody, and the decision about whether to get married is really, totally, 100% up to you and the future Mrs. T. So you’re within bounds to say “Thanks for your opinion, but we’re very happy” to the haters and go on to live your awesome happy life. You also can’t go back in time and undo the public marriage proposal, and if it worked out and she was excited and said yes I don’t want you to feel bad about it.
But if the proposal *was* a big surprise, even if she seemed excited said yes, it may be a good idea to give her some time for everything to sink in and check back in with her. “I realize I really put you on the spot there. I want to check in and see how you’re feeling about everything.” There’s so much pressure, especially on women, to see an engagement as a happy ending, and any ambivalence on our part feels shitty and somehow ungrateful. From the way you’re asking this question, especially the part where you describe yourself as “impressionable,” it also sounds like you are still processing the decision yourself.
The fact that you’re hearing this from multiple people is interesting to me. I wonder what would happen if you said to close friends, or your Mom (if you generally trust her opinion and have a close relationship with her): “Wow. I’m really happy and excited about this decision, so I’m surprised and disappointed to hear that reaction from you. Since you brought it up, I’m curious. Would you be willing to share your specific worries or objections?” Then you could evaluate whether they are valid ones, and set a boundary with the people along the lines of “Well, I guess I appreciate your honesty, but I would also appreciate it if you would try to be happy for me, and definitely don’t say negative things about my relationship going forward.”
I hope you work it out and that she’s as excited and happy as you are. If the words of a few naysayers are undermining your confidence in your decision, talk it through with your fiancee and figure out where you both really stand now that the party flowers have wilted and the empty bottles are in the recycling bin. There’s a reason that an engagement isn’t actually a marriage – it’s an announcement of an intention and a time to plan how the marriage will be – so you’ve got the rest of your lives to figure it out.