I want to get engaged, not proposaled.
June 21, 2010 3:33 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I (a woman) have been dating for less than a year. I want to propose marriage to him, but I want to do my due diligence first. What do I need to do, other than wait? In the same way that people say you should focus on the marriage, not the wedding, I want to focus on the engagement, not the proposal.

I feel strongly that this is the right thing to do, but I also feel like it's still early in our relationship (we're both in our mid-twenties). The best metaphor I can think of for where I am in the process is a religious one: I'm like a person who has just decided to join a particular monastery. At this point, I know which community I want to be a part of, but I have not yet taken temporary vows (i.e. engagement), and certainly not permanent ones (marriage).

I've seen lots of advice about how to propose (most of it directed towards men, and most of it assuming the person one is proposing to expects—or even demands—that you'll do so), but very little about what ought to happen before that point. What should I do to make sure my boyfriend and I are both in the right place for me to pop the question?

I'm not really asking for one of those lists of questions you should know the answers to before marriage—I know we need to talk about dealbreakers (some we have already, some we haven't).

Anon because my boyfriend is a mefite. I'm not including a throwaway email because I feel like the answers to this question, like the best relationship advice should be, are fairly universal.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
When me and mine decided to get married (no proposal, just agreement), we knew:
- that we could live in the same home and be happy
- that neither of us wanted kids
- that we were both disinterested in religion
- that we could manage our financial affairs as a couple
- that we both wanted to live in the same town
- That our 5-10 year vague aspirations were in synch (wanted to own a house within a decade, etc.)
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 3:39 PM on June 21, 2010 [15 favorites]


That kind of sounds like a List of Things to Know Before - but it was also how we knew we meshed and wanted to remain so.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 3:40 PM on June 21, 2010


You mention that you think this is right for you, but not whether your boyfriend is on the same page. That's pretty big, and I would spend my waiting time figuring that out. You can talk about getting engaged without actually "popping the question." I would recommend consensus about marriage being a mutual goal before asking. So talking, talking about your future and where you see yourselves, figuring out if those goals are compatible, etc.

If you aren't morally opposed to it, you might consider living together first.
posted by jeoc at 3:41 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


the only way to make sure is to talk it over with your boyfriend. what do you both think the step to engagement means? is it different for each of you? is there room for compromise?

to me, the best engagements are the ones where no one "pops the question" but both people in discussing their future decide it's the best step. my husband and i discussed it over a period of a couple months - one of us would float it, the other would think about, then the topic would drop (on the surface, we were both still thinking about it), then the other would bring it up later, the first would mull it over - and then finally one day we were both laying on our ginormous bean bag and i looked at him and said something like "i think i'd really like to be married to you" - and then the conversation wasn't dropped, and here we are - married.

i know you said you don't want the list of questions - but i think this is one of the best threads about being ready for marriage i've ever seen. look beyond the question nature of the post and reflect on where each of you are on those topics - are there little ditches to hop over or great big rushing rivers differences?
posted by nadawi at 3:43 PM on June 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


Wait? No.

I've been married twenty years now, after we'd known each other six weeks. I'll tell you one thing right now that I have been convinced of for all those two decades: there is no way you know him. You can wait five years, always wondering: is this going to be right? But it won't be right until you just both decide you're damn well going to make it right. And you still won't know him, not until you've been married for a long, long time. I just don't think there's any due diligence you can do, beyond the obvious things like meeting his family.

There will be times, trust me, that you will each cheerfully contemplate ripping one another's intestines out (or, OK, maybe you're just more normal individuals, but I'm guessing nobody is that normal). You will disappoint one another. Marriage is hard. But looking back, and even in times when I still think, "Was that really the best thing to do?" I have to say, yes - yes it was.

Even two crazy people like my wife and I can truly benefit from sticking together through thick and thin. You and your guy are almost certainly more sane than we are, and probably more similar given that my wife and I are not even from the same continent.

Don't worry. And don't hold back.
posted by Michael Roberts at 3:57 PM on June 21, 2010 [28 favorites]


Also, that's really cute that you're both MeFites. You're about three thousand times more compatible than we are, right there.
posted by Michael Roberts at 3:59 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Obviously I don't know your relationship, but if someone proposed to me after less than a year I'd be a little scared. It's not a very long time.

I don't live with my SO yet and I absolutely would have to before I thought it would be a good idea. I think it would be worth doing, either before you ask or before you set the date. I think it's really important to work out that your lives are compatible together before committing. Admittedly I do have special needs and am a pain in the arse to live with, so I'd need to know anyone who married me could handle that without running off with the dog, but I still think it's a good idea.
posted by mippy at 4:01 PM on June 21, 2010


Don't think of engagement as "temporary vows." In my experience, engagement is an annoying time you spend calling florists and scrambling for an organist. It's not really something to model the rest of your life after.
posted by roll truck roll at 4:05 PM on June 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


What should I do to make sure my boyfriend and I are both in the right place for me to pop the question?

My husband says he knew he wanted to marry me (and hence to become engaged) when he could say that he could not do without me. I think that is such a good way to put it, because the willingness to make this kind of significant commitment is even more than love. It is a certainty that this is the person you don't want to ever live without. So -- can you say that is how you feel about your boyfriend?

As for him, I assume you want to know if he is likely to say yes. Here are some questions I'd ask yourself about that - does he talk about long term plans with you? Has marriage ever come up, and if so what did he say about it? Is he settled in his career path or still unsure? Is he living where he wants to be or unsure about that too? I.e., is he ready to settle down? If not, how do you feel about uncertainty as to where you will live and what your financial situation will be?

Good luck with this.
posted by bearwife at 4:19 PM on June 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


Does he own up to his issues? Does he have a sense of humor about yours? Will you take care of each other when you get sick?

Three "Yes" answers and I'd say go for it.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:23 PM on June 21, 2010 [18 favorites]


You're going to learn a lot more about a person -- and your relationship to that person -- if you've faced genuine adversity together. The most stressful times in our lives are also the ones that reveal who we are deep down inside. I'm not saying provoke stress -- that would be mad -- but if you think you'll be going through a trying time together soon (anticipated death in the family, loss of a job, move to another state, etc.) perhaps wait until you've gone through that.

Also: you sound very analytical, so make sure there's passion and need, too.
posted by davejay at 4:24 PM on June 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


I was married for 18 years before it ended. I do not think time is your answer. I think Michael Roberts is correct in saying that you need to make it right, not wait to know it is right. You need to discuss it and agree it is a path you both want to take knowing that it will have lots of bumps and turns and surprises but you are in it together to work through.

As for due diligence, I think the best thing you can do is get to know his family. See how he treats his mother (and father and siblings.) Also, who are his friends? Do you respect them? Review what about him bothers you now and take those actions to the extreme and see how you would like them. For example, if he has a tendency to interrupt when others are talking, what would you do if he did it more often or to the clergy man or some other escalation.

Lastly, I would be very comfortable with his character. Not his reputation which is what others think, but with who he really is. Is he a man of integrity, honesty, compassion? Is he willing to learn, to adapt, to change his opinions? Will he waiver in the face of adversity or will he stand fast? Lastly, make sure you are comfortable with his humor. If you are not, it will only get more annoying as time goes on.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:47 PM on June 21, 2010 [7 favorites]


I've seen lots of advice about how to propose (most of it directed towards men, and most of it assuming the person one is proposing to expects—or even demands—that you'll do so), but very little about what ought to happen before that point. What should I do to make sure my boyfriend and I are both in the right place for me to pop the question?

If you're anything like me, you put out gentle (and not-so subtle) feelers first. You ask how he feels about marriage. You ask what he would do if you were to propose. You get yourselves both as used to the idea as you possibly can--which isn't to say that you'll immediately be used to it. But the more you talk about it, the less bizarre it will seem.

Then you pop the question in a big, dramatic way. You'd be surprised by how those small, mature conversations do little to reduce the impact of asking The Big Question. It will still be a big, exciting, romantic deal.

I've been married six months now--I was engaged a year before that--and the truth is, in some ways the idea still does take some getting used to. I still sometimes tick off "single" on government forms, for instance, and sometimes on dates, I wrinkle my nose and say to my husband, "Whoa! We're married!" It's a big shift in the way you conceive of yourself, even if you love it and love your husband (as I do). But, like you, I knew, first and foremost, that I wanted to be married to him. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that, for me, that was sign and reason enough.

Best of luck to you!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:07 PM on June 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Same goals = happy marriage.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:39 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think you should be planning for the marriage now, not the engagement. As roll truck roll says, engagement is a time you spend planning a party and preparing for a lifelong commitment, and only the planning of the party really requires being engaged....so why not prepare for that lifelong commitment now, instead of waiting until you are engaged?

In my case, my fiance and I talked about marriage from early on, just different simple questions like "do you ever see yourself married" and "what's important to you about that" and "how do you feel about taking my name/having kids/living next door to my parents". As all of the answers to these questions gelled together, the questions became more serious -- "what are your financial values" and "how do you define cheating and do you think relationships can recover from it" and "how would you handle job loss/serious illness/parent moving in/child with special needs". During that time we moved in together and learned that we can share a home very easily and that our personal needs mesh well. Then we started talking more about a concrete future, about our career goals and how they overlapped and abutted one another, about our desires for when this future would arrive. And one night we had a deep conversation about it wherein he said that basically he had a question to ask me but he needed a ring to do it, so I should give him some hints. And when I picked out the ring, I told him that I wanted something to commemorate the occasion but it was up to him what that was. And then he proposed in the most perfect (for us) way, better than anything I could possibly have instructed.

The engagement has without a doubt been the rockiest part of our relationship. For the first time, our family members are sticking their noses in our business. We are planning a party and we have differing opinions about almost everything about the wedding process but luckily, we still haven't uncovered any about the being married part. I'm looking forward to being out of the engagement phase. We're so stuck looking at one day coming up that it can be hard to focus on the rest of forever. I didn't have this problem when it was all ephemeral and just "the rest of our lives" and I'm looking forward to when that is the case again.

So my advice to you would be to have all of these conversations and more with your boyfriend BEFORE getting engaged -- and your post is pretty clear that you haven't. Don't use your engagement time to talk about dealbreakers. Definitely talk to him about how he would feel if you proposed like PhoB suggests (I checked later and my fiance would have been kind of sad about it -- that would have been good to know had I gone that route). Talk about your shared vision of the wedding day (something we didn't do until we'd announced it to everyone). Talk to your families about where you see the relationship heading, and listen to what they have to say. You don't have to agree, but often your relatives know a lot about you and whether someone is good for you but they might not say anything unless asked.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 9:00 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


1. Rent/Watch War of the Roses
2. Re-Evaluate.
posted by Rafaelloello at 9:03 PM on June 21, 2010


The War of the Roses Trailer
posted by Rafaelloello at 9:08 PM on June 21, 2010


I can understand the excitement when you meet someone who you know is "The One" and it sounds like is what you are experiencing.

When I met me current fiance and I knew intuitively that he was the one as well; however, I spent two years in the dating process confirming what I already knew to be true. I put my emotions aside and looked at the situation with logic.

I really examined him very carefully as a person. I observed every aspect of his behavior and made sure that it demonstrated that he was the man I wanted to marry and make a family with.

Also I was very open with him about who I am because I did not want him to be under any false impression. (This means that you need to be sure of who you are, which can be challenging for a person in her twenties because she is still developing mentally.)

I paid extra attention to his family because when you marry a man you are also marring his family, too! (Be sure you like the family and they like you, otherwise you all be miserable -- trust me on this one!)

Also, I made sure that I really did want to be married in the first place. Since I am a successful professional I am capable of getting by on my own and do not need a man to support me. Wanted to be sure that I was ready to give up my independence to spend me life with him.

Once I was sure that this is what I really wanted, for myself and my future children I brought it up with him very casually in a conversation. It was so natural that I can't even remember how I lead into it but I do remember what I said about getting engaged.

I simply said that I would like to get engaged at some point in the near future (maybe the next year or two). I left it at that. I NEVER brought it up again. (Note: I made sure that he felt stable in his job and life in general before I brought this up because I did not want him to feel pressured)

It would not have happened if I had asked him. I really don't think it's a good idea to propose to a man if you are a woman. He will feel cornered. Men generally believe that they need to protect and provide for their women. If he loves you, then he will want to make sure he can do that before he commits. You need to give him time to feel like he is there (only he can know when he is there) before he settles down.

About 4 months after I told him what I wanted, he got down on one knee, surprised me with a sensible and beautiful ring and asked me to be his wife. I was shocked, scared and excited all at once. It was a moment that I will remember forever.

Call me old fashioned, but I think that deep in the heart of every woman (Even successful independent business women like yours truly) there is a little girl who needs to feel like a princess once in awhile.

Note: Once you are engaged be sure to schedule some pre-marital classes with a well-qualified professional. This training during the engagement will really help both of you adjust to married life.
posted by neanderloid at 9:10 PM on June 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


It would not have happened if I had asked him. I really don't think it's a good idea to propose to a man if you are a woman. He will feel cornered. Men generally believe that they need to protect and provide for their women.

Er, just a data point: my husband definitely didn't feel cornered and was happy that I proposed. Had he proposed, however, I would have felt cornered.

Do what's best and most appropriate for your relationship. It's sensible to put feelers out, like peanut_mcgillicuty recommends--but definitely don't base your decision on how society says men or women should feel about such things, as these generalizations are very often wrong.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:58 PM on June 21, 2010 [9 favorites]


I would discuss long term goals, which are bound to come up without too much nudging. If they match somewhat or are open to negotiation, then ALL RIGHT! Seconding living together.

Neanderloid's story is lovely but speaking for myself, I'm not into the princess thing. Propose when you are ready and if it's the right thing for you.
posted by scuza at 10:13 PM on June 21, 2010


It's not a question you should ask unless you know the answer already. There are plenty of ways to bring up the topic of whether and when he'd be interested in thinking about marriage and to gauge whether being the one to propose is important to him. The rest of it is details: if you both are sure you want to marry the other and get engaged soon, that's all you really need.
posted by Lady Li at 11:48 PM on June 21, 2010


I want to add a different perspective to this although my own experience may not be anyone elses. I found myself agreeing with what Michael Roberts said,

I've been married twenty years now, after we'd known each other six weeks. I'll tell you one thing right now that I have been convinced of for all those two decades: there is no way you know him. You can wait five years, always wondering: is this going to be right? But it won't be right until you just both decide you're damn well going to make it right. And you still won't know him, not until you've been married for a long, long time. I just don't think there's any due diligence you can do, beyond the obvious things like meeting his family.

but with a caveat.

Do the due diligence. Meet his family, find out their background. Find out his mental health history. Find out how his father treats his mother and whether there was any abuse or alcoholism in family. What are the patterns in his family of origin that influence the dynamics of a committed relationship like a marriage with all its baggage of gender roles, society's expectations and the larger family's expectations.

Does he have the strength of will to stand by you against any of these elements if their impact to both you and your relationship is not what you two choose or decide?

An engagement, imho, is the time when you see yourselves as a bonded couple preparing to tie the knot, not preparing for a big party. Better that any challenges be found during this period than after the legalities are over.

I speak from the perspective of having undergone an arranged marriage although I grew up outside of my home culture. My parents fell in love and dated during their engagement, although I'm sure the sparks were there when they met and the alliance was negotiated by the grandfathers.

I went through something close to Monsoon Wedding meeting the US based computer programmer in person only a week before the wedding and then leaving home/country/continent one week later. I would not wish that on anyone, no matter how old or experienced, WITHOUT the due diligence that we, in our innocence, never conducted. Whatever.

The point is that had there been a traditional engagement, I would have probably discovered all the challenges during that period and would have had no qualms about calling off the marriage. Instead, the "engagement" was a nominal ceremony conducted a day before the wedding ceremony.

Use this period as a couple to know each other as possible potential committed life partners, its a transition phase between dating/single and married/couple that, imho, is ideal for a pragmatic look at what life would be like working together as a team.

That is what I would do if I were in this position again.
posted by infini at 4:06 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


In addition to what I wrote above, I just recalled a piece of advice I got from an elderly relative when I told him I was planning on getting engaged soon. He told me that in order to determine compatibility we should wallpaper (or paint) a bathroom together. The close proximity brings out any issue that may arise later. Never tried it, but an interesting test nonetheless.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:58 AM on June 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


He told me that in order to determine compatibility we should wallpaper (or paint) a bathroom together.

Hmm, my husband and I fenced my rose garden together while we were dating. And weeded/landscaped his yard together too, come to think of it. That's not a pattern we've maintained in our marriage, but it was revealing that we worked so easily together.

I'd say that if you are looking for nonverbal tests, though, the one that remains most convincing for me is how comfortable I always am being with my husband and saying nothing. I mean, we talk a lot, and I love that his sense of humor continues to zing me lo these many years later, but the comfortable silences are the most remarkable thing of all.
posted by bearwife at 9:13 AM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm not really asking for one of those lists of questions you should know the answers to before marriage—I know we need to talk about dealbreakers (some we have already, some we haven't).

More than that, you need to get good at those conversations, even if it takes 5 fights to get to the conversation underneath. You need to build trust in each other so that you can say the scary things and get the emotional reaction and push past it towards a shared understanding and goal.

Talking about deal breakers is amazing for a relationship, and I would say that this is especially true if you initially disagree. It becomes a 'make it or break it' discussion, and then you get to choose to make it, to prioritize your respect and love for each other, to learn to voice your needs and to trust your partner to care for them.

My partner and I were not at all on the same page about marriage, so we discussed it and fought it out for over a year until we were absolutely on the same page because we had dug into all the issues connected to it and come to a shared vision of what we wanted. That year-long conversation built a great deal of the strength and trust of our marriage.
posted by heatherann at 11:38 AM on June 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Since I am a successful professional I am capable of getting by on my own and do not need a man to support me.
It would not have happened if I had asked him. I really don't think it's a good idea to propose to a man if you are a woman. He will feel cornered.


i'm a housewife and was a housegirlfriend before that. he'll have to weigh in for himself, but i'm pretty sure my husband never felt cornered even though i instigated our pre-engagement conversation and he never surprised me with a ring.

PhoBWanKenobi has it correct - do what's best for your relationship - you and him are the only ones qualified to make that decision.
posted by nadawi at 12:13 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


My fiance made it clear from the beginning of our relationship that he wanted to get married. I made it equally clear that I loved him and was committed long term, but was in no way ready for marriage. (When we first started dating I didn't want to get married ever.) That was 4 years ago. What worked for him (as in, how he changed my mind), was a combination of good communication and time.

We had many long, frank conversations about religion, kids, family, work, money, etc. Even when we weren't on the page, we both felt ok about it because we were able to speak to each other honestly. And often, when we returned to the conversation later, we found that our views had aligned. As time passed, we both showed each (both with words and actions) that we were good partners for each other.

So, from my personal experience, I would say: Tell him that you want to get married to him. Don't pressure him, just let him know, and feel free to mention it more than once. Repeated exposure to an idea increases one's comfort level with it. (Science says so!) Then, be prepared to wait. Let him get used to it, talk through any concerns he has, show him that you are a good partner, and help him be a good partner to you.

Finally, you may want to give him a deadline. My fiance was willing to wait for me, but not forever, and he told me as much. We both agreed that after five years if I wasn't ready I probably never would be and that would we both sadly move on. Thank the god I don't believe in that didn't happen, but if it had, it would have better for both of us than staying in a relationship that didn't meet both of our needs.

And let me nth the people above telling you not to worry about your gender. People who don't want to be proposed to will feel cornered and people who do will not.

Good luck. I wish you and your boyfriend a happy ending. Not like that, pervert.
posted by (Over) Thinking at 1:21 PM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


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