We're engaged! Sort of ...
March 3, 2011 7:01 PM   Subscribe

When should we tell our families we're engaged? And why aren't we ready?

My girlfriend and I are both females - she's 26, I'm 22. We met a little over a year ago, immediately fell in love, and as lesbians are prone to do, we moved very quickly. We moved in together after 3 months, and moved cross-country together after 9 months.

We knew we wanted to marry each other pretty much right away as well, but started actively talking about dates and whens and hows and such about November. We've had our engagement rings since January, but aren't wearing them yet.

We planned on doing a little ceremony on our year anniversary - this Sunday. We would then tell our families and friends and such. But now we both have cold feet. We still want to get engaged, but for some reason don't feel ready to tell people. We are visiting both of our families next week (so the timing would really be perfect otherwise) and again in June.

Part of it is that, being gay, we are both a little anxious about how our families will react. They are very loving and supportive but we are afraid of the, "Oh .... that's nice...." reaction or the "Oh, really? Alright then..." Something along the lines of confusion or apathy, which would really hurt. We are also a little afraid that people will think we are moving too quickly and that will put a damper on it as well.

But I'm tired of this in-between stage where we are pretending we're not engaged while I'm emailing caterers and we're visiting venues. I want to just get this over with ... but I don't want to feel like we're getting this over with. I guess I want our families to be exuberant and thrilled for us, and we're worried that won't happen, and trying to control their reactions to some extent. If we get engaged now, and start wearing the rings, we would have to hide it from everyone until we told our families because of the advent of facebook and the like. What's the point of being engaged if no one knows? Is that weird/unhealthy?

I just don't know. Assuming we do go ahead with the proposal ceremony this weekend, should we tell our families right away? In June? Some other point? Should we just wait to exchange rings until we're ready to tell people? Are we being too cautious or not cautious enough? Does not being ready mean there's some other big dark unconscious thing looming we should deal with first?

posted by ohsnapdragon to Human Relations (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My now-husband I had been together almost nine years when we started talking engagement. Once we felt decided, we didn't tell our families for more than six months, I didn't wear my ring regularly for another six, and we were engaged for three years total before we got hitched.

We didn't have any doubts about our love or commitment, we just wanted to get comfortable with the whole thing privately before sharing it. There's a whole universe of symbolism, words, meaning, and intent that you have to puzzle through before you get married, and we just wanted to take on all that stuff at our own pace. When you announce an engagement, it turns a fairly private thing (your love) into a more public, social thing. For us, at least, it was a weird transition.

I think it's a big deal, and it's good to be cautious. So long as you aren't acting out of shame and fear, then there's no "right" timeline. It may always be kind of scary/weird to start telling people. I mean, you've never done this before, so it's all totally new, but I think you'll know when it's the right time.

Talk and listen to each other, and listen to yourselves. You're setting a foundation for the rest of your lives together, so take all the time you need.
posted by mostlymartha at 7:12 PM on March 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

I'm confused as to why you'd have to tell your families either right now or in June? You don't have to tell them in person, you could always call them on the phone or send them an e-mail. If you're worried they may need some time to process, not doing it in person might be a good way to do it. It could give them some time to work through their negative feelings and get ready for celebration.

You're worried they'll think you're moving too fast- well, are you? You have to ask yourself and your partner this question, and once the two of you know whats what, that's all that matters. That's part of getting married- Us against The World. Sometimes the people in our lives don't react the way we want them to. That's why part of being an adult is choosing what is best for ourselves.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:16 PM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I found myself preemptively overwhelmed by the expected outpourings of good wishes ... sometimes that level of emotion is a lot for me.

I expect you're feeling something similar -- anxiety about the emotional reaction of others to what is, after all, very big news. There are ways people are "supposed" to react, and you're probably terrified they will react that way and terrified worse that they won't!

I don't think it means anything about your relationship; I think this is just the first in a series of wedding-related events and announcements where people are SUPPOSED to follow a particular social script but frequently fail to do so, whether that's drunk Uncle Joe at the reception or ridiculous Cousin Mary showing up to the wedding in a white hooker dress or someone saying, "Oh. Um ... oh," when you tell them about the wedding.

Sometimes it can help to direct people's emotions in the right direction with your prefacing: "We have wonderful news to share with you, we know you'll be excited and happy for us ..." Even people who are a little socially awkward or maybe not-so-thrilled typically take the cue and say, "How wonderful!" if you prime them with the proper response.

BTW, when we announced it to some people they were like, "Oh." And my feelings were hurt, and they were like, "Well, it's not like it's a surprise, we knew you were going to get engaged sooner or later ...." Well HARUMPF, parade-rainers! But "oh" reactions may be because someone is totally unsurprised, not because they disapprove or anything. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:18 PM on March 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think mostlymartha nailed it - as long as you are not holding back out of fear or shame, do what feels right for you both. This is a BIG DEAL. And it is very very private.

My husband and I had a short courtship, an even shorter engagement, and after getting hitched and celebrating a bit with random friends, we spent a few years kinda alone with each other in our relationship.

I've done it the other way where friends and family were involved. I gotta say, it's kinda overrated. Worse, it really puts a drag on the intimacy between you and your partner.

Here's the thing: At the end of the day, the only two people in your marriage are the two of you! That's it. So everyone else's support or objections or whatever is 300% extra noise. It's irrelevant, possibly distracting, and at most it could be destructive.

Get engaged in a beautiful ceremony and keep it private. Enjoy building your foundation together. If you never have the big announcement or ToDo and instead elope - all the better! (I know this to be true!)
posted by jbenben at 7:21 PM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

(PS -- sometimes I think the whole purpose of the engagement-wedding period in life is to introduce you to all the ways in which people can be social morons and accidentally or deliberate hurtful, all while you are running on emotional fumes. Other people's pettiness, social clumsiness, accidental hurtfulness, etc., has never, ever bothered me as much again. It was all such a big deal at the time; but the world didn't end and I'm happily married so now I know it all just rolls off your back and it doesn't get to me nearly as much. Good life lesson.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:23 PM on March 3, 2011 [7 favorites]

i get you on the stereotypes, but ... people would tell you you're too young, moving quickly etc, if you were straight. in all likelihood, someone is going to say it or think it. so what.

listen if it's someone you trust; smile graciously if it's not.

i totally get where mostlymartha is coming from, but you're already making actual plans for the wedding. it's in motion. if you want to be taken seriously and want to be considered mature enough to make this decision - you should probably behave that way. face it head on - three/four months isn't going to matter.

if nothing else, get it over with because sneaking around and keeping it a secret makes it seem like something IS wrong. it's like going back in the closet and that's no way to feel while you're planning a life together.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 7:46 PM on March 3, 2011

As long as your families are notified with enough time to make plans to attend the reception or ceremony, it's not a big deal.

My brother didn't even tell us he eloped until he was able to definitivly tell us when and where the "real wedding" was going to be. While it's not the same for every family, ours pretty much is set up like your relationships are no one elses beeswax until there is a wedding, and then it's the families business because we're getting a new member.

Telling people probably won't get a any easier in a few months, but don't wait too long that someone might have to miss out on you're special day due to scheduling.
posted by Blisterlips at 7:57 PM on March 3, 2011

Oh man, I hated telling people we got engaged! The hours after the actual proposal were so great, it was like a secret we shared, and there was nothing more to deal with.

When you tell people, you open yourself up to judgement and criticism. In our case, it was a lot of "why get married?" and stressful questions about wedding plans. It was no longer just about the two of us, our love and our plans.

Getting married is a public thing, though, and one of the first steps is to open yourself up to the criticism and comments. The outpouring of love and happiness will more than make up for any negative comments that come your way. And in the end, as long as you're happy with each other and glad to become wives, nothing anyone says can really affect you.
posted by OLechat at 8:24 PM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're either married or you're not.

All this "we've had rings since X date but don't wear them", "we want to have a ceremony but not include our families" implies, to me, that you're on the "not" end of the spectrum.

Why not just date for a while until you're ready to wear a ring and hold a ceremony you'd be comfortable inviting your loved ones to? That's what everyone else seems to do.
posted by Sara C. at 9:15 PM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your responses. It's a relief to know we're not alone in having these weird, mixed-up feelings, and that it is okay to want to be private for a while, even if we're really happy about it.

We do feel strongly that we want to tell our families in person, but we will take everyone's advice and just see how we feel as we feel it.

Sara C, to clarify, when I said ceremony in my question I meant it as a proposal ceremony, not a wedding ceremony. And likewise, the rings in question are engagement rings, not wedding rings. There is no doubt that our families will be invited to the actual wedding!
posted by ohsnapdragon at 6:53 AM on March 4, 2011

I'm not gay myself, but I can imagine how hurtful it would be to tell family members your wonderful news, and to get "Ohhh .... that's .... nice .... I guess" reactions.

Could you find a sympathetic relation and explain this to them and have them prime your family so that they understand how important it it to you that they love you enough to enthusiastically celebrate the news of your upcoming nuptials?
posted by marsha56 at 8:53 AM on March 4, 2011

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