Are we "desperate" or just ready? The guilt of wanting to get married

July 19 | Guest post by Lisa Duncan
Are we "desperate" or just ready? The guilt of wanting to get married
"Finally!" Art Greeting Card by WeeBlueCoo

Lately I've been feeling guilty. Then I've been feeling guilty about feeling guilty because I should know that I don't need to feel guilty.

It's exhausting.

I've been feeling this way because I happen to be a woman who wants to get married someday. This in itself isn't a new development, but now I actively WANT it. Now "quirky engagement rings" keeps finding itself in my Pinterest search history and Offbeat Bride is gradually making its way up my most visited sites. It's literally proposal guilt.

The thing is, I feel like I'm doing everything right. I have open conversations with my partner about it: the fun aspects, the practical aspects, the timeline, everything. We both agree on what would be an appropriate amount of time to wait and which elements of our engagement would be a joint decision or a surprise. We understand that we're not ready for that step, but that doesn't mean we can't discuss it.

Despite all of this, something in the back of my head tells me I'm not allowed to be looking at rings, venues, or crafty décor ideas.

Imagined conversations about "desperation"

The worry often starts in the form of imagined conversations. Versions of conversations I have witnessed in real life and online.

I imagine a scenario where we're talking to some normal-seeming person. The topic of marriage comes up. Maybe I absent mindedly mention some wedding idea I've recently seen online. Then comes the dreaded, "Oh! Better watch out! She's got it all planned!" maybe with a joke about me "dropping hints" for good measure. I've seen it happen to other women, and I dread it happening to me.

Because what they're saying is, I am desperate to get married and he is not. I care about weddings because I am only my gender and he is only his. They know what I am like because they know what "Women" are like. They will come to our wedding and congratulate us, but they will imply over pints that I have trapped him. They will think it's a funny joke. I will feel shame. Even when I am alone, looking at wedding blogs, their rhetoric is in my head. I spent 10 minutes looking at a wedding venue? But I'm not even engaged! I must be obsessed! Women, amirite?

I imagine all of the unwanted advice about marriage that gets tossed around, finally directed at us. "Don't rush into it" is said to so many women who would never rush into anything, because their entire personality is disregarded at the mention of a wedding. They are in danger of rushing into it because they will inevitably get swept up in their desperation to get married. "Always let her win," said in a half-joking voice so that any attempt to address how problematic it is can be easily rebuffed with "I'm only joking!"

The guilt of wanting to get married
How much truth is in this? Card by LenaBDesigns

Those independent heroines

I think back to some of the heroines I grew up reading about or watching, who let romance take a backseat because they had more important dreams. They were smart, brave, and independent. If getting married becomes the thing I look forward to, I will no longer feel worthy of them.

The heteronormativity of it feels shameful, even though it was a choice and not a given.

When we discuss the traditions we would not include in our wedding: no white dress, no being given away, no dropping my last name for his, I still feel guilty that I want to be proposed to, and he wants to propose. The heteronormativity of it feels shameful, even though it was a choice and not a given. I know that I will be asked how he proposed rather than who proposed, and my answer will only support their assumption.

I have absorbed and internalized so many problematic assumptions about marriage growing up, and I barely noticed. It wasn't relevant yet. When I watched Friends, I understood the humiliation Monica felt when Chandler discovered she had booked a wedding venue that she didn't want to miss out on (and I understood why she choose to hide it from him), and the panic on Rachel's face when her boyfriend discovered her trying on a wedding dress for fun.

I worry that if they knew that I really do spend time thinking about rings and flowers and dresses, they would think it proves them right.

Some part of me still thinks that if I show my partner a picture of the type of ring I like, he'll be shocked or even embarrassed, but he never is. Gradually, I'm starting to be able to think about our possible future wedding, safe in the knowledge that there is no secrecy around it, and that he welcomes me sharing my thoughts with him. But I live in fear of those moments when I read or hear something that reminds me of all the people out there ready to reduce me to "desperate," "obsessed," or "a ball and chain." I worry that if they knew that I really do spend time thinking about rings and flowers and dresses, they would think it proves them right.

All these conversations matter

Sometimes I want to tell myself that what they say and think doesn't matter, but I know it does. I know it creeps into our media and young kids' heads and fills them with shame and confusion. I hope that every time we challenge these thoughts, and allow people to express what they want from a relationship, instead of telling woman and girls to wait patiently and quietly for their proposal, we steer the conversation in a better direction.

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  1. I'm sorry that you're going through this! I feel you. I've had some of those 'imagined' conversations in real life, and it is incredibly sad that they actually happen. I've been in conversations where people 'jokingly' tell my fiance he is trapped now, or that he should just let me plan the whole thing because clearly he has no say, and I just MUST have it all planned out in my head already. I even caught a little flack for proposing to him, "you just couldn't wait?" And if I say that I don't find those kind of jokes funny, then I'm a humorless jerk.
    I steeled myself against these comments by reminding myself that they didn't know the emotional details of my relationship with my fiance, and that it's really none of their business. None of the people who said these things were that particularly close to me, so maybe that made it a bit easier. Although I did make sure one person who said something particularly nasty did not get invited to the wedding.

    Oh, and also – you aren't crazy for looking at wedding stuff! Weddings are fun and pretty, and fun to look at.

    4 agree
  2. Isn't it ridiculous what society tries to make us feel guilty about and what we allow ourselves to feel guilty over? I wanted to get married well before I met my fiance, not because I wanted a big poofy wedding, but because I wanted to find "that" relationship, my true partner and I wanted to celebrate it with the tradition of a wedding, taking that step together. So when I did finally find the right relationship, I felt like I needed to hide the fact that I knew pretty much right away and that I wanted to get married, because I was "supposed" to wait for him to propose and I wasn't "supposed" to talk about these things too early, for all the stupid reasons we're told. And then I had the audacity to ask him if he wanted to marry me, not a full proposal, I just said "do you want to marry me?". He said "yes" and I said "OK, when you're ready, let me know". That happened twice before we got officially engaged, which was also not a traditional or formal proposal (it happened over a game of battleshots at our dining room table). And because he didn't officially propose in the traditional way and I didn't have a ring and all those things were told are supposed to happen to make it real, I felt guilty and embarrassed every time someone asked how he proposed. He loved telling the story, and I somehow felt like this crazy woman who pushed him into it or was so lame because I couldn't just wait for him to ask.

    It took me about 4 months into our engagement to be proud of our story, and I finally got there because I realized it's our story. And I love our story! We are not a typical or traditional couple in hardly any way, so why would anything about our engagement or wedding be traditional? But because we're so inundated with these images and stories and "the way things are supposed to happen" from the time we're kids, if we do it differently, we feel guilty about it.

    Just don't. I know that's easier said than done, but don't. Show your partner pictures of the things that are catching your attention on Pinterest because it's something you think is fun to share. Clearly you two have discussed marriage and are on the same page about where you are in your relationship and where you want it to go, so have fun looking. You're window shopping and there's nothing wrong with that. Heck, all that means is that when you do get engaged, you'll be ahead in your planning.

    As for not being worthy of those heroines you admire… I completely understand that internal argument as well. I always put career first all through my 20's, sometimes to the detriment of the relationship I was in at the time. I thought I wanted to be this strong, independent woman who wouldn't let a relationship slow her down. And when my fiance and I started dating, I went to the polar opposite side of the spectrum and put the relationship 100% first. I'm starting to find the balance between the two, and I have to say, I have never felt stronger, more independent, or more like a heroine than I do with this man. There is no reason to feel like you're betraying your feminine strength or heroine side because you want to put love first. It takes a lot of strength to do that. I recently battled with myself that I wasn't putting enough time into my life projects and goals because I was focusing on the wedding too much, which spiraled out of control quickly to my crazy brain thinking of cancelling the wedding, not because I don't want to get married, but because I was somehow betraying my standards and priorities. That's nonsense. I love him and our life together and this wedding is one of my life projects. There's nothing wrong with wanting to put the time, effort, and money (a whole other issue to feel guilt about) into something this special. And there's nothing wrong with being excited about it before you're engaged. Enjoy it, relish it, be proud that you're in a healthy and happy relationship that excites you enough that you want to get married. And, if you do have the misfortune to run into some small minded idiot who says something from one of those terrible conversations you've imagined, just smile and say thanks and walk away, understanding that whatever they're saying is coming from their own issues and insecurities and in no way speaks to what is going on in your relationship.

    Good luck!

    4 agree
  3. Oh man. Thank you for starting this conversation. I'm currently in the midst of planning a "pre-proposal" to my boyfriend where I'll make an elaborate gesture of giving him some family diamonds to use for my future engagement ring. I'm absolutely terrified of getting flack from people for "dropping a hint" and "pushing him" to propose. The timing feels right, though. I am terrified he'll feel like I'm putting pressure on him too, even though we've talked very seriously about getting married and pretty much agreed that by 3 years from now we hope to be having a kid. Factor in a year of trying and a minimum of a year of being engaged and actively wedding planning before that? Timing seems right to me. He may not have done the math, though, so I'm afraid he'll feel I'm forcing his hand, even though my gesture comes with the side note of "when you're ready."

    From this post and the related comments though I feel assured I'm just overthinking and getting distracted by society's stereotypes. Not healthy, not helpful. So back to my planning and prep! Eek.

    2 agree
    • I love that you're giving him family diamonds to use in your ring! Your ring will have so much more meaning that way and it's like your family is coming together to bless your marriage. I think if you two have discussed it and you're on the same page, he'll be fine with it. I must have asked my fiance half a dozen times after we were engaged if I pushed him into it. He kept saying no and finally asked me why I thought that. I couldn't even really put my finger on it, which is when he told me to stop worrying because he's never done anything just because someone was pressuring him, that he loves me, and this is what he wanted.

      I think it's such an odd dichotomy that we are at a time when we're telling women to be independent and strong and take charge of their lives, but we still expect them to wait patiently and quietly for the man to decide when it's time to get married. What if he were ready and you weren't and he proposed? No one would think that was odd. I say take charge! I think you'll be pleasantly surprised 🙂

      1 agrees
  4. This is one of the realest and most resonate pieces I have read in a long time. Thank you.

    2 agree
  5. I had a bit of an opposite experience around our engagement. My husband and I started dating in December of 2011, we got our first apartment together in October of 2012, and he proposed in August of 2014. If we want to be super specific about it we dated for 2 years, 7 months, 4 weeks, and 1 day before getting engaged. But a comment that we heard super often after announcing it was "Well, it's about time!" Huh? But, we weren't together for that long. At least, I didn't think it was that long or TOO long as people kept saying.
    My husband kept the proposal a complete secret from me. I did not know he was shopping for rings, he chose it by himself with absolutely no input from me aside from knowledge he'd picked up about my taste in jewelry over the years we'd been together. The proposal was impromptu and happened at our apartment on a random Saturday night. Many people thought that was all unusual too. "You didn't know he was going to propose? You haven't talked seriously about getting married? You didn't pick out your own ring?" Like, wtf people?
    I guess my point is that it's almost like you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. In your experience you feel guilty for actively planning something that you want. In my experience, I felt guilty for being surprised because everyone else seemed to think I should've known and had an active role in it. You will never please everyone Be a duck and let it all roll off your back. You and your partner know the truth of the situation and in the end that's all that matters.

    2 agree
  6. This was an amazing post, it makes me feel better about all the arguments and criticism I always see flying around weddings. It's hurtful to be ridiculed for having a dream, or just having a preference for what you want. 🙁

    I'm not in this boat at all, but I fear the criticism in a similar way. I love reading OBB because I see all the amazing things for sale and handcrafted amazingness, wonderful venues, and I love photography. I love all the essays about how to have difficult conversations (useful for non-wedding stuff too!). I like certain parts of tradition and pageantry, I enjoy hearing people's stories, so this is a great way to get it all in one place.

    My problem is I'm 31, and never been in a relationship. On one hand, I'm perfectly happy being "alone" (I've never felt like I'm not whole without a partner, etc)… but I also feel like I'd really like to experience having a partner of some sort, or having that feeling of having someone with you who'll back you up, etc.

    Whenever I mention something I saw on the site (something on etsy, or like a Harry Potter wedding detail that my friends can use in their HP party planning, etc), I always feel like they're wondering why I'm trolling around a wedding forum, as if pinterest and wedding blogs are only allowed for the exact time period of engagement to wedding day!

    I've always liked the -idea- of throwing a big fancy gathering, but fear I won't get to. (Of course nobody's stopping me from throwing a party, but you know. 😛 ) Is there such thing as a one person wedding? Hah. I think I'm just going to end up planning myself a big fancy birthday party one day.

    • Definitely plan the big fancy birthday party! I have always loved looking at wedding and party planning/decor ideas. I just think it's fun. And for years I wanted to have someone throw me some really cool party like what I saw on the websites. I finally realized I shouldn't wait and for my 33rd birthday, I threw myself a Alice in Wonderland party. I completely transformed my apartment, each room was a different scene (Mad Hatter Tea Party, Caterpillar hookah lounge, etc.). All the food and decor was like being inside the book. And my friends rocked it out and all showed up properly dressed for a Mad Hatter Tea party. It was so much fun and one of my best birthdays! Point is, don't wait. If it's something you want to do for yourself, just do it.

      Also, my fiance had never been in a relationship until we got together and he was 29. So you still might find that ride or die. And, if you don't, just keep rocking it solo style and throwing yourself those awesome parties 🙂

    • "…as if pinterest and wedding blogs are only allowed for the exact time period of engagement to wedding day!"

      Amen! My friends definitely look at me funny if I mention something I saw on OBB. As though once my wedding day was over I was never supposed to look at anything wedding related ever again. I like weddings, I like DIY stuff, I love seeing how vastly different the "same" event can be.

      2 agree
  7. It's been so amazing to read these comments! I haven't really had the opportunity to discuss these feelings with many people because I'm far from my close friends at the moment, and I feel like laying all those thoughts out and having confirmation that it makes sense has been hugely helpful!

  8. I am now married; my wife and I were engaged for four years after dating for four months and we are currently expecting our first child. I started reading OBB a few months after it was created, and in addition to loving thinking about weddings, I was super into the subcultures I was exposed to on here. I remember after a particularly nasty breakup, I almost sent the OBB staff an email asking them if there was something wrong with me for wanting to get married.

    One thing that might make people in this boat feel better is looking into more conservative religious cultures that practice things like courting or dating through matchmakers. In some cultures *in this country* (this isn't just a thing that happens in non-first-world countries where feminism isn't discussed), people will enter into relationships with the intent of evaluating whether or not they want to marry this particular person. Sometimes the courtships or relationships are "brief" according to mainstream societal standards. It made me feel a lot better to know that there were people who have more brief pre-engagement relationships and who were wanting to get married and not being shamed about it by their friends and family! Someone else said "you're damned if you do and damned if you don't", and that's really true, because in the cultures I mentioned you're more likely to be looked at funny if you're not actively seeking to get married.

    1 agrees
  9. Thank you so much for writing this article. It's like the pink elephant in my life. I've been with my boyfriend for 9 years and have been married before. But that doesn't mean that I don't want to get married again. This is such a difficult conversation to bring up. Thank you for making me feel like I'm not alone.

  10. This hit on a lot of areas for me. My first relationship turned marriage had so many issues around me wanting to be married and him not being ready. After 8ish years he proposed and we got married 8 months later. We then got divorced 10 months after that. He said I rushed him into it that he felt pressured from the "it's about time" voices from my voice. He said if we had waited longer….

    Since then I reunited with my college sweet heart. We've been together 3ish years now and we have a beautiful baby. We are engaged and have discussions about our future wedding, but no set date at this time. But those words come back to me "you rushed me".

    Your feelings about wanting to be married and feeling guilty for looking, planning and dreaming are all normal. The comments about WOMEN and marriage seem never ending and not supportive, but that's why we have places like OBB.

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