You Need Help: A Disappointing Engagement

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Q: My girlfriend and I are engaged, but we had this deal where we would ask each other, take turns, all lesbian-like. I asked her to marry me in May, but people only know because I have a big mouth, and now she finally asked me in October. Great. Engaged. She is going to be gone for a month and a half for a work trip and she doesn’t want to tell her family until after she gets back. She doesn’t want me to tell the internet before then. We have been together over four years, we have lived together for three, have a dog. She has a close relationship with her family that is very fraught regarding her sexuality, whereas I have been haranguing mine to get on board since I was 14. (They are now on board and are very warm to her. I told them I would stop coming to holidays if they couldn’t behave themselves and be nice to my girlfriends, and I followed through, now they are nice.) I definitely want to marry her, we have a generally lovely and loving relationship. But jesus, I feel so disappointed that it took her so long and that my feelings need to be on ice for even longer. I bought a dress. My mom is organizing a place for us to get married. We have made a guest list. We are prepping different kinds of fruit for our pie buffet that will wait in our chest freezer until next summer. Obviously this is going to happen. I just feel disappointed and like I may always be three steps ahead of her. I make decisions quickly and intuitively, she worries and analyzes. Aside from the fact that she has greater disaster preparedness and I have more tattoos, we mostly come out even with how successful this is. I just want to get over the disappointment so my main feeling is excited, like this is finally happening, yay. And I want to know how to tell her how I feel so.


Congratulations, Muriel! That’s the name I’m rolling with, I hope that’s okay. Your question hit me in the heart because I’ve been in a similar life situation. Have you thought about putting pear pie on the buffet table? I recently tried pear pie and it was ten times more delicious than I anticipated and honestly it’s changed my whole pie game.

Anyway.

You must be feeling really bummed and maybe even kind of rejected? And that really sucks because you’re engaged! Which is exciting and wonderful, and I’m sorry you’re not feeling those feelings right now. I’m also sorry this question wasn’t answered more promptly. Hopefully you’ve had The Talk and everything worked out okay? I’m betting it did. I bet you and your fiancé are curled up on the couch right now with your dog, laughing about that time you got engaged and emotions were running high and everything was hella stressful.

I’m going to answer this question as if it is timely, just in case you or others are still dealing with disappointed engagement feelings.

Travelling at two different speeds can be super frustrating, especially when it comes to taking the ‘next step’ of wherever your relationship is at — whether that’s starting to date, moving in, getting married, etc. I feel you on that, Muriel. I’m also the impulsive one. I know how difficult it is to believe so strongly that a particular thing is meant to happen with someone but then have to sit and bide your time while waiting for them to catch up. Realising that someone you love isn’t quite ready to tell the whole world about their commitment to you can really sting, or maybe even demolish every last shred of your ego.

So, it’s totally understandable that you feel hurt and it’s good to let your fiancé know! But here’s where things can get a bit tricky: it’s also totally okay for your fiancé to take the time that she needs and to move at whatever pace feels comfortable and right for her. I’m going to come back around to this in a moment.

If I’ve learned anything as an engaged person, it’s that being an engaged person can be tough. One moment you’re cruising along in this comfortable, blissed-out space and then bam! someone proposes and instantly your relationship starts getting tested in a whole bunch of new and special ways. Like maybe you really want engagement photos but your fiancé is definitely not down, and for some illogical reason suddenly this tiny difference that’s not even remotely important to the overall wellbeing and longevity of your relationship can feel like the biggest fucking problem and incompatibility in the world.

What I’m getting at here, Muriel, is that engagements are a wild ride and it’s easy to trick yourself into confusing minor bumps in the road for major road blocks. We’re taught early on that getting engaged is meant to be this perfect, magical event in our lives and while it’s pretty damn special, I’m not sure that everyone’s experience fully lives up to the fantasy. Mine hasn’t, although to me that makes sense because relationships are hard work. They’re hard work when you’re dating and hard work when you’re living together, and they’ll continue being hard work when you’re engaged and then married (I assume).

Let’s discuss your fiancé’s undoubtedly terrible timing. I’m not sure if this will help to lessen your sad feelings at all, but I imagine she was well aware that you’d been waiting months for this proposal and she didn’t want to make you wait any longer, even if it meant asking you to keep things quiet for a while. Because at least you would know that you were engaged, and perhaps she thought that was a better alternative to you spending another six weeks wondering if she would ever follow through.

Although having to keep your news on the down-low is an understandably disappointing feeling, I’m not sure it’s entirely unreasonable for your fiancé to ask for some time to tell her family before the news gets broadcast online. I know it’s difficult but maybe try to keep in mind that her wish to keep things quiet for a while isn’t due to a lack of excitement about marrying you. She clearly has some concerns over how her family will react and that’s probably really tough on her. Families are complicated. Not everyone will feel comfortable breaking big relationship news straight away; sometimes getting people on board takes a more strategic approach. If your fiancé thinks it’s best to hold off until she’s back in town to announce your engagement, my feeling is that it might be best to trust her on this and allow her the time she needs.

Now to your actual question: how do you tell your fiancé about your disappointment? Gently, and ideally in a way that won’t make her feel too terrible for being a slow-moving person or for having a sensitive family situation. Before jumping in, I think you should have a real clear idea of what you want this discussion to achieve. Do you want her to try to speed up a little? Do you want her to tell her family sooner? Do you want her to amp up her excitement? Or do you just want the chance to express your disappointment? No matter what the goal is, the best advice I can give you is to make your wants and needs super clear. It’ll hopefully make the discussion productive and help her to understand where you’re coming from and where you want to be.

There are a couple of things you should maybe keep in the back of your mind, regardless of whether you end up having that talk.

The first is that there’s not really a ‘correct’ pace at which someone should be making decisions and moving through life. The only right speed for your relationship is the one that works for both of you. So if always being several steps ahead of her isn’t working for you, it’s time to address that head-on and figure out a solution together. Potentially that means both of you making an attempt to alter your speeds. If you work on slowing down a little while she tries to speed up, you’ll meet in the middle a lot sooner than if only one of you is doing all the hustling.

The other (and most important!) thing to keep in mind is that there’s a silver lining to dating a super analytical and cautious over-thinker. It’s that when they say “yes”, they really mean it. Your fiancé has likely contemplated and stressed over every single thing that could possibly ever go wrong in your future relationship as a married couple and has ultimately decided that you’re her end game; you’re worth all the risks that come with trusting and sharing your life with another human being. She’s probably never been more certain about anything in her entire life than she is about marrying you. That’s such a beautiful thing, isn’t it? The girl of your dreams has just asked you to spend the rest of your life by her side. Hopefully you can get to a place where you’re able to start feeling excited about that soon.


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Crystal is a 33-year-old Australian living in Chicago. Founding member, does HR stuff, writes now and then.

Crystal has written 329 articles for us.

16 Comments

  1. I’ve been engaged since March 2013. Wedding plans seem to be in the distant future. So this was very relatable, but my favorite part is the naming of the letter writer. Reminds me of when Ellen Page was naming people’s dogs on Twitter.

  2. As a married person, I can assure you that married life isn’t magically easier than any other part of a relationship. It has its own challenges.

    I really relate to this question because do you know how long I was engaged? Seven years. SEVEN YEARS! My now-wife didn’t see the point in getting married if it wasn’t legally recognized in the place where we lived. (It still isn’t, but I was able to bring her on the journey to understand how important it was to me to stand up in front of our friends and family and make that promise.)

    Marriage is, indeed, hard. It is a promise to put your spouse’s needs ahead of anything else for the rest of your life. That’s a big ask. Marriage means compromise, like Crystal mentioned – it means coming together to a place that you both can handle. There will always be points of friction because we are human beings, not robots. (Much to my chagrin, sometimes.)

    But with that compromise comes joy. It comes with waking up with a beautiful person beside you every day. It comes with someone who will support you when you’re ill and who will cook you dinner when you’re sad and who will send you text messages of heart emoji randomly during the day. It comes with ordinary moments when you look at your spouse and are suddenly overwhelmed with happiness because this person, this wonderful, spectacular human being, has chosen you, and has promised to keep choosing you every day for the rest of your life.

    I want that for you. I want that for everyone who seeks out this kind of relationship.

    Best to you.

  3. i just want to thank AS for all the engagement / wedding articles this spring because one of my bff’s is engaged and getting married this May and these articles are a great substitute for all the good advice i don’t have for her. they’ve been great for being supportive and giving us stuff to talk about in a low-stress way.

  4. Well the positives are that she seems to have valid reasons, which is always better than general whimsy at your expense right? Maybe being more active in placing yourself in her shoes will help? Sprinkle more empathy on it. Second, you’ve gotten quite a bit of practice with silence since you’ve basically been engaged since May, don’t understand the logic behind the May-October delay, but details.

    The underlying issue is that she’s probably not going to become any more comfortable with her family and her sexuality than she is now, if she has been out for years, so this will be a reoccurring pattern. You only have one mental choice to make, are you okay with this or not. If you say yes, you just have to deal. You’re agreeing that a relationship with her is worth it and keep it moving.

    That’s the only thing that makes sense to me.

    It seems like telling her how you feel might make her feel guilty about choosing to wait. I certainly don’t think you should suppress your feelings, but if there is nothing she can do about it, or is currently willing to do about it, in terms of hurting the relationship with her family, you’re not giving her much to work with other than feeling bad.

    • “she’s probably not going to become any more comfortable with her family and her sexuality than she is now, if she has been out for years”

      Perhaps we should be careful about making assumptions like this. I’m in a similar situation as the question-asker, however I’m the anxious, overly-analytic partner who has a very close but tense relationship with her family when it comes to her sexuality. I have indeed been out for quite a while, and while I still have a ways to go with my family and my own comfort level, I definitely feel that change and growth are possible.

      I guess what I’m saying is, we should be hesitant to put a limit on Muriel’s fiancee’s capacity for continued change and improvement in this area of her life.

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