Anyone who’s been in a relationship longer than 6 months has had the question. Whether from the twinkly-eyed aunt, grandchild-obsessed parent, excited friend, prickly sibling, suspicious boss, jealous ex, inquisitive colleague or relative/neighbour/bored acquaintance during a conversational lull.
“Sooooooo . . . are you guys planning on getting engaged?”
Seriously? Of all the fascinating aspects that make up my life, is there nothing more interesting to question than my future relationship status? I once ate a silkworm larvae, for the love of christ. I got abandoned on a Chinese train platform. I explored an abandoned Olympic bobsleigh track on a hillside covered with bombs. I volunteered at a youth centre where 14-year-olds had to be explicitly told not to carry weapons. Hugh Jackman gave me a scratchcard. But all you want to know is whether I’m likely to get a rock on my finger?
I’m sure it’s well-meant. But it’s potentially very hurtful, not to mention dull.
I mean, at best, how can you possibly expect that conversation to go? Other than “oh right, yeah! Didn’t I mention it? We’re getting married next week actually. Lol whoops”. Or “Hey babe, come over here a sec – have you heard about this whole “wedding” thing? Seems legit. How are you fixed for Wednesday?” Seriously, how do you expect me to respond? No really, what do you want?
Let’s be clear: I like weddings. I cry at the speeches, revel in the feel-good emotions, love seeing my friends together (these days, it’s the only time it happens), get tipsy on good cava, enjoy boogieing to a swing band, and appreciate any excuse to make a new fascinator. Weddings are great. I want everyone to have the right to marry if they so wish.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean I (or we – it’s a mutual decision, after all) want to do so right now, and there are plenty of reasons why. On the other hand, I (OR WE – STILL TWO OF US) might really want to get married, but (again, for many reasons!) can’t. Or maybe we got engaged last weekend but haven’t yet told our parents so we’re not about to make you the first one to know, you interfering dick.
And that’s without even mentioning how such conversations perpetuate an outdated stereotype that a woman’s greatest goal should be to walk down a church aisle in a white dress. It’s the 21st century, my friends. We’re allowed other goals in life these days. Why not ask me about my career plans?
Research shows that marriage is lessening year on year. Time magazine reckons this is because as jobs for men become increasingly less secure, and more women enter the workplace, the lack of stability means marriage is put on the back-burner; perhaps due to marriage being a precursor for babies, which themselves are being pushed until later for much the same reasons. The Washington Post suggests young people do want to get married, but thanks to the economy, are finding it increasingly hard to do so; and it’s the same this side of the pond, with the Spectator highlighting that those in lower tax brackets are less likely to marry than the rich. Suzanne Venker over at the famously neutral Fox News reckons that women want to get married but men don’t want to marry said women because they’re all nasty feminists and no right-minded male wants that, good god. The Telegraph finds that for 1 in 4 couples, cohabitation is the final goal rather than a stepping stone to marriage, due in large part to the misguided belief that “common law” partnerships give equal rights as those accorded to legally married couples. And that in itself suggests the primary reason for marriage is to take advantage of tax breaks. Tres romantique. I mean, if you want to talk about HMRC then you should have just said. Have I told you the one about VAT on tampons?
So, when people get all misty-eyed and ask me “when” (more frequently than “if”) we’re going to get married, I feel enraged. It’s second only in inappropriateness to “when are you going to have kids?” (NB – a future post). Whatever answer I give will come with a side of awkwardness, even if it’s as simple as “Oh, I don’t know” or even simply “We don’t honestly care that much”. That rubs people up the wrong way because it’s the wrong answer, it’s confusing, and leads to further questions: why don’t you know? What do you mean you don’t want to get married? Don’t you love him? Are you worried he doesn’t love you??! Good lord, people! It doesn’t matter! Can’t we talk about travel plans or the upcoming election or Breaking Bad instead? Don’t you think that if we were going to get married then I WOULD HAVE BLOODY TOLD YOU?
So, regardless of whether or not they apply to me (draw your own conclusions), here are 15 legitimate responses to the question “When are you guys going to tie the knot?” which might make you rethink it next time you’re tempted to ask.
- “Well I really, really want to but my boyfriend just doesn’t at all, so basically I need to decide whether my desire to have a wedding outweighs my love for him, and if I should break it off whilst I’m still young with perky enough breasts to find someone else”
- “He’s already asked me and I’ve said no because I don’t feel we’re at that stage and then he said but when will we be at that stage and I told him a few months but honestly I don’t know and actually I’m like “maybe never”, so I’m basically going through this major emotional crisis wondering whether he actually is “The One” because if he were then surely I’d just say yes, wouldn’t I? Or should I just marry him and hope for the best? It’s pretty easy to get a divorce these days, right?”
- “Actually I proposed to him last month, but he said no, basically because it opened a can of worms about gender expectations in our relationship which left us both unsure of our respective positions and we don’t know where to go from here”
- “Funny you should ask. We actually both consider 21st century marriage to be pointless and reckon that anybody who values the paper their certificate is written on is deluded and living in the past, and that people who have weddings with more than immediate family are just irredeemable show-offs, but we obviously don’t generally share this information. I’m not sure whether we should be honest about our feelings regarding weddings, or lie to keep the peace. What do you think, Mrs Smith?”
- “I consider marriage to be an archaic, sexist institution which normalises the switching of a woman’s ownership from her father to her husband, thereby celebrating female objectification in its basest form and promoting a woman’s lack of sexual agency, so as a feminist I am taking a stand against the patriarchy by refusing to participate in this outdated and frankly abhorrent tradition”
- “We’re desperately keen to get married but his parents are Catholic, mine are Jewish, I’m an atheist, he’s agnostic, so both he and I want an entirely secular wedding but it’s causing a gigantic rift between our two families, and whichever route we take will end up estranging one or both sets of parents, or having a wedding we hate purely to please others. I just don’t know what to do. Should I cut ties with my parents? Should I expect him to do the same? Should we have three weddings to please everybody? Should we just not get married at all? What do you think? No really, what do you think?”
- “We’d love to but the roof is leaking, he wants to start his own business, I’m facing redundancy, the dog has diabetes, and we can’t even afford to keep up mortgage repayments. If you know how to sensibly add the financial and practical implications of a wedding into the mix, do please share”
- “Well, we’re terrified of the inevitability in this consumerist world that we’ll become one of those couples whose entire lives are overtaken by the planning and subsequent reminiscing about that one single day, so we’d rather just avoid it. You know the sort – the ones who respond to your “hello” with detailed information on how they colour-coordinated the table placements with the bridesmaids’ knickers, and do illustrated daily countdowns on facebook, and are still uploading photos of the venue six months afterwards, and constantly bring up their “special day” at every available opportunity, and with the sole intention of drawing comparisons to their own wedding they ask every unmarried couple they meet when they’re . . . going to . . . get married . . . so how did your wedding go last month?”
- “To be honest, my parents’ marriage was horrendous and led to an incredibly messy divorce so I’ve suffered a massive amount of psychological trauma and just flat-out refuse to even consider the prospect. I must admit I feel pretty vindicated by all the miserable couples I see everywhere these days. It seems pretty clear to me that nobody’s marriage is properly happy. Actually, I heard you guys could recommend a good counsellor?”
- “We’re getting married next month. No, it’s a a pretty big ceremony. We’ve invited everyone. I mean, except you, obviously”
- “Actually we can’t get married because I’m going through a divorce and my soon-to-be-ex-husband is making life a living hell for everyone. I was so worried that my boyfriend wouldn’t think it was worth the effort and in fact . . . his sister told me this morning that he’s planning on breaking up with me.”
- “My boyfriend proposed last week and then I discovered that he’s been cheating on me for the last six months, so right now I’m trying to decide whether I should forgive him and accept his proposal or end the relationship”
- “Our biggest reason for getting married would be to get everyone we love under one roof, and we can’t afford that. But if we have a small wedding, we’ll have to cut loads of people from the list, so there’s no point. So either we win the lottery or we stay living in sin. Seems the easiest way not to offend anybody”
- “I found an engagement ring in my boyfriend’s desk a few months ago and have been expecting him to propose ever since. But he hasn’t. I’m just . . . I know . . . I think he’s changed his mind and is wondering how best to dump me but he’s only waiting because we’ve got a holiday booked and he owes me loads of money and I can’t stop thinking about it and wondering what I’ve done wrong or if he’s met someone else and what I should do and if it’s because I’m fat and it’s because I’m fat, isn’t it? Oh GOD, my life is over”
- “My main reason for getting married has always been so that my partner and I could have kids as a solid, fully-official family unit, but I’ve just learnt that I can’t have children. So now I’m questioning my entire ethos on marriage and my boyfriend is wondering whether to stay with me or abandon the relationship and find a woman who’s fertile. Would you pass the Kettle Chips, please?”
But sadly none of those are appropriate responses whilst sat around a table eating eating quinoa salad. So we’ll probably just say “oh hahaha maybe yeah whatever haven’t really thought about it haha you know oh gosh is that the time?”.
Because there is no appropriate response to an inappropriate question.
And because, my friend, I’m an extroverted creativity-loving loudmouthed woman with a penchant for parties, cake, speeches, hats, and generally being the centre of attention. If we do decide to get married, then trust me . . . you’ll most definitely know about it.
If you have any other reasons – real or imaginary! – why you and your partner aren’t getting hitched in the immediate future (or ever), then please do share them below . . .