How to Deal with the Pressure to Get Engaged
It needs to feel right for you, not for anyone else.
The pressure put on a couple to get engaged comes from countless sources—hello, romantic comedies, reality shows, and pushy great-aunts—but some have a bigger impact than others. For Michelle Joy, a marriage and family therapist at the Couples Institute in Menlo Park, California, two of the most common factors are the ticking of one (or both) partners' biological clock and the peer pressure that comes from watching all your friends prepare to tie the knot.
Other times, the pressure to put a ring on it comes from within the relationship—for example, if one partner always imagined getting married at a specific age. "Sometimes getting engaged can feel more like checking off a box so their life can go as planned," she says, "rather than allowing themselves the time needed to determine whether they really do want to be with this person for the rest of their life." Another common source of conflict: One partner views the engagement as a sign of whether or not the other is really in love. "Sometimes one partner can feel embarrassed or hurt if their partner does not propose, because they feel it's an indication to themselves and others in their life as to how much they are valued or loved by their partner."
If you and your partner aren't on the same page about your engagement timeline, then it's important to talk it through with each other before you respond to any pressure from your friends and family. "Bringing this to the surface can prevent the partner who is ready from taking it personally," says Joy. "Maybe the partner who is not ready wants to travel a bit first, make money, or feel like they can communication about issues that they disagree with more effectively. These types of issues can be worked through with understanding and compromising."
And how do you know if you're ready? Joy looks for three simple "yes"-es from her couples: "If they can't imagine the rest of their life without each other, they are able to work through disagreements together, and they want to become engaged because of the love in their hearts and readiness for the commitment of marriage, and not because of other pressures or expectations."
Once you two understand each other's views on the subject, you can face down nosy questions with a calm and confident response. "Smile while saying, 'There is perfect timing for everything,' and then changing the subject," says Joy. "A couple's timeline is personal and they don't owe anybody an explanation." If you need to be even firmer (think: with well-meaning grandmothers, your already-married sorority sisters, or your pushy older brother), Joy suggests saying, "You can trust us. We know what we are doing and it will happen when we are ready," and finishing with a polite request that they not bring it up again.