On Engagement Ultimatums
Let’s say you’d found that special someone, and it had been a few years, and that special someone had yet to propose. Maybe you were starting to worry, in your heart, that your special someone liked it but not enough to put a ring on it.
Would you issue an engagement ultimatum?
I mean, maybe you’d start by making engagement chicken (either the regular or toasted versions). Maybe you’d offer to make your special someone 300 sandwiches. But at some point, you’ve got to get to the point and say “I would like us to be married. Would you like to be married please check yes or no.”
It’s such a tricky thing to do, because you want to be close enough to your special someone that you know you can talk in depth about financial goals; you want to have a shared vision of what life together might look like; you want to know whether your someone is going to agree that spending your wedding money on a fantastic honeymoon is a statistically smart idea.
And to do all of this prior to the proposal means talking about marriage, on some level, before you begin to actually talk about marriage. More importantly, it means that if you’re in your second or third year together as a couple and you haven’t started talking about this stuff, haven’t started talking about whether you want kids and how you might handle the two-body problem vis a vis careers and even how to do the holiday shuffle among all the relatives, you might start to get a little twitchy.
(Not everyone does. Not everyone wants to be married, and not everyone wants to combine their lives with their romantic partner’s or partners’. But this story is about engagement ultimatums, so bear with me.)
You might start to worry that you’re shouldering all the expenses of dating when what you really want is the financial stability of marriage. (Although this financial stability often comes from having money in your bank accounts in the first place, not actually from being married.) You might be tired of living in a microapartment and want to start thinking about houses or at least a one-bedroom. You might be worried about whether you need to freeze your eggs. You might be wondering whether you need to prepare for the costs of a breakup.
All of this, of course, on top of the nagging worry that your partner does not love you as much as (or, perhaps, “in the same way as”) you love your partner. This will eat relationships from the inside out.
There are two big ways of solving this problem. One of them is to propose.
However, some people don’t like to propose unless they’re sure they’re going to get a yes. It would, shall we say, ruin the moment. (Not to mention the expense of the proposal and/or ring, if you choose to propose in that fashion.)
Other people don’t like to propose because they suspect, in their hearts, that they’re the ones doing all the active “I choose you, Partnerchu!” and they want more than anything to be chosen, even in a symbolic gesture. (Or, perhaps, in the most symbolic of gestures.)
Or they simply want to start the conversation before the proposal, perhaps in part because they haven’t had a chance to discuss the “how will we combine our finances?” and “how will we spend our lives together?” questions, and they want to make sure they and their partner have similar life goals before anyone starts handing out rings and updating Facebook statuses.
Which brings us to the engagement ultimatum. Or, as a letter writer wrote to Dear Prudence:
My girlfriend of almost two years, part of it long distance, is turning 30 in a few weeks. She’s basically decided that if I haven’t proposed to her by then, she’s moving on. I love her very much but I don’t feel ready to make a big step like that, and I certainly don’t want to do it because of a deadline. This has put a real strain on our relationship—every disagreement devolves into a fight about “commitment.” I don’t want to lose her, but I don’t think this is a healthy way to move forward. Any advice?
Prudie, in what I think is a rather sensible response, tells the letter writer to end things with the girlfriend and set her free.
The commenters, of course, are furious that a girlfriend would issue such an ultimatum in the first place. “What kind of marriage,” they ask, “can be built upon such a straightforward and unromantic request? What other ultimatums will this woman hand down in the years to come?”
So I’m turning it over to you. Have you ever issued the engagement ultimatum? Have you thought about it? Do you think it’s a smart way of getting two people to come to some kind of agreement about “will we or won’t we,” or is it just another example of how our fast-paced, resource-strapped, results-focused culture has ruined everything?