This post was originally published on Role Reboot.
Last week I was in the emergency room for a rabies shot (don’t ask) and found myself listening to an awkward conversation between a nurse, who had just gotten engaged, and her co-worker:
Co-worker: “I’m mad that you didn’t invite me.”
Nurse: “To what? I just got engaged.”
Co-worker: “Oh, I thought you got married and didn’t invite me to the wedding.”
Nurse: “Um, no, we haven’t had the wedding.”
The uncomfortable conversation then continued with more wedding-related banter. The proposal that she knew was coming. In Italy (of course). How pretty the ring is. How her mom keeps calling about wedding plans. And the venue they’re going to see tonight.
It is with this oh-so-familiar scenario in mind that I humbly call for an end to marriage engagements. Hear me out…
What is the point of getting engaged anymore? You don’t need an engagement to send out wedding invitations, right? And most folks know that they’re going to get married soon (and have been dropping hints and arguing about it long before the “proposal”). Wedding venues can be booked without proof of engagement, and the deposit alone should be enough to demonstrate commitment.
Is it for the bachelor/bachelorette party? The engagement party? Or just the months of people congratulating you on your engagement before many more months of people congratulating you on your wedding? Is it for the validation? Or, worse, to simply brag?
OK, I get it—the Facebook ring photos are exciting (so much so that I jokingly announced on social media my own intent to get engaged for the Facebook likes). And for those of you who plan on making your wedding photo your profile pic for the next 10 years, I get the desire to stretch out the whole wedding thing. Even though I wasn’t one of those girls who grew up waiting for a man to surprise me, confess his undying love for me, and beg me to marry him, I understand. Everyone wants to feel special.
But this surprise “magical moment” doesn’t really happen for many engaged couples today. Recent studies tell us that, on average, people getting married have been dating their partners for at least two years. And as of three years ago, nearly 66% of recently married folks had already been living together for that amount of time. Most people today know when they’re ready to take the next step and do so as well-established adults.
Historically, no one even knows where “down on one knee” wedding proposals originate (though some best guesses involve knights). As for the ring, scholar Vicki Howard writes that American wedding jewelry practices rose as part of an industry effort to recession-proof their business. Giving an engagement ring became popular only after the European conquests of Africa in the late 1800s when (stolen) diamond supplies increased. Mass marketing campaigns managed to convince young couples that “diamonds are forever” and spurred on the new expensive custom even during economic hardship.
And the tradition of offering a gift in exchange for a marriage commitment comes from the time period in which a bride’s parents negotiated her as part of a larger property contract with the groom (with or without her permission). In fact, the engagement dowry was originally intended as a move to undercut the bride’s agency in selecting her mate.
Do you really want to take part in a tradition that has that much baggage?
So, perhaps it’s time to let this tradition go. Think of all the ways you can free your friends and family. No fumbling, phony proposal you already know is coming. No expensive engagement party. No blood diamonds. No ring you already picked out yourself and pretending to be surprised. No endless proposal stories.
And while we’re at it, no bridesmaids either (is there a reason we’re still doing that too?).
Pick a date to get married. Plan the details without the input of strangers who notice your ring on the subway. Find an outfit you like. Send out invitations to the people you love. And marry your best friend. You’ll get a lot less fuss and, I’m betting, enjoy the whole experience that much more.
Do you think getting engaged is an outdated concept?
Khadijah Costley White is an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. She writes on race, gender, and politics in media.
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