'Finally'. That was the word the news of our engagement was met with most frequently. After eight years of dating, two years of cohabiting, countless romantic trips and the shared ownership of a car, sofa and other domestic entities, an overwhelming majority of friends and family led with the 'well, it’s about time' angle. I was OK with that – your family are just happy to see you take the next step. What I wasn’t OK with was the months – nay, years – of questioning that preceded the proposal itself. “When are you getting engaged?” was a question put to me so frequently in the first six months of 2018, my ring would be a few carats larger if I had a tenner for each time.
Firstly, I’m not the person to ask. As a traditionalist, I was waiting for my partner Ben to pop the question – there would be no surprise leap year proposals from me. That meant I was none the wiser about our engagement. I always knew we were on that track, but detailed dates, times and locations would have been something of a buzz kill, which means asking me about the specifics was not only intrusive but a total waste of time. Did inquisitors expect me to respond with hotel room numbers, geographical axes and calendar invites? Most of the time, I met questioning with a sweet smile and a 'you’d better ask him' gag. But, quite frankly, what do you have to gain from asking him? “You know what, great-aunt Susan, I haven’t asked her dad yet and haven’t even mentioned it to my own parents, but actually it’s next Thursday.” It’s a redundant question which, even if not intended, only makes couples feel pressured, uncomfortable and interrogated. And really, why do you even care? If for some miraculous reason Ben had decided to reveal the details of his planned proposal, are you then running out to buy a hat? Book a plane ticket? I'm genuinely not sure.
Our story has a happy ending, but for many couples, their mid-twenties are when the cracks being to show in long-term relationships. You have doubts, or discover new, unbearable habits – whatever it is, it’s not uncommon for even the most devoted of twentysomething sweethearts to part ways. So often, I wanted to bat back the proposal question with, “Actually, we’re breaking up”. Because even though it wasn't true, it would have been a lesson learnt the hard way for those who try to pry.
I know so many women for whom marriage is a real sore point. Many dream of their wedding day long before the significant other comes along, which makes engagement quite a taboo subject – it’s not uncommon for one half of a couple to be ready to march up the aisle long before their counterpart. When you ask a woman when she’s getting engaged, you could be completely oblivious to the fact she’s spent the weekend crying because her partner won’t commit, or made some unnecessary off-hand comment, or told her she has to wait another year. Touching that nerve is just cruel.
According to a recent study, waiting three years or more before getting hitched decreases your chance of divorce by 50%. That may not have applied to us, but it’s another compelling reason to lay off pressuring people just because they’re deemed to be the right age. Plus, why assume marriage is the end goal for all couples? In 2017, heterosexual marriages fell to an official low, with a 3.4% drop on the year before. From rising wedding costs (the average UK wedding now costs £27,000 with recent research showing this could hit £32,064 by 2028 ) to different lifestyle priorities, there are endless reasons why young people are deigning not to get hitched these days; the assumption we’ll all be walking down the aisle is officially outdated.
I may sound passionate about this, but there's one reason in particular that prevails. We may have been together for years, but Ben and I are only 27. The average UK woman gets married aged 30.8, giving me over three years to get to the point at which most people in Britain decide to settle down. I honestly, truly can’t wait to marry him, but even now the idea of being a wife and having a husband sounds like a distant, grown-up idea that doesn’t particularly interest me. In the past, if I was ever upset or impatient because he hadn’t proposed, it was only because the speculation of others made me feel as if it was overdue. Inside the walls of our relationship, I was perfectly content in the knowledge that it would happen when it happened. When we get married aged 28, we’ll still be quite young. So despite being OK with those 'finally's, and even though I smiled sweetly every time someone asked, it’s not a question I’ll ever put to anyone in future. No one needs that kind of pressure.