Girl Talk: How Engagements Are A Crash-Course In Marriage

Before I got engaged, I used to think a couple’s truest test of compatibility and readiness for marriage was living together. What could be more of a test, I reasoned, than successfully sharing the same space, splitting the bills, and delegating household chores while still enjoying each other’s company and remaining sexually attracted to one another? That’s why, when my boyfriend proposed after nearly a year and a half of co-habitation, I didn’t hesitate in saying ‘yes.’ I’d lived with a boyfriend before — for over three years — and when that relationship eventually became more like brother-sister than boyfriend-girlfriend, I ended things and wondered if it was even possible for me to live with someone and continue loving him in the romantic sense. But then I met Drew and realized it was.From the beginning, things clicked into place. We tackled the obstacle of the 700 miles between us, I moved to New York from Chicago, and planned to stay with him until I got a job and found my own place. Secretly, though, I didn’t have much intention of finding my own apartment. I used the plan as an “out,” in case those first few weeks at Drew’s place were a catastrophe and we realized it was too soon for that kind of togetherness. And the truth is, things were a bit of a catastrophe — I was homesick and missed my friends, I couldn’t find a job for months, I was running out of money, and I resented that so much of Drew’s life remained unchanged while mine had been completely uprooted. But I still liked living with Drew, and he, God bless him, liked living with me. Even when things were bad — oh, and they were a box-of-Kleenex-a-day bad for a while — we still had fun together, still remained attracted to each other, and if that didn’t prove compatibility, commitment, and readiness for marriage, what did?

Three weeks away from my wedding, I can say with complete confidence that surviving an engagement and planning a wedding tests a couple’s readiness for rmarriage way more than simply shacking up together does. The stress! The anxiety! The excitement! The realization that, “Oh my God, I’m going to spend the rest of my life with this person! Like, forever!” There’s a ton of emotional stuff to process when planning a wedding — family dynamic issues that pop up, anxieties (and excitement) about the future, the seemingly endless evaluation of all the other relationships in a couple’s life — in a relatively short amount of time (for us, five months). And there’s all this stuff to take care of — securing a venue, deciding on a guest list, finding a dress — the list seems endless and ever-growing. If you’re like me, it can seem like every detail, every decision that has to be made — especially the ones that involve large sums of money, and when it comes to weddings, which decisions don’t involve large sums of money? — are metaphors for the relationship, signs of how you’ll navigate future stresses in the marriage. It’s no wonder so many engagements end before the wedding.

But thank God for the engagement period, you know? Because more than sharing space and delegating household chores, planning a wedding, with it’s financial strain, endless list of responsibilities and emotional upheaval, forces you to communicate and really evaluate how well you work together before you sign the papers and make it legal. Are you a couple who shares in the planning or is one person doing the brunt of the work? Do you express your issues or concerns before you blow up? Do you agree with how the money’s being spent? Do you share a similar vision for the wedding? And more importantly, do you share a vision for the marriage? If the answer is no, perhaps it’s best to postpone or cancel the wedding — there’s no shame in saving yourself from potential lifetime of unhappiness.

For us, thankfully, the answer has been ‘yes’…and three weeks from now it will be “I do.”