Marriage & Babies Relationships

Does a ring validate a relationship?

Our writer Ellen talks about her experience getting engaged and how it's changed her relationship with her fiancé.

The Growing Up Guide Wedding ring marriage fiance relationship

Your 20’s are a strange time. It can sometimes feel as though everyone around you is getting engaged, married and starting families, while you’re trying to figure out what it is you actually want to do with your life.

Or you could be in a long-term relationship, stuck in that fuzzy transition of feeling like a child and an adult, waiting for your partner to pop the question.

My fiancé proposed to me exactly one month before my 21st birthday. I had been dropping hints for the last year, and when he got down on one knee with a perfectly cut diamond ring at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

I was overwhelmed with emotion. Primarily joy, love, gratitude and excitement. But also confusion, nervousness and, if I’m completely honest, sheer panic.

What would my friends think? What would my parents think? Was I too young to be engaged? I was certainly in no position to begin planning a wedding.

One thing I was certain of: I wanted to marry this man.

I rang my parents, my sister, and told my closest friends. Everyone was incredibly supportive and happy for us. And now, a year and a half later, we are in the bizarre circumstance of being in a long-distance relationship whilst being engaged. I’m a student, he’s in the army, and we’re both beginning to plan a wedding that will happen at some unconfirmed date in the future.

After the proposal, I was swept away in the moment, recounting the tale of our engagement to everyone who asked and taking as many pictures as I could with my new diamond ring. If I’m honest, I loved the attention.

Now, when new friends find out I’m engaged, their reaction often seems excessive, and I find myself wondering why we think that being engaged is so much better than being in a relationship.

Becoming engaged – promising a marriage and life together – is definitely a milestone. It’s a commitment the same as any other ‘big step’ in a relationship: becoming monogamous, moving in together… But why do we find this so exciting?

Is it because we just love the prospect of a wedding? (I mean, who doesn’t love free drinks and cake?) Or is it something more?

To other people, I can see how the status of ‘engaged’ validates our relationship. It’s a sign of dedication. “We are going to spend the rest of our lives together”. It sounds more serious than ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’, which could mean anything from a handful of days to a multitude of years together.

It’s also a sign of maturity. A ‘real adult’ thing that says we’re all grown up and planning the rest of our lives.

It’s not something to be taken lightly, either. Most people only get engaged once in a lifetime. These things don’t happen every day.

But does being engaged change how I feel about my fiancé? Does it fill the gaps in our relationship that exist due to our physical, proximal distance? Does it make what we are any more ‘real’ than what we were before deciding we would marry each other?

I don’t know the answers to these questions.

My sister is engaged. For her relationship, this was the next logical step. They’ve been together several years, travelled together, bought a house together, and (most importantly) have a cat together.

She is a real adult working in a real job, and she’s going to get married next year and probably start a family soon after. This is startling, because she’s my sister and she’s only a couple of years older than I am, but it seems natural. It’s what is supposed to happen.

I have friends who have married for financial and legal benefits: friends with children looking for support, friends in the armed forces seeking houses. And though they undoubtedly love each other an incredible amount, for them a marriage has a lot more to offer than tradition or symbolism. This, again, is logical.

For me, I sometimes feel like I’m just a big child stumbling my way through a relationship and somehow along the way I ended up with a ring on my finger.

I definitely don’t regret saying yes to my partner, but I think that we sometimes elevate the engagement. We easily romanticise the idea, and forget that really, it doesn’t make much of a difference.

To other people, I think our status of engaged does validate our relationship. But between me and my partner, I don’t believe anything has changed.

If there has been a shift in our dynamics since becoming engaged, I haven’t noticed. We’re exactly the same as we’ve always been.

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