Re-envisioning Engagement (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1.

In addition to understanding engagement as a dynamic state of being increasingly “almost married” (notably, lodged between two other dynamic states), I think we would benefit from changing at least two other elements of our view of engagement.

First, I want to contest the common view that the purpose of engagement is to plan a wedding. I think a wedding at its best is a celebration of a good thing in community. However, it seems that both the time and money required to have a wedding–or at least one that that competes with the contents of bridal magazines or our childhood fantasies–delay most marriages.

I find it telling that in a different time and culture engagement and marriage were often done quite differently. My grandparents married in the early 50s, when they were in their 20s. Mimi and Granddad met in June and started a relationship nearly immediately. They soon started talking about marriage, declared their plans more officially in December, and were married in a pastor’s home in February, with only my granddad’s family attending. (Hers lived in Chicago at the time and couldn’t make a trip to Kentucky.

While many people at the time had weddings, they did not. And according to my grandmother, this was not at all uncommon. I suppose we don’t know when most people today would get married without so much hoopla, but I find it telling that a year-long engagement is “standard” primarily because of the time needed to plan a wedding (just Google “engagement length” and check out the forums where women are comparing timelines) and that some people even opt to wait multiple years to marry to gather sufficient funds for the ceremony of their dreams.

When I asked Mimi if she thinks the rising popularity of cohabitation has contributed significantly to the lengthening of engagement, she replies with a hearty yes. People had shorter engagements and simpler ceremonies in the past, she believes, because it was culturally unacceptable to move in together or have sex without a marriage license.

I think it’s legitimate to have opinions about what you want your wedding to be like, and I don’t think it’s bad to spend time and money on some of the elements that are more important to you. However, I find it unfortunate that we put such a focus on weddings that few people feel they can get married without one of sufficient granduer. This not only creates a culture of weddings which marginalizes the have-nots (something we as Christians should avoid), but also encourages people to wait longer to get married for questionable reasons. Is a fancier ceremony really worth delaying your marriage for several more months? For some, perhaps, it is–and it’s not my place to judge them–but I feel shorter engagements would be better for many couples.

Weddings are a cultural practice, so they will undoubtedly be influenced by our cultures. We feel societal pressure to do our weddings in certain ways, and it’s not an evil thing to take part in this part of culture by following many of these norms. But we don’t need to follow every cultural convention, especially as we, as Christians, seek to do life in a way that aligns with kingdom values. And since these values include things such as chastity, commitment, generosity, and giving up status, I see a lot of pros with creating a culture of simpler, sooner weddings.

In my opinion, if you’re committed to each other and want to be married, it makes sense to go ahead and be married–and I believe we as Christians should do a better job supporting that.

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6 Comments

Filed under Engagement, Relationships, Social Justice, Weddings

6 responses to “Re-envisioning Engagement (Part 2)

  1. I agree with this on some levels, but I also think that the time of engagement is important for more than just preparing for a wedding. I think that a time of increased commitment (which is not usually present in dating) is something to get used to. Additionally, I think that marriage counseling (which I think everyone should do) is also something that is increasingly important, but should not be done until you’ve made the commitment to be married. I agree that there should be a movement towards being increasingly married (as you stated in your last post), but I think that engagement, especially for Christians, can be a really important thing, no matter how long or how short it is.

    I also agree with not spending so much time and money planning for a wedding. I also think that we, as Christians, should spend as much time preparing our hearts for a lifetime of marriage as we do preparing for the wedding itself.

    But we can talk about all of this later. =)

  2. Ashleigh Greene

    Betsey,

    I would agree with all of the above–but I don’t think so much time is needed for the task! Much of it, also, I think, depends on how long you were dating more seriously and discussing marriage before becoming officially engaged. If your relationship has been gradually but steadily evolving, for it to come to a grinding halt due to engagement can be quite a shock! I know you’re saying that the relationship should still be growing, but despite emotional growth, the inability to increase the level of commitment for an extended period of time certain feels like an odd pause.

    I have further more specific thoughts on pre-marital counseling, etc… but they are for another post.

    Regardless, I think the kind of preparation and adjustment you’re talking about could be accomplished in three months or so, rather than twelve, or even six. But I am clearly biased.

  3. Ashleigh Greene

    *certainly

  4. Mina

    I like your blog and the comments. I do not think we will change quickly. (you are going with the times) It will change. I wonder what most people will be doing when your children marry???

  5. Cathy

    I agree that the time and money spent on the wedding event is often excessive. The ‘big day’ is sometimes the focus instead of the couple’s relationship.

  6. Pingback: Re-envisioning Engagement (Part 3) « viveza

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