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.