Time to change the rules of engagement

After getting over the constant embarrassment that is referring to the person you sleep with as your “boyfriend” (too teenage?), your “partner” (too gay?) or your “other half” (too liable to make people throw up?), the next stage in many relationships is the corniest of all: getting engaged.

There is something irredeemably smug and horrid about getting engaged. It smacks of two 17-year-olds who just want to have sex without their parents being able to say anything, with a cubic zirconia solitaire.

And is there anything more gut-wrenching than hearing people say, “My fyee-awn-saay”?

What used to be a time for relatives to get together some kind of home for the joining of two families is now seen as a dress rehearsal for the epic materialistic adventure that is the average £13 000 British wedding. Either that, or it’s a holding pattern in an essentially tired romance.

Everyone knows somebody who’s been engaged for years, so that answering the question “What the hell are you two doing?”, they can reply, “Well, we’re engaged”.

This way they stall having to think through to their own next stage, technically known as “holding out for someone better”.

The longer the engagement, the less likely the wedding; and if there is a wedding, the more likelihood of complete meltdown in the first six months.

The problem is, even if you are serious, the whole thing has been hijacked by the fluffy bunny love-woo romance addicts.

After all, when you’ve been living together for several years, isn’t a trumpeted engagement little more than showing off J-Lo style? And isn’t it a little demeaning for women to have to advertise their decrease in availability, as if a diamond is the only thing stopping them spreading their favours?

“I was 22 the first time I got engaged and I absolutely hated it,’’ says writer Lisa Jewell. “I found my engagement ring physically uncomfortable. I used to take it off on the tube on the way home or whenever I was on my own, and I would immediately feel calmer.”

For men the traditional sense of pride in ownership may not have gone entirely, however equally the household chores may be split.

“I felt being a ‘fiance’ was a bit debonair,” says my friend James. “Like I was telling the world someone liked me enough to say ‘yes’.

“It was good to have a transition into doing such a grown-up thing as getting married.”

There’s no doubt a period of betrothal is a useful time to get your head around the idea that you intend to spend all your days together, but the ritual of bestowing women with obvious rings while cheekily asking for more material goods is well on the way to passé.

It may also be that marriage is comparitively so risky these days that we need to celebrate the fact that two people are even contemplating joining the minority demographic of “married couples still together”.

Or maybe we just need a new phrase. As an American friend said, on tiring of introducing her intended to everyone: “This is Hal. We’re fucking. For ever.” — Â



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