When you meet the one you’re going to marry, you see that person as your equal. For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, your partner will be there to stand by your side—not above or below you, in terms of status. Yet as well matched as you may be, when it comes to getting engaged, it’s possible your feelings might not duplicate those of your soon-to-be husband or wife.
While 94 percent of couples have the “marriage talk” prior to getting engaged, with as many as 30 percent talking about it at least once a week based on survey conducted by Zola.com, there still seems to stand a gap between how each sex is affected by the “engagement itch”—that anticipatory time before popping the question.
Photo by Jordan Lee
Itching to Get Hitched
“Women definitely get the engagement itch before men,” says Dr. Jane Greer, New York-based relationship expert and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship. “They get settled into the relationship, and often they’re already living with their man and want the security of knowing they’re not just living with someone temporarily—it’s a lifelong commitment.”
That’s not to say men are dismissive about commitment—they just might be looking at it from a different perspective. “Men tend to resist [getting engaged] until they feel more grounded and stable in their careers,” says Greer. “For them, it’s often a decision of practicality. They want the financial resources they feel they need to be able to get married.”
It’s safe to say most men and women want to get married for the right reasons—they love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together. Still, it’s not hard to see how other circumstances influence the itch factor for both sexes.
Photo by Madisen Hardisty
Her Point of View
Mom’s to blame: When it comes to weddings, sometimes mom thinks she knows best. Granted, she’s likely just excited to have the dream of her daughter walking down the aisle in a white dress come to fruition, but it can be a stressor for her daughter. That was the case for Sasha from New York City: “Ugh! My mother for sure put pressure on me. She wants everything to be a certain way.” Whether it’s subtle hints or mom moving ahead with wedding plans before diamond cuts are even considered, she can play a role in her daughter’s need or want to say “I do.”
Societal stress: Mom’s not the only one potentially influencing an engagement; societal norms play a pressure point too. Often steeped in tradition and history, some people seem to expect females to marry by a certain age. “I felt extreme pressure [as] I’ve never been married and am an older than average first-time bride,” says Andrea, from Loveland, CO, who just turned 44-years-old. “[Before getting engaged] I got asked a lot: ‘Why aren’t you married?’ and ‘When are you getting married?’”
And if a woman is in a committed relationship, she’s sure to get flooded with questions about when she and her partner will seal the deal. “I feel there’s a lot of pressure to get engaged,” says Karina, from St. Petersburg, FL. “My family was constantly asking us when we were getting married—it was annoying. We wanted it to happen naturally.”
Photo by J Photography, Tampa + Florida
Commitment confirmation: Prior to the 1960s, premarital cohabitation wasn’t much of a thing as it simply wasn’t the norm. Times have changed, and more couples are living together for multiple reasons before getting hitched. As Dr. Greer states, many women are already living with their partners, so engagement is often the next step toward feeling as though the relationship hasn’t stalled—or come to a complete stop. Even without any red flags that things are on the rocks, some women may be second guessing commitments and wondering the truth about the old (and sexist) saying of, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”
The ticking clock: For those ladies who want to have babies, they may be doing the math on how many fertile years are left once their significant others finally pop the question. Andrea understands this pressure, even though she now approaches the relationship with her fiancé from a much calmer mindset. However, when they had their first go at dating, she didn’t feel time was on her side. “I pushed him away due to the urgency of getting married and having children,” Andrea says.
The wedding itself: Yes, the marriage should be what couples look forward to after the big question is asked, but let’s be real—some women are also very excited about wearing a sparkly ring and planning the wedding.
“I totally didn’t think the ‘itch’ would affect me after being together for six years and living together for three, but it did,” says Amanda, from Richmond, VA. Despite feeling pretty settled with her significant other, she admits there’s still a part of you “that just gets thrilled at the idea of sporting a new ring on your finger.”
His Point of View
Building a strong foundation: The societal norm for females getting married is that they’ll be taken care of, so the obvious flip side is that males will be the ones providing that care. While a 2016 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the number of households with just the man making the money in a married household was less than 20 percent, the old stigma for men to bring home the proverbial bacon still exists.
“I had a lot of pressure from her family,” says Chris, from St. Petersburg, FL. “They’re really traditional, so when we made the decision to move in together, they wanted that extra commitment as well. It was a running joke every time they saw me [to] ask me when the wedding was!”
Knowing she’s the “one”: Women tend to weigh their emotions pretty heavily into the “love” equation, whereas guys tend to be more realistic, checking in with gut feelings. While some men knew the second he saw her, others might tread more carefully.
This pragmatic approach may be slower and more thoughtful, and could be due in part to the high divorce rates they saw growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when breakups up were at their biggest as reported in the New York Times. No one enters into a marriage hoping to divorce one day, so his trepidation may be less cold feet and more ensuring that his gut feeling is trustworthy.
Photo by J Photography, Tampa + Florida
Cold feet: Marriage is a huge step in a relationship, and fear of the unknown can be pretty scary. “Some guys just have cold feet and are afraid of marriage—period,” says Greer. “They may be afraid to make this serious commitment. Sometimes it just takes time. I have a patient who waited years for her boyfriend to propose, even though they were living together and she was absolutely ready. It wasn’t about her; it was about his own security.”
Manliness: As stereotypical as it may seem, some guys just aren’t that great at showing their emotions when it comes to the mushy love stuff. “I think men may feel that same itch, but have too much pride to vocalize it,” says Sean, from Chicago.” So while he might not be building his Pinterest boards in prep for the big day, the excitement about getting engaged may match his partner’s—he just doesn’t put it out there for all (or even her) to see.
The engagement: Let’s face it, the guys have a lot to shoulder when it comes to popping the question. “Every day there’s a new viral wedding video or proposal popping on her newsfeed, and she wants that fairytale ending too,” says Chris, who has one request for the wannabe engaged guys out there: “Stop proposing on top of the moon and shutting down Times Square to propose—you make it way too hard to top!”
Women and men may have differing views on when’s the right time and reasons to get engaged, but it’s not a complete he said/she said. Guys found family and society to badger them just as much as future brides. “My mom is wonderful, but I think she loves my fianceé more than she loves me,” says Sean. “She was giving me not-at-all-subtle hints that she was ready for me to propose.”
And feeling financially secure and independent isn’t just a male issue—the females feel it too. “My dad died when I was 11, and I watched how difficult it was for my mom to support our family,” says April S., from Minneapolis. “I knew firsthand from a very young age that I didn’t want to put myself in that position. I married my husband when I was almost 34 and he was 38. He is a doctor, and I have my Ph.D. We both purchased homes and had successful careers prior to getting married. I made establishing myself a much higher priority than getting married.”
Photo by Ashley Ludaescher
Bridging the Gap
Given that equal rights for women such a hotbed topic, it’s hard not to view parts of the engagement itch battle of the sexes as antiquated—women wanting the security of a marriage and men wanting to shoulder the providing. Traditions may dictate this slightly, but stereotypes are also being bucked more and more every day. The important thing is for couples to get on the same page about their future together. Here’s how:
Talk it out: If you and your partner’s engagement story feels a bit like The Tortoise and the Hare, communication can help. “The timeline is different for every couple,” says Greer, who reminds that transitions such as new jobs, new living arrangements or not being settled in a career can add to the waiting game. If everything is pretty stable and you’ve been together for years, it might be time for a tougher talk, diving deep into commitment concerns, intimacy issues or if what you both want from life doesn’t match up.
Look at individual perspectives: When asked individually to answer questions online regarding the engagement itch, Sean and his fianceé Jen used it as a relationship building activity. “We did it separately, then went over our answers together,” she says. “It was fun to see how we compared.” Want to do the same? Here are few questions to get you started:
- Who in the relationship was the first to start thinking seriously about marriage/getting engaged and what do you think are that person’s reasons?
- What pressure (if any) do you feel about getting married/getting engaged and what are the sources of that pressure?
- What’s the most exciting thing about getting married?
- What’s the most frightening thing about getting married?
Remember the end goal: Bottom line—it should be more about the love and life you want to share, and less about a big celebration and expectations from others.
Photo by By Tezza
Written by Carrie Anton