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Hey Rev!

My fiancé asked me to marry him but he’s scared to propose to me with a ring and I’m not trying to rush him.

Anna

House-ad_SPO_FKB_new_0429139Dear Anna:

What would happen if your fiancé were to give you a ring?

If the three of us — you, your fiancé, and I — were sitting in my office, that’s the question with which I would begin our conversation. Given that I’m not in the same room (and maybe not even in the same city) as you, I’m going to outsource the work of asking that question to the two of you. Go find a quiet place, turn off your phones, pour yourself some tea, and wonder together about what it is that makes a ring scary.

My guess is that there are four possible answers to that question. The first is both the most obvious and also the least likely: the act of formally proposing marriage makes your fiancé really nervous. The reason that scenario doesn’t strike me as especially likely is that the thing that typically makes a proposal high stakes (i.e., the person proposing marriage doesn’t know what answer he or she will receive) isn’t operative here. You have already told him “yes.”

The second possibility is that your fiancé is worried about the ways in which giving you a ring is going to change how the two of you are seen by your friends and your family. I remember being pretty self-conscious when Mrs. FKB first gave rings to one another; without using any words, we were announcing to the world that we were in a lifelong partnership. Publicly sharing something like that, especially if you and your partner are young, is a big deal. Via the rings on your fingers, you are announcing in an unequivocal way that you are adults. And you are announcing in an unequivocal way that the relationship which now primarily defines you is not the one that you share with your parents and your siblings but, rather, is the one that you share with your spouse. That’s a huge shift in identity.

The third possibility — and please forgive me, Anna, but we need to name this one out loud — is that your fiancé isn’t all that keen on getting married to you. Maybe you have been together for a few years and you feel like you “ought to be” married by now. Maybe a lot of your friends are getting married and there’s social and familial pressure to join in. Maybe the two of you have become sexually active, and one or both of you don’t like the idea that you are sleeping with someone whom you won’t be with forever. Maybe your fiancé senses that you aren’t actually all that keen on marrying him. If any of those scenarios come near the truth, if you and/or your fiancé are in any way ambivalent about getting married, then you need to name that out loud right now. As much as it may hurt, dealing with the knowledge of that ambivalence in time to break off your engagement — or, at least, to postpone it for a few years while the two of you keep on dating, keep on enjoying one another’s company, and do some growing up — is way better than discovering it five years into or marriage. And it’s miles better than discovering it after the two of you have kids.

The final possibility is pretty nuts and bolts: your fiancé may be worried about how expensive a ring is. There is huge pressure to spend an absurd amount of money on a ring, money that could be used to pay down student loans or to make a down payment on a house. If money is his anxiety — if the two of you are dealing with debt or limited incomes or both — then tell him to stop worrying. Tell him that you will marry him with a ring out of a Cracker Jack box or with a piece of string tied around your finger. You can get each another fancy jewelry when your finances are more stable.

I understand your instinct not to rush your fiancé. But, Anna, this is a conversation that you need to insist on having now. If it’s a conversation that the two of you are unable to have on your own, then enlist the help of a disinterested professional — someone who regularly works with couples. Either way, get talking, and find out what your fiancé’s fear is all about.

Categories: Beliefs

Martin Elfert

Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which the Divine was at work in the world. Shortly thereafter, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination.

2 Comments

  1. samuel Johnston

    Hi L.N.,
    I am inclined to think that your idea may be correct, at least it should be considered. I have been married only once, and for over forty years and still counting. Nothing scared me so much as the idea of being responsible for another person – for life. Oddly, I accepted our daughter’s birth more quickly. She is now thirty five and I cannot imagine our life without her.
    Young people deserve to be listened to and not just lectured. We were among the happy few who disregarded our parents opinions, and decided for ourselves. We have a better marriage than either of our parents ( they are deceased, but would likely agree).

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