Relationship Status: Nope, Still Not Engaged
This essay is our first entry into Issue 1 of Omakase Magazine: “Idols,” which will be running during September and October. To learn more about this issue, check out our Letter from the Editor.
Four years. Actually, three years and eight months if we’re going to get technical about it. That is how long my boyfriend and I were together, before I made the difficult decision to end the relationship. Three years and eight months of world travels, holidays spent with each other’s families, a year of long distance, living together in a shared apartment, adopting a puppy, and eventually moving across the country to start a new life together. It was a relationship filled with discovery, adventures, fights, and laughter. A loving relationship but ultimately one unable to last.
When I first broke up with my boyfriend, I couldn’t help but worry—what will people think? We had been dating for so long that our families and friends had stamped the “not married but pretty much married” label on us. Over the course of my relationship, relatives would constantly pester me with questions: When are you two planning on getting married? Did you know that your cousin just got engaged? Have you talked about whether it’s forever…you know, you’re not getting any younger. Even our friends would joke that we would be married by next summer. Although it was all a little exhausting, I accepted the barrage of questions, convincing myself that these were normal things one might hear in her mid-twenties.
Apart from being drilled about my relationship by family and friends, I began to recognize the role social media plays in idealizing marriage. For most of us, social media has become permanently ingrained in our lives. In fact, one of the first things I do when I wake up in the morning is check my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and Snapchat. We have allowed these platforms to become the epicenter for sharing news and flashy, pop-culture content. But beyond that, social media has transformed into a stage for “showcasing” our relationships.
Here’s a scenario you’re probably familiar with: the dreaded Facebook engagement. It seems that every time a person I know becomes engaged, the first place I hear about it is on Facebook. There I am, casually scrolling through my newsfeed when I see it: a picture of the couple (you know, the really attractive photo of them dressed to the nines, attending some gala event) with about 3 trillion likes and congratulatory comments. Accompanying the picture is an excited status that reads along the lines of “I just said yes to forever!”
Over the next year, I witness the wedding planning unfold through the usual, predictable posts: a weekly wedding countdown, professional engagement pictures, the moment she “said yes to the dress,” rants about the stresses of booking the perfect venue, the invention of their wedding hashtag 1 , etc. I was never bothered reading these posts; in fact, I always felt genuinely excited for my friend. Yet, as I entered my mid-twenties, the ever-increasing engagement announcements on Facebook served as a visual reminder that I was still unmarried. I didn’t need my family and friends to remind me that my boyfriend hadn’t gotten down on one knee when Facebook so kindly did that for me.
The overexposure began to chip away at my confidence, and I found myself questioning my relationship. Why weren’t we engaged? We have been together much longer than some of these couples…shouldn’t we be married by now? Is something wrong with us? I reminded myself that we were being smart for waiting because neither of us were financially ready to make the plunge into holy matrimony. However, the picturesque version of love that I kept seeing on Facebook continued to cause me anxiety late into the night. I wanted so desperately to be the girl in the picture with a ring on her finger.
Near the beginning of the third year of our relationship, I was dropping engagement hints like crazy. It became a constant obsession, and the wedding talk on social media was only feeding the monster. When my younger brother proposed to his college girlfriend on New Year’s Eve, I went into a complete panic. My boyfriend even commented that he was disappointed we weren’t engaged first, since we had been together longer and I was the oldest of my siblings. Despite being ecstatic for my brother, I still felt a twinge of jealousy after reading his engagement announcement on Facebook the next morning.
The rational and emotional parts of me were raging a war in my brain. With the divorce rate in this country so high, I contemplated why so many people were rushing their way down the aisle in the first place. Why was I letting myself get wrapped up in something that could potentially have a disastrous outcome? Was getting married at my age even typical of the average American woman, or was I the outlier? I needed answers, so I decided to do some digging. According to a survey conducted by WeddingtonWay.com, 43% of women from the South, 37% from the West, 32% from the Midwest, and 19% from the Northeast got engaged at age 24 or younger. Having spent most of my life in the South and Midwest, I wasn’t surprised by those numbers and felt that they were pretty representative of the long-married couples I knew from these regions. Additionally, the average age of engagement for women by region, across the country, ranged from 26.9 to 27.8. This discovery left me feeling incredibly uneasy as I was turning 26 in a year; I could feel the pressures of getting married weighing me down.
Post breakup, I took a lot of time to reflect on what the idea of marriage meant to me and how I had allowed social media to so easily place doubt and pressure on my relationship. I wanted to know if there were other people experiencing similar feelings, so I decided to conduct a marriage survey that polled 100 people on Facebook. I have listed the results of the survey below.
Gender of Respondents
What would you say is the ideal age a woman should marry?
Ages 18-21: 6%
Ages 22-25: 25%
Ages 26-29: 57%
Age 30 and above: 12%
Do you feel pressure from seeing other engaged couples on social media to get married sooner?
Do you feel like any of your friends have changed after getting married?
How many of your friends have become engaged in the last year?
Do you think a couple has to be together a certain period of time to become engaged?
Do you believe there are pressures on women to get married and raise a family?
Do you see yourself getting married one day?
Do you feel that it is important to get married?
Overall, I found the results of this survey to be very revealing about our society’s expectations on marriage. Although social media did not appear to pressure the majority of respondents to become engaged sooner, it did influence nearly one-third of survey takers. 60% believed that the ideal age to get married was between the ages of 26 and 29 and 40% admitted that three to five of their friends had become engaged within the last year. Nearly half of the participants were already married, with another 45% hoping to marry one day. These numbers certainly explain the spike in marriage proposals I was seeing regularly on my Facebook newsfeed. Furthermore, it saddened me to see that 85% of respondents (77 of whom were women) believed, like me, that women are pressured to get married and raise a family. Shouldn’t marriage be a person’s choice not an expectation?
Going through a painful breakup and conducting my own research on marriage has definitely changed my perspective on the subject. For the longest time, I believed the key to a happy life was following a very formulaic sequence: graduate from high school, graduate from college, get my master’s degree, get married, and so on, and so on. However, I now look at my singleness as a blessing. I do hope to get married one day, but I have accepted that it may not happen for a long time. Maybe it will never happen…and that’s perfectly fine too. I firmly believe that at the end of the day, the most important relationship you can have in life is the one you have with yourself. It has been a beautiful journey coming to terms with who I am and learning my comfort levels. I will never allow social media to determine my self-worth again.