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For the betrothed couple and family and friends, the engagement can be a time of unequaled euphoria. The goodwill that engagements engender is both thrilling and contagious. The generous opening of hearts by others in celebrating your happiness is a touching testament to the power of love.
The engagement period is an essential time, both to fully plan your celebrations and to acclimate yourselves to the idea of becoming a couple. The engagement period may be most valuable as a time of adjusting to the fact that you are committed to sharing your life with another person. It's when the romantic fantasy of perfect love hits the bedrock of reality. This is the time to make certain that marriage is the right decision for both of you and to think through potential obstacles to your happiness and how you plan to deal with them.
Perhaps you are wondering whether the engagement is right for you. While there is potentially less pain for all concerned in the breaking of an engagement than in the ending of a marriage, there is nonetheless a sense of loss. A broken engagement affects not just your own emotions, but those of the people dear to you as well. Think it through carefully; once family and friends are told, your commitment becomes real. Ideally you will find that you briefly had "cold feet," and that working through possible conflicts now will only strengthen the bonds of your love and commitment to one another.
Finally, your engagement is also a time of overwhelming detail and enough stress to derail the most solid of unions. Don't give in to pressures to stage a celebration that ismore about the festivities and less about you. Stay focused on your vision. Delegate chores to others who have offered to help. Stick to the day-to-day routine activities of your life. And whether the time between your engagement and your wedding is six weeks or six months, remember to take time off from organizing every now and then to enjoy each other and to immerse yourself in the fun and happiness your engagement brings.
Engagement Etiquette Guidelines
Engagements require only a few simple guidelines. First, there are no papersto sign or tests to take to become engaged. You have only to say "yes" for anengagement to become official. Second, there is no prescribed length of time for anengagement. Some people might consider six months a long engagement;others take their time and stretch it out to three years. It may be as brief oras long as the couple requires to make their arrangements, save for their lifetogether, or complete schooling, work, or a period of mourning. What's typical? The average length for an engagement in the United States is fourteenmonths. Many couples say that six months to one year is a comfortablelength of time for them to be engaged.
Third, do not become officially engaged until you are divorced. Many a couple has jumped the gun and announced their engagement when a divorce is still in process. Even if an annulment or divorce is imminent, an engagement to another person should not be announced until the former union has been dissolved. Finally, a certain protocol should be followed in getting the news out about your betrothal. In sharing your engagement plans, certain family members and close friends should hear the news first.
Sharing The Good News
The guidelines of when, how, and to whom the news is spread have to do with people's feelings. Always let thoughtfulness be your guide.
Old Ways, New Ways
Historically, if the marriage had not been arranged by the two families in the first place, it was up to the groom to ask the young woman's father for permission to propose. If permission was granted, the groom would then, on bended knee, formally propose.
Today, in most cultures, things are very different. The bride and groom themselves usually make the decision to marry. Then they inform their families, but not necessarily to ask for their permission. Generally parents are the first to get the news, and in most cases the bride tells her parents and the groom tells his. But sometimes they do this together, sharing the news as a couple. Ideally the news does not come as a shock to the engaged couple's loved ones. If, during the courtship, the couple feels that their relationship is becoming serious, it's a good idea for each to become acquainted with the other's family members and close friends. If they live far away from family, the couple should be sure to mention their special relationship in phone conversations, letters, and/or e-mail before announcing their engagement.
Although it may seem old-fashioned, it is still courteous for the prospective groom to explain his career and life plans and his prospects to the bride's parents, as evidence of his respect for them.
When one or both members of the engaged couple has children from a previous marriage, the children should always be the first people to hear the news, told to them by their parent alone, without the future stepparent present. Children of any age need time to adjust to the idea. You should also tell an ex-spouse, if for no other reason than to smooth the way for your children's involvement. (See "Encore Weddings," chapter 11.)
Telling Other Relatives and Friends
Once parents and children have been told the news and not before the happy bride and groom will want to share their engagement plans with other relatives and friends. They can do so by making telephone calls, writing notes, or sending faxes or e-mails. Or they might wait and surprise everyone with an announcement at an engagement party. Regardless, there are certain people other than parents and children who should hear the news first, who would be hurt to read of the engagement in the newspaper or hear of it from someone other than the couple. These include grandparents, siblings, favorite aunts and uncles, and close friends. Always include them as special people in the know before the rest of the immediate world finds out.