Monday, February 13, 2006

otherwise engaged.

ok, so last time around, i threw out some hypothetical questions about the nature of "getting engaged" and whether maybe, sometimes, it's not entirely necessary. didn't get a whole lotta feedback there. but that's all right, because i'm hardly sure what i think either.

i realize the practical nature of getting engaged in terms of setting a "beginning" and an "end" to the wedding planning process. i figured someone would hit me with that one right out of the gate, but no one did! of course people need time to plan a wedding. it could be a vastly different amount of time for different couples, depending on if you're talking 500 people at the Plaza or two in Vegas, but there's time involved nonetheless. however, when you think about it, the only necessity of "engagement" is the concrete agreement between two people that, okay, let's get married, and let's do it this way, and let's do it at this time. because you can start planning then (and, if you're going for the two in Vegas option, you don't even need to tell anyone else that you're "engaged"!).

so, the practical side of engagement seems to be taken care of with the agreement between two people to marry. i'm cool with that - you have to decide one way or the other sometime, right? but it's the rest of the trappings with which i am less comfortable. where to start, where to start..

1) the gender roles of "getting engaged"

you'd think, in this day and age, that we as a society would at least be an itty-bitty bit comfortable with the idea of women proposing to men. however, i don't think that we are. i think it's still seen as this weird, devious, aberrant thing about which people are just polite enough to say "oh, well isn't that nice", barely contain a smirk, and then go gossip about in the hallway. (you might try to contradict me on this, saying "but my aunt/friend from college/co-worker proposed to her boyfriend!" well sure, that may be true, and good on her. that doesn't mean society at large is ok with it yet.) and i will be totally honest here - the reason i know society isn't ok with it is that deep down, i think a part of me would not be ok with proposing to BoyCat instead of the other way around. gasp! i know. behold the power of social conditioning. in the long run, i don't think that little voice in the back of my head whispering "but that's not how it's done" would be enough to stop me from doing anything regarding engagement and weddings - there's too much contrarian in me to allow for an excess of conformity - but i cannot deny that it is there. and the whole thing is so fucking patriarchal, i don't even need to tell you. you know.

2) the diamond ring

this is obviously a symbolic extension of the above issue, but with a little extra objectification thrown in. the tradition of the man proposing to the woman follows the old line of women being things that are "won," objects to be bought and sold (if you think i'm exaggerating, go brush up on the history of marriage. i'm not going into it here, because it's enough to make me swear off the institution forever if i think about it too much). the diamond engagement ring embodies this issue. two people get engaged, yet only one is expected to wear a physical signifier that she is "taken," "spoken for," "off the market." why is there no cultural expectation for a man to make manifest his promise of eventual marriage and fidelity? oh right, because he's not the commodity.

3) engagement parties

i don't even really need to justify this frustration, do i? i mean seriously, could you be more crass? you're already having bachelor and bachelorette parties, a rehearsal dinner, a shower, and a freaking wedding where people will practically throw money at you just for showing up in a white dress and a tux. for gods sake, stop panhandling! i worked at a country club as a function server one summer, and engagement parties were hands down the most annoying functions to work. weddings were more stressful, but engagement parties - good god. the materialism, the cattiness, the self-congratulatory smugness! hey, you just got engaged, you didn't cure cancer - get over yourself! if i had a nickel for every time i wanted to punch some bride-to-be, or her maid-of-honor-to-be, or her mother-of-the-bride-to-be, well, i'd be able to afford that destination wedding that BoyCat and i joke around about.

that's all i got on engagements for tonight. phew, all that verbal fist-shaking is tiring. next up, a consideration of why, even in light of all these glaring problems, i have not ruled out this time honored tradition for myself.

i must be crazy.


Hugo said...

Terrific post. As a pro-feminist man in my fourth marriage, I've got loads and loads of thoughts on this subject -- and some considerable reluctance to blog more about it out of respect for my wife. But your post is filled with good things to reflect on -- especially the signifier of the diamond...

Mike said...

Well, it's nice to know I don't have to worry about buying you an engagement or wedding gift. about a load off of my shoulders.

Do you happen to know anything about engagement rings in same-sex marriages? Do lesbian couples buy each other a ring? And would I be expected to buy someone a ring, or is the whole thing pushed aside. And if men do have engagement rings, what do they look like? Somehow, I find the term "Princess Cut" both appropriate and inappropriate at the same time.

Just wondering...

Toast said...

Ah, yes. This would be the depressing side of feminism.

east side girl said...

Okay, I'm very absorbed by this subject right now, mostly b/c I'm experiencing it first hand.

When you get engaged, all of a sudden there are these societal expectations upon you--you MUST set a date, you MUST abide by tradition, yada yada yada.

But ultimately, it's really up to the couple whether or not to abide by the wedding rules foisted upon us by society. It's really about what you want, personally. Personally, I want something atypical. But truthfully, sometimes it's so difficult to question the "norms" and get realistic answers that it seems easier just to go along with the status quo. Maybe that's why so many women do it. Planning a wedding is stressful and difficult anyway--why rock the boat any more than you have to, right?

As for the ring--I gave spiceboy an engagement ring. I actually gave him his ring before I got mine. And it means a lot to both of us and I'm really glad I did it. It made me feel like an active participant in the engagement process, and not a "commodity."

I could go on, but I'm taking up a lot of space here and I have to do some work.

dorothy rothschild said...

Mr. Benchley asked me back in November to marry him. Once divorced, I was skeptical about ever getting married again. I mean why, really? But I know that after about a year with him, I started thinking about that. About getting married. About having a formal commitment to each other than our already understood and verbalized one.

When he asked, I said yes.

I said yes even though I think that in many ways marriage is bad for women.

I said yes even though my gay and lesbian friends can't get legally married.

I didn't want a diamond. I think they're kinda silly (plus the whole evil African diamond trade). One would look ridiculous on me. Plus, I could think of other things Mr. Benchley and I could use that money for other than a sparkly rock.

For some reason, I wanted an engagement ring, though. So I picked out a little sterling silver band with tiny garnets sprinkled on it.

I just wanted something from him. A token. I don't know.

The gals at the office were aghast that he didn't get me a big rock.

There were tsk tsk tsks all around about no engagement party.

Our wedding is going to be super small. And we are not having surf and turf for 500 under a tent.

Maybe it's just social conditioning the even wanting to get married. The wanting to have an engagement ring (and I totally would have gotten him one, but he is not the type to wear jewelry).

You want what you want sometimes.

DancingFish said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DancingFish said...

My ex and I were engaged and he had a ring too...just a wedding band that we were going to upgrade at wedding time.

This time, since we are doing these things for the right reasons, I don't really want a big flashy anything. A symbol of love and commitment can really be anything and down payments on houses, pets, travel are all just as symbolic. And probably way more fun.

The whole idea of balancing your own expectations with those of society let alone those of family and friends seems like the most overwhelming part of planning the wedding...

kate.d. said...

mike, that's a good question. i think there are no hard and fast rules (obviously), which is a good and bad thing i guess. for instance, i work with one woman who "married" her girlfriend (we're in illinois, not massachusetts, so it was a ceremony w/out legal meaning), and she wears a diamond engagement ring and a wedding band. i'm not sure if her girlfriend wears the same, but i'd be interested to know. and for men, there's no real way to signify engagement without going the diamond route, which in a way i find subversive and interesting! but obviously, this would not work for any and all gay men.

oh, and you may have to buy me a wedding present - never say never! you can't be rid of your gift giving anxieties that easy!

dorothy, your point of "you want what you want sometimes" gets to the heart of my confusion and questioning of this whole issue, i think. because how do we know why we want the things we want? how critical should we be of our own choices and desires, and how much should we go with the flow?

these are honest questions that i'm trying to work my way through - thanks for reading as i blather on about it :)