So much attention is placed on the wedding that one can easily forget how stressful the engagement can be. Engagement is just as big of a jump from dating as dating is from being friends. Human emotions are complicated and multifaceted. The engagement decision should not be ruled by emotion. It needs to be governed by the brain’s higher functions. Emotions such as attraction and infatuation are what brings you together in the first place. But marriage is a commitment that supersedes the emotion of the moment.
Engagement is the only thing standing between you and the ever after. Whether or not that ever after is lived out happily depends a lot on the decisions you make while engaged. Some people treat the engagement as a trial run to see if they really want to be married. That is not the optimal way of viewing engagement.
You should already be sure this is the person you want to wake up with every morning. That question should already be settled. Dating is the question. Engagement is the answer. The ideal engagement is just the time spent planning the wedding with the biggest questions already out of the way. If you have not already asked and answered the big questions before the engagement, this is what should be decided immediately after.
The Size of the Wedding
Not everyone wants a “Big Fat Greek Wedding.” That sort of affair is exceedingly expensive and could set you back financially for years to come. Sure, spend a nice percentage of your savings on one of the finest diamond engagement rings you can find. That makes sense because the engagement is your pledge of commitment to one another while the wedding is your pledge of commitment to one another, family, and community. They are very different occasions that call for different sensibilities.
In 2016, the average cost of a wedding was over $35,000. There was a massive dip in 2020. But the prices are on their way back up to the stratosphere. If she dreams of something out of a fairy tale and you are envisioning something much smaller and more affordable, you are going to have to get in alignment in a hurry.
If you make a last-minute compromise, at least one of you might start the marriage with a nagging feeling of resentment. It is hard to recover from that kind of disappointment. So be sure to align your wedding plans as quickly as possible. It is one of those little things that ends up being a lot more important than you thought it would be.
The Size of the Family
Now that you have popped the question, it is time for some answers, especially regarding children. Just because you both have agreed that you want children doesn’t mean that you have agreed on the size of your future family. Agreeing to have one child is not the same as agreeing to two, three, or ten children.
This is one of those hidden assumptions inherent in many religious traditions. Some religions stress having as many children as possible, or at least doing nothing to prevent pregnancy. But if you come from a different religious tradition than your bride to be, you might not share the same assumptions about family size at all. This could be a deal-breaker at the engagement stage, or a marriage-breaker after the wedding. If you have not had explicit conversations about the size of the family you want, it is one of the most important negotiations you need to have right away.
The Size of Your Savings
You don’t need to do a credit check before marriage. But you do need to be on the same responsible page with regard to finances. One of the biggest things to negotiate is what it means to be financially responsible and secure. How much do you need to have in savings before you can feel safe? If the two of you are not on the same page, it could lead to marriage-wrecking financial differences that are irreconcilable. To avoid that fate, be sure to have this conversation up front regardless of how awkward it is.
Popping the question is a big step. Just be sure to ask all the other important questions like the question about the size of the wedding, the size of the family, and the size of the savings account.