What's the deal?
GETTING ENGAGED | What to expect till you walk down the aisle -- and beyond
Congratulations! He proposed on Valentine's Day, right on schedule. But before you go showing off that sparkler, allow us to pop the real question:
What, exactly, did you just agree to?
Do you have to start planning the wedding immediately? Or is this just a relationship upgrade? Is it a trial run for commitment, with no hard feelings if you back out?
Here's what we found out about engagement expectations:
"I'd say being engaged is 90 to 95 percent of the way to being married," says Adnan Abu-Yousif, a researcher who finished his doctorate last November. "It certainly shouldn't be a casual period in your relationship."
Abu-Yousif doesn't do anything halfway. He took his girlfriend of 3½ years, Alissa Lew, to dinner at their favorite French restaurant in Lincoln Park. He surprised her by arranging for her out-of-town family to be present, and then proposed on bended knee.
Jeremy Adams, a Chicago publicist, just got engaged to his girlfriend of 2½ years. While the proposal was romantic, the engagement is all business, he says. "It should be as short as possible, since it's basically the time taken to plan for the wedding," says Adams. "From a guy's perspective, the planning process should be as brief and painless as possible."
For Bree Richter, getting engaged was a formality. She and her boyfriend had been dating for five years, and living together for two. "I would hope that if you're engaged, you know your soon-to-be life partner as good -- or almost as good -- as if you were already married," she says.
The best part about getting engaged? The parties, says Richter.
It's been a different experience for Alissa Lew, who's getting married to Abu-Yousif. "Planning a wedding is competitive, especially if you're getting married in a big city," she says. "For the last 9½ months, my fiance and I have been planning the ultimate downtown Chicago wedding, from the right flowers, to the right caterer, to managing our parents' expectations."
They've had to change the wedding date three times. "If you're not ready to walk down the aisle the day after your engagement, you shouldn't be getting married," Lew says.
The stress level of an engagement is not something you're prepared for, says Erin Pierce, who got engaged while double-parked at the Daley Center's Picasso statue. Even putting together their gift registry was an eye-opener. They were affectionate when they arrived at Macy's, and the salesman joked that couples are never that happy after registering.
He was right. After disagreeing about bedsheets, they returned the scanner and left.
"For the record, we've gone back and added to the registry a few times since and it's been much better," says Pierce. "We just needed to put things in perspective -- we want to marry each other, not a particular china pattern."
The engagement isn't just about planning your wedding, says Elizabeth Lluch, editor-in-chief of the parent company of WeddingSolutions.com. "It should also be about enjoying each other and being engaged."
But age is everything, says Amy Schoen, a "Motivated to Marry" relationship coach. "Generally, I believe younger people -- 30 and under -- should be [engaged] for at least two years," she says. "As you get older, you have a better idea what you want and what you need in a relationship. After 35, if someone desires to be married and to have a family, then the engagement should not be more than a year."
Romance has its place, but so does practicality, says Josey Miller, senior editor at iVillage.com.
"I'm always wary of couples who get engaged in less than a year," she says. "Where's the fire?"
It takes about a year for people to drop their guard and let their true selves emerge, says Kathy Stafford. She should know; she's the author of the book Relationship Remorse.
You don't necessarily have to break off the engagement if unexpected problems crop up. But "you should certainly extend the engaged period," says Hillary Kahn, a Chicago-based matchmaker with JretroMatch.com. "It is not as permanent a decision as marriage, and it is not as devastating as a divorce."
Keep your eyes on the prize, says Michelle McKinney Hammon, author of How to Make Love Work. "The wedding ceremony is not your life," she says. "The marriage is."
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU WAIT TO BECOME ENGAGED?Go to www.suntimes.com and let us know what you think.