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The moment that Alexander and I got engaged on Christmas Day in 2017, my entire life changed. I was prepared for all the excitement, all the screams and cheers and how much my face hurt from smiling for months afterwards.
What I was not prepared for, however, was all the questions. The questions that started almost immediately. How did the engagement happen? I was ready for that one.
But then came Have you set a date yet? Will you have children? Where will you live? Will you take his last name? Where will your wedding be? How do your families feel? Have you thought about where you’ll go on your honeymoon? Did you get your engagement ring insured? Will you have a large or small wedding? Do you know what kind of wedding you want? Where will you buy your wedding dress?
Ahhhhhh! My head quickly started spinning from it all, as did Alex’s. These questions are all asked out of love of course but it’s a lot to handle! Getting engaged is simultaneously wonderful and overwhelming. Still, let me add one more question to the pile that we faced initially and you may too when you get engaged: are you choosing a long or short engagement?
Let me cut to the chase: there’s no wrong answer. It’s not as if one choice is correct while the other is wrong. This is not a dichotomy. Instead, I’d like to take this post to illustrate the factors we considered when deciding on choosing a long or short engagement. I hope to guide you through the same choice you may be making!
WHAT IS CONSIDERED A LONG OR A SHORT ENGAGEMENT?
In planning Alex’s and my wedding, I’ve come to realize that many terms are relative. For example we’ll have about 100 guests at our wedding. To me this constitutes a ‘small’ wedding. Then again, my friend who had 20 guests at her wedding would consider my guest tally to be a ‘large’ wedding! And on another hand my friend who had 400+ guests at her wedding thinks mine is downright ‘tiny’!
To avoid confusion and get us all on the same page, for the purposes of this post a short engagement means your wedding takes place within 365 of getting engaged. So if you got engaged on August 3, 2019 this means your wedding would be before August 3, 2020. Conversely any engagement lasting one year or longer is considered a long engagement.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER WITH YOUR PARTNER
Full disclosure time. Even without discussing it Alex and I knew we wanted a long engagement. One of the perks of choosing a longer engagement is that as we told people this, a lot of the pressure-filled questions disappeared. In turn this allowed us to slow down and truly enjoy being engaged. I’d highly recommend this path to anyone but I realize it’s not realistic for everyone.
Before we knew we were on the same page however, Alex and I chatted through many factors that brought choosing a long or short engagement into focus. Based on our conversations as well as those of close friends and family, I’ve put together a list of some questions you and your partner can answer together to help determine what engagement length you’d like.
1. Are we financially prepared to have our wedding in X amount of time?
Depending on where you live, a wedding might be a huge financial event. I live in NYC for example and the average wedding here costs nearly $80,000!! If that seems like a crazy high number to you, you’re not alone. No matter where you live, a wedding might be one of the biggest expenses of your life.
So unless you’re planning a City Hall wedding or an elopement with very few expenses, it pays to sit down and discuss money as soon as possible when choosing a long or short engagement. You don’t have to get into budgeting details yet but you should discuss big round numbers that each of you plan to put towards the wedding.
Perhaps your parents want to pay for everything, or part of the wedding. Or maybe like us you’re doing it on your own. Are there savings you plan to tap into or will you be using part of your paychecks over some amount of time to go towards the wedding?
Whichever method you use to pay for your wedding, I feel it so important not to go into debt paying for your wedding! It’s so easy to get caught up in Pinterest and wedding TV shows and perhaps friends or family members’ weddings, and feel obligated to have a certain level of pomp, circumstance and flower arrangements. However, the reality is no one wants to still be paying for a wedding two years into their marriage.
It’s so easy to get caught up in Pinterest and wedding TV shows and perhaps friends or family members’ weddings, and feel obligated to have a certain level of pomp, circumstance and flower arrangements. However, the reality is no one wants to still be paying for a wedding two years into their marriage.
As you will find out during your wedding planning, compromises always have to be made. You might have the perfect date in mind to get married only to discover it’s booked at every venue you love. In your mind you may envision a Summer wedding but come to realize a Winter wedding allows you accomplish everything you want within your budget. Ideally you might want to be getting married six months from now only to realize you can’t afford to make that window.
When I asked close friends and family what they most regretted about their wedding, overpaying for their wedding was the #2 answer. (Number 1 was not having a videographer!!) I’ll talk much more about budgeting in forthcoming posts in this series. At the beginning of your engagement, I’d keep the budget chat positive by asking each other about how much you and/or your family can comfortably contribute, and then work towards a timeline from there.
For me, I knew I did not want to tap into any of my savings or investments to pay for the wedding. Right away I knew that meant at least 12-16 months of putting aside money from my paychecks to fund the wedding. A long engagement was always in the cards for us.
2. Are we eager to have children (or already pregnant)?
Putting aside social, religious and societal factors, children can often be a driving force behind an engagement or marriage. Choosing a long or short engagement might come down to the speed with which you want to have children. Or, if you want children at all!
As with all questions in this post there’s no right or wrong answer. I have friends who got married very quickly so they could look amazing at their wedding and then get pregnant as quickly as possible post-wedding day. Other friends were already pregnant when they got engaged, so waited 3 years after the baby was born before tying the knot.
Still others got married while pregnant (some didn’t even know they were pregnant already on their wedding days!!), while some put off their wedding to try for babies, and others still eloped or did a City Hall ceremony because they wanted babies ASAP.
Again this is an instance where Alex and I are in no rush. In fact we don’t think we want children. One bonus of waiting until after you’re married to have children is that most couples receive money at their weddings (it’s standard across many cultures and religions though not all) so you’ll be in better financial shape to welcome a baby…assuming of course you didn’t go into huge amounts of debt paying for your wedding!
3. Are there any extenuating circumstances in choosing a long or short engagement?
Just after college a close friend of mine from childhood got engaged. At age 23, she initially was in no rush to have her wedding. But then everything changed. Her older brother got called into active service with the military. He’d be gone for 2-3 years.
Not wanting her brother to miss her wedding, my friend and her fiancé threw themselves into planning a wedding quickly with gusto! It all came together in under 4 weeks from the venue (a friend’s large, tree-lined backyard) to the dress to decorations and so on. The wedding was beautiful beyond words! Her brother is home now and still active in the military, though he’s close to retirement. My friend is happily married for nearly 15 years and still glad her husband supported her in having a quickie wedding.
That is just one example of how choosing a long or short engagement can come together. Another friend couple of mine dated for 7 years before getting engaged. When he finally asked, she was so excited that she didn’t want to wait to walk down the aisle! I literally got a text from them one night, “What are you up to this weekend? Want to come watch us get married??” And that is how myself and about 15 other friends came to be the guests at their City Hall ceremony with dinner at a nearby restaurant afterwards.
I have heard about people getting married before a sick relative dies, or before a child goes off to college. Friends of friends got married before relocating for a job. After the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001, parents of friends who’d been together for over 20 years but not married tied the knot. When gay marriage became legal, four couples I know tied the knot within the first month just in case the law was challenged by appeal.
You just never know what kind of circumstances may tug at you to planning a wedding sooner rather than later. Although many times these are surprise events, if there is something you know of that makes it important to you to marry as soon as possible, bring it up with your partner as soon as you can. Your partner may even already know about the issue, which makes them even more likely to support you.
4. Are there any big life events on the horizon we should consider?
Weddings can be a touchy thing. In some families, it’s considered a faux pas if two siblings get married too closely to each other. For other families it’s no big deal at all! I have seen lots of family conflicts over choosing a long or short engagement.
A friend of mine is a twin and about 5 years ago he got engaged. Because he was still in medical school he asked his fiancé if they could wait 3 years before getting married. His fiancé said yes. Then about a year later his twin brother got engaged, and they planned to marry within the year. All of a sudden this caused strife for my doctor-in-training friend and his fiancé on account of the twin brother and his fiancée ‘beating’ them to the altar. My how quickly circumstances changed! My friend and his fiancé were able to work through their issues. They stuck to their original timeline. But I know my friend’s husband still feels jabbed when his father-in-law teases him about being the second couple in the family to see the altar rather than the first.
In another situation, a teacher friend and his fiancée were to marry in May of 2014. The venue was booked, the dress was purchased, invites had been sent. But then my friend was offered a new teaching position in another state. The position was wonderful in every way except that it didn’t work with the wedding timeline. With a ton of support from friends and family they were able to make the move. They still had their wedding at the appointed time. It required a lot of hoop-jumping though with the board of education in his new state.
If you’re considering a job change, applying for school (or finishing it!) or any other situation that might portend a major life event be sure to factor that into the timeline for your other big life event coming up: your wedding!!!
5. Are any of our friends or family having a wedding soon?
I kind of alluded to this in the last question. It’s important to consider other weddings happening around you for many reasons. Firstly, if your guest list is going to overlap with another wedding within a six month period, you risk giving your guests wedding fatigue. It also may put some guests in a tough financial position where they can’t be as generous as they’d like to be with either wedding because they have to afford gifts for both.
Just after college several sorority sisters of mine got married in very quick succession and I ended up skipping two of the weddings entirely. It wasn’t my preference; I just couldn’t afford so many plane tickets and wedding presents at the time!
Secondly, no one likes having their thunder stolen. A wedding, a marriage, is something that hopefully we’re all going to do just once!! While some brides place little importance on the happenstance of weddings, for many brides (and grooms too!) the wedding is such a memorable and important day. No couple wants to be compared to the friends that got married three months ago or the sister that got married earlier this Summer. I have seen many cases of younger siblings edging in before their older sibling’s wedding which always baffles me. It’s not a race and every couple deserves the limelight a wedding provides (if they want it!). Be considerate of timing.
Thirdly, your guest list is likely to suffer if you get married too closely to family or dear friends. It sounds like a paradox to say that anytime to get married is perfect and no time to get married is perfect. What I mean by this is that you can’t please everyone. So of course you should pick the wedding date you want. However, I do think it’s worth considering things like close family or friend wedding timelines if you get engaged after them. Not only will waiting in most cases serve you well, it will make your guests feel especially warm and generous towards you!
These are some basic questions that can assist you in choosing a long or short engagement. Did you have a long or short engagement? How did you decide which way to go?