Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
Is talking hypothetically about the particulars of marriage and the wedding (i.e. budget, logistics, etc) before actually proposing a bad thing to do?
My girlfriend of two years and I have been discussing weddings on and off for a couple of months now and when it is about guests, flower arrangements, location, and dresses she is fine, but when it comes to talking about the budget and how to pay for it, she gets mad at me because I don’t have a ring yet.
Being a naturally cautious person, I like to know about the details and particulars of any undertaking before starting, but am I really being unromantic about it? I think this is a big part of any successful relationship to communicate these things and not completely be turned off by them.
Also, it might be worth mentioning that I think she expects the groom to pay for the wedding but this being the age of equality and practicality, most of my friends who recently got married split the costs between their brides, which I mentioned during our discussions.
She told me it’s like I am saying that I wont marry her unless we split the cost but I am totally fine footing the bigger part of the bill (not 100% though) as long we talk and plan it beforehand. Could this also be a reason why she is angry?
Being socially inept and more a straightforward and logical thinking person, I am confused if it is my fault bringing this up before proposing – or is this a big red flag going forward with this relationship? Will she expect me to pay for the entire wedding myself? I guess I wont know unless I get the ring. Please advise.
Thank you for your letter.
My first reaction to your story was to think that you have got yourself a really cold and calculating girlfriend. She (let’s call her Carla) is happy to indulge her every fantasy about dresses, flowers, venues etc. but totally unwilling to consider picking up the tab for any of it.
Yet finances are an integral element of every marriage and have to be discussed in a collaborative, not combative, manner. Even if you are Bill Gates, there are always going to be choices, though admittedly his may seem somewhat surreal to most of us (for example: shall we give US$100 million to fight malaria or polio this year?).
But then I realized that the reason Carla does not want to make the mental transition from the fantasy world of wedding planning to the more gritty world of wedding financing is perhaps because as yet there is not going to be a wedding – since there is no ring!
Apparently, in her mind the progression is 1) dreams 2) proposal 3) excel spreadsheet covering wedding-related income and expenditure.
Now you do not tell us whether you consider Carla’s romantic view of life is part of what makes you love her enough to consider marriage or whether it is part of what is holding you back from proposing.
What you do say is that 1) communication is important and 2) you think she wants you to pay for everything. You will therefore have to come off the fence and decide what you truly desire: to marry Carla whatever the cost, not to marry her unless she makes a contribution to the cost or some other permutation.
The answers to all your questions lie in communicating more fully with Carla. Do that and at least you will have clarity. Connubial bliss may cost you a little more.
All the best!
Many thanks for your letter. Here are my answers to your questions:
Is talking hypothetically about the particulars of marriage and the wedding (i.e. budget, logistics, etc) before actually proposing a bad thing to do? I don’t think so. Quite the contrary, in fact. But then, this is a matter of opinion and your girlfriend apparently thinks otherwise.
Am I really being unromantic about it (the wedding) since I like to know about the details and particulars of any undertaking before starting out? Again, I certainly don’t think so, but –sigh –again, this is merely a matter of opinion and it is your girlfriend’s opinion (and your opinion about her opinion) that matter most.
Could my insisting we talk and plan about the wedding (including expenses) beforehand be a reason why she is angry? Definitely, but her anger doesn’t necessarily make her right.
Is this a big red flag going forward with this relationship? Absolutely.
Will she expect me to pay for the entire wedding myself? Sure sounds like it, WP.
A woman who insists on a wedding ring before talking about the nitty gritty of who’s paying for what in your wedding is being inconsistent (to say the least). After all, a wedding ring also incurs costs and she seems to feel it is ok for her to be unromantic and pragmatic as long as it’s you paying for it.
A wise person (whose name I cannot remember, for the life of me) once said that there are 3 stages to a marriage:
- Honeymoon stage;
- Disillusion stage
- Make or break stage
During your honeymoon stage, all is well and everything your partner does is considered cute, appealing and loveable. So cute and loveable that there isn’t anything you wouldn’t do for each other. This includes buying the ring and also planning for the wedding and deciding how best to divide your resources (time, effort and money) to achieve what you both want.
At this stage, any behavior on your part, no matter how strange, even “unacceptable” (from other people’s point of view) is still behavior looked at through the prism of ever fragrant roses, so that what may be unromantic and too pragmatic to some, is only another reason for your partner to love you.
Sociologist Jessie Bernard once said something to the effect that the reason sex was all consuming and powerful in the beginning is that it gave strength for couples going through difficult times they wouldn’t have been willing to endure unless the sex allure were that constant and strong.
This may, in fact, one of the best ways to describe the honeymoon phase.
The disillusionment stage would be the one where you realize your partner was not the god or goddess you though he/she was. It is the time you ask yourself if you did the right thing; and sometimes the answer to that is, alas, no.
You then reach a crossroad, where you decide whether you want to continue with this relationship or not.
During your honeymoon stage, one cannot wait to share every little thing you think of, certain your partner will interpret things the same way you do. If during what is supposed to be the happiest time in your life, you are already beyond the honeymoon stage and have moved right smack to the disillusionment stage, I feel the best thing to do is to break up.
But Jeremy is much more optimistic than I am, so by all means, take his suggestion first: Try your best to communicate with her, heart to heart, soul to soul. Communication is not a matter of logic, but of feeling safe enough to share what is deepest inside you.
So far, you have found it much easier to share your feelings with two strangers, Mr Baer and Dr Holmes, than with the woman you supposedly want to be with for the rest of your life.
That says something about your relationship, doesn’t it, WP? And that something is probably the same message that has stopped you from buying the ring you know you’re “supposed” to be getting.
Look, you’re a planner, you know what should or shouldn’t be, and, if you want something, you go from:
- Step 1: Which includes buying the ring and “popping the question” to
- Step 2: Which includes planning the wedding. Admittedly, this step is usually fraught with anxiety and tension, fights and tears, but all this is a maelstrom due to high emotion,…it is not, as it seems with your own step 2, more like walking a tightrope, trying to second guess each other. Step 2 is undertaken so that you can reach
- Step 3: The wedding—the symbol of your lifetime commitment to each other.
By all means, communicate and really listen to what she tells you; but in the process, do not stop listening to yourself and what your actions (not buying the ring) are trying to tell you, loudly and clearly.
Whatever your decision, please feel free to write to us again.
All the best!
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