Things You Only Know If You’re Engaged In Your 20s

Cue a lot of squirming about being called a fiancee. Illustration byBeth Hoeckel


by Molly Pierce |
Published on

Getting engaged is properly exciting. But if you don’t know anyone else who’s engaged at the same time as you – and if you’re in your 20s, that’s quite likely, since the numbers of men and women married by 25 are now the lowest on record – it’s easy to be baffled by a lot of what follows the whole proposal thing.

My boyfriend and I met on our first day at university, and started going out three and half weeks later (had to give my gap yah boyfriend the push first, naturally). That was in 2007; a few months ago, excited by our own grown-up-ness, we drove to the Cotswolds for the weekend. My priorities for the weekend were a. filling up my Instagram feed with sunny countryside shots and b. eating at a restaurant that had rave Trip Advisor reviews. So when he got down on one knee, it came as a huge surprise. The only other people we know who’ve got married are either religious, or set on obtaining a visa – getting engaged at 26 (me) and 24 (him) makes us outliers in our friendship group.

Since then I’ve planned several imaginary weddings, two real engagement parties, cried a lot, danced around my living room, tried, as yet unsuccessfully, to persuade my boyfriend that we need an engagement photoshoot. And learnt the following lessons…

**You might not think getting married is different from moving in together, but your parents do. And so do his


The number of people living together before they get married has gone up hugely since the 80s. You can come up with as many socioeconomic rationales for this as you like, but it boils down to a big difference in the way our parents’ generation think about marriage to the way we do. My boyfriend and I have been living together for almost three years; we have furniture, a pet, both our names on the bills. Honestly, the biggest commitment was accepting that 90% of our Sky Plus is going to be Match of the Day and Arnold Schwarzenegger films.

But my aunt didn’t cry down the phone when we got a goldfish, and no one wanted to throw us a party when we signed the lease on our little red car. When I told my family I was engaged, reactions ranged from screams of excitement, to tears, to half-formed shrieking, to the words ‘Well, that’s fantastic. Well, that’s just fantastic,’ repeated over and over.

You’re bombarded with messages that your 20s are a time for experimenting, sleeping around, and getting messed up every weekend - from Hannah Horvath’s love life to the ubiquitous Tinder chat

Even though there’s almost always a stray friend or sibling sleeping on the sofa, we don’t have a single matching knife and fork and just last month we had a three day standoff about whose turn it was to take the bin out, I feel proud of the home my boyfriend and I have made. Marriage, as far as I can tell, is a kind of ‘living together plus’, and I think most people in their 20s feel the same way. But much of the commitment that we associate with moving in with a significant other used to be the sole preserve of married couples, so adults (the real adults) treat it differently. Your friends will be excited, but your family will be really excited. I’m learning not to shrug that off or to try and be self-deprecating about it – seeing how emotional and excited other people are for us has been one of the best parts about being engaged.

You need a social media strategy

I wish I were fucking kidding about this. We got engaged on a weekend away and after we’d called our immediate family the conversation turned to telling the rest of our friends. I knew there were people I wanted to tell in person, and my boyfriend is quite social media-phobic, so we decided to keep it off social media for the time being. Also, I’d promised my best friend some time ago that if I ever got engaged, I would break the news via emoji:

Molly screen shot
Molly screen shot

Calling and texting and emailing friends still came with a slightly weird shiver though. I’m already sensitive to being ‘the boring one’ among my friends, even though many of them are also in long-term relationships. You’re bombarded with messages that your 20s are a time for experimenting, sleeping around, and getting messed up every weekend - from Hannah Horvath’s love life to the ubiquitous Tinder chat. And popular opinion of people who are coupled up in their 20s definitely tends towards the #smugmarried stereotype. I wanted to avoid that for as long as possible, so we’re still not ‘engaged’ on Facebook.

At the time, I felt really strongly that reducing the news to a series of likes and <3s was super-cringeworthy. I didn’t want our engagement to be just another story, squashed between 83 photos documenting your neighbour’s weekend in Ramsgate and an advert for a sandwich. But three months later, I think… I want the likes! I feel like I’m keeping a weird secret by not having shared the news with my ‘online community’ (ugh). We’ve sort of decided to keep it off the internet indefinitely, but I’m sure at some point - egged on by my friends - I’ll cave and change my relationship status. One thing I do know is that I’ll be avoiding the Lo-Fi filtered Instagram ringshot.

You’ll freak out about sex

You’re never going to have sex with someone else again. You’re actually promising to never touch another person’s genitals. And although you’ve been pursuing a happily monogamous lifestyle for some time, this definitely makes you feel weird; see earlier point about the general, and in my experience utterly false, expectations that everyone in their 20s is getting shagged senseless by a different person every weekend.

I don’t know how I’ll feel about being a wife, but I know that the word fiancée makes me feel all hot and squirmy, like it’s someone else’s name

I’ve only experienced the adventurelands of early-20s sex vicariously, since I’ve had the same boyfriend since I was 19. My relationship actually predates sexting. When it started to dawn on me that we were really in it for the long haul, I thought about whether I’d miss the heart-thumping encounters in dark bars, the stomach-flipping sensation of a text, the dizzyness of first drinks, first dinner, first night together. I realised that while those were all amazing feelings, I’d already experienced them. There was a whole set of things I hadn’t ever tried, like loving and trusting someone utterly. I thought that rather than dwell on what I was missing, it was worth seeing what these new experiences were like - making mistakes along the way, like everyone does, but making them with the safety net of a relationship. Making this official through marriage doesn’t make me feel like I’m missing out; instead, I see it as yet another new set of experiences. Also, Tinder confuses me, so I think I’m better off without that particular distraction.

Fiancée is a stupid word and you feel stupid saying it

I don’t feel grown-up enough for all the paraphernalia, verbal and otherwise, that comes with getting engaged. I like being a girlfriend. I don’t know how I’ll feel about being a wife, but I know that the word fiancée makes me feel all hot and squirmy, like it’s someone else’s name. Fiancées are in their early thirties, they wear kitten heels and know shit about china. I apply my make up on the bus and am more than happy to eat Pringles for dinner. It’s a word that seems particularly twee and fusty, and it just doesn’t fit with my conception of myself at 26, or ever. It sounds so old-fashioned and I feel like we’re both far too young for it. For now I’m sticking with boyfriend/girlfriend (with a conspicuous mention of the WEDDING soon after - after all, it’s not like I want to keep it a secret); if someone can come up with a more Millennially-inflected word, I'll happily adopt it.

I’m still processing a lot of the other stuff that comes with being engaged. I’m less worried than I thought I’d be about looking like a child playing dress-up when I walk down the aisle, but more worried about how I can persuade our at-times fractious families to play nice for the day. I’m less worried about the cost because I know I have amazing friends who don’t mind a bit of DIY, but I’m more worried about limiting my options by making the big decisions too quickly. Eventually though, I’ll be married to the man I love, which is the only really important bit. Saying vomitous stuff like that is another thing about being engaged in your 20s. Sorry!

Follow Molly on Twitter @mollyhpierce

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us