Whenever I tell someone that I’m ‘engaged’, their first reaction is always to inspect the diamond ring on my left hand and ask me how he proposed. Well, the truth is, rather disappointingly for them, there is no traditional engagement story. For us, it was a lot more complicated than a weekend trip to Paris, a gourmet meal with a surprise ring hidden in dessert. And yet, it was a lot simpler.
My partner Pete and I had talked about marriage, so we, together, came to the decision that we should take the next step and engaged. A few months later we picked out a ring, and there was, I suppose what you would call a traditional proposal: him, kneeling on one knee, asking me to marry him, to which we both knew the answer would be Yes. There was no cliched romance; no tacky roses or string quartets. Most importantly, Pete didn’t ask for my father’s permission: something that he knew would It was perfect. The next month, I bought Pete an engagement ring and asked him right back. No, will you marry me?!
Almost five years later, Pete and I are still engaged (the term ‘fiance’ still makes me cringe), and we are planning our idea of the perfect wedding for next year. But it will not be a typical wedding; neither of us want to buy into the idea that we need a £500 three-tiered cake, a vintage Rolls Royce and cheap little table favours to have ‘the dream day’. Even during this recession, the wedding industry is still bigger than ever: the average couple will spend around £15,000 on their wedding day, the equivalent to a brand new car or a deposit for a newlywed home. With online gift registers, and Bridal Boot Camps, it’s as though the wedding businesses think as soon as a woman gets a ring on her finger she immediately turns into a Bridezilla.
But it wasn’t just the consumerist side of planning a wedding that turned us off. After much discussion, we realised that neither of us felt comfortable with some of the more sexist traditions. I will not promise to ‘obey’ my husband in my vows, nor will I be ‘given away’ by my father, in the ultimate patriarchal exchange. The bride will not wear white. And that’s just the wedding. The whole concept of marriage is borne out a time when women were property, passed from man to man. As soon as she uttered ‘I do’, everything that she owned automatically became her husbands, including her children and her rights. However, some of their old wedding traditions are still adhered to: phrases such as ‘man and wife’, as opposed to the more equal ‘husband and wife’, and ‘You may now kiss your bride’, as though the woman has no active role in her first married kiss, she must just passively ‘be kissed’. Transforming from a Miss to a Mrs (quite literally Mr’s, as in belonging to Mr), and taking his surname without a second thought are also hang-overs from a pre-feminist era. If I were to become Holly Andrews, as tradition dictates, what would happen to Holly Warren? Would she cease to exist? So, we both came to the decision that we would hyphenate our names, no matter how difficult it was, and that we would become Mr & Ms Warren-Andrews.
And so, next spring, Pete and I will be married in the local Register Office, followed by a meal at our favourite restaurant, surrounded by our favourite people. I will be wearing an off-white dress, holding in season peonies from a nearby florist, and the guests will throw all-natural, ethically sourced floral confetti. But most importantly the two of us will enter into marriage as complete equals.