Advice For The Engaged Man
April 22, 2003
So you’ve dated this girl and decided that you cannot live without her. You saved your money, researched the diamond market and can converse with the best of them about carat, ideal cuts and VSI clarity. You planned a special evening for the two of you, got on your knees and even managed to be romantically eloquent. Life is a Hallmark card, you wish that everyone could be as happy as you are, and you eagerly anticipate marriage to the woman of your dreams.
Be warned: At some point between the moment she said “yes” to your engagement proposal and the moment you say “I do” at the altar, you will probably tear out your hair and wonder what demon has possessed your beautiful fiancée. Don’t call the exorcist. It will pass.
It’s hard to say exactly when this occurs, but you’ll know when it hits. It usually has to do with planning a wedding, and while we would like to be helpful, most guys are sent running for cover. Don’t get me wrong—I love being married. But if marriage is heaven, then planning a wedding is … well, it’s about the most stressful thing you can do as a couple. Not only is your woman trying to please all of her friends and all of her mother’s friends, she is trying to create an event that will meet her own celestial expectations. On top of that, you are taking two very distinct personalities (with all of your quirks, habits, likes and dislikes) and blending them into one life. And decisions—you have to make an infinite number of decisions on a short notice with a limited budget. Don’t be surprised if your bride-to-be gets a little nutty.
So, while she is morphing before your very eyes and you are questioning the concept of “eternal marital bliss,” here is some helpful advice to consider.
Be sensitive and grow a tough skin. Try to be sensitive to what your fiancée is going through; she has a lot to think about. Do you invite the friend you haven’t seen since her wedding 10 years ago? Do you have your aunt do her rendition of “I Will Always Love You” during the ceremony or the reception? Do you decorate with bunting? What is bunting? Do you have wedding cake? What color of frosting do you use: vanilla, white, eggshell or off-white? Just getting dressed requires a staff the size of the Presidential Cabinet: she has a bridal gown, bridal headpiece, bridal slip, bridal shoes, bridal handbag, bridal hosiery, bridal garter, bridal gloves and bridal undergarments.
Every decision is monumental and affects every other aspect of the wedding. Your conversations may tend to end in tears. You may despair: “I love her, but can I really put up with this for the rest of my life?”
There is truth in the adage, “If you can make it through your wedding, you can make it through anything.” You need to be supportive and sensitive for your fiancée while she is coordinating this complex event. Learn to anticipate her needs and discover ways to relieve her stress. Remember that you are not the enemy, even if you happen to feel like Rocky’s punching bag.
Learn to communicate. Hopefully you did this before you were engaged to be married. If not, learn to communicate! Communication is a two-way street—it involves being assertive and listening actively. Being assertive means telling your partner that you need to talk and then honestly articulating your feelings about a given subject. Express yourself without fear of rejection and without the guilt of being selfish for having an opinion. Active listening means that you listen to the other all the way through before you offer a response.
Communication is especially important when planning a wedding. She can’t read your mind, and honestly, she doesn’t have the time to try. If something is important to you, you need to express it, and good communication involves giving your fiancée the same opportunity.
Enjoy the process with humor. This is the only way you will survive. If you are a groom, you have to accept in good humor that the wedding is not about you. Weddings, as well as the dozens of support industries (fashion, catering, event planning, photographs, etc.), are focused on the bride. The bride is beautiful and graceful and charming, while the stereotypical groom is a good-looking oaf with the intelligence of a garbage truck.
As proof, I offer you the “Groom To-Do Lists” published in bridal magazines. While the bride is coordinating the entire event, getting ready for the wedding and firing off orders to her support staff, the groom is instructed to perform inane tasks such as “bring a change of clothes for after your reception” and “pick up guests from the airport.” On the checklist for the day of the wedding, the groom is instructed to “get dressed” and “go to the church” as if bridal magazine editors expect most grooms to be found wandering down Main Street stark naked. These lists also include prohibitions such as: “On the morning of the big day, don’t go to the pub.” This was seriously offensive to me as a responsible groom as this column writer had the audacity to include in the same list: “Take time to read lots of magazines for inspiration.”
Just smile, enjoy the process, and don’t let the editors grind you down.
Wedding planning—don’t be too helpful. I know what you’re thinking: You might be able to add a lot to your wedding plans. Forget it. You have a better chance of becoming the prime minister of Sri Lanka. The best you can expect is to have your name added to the guest list, and then any suggestion you make will be answered by, “Go plan the honeymoon.”
Herein lies the mystery: Grooms often plan the honeymoon, and most honeymoons turn out to be a lot of fun. But should he have one unsolicited suggestion about the wedding ceremony, he is chased out of the room as if he has an infectious disease. I mentioned this conundrum to my hairdresser, and she replied with something close to disdain: “How hard is it to plan a honeymoon? You pick a location and pull some clothes out of your closet.” I got the clear impression that most women regard honeymoon planning as a task a chimpanzee could accomplish, given a suitcase and a world atlas.
Of course, since I’ve begun researching this nuptial inequality I’ve been asked by skeptical women: “Do you think YOU could plan a wedding?” Most grooms, when hard pressed, will admit that they don’t necessarily want to be in charge of planning the wedding. The bride and her advocates smile, “See, then, it’s up to us.” Like the rest of the wedding planning, this argument—“Whoever cares more wins”—makes no sense to the groom.It’s not that we want control, but simply equality. Even factoring in the occasional Adam Sandler, men are reasonably intelligent creatures. Guys have the ability to look at the big picture, and we could be useful for breaking down the wedding into manageable tasks, but right now the groom unemployment rate is at a consistent 99.9 percent.
As thoughtful males, we want to be involved in our women’s sphere of decisions and problems. So when you try to be helpful and get slapped back, it’s easy to think, “Fine! I really am better off without all this lace and flower nonsense anyway!” You retreat into a corner and sulk, hoping your fiancée will realize she has hurt you and make up with kisses and sweet words. Instead, you’ve just created another problem for her, and she really doesn’t have time for it.
If you want to be helpful, don’t be too helpful.
Learn to say “yes” and sound like you mean it. Don’t be insincere. Speak up if you have a genuine concern. But put aside dogmatic opinions.
Protect her. Once you are married, your job involves protecting your wife. No, this is not a chauvinistic, my-muscles-are-bigger attitude; it is a genuine responsibility of a husband. Paul tells us: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). This is a sacrificial love; it requires that you lay down your life, placing yourself between her and any danger. Satan’s goal is to destroy your wife, and he would love to use you as his primary instrument of destruction. Protect your wife from outside stress and protect her from yourself: Don’t lash out, don’t get angry with her and don’t respond in irritation.
Pray with her. The engagement period is a time of drawing closer together until the culmination of the wedding day when you become “one.” This is not just a physical act, but a union of your entire person. Praying together will draw you closer together spiritually, and it will strengthen your own walk with God. Prayer can also be therapeutic for your frantic bride.
Play on the same team. There were times in my own engagement period when my fiancée and I were on opposite sides of the tennis court, and every time we had to make a decision, we lobbed arguments at each other, firing off 100 mph serves, trying to beat the other person. As we learned to communicate, and I made my bride a higher priority than winning an argument, our relationship was relieved of a lot of stress. In the process of becoming one, we moved to the same side of the court and began facing decisions as a team.
Say “elope.” Go ahead, say it—you’ll feel so much better. No, of course you’re not going to elope, but your wedding plans wouldn’t be complete without suggesting it at least once.
[Michael Reitz is now happily married and lives with his wife in northern Virginia. He was allowed to plan the honeymoon.]
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