Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In praise of... short engagements

Prince William and Kate Middleton are to get married on Friday 29th April, within six months of announcing their engagement. For all else that will be written about this particular match, let me say that I'm a fan of short engagements (six months or less). Barring unusual circumstances (e.g. one partner being called off to war), short engagements have two great benefits. The first is relational, the second practical.

Relationally, engagement is an unstable time. Prior to engagement, only loose expectations form the relational bond. Both parties know that they can end the relationship for a variety of good reasons (there are, of course, also plenty of bad reasons, but the point is that good reasons exist). After marriage, lifelong promises bind the couple in a security that allows difficult issues to be faced with confidence that the other has publicly promised to keep holding and loving in whatever circumstances or difficulties arise. But during engagement, there exists the somewhat strange circumstance of a private promise that a public promise will be made. There exists during this period a rapidly closing door out of the relationship and this itself can bring added stress and uncertainty to the relationship. Limiting this stressful period to a definite (and relatively brief) period of time is healthy. Open-ended engagements seem either somewhat pointless or somewhat cruel. Once the decision to get married has been made, then all that is required is some time to prepare for the solemnity of the promises to be undertaken and to arrange the details of a wedding - which brings us to the second benefit of brief engagements.

Practically, the wedding preparation will expand to fill the time available. The longer that is given to this process, the more likely the celebration will grow into an all-consuming beast. Better to acknowledge that, while a day of great seriousness and great joy, a wedding is but another day that the Lord has made, and doesn't require great debts to be shouldered or unrealistic expectations (from whatever source) to be appeased. If present finances are insufficient to pay for the scale of expenses expected, then it is far better to humble one's expectations than delay the date. The point of the day is the making and celebrating of promises. All else is optional.

That said, I doubt the Prince and his family are accustomed to too much humbling of expectations. Yet humility befits even (perhaps especially) a future king.
Image by Scott Callaghan.


Anthony Douglas said...

Hear hear.

Six months is plenty of time. Hey, we even booked two reception venues in that period, after the first one burnt down.

On the other hand, attempting a royal wedding 5 days after Easter may lead to some stress at the venue!

besideourselves said...

Our engagement was three long weeks (as opposed to three weeks long).

Jon said...

I'm with you on that. My grandmother would have been too. When I wrote to her to tell her I was engaged, she wrote back and told me how she and my grandfather had been engaged for 9 years! She had to care for her sick father but would have had to give up work if she got married, and they couldn't support all three of them on my grandfather's pay. I can't remember now if they had to wait for my great-grandfather to die, or just for my grandfather to get a payrise!

No such excuse for the Windsors although William is waiting for both grandparent and parent to die, hopefully not too impatiently given their genetics.

byron smith said...

Anthony - Westminster Abbey can cope, I'm sure. They've had a few little gigs over the years. Still, can't say I'd want to be in charge. At least they acknowledged that they ought not to be getting married in Lent.

besideourselves - Really? Three weeks? In Oz at least the legal minimum is 30 days (as far as I am aware).

Jon - Quite a story! I agree that there can occasionally be exceptional circumstances (and the laws forbidding married women from working created a few more than there are today).

Anthony Douglas said...

Technically, you could get away with 29 days, if you went for a March date in a non-leap year. But then you'd fall foul of the Lent thing...!

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I want to fully affirm your premise (at least as worded): " Prior to engagement, only loose expectations form the relational bond." Do you mean to affirm casual dating when friendship might be a more theologically useful category?