Backhanded Compliments Engaged Women Are Sick Of
If marriage is a thing you’re into, getting married to the person you love is pretty awesome. The process of actually getting married, however, is often not — and a lot of that has to do with the backhanded compliments engaged women have to deal with all the dang time. While it’s true that people may not always realize that the “compliment” they’re giving is actually an insult, that doesn’t stop it from being an insult all the same. And you know what? It kind of sucks.
I’ve been lucky in the fact that I’ve faced comparatively few of these hidden barbs since my partner and I decided to get married — but the fact that I even have to count it as “lucky” in the first place is pretty messed up. I’m not a huge stickler for arbitrary etiquette rules (who cares which fork you’re supposed to use first?), but I do think that treating people with a basic level of respect is a requirement for, y’know, just being a human being. Our culture allows these backhanded compliments to be the norm, when really, they should be the exception — and an exception we should feel free to call out when we see it without having to worry about not being “polite.” It’s not polite to say these things in the first place, and the people on the receiving end shouldn’t be penalized for someone else’s meanness.
Not every engaged woman will find these comments and questions as irritating as others do, but I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one who’s tired of hearing them.
1. “It’s About Time!”
The issues with this one are twofold. First, it implies that by not getting married earlier, you missed some sort of deadline and are therefore running behind the curve. But here’s the thing: Life milestones are arbitrary, particularly when we’re talking about the ones by which previous generations gauged their “adulthood.” Getting married, owning property, having kids, even having a nine-to-five job with benefits — none of these things are markers of what makes someone an adult anymore, because that’s just not the world we live in right now. Not having gotten married earlier doesn’t mean that we’ve avoided growing up; in fact, given the precarious financial situation the recession put so many of the younger generations in, it’s actually more grown up for some folks to hold off on getting married. If they know they can't afford it, they don't do it, choosing instead to wait until they're financially solvent. That sounds like a smart, informed, adult decision to me.
And second, saying “It’s about time!” minimizes and dismisses the relationship in its pre-marriage state. While getting married does have a bunch of legal benefits, it doesn’t necessarily change how a relationship functions. My partner and I were just as committed before we got engaged as we are now; indeed, one of the reasons that we held off on actually doing the whole tying-the-knot thing is because we were busy working on the practicalities of life in the long term together, like figuring out a retirement plan that took both of us jointly into account. And of course we’ll continue to be just as committed after the actual ceremony, too.
2. “I Can’t Believe You’re Actually Engaged!”
I’m sorry, was there something about me that screamed “UNMARRIAGABLE!!!”?
3. “What Took Them So Long To Pop The Question?”
Not unlike the first question on this list, this one assumes that sooner is “better” than later. It fails to take into account the fact that every couple — every individual, really — has their own timeline, as well as that ultimately, the only timelines that matter are the ones of the people who are actually in the relationship. It didn’t take anyone “so long” to come to this point; everyone on board arrived at it right on time. Like a wizard, the decision to get married is never late; nor is it early; it arrives precisely when it means to.
There’s more to the issue, too. In its most irritating form, this question is actually something more like, “What took him so long?”, which adds a whole ‘nother layer of awfulness when it’s directed at a female partner. It assumes that the man has to have been the one who proposed; indeed, it takes the woman out of the equation entirely, robbing her of her agency in the process. You know the old saying, it takes two to tango? Well, the same is true of deciding to get married: It has to be a mutual decision in order to work — not the decision of just one half of the couple.
4. Any Statement That Starts With “I Could Never…”
Whether you finish it with something like “spend my entire life with one person,” or something more like “elope,” the whole package suggests that whatever the engaged person is choosing to do — the thing you could never do — is wrong. Not cool.
5. “Well, That Was Fast!”
This is the flip side of “It’s about time!” and “What TOOK them so long?” — instead of judging someone for taking longer than society deems “correct” to get married, it’s judging someone for going faster. I would actually argue that “Well, that was fast!” is a subtle form of slut shaming; the implication is that someone is “too eager to give it up.” Either way, though, any comment about the length of a couple’s relationship boils down to the fact that the only timeline that matters is the couple’s, and no one else’s.
6. “It’s So Great That You’re Comfortable Enough With Yourself Not To Worry About Going On A Wedding Diet.”
Body shaming disguised as support. Awesome. In that really, extremely, not awesome way.
7. “OMG, ‘Mrs. [Your First Name] [Their Last Name]’ Sounds So Terrific!”
I’ve actually been fortunate in that my friends and family A) aren’t the types to say this, and B) know better than to say it to me anyway. Instead, I've been getting a lot of, “Have you decided anything about the name thing?” — which I actually don't mind, because I know it's not coming from a place of judgment. Other people in my proverbial shoes might feel differently, of course, but to me, it's an indication of how well the people closest to me know me — that is, well enough to know that it's not a foregone conclusion that there will be any name changing at all.
But even so, it’s still far too common for folks to lob this one at engaged women, particularly those in heterosexual relationships. And while obviously changing your name is an intensely personal choice to which there are no wrong answers — whatever you decide to do is the right choice for you — it’s still problematic to say something like this.
It’s presumptive, first off — in hetero relationships, it assumes that of course the woman is going to change her name, when that may not be the case. It also assumes that the only possible thing that could happen when two people marry is that the woman changes her name, totally ignoring the growing number of creative ways couples may choose to approach the issue — not to mention that it implies that the woman’s partner’s surname sounds better than her does. And when you combine these three points, you get the fourth one — which, to me, is also the most important one: It devalues the woman’s name. Not OK.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with changing your name if that’s what you want to do. But with regards to telling a woman how great her name and her partner’s name sound together, ultimately, it all comes down to this: Who said anything about changing names?
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