February 15, 2018
Soon after Stewart Hargrove proposed to now-wife Dana in late 2016, the couple drove to her parents' house. The first question from her dad: When is the wedding date?
Stewart’s reply? “it’s only been three hours. I just got engaged.”
The next day –Thanksgiving – the couple fielded additional inquiries when they visited with both sides of the family, including when they were going to have kids.
Today, legions of couples will face the rat-a-tat-tat of questions from friends, family, colleagues and strangers. Valentine’s Day is the second most popular time to pop the question, according to WeddingWire, an online marketplace for the wedding and events industry. (Christmas ranks first.)
How much did your engagement ring cost? Will you change your last name? Do you like your mother-in-law? Are you going to have a pre-nuptial agreement?
Don’t fret, newly engaged. Here are some sure-fire strategies to survive even the most intense inquisition. And for those not engaged, but know someone who is, there are some lessons in here for you too.
Set your strategy
The majority of couples review important topics before their engagement, with nine in 10 talking finances, eight in 10 discussing sex and religion and close to all (96%) talking about children, according to research from The Knot's proposal inspiration site "How He Asked."
The next step: Decide what is private about those discussion and what is not. Then, determine a strategy for when personal queries arise, says psychiatrist Judith Orloff, author of The Empath's Survival Guide.
“Make a list of potentially intrusive questions and rehearse,” she says. “Couples need to be prepared for inappropriate questions and have their responses prepared beforehand so they aren’t triggered," she says. It's about "picking and choosing what they want to share."
Learn to play coy
It's perfectly fine to deflect with a non-specific answer, says Orloff. When asked about the price of Dana's ring, Stewart said he spent what he thought was appropriate. The couple of times Chris Teixeira was asked about the cost of the ring he purchased for now-wife Nicolle Williams Teixeira, he “would laugh it off or make up some story about finding a knock-off version of what I actually wanted,” says Nicolle. Nicolle also played it cool herself at times, using the general statement of 'We're still figuring it out,' to answer some queries.
Life coach and author Martha Beck offers up a few ready-to-go answers, such as, "We'll see," "We are working that out," and "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it." Some questioners may not be comfortable with limbo period or "liminal" phase – such as the transition from dating to marriage – so they are looking for any certainty they can get, she says. To help with that, reply with gusto, confidence and delight, even if it's a non-specific answer.
Leave the scene
If an unexpected question leaves you feeling "shocked, surprised and flabbergasted," excuse yourself and go to the bathroom, says Orloff. "The mistake that a lot of people make is that they panic and they respond," she says. "I wouldn't suggest responding while in this confused state." In the privacy of the bathroom, do whatever helps to calm you down, she says. Meditate, call a friend or decide how to address the intrusive question if it comes up again.
Embrace openness (if it feels right)
If it feels comfortable to you – and if your and your partner agrees to such disclosures – feel free to share the cost of your engagement ring, that sequin bridal gown or the decadent chocolate fondue fountain to questioners.
“The fact that we don’t talk about how much things cost makes money a taboo subject,” says financial adviser, author and TV personality Suze Orman. “When you are free to talk about money you are free to talk about anything.” She is open about the price of the wedding rings for her and wife Kathy "KT" Travis: $700 each.
Curate a support system
Friends, your partner, an online group or any other person or organization that understands your issues while respecting your boundaries can help, say relationship experts and those who have been engaged. "Get together with friends and tell them all the outrageous things that people tell you," says Beck. "The worse the behavior, the funnier the story. You’re not there as a victim. You’re there as a storyteller.”
Follow your heart
When John Belding, then age 90 and Clare Bellucci, 87, got engaged, friends and family were a bit shocked, with some asking Bellucci, "At your age?" One of Belding's sons said “Do 90-year-old people get married?” Belding recalled.
Belding says meeting Bellucci, who is changing her last name to Belding, was "divine intervention.” He bought baked salmon at a market, looked down at the fish and said “it’s beautiful." Bellucci jokingly asked, “You mean me?” That was in October 2016. On Jan. 6, they tied the knot.
"All my friends thought it was a little too much," says Bellucci. "I thought about it and I thought, 'Yes I’m going to do it.' You have to make your own decisions."
Keep perspective - and rise above
Sure, some people are jealous or outright rude, but in general, most questioners are just seeking some answers and reassurance, said those interviewed for this article.
"No one truly wants to offend you or make you (feel) awkward," says Dana Hargrove. "They're just trying to keep the conversation going and are curious."
Nicolle Williams Teixeira says excitement about the upcoming wedding can also embolden people. "Any feedback or questions that seemed intrusive at the time all came from a place of being extremely excited and happy for this occasion," she says.
Christian Fuscarino who got engaged to Aaron Williams in July, says most people want to help during the hectic marriage-planning time – and that's one reason why they ask so many questions and offer unsolicited advice.
Planning a marriage is an “often stressful journey that others have gone through,” he says. So, family, friends and others want to impart what they know from their own experiences.
So how to rise above? Don't feel obligated to answer queries or act on the advice of others, says Orloff, yet at the same time, remember to tell those who put forth those questions and suggestions with good intent that they are important in your life. "That goes a long way," she says. "People basically want to feel accepted and loved."