With Valentine’s Day just past, surely there are many fingers newly adorned with engagement rings of every description, while visions of bridesmaids and wedding dresses dance in fiancée heads.
Engagements differ greatly in length and purpose. Some betrothed couples wed shortly after public announcement of their new two-getherness, while others remain in engaged limbo for months or even years.
It is customary and practical to use the engagement period for wedding planning. The weddings I attended during my childhood were simpler than many today. After a traditional ceremony upstairs in the church sanctuary, receptions often took place in the church basement with guests treated to a slice of wedding cake, nuts and mints, as well as a serving of punch.
However, today’s customs of one venue for the ceremony and another for the reception, a sit-down meal, perhaps an open bar, choreographed dances, deejays, and sophisticated wedding albums and videos demand detailed coordination.
With the current trends of keeping-up-with-the-Jones-nuptials, destination weddings, and casting the bride as a princess deserving all she wishes, weddings have become major social events – in a country where the divorce rate hovers around the 50 percent level. Perhaps the more concerning trend is that too many couples do not think much about marriage until the day after the wedding.
Stressing my own personal disclaimer that I have never been engaged, planned a wedding (several proms but no weddings), or walked down the aisle on my way to matrimonial bliss, I will nonetheless fearlessly make suggestions – gleaned from years of observation – for activities and advice during the engagement period beyond department store registration and bridal showers.
There is no standard length for an engagement. Every couple creates a relationship with its own character and dynamic, making it impossible to establish a uniform time period. There are couples who marry after 72 days of acquaintance, and there are also couples who divorce after 72 days of marriage.
I believe, however, that prospective partners should experience each season of the year together at least once. Somehow it just makes sense to observe one another during annual occurrences: birthdays, family traditions, religious customs, holidays, tax season, career cycles, and all the days in between. In that luscious love song from Broadway’s Camelot, Sir Lancelot enumerates each season in “If Ever I Would Leave You,” finally realizing “…not in springtime, summer, winter or fall…no, never could I leave you at all!” The concept deserves at least passing consideration.
Following that rather lighthearted notion, I do seriously suggest some form of premarital counseling, which does not have to be as stuffy or intimidating as it may sound. There are ministers and counselors prepared to facilitate a few sessions. But couples can also find entire lists of questions on the internet to spark and guide their own in-depth discussions about life’s big deals: money, kids, work, goals, expectations. As with other relationships in life, a good dose of frank realism can provide focus and clarification.
Each individual couple must decide how detailed such prenuptial dialog should be. However, a Facebook post last week reminded me of one specific topic that probably should be covered. The video showed a father changing his infant’s obviously quite full diaper. Even after four baby wipes, the poor guy was dry-heaving every three seconds.
That hilarious albeit sympathy-eliciting clip reminded me of a long-ago conversation with my sister. Although she never had any trouble changing poopy diapers as often as required, her husband was absolutely incapable of completing the task without gagging. She expressed, however, sincere admiration and great relief that her spouse had no difficulty with the one parental duty that could push her to unabated retching: cleaning up after a vomiting child.
Thus was born another suggestion: minimally, every couple should have the poop-and-vomit conversation. I mean, what happens if neither partner can change a soiled diaper or put an urpy kid back into a clean bed? I rest my case.
My dear mother provided this next piece of advice. Although it is quite applicable in many situations, she always explained it in terms of her marriage. I know that my parents had their arguments, but I have no recollection of huge verbal altercations between them as I was growing up. With Mother’s advice, I finally understood why. “When your father and I disagree, I think about whether it will make a difference in 20 years. If it will, I speak up. If not, I keep my mouth shut.” That solution worked quite well for all six and a half decades of their marriage.
Mother also had another pronouncement about marriage that she shared freely and frequently. From a woman who married at the age of 23, gave birth to six children, ran a household, helped my father in the fields, finally went to work at the county nursing home, and – along with my father – grandparented 11 grandchildren and a flock of greats: Marriage is not all it’s cracked up to be.
From the moment the returning soldier and the student nurse stood before a justice of the peace in 1947, there was never a question that their commitment was for a lifetime partnership, one that eventually spanned 65 years of seasons, life choices, poop and vomit, spats large and small – and the understanding that life would not always be awash in hearts and flowers. Need I suggest more …
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.