Overcoming Engagement Envy

Whether you’re ready for it or not, from Thanksgiving until Valentine’s Day is “Engagement Season.” While almost one-fifth of couples get engaged in December, the surrounding months are also busy. This means there’s a safe bet someone you know will be getting down on one knee to declare their love.

Engagement season is an opportunity to celebrate others while holding space for introspection.

In 2018, I watched three of my best friends get engaged during the holidays; they were the first in my close circle to take the plunge. Needless to say, I was thrown for a loop. Suddenly, I felt on the outs of a club I didn’t know existed. While I’d been dating and building my own life, it seemed my friends had been searching for life partners.

I love my friends dearly, and I was thrilled they had all found their matches. Their engagements forced me to think about where my own life was going and what my goals were. Engagement season, I’ve learned, is an opportunity to do this. I could celebrate my friends while also holding space for introspection.

For me, I realized I didn’t want to be engaged or getting married anytime soon. I know for others, the stress of engagement season—of wishing you were with someone who would take that next step with you—can feel overwhelming. Even if you are married, seeing the rush of new engagements can make you worry that the excitement is behind you. But when we witness our loved ones take leaps in their lives, we’re presented an opportunity to reflect on the leaps we want to take, too.

The History of Engagements

Fifty years ago, the average age for women to get married was 20.8 years old; in 2019, the average age was about 28. Despite knowing couples are tying the knot later in life, engagements can still come as a shock. I remember calling my mom when my friends started getting engaged and saying, “I didn’t know we were old enough to do that.” I felt like I had missed the boat everyone else had been secretly boarding for years. 

Most wedding and engagement traditions, while seemingly existing since the beginning of time, have only existed for a century, if not less.

While times have changed, men are most often the ones to propose. Most wedding and engagement traditions, while seemingly existing since the beginning of time, have only existed for a century, if not less. Men, for example, only began wearing wedding bands in the 1940s. To learn more about the history of engagements, check out Jia Tolentino’s essay, “I Thee Dread,” in her book, “Trick Mirror.”

LGBTQ+ engagements in the United States continue to be on the rise, too, thanks to the Supreme Court’s overturning of DOMA in 2015. While the wedding industry remains far from inclusive, and many same-sex couples must still fight for the right to wed (as of 2019, only 29 of 195 countries allowed same-sex marriage), progress is happening. 

From “90 Day Fiancé” to “The Bachelorette,” the engagement allure is everywhere. Even for those who don’t feel ready for marriage, the cultural obsession with engagement season can cause you to reevaluate your life’s trajectory. While it is always good to take a mental note of where you’d like to be, the sudden surge of engagements during the winter months can really play mind tricks.

#Engaged: The Social Media Effect

Social media also affects our emotions surrounding engagement season. Among millennials, 64 percent share their proposals to social media within a few hours of getting engaged. According to writer Zara Wong, “Facebook’s algorithm for your feed preferences engagement photos and many users feel the social media peer pressure to ‘like’ or comment on a positive Facebook status, which helps these posts really stay on the top of your Facebook feed.” 

Facebook’s algorithm for your feed preferences engagement photos.
— Zara Wong, Vogue

Look no further than Instagram to see how massive and prevalent the engagement industry has become. With more than five million #EngagementRing tags and 14 million (and counting) #Engaged posts, it’s no wonder our feeds are flooded with happy couples and shiny rings. Even if you’re genuinely happy for your friends, these posts can make anyone feel left out of the club. 

Tips for Surviving Engagement Season

Engagements of those around you can be stressful enough. Combine that with eggnog and cousins you hadn’t seen since the previous year, and it can be a recipe for disaster. No matter how much you love everyone, the sparkle of that ring can, unfortunately, make you feel introspective and stressed. Here are a few tips to help you through this season:

  1. Take time to focus on the positive in your life. Write down and meditate on the things that are going well for you.

  2. If getting engaged isn’t on your priority list, figure out what is. For me, it’s traveling. (P.S., for those on the same path, this book by Kristin Newman is a game-changer).

  3. Plan something that is just for you that you can look forward to, when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Take that improv class; book that solo flight to Kyoto; adopt a pet. Instead of dwelling on the fact that you’re not engaged, find hope and presence in the season you’re in.

  4. Not feeling up for your third Zoom engagement party this month? It’s okay to say no. Protect your heart and practice self-care. You can still get the engaged couple a gift or offer to take them out for a celebratory lunch after the holidays wind down.

  5. When in doubt, my favorite self-care trick is to dress up in an outfit I love. Feeling comfortable and like myself during the holidays is the best medicine.

Marriage: It Isn’t For Everyone

The notion that unmarried women watch soap operas all day with twenty cats is an outdated construct.

As a closing note, it’s important to remember that not everything is for everyone. And as hard as it may be to explain to your grandmother, marriage isn’t either. While much of current society is aimed to make you feel guilty for not having a Disney-style one true love, there is so much more to explore in life than that. Stepping away from the norm, you should feel proud to go against the grain for the sake of your happiness.

I’ve always been very independent, and even I have to continually remind myself that marriage isn’t something I want, at least right now. The notion that unmarried women watch soap operas all day with 20 cats (even though that does sound like the dream) is an outdated construct. We do not have to walk down the aisle to have a fulfilling life. 

How do you hold space for celebration and challenging emotions during the holiday engagement season? 💍 Share your tips in the comments below.


Sarah Spoljaric is a California girl through and through. She has a BA in World History from one of the top 10 greenest campuses in the world; The University of California, Merced and is a Content Curator for the visual travel app Trepic. She has a background in museum curating, loves reading women’s travel journals and is in search of the perfect IPA. She’s passionate about exploring this beautiful world that ethically-produced goods help to protect. Say hi on Instagram!