My best friend has been engaged for five years.
While that statistic makes people my mom's age break out in hives, to our group of friends getting engaged to your long-time partner and never actually tying the knot is simply the norm.
To some people, an engagement ring means less about setting a wedding date and more about what the ring says about the overall commitment level of the relationship.
When I asked my friend why she wanted to be engaged and skip the wedding ceremony, she just shrugged. "I might do it one day. But it just isn't a big deal. It doesn't change a thing in our relationship, and honestly I just wanted the outward symbol that we were more than just boyfriend/girlfriend. This way it's obvious that we're serious, but I don't sound lame calling him my boyfriend for ten years. We're so much more than that."
And it turns out that my friend (and her sentiment) are not alone. Long engagements (and forever engaged) is becoming quite popular.
In the US, researchers report that 59% of millennials have never married and 9% are in domestic partnerships. If these numbers are anything to go by, the idea of getting and staying engaged is a better option than officially getting hitched for some couples.
So why are more and more couples choosing to stay in the engagement zone? Even if their family members don't really get it?
Marriage ain't what it used to be
According to some experts, the idea of marriage is definitely losing steam. And it's not just a case of cold feet.
"The aspiration for marriage won’t die in America, even though fewer people are getting married or think they can afford to get married. People no longer think of a wedding as a milestone that happens somewhere between high school and having children. They think of marriage as what sociologists call a “capstone”—that is, something they earn after many other things are in place in their lives, like a good job or a nice house," says journalist and author Hanna Rosin in her article for Slate magazine.
The evolution of marriage from a mandatory milestone to this massive life event, or "capstone", has caused some couples to delay the big day indefinitely, or not bother with it at all. After all it's not really affecting their life together, so is marriage actually necessary?
In fact, the overall US marriage rate is at just 50%. That's down quite a bit from its peak of 72% in 1960. And while there's no hard data on the number of couples who intentionally get engaged with no plan to marry, we all know that couple who has been engaged for two years, four years or, in the case of Oprah and Stedman, even 30 years.
Engagement is so much cheaper than a white wedding
Reasons for staying engaged versus becoming a married couple will vary from couple to couple. But with the average cost of a wedding coming in at a whopping $35,329, for some couples the cause for delay is purely financial. In many of these cases, one or both partners just aren't willing to compromise on their fairy-tale wedding. Rather than biting the bullet and heading "downtown", they delay the wedding until they feel they can really afford it (a day which may or may not ever come). In other cases, a couple might decide that all that cash would be better spent somewhere else, like on their dream home or vacation.
Location plays a big part in whether a couple stays engaged forever or not. We tend to see this trend more on the coasts, in more expensive zip codes like Los Angeles and New York, where the cost of living is higher than anywhere else in the country. Second most popular financial culprit to staying engaged forever? Student loans forever. Couples who are already in massive debt simply don't see the financial benefit of spending so much money on a "real wedding". Though, the upside is they would save money on taxes...
A marriage does not a family make
While saving and planning for the perfect day, life marches on. In fact, 58% of first-time births happen outside marriage. For many forever-engaged couples, they're strong in their conviction that they don't need a piece of paper to feel like a family. And since there's no "right way" (especially in the United States) to be a family, there's usually not a lot of pressure to make things "official."
Engagement is commitment enough
For certain couples, being engaged is as good as being married. And while friends, relatives and probably even complete strangers are quick to label these couples as "not serious enough", or accuse them of wanting the perks of marriage without the commitment that goes along with it, these couples have no problem shaking the haters off. Everyone has different expectations, but these couples know what they want and are completely comfortable with their decision to bypass the altar.
Reluctance to get remarried
The forever engagement is especially common in couples where at least one of the partners has been married before. And when you consider that divorce rates in the US are pushing toward 50%, the decision to stay committed, but not married, suddenly doesn't sound so unreasonable. For these couples, does a wedding ceremony really change their level of commitment? Not at all.
Do what works for you
At the end of the day, there will always be plenty of reasons to get married and plenty of reasons not to get married. Especially if you're looking to make your point in either direction. ;) If you and your partner are both completely cool with staying engaged, then screw the rules and do what works for you.