Does it ever feel like the world and its mother are getting engaged, and you're getting left behind? Niamh Devereux examines this very particular, strange feeling
It’s 9.30pm on Friday night and you’re tucked up in your dressing gown, takeaway on one side and remote control on the other. Absent-mindedly, you take your phone out for a quick Instagram scroll and swipe down through the reams of selfies, holiday inspo shots and videos of dogs until – BAM. A gal you went to school with has shared a pic of her perfectly-manicured hand, adorned with a big, fat sparkler with the simple caption: “I said yes!”. This isn’t the first time you’ve seen someone you once shared a uniform with celebrating an engagement, and quite frankly, it freaks you out. But what exactly is that creeping, uneasy feeling?
Lauren, 27, from Wicklow says it’s a mixture of emotions – so much so that it’s difficult to put a definitive finger on it. “I am constantly seeing engagement and wedding photos of women my age on social media, and since I’ve been single the past two and a half years it makes me feel weird,” she explains.“For me, that part of my life feels so far away and I guess when I see these pictures it makes me panic a little. It’s not so much that I’m jealous of these couples, I just feel a bit inadequate.”
She continues: “I mean, it makes you wonder ‘what’s wrong with me? Why haven’t I found that yet, when they have?’ It’s like you almost think you’re doing something wrong, in terms of the path you’re on.”
Sarah, 31, is in that life stage zone where all her friends and even family members are getting married. She recently ended a long-term relationship because she knew it wasn’t right, but she feels back at square one when everyone else’s life is progressing. “My best friend getting married was the real eye opener. I was thrilled for her of course, but I couldn’t help comparing myself to her – and it’s weird, because I could have married my ex if it was a wedding I wanted! It’s not, I just don’t like feeling like she’s better at this whole adulting thing than I am.”
For Linda, 25, from Donegal, being bombarded with images of settled couples puts an uncomfortable pressure on her relationship of 18 months. “I know I love my boyfriend, but marriage? I’m so not ready for that,” she confides. “But when I go for drinks with the girls, they’re talking about the kind of ring they want, or how they’ve had The Conversation with their fella about them both wanting to tie the knot.
“It makes me feel alienated because I’m not there yet, and it also makes me question whether my partner is ‘The One’ since I don’t have that dream of walking down the aisle anytime soon.”
According to relationship expert, and author of ‘#Love: 21st Century Relationships’, Trish Murphy, this is a common concern.“Couples often feel pressure when their friends become engaged and they know that they will get lots of questions – that whole ‘when will you two be giving us a day out’ thing,” she says. “It can force a conversation they are not ready to have and it might even force a breakup if one person has commitment difficulties…it may take that person a long time before they can consider commitment.”
When it comes to both singletons and coupled-up peeps, Trish says its crucial to not let the pressure cloud judgement. “People often only look for a relationship now when they are ready to settle down and they can rush making a decision before they have enough knowledge and experience of the other person,” she explains. “Decisions that are made before their time can have very negative effects, and we all know this from experience. The task is to be patient, cope with the uncertainty, and wait until the timing is right. She adds that if we rush to become a bride, we could end up with the wrong guy: “Pressure has effects on our mental emotional capacities and anyone can tell you that making decisions in haste can result in regret at leisure.
“It shows a lot of self-regard if we do not rush to certainty but can wait until we have a sense of ease and rightness about our decisions.” Anyway, when it comes down to it, what is the rush? Recent research finds that Irish couples are leaving it later to get married than ever before. In fact, according to the latest CSO figures, the average woman gets married at 33 and for Irish men, it’s 35, compared to in 1977 when the corresponding ages were 24 and 26, respectively.
So we all should take a breather, right? Trish agrees that we need to step back and take our time when it comes to our relationships; including the one we have with ourselves. “Relationships are really only at their beginning when we get married or commit and it’s required of us to be strong and able human beings to maintain a relationship,” she says. “We need to take the time to develop ourselves so that we are happy being who we are and this will take whatever time it takes.”
We also have to remind ourselves that a Disney-esque happily ever after ain’t everything. Love and marriage, the horse and carriage – it isn’t the be-all and end-all, y’know. For Corkonian Mary (29), she doesn’t rule out being in a serious relationship but says she never has and never will consider marriage. And guess what? That’s totally okay.
“For me, I don’t need it. It’s not something I long for, I’ve never been that person who dreamed about the dress or what band I’d pick. Mary continues: “And it isn’t just about the day itself, but the thought of being someone’s wife…I don’t think it’s for me. I want to continue my focus on my family, friends and career. If a guy comes along, that’s grand and I will be happy to explore a relationship but I’m content as I am.”
According to Trish, focusing on our own needs is key, as is accepting that not everybody wants the same things out of life. “It is perfectly acceptable to be a happy singleton or an un-married person,” she says. “The job is to be happy in life and to figure out how to develop that in ourselves.“If a person is truly happy living alone then no one will ask them what the problem is – they will want to know the recipe for happiness instead!”
So, like all social media stresses, should we just switch off when we don’t like what we’re seeing? Trish says it’s more complicated than that. “We should look at the source of all uncomfortable feelings and investigate why we are feeling that way,” she suggests. “If we associate a ring with all the positives and fears of commitment, we are looking in the wrong place!”
And, remember, those shots of the perfect proposal? It doesn’t always mean it’s the perfect relationship. Nobody’s life is without its problems, even if it seems like it’s straight out of a fairytale. Next time you’re online, do yourself a favour and stick with the dog videos. Trust us on this one.
This article first appeared in STELLAR’ May issue. Our August issue is on shelves now!
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