The Engagement Domino Effect: Coming To A Boyfriend Near You
The Debrief: Why do guys feel pressured to propose just because their mates have? And is it a bad thing?
Ever notice how, when one guy proposes, the rest of his mates start to get a bit shifty? Shifty as in worrying about whether they're going to have to propose too? Yes, yes, sometimes women propose, but it's pretty much always the guys (happy 2015 everyone) and the domino effect, while not always obvious, is certainly often there.
A friend of mine was recently talking about a male friend of hers who is starting to feel the engagement pressure. Mainly because his younger brother recently got engaged, followed by his best friend two weeks later. We'll call him Percy for the sake of anonymity (his name isn't Percy): 'Percy is discernibly freaked out at the moment,' she told me. 'We found out as a group via Whatsapp and Percy rang one of us to ask, quite seriously, if this is a big prank. When he realised it wasn't, he was so shocked, he couldn't even swear. He just said, "Right. okay" in a small voice.' In response, there have been Facebook comments under Percy's mate's wedding photos to the effect of 'Hurry up Percy' and 'When are you going to pop the question' which are really not helping.
Percy is not alone - he's victim of a kind of peer pressure that, quite frankly, is both unhealthy for the person sick with worry at having to propose to their girlfriend, and unhealthy for the relationship because hey, you should get married because you want to. Not because everyone else is. Just like when I had an off week and thought I really should live with my boyfriend, and why wasn't I, when everyone else seems to be buying houses with theirs? Before realising that I don't want to. It's like a weird force that comes from nowhere - and it doesn't feel like peer pressure because peer pressure is something you get taught about in school to try and deter you from smoking (I wish they'd done a better job of this, as an aside). This is subconscious pressure from your own brain.
'There's a pretty simple reason for it: people don't want to be left out,' says Dr Jane McCartney, chartered psychologist. 'if you have a group of five friends, they're all standing on a plank waiting to jump in the sea, and one person jumps, then another, then another, those who are left will be wondering if they're missing out on something. You may get the occasional one who doesn't care, but most people compare themselves and their experiences to others.'
So is it linked to self confidence and self esteem? Yes. Of course it is. If you're like my boyfriend, who is so comfortable in his decisions and what he wants that he's barely noticed the fact that all his friends are pretty much married now, then you'll only jump in the water if you want to jump in the water. For everyone else (me included), we're constantly watching other people, whether subconsciously or consciously, and worrying that we don't measure up. The msot potent of that being the engagement domino effect, because it happens to involve thousands of pounds spent on a big party and committing yourself to another human for the rest of your life.
'If you're feeling under-confident in particular parts of your life, for example work-wise, then you might compensate in other areas,' says Dr McCartney. 'Having someone agreeing they want to technically spend the rest of their life with you is a bit of a confidence boost.' Plus, it's a big box in your life that you're waiting to tick off. A sort of ultimate things-to-do list that also involves things like 'Buying a car' and 'Having the best job ever' and 'Dying', so why wouldn't you feel more like a grownup after you've asked someone to marry you? Especially if all your friends have done it, and nobody's around on a Friday night anymore, and you've been together with your girlfriend for five years so you might as well.
'My housemate freaks out from time to time, but she stands her ground' the friend of mine continued, after telling me about Percy. 'She's been with her boyfriend for eight years so knows better than most what storms lie ahead for couples, and is in no rush. It’s sad though that she can still feel intimidated, given how much stronger her relationship is in comparison to most.'
Sad, but also inevitable if you're a human being. Because while you may have the self esteem of an ox, the engagement domino effect can hit just as hard for other reasons - in the same way that advertising works, seeing constant images of engaged people on your newsfeed seeps into your subconscious brain, especially considering they look so happy and are rarely shouting at each other or snot-crying things like 'I regret doing this so quickly and I'm scared about my life now'. Also, as I mentioned before, your lifestyle changes as your mates start getting hitched. They're less likely to be out on a Friday, they're less likely to be free in general, so you're more likely to spend time with your other half which is more likely to get you into some form of marriage-like routine, thereby making it more likely you'll decide that it's the right time to get married. God life is hard, isn't it.
The main thing, though, is to make sure that you break the chain and refuse to feel the pressure - or continuously remind yourself that you're feeling the pressure, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's right. When the dominoes start falling, it's probably a good idea to make that clear to your boyfriend, too, in case he thinks you're secretly desperate for him to crack out the diamonds (unless you actually are, in which case don't tell him you're not). 'It's a wise message to not to be pressurised, but don't to pressure yourself the other way either. Don't be cutting your nose off to spite your face, doggedly saying "NO NO NO" just because everyone else is,' says Dr McCartney. 'The most important thing is to make the decision now, for you, and be aware that we can all change our minds. It might be a "no" now, but who's to say that doesn't turn around in a few years? Or even months?'
Basically, really try to just do what you want to do, OK? Good. And no, Percy hasn't yet popped the question, instead preferring to delete all the Facebook comments and remain 'fairly silent' on the subject: 'He hates talking about weddings or marriage when we’re together,' says my mate. 'We’ve learnt to avoid the conversation as much as possible.' Poor Percy.
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