It’s that time of year again! And no, I’m not specifically talking about the holidays—I’m talking about the time of year when browsing social media means seeing engagement announcement after engagement announcement on your feed.
While the holidays can be the most exciting part of the year for some, they can also be equally chaotic. Spending extra time with family members you haven’t seen all year can be fulfilling and much-needed, but that time also can be spent dodging questions about your relationship status among other touchy subjects. So it’s not abnormal to feel a little on edge during the holiday season. Regardless of your relationship status, let alone your desires surrounding a proposal, engagement pressure naturally builds around this time when it seems as if everyone you’ve ever known is sporting a brand-new ring—and that’s OK.
Whether you’re single or dating, navigating the pressure of engagement season that others put on you or you put on yourself isn’t so straightforward. However, it’s certainly manageable as long as you’re willing to do the inner work. Ahead, we’re digging deep into how to handle the pressures of engagement season (and just why it’s so damn stressful) no matter your current relationship status or future goals.
1. Validate your feelings
Whether you’re feeling excited, hopeful, sad, or maybe even a little engagement envy, mixed emotions are completely normal. Just know this: there’s never a “right” or “wrong” way to feel.
If you’re feeling excitement and joy for others…
If this is how you’re genuinely feeling, that’s wonderful! Embrace these emotions by expressing support for the newly engaged couple. This can look like sending a gift, showing up to an engagement party, or taking your friend out to lunch to celebrate the moment. If they’re long-distance friends, hop on the phone to express your excitement or send an engagement gift.
But don’t forget to genuinely check in with yourself. New feelings can develop over time, and it’s easy to disguise your emotions by giving the reaction you think you’re supposed to have during a loved one’s engagement. Of course, we all want to be genuinely excited and celebrate loved ones during big life moments. Even if that’s your initial gut reaction, acknowledge that the excitement may fade—and that’s OK.
If you’re feeling jealousy, frustration, and sadness…
“Notice these feelings without judgment, go take an intentional moment for yourself, and practice self-compassion,” says Lily Womble, feminist dating coach and host of The Date Brazen podcast. It’s easy to be hard on ourselves in the midst of uncomfortable feelings like jealousy, sadness, or disappointment. Instead of this self-inflicted guilt-tripping, tell yourself, “I hear you and I’m here for you.”
Tips for validating your feelings:
- Taking an intentional moment for yourself
- Journaling to process and reflect on your thoughts
- Putting your hand on your heart and saying, “I hear you, and I’m here for you”
- Limiting your social media consumption
- Talking to a therapist or trustworthy loved one
There are multiple ways pressure can peak during engagement season, and one of them is from feeling like you’re not meeting expectations—whether they’re your own, your family’s, or society’s.
2. Don’t get stuck in the comparison trap
The minute you start comparing your life to others, whether they be close friends, family, or complete strangers, pressure begins to build. It’s called the comparison trap, and the best way to prevent it is by catching yourself in the act.
Instead of jumping straight to thoughts like, “I’m so happy for the newly engaged couple, but when will it be my turn?” or, “Engagement isn’t a goal for me—what will people think?” acknowledge that you’re feeling a lot of emotions right now and that you’re on your own path. “You’re the expert of your love life,” says Lily. “Remember, your timing is your timing and it’s right for you.” This goes for anyone who’s single, in a relationship, or somewhere in between. In the same way that there’s no right or wrong way to feel about engagement season, there’s no right or wrong time for relationships to progress.
It’s also OK to not feel like the expert in your love life. Whether you’re navigating a breakup or simply don’t know what you want in a relationship, the same rule applies: leave comparison at the door. There are multiple ways pressure can peak during engagement season, and one of them is from feeling like you’re not meeting expectations—whether they’re your own, your family’s, or society’s. Just like comparison, expectations can destroy your inner peace.
Tips for avoiding the comparison trap:
- Utilizing a gratitude journal
- Catch yourself in the act: instead of self-comparing to people getting engaged, remind yourself everyone’s life journey is different
- Avoid future-tripping (having anxiety about the future) by reminding yourself to take life one day at a time
3. Set boundaries with family members
Because peak engagement season coincides with the holidays, this is an extra vulnerable time due to increased time spent with family. And if your family is anything like mine, they ask a lot of questions—many of which are none of their business. In order to set clear boundaries, you need to do a little prep work before heading into your family’s holiday gatherings. Whether you’re single or in a committed relationship, role-play potential conversations beforehand. That way, when questions about your life arise, you’re better equipped to answer honestly or set a boundary.
“If you’re in a relationship, have a conversation with your partner before the holidays and come up with a strategy for how you want to navigate difficult questions posed by family members,” says Leeanna Stockard, licensed marriage and family therapist at Life Stance Health. “For people who are single, I recommend the same process. Prior to a holiday event with loved ones, think about what you are and aren’t comfortable sharing with them. If there’s a close family member or friend who you can trust in your life, confide in them prior to the holiday and see if they can help you navigate through difficult questions if your loved ones remain persistent on asking you questions.”
It can be tempting to get frustrated when people inquire about your love life, but remember that the intention is usually pure. Empower yourself to honestly respond with remarks like, “I’m not comfortable talking about it.” The intent of their question is to learn more about your life, so following up with a topic you’d prefer to chat about is an easy pivot. Remember, you can’t control curious minds, but you can control what you share with them.
Tips for transitioning conversations away from engagement:
- For when they inquire about your relationship status: “I’m not focused on a relationship right now. Here’s what’s going on in my life that I’m excited about.”
- For when you’re asked about a potential future engagement: “I’m taking my relationship one day at a time. I’m hopeful about the future but that’s not my focus right now.”
4. Communicate with your partner (and yourself)
Regardless of whether you desire a proposal or not, use this season to check in with your partner, or if you’re single, hold an emotional check-in with yourself. Instead of bringing up timelines for yourself and your relationship, check in emotionally and treat this period as a time to discuss life goals, hopes, and wants.
This is a wonderful opportunity to bring up your genuine feelings toward engagement as a whole, like if it’s not a goal or something you want to work toward in your relationship. This part can be scary, but for the sake of communicating openly and honestly with your partner and yourself, it’s necessary to understand and share your desires.
If you’re in a new relationship, now may not be the time to discuss engagement, but it’s OK to mention if it’s something you do or don’t want in the future. The goal here is to emotionally show up, and if you are with a partner, ask them to do the same in return.
Honest conversation prompts to try to discuss engagement:
- This time of year can be stressful—how can I better support you in our relationship?
- How do you want to deal with people asking us about our future as a couple?
- In return, don’t be afraid to tell your partner how you need to be supported by saying, “I’m feeling [xyz]—here’s where I need extra support.”
5. Show up for your friends
Last, and most importantly, if you’re experiencing close friends or family getting engaged, show up for them. These moments are rare, so cherish them closely because you may not be able to celebrate with your friends in this manner ever again. Yes, there will be countless more opportunities to shower loved ones with support during equally exciting life events outside of an engagement, but live in the present moment and show your love.
During this time, it’s also important to remind yourself that the newly engaged couple is also experiencing a lot of emotions. Sure, this moment is a cause for celebration, but it’s also a cause for support because hard moments, stressful planning, and big decisions are on the horizon for them.
When news of the engagement breaks, extend your excitement and support, and after the excitement of the actual proposal has faded, consider having emotional check-ins with your friend or relative. If you have a close relationship, ask, “How can I support you right now?” Engagement pressure during this season happens in countless ways, so find comfort in the fact that you’re not alone in your feelings, and channel your emotions into supporting the people in your life who are getting engaged.
Tips for showing up for loved ones during engagement season:
- Expressing your happiness and excitement one-on-one
- Treating them to lunch or sending a heartfelt gift
- Asking how you can support them during this time
- Talking to a therapist or friend who can relate to manage your feelings