I’m getting married in a few weeks (hold your applause), and through this process of planning a wedding (which is misleading, because I’m not doing any of real work), I’ve made a few observations. One of those is that the word “fiancee” or “fiance” is such an interesting word in social settings. When you have a “girlfriend” or a “boyfriend,” no one blinks. When people say “wife” or “husband,” it seldom resonates on a big level. But, when you say “fiancee” or “fiance” (and for the purposes of this post, I’ll stick with “fiancee”), there’s a connotation of transition. The implication is that you are in-between single life and married life, and that it’s a much more eventful time than those opposite ends of the relationship spectrum. When I speak about my fiancee to others, and I say that word, I also feel like I’m begging for attention. It’s as if I’m saying “hey, I’m getting married some point in the near future, aren’t I special?”
I guess the physical symbol of this sentiment, is the engagement ring. I don’t wear one, so I have no concept of how that changes your social interaction. These words and objects, though, exist almost entirely to make a statement. My fiancee has an engagement ring, and it means more than just a statement… to us. But to other people, when it’s not yours, an engagement ring is there to tell you something. Just like the word “fiancee,” it’s a means of distinguishing how your relationship is in a transitional phase. What makes saying the word “fiancee” so unusual to me, is that it implies something is suddenly different about my partner-to-be. It’s almost like saying “when she was my girlfriend, she was alright, but now she’s my fiancee and that’s different.” It’s only different socially, while being married to someone is different legally/financially, etc. When someone is your wife or husband, there is a different set of rules, so it makes sense that you call them a different name. When you’re engaged, though, nothing legal or financial should be any different than from before. So why the new name?
Do you know why the trend of engagement began? Why don’t we go from “in love” to “just married?” The whole engagement practice was introduced by the Christian churches (known as the “banns of marriage”), as way to vet a couple before the wedding. In other words, you and your fiancee became engaged so that the authorities and your family could make sure that you weren’t about to do something unacceptable. This could include everything from marrying a blood relative to marrying someone outside your faith or class. Today, some of these concerns still exist, as well as less tangible issues such as “he’s just not that into you.”
There are plenty of logisitical reasons to extend your engagement, but I can’t imagine this transitional period going on for much longer. I’m ready to stop calling her my “fiancee.” I’m proud and happy to have the wonderful fiancee that I have, I just don’t need the word to feel committed. Maybe I’ll just start calling her my “wife” now.