Why I’m Planning My Wedding Before I’m Engaged

“Congratulations on your engagement!”

Over the past few months, I’ve spent my evenings sending out a flurry of emails to what feels like the entirety of the tri-state area wedding industrial complex. In response, nearly everyone—planners, videographers, florists—has answered my admittedly novice inquiries with this same euphoric sentence: “Congratulations on your engagement!” Then, once we get on the phone, some ask my boyfriend to share the “story,” i.e. how he proposed and when.

But the thing is: I’m not engaged, and I won’t be for a little while. And so far, working outside the typical wedding timeline has prompted a lot of questions, a few laughs, confused looks, and at least one person telling me it’s the “most Capricorn thing” she’s ever heard.

the author and her boyfriend on the brooklyn bridge

My boyfriend visiting me in New York City in July 2016, two months after I graduated from college.

To back up a bit, my boyfriend and I first met as freshmen in college, but it wasn’t until a few years later that we became friends. It took a few more years for us to start dating seriously, and by 2018, we were both in New York, officially together in all senses of the word. When the pandemic hit, we spent those first few months quarantining together in a three-room apartment, scrubbing our groceries, and talking to family from outside our window, two stories up. Everything felt alien and scary and unpredictable, and yet here we were, somehow communicating, negotiating, apologizing. Relative to the rest of the country, our days were quaint and uneventful, but in our bubble, they also felt monumental; I was comforted knowing that things between us could remain easy, even when nothing else was. Once, my mom called to ask how we were getting along, since it was also our first time living together. “Everything is great, but I wonder if it’ll be harder once the pandemic subsides,” I said. “When we’re out of the house more, will it be difficult to make time together?” She laughed and told me: “This is the hardest thing you’ll do. If you can do this, you can do anything.”


I don’t remember when exactly after that we started to talk about marriage, but I know that it began with my own anxieties. I’m lucky to have parents who’ve been together for decades—once when I was a kid, I watched my parents loudly fight and then make up soon after, and I stormed into their bedroom, demanding they tell me how they did it—but shortly before the pandemic, a complicated divorce rocked my extended family and left me wondering if you could ever, really, know anyone at all. I didn’t understand how to pledge the rest of my life to someone when I didn’t know what the rest of my life would look like, who I might become, or what my partner might want one day. After a lot of talking, my boyfriend and I decided that if we got married, we wouldn’t be promising forever (though we both hope that’s what we get), but rather that we’d stay together as long as it made sense for both of us, that we’d promise to do right by each other, even when it was difficult. Still, I wasn’t convinced. One night, I asked him, “What if something terrible happens, and we have to break up? We could hurt each other, and we’ll be so sad.” He told me, “Even if we don’t get married, and one day we split up, it’ll be so sad.” I couldn’t escape the risk I’d already signed up for. I had run out of fears.

a few different rings laid out at a jewelry store

Why yes I have begged my boyfriend to show me a photo of the finished ring even though I already told him I don’t want to see it until he proposes.

So when the fall of 2021 rolled around, and I sprained my ankle and got COVID in quick succession, I decided to spend my couch-bound days doing something productive: I started planning our wedding. On one hand, it probably was my Capricorn sun-Virgo rising combo rearing its earthy head; I figured all the couples who had to postpone their nuptials due to COVID would make it even more difficult to snag a venue if I didn’t start looking early. Plus, I really needed something to do during those cold, sick months. Cut to the following May, and we toured a few venues, put down a deposit, and texted our closest friends and family to make sure they were free for our date, which was nearly two years away (lol). This past fall, we went together to design my engagement ring, made from the simple pear diamond my dad used to propose to my mom. By now, we’ve secured a not insignificant number of wedding vendors, from our DJ to our photographer, though I’m still working on the dress—the biggest item I’ll probably save for post-engagement.

Yet, for a variety of logistical reasons, there won’t be a proposal until this summer. My boyfriend is trying his best to make it a surprise, and I’m trying my best not to ruin said surprise. When I talk about our planning process, people will ask if they missed an Instagram announcement or wonder why exactly we’re doing this all out of order. The easy answer is also a true one: I’m Type A at my core, and unfortunately, planning ahead is a key part of my personality. But the other answer is that marriage only made sense to me as something we did on our own terms—even if what we’re doing isn’t particularly radical or different. (I’ve heard from a handful of people who also booked their venue or set a date before they got engaged.) For it to work for us, it had to be collaborative and organic and a product of who we really are, not some arbitrary timeline or rulebook. I can’t imagine doing it another way, just like I can’t imagine being with another person. And whenever we do get engaged, even if we already have our entire wedding planned out, I know it will be right on time.

Headshot of Madison Feller

Madison is a senior writer/editor at ELLE.com, covering news, politics, and culture. When she’s not on the internet, you can most likely find her taking a nap or eating banana bread.

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