The pressure to get engaged at Christmas is real

Photo: Bekir Donamez

When Caroline O’Donoghue took a day trip with her boyfriend to Paris, she had no idea what can of worms she was opening

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

It started on December 12. My boyfriend and I (three and a half years, cohabiting, share the care of one small dog) were sitting in Kings Cross St Pancras, nursing too-hot coffees and debating whether or not we should buy some snacks for the Eurostar, or wait until we arrived in Paris for a late breakfast of fresh pastry. This is our Christmas present to one another, this day trip to Paris. It’s been a busy, stressful, lovely year, a year where people have needed things from us, and as a result, we have had less time alone together than any year preceding. We decided that rather than spend half of December poking around John Lewis for gifts, we’d blow our Christmas present cash on actually spending time together. In Paris. Eating cheese. 

It is 7.32am, and I am excited about Paris. And then I look at my phone.

“Do you think he’ll propose?”

It’s my sister. Ten years older, happily married, and eager to have another sibling in the club.

“No,” I type back. “Because I know for a fact that he’s not had time to look for a ring.”

That was my short, quippy answer, but there were plenty of reasons that I knew this wasn’t going to be one of “those” trips to Paris. We have discussed marriage often, and have enthusiastically declared our hope to marry one another, one day.

One day.

It didn’t stop there. My brother and mother-out-law are in our Instagram comments, debating or whether or not our selfie at Notre Dame is a covert engagement photo. My two best friends text me to ask if I have become engaged, and if I have, why on earth haven’t I called? “We are in the pub and we have decided that we will be happy for you,” the text reads.

Our day in Paris was joyous. We drank excellent wine, wine made even more excellent by how thrillingly cheap it was. We walked around the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre, but even more impressively, we saw Eddie Izzard in Shakespeare & Co. We did many things, but we did not get engaged.

The sheer volume of texts received seemed to imply that good, desirable, sexy, funny, normal women get proposed to in Paris

And despite the fact that I had never considered the possibility until the 7am text from my sister, I felt weirdly put out by the whole thing. The sheer volume of texts received seemed to imply that good, desirable, sexy, funny, normal women get proposed to in Paris, and that thousands probably did that day, but I wasn’t one of them. Never mind that both my boyfriend and I are too busy to plan a wedding, and too broke to boot. Never mind that neither of us have a particular yen to do it “right now”. For the first time in our lives together, I felt something like rejection.

Not from him, though. From the formula that says that people who have dogs and flats together usually come to Paris at Christmas to formalise their arrangement. From the people I love, and who love me, but who nonetheless had a certain level of expectation around us, and this Christmas. There’s something so embarrassing about it: the idea of people standing around, tapping their wrist watches, wondering if it was going to happen, and if it wasn’t, feeling sorry for me that it hadn’t happened.

Ahhh. That’s it,  I thought, on the train back that evening, as I questioned why I felt disappointed that something I didn’t want to happen hadn’t happened. That was it in a nutshell. It was the feeling that people might feel sorry for me that drove me crazy, not the proposal itself. It’s exactly what I imagine going on The X Factor must be like, but getting eliminated after week one in the judge’s house. All of your friends and family are at home, wanting good things so badly for you, and then: nothing. “How terrible for her,” they murmur. “How mortifying. Let’s tell her to be happy that she got this far.”

“BUT I AM HAPPY I GOT THIS FAR!” You screech, pointing at your nice boyfriend and your nice life. “Some people never get this far! This is really, truly, far enough for me right now!”

But the more you say this, for some reason, the more it sounds like the lady doth protest too much. So, I’ve given up on saying anything. I’ve given up on defending my stance, and instead just accept the questions about my non-engagement like waves of tropical water, whose frequency spikes between November and February. (“It’s a no-fly zone for couples who don’t want to get engaged,” says my friend Kate. “Don’t travel together between Christmas and Valentine’s Day.”)

So yesterday, when my five year-old niece asked me if I was going to get married to “that man”, I smoothed her hair and said maybe, one day, and asked why she wanted to know. “Because I want to be a flower girl. Can I be your flower girl?”

I kissed her on the head and said yes. In the event that I get married, she can of course be my flower girl.


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Photo: Bekir Donamez
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