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February 15, 2011

Do You Have Engagement Rage?

For some women, getting a marriage proposal means losing their single friends.

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Photo Credit: Moment/Cultura

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After I got engaged in the south of France last summer, congratulatory cards started streaming in, and I gave each one a spot on the refrigerator door.

One card, however, went straight into the trash. It was from a girlfriend of mine, and all over the front, in tiny red print, it read: "I hate you. I hate you. I hate you."

"Kidding!" my still-single pal had scrawled on the back.

But I knew better. In the weeks following Drew's proposal, the reactions of some of my most loyal friends were shocking. One levelheaded pal responded to the news with a three-word e-mail that flatly read: "Congratulations. How wonderful." Another, who had recently been through a breakup, fled our engagement party weeping. And a friend who was hunting for husband number two mentioned to Drew that he probably could have married someone younger. These are women who had comforted me through countless breakups—could they love me only when I'm miserable?

"There's enormous cultural pressure to get married — you see it everywhere, from Hollywood movies where couples drive off into the sunset to reality shows where women line up like cattle to compete for a proposal," says Diana Kirschner, Ph.D., author of Sealing the Deal. "The message women hear is: Marriage is the holy grail of happiness."

Plus, I got engaged in my mid-30s, a time when many women start worrying that marriage and children might never happen. According to Kirschner, my bliss was a double hit, serving as a panicky reminder to lonely single friends that happiness eludes them, and causing my coupled-up friends to wonder if their boyfriends don't love them enough to pop the question. No wonder they were angry.

"Getting engaged is a big step toward a new phase of life and can be the ultimate test for whether or not your friendships survive," says Kirschner.

It makes sense. When Drew proposed, I finally exhaled. Suddenly, all of the things that I had spent years obsessing about — how long should I wait before texting back? Was he thinking about me? What did his choice of restaurant mean? — seemed downright silly. Since then, I've found that rehashing breakup conversations just isn't as fascinating as it was when I was single. In that sense, maybe my single friends and I really have outgrown each other.

The good news is, I've been granted membership into a new club. My married friends have started crawling out of the woodwork — they're smothering me with attention, e-mailing with marital wisdom and wedding-planning tips, and pestering me to bring Drew over for dinner.

But these coupled-up pals also mourn their former lives. Recently, I hit the town one night with some single friends and stumbled home tipsy at 4 a.m. A friend who is married with kids was filled with envy.

"Oh, God," she said. "I hate you. I hate you. I hate you!"


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