Allana and Brock Johnson found the perfect outdoor wedding venue in early February 2015, interviewed wedding DJs the second week of February and put a down payment on their wedding photographer mid-February.
But it wasn’t until February 23 that Brock asked Allana to marry him. They were married seven months later.
That might sound out of order. But according to a recent study by Wedding Wire, two out of three millennials are planning their weddings prior to getting engaged.
This kind of change in the industry is actually a sign of good things, said Holly Richmond, a licensed marriage and family therapist and sex therapist.
“Women are more empowered,” she said. “It’s not like we’re sitting around waiting to be proposed to anymore.
“We’ve got ideas about what we want our proposal to look like, what we want our engagement to look like, what we want our wedding to look like.”
Why the rush?
At the same time, Richmond encourages people to check in with themselves and their mindset — is it all about an engagement and wedding or is it about celebrating a long-term relationship with someone you love?
Sometimes it’s hard to separate the two. She said to ask yourself, can you see yourself with this person in 15 or 20 years?
“Does that excite you?” she said. “Does the relationship feel solid?”
In even more simple terms, ask yourself, “Are you excited about the person or are you excited about getting married?”
And be honest.
But don’t feel pressure to have everything decided. The level of planning and booking before an engagement varies from couple to couple.
“Some couples do the research before the ring but decide to hold off on signing contracts and putting down deposits until after the official engagement,” said Jaclyn Fisher, wedding planner and owner of Two Little Birds Planning in New Jersey. “Every couple is different, so it’s up to them and what they feel comfortable planning before an engagement.”
Couples can start with the basics by creating a general guest list and budget and answering basic questions about what kind of wedding and venue you both want.
“With these things done, a fiancé-to-be can start looking into venues and vendors,” Fisher said. “It’s okay to have a list of potential venues to visit and vendors to meet, so that when the engagement begins, you’ll have a head start on the planning. Or if you feel comfortable, you can dive right in and start booking.”
Social and financial pressures
There’s no denying social media has played a big part in this trend.
“With Pinterest and Instagram, many have started planning their weddings long before they’re even in a committed relationship,” Fisher said.
As people get more serious with a partner, they might start looking up venues or influencers that cause similar accounts to pop up in their feeds.
“Expectations are higher because social media is showing us what we want to see,” Richmond said.
But there are practical reasons for booking pre-engagement, too.
The Johnsons knew the date they wanted to get married and didn’t want a long engagement.
“Brock wanted the proposal to be special and at the right time,” Allana said. “So, he was taking his time with it.”
But their special date was on Labor Day weekend. If they waited, venues would’ve likely been completely booked.
“Popular wedding months and venues book up fast,” Fisher said. “Couples that don’t want a long engagement, but do want a specific date, venue or vendor, benefit from starting the planning early, and sometimes that means before an official engagement.”
Allana also attended a bridal expo where she found her photographer. The photographer was offering a special deal if they booked right then, so she did.
She said it was nerve racking to be making such big financial decisions. But even if they did it after the proposal, they’d still be making those decisions before they said their vows. She knew their commitment level, engagement or not.
“The level of risk was the same,” she said. “It just came down to trusting each other, trusting ourselves and trusting God that this was how things were meant to be.”
Dealing with the skeptics
It can be difficult to tell people you’ve already started planning before getting engaged.
Allana decided not to tell too many people for fear of “snide remarks or even well-meaning advice to wait.”
But she did confide in a few people, which was helpful in the stressful and confusing world of wedding planning.
One was her best friend and the other two were her mentors, who are married.
“I think having a couple who is already married and has a healthy relationship who can mentor you is an invaluable asset, because they can offer perspective during those moments of anxiety,” she said.
A new normal
For some, an engagement has become more of a formality, Fisher said. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of Americans living with an unmarried partner was about 18 million in 2016, up almost 30 percent since 2007. And about half, it said, are younger than 35.
When a couple is living together, Richmond said, they gain an intimate knowledge of each other that makes it easier to make decisions about important things like a wedding.
But that doesn’t mean couples who are waiting until they get engaged or married to live together can’t plan pre-ring.
“Their communication just needs to be even more clear,” Richmond said. “The smallest detail, those things need to be talked about.”
Either way, communication is the key to planning any wedding, Richmond said.
A good rule, she said, is to “talk first, book second.”
And even if one partner enjoys the planning process more than the other, it’s important to keep both people on the same page.
“A wedding is about the couple,” Fisher said. “So, if you’ve gotten a head start on the planning solo, welcome his or her input when the time comes.”