For Rachel Simon and her fiancé, Kurt, getting engaged in 2020 was inevitable. It fit perfectly into their plan: a spring engagement, followed by a fall 2021 wedding. Or, at least, that was the plan—until the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic broke out and threw a wrench into things. Like many couples, Simon and her partner of three and a half years have had to grapple with the changes that have been influenced by the ongoing pandemic, but the one thing that remained steadfast was their commitment to taking the next step together—even if that meant getting engaged in quarantine.
Sure, the pandemic may have changed Simon's "how he asked" story into one that's a little more low-key, but it's also proven to Simon and many other couples that life is short and that if they want to begin the next chapter together—in quarantine and beyond—there's no time like the present. Though there isn’t any data (yet) to support the idea that more couples are getting engaged during the pandemic and quarantine than usual, there’s definitely psychology at play when it comes to couples seeming extra ready to affirm their commitment to one another during this challenging time.
An April 2020 survey conducted by The Knot and the Lasting Marriage health app found that more than 40% of couples (out of 1,000 responses) report spending 20+ hours more per week with their partner due to social distancing and work-from-home guidelines in the U.S. All that extra time spent together hasn’t been a bad thing, either. The survey also reported more than six in 10 couples saying that sheltering-in-place restrictions have strengthened their relationships.
Simon can attest to this. “While the situation overall has obviously been tough, the time we've gotten to spend together has been amazing, honestly. It has made us grow even closer and learn more about one another. By the time we got engaged, we both felt even more confident about our relationship and our future together than we had pre-pandemic, so taking this step was an easy choice,” she says of the early August proposal.
While Bloomberg reported a divorce spike in China in March 2020 after couples emerged from weeks of strict lockdowns aimed to stop the spread of COVID-19, newer marriages are posed to have a more promising outcome. One 2019 study published by the American Sociological Association found that divorce rates in the U.S. have been trending downward—especially among younger couples—since 2008, indicating that people are taking marriage as a more serious, lifelong commitment than they may have in the past.
The stress of the pandemic could be a part of why some couples are more inclined to get engaged now, too. Carrie Krawiec, LMFT, says that “the fear, trauma, and uncertainty of both social isolation and the potential for infection lead couples to become more attached.” Even the most independent couples are likely recognizing some slightly codependent dynamics right now and leaning on each other for both connection and companionship.
Now more than ever, couples are taking a deeper look at their partnerships and deciding whether or not they could realistically qualify for the long haul.
Jocelyn and Aaron Freeman, relationship coaches and authors of The New Power Couple, have observed this behavior in their own clients. “We are seeing that couples are taking a really honest look at whether they want to fully commit to their partnership or end it altogether,” they say. “The quarantine has presented the opportunity and time for everyone to reflect on their life and what they want/don't want moving forward.”
Krawiec agrees, saying that the pandemic created a "make or break" scenario for couples. Those that have been able to work through challenges are seeing themselves as more than ready for the next step. “Spending six months together [has] helped couples to solidify that they could live together and survive,” she says. “If there were any uncertainties about what could be tolerated and what could not, these were answered and likely resolved during COVID-19 quarantine.”
Getting engaged in quarantine or during the pandemic is exciting, and it should be, but our experts note that it’s also important to distinguish the feelings you have about the ongoing pandemic from what you actually want from your partner. Most importantly, be careful not to get swept up in future plans just because things can seem scary and uncertain right now.
"For some, interestingly, they are choosing to propose because of financial and housing considerations as they realize they don't want to be 'on their own' during a challenging season that could continue to be in front of us," says Jocelyn Freeman.
To gut-check where you're at, Krawiec says that the safest decisions are made from a place of stable thought and emotion. “If your decisions are coming from a place of panic or extreme excitement, these are probably not the firmest foundations for a marriage,” she says.
No matter where you are in your relationship, Jocelyn Freeman says it's critical to be confident that you and your partner have the tools to make it through the challenges that life will continue to throw your way—sans pandemic. But since the coronavirus pandemic may honestly be one of the biggest challenges any of us have faced thus far, it makes sense that couples are jumping at the chance to claim their forever commitment.
Laurel Elfenbein, who recently got engaged during quarantine, says that she and her longtime partner faced a learning curve about each other despite having lived together for over two years. "It's the little things...like you find yourself getting annoyed at them for nothing when really you just need some space," she says. But being able to come together to take care of their new puppy while navigating this "new normal" solidified that they were ready—and excited—to declare their commitment with an engagement this summer. "Being able to take care of our dog together and seeing how great of a dog dad he is really made me feel extra secure in taking the next step," she says.
Additionally, with life put on hold for the last few months, those couples who are feeling a stronger emotional bond have had more time to prioritize their relationship over anything else.
"Many people are realizing that they were letting their busy lives, apprehensions, or fears keep them from stepping into the next stage of commitment," says Aaron Freeman. "Now that they aren't as distracted, they are deciding to stop procrastinating and start building towards a new future."
Since the virus shut down travel, socialization, and recreation of all kinds for months, Krawiec explains that a lot of people have used the extra downtime to fantasize, daydream, and future-plan, which may have accelerated the number of engagements that have happened during this time. "Seeing the postponement of so many weddings from 2020 to 2021 may cause some to want to get things going, as an engaged couple now may not actually wed for a few years—especially since booking venues may take a while to catch up after COVID," she says. In order to make up for the extra time they have to spend waiting to plan that perfect day, couples may be more inclined to pop the question slightly sooner.
The average engagement length for U.S. couples was 15 months, according to The Knot's 2019 Real Weddings Study, but with no definitive timeline for a vaccine or when social distancing measures may safely be lifted, some couples could choose to stay engaged longer, until the pandemic is over.
For both Simon and Elfenbein, they're taking things slow when it comes to wedding planning right now, mostly because they're both committed to making their wedding days happen (sans mandatory masks and social distancing). "We're looking into venues and vendors but not booking anything yet," says Simon. "And we're setting both a goal date and a backup date in case the pandemic goes on longer than anticipated. It's definitely been difficult at times—we couldn't have a big engagement party like we'd wanted, for instance—but overall it's still just been really exciting to plan a wedding and have something to look forward to." Cheers to that.