Adapted from a recent online discussion.
If you're ready to propose, do it; future in-law can get over it
D.C.: I would like to propose to my girlfriend of five years. But my brother just announced his engagement to his girlfriend.
When I told him of my plans, he said it was no big deal and that I should propose. Later, however, I overheard him telling his fiancee, and she said she'd be very upset because it would take away from their engagement.
At first I was mad at her for being selfish, but now I'm not sure it would be a good idea because a lot of people might perceive it like that.
Is there a way I can propose to my girlfriend without upsetting them and making it a competition? Or should I just wait?
Carolyn: Good lord. Not to sow seeds of dissent within your family, but your brother is marrying either a baby or an idiot. (Not that the two are mutually exclusive.) The correct answer upon her hearing of your news was: "That's great; I'm so happy for him." Period.
Your first impulse to be angry might have been good to override (see "dissent within your family," above); you want to keep as forgiving a mindset as you can with family, especially with family of the in-law variety, even when dyspeptic advice columnists fulminate and stoop to name-calling.
But your second impulse, to worry about what others perceive, needs to be nipped in the bud. No one course of action will please everyone. You can only weigh your own motives carefully — i.e., make sure you're proposing now because you're ready, and not to one-up your sib — and then do what you think is right.
A better second impulse than self-consciousness — which you can now make your third impulse — would have been to feel protective of your longtime girlfriend. Assuming she's as eager to marry you as you are to marry her, how can it possibly be okay to leave her in limbo until your brother's fiancee's ego is properly fed?
So please propose to your girlfriend, and if she accepts, then have a conversation with both your brother and his betrothed to reassure them that you won't deflect even one photon of the spotlight that would otherwise have been shining on them.
I have to go puke.
California: Re: D.C. While I agree that D.C. should go ahead and make his proposal as planned, it's worth remembering that the opinion given by the brother's fiancee wasn't said to D.C.'s face, but was a meant-to-be-private comment he "overheard." It's possible that after sharing her first, emotional reaction with her husband-to-be, she would have sucked it up, gone out with a smile and been ready to congratulate her soon-to-be brother-in-law if he did make an announcement. Maybe not, but they'll be part of each other's extended family a long time — why not start by giving her the benefit of the doubt?
Carolyn: Those are substantial grounds for that forgiving mind-set, thanks. She still had the reaction, though, which was still ridiculous — "very upset"? really? — and which would still have required her to "suck it up" instead of being genuinely happy about others' genuine happiness. So, benefit of doubt plus wide berth, and high hopes that the brother wakes up to any selfishness in his fiancee.