engaged(Photo: Getty Images)

JASON PROPOSED TO ME on a park bench overlooking the Hudson River. He'd prepared a speech but couldn't utter the words, so he let the square box speak for itself. I cried, then croaked yes. After, I speed-dialed my friends. "Have you set a date?" they asked. "Soon," I said. "We just need to save money for the wedding."

A year passed. By then, we had savings, but our jobs as magazine editors were so hectic we didn't have time to fuss over flower arrangements, so we waited for the workflow to ebb. Two years passed. People went from asking when we'd marry to whether we'd marry. "We live together," we shrugged. "So we basically feel married."

Five years passed. We bought a house, gave birth to a daughter. Still, no wedding. By then, even I was wondering: What was our problem?

In the latest Nicholas Stoller film, The Five-Year Engagement, Jason Segal and Emily Blunt delay their nuptials when Blunt gets an out-of-state job, then a promotion. They insist they don't have cold feet. Nonetheless, people all but place bets on whether they'll ever get hitched. OK, it's just a movie, but the plot also reflects many real couples' situations.

"Back in the '60s, engagements often lasted three to six months," says Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., a social research professor at the University of Michigan. "Today, an average woman may be engaged for two, three, even five years."

It's a far cry from the stereotype of the marriage-obsessed woman who launches into a wedding-planning frenzy as soon as she sports a diamond. A growing number of women are lingering in the engagement phase, a phenomenon that aligns with data hinting that young adults are growing more indifferent about marriage. According to 2010 census figures, only 30 percent of people ages 18 and 34 are hitched.

"We know that being unmarried no longer carries a stigma and that women don't need marriage to boost their social or economic status anymore," says Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., a psychology professor at California State University, Los Angeles. "Still, getting engaged is a distinct, exciting new chapter in life, a romantic milestone that can feel like a triumph for some women." And a marathon engagement is the perfect way to bask in the prenuptial glow and avoid getting bogged down in marital drudgery. "It's a state I call 'marriage lite,'" Durvasula says.

For some women, the perks of engagement are too seductive to part with. The attention from friends and family, showing off the ring, and recounting the proposal to a rapt audience—why not prolong the fun? In a world of Facebook and Twitter, where news drops and disappears in an endless stack of updates, many women want to shine in the "OMG, I'm engaged!" limelight.

Cristina Padilla, 22, a college student in San Francisco who has been engaged for 19 months, is an "engagement junkie" addicted to the rush of living on the brink of wedded bliss. "When I changed my Facebook status to 'Engaged,' everyone wrote on my wall and called," she recalls. "I wanted to extend this breezy, happy period."

And Mar Yvette, 35, a writer in Los Angeles, has been engaged for 11 years. Even now, "I'm still excited. It's a state of mind. And for now we're committed without the hassle of marriage."