Today’s post comes from Rachael, one of the many, many members of Team Practical that’s a writer and an editor (I love that we have so many writers here). Her story is about getting engaged (something you guys said we needed to talk more about), about learning to trust and honor your relationships (something we all need to think more about), and about how effing pumped she is to get married in August (I can’t wait for her wedding graduate post). Now, let’s get started:
Joe and I started dating in high school, when he was a junior and I was a senior. How exactly we got together involves an incredibly protracted and dorky combination of mock trial, community theater, LiveJournal, AIM conversations and at least one trip to Arby’s that regrettably may or may not have been our first official date. He was my first boyfriend. And now, about eight and a half years later, since we’re engaged and planning our wedding for August 2011 and all that, he’ll probably be my only boyfriend ever.
It’s all so unlikely, I know, and not just because of the high-school sweethearts thing. We’re now both writers, which is a classic recipe for disaster (although so far I haven’t been tempted to stick my head in an oven and he’s yet to die in a strange sailing accident, so I’m feeling OK about it). But the big thing that maybe should’ve ripped us apart long ago but very thankfully did not is how we dated long-distance for most of the first eight years of our relationship.
We never sat down and talked about how this all would pan out, which isn’t exactly a plan I recommend, but it somehow it worked. We racked up thousands of miles on our odometers (and only one speeding ticket, thanks) and plowed through countless wireless minutes. Nearly every single day we weren’t in each others’ presence, one of us called the other. We were already trusting and honest with each other, but this bolstered it.
We told stories about our friends and our professors and our bosses and our co-workers and our separate but intertwined lives. I guess if either of us had ever been interested in breaking up or seeing other people we would’ve talked about that, too—but it never came up.
For me, it was an ongoing regimen of gut-checks: Is this what I want? Is he who I want? And the answer was always yes. I was choosing him every day. And I knew he was choosing me.
So that was the first lesson our long-distance love taught me: The importance of communication, not only with Joe but with myself.
The second lesson was tougher but also probably more important: patience.
I consider standing in front of a microwave and letting the timer count down to absolute zero to be a feat of will. I have ruined dinners, craft projects, attempts at car detailing and countless other tasks simply because I could not get them done fast enough. And my impatience morphs into something much uglier when there’s no end-point assigned to whatever I’m having to force myself to wait on.
But for the vast majority of our relationship, we weren’t working on a set timeline. Things unfolded organically, if haphazardly. Sometimes this drove me crazy. But most of the time I was able to hold my breath and just swim through it, because what was my other option? Breaking up with him? How would removing him from my life solve the issue of there not being enough of him in my life? Pretty much any scrap of patience I now posses came from Joe and the demands of our relationship.
Last May, Joe graduated from his Master’s program, packed his life into his car and drove down to Atlanta. We moved into a tiny one-bedroom apartment and the year since has been one of the happiest of my life.
But him moving in also kind of ripped open a previously discrete cavern of my brain, the one where all my mostly-secret thoughts about engagements and weddings were stashed. For years, any time anyone asked whether Joe and I would ever get married, I’d just laugh: “We’re just trying to live in the same city, first!” What would happen then? For quite a while, I didn’t really care. I was ambivalent about getting married for the first half of our relationship, not because I didn’t love him but because, um, I was like 20 years old? Just going to weddings during college made me feel like we were playing grown-up; the idea of having one myself seemed absolutely ludicrous.
By the time he moved in last spring, though, I’d mentally planned about four different weddings for us—not including the vampire-goth and/or GWAR-themed wedding he and I had been openly joking about for years, that joke comprising the bulk of our conversations on the subject of our personal future matrimony. Occasionally, I confessed my various wedding fantasies (the one where I wore a green dress, the one with the ceremony on the bridge downtown in our hometown, the one with the cupcake towers) to close girl friends, often finding myself comforted by the fact that they also had ideas for their own very far-off weddings, even when there was no future spouse in the picture. But not a word of this was spoken to Joe himself.
Last summer, when his school insurance was about to expire, I seized my chance. I floated the idea—half-jokingly? one-third jokingly?—that we could just get dressed up, call our family and friends, get married at the courthouse and throw him on the insurance policy I had through my job. “But that’s not what you want, is it?” was his reply (and that of my mom). They were right, of course. It wasn’t what I wanted; it was just an excuse to talk about getting married, because I just couldn’t figure out any other way. In retrospect it seems like it would’ve been so easy to throw it out there with no pretense, but at the time it was weirdly insurmountable. So I took a breath, and backed down.
And then, that job that was providing me with the insurance I was trying to use as an excuse to get married? Laid me off about three weeks after the date I’d been side-eyeing for the quickie ceremony.
In the weeks and months after I lost my job, I realized a lot of things about myself and my general existence, but the most important was that I absolutely need Joe in my life. Like right there with me, every day forever. I knew this before; it’s not like I’d been taking him for granted or somehow unaware of how important he was to me. But this was the first time in our then nearly-eight-year relationship where my capacity to need him and his capacity to be exactly what I needed were simultaneously tested. It sucked, but we passed.
That didn’t make me any less covertly crazypants about wedding stuff, though. In the most flagrant violation of the sanctity of communication and patience I’ve yet committed, I somehow convinced myself that he was going to propose to me on our anniversary in October. He did not. It was weird and I was sad. I am not totally proud of myself on that night, but good things happened anyway. In a very roundabout and tear-soaked way, we wound up talking about a ring that I didn’t know he had, an heirloom from his great-great aunt that was just waiting to be re-set. The next day, after I emailed him some links to rings I liked—a list he’d requested; a list I was easily able to throw together because, like I said, covertly crazypants; a list I promised not to ask him about ever again—I pushed back all the voices in my head that were muttering “How gauche!” and “So much for all those women and gender studies classes, missy!” and felt proud.
Three months later, in mid-December, I’d so thoroughly coached myself away from thinking about our engagement that I was only distantly suspicious one Saturday afternoon when Joe hauled me to a local jeweler to (cue massive air quotes and exaggerated winking) “find a Christmas gift for his sister,” where the jeweler was oddly chummy with him and even more oddly insistent about measuring my left ring finger.
That night, he asked me to marry him.
Joe, I mean. Not the jeweler guy.
I kicked into planning mode a few days later, and in no time had to be talked out of an April wedding. We landed on the first weekend of August instead. I still think we could’ve made it happen in four months, and there for sure have been days when I was so nervous and excited about getting married that I thought there was just no way I could wait until summer. I’ve tentatively considered elopement not to avoid family drama or planning stresses, but just because sometimes I worry I might explode with excitement before August rolls around. I’m just so unbelievably pumped to get married to this guy, and I think he’s at least as pumped to get married to me. And so in the meantime, we cope by falling back on our old standbys. We talk about how excited we are instead of letting it consume us. And because eight months, really, has nothing on eight years, we sit patiently—together—and we wait.
Photos: Andrew Thomas Lee, a friend of the couple who those of you in Atlanta should definitely check out.