The thing about weddings (and engagements, and hell, marriage) is that our cultural narrative about them is so strong that even those of us used to bucking the trend and doing things our own way can get pulled down into its vortex. Stacey’s post about waiting for her partner to propose is powerful because she talks about untangling that cultural narrative, freeing herself from it, and then figuring out what’s right for them both. Sometimes I think that learning how to do this during the engagement and wedding planning process is half the point of a wedding… because we need to do it over and over again as we build our families and our marriages.
Last weekend, my wonderful-beyond-measure boyfriend mentioned on a lazy Saturday morning that he’d been thinking about engagement rings. Now, before you get all “omgamazeballsdiamonds” let me say that this isn’t the first time this has happened.
The conversation went like this:
Him: I was thinking about engagement rings.
Me: (With forced nonchalance) What about them?
Him: What kind of ring you’d like, I guess.
Me: Well, I can find some examples of things I like, if you want.*
Him: Okay, sure.
*No, I didn’t have a secret file of engagement ring pictures on my computer somewhere.
Now. This exchange is remarkable for two reasons. Reason one: when the subject of engagement rings was first ever broached between us, he made it very clear that this was his thing, and that under no circumstances did he want my input, or for me to mention that this was a thing that was actually, maybe, happening at some point. That was six months ago.
But I, I, probably like many of you Practical People, am a do-er. If I want something to happen, I make it happen; if I don’t like how something in my life is going, or I’m unhappy, I think about what’s actually not working, and I change it. I’m that girl who in middle school, and high school, and… college rolled her eyes and sighed heavily at her group project members and then made all the pie charts and Powerpoints on her own. I would rather do all the work myself and secure a positive outcome than leave anything up to my team members and thus, chance.
So, when my boyfriend told me to stay out of his engagement tree house, I freaked out. I called my mom frantically because “I only wear one pair of earrings, and one necklace! HOW IS HE SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHAT I WANT IN A RING?” but really I was frantic because I couldn’t relinquish that control. So, for several months I quietly freaked out. Reading APW helped. A lot. But still those romantic comedy clichés and societal expectations were hard to weed out of my mind—they set down roots ages ago, and those roots have grown deep and strong.
Finally, one summer morning, on the way home from a funeral, I burst. “There are things I need to talk about,” I said, “and I need you to not treat me like a crazy person.” So I talked. I cited APW articles like Ang’s, which had helped me to understand the craziness I was feeling and realize that it wasn’t just me. And then he talked. And I talked some more. And that opened the floodgates for a lot of conversations.
When we got home he asked me to send him the articles I had been talking about. So I did, and he read them, and we talked about them. We talked about why we wanted to get married. He asked me to send him some more articles.
And then one day, over actual Italian cappuccinos on the patio of an Italian market, we started talking about our wedding, about the wedding we’d like to have. We talked long after the cappuccino foam had turned into lukewarm swill at the bottom of my mug.
We kept talking—not that day, but other days after that. Every time we talked about weddings, I felt the roots of expectation recede a little bit. The more we talked, the more he realized it was okay to ask for my help in this big scary thing that he wanted to do for me. The more we talked the more I was able to relinquish control. I realized that the roots weren’t just in me, that they were in him too. He admitted he was scared that whatever he did would fall short of what I deserved. I let him know that would never happen, as long as he didn’t tie a ring to his penis. (Yes. This is a thing that actually happens.)
Taking the leap of actually talking about engagements and marriage did something I didn’t expect—it made our relationship even better than it already was. It made us even more of a team than we already were. Instead of Him and Me entering the scary forest (this is a metaphor) at separate points and hoping to eventually bushwhack our way to the middle and meet there, we’re doing it holding hands. Because after all, aren’t two machetes better than one?
Now, to come back to the present.
After our lazy Saturday morning conversation, I couldn’t wait to find a million examples of beautiful engagement rings that spoke to me. I grabbed my laptop and brought it in bed and we looked at some together. He got up and made breakfast, and I kept looking at rings. But it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. By Saturday evening, I had a single example of a ring I loved. I revised my initial goal from a million rings that I loved to ten rings that I liked. I kept looking on Sunday, finding maybe two more examples of acceptable rings. And then, Sunday evening I shut my laptop in disgust.
Ugh,” I said, “looking for rings is giving me a headache. It’s impossible, I’m sick of it.” And then I looked at him. “Lordy, I can’t even imagine what this is like for you.”
Suddenly I didn’t care whether he proposed tomorrow or ten years from now.
You know the saying about walking in other people’s shoes before you judge them? It’s about perspective, and I think in waiting for our shouted from the rooftops at sunset proposals it’s something that’s too easy to lose sight of.
When I get particularly engagement crazy, when our anniversary, or Valentine’s or some other usual proposal date is coming up, I try to think about it from his perspective, because it’s really, really hard not to get engagement crazy and expect things on days like that.
I think about all the bills he just paid, and how he’s taking me out to a very nice restaurant and how special that is in and of itself. I think about how he would never propose at a restaurant or on Valentine’s Day because that’s what I’d expect, and he wants to catch me as off guard as possible. I focus on the sushi, and how much we love sharing sushi, because sushi is delicious, and so is he.
Now I think about what a pain trying to find the perfect ring is, because I know he won’t settle for anything less than perfect, because he thinks I’m perfect (even though I’m not). So I take a couple of deep breaths and smile as I watch the roots pull back a little bit more.
Photo Credit: From the author’s personal collection