Today’s post upends the cultural narrative that women are always waiting for their partners to be ready to get married. This post talks about the truth. Often one partner is ready to get married before the other is, and there are no gender rules on who goes first. It also touches on a subject that we’ve recently discussed on APW: how do you know when you’re with the right person or that you’re ready to tie the knot? For some of us the answer is instinctual (you just know!). For many others, it’s not, and that needs to be normalized. But mostly, as someone who was in no rush to get married and took her own sweet time getting to that place, I find the cultural narrative that “once you’re with someone you know you want to settle down with, you should be picking out a dress” somewhere between scary and nuts. So here is K., talking about slowing down and figuring it out, talking about that in-between place before the in-between place.
I’ve been thinking a lot about weddings this weekend. Because you see, this weekend was the weekend my little brother was supposed to get married. His wedding was called off, and I am semi-secretly thankful they didn’t go through with it, but it still threw me for a loop. For a good while actually, both of my brothers were engaged. As the only girl and the middle child, this was pretty weird for me. It spurred a lot of comments from friends (“Doesn’t that bother you?”) and relatives (“So when is it your turn? Wouldn’t it be great if you got engaged and then your mother had all of her children getting married at the same exact time!”). But then my older brother’s wedding went off without a hitch, and it was a beautiful sweet ceremony. And two months before their wedding, my younger brother’s fiancé dropped the bomb that she was leaving my brother for another man. On the one hand, it was a relief. I had privately seen how poorly she treated my brother and always thought he deserved a partner that was much more caring, respectful, and good to him. On the other hand, my heart ached for him. They had been together for ten years. It seemed like a surefire thing that they were going to get hitched, problems aside, and most people saw them as a model couple. And then everything came spectacularly crashing down. It made me realize how delicate these things are. No matter how sure a thing seems, you never quite know one hundred percent.
And then there’s me. I’ve been with my dude for five years. There’s been lots of talk about what makes a marriage, what our hypothetical wedding might look like, and couple’s counseling to work on the harder things. And yet we are still very firmly “pre-engaged”—that time when you are pretty much heading towards getting engaged, but are not actually there yet. When people ask me questions about my hypothetical future wedding, I am quick to point out my answers are only possibilities and fleeting thoughts. There’s no real planning going on, and we are definitely not engaged yet. As the new year turned though, I found myself making my yearly goal list and I wondered, should I put “get engaged” on there? That seemed strange to me. It’s not as if I could will it into existence. But then, I remembered I’m turning thirty this year. And my thoughts bounced back and forth between, “It’d be nice to get married at thirty,” and “Age is arbitrary! Don’t let this influence your thought-process!”
So what’s the hold up? Well… me, mostly. And him too, a little, as his ducks are a bit more wily than he’d like, instead of all lined up neat in a row. But it’s mostly me. And that is something that is strange to most people, and I haven’t encountered a lot of people who can relate to it. I feel for those women who are in pre-engaged land because they feel ready, but their partner does not yet. But what about when it’s you who is not ready yet? You see, I’m a Virgo. And I stress anxiously over life decisions for as long as I possibly can get away with. “Should I have crackers with cheese or jam for breakfast?” is a question that gives me more anguish than it should. Deciding on an outfit to wear can make me freak out for a good forty-five minutes if the stress levels are right. And bigger life decisions? They are so difficult for me I’ve been known to drive people crazy with spreadsheets listing various pros and cons that have numerical values assigned to them and tallied.
As somewhat of a self-identified hopeless romantic who has always been giddy about the prospect of sharing my life with a partner whom I truly love, for some strange reason I thought the act of getting married and choosing that partner would be different. That it would be immune to the anxious rules that govern my decision-making skills, even though they especially govern huge decisions that will affect me for the rest of my life. I was a little disappointed when I realized that as we started to seriously consider getting engaged, my thoughts were overrun with the same overanalyzing and anxiety I’ve always experienced. Eventually I had to come to grips with the reality that this wasn’t going to be some magical “you-just-know” moment for me. I don’t work that way. I had a great talk recently with a newly wed friend who is similarly indecisive like me and she wisely told me that for people like us, we can’t hold on to a romanticized hope that our brain will just function differently for this one big decision. And it’s okay to analyze it, try to make sense of it in our minds, and that analyzing does not in any way indicate that you shouldn’t be marrying him. That was a relief to hear because not only had I been thinking about the stress of making such a huge decision, I had been worried that because of the fact I thought about how difficult this decision was, it somehow meant that we shouldn’t actually be getting married. The analyzing only indicates that’s how you work, that’s how you make big decisions, according to my friend. And in the end you should trust yourself and know that you’ve never in your life made a big decision that was flawlessly easy, that you were 100% at rest with. This wasn’t going to be that way either. And that is okay.
Despite my vacillating between being okay with being the “one that’s not ready yet” and freaking out about it, when people find out, they generally seem to treat me like a freak of nature. When they ask if we’re getting hitched soon, and I reply, “Well, I’m not really ready yet.” They will say, “Aw, don’t worry! He’ll come around soon!” To which I reply, “No… I’m the one that’s not ready yet. Me.” And they either get the deer in headlights look, or get flabbergasted and feel the need to point out I’m almost thirty (I know) and that we’ve been together for over five years (I also know). This kind of reaction makes me feel like there’s something wrong with being honest enough with myself that I know I’m still not quite there yet. I know myself and that I need a lot of time to think over the decision and make sure I feel solid about it. I want to head into engagement-land feeling like it was a serious and thoughtful decision on my part (because it is!). Why does that fit so poorly into the normal rhetoric of getting engaged? I wish it was more okay to talk about being the woman in a hetero relationship and not being ready when you’re partner pretty much is. Because I want to talk about it.
In the end, I ended up putting on my goal list for this year “Come to a place where you feel like you can trust yourself to make a good and solid decision about marrying.” And it’s just a goal. It’s okay if it doesn’t happen. And it’s great if it does. Because that is a goal worth working towards.
Photo: Self-portrait from K.’s personal collection