Yesterday we brought you Rachel’s brilliant post on coming to terms with wanting to be engaged (and not shaming yourself for it). Well, not-quite-so-spoiler alert: Rachel did get engaged shortly after she submitted that post, but it turns out that wasn’t the end of the story. Because surprise! As you may have guessed, being engaged can be just as fraught with cultural expectation as wanting to be engaged (go figure). So this morning, Rachel is back, making me do something thinking about the ways we downplay our relationships (and for whose benefit exactly?), and how, other than paying Katherine Heigl’s mortgage, romantic comedies may actually be poisoning the way we see ourselves. Let’s discuss.
—Maddie for Maternity Leave
When I got engaged back in April, I felt a little awkward and embarrassed by the attention and congratulatory messages I received. I had heard enough snarky people criticizing other newly engaged or just-married people who had dared to share their news or any details about their wedding on Facebook or Twitter, and I had accepted the often-expressed sentiment that “getting engaged is not an accomplishment.”
I was really hoping people wouldn’t act like this was the most important and interesting thing I’d ever done, because I certainly didn’t think it was. I didn’t feel like I could take credit for getting engaged like I could for, say, getting a great internship in college or a landing a cool freelance gig as an adult. I mean, what work had I really done? So as soon I had a ring on my finger, I accepted the idea that “sharing” is the same as “bragging” (and that a woman who brags is the worst kind of woman), and I was very much like, “Oh, this old thing? Pssh… this is not an accomplishment! Ask me about my CAREER!” I kept nearly all the details of our engagement and wedding plans off of my Facebook and Twitter feeds and kept them to a minimum on my blog.
The ring itself? Yeah, that’s not really an accomplishment to me. But what it symbolizes? That actually was pretty hard—harder than many of my career milestones—and I don’t know why it’s not okay to be proud of that fact. Perhaps the people snarking on weddings believe that getting engaged isn’t an accomplishment because finding romantic partners and sustaining romantic relationships has always come easily to them. Or maybe it hasn’t, but they’ve bought into the cultural expectation that love is supposed to be something that just happens. But for those of us who actually had to work at it? Um, yeah, I’d say that makes me want to put on my fancy clothes and throw a party to celebrate.
For me, the work started with finding a partner. When I decided I wanted to meet someone and form a lasting partnership, I also committed to not wasting time on fun casual flings that didn’t have a future. You’re going to tell me that not drunk texting a seriously-hot-but-terrible-for-you person isn’t hard work? Walking away from people who are hurting you isn’t an accomplishment? Pshh… it takes a seriously steely resolve to overcome my brain—and phone, and sex drive—on tequila. You’re saying I can’t put that on my resumé?!But then of course after Eric and I got together it wasn’t all, “Welp, my work here is done!” like it would be in a romantic comedy. Instead, after a month of dating, I moved across the country to Texas be closer to him. Which, after living in New York City and Chicago, was… an adjustment. Making peace with all of this state’s, um, quirks, didn’t just happen overnight. And trying to make friends there, where I had none, and had no family? Yeah, I’d call that working overtime.
So with each new step we took over the next two years, I learned. I learned to communicate. I learned to negotiate. I learned to handle setbacks and challenges. And I learned all of it the hard way. I rarely, if ever, got it right the first time. (And neither did he.) I felt as confused and overwhelmed as I did with my very first internship. We both learned we each had a lot of growing up to do if we really wanted to be together (or, honestly, in any kind of adult relationship). Luckily, each new thing was met with a hearty (or, okay, sometimes tearful) “Challenge accepted!” And once the challenge was accepted, we didn’t just cut to a bad-sports-movie montage of getting there. It took longer than two minutes and we didn’t have an inspirational soundtrack motivating us to deal with our emotional baggage. We did the work one conversation about finances or chores or expectations at a time.
While saying relationships aren’t an accomplishment might be done in an effort to remind women that, despite what rom-coms tell us, there is more to life than whether or not you can snag a husband, I think this sentiment unintentionally reinforces another rom-com trope: that relationships are equal parts magic, luck, and “meeting cute.” We’re told that if we just show up at the right place at the right time, everything will fall into place.
Relationships are more than just showing up, and I’m okay with calling anything that requires doing more than just showing up an accomplishment worth celebrating.
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